The Italianate style 1850 - 1880

The Italianate style dominated American houses constructed between 1850 and 1880.

Borrowed from the picturesque rural architecture of northern Italy, the style came about as part of the Romantic movement in the arts, specifically the Picturesque movement.

Rural Italian villas were the principle source of this style and emphasized their characteristic square towers.

Sometimes called the “bracketed style,” Italianate houses have low roofs and wide eaves with large ornamental brackets. Houses in the Italianate style tend to be rectangular while most Victorian houses have steep roofs and irregular shapes.

Andrew Jackson Downing and The Italianate Era in the U.S.

The style was popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing and his partner Alexander Jackson Davis.

Downing's building designs, in the picturesque Gothic and Italianate styles, were mostly for single family rural houses. He had a very strong belief that architecture and fine art would and should have a significant affect on the individual and the community.

The home was becoming the center for moral education and the focus of middle class America's search for the meaning of life. Believing that every American deserved a good home he designed cottages for working men, farmhouses for farmers as well as villas for the wealthy.

By the 1860s the style had completely overshadowed its earlier companion, the Gothic Revival. And with the beginning of the financial panic of 1873 and the following depression, the Italianate and its closely related Second Empire style declined.

When prosperity returned late in the decade, new styles, particularly the Queen Ann style, had raised to dominance.

The style is common in the cities of the northeastern seaboard and common in the Midwestern towns. Italianate houses are least common in the southern states, where the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the 1870s depression led to little new building until after the style had passed from fashion.

Identifying Features

Two or three stories (rarely one story)

Low-pitched roof

Widely overhanging eaves having decorative brackets beneath, singly or in pairs

Single-story entry porches with supporting square post

Front doors single or paired

Doors rectangular, arched, or segmentally-arched

Elaborate enframements above doors similar to those over windows

Double doors

Paired and triple windows

Tall, narrow windows

Windows with traditional rectangular top, occasionally had round tops, and were sometimes ornamented with elaborate cast-iron designs of foliage

Elongated first and second story windows are capped by segmental arches

Window sashes most commonly with one- or two-pane glazing

Window enframements often with brackets or pediment crowns

Square cupola or tower (usually villa style)

Elaborate second-story window lintels executed in wood or iron.

Italianate commercial buildings: first floor façade often of cast iron, the second of brick.

Italianate commercial buildings: capping the building is a requisite heavy, bracketed cornice.

The roof with projecting eaves Dentils

Other distinctive features are the grouping of either straight or round-headed windows into threes or small arcades, and the placement of porches or arcaded loggias between the tower and house or at the corners.

decorative elliptical lights at the floor level of the attic story.

main roof ends in broad eaves supported by ornate scrolled wood brackets and a dentil frieze.

Sometimes an Italianate had a tower or an observatory at the top.

From Italianate style to Victorian style