Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had already started the trend with official royal approval in 1845 – 1851 with the construction of their sea-side get-away of Osborne, on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. There, Prince Albert had helped plan, and oversaw construction of an Italianate Palace overlooking the Solent.
With Victorian practicality, the two campanile-inspired towers of Osborne House did not house church bells, but rather, water tanks for the house and a clock. The clean-lined, square, masonry structure, with Classically-inspired details like balustrades, pediments over the windows, and the obligatory ‘campaniles’, when set in a terraced landscape dotted with exotic flowers and a few palms, looked appropriate for the style.
After Prince Albert’s death in 1861, even the insular Queen Victoria ventured forth to Italy in 1879. It was her first trip to that country, and was in the nature of a private visit, though it was difficult for the Queen to travel as ‘incognito’ as she wished. On her return, she declared herself delighted, and determined to return in the near future. With the mystique of the Brownings, and the approval of Queen Victoria, all things Italianate took hold.
Though buildings in the Italianate style had been constructed in the Italianate style in both Canada and the United States prior to Osborne, the great popularity of the style came after Osborne.
In Hamilton Ontario, industrialist and politician Sir Alan Napier MacNab built Dundurn Castle in 1835, predating Osborne by some 10 years. Knighted by Queen Victoria, MacNab would have been a firm supporter of the monarchy, and would have been pleased that Osborne had been built in the style of his own house.
In Greensboro, North Carolina, Blandwood was the house of John Motley Morehead, North Carolina Governor from 1841-1845. The Italianate mansion was built around an early house on the site dating to 1795. The additions and changes were by nationally renowned architect Alexander Jackson Davis of New York, and completed in 1846.
Blandwood is considered the oldest standing example of Italianate architecture in the United States. Set on a slight hill overlooking the town, Blandwood had a central square tower, low-pitched, tiled roofs, and a smooth, masonry exterior, all hallmarks of the style.
The interior of Blandwood featured graining on the woodwork, a clever paint effect that simulates a more expensive wood treatment – like maple, oak or walnut – on a less expensive, but available wood.