Exteriors of Italianate style houses were usually built of masonry, where local building materials and the budget would allow. In the west, handsome examples were built of wood. A major feature of the “Italianate Villa” was a square tower that echoed the proportions of the campanile of Florence Cathedral.
Smaller homes – not large enough to be called a “Villa”, could still be built in the style, but they lacked the architectural pretension of a tower. Other exterior features included arched windows; paired windows; pediments over both doors and windows; and Classical columns worked into porches, or other exterior features.
Shallow pitched roofs (preferably in tiles, as at Blandwood) were usual, and every house in the style had brackets below the roofline as standard architectural decoration, giving rise to the nick-name: “the bracketed style”.
If the house was built in wood, then the wood siding was cut to simulate stone blocks – especially for corner quoining – and often “sanded paint” (sand applied to wet oil paint) was used to very successfully simulate stone construction. Colours were generally warm, pale, stone-like, earth colours, to evoke Italy and warm climates. Multi-hued tile work was frequently used in porches and front entrances.
An ideal setting for an Italian Villa, was a romantic site, preferably overlooking water, as seen in this engraving from The Model Architect (1852) Vol. II by Samuel Sloan:
Interiors of Italianate homes took their cues from Italian originals. Ornate plasterwork in cornices; columns in one of the Classical orders; and a lushness of colour on the walls – often supplied by silk damask wallcoverings – in dark greens, golds or reds with lots of gold and gilding on ceilings and on ornate picture frames.
Statuary – in either Italian marble or bronze, was a popular decorative accent, set on plinths or arched niches. Doors were paneled, and pediments topped door frames. Fireplaces invariably were a single arch made of carved marble, or made of either slate or wood, and “marbleized” to simulate the more expensive material.
Heavy curtains with pelmets and fringes, swagged back to darken the rooms against the hot Italian sun (even in northern, cold climates!) were also fashionable. Matching silks and velvets on upholstered furniture with gilded frames would coordinate the rooms.