Walls in Italianate homes could be tinted plaster, or, for very expensive houses – as in the stairhall at Osborne – made of blocks of real polished Sienna marble.
For those with lesser budgets, marbleized wallpapers that simulated stone blocks, especially for front hallways and stairhalls, gave the impression of solidity at a far more affordable price.
Recreated marbleized wallpapers – based on fragments of the original that were still on the walls (and retained) – in an 1863 Italianate house. Following original Victorian recipes, the marbleized papers were painted, hung horizontally, divided into blocks with heavy pencil, then coated with isinglass, then Damar resin varnish to give the desired ‘polished Sienna marble’ look to the walls. The door frames were grained to look like oak, instead of the fir that they were made of, and the doors (of cedar) were grained to look like walnut, matching the real wood of the original newel post of the staircase. Even the floorboards were grained to appear to be oak.
The popularity of the Italianate style was quickly made available through plan books, distributed by architects to builders across the continent. Plans could be shown to clients and approved, and any modifications desired could be accommodated. The major time of fashion for the Italianate style was during the 1860’s through the 1880’s, though much earlier examples can be found as well, and later examples, built into the 1890’s, are also common.
A plan book design from the 1870’s for an Italianate Villa (with a tower).
Porches were often called “piazzas” on Italianate style plans.
Other examples of the Italianate style:
Left: The Anglican Rectory at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Built 1858
Right: “Ravenscrag” a massive 72-room Italianate Villa built in Montreal from 1860-63 for Sir Hugh Allen, a wealthy industrialist.
Two wooden houses in the Italianate style:
Left: An Italianate house in Eureka California, with a typical, shallow hipped roof
Right: An Italianate style home in San Francisco, with a ‘false-front’ cornice.
Double-height bay windows, as seen in the two California examples shown above, are a popular architectural feature of houses in the Italianate style.
Building lots for smaller (or narrower) homes prevented the construction of towers, but the houses are still in the Italianate style.
Remembering the beginnings of the style – with the attendant perceived easier moral climate – that arose from the warmer climes of the Mediterranean, helps to explain the release from the tight-laced formality and restrictive precepts of the Gothic–Revival style of the 1850’s and 1860’s that generally preceded or existed at the same time as the Italianate.
The Italianate style of Architecture has given us wonderful houses that brought an easing degree of formality to our cities; a glimpse of the culture of the Mediterranean; and a memory of royalty and the romantic longings of the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Not bad things for a building style to achieve!