History >  Architectural Field Guide >  Architectural Styles  > Mid-19th Century Period > Italianate Ville/Italianate Style
Italianate Villa/Italianate Style 1840 - 1885

Common Building Types:  houses, commercial buildings, government buildings, churches, schools

 Identifiable Features

1.  Cornice with decorative brackets
Widely overhanging eaves
Two or three stories in height
Tall, narrow windows
Curved (segmental) arches over windows or doors
Elaborate window crowns, often arched or with brackets and pediments
Single story porches, either full width or entry porticos
Low pitched roof
Cupola or square tower with bracketed cornice
10.  Quoins

Click on a photo below to enlarge

Bangor Firehouse/Heritage Center, Northampton County Broad Street Market, Dauphin County Greensburg Historic District, Westmoreland County
Italianate Villa, Indiana County Old Town Historic District, Clearfield County Italianate House, Venango County
The Italian Villa/Italianate style was also part of the romantic and picturesque movement, a quest to provide architectural forms that evoked a romanticized region or earlier period of history. Previous architectural styles had also looked to the past for design inspiration, but those styles were all based on the more formal classical buildings of ancient
Rome and Greece . The Romantic movement was to some degree a rebellion against architecture’s strict adherence to the classical form. The movement expressed a desire for greater freedom of architectural expression and for more organic, complicated forms that were intended to complement their natural setting.

The Italianate style was modeled after the medieval farmhouses of the Italian countryside. These farmhouses were irregularly shaped and seemed to fit naturally into their rustic settings, an important objective of the Romantic Movement. The Italianate and Gothic Revival styles were made popular by the published pattern books of architect Andrew Jackson Downing in the 1840s and 1850s. This style first developed as the Italianate Villa style, which was seen as early as the 1830s and was intended as a suitable design for substantial homes or country estates. The most outstanding feature of the Italianate Villa style is the square tower, topped with a bracketed cornice. The Italianate Villa style is also marked by irregular massing (not a simple square or rectangular shape), and an L or T shaped floor plan. As the style evolved from the Italianate Villa to the Italianate form, the square tower and irregular massing were not always present, but other elements of the style continued, notably the decorative bracketed cornice. Freestanding Italianate buildings display the cornice under widely overhanging eaves, while contiguous Italianate rowhouses or commercial buildings have a bracketed cornice on the front façade. Other markers of the Italianate style are tall, narrow windows, some with elaborate hoods, often shaped like an inverted U. Italianate windows often have round arch tops and can also be crowned by a pediment or entablature with brackets. Most Italianate buildings have columned porticoes or porches, sometimes extending across the full width of the front façade. 

The Italianate style was very prevalent within its period of popularity, more so than the Gothic Revival Style. It was especially dominant in the period from 1855 through 1880. Since it was easily adapted to numerous building forms, it became a popular style for urban and rural residences and commercial and institutional buildings. The Italianate style is especially identified as the common architectural theme of mid- to late-19th century commercial buildings that lined the main street of many American cities and towns. Downtown streetscapes of this era are marked by a continuous line of distinctive bracketed cornices. The Italianate style was also commonly used for the construction of urban townhouses, again easily identified by their common bracketed cornices and long, narrow windows. Some decorative elements were of cast iron, a newly developed technology in this period.