Category Archives: Residential Architecture

The Italianate Style in America

Mid-nineteenth Century America was a time of great energy and change.  Cities grew, immigration soared, railroads expanded, and new building technologies emerged.  To meet the housing needs and tastes of our growing and increasingly diverse populace, architects designed houses in a multitude of styles.  Though widely varied, the Romantic Revival styles of this period all reflect Romantic and Picturesque sensibilities in their yearning for the security of the past to ameliorate the complexities of modern life and in their idealization of nature as an antidote to the city.

Italianate Style

Roman and Greek architectural forms were no longer touted as the only appropriate models for houses.  Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) writes that domestic architecture should be “less severe, less rigidly scientific, [than public architecture] and…exhibit…the freedom and play…of every-day life.”  To spread their philosophy, and to make house plans widely available, architects published pattern books for the homeowner, unlike earlier builder’s books which were written to instruct builders.  Pattern books, such as Downing’s Architecture of Country Houses (1850) and Samuel Sloan’s Homestead Architecture (1861) presented designs for houses while they celebrated the ideals of family, home, and rural life.


The Italianate style was but one of many presented.  Built as early as the mid-1830s, the Italianate style supplanted the popularity of the Gothic Revival in the 1860s and reached its zenith in the 1870s.  Borrowing from “the charming character of the irregular villas of Italy,” according to English Architect Charles Barry, and Italian Renaissance examples, architects filtered these sources through the Romanticism of the 19th century into something wholly new.  Three distinct Italian-inspired sub-styles emerged:  the Tuscan Villa style, with its asymmetry, arcaded porches, and towers; the more rare Renaissance Revival style inspired by Renaissance urban palaces; and lastly, the Italianate style, shown here.

By far, the Italianate (or American Bracketed) style was the most popular.  It is characterized by its cubic form, vertical proportions, low pitched roofs, and oft present cupola.  Though the massing is simple, elevations are ornate.  One-over-one or two-over-two sash windows, with arched, segmental or flat heads, are elaborated by decorative surrounds, hoods, or pediments.  Windows are commonly paired or tripled together.  Deeply projecting eaves supported by ornate brackets, turned or chamfered posts at porches, quoins dressing corners, horizontal bands separating floors, and stone or materials imitating stone complete this style.  An excellent example is Sloan’s George Allan House in Cape May, New Jersey (1863), whereas the Tuscan Villa style is typified by Richard Upjohn’s Edward King House (1845) in Newport, Rhode Island.

Gazing back on this period of rapid change, increasing immigration, rampant eclecticism, and the beginnings of the plan book and housing industries, one must wonder if we today are not more influenced by this time than we might otherwise think.

Copyright for all images and text, unless in the public domain or otherwise noted, Christine G. H. Franck, Inc.

Christine G. H. Franck, Inc. and Hull Homes Win ICAA John Staub Award


Houston, TX – September 12, 2011 – The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art Texas Chapter has awarded the Byrd Residence a 2011 John Staub Honor Award in Restoration and/or Renovation.  Fort Worth homebuilder and master-craftsman Brent Hull of The Brent Hull Companies collaborated with Virginia-based design firm Christine G. H. Franck, Inc. to restore this historic home to its original charm.


Byrd Residence AFTER renovations.

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Gothic Revival Style

The Gothic Revival style, popular in America from the 1830s through the 1860s, could be seen as a mere revival of medieval motifs, but peer beneath the scrolls and trefoils that animate this style and one finds more profound meaning.

Gothic Revival

Gothic Revival

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Greek Revival Style

The Greek Revival style, at its height from 1820 to 1840 in America, parallels a period of geographic expansion and growing national identity.  Part fashion, part conscious aesthetic, the Greek Revival, or Grecian, style is defined by the adaptation of ancient Greek forms of architecture and decorative motifs to new uses.  Publications such as James “Athenian” Stuart’s and Nicholas Revett’s Antiquities of Athensthe first accurate survey of Greek architecture ever undertaken—originally published in four volumes from 1762 through 1816, sparked a fashion for the Grecian style first in Europe and then in America.  In America, though, it was more than fashion. It was political.  As a young country emerging from the shadow of our British colonial past, we sought new paradigms and found parallels in the Greek War for Independence of 1821-1828, during which time, after nearly four hundred years of Turkish rule, Greeks fought their own revolution. Viewing ourselves as inheritors of the Greek democratic tradition forging a new democratic state, seeing parallels with another people fighting for their own freedom, we imagined ourselves as a new Athens. Our classically educated politicians and landowners were also familiar with the myths and history of Greece and the classical world.

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American Federal Style

After emerging independent and free from the colonial yoke of Great Britain, post-revolutionary America began to form its national identity. Whether inspired by the works of Seneca or the life of Cincinnatus, early leaders like George Washington understood this nation to be the inheritor of Roman republican traditions. They sought to imbue America’s Novus Ordo Seclorum with symbols and architecture evocative of this.  Concurrently, a growing class of merchants and landowners desired ways to show their taste and wealth.  This confluence of interests in symbolic meaning and fashionable forms flowered into America’s Federal Style.


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American Georgian Style

American Georgian

In the early days of America’s founding, along the eastern seaboard, English colonists built robustly beautiful homes that are today often referred to as Colonial. However, Georgian, or more descriptively American Georgian, better describes these houses and distinguishes them from earlier colonial traditions of our English, Dutch, Spanish, and French colonists. The term Georgian refers to the period of British history encompassing the reigns of Kings George I through IV (1714-1830).  American Georgian architecture is most prevalent prior to and just after our revolution, after which other stylistic influences drawn from discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum captivated popular taste.

English Colonial Domestic Architecture of New England

Following close upon the heels of the Virginia Company’s 1607 settlement of Jamestown, a second group of English colonists put down roots in the Northern parts of what was then known as Virginia.  Settling Plymouth in 1620 “for the glorie of God, and advancemente of the Christian faith, and honour of [their] king and countrie,” the Pilgrims brought with them to New England their belief in simplicity of worship and strict morality.  The English Colonial architecture of New England is perhaps best seen in relation to the character of its Puritan and Separatist settlers. 

English Colonial

English Colonial

Colonial Revival Style

With population expanding, immigrants arriving, rapid industrialization, and urbanization, it is little wonder that late-19th century Americans viewed their simpler colonial past as a Golden Age. Emerging wearily from Reconstruction, Americans patriotically celebrated their past and future at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition.  The “New England Farmer’s Home and Modern Kitchen” was a particularly popular exhibit.   Inside this log cabin, women in colonial dress exhibited artifacts such as a Pilgrim’s cradle and spinning wheel, idealizing an America heroically hewn out of New England by hard-working colonists.

Colonial Revival Style house
Colonial Revival
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Houses of the French Colonial Tradition

Of all American colonial building traditions, that of the French is one of the richest. While the houses of French Colonists owe a debt to their native traditions, they also wisely responded to the materials and climatic conditions found in America. From St. Genevieve, Missouri (1735) to New Orleans, Louisiana (1718) and beyond, French colonists created a diverse tradition including the Creole and Acadian Cottages, and the classic French Colonial house of the raised cottage type.

French Colonial

French Colonial

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Colonial is a common adjective used to describe American houses.  Yet which colonial do we mean?  Normally we are referring to English Colonial Houses.  Yet, from Florida to California, our colonial history is primarily Spanish, not English. Our oldest continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine, Florida, and early Southwest missions were built by Spanish conquerors, colonists, and missionaries. 

Spanish Colonial

Spanish Colonial

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