In preparation for this American Italianate edition, I found myself in the District of Columbia before an Italianate house speaking with the owner who had no idea of the house which gave him style (the house pictured above). He was just then with shears removing Christmas decorations from his handsome wrought iron fence. “Italianate?” he questioned. Well, the house was purchased in 2009, returned to health (neglect had done its worst), pretty painted, planted, and yet the owner, a good man, had no idea that he lives through an Italianate house in an Italianate city built when the nation expanded by muscles developed in the terrible exercise of The War to End Slavery (the civil war between the states).
We spoke for some little time. I pointed the brackets, the window arch and cap, the block-like character of building form, the heavy, bold entablature, and pointed to neighboring houses, some showing more wealth of detail, some less, noting that his (and his wife’s) house was solid in the middle-class, neither overborne by expense and its common extravagances, nor underfed in beauty by want of cash. He was pleased, I think, pleased to know that he was solidly middle-class (wanting neither government’s assistance nor the patronage of wealth), pleased to know the name of the house style he and his family love, pleased to learn his home’s place in the nation’s history, and the characteristics, the details that made his house the individual that it is. I was pleased to share the bits I’ve picked-up in the 30 years preparation for this treatise on American domestic architecture, The Beautiful Home.
Thirty years? Well, longer. We all begin our relationship with houses in the moment we are born, or in the moment parents bring us home. Yes, we are born into a world knowing much about the nature of the universe, through the experience of growth into God’s creation, though we know little about the world of man’s creation, our sciences (refrigerators, et cetera), our arts, songs and pictures and houses. When very young, we learn songs and their titles; when older we read the name sketched into our refrigerators; when teenagers … well, we did not learn as did our grandparents and great-grandparents of style; modernists and progressive education crushed that. So very few these days learn the name, character, history of the place through which their life is experienced, the house.
True, when parents brought me home to the second-floor apartment of an unremembered street in Mt. Morris (pictured above), across from my uncle’s haberdashery, by nature I knew of mom and dad … only by education (edu, to draw out; caritas, knowledge) would I come to know the name and nature of my first house, a stripped Italianate, utilitarian, honest in presentation of its simple, bi-lateral face, id est, its façade. You will notice in the accompanying illustration the Progressive glom next door (stage right), its monstrous face, its aggressively dull voice, its bullying character, a common brutality much in the manner of all progressive, modern styles. See this, and you will understand how we are formed by the shape of our house … its ugliness or its beauty merges with what a person, or a town, becomes.
When in the next American Italianate, I was thirtyish years, by fortune and inclination knowledgeable of house-style and the lifestyles that houses encourage. This house, in the District of Columbia (pictured above), fronts Lincoln Park, looks upon the Emancipation statue, Lincoln and a former slave, a statue funded by the pennies of the people recently emancipated. There, in the past year’s iconoclasm, progressive modernists attempted to pull down the meaningful statue and might have succeeded, as they did with many others, but were prevented from committing a barbarity by that same tradition which by balance and harmony spirited emancipation, that return to Classive beauty, goodness, truth, which gave us the Italianate.
The American Italianate is the renewal of the Classive through the folk forms of the Italian countryside, Tuscany, Umbria, Sabina, et alibi, the memory of Rome’s grandeur, of the Guelph and the Ghibelline towers, the farmhouse and barn, those designs offered to Americans through the pattern-plates of Davis, and Downing, and others. You will notice that the Italianate is picturesque, solid, that the Italianate when not a block wants to expand into porches and bays, and cupola and brackets, and energetic doodads, those bits of stuff that grow onto a house after a hundred-years of living upon a revolving planet, housing families generation after generation.
This month in The Beautiful Home we shall visit the decades just before and just after The War to End Slavery; we shall listen to the songs popular of that time, “Home Sweet Home” and other songs of home; we shall see the “Age of Expansion” (not the Victorian Age, our time was not queen defined) for what it was, a time when by the exercise of virtue America grew its muscle, expanded its body to the encircling oceans; and we might again visit the one-room schoolhouse, that house which formed the character of a nation, until remade by the progressive into what we are today. And, as always, we shall visit a few style-accurate designs, designs that you might choose, houses that are formed to form a beautiful life, houses suitable to our contemporary America.
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Featured image: Middle-Class American Italianate House, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. credit: M. Curtis
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