Architecture & Design

The Most Hated House Style in Maine?

A real estate pro wants you to rethink your assumptions about Italianates.

Portland’s Victoria Mansion, an Italianate
Portland’s Victoria Mansion, photographed by Benjamin Williamson.
TEXT BY HANNAH HOLMES

Mainers hate Italianate houses. Or anyway, so determined a recent survey by the real estate website Homes.com. Asked to rank their favorite house styles, respondents here (and in 35 other states) put the 19th-century genre, inspired by medieval Italian villas, dead last. As a real estate broker, I’m calling “fake news.” Home purchases are famously aspirational: We think moving to a new place will make us new people. We think we’ll finally read a book in a reading nook and that we’ll never again trim our toenails on the sofa. So I’m supposed to believe that Mainers aspire to plain-faced, Cape Cod lives? Squat, square, wet-wool–scented lives? Pish posh.

With expressive eyebrows and erect posture, an Italianate house looks down its nose at you — and it finds you a bit disappointing. If you think the style is too demanding, you may just need to raise your standards. Tell me, if not sour grapes, what other objection could you possibly have to this magnificent house?

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Bangor’s William Arnold (a.k.a. Stephen King’s) House, an Italianate
Bangor’s William Arnold (a.k.a. Stephen King’s) House, photographed by Kevin Bennett.

“It looks haunted!”

Doesn’t it? In fact, nine out of ten haunted houses are built in the Italianate style. It is the overwhelming favorite of ghosts, as well as zombies and axe murderers. Guess who owns a beautiful Italianate home in Bangor? Stephen King, that’s who. Haven’t you ever aspired to be a horror writer?

Richmond’s Thomas Jefferson Southard House, an Italianate
Richmond’s Thomas Jefferson Southard House, photographed by Benjamin Williamson

“Our lifestyle is carefree, active, outdoorsy — not stuffy and formal.”

Perfect! You’re going to love scraping and painting all those wooden corbels, cornices, dentils, and pediments! It’s a lot like paddleboarding, but instead of a paddleboard, you’re balanced on a ladder, and instead of a paddle, you’re holding a paint scraper, and instead of salt spray, there are paint chips bouncing off your face. The paddleboarding fad will pass, but this house is a fitness program you can pursue until the day you die.

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“It’s kind of dark inside.”

This ingenious architecture is native to overly sunny Italy, where all those protruding cornices, window hoods, and porches repel unwanted heat and glare. This keeps the interior dark and cool. And while New England is not nightmarishly sunny, these adaptable features perform the same function here. But you mentioned you’re outdoorsy anyway, right?

The Customs House in Bath, another Italianate
The Customs House in Bath, photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

“Our furniture doesn’t jibe with this style.”

An Italianate’s tall and ornate rooms lend themselves to a range of furnishing styles, from early Victorian all the way to late Victorian. Even a contemporary sofa can look right at home with the artful addition of a tapestry pillow or mahogany swan armrests.

Yarmouth’s Captain Reuben Merrill House, another Italianate
Yarmouth’s Captain Reuben Merrill House, photographed by Benjamin Williamson.

“We want an energy-efficient house.”

Admittedly, those unusual windows would be expensive to replace. But the truth is, you lose three or four times more heat through the roof than the windows, so forget about them! The flat roof? Yes, it’s quite difficult to insulate. Okay, shall we look at some Capes now?


5 Comments

  1. V. Kessel

    This writer has a wonderful sly sense of humor. It’s not often I see photos of imposing houses coupled with funny commentary. Made my morning!

  2. Love it! I always enjoy reading your pieces. As previously stated. it’s a refreshing take on a subject matter that is typically devoid of humor!

  3. Christopher Sawyer

    I love ALL these styles.

  4. J. Birdhive

    I loved this too, vote for more content by Hannah Holmes!
    This reminds me of an unintentionally hilarious real estate listing spied a couple of years ago. The listing described a house I’ve never seen a soul in even since childhood, so at least 48 years, that was likely built ca. early 1700s. Photos showed desperate need of siding, roofing, (everything), there were vines growing in, and clear evidence of water penetration from above in more than one room. Description stated “lovingly preserved by the former owners”….. (read: no one has done a darn thing that we know of). For the curious, it is in a great location within the historic district and the purchaser, who appears to be a craftsman, has been restoring it steadily. The exterior is lovely now and I’m guessing that the interior is getting equal expert attention. Every time I see it I think: “lovingly preserved”, now it is!

  5. Janice Vinci

    I truly enjoyed this witty article.

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