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?