Spotting Italianate architecture in Holland Park
Words by Jake Russell
How one street in Holland Park offers a lesson in West London’s smartest style
A variety of architectural styles
Much of the magic of RBKC comes from its variety of architectural styles. From the Georgian Houses of Cheyne Walk to the Dutch-inspired mansion blocks of Pont Street; from the gothic grandeur of the Victorian churches to the picturesque charm of the mews streets.
One of the most popular styles in the neighbourhood is known as Italianate. In the second half of the Victorian era, this style was popular for the large houses and villas of London’s smartest streets.
Georgian architecture was inspired by the classical world, and characterised by a strict sense of symmetry and proportion. Italianate architecture took these principles, but added the picturesque details beloved by the Victorians. Rather than the temples of ancient Rome and Greece, it borrowed from the Renaissance villas of Lazio, Tuscany and the Veneto.
John Nash pioneered the style in the early nineteenth century, but its most celebrated architects were Charles Barry and Thomas Cubitt. Barry was responsible for the Reform Club on Pall Mall – inspired by a Roman palazzo – and the spectacular neo-classical façade of Cliveden House in Berkshire. Meanwhile, Cubitt designed Osborne House, the Italianate holiday home on the Isle of Wight built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, complete with a belvedere tower and loggia walkway.
Cubitt also adapted the style for the grand terraces of Belgravia and Pimlico. However, the best examples of this architecture are the detached and semi-detached villas found in Holland Park.
For instance, the grid of streets just north of the park (also called Holland Park) were built between 1860 and 1880 by the brothers William and Francis Radford. They are lined with double-fronted stucco townhouses that perfectly illustrate the principals of the style. So, what are the details that characterise Italianate design?
The Reform Club
Inside the Reform Club
Looking from the top of the house to the bottom, there are several clues. First, the projecting eaves below the roof, supported by a grand cornice and decorative corbels. Then the windows with Corinthian pilasters on either side and classical architraves on top. Also, the quoins at the corners, the balustrades around the windows, the Doric columns for the porch and the plaster urns at the top of the building. What’s more, the stucco has been decorated with elaborate patterns, as if carved by a skillful craftsman.
These grand properties were intended for the professional and upper classes. The greater space available in this neighbourhood meant generous lateral layouts – fitting for the Italianate style. They were popular too: early residents included aristocrats like the Marquess of Londonderry, Baron Bloomfield, the Maharajah of Lahore, and Prince Louis, Count D’Aquila, as well as prominent engineers, politicians and lawyers.
These layouts were also influenced by Italianate style. Traditionally, the most beautiful spaces in a Renaissance palazzo were found on the first floor, the piano nobile. This was where a wealthy banker or merchant would entertain their guests, with high ceilings and large windows creating expansive and opulent rooms.
A view over Holland Park
Most of the houses on Holland Park have canted bay windows rising up for two storeys, providing a bright and lofty piano nobile. The flat currently on the market occupies this entire floor, meaning its drawing room, dining room and principal bedroom make use of the elevated ceilings and full-length windows. What’s more, the reception room and bedroom windows face south, bringing added illumination into these rooms.
The flat has an additional advantage, almost unique for this street. Because there are no buildings opposite, the windows look out over Holland Park. In other words, the layout takes advantage of the special location to provide a spectacular view. Another reason why the Italianate style is no less desirable today, and why this flat is one of the finest in Holland Park.
A portrait of the Holland Park Circle
Words by Jake Russell