Design Dilemma: Finding True Italian Style
Is Italian style what is otherwise known in many gated communities across the country as “Tuscan style” ? You know, ornate iron scrollwork, heavy dark farmhouse furniture, terra cotta tiles, textured, stucco walls?
The answer: absolutely not.
Visit Tuscany and you are more likely to find a medieval farmhouse done up in the latest modern style, including modern light fixtures, sleek kitchens and sculptural furnishings.
Which brings us to a point about lending your home an Italian flare: Italian style is not the cliche many of us believe it is. Rather, it’s an attitude toward decorating that is whimsical, bold, colorful and always modern. Here’s what we’ve picked up on Italian style in a recent sojourn in Italy:
1) A sense of humor. Walk into an Italian home, and you’ll always find a touch of fun.Â Italians understand the concept of “originalita” (originality) and feel comfortable breaking the rules to lend their home a sense of personal style and drama. What you don’t find in Italian homes is the typical, safeÂ beige living room set you see in so many American homes. Italians would view such banality as failure. Examples of “fun” in Italian homes could Â include a whimsical light fixture, a mod hanging chair,Â or perhaps something like theÂ Moroso “Binta” chair done up in African textiles below.
2) Sleek, kitchens of the highest quality. Because homes don’t come with kitchens, Italians move their kitchens with them whenever theyÂ move from one house to another. This means they invest in high quality pieces that will last a long, long time.Â And though “retro” country designs exist, they are not prized. Rather Italians living even in old 19th century buildings prefer kitchens of the latest design.Â What’s hot now is a kitchen so sleek (with appliances hidden) it’s nearly impossible to tell it IS a kitchen.
3) Art, art and more art. Italians enjoy collecting art and filling their homes with personal collections that often span a broad range of styles. Often, a collection of paintings might hang salon style all the way up to the ceiling. In the more rigorously modern homes, art is large. The larger and more avant garde, the better.
4) Mixing old and new, especially modern furniture in old and historic homes. So what if you live in an old monastery or a 14th century castle? Is that any reason to get stuck inÂ a rut? Â Being surrounded by so much history, Italians feel free to embrace the new.Â So instead of slavishly reinventing a certainÂ era, they play old and new against each other. Modern Italian furniture is oftenÂ used in environments that includeÂ frescos, ornate chandeliers and ceiling moldings from a completely different era.
5. Bold color. Living in a hot and sunny clime, Italians enjoy color. So you won’t find Italians opting for a taupe couch. What a waste. Instead they enjoy splashes of bold color, especially primary colors like bright reds, yellows and blues which you are likely to see on couches, chairs and fixtures. Often bold color is offset by fresh white.
6. Designed but not decorated. You generally won’t find elaborate window treatments and loads of matching chairs in Italian homes. Italian style is more minimalist and simpler, emphasizing clean sculptural lines over fabric treatments. Couches and chairs generally have clean, modernist lines and are never overstuffed. Even if the heavier vintage chests and armoires of a bygone era are on display, they are balanced by a less is more aesthetic.
7) Attention to Details. Italians spend a lot of time evaluating furniture not just for comfort and value, butÂ for interesting sculptural lines. The fixation on sculptural qualities extends to everything, from household appliances to lightÂ and plumbing fixtures. And fixtures, by the way, are always of the highest quality.
8.) Multifunctionality. Because many Italians live in small homes (usually apartments rather than single-family houses) they prefer furniture with more than one function. They look for desks that can turn into beds, beds that can convert into storage bins, coffee tables that can become dining tables. Multifunctional pieces keep small spaces uncluttered.