If there’s one country in the world known for its supremely good taste, it’s Italy. Whether it’s food, clothes, cars or handbags, you know it’s going to be good when you see the Made in Italy label. One area that you might not be quite so familiar with (until now, that is) is Italian interior design. As you’ll be unsurprised to learn, Italian interiors are just as stylish as everything else that comes from that fine country, bearing all the trademark signs of good taste and refinement that anyone familiar with Italian fashion will already be all too aware of.
The History of Italian Interior Design
Before we dive too deeply into Italian interior design, a quick look back into its origins might be required (after all, if we want to properly understand the style today, we need to know at least a little of what came before it). Unfortunately, the history of Italian design is a little too long and complex for a detailed examination, but suffice to say the ancient Romans play a big part in it. When they weren’t running around building empires and showing Celts the value of a straight road, they were at home, playing at their favorite hobby of making their homes look pretty. Not to say they valued aesthetics over function: Romans prized comfort and utility just as much as they did beauty, with the result that the ornate architectural details that lent an air of elegant splendor to their properties were more than counterbalanced by their simple, durable interiors.
Italian Interior Design in 2019
A couple of thousand years after the first Roman empire fell, Italian’s are still ruling the world (at least with their fashions, if not their armies). While modern Italian homes have adopted the same sleek, clean lines as other Western interior design trends, you’ll still find plenty of traces of Roman influence if you look closely enough. Their preference for spacious, well-lit spaces is just one example. Their love for bringing elements of nature into their interiors (to the extent that the inside simply becomes an extension of the outside) is another. There are, however, a few dramatic changes since the olden days that are worth considering if you plan on incorporating a few elements of Italian style into your own home.
A Clever Use of Space
Anyone who’s ever visited Italy will be aware that for all the opulence of their exteriors, when it comes down to the bare facts, Italian homes tend to be a little “cozy”. Where once a single family-owned an entire building, now that same block houses maybe 30-50 individual apartments. Not that you’d always notice, however. When it comes to clever utilization of space, Italians are the masters and can make a poky little dwelling seem as spacious and airy as a mansion in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Through the clever placement of furniture, light fittings, and architectural features, Italians can create the feeling of a large, bright, airy space that has very little to do with the room’s actual dimensions.
The Evolution of the Kitchen
Where once the kitchen was the home of servants and swine only, now it’s the heart of the house. Italians no longer reserve their kitchen for cooking, but rather see it as an extension of the living room. With comfort necessarily becoming a greater priority than it once was, the kitchen is where you’ll notice the most changes between the Italian homes of old and the ones of today.
A Shift Towards Minimalism
As Life In Italy notes, while Italians haven’t embraced minimalism in the same way as say the Japanese or the Scandinavians have, they do tend to prefer a much cleaner, simpler aesthetic to the ones their ancestors did. This embrace of all things clean and uncluttered has led modern Italian homes to shun their previous habit of ornamenting their surrounds to the max, preferring instead to keep thing safely stowed away in handy storage spaces. Furniture is required to justify its place in these new clean spaces, with the result that single pieces will often serve one or more functions (a sofa that turns into a bed, for example, or an easy chair that incorporates storage space in its arms and base).
- Clean Colors – Italian interior designers tend to prefer a clean, contemporary color palette with white as its main focus. Walls in modern homes tend to be pure white, while bolder hues such as red will often be used as an accent. In more traditional properties, cream, beige, and ivory tend to dominate as the background color, while olive, terracotta, blue and lavender serve as complementary accents.
- Natural Flooring – When it comes to flooring, Italians rarely go to the bother of fitting a carpet, preferring the natural beauty of marble, tile, or parquet over wall to wall coverings. That’s not to say they don’t appreciate the value of a good rug: large Persian rugs in colors that complement the color accents used elsewhere are often used to great effect, adding a warm coziness without detracting from the overall elegance of the theme.
- Textiles – Italians are known for their love of high-quality fabrics and are as keen to show off their taste on the textiles that adorn their homes as the ones that drape their bodies. Expect plenty of light organza, leather, and velvets.
- Terracotta – Terracotta may not have originated in Italy, but the popularity of the material among its inhabitants means it may as well have. Terracotta first took hold in Tuscany, but it’s since been adopted in every region of the country. Such is the Italian love for all things terracotta, they’re not simply content to use it in pottery and tiles; look at any Italian style house that leans more toward the rustic than the contemporary and you’ll see how heavily it relies on terracotta shades on its walls, fabrics, and pretty much anything else that will benefit from its warm, earthen tones.
Combing the Old with The New
As Italianbark notes, many Italian homes are the result of the extensive restoration work that was completed on older buildings after the war. With many of the old architectural features of these homes still intact, Italians have learned to showcase them by carefully mixing older styles with contemporary fashions.
As with most of their endeavors, Italians love to combine both beauty and function in their furniture. Clean, pure shapes that blend elegance with simplicity are popular, while furniture that manages to serve multiple purposes is particularly in demand. Think chairs that incorporate storage space into their arms, or have concealed storage compartments in their base. Sofa beds are also very popular for the same reason.
Traditionally, Italian furniture has been characterized by a solid frame made of dark wood (lacquered oak or pine are particularly popular), and its preference for facades to be decorated with light, wavy patterns and wrought iron handles. Simple shapes rule, as do soft, feminine curves. As with everything, Italians have an eye for the very last detail. In furniture, this shows itself through the way different textiles are used on upholstered furniture depending on their color. Warm shades tend to be used on softer fabrics as a way of lending the color a depth that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. Colder colors, meanwhile, tend to be utilized on smooth, dense fabrics like leather.
As 3Dex Art notes, lighting is a big feature in Italian interiors but will be adapted to suit the particular architectural style of the property rather than following a rigid formula. Big, beautiful chandeliers are often used as a way of emphasizing the height of city apartments, while several floor or table lights scattered throughout the room will be used in some rooms to create a diffused, soft light.
Just as Italians love to cover themselves in designer gear, so too do they love to introduce some designer flair into their own home. Italian interior designers are known as trendsetters throughout the world, renowned for their ability to blend innovative design with classic refinement and sophistication. It’s not uncommon for Italians to scrimp and save so they can introduce the works of one of these famous designers into their homes:
- Michele De Lucchi: De Lucchi grew to prominence in the 1980s but is still a popular figure in Italian design today. Besides creating bold, postmodern furniture, he’s also renowned for his work in museum setups and urban design works such as the Rykhe district in Tbilisi. Amongst his most famous creations are the Tolomeo Desk Lamp for Artemide (1986), the Castore LED Lamp for Artemide (2003), Vegan Table for Riva 1920 (2009), and the Bookshelf Existence in Corten iron for De Castelli (2010),
- Piero Lissoni: Piero Lissoni is famed for his contemporary, minimalistic take on furniture design. Most of his creations manage to fuse beauty with utility (a classic example of which was his Web series of desks, a piece that was designed to be both a traditional writing desk and a modern support for computer equipment, TV and HI-FI systems.
- Gaetano Pesce: Cheerful, transgressive and iconic, the creations of Italian designer Gaetano Pesce are coveted throughout the world.
- Paolo Rizzatto: In 1978, Paolo Rizzatto founded Lucepan, an award-winning lighting firm that’s responsible for producing some of the most desirable listening fixtures of the last 40 years.
- Guido Venturini: Guido Venturini is part of a movement known as Bolidism, an artistic endeavor characterized by the use of futuristic curves lines. Venturini has worked closely with Alessi over the years, and is responsible for some of their most innovative designs.
- Matteo Thun: As one of the co-founders of Memphis Group, and latterly as the creative director at Swatch, Matteo Thun is renowned for his provocative, modern creations, a prime example of which is the highly coveted Laurum Marinus teapot.
The Characteristics of Italian Kitchens
Italian kitchens are characterized by several distinctive features:
- A preference for natural materials. Expect plenty of wood and stone on both the floor, walls, and furniture.
- Open shelves.
- A large, wooden table positioned at the center of the kitchen.
- Lighting positioned above the dining area.
- An abundance of decorative pots, paintings, and vases.
- Display racks to showcase the prettiest plates in the family’s collection.
- The Characteristics of Italian Bedrooms
- Find yourself in an Italian bedroom and you’ll discover yourself looking at these key details:
- Muted, pastel shades from the lighter end of the color spectrum.
- Windows treated in a light organza.
- A wooden floor with a wooly rug placed next to the bed.
- A bed at the center of the room, more likely than not accompanied by a dressing table at its base, and a bookcase to its side. Cupboards and storage units are fitted along the walls to avoid encroaching on too much space.
The Characteristics of Italian Living Rooms
Italian living rooms tend to bear the following keys features:
- Bright, white walls with occasional accents of olive, lavender, turquoise, terracotta or blue.
- Multiple lighting sources (including drop chandeliers, wall scones, floor lamps, and table lamps).
- Comfortable, large sofas as the central feature.
- Elegantly treated window draped in organza.
- Highly polished tiled floors.
- A fireplace set at the center of the room.
- Large houseplants, figurines, and statuesque vases for decoration.
The Characteristics of Italian Bathrooms
Italian bathrooms tend to follow a specific formula. The key thing to remember is that Italians don’t tend to see the bathroom as simply a place to wash; for them, it’s a boudoir, so expect to see armchairs, poufs, dressers and plenty of cabinets.
- Baths are usually placed in the center of the room.
- Floors and walls are usually shod in tile, with paint reserved for the ceilings.
- Wall scones are used to provide a dimmed, dappled light.