How can I bring some Southern European joie de vivre into my home?
A fair question! As summer approaches, the mere fleeting thought of cool tiled floors and a shady nook in a whitewashed Mediterranean villa makes me cringe. As this column goes to print, I should actually be in one, perched on a lake in Lombardy, kicking off my post-wedding vacation. Before long, I’ll be starting a work week in Milan, then fully back into vacation mode as we head to Naples and the Amalfi Coast.
In this corner of the country is one of my favorite interiors – not that I’ve seen it in real life – and I think it could be a good source of inspiration. I’m talking about the Li Galli Islands, which can be seen from Positano and whose history is full of myths and magic. At Homer Odyssey, Odysseus managed to resist the call of the pesky sirens here. Dancer Rudolf Nureyev bought the islands in 1985 and set about restoring the villa high up on Gallo Lungo, the largest of the three islands.
Apparently he helicoptered in a golden bathtub from Paris (naturally), but from the photographs I’ve seen of the villa’s interiors, I’m all about the tiles, which not only cover the walls and floors, but also the barrel vaulted ceilings. The mix of patterns, mostly in coastal blues and greens, is stunning.
The painted tiles scream the Mediterranean; maybe a project calls? Inspired by antique Italian design, Maitland & Poate’s Higuera tile features a striking geometric and botanical pattern in hues of peachy pink with yellow accents: kind of like one of those picture-perfect Mediterranean sunsets you take 400 pictures with his phone. Perfect for a new kitchen splashback.
If you fancy something bigger, a bathroom update, for example, how about going full Nureyev and using mismatched tiles? I love the idea of buying old antiques and randomly placing them – it might take a while, but hunting is half the fun. (A quick online search revealed a large number of beautiful antique Italian tiles available through a dealer in Lazio.)
While we’re on the Amalfi Coast, let’s travel a kilometer inland to the former home of Ravello and Gore Vidal, La Rondinaia. Built in 1930, it’s a classic seaside villa, all striped awnings, arches and terraces. You can search online for home interiors around 1994, when Architectural Digest featured it.
I like the slightly faded images, in particular of the living room and its set of four armchairs in pale yellow slipcovers. The slipcovers give an informal and casual look and thus speak fully of the holidays. Perhaps you could consider giving a sofa or armchairs a new, more casual life?
Let’s jump to the present, but we’ll stay in Italy and make our way to Tuscany. Last summer I was lucky enough to spend a night at Villa Arniano, the home of interior designer Camilla Guinness and her family, en route to another location in the hills. It was a treat as apart from being a brilliant host – along with her cook and author daughter Amber – Guinness did an utterly sublime interior and I loved seeing it first hand. Each room is both elegant and deliciously relaxed.
I noticed many details that could provide more inspiration: skirts on the kitchen cupboards instead of doors (surely a feature of Italian country kitchens); carpets made from raw and natural materials; lots of plants and sprigs of green stuffed into pretty old containers; countless rustic, painted chairs and tables dotted the place.
I like this kind of furniture because it has a lot of character. Looking on 1stdibs, I found a beautiful 18th century Tuscan cabinet with its original paintwork, via a dealer in Germany, that would add a heavy dose of laid-back Italian charm to any room.
Think about the little things, too: rustic, natural fibers such as rattan, terracotta, wicker, and straw should be at the top of your list. I recently noticed a brilliant rope and glass chandelier by French modernist designers Audoux Minet from 1950, for sale via Atelier Vime – those French merchant-designers who are themselves masters of the languorous Provençal look. (I love the look of the wicker valance they produce.)
I’ve tapped on about three Italian villas: I’m aware that the Mediterranean is a vast territory and I can’t do it justice here. Yet when we talk about Mediterranean style, we’re probably referring to that feeling of easy, breezy nonchalance and informality. Therefore, it’s probably best achieved over time.
But, listen, if it’s Friday night, friends are coming and you need a spontaneous pinch of holiday-inspired magic. . . Forget adding skirts to your kitchen cupboards, just throw in a few baskets and straw hats. So book flights. As for me, right now I might be snorkeling around Li Galli, trying my best to catch a glimpse of the magic of the Nureyev tiles. Wish me good luck!
If you have a question for Luke about design and stylish living, email him at [email protected] Follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall
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