The style you choose is usually the one with which you feel most at home with. If you like living informally, surrounded by your possessions, you probably like a cosy traditional look, like that of a country cottage or an Edwardian villa. But if you like space, you may go for an uncluttered look, where every object counts and contributes to the style and where everything that’s not in use is stored behind closed doors. You may have one style throughout the house or various ones in different rooms. But try to keep the one you are sure you like for rooms you expect to spend more of your time e.g. the kitchen or living room. That doesn’t mean dull, it’s just that bold colour schemes and daring decorative ideas can lose their charm, if you see too much of them. It can be a good idea to try out more demanding schemes in small areas first.
The Mediterranean Style is one of those that I categorise under “other styles” (see February article). It is a style that stirs up memories of holidays, clear blue skies and whitewashed houses. We might not be able to do anything about this dreadful summer we are having, but it is a style that can be adapted to bring a feeling of sun and warmth to our homes. Mediterranean homes have thick, whitewashed stone walls and small recessed windows, which keep out the sun and heat during the summer and tiled floors made for extra coolness. Most daily life takes place in the open air, so most homes have a shaded terrace or a patio. If you like a relaxed, down-to-earth decor, this may be the style for you. It can be readily adapted to suit a modern house, especially those with a patio. It is less suited to a period house.
The emphasis is on natural raw materials, such as wood with a hand-crafted finish. Furniture and accessories look as if they have been acquired individually, maybe handed down from one generation to the next. Each item lovingly chosen—an unusual shape, a beautiful colour or an interesting texture. The overall effect is one of harmony, which is relaxed rather than over coordinated. Colour is very important, with bright royal blue, saffron yellow, brick red, olive green and dusky pink—on tiles, fabrics and pottery and in more muted tones for painted wooden furniture against a background of colour-washed or fresh white walls.
Surface—Wall and Floor coverings
Rough plastered stone walls are traditional, but painted plain walls are just as good or create a textured look with colour washes. You could paint the walls white or try gentle muted colours that are of the Mediterranean countryside and of buildings faded from the hot sun. For example yellows and apricots reminds one of fields of sunflowers. The aim is to create a feeling of calm, reflected light and spaciousness—cooler colours work best in well lit sunny rooms and white brightens rooms with little natural daylight. In a kitchen use plain, mini-print or hand painted glazed tiles, vertically or diagonally behind work surfaces. They can also complement hand-painted pottery.
Floors with plain, stripped or painted wooden floorboards or terracotta tiles give a natural relaxed look. You could use vinyl floorcovering that looks like tiles or stone. Fitted carpet isn’t really needed in warm climates, but sisal or rush matting is often used. Also rugs are a good choice.
Mediterranean style furniture typically looks old or at least not new—plastic is definitely out. You can transform less expensive furniture with antique staining and waxing, painting and distressing or by colour washing with soft pastel shades. Look in second-hand shops for old pieces. Furniture should be robust and simply shaped. Choose from sofa, free-standing cupboards, chests and sturdy dining table. Dining room chairs can be identical or an attractive mixture. Tied chair cushions can add a touch of colour and comfort. Beds can be solid traditional or neutral timeless look in wrought iron or wood. Mediterranean style beds often have a romantic air—four posters and billowing canopies. Drapes at the head of a bed can make even the plainest bed look romantic.
Choose cotton or cotton-like fabrics in rich red and russet, mustard yellow, royal blue, and deep green or in softer pastel tints, such as peach and pale yellow to go with bed linen and any upholstery. Sprigged floral, paisley designs and bright modern abstract fabrics all capture the style.
Window treatments are informal. Hang a simple curtain from a wooden or wrought iron pole, hide a plastic rail with fabric pelmet or use solid coloured or striped roller blind. A rough, hand-painted glazed pot or bright red geranium on a sill add a Mediterranean touch to a featureless window. You can add Mediterranean style shutters to the inside and paint them, including window frame and sill, they can look good against a white wall.
Lighting / Accessories
Lighting is very important, harsh overhead lighting can destroy the atmosphere, instead use wall and table lamps. Lamps with plain shades on candlestick terracotta or glazed ceramic bases are ideal. You can supplement these with functional lighting such as recessed ones. You can have a drop light with simple metal shade over a dining table. Very modern lighting shades or fussy traditional styles are unsuitable.
Just one or two accessories can evoke a Mediterranean style. Hand-painted blue and white glazed pottery has a particularly Spanish feel. Pieces with brightly coloured decoration works better than fine china. Glass can also add to the décor. Use colourful tablecloths or place-mats to add a splash of colour. The Mediterranean kitchen is a working kitchen, so the more utensils, crockery and raw ingredients on display the better. Have hand-painted dishes in colourful or earthy tones. Keep attractively bottled French condiments such as cooking oil and vinegar on display. Oregano, sage, parsley and thyme are favourite Mediterranean herbs, so put them in a terracotta window-box on the sill.
If we don’t get a summer or you can’t go abroad for a holiday maybe you can create some of the atmosphere in your home with this style or maybe take one or two of the ideas from it. No matter which style you choose, most of us don’t want to live in a museum piece or a modern showcase, we like to have practical and comfortable homes.
Mary D. Kelly