How to get the Mediterranean look at home

Tom Howley

I’m forever in awe of the timeless style of the cities and homes that luxuriate saltily around the Mediterranean Sea. It isn’t the soaring, fin-white hotels that pierce the blue skies that most capture my attention, but the whitewashed, bougainvillaea-crowned Modern Mediterranean architecture and interiors that cling to cliff faces and trickle down to the shore in a sugar-lump hodgepodge of rooms and archways. Hemmed in by delightfully uneven, steep and narrow cobbled ginnels whose stones warm in the sun as they have done for centuries, these homes engender the effortless (or is it?), relaxed and globally-coveted style of Mediterranean living.

The very essence of these seemingly cobbled-together homes is just that: They are cobbled together but over years of collecting and sourcing from both local markets and dealers, on the locals’ travels and perhaps from design houses in the nearest shopping district. The aesthetic is one of refined eclecticism, rustic yet luxurious, totally mismatched yet exquisitely unified.

Adopting this style in an inner-city or in-land home elsewhere in the world can be a challenge. Firstly, there is the architecture to contend with. The high-ceilinged Georgian homes of the London suburbs call for an interior style that complements the presence of a ceiling rose. The sprawling farmhouses and converted barns popular amongst country folk demand the chintzes and tartans of the English decorating tradition, and the boxy, albeit draftless, apartments of city skyrises may lack some of the wizened character upon which the Mediterranean style improvises.

But fear not – there is absolutely always a way to incorporate a style you love into any home. Even if you catch yourself with a glass of Sassicaia, crammed into the last corner of your flat which harbours the last of the dwindling evening sun, you’re already on the right track to your Mediterranean home.

The most fundamental part of the Mediterranean home is unfussiness. Discard all inclinations to match like with like and approach your decoration from the point of collecting. This needn’t mean spending inordinate amounts of money on hugely expensive collector’s items but instead waiting to spend the money you wish to spend on things you really love. Take glassware, for example. The most fabulous dining tables are laid with an assortment of wine glasses and tumblers in different shapes, sizes and even colours.

Ostuni Celadon Alezio £155, Ostuni Blush Noci £155, Fasano Blush Alezio £89, Fasano Celadon Noci Cushions £89 by Andrew Martin, showing how sun-bleached, pared-back fabrics can bring a relaxed, Mediterranean feel to your home, www.andrewmartin.co.uk (Andrew Martin)
Ostuni Celadon Alezio £155, Ostuni Blush Noci £155, Fasano Blush Alezio £89, Fasano Celadon Noci Cushions £89 by Andrew Martin, showing how sun-bleached, pared-back fabrics can bring a relaxed, Mediterranean feel to your home, www.andrewmartin.co.uk (Andrew Martin)

Relaxed, eclectic Mediterranean living does not require uniform but entirely the opposite. Buy glasses in twos rather than eights to create a dynamic and interesting collection of glassware. LSA International’s varied collections currently feature handblown tumblers in the most beautiful ice cream (read: Gelato) shades. Another fantastic place to source fuss-free, unique glasses is Milagros, a Mexican outlet on Columbia Road.

Mixing and matching your soft furnishings is another way to bring a feel of the Mediterranean into your home. A great place to start is with cushions. Look for sun-bleached, washed-out cushion covers for a rustic, lived-in look, in colours like terracotta, olive green and glorious limoncello yellow. Independent homewares maker, Issy Granger, offers a sumptuous selection of Kilim cushions to scatter across your sofa, while Andrew Martin’s Salento fabric and cushion collection is inspired by the dream-like Italian city, its limestone cliffs and drystone walls.

Another key element of the Mediterranean home starts with something incredibly simple and absolutely achievable in any home. Contrary to popular interiors trends, I urge you now, should the Mediterranean style take your fancy, to paint your walls white. Matt, white walls provide a clean and crisp contrast for many of the materials associated with Mediterranean style including rich woods, wrought iron and painted tiles. Perhaps the most dramatic contrast white walls serve to bring about is that against hand-painted tiles in blues, oranges, yellows and reds. I have made a habit of buying a few tiles from beachside vendors on trips to the Mediterranean and now have a small collection ready for mounting on the wall just as soon as I can find the right spot for them. There is a huge selection of beautiful tiles available in the UK too from places like Fired Earth, Marlborough Tiles, and Balineum, a bathroom and kitchen accessories company that offers a particularly lovely range of hand-painted tiles inspired by the seaports of the Mediterranean.

GEMS collection by LSA International for a dynamic summer table with an unfussy, mismatched look, www.lasa-international.com (Edie Mullen)
GEMS collection by LSA International for a dynamic summer table with an unfussy, mismatched look, www.lasa-international.com (Edie Mullen)

British interior designer, Matthew Williamson, is also a proponent of paring back the home with white walls in the effort to achieve a Mediterranean look at home in the summer. Despite his famed maximalism and prolific creation of fabel-like, magical wallpapers and murals for Osborne & Little, Williamson believes that in the summer, sometimes a bare wall is the best option. Williamson says, “The adage of less is more often works best in the summer, and I certainly tend to adhere to a crisper, fresher approach to the decoration of my home at this time of year. This doesn’t mean you should avoid heavier, decorative pieces of furniture, though. You can create a beautiful, fresh and compelling scheme by contrasting rich woods and textiles with empty space, allowing individual pieces to be framed by a bare wall.” The second in the series of Williamson’s shoppable online Edits with Vinterior.co, an online vintage and antique marketplace, launched last week on the theme of summer living, proving a great resource for those looking to fill their homes with vintage and antiques with the help of Williamson’s guiding eye.

So, if for one reason or another you’ll be spending the summer of 2020 at home, why not look to bring the atmosphere of the UK’s favourite holiday destination to you? These simple decorating tricks may not bring the weather with them, but they’re sure to bring a relaxed freshness to your space.

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