03 October 2010

Early autumn re-runs: How do I decorate my Tuscany dining room

This post ran originally on 27 February 2009. I used to be a lot more blunt in my reader question posts then I am these days but I think if I were asked this same question tomorrow I'd respond the same way.

Help! I am in the process of gutting my first floor and I'm going to get a Tuscany dining room. I want to decorate the room with bunches of dried roses but I'm worried that they're not right for a Tuscany theme.
Oh man, there is so much wrong here I don't know where to start. Before you spend a dime, stop what you're doing. Stop and then take $1500 out of your budget and fly to Florence for a couple of days. Well, maybe $2000. Whatever it costs, it will have a value that transcends its price. You see, while you're there you'll gaze at what the real Tuscany looks like and hopefully you'll forget all about this dining room you have in mind. Oh, and as a point of order, Tuscany is a noun and Tuscan is an adjective. What you have in mind is a Tuscan dining room, not a Tuscany dining room. If I have anything to say about it you won't have either, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This Tuscan thing that you see in your mind is an entirely American invention. It's not even an homage, it's a cartoon. Here's what a dining room in the real Tuscany looks like. 

Note the lack of bunches of dried roses. There are no fake sunflowers or clots of plastic grapes either. There aren't any framed posters with nonsensical Italian phrases hanging on the wall, nor is there any faux painted brick. It's a basic, small table jammed into the space not already taken up by a tiny kitchen. It's neat as a pin, it's simple and it's orderly. But real Tuscan style isn't about decor or themed dining rooms. It's about views like this.

Or views like this.

Views like that beget a worldview that's entirely Tuscan and how things look over there are a product of that worldview. The real Tuscany is about making the best use of a small space. The real Tuscany is about embracing life, it's about authenticity, it's about quality over quantity in everything. There's no theme here, there's no attempt to recreate a magazine spread or a dream house from some Developer's unimaginative mind. The truth of the matter is that unless you can see the Arno river pass under your dining room window, no amount of clutter will give you a "Tuscany dining room."

Man! That room up there burns my eyes. Please don't do something like that in your home. Sorry to be so brutal but what you're asking is for some kind of permission to turn your home into a miniature Las Vegas and that's something I refuse to go along with.

Listen, your dining room and indeed your whole home should tell your story, not somebody else's. The things you decorate with should be your things and if you're going to buy a dining table, buy one that's classic enough and made well enough that you can pass it on to your kids. Then in 50 years when it's in your daughter's home that same table will tell your story as it passes into her story. I suspect that's the feeling you're after. A feeling of permanence and a feeling of knowing you belong somewhere. That sort of thing isn't a theme, it's a way of life.

So if you want to bring some Tuscan sensibilities to your dining room, by all means do so. But study the real place, not The Venetian or the Bellagio. While you're enjoying the quick jaunt over to Florence I so strongly recommend, have your photo taken with the Duomo in the background then get it blown up and framed. Hang it in your dining room. I don't think it's possible to get more Tuscan than Florence, and it'll be yours. Authentically.

If you like bunches of dried roses, go for it. Just be sure that you like them and that you're not just adding them to advance some kind of ill-advised theme. So instead of asking me if they're appropriate, the person to ask is you. What do bunches of dried roses say about you? If you're happy with the answer than hang them by the bushel. If you're not happy with the answer then don't. If you're not sure then don't do anything. It's pretty simple really.


  1. Passionately put and I agree with every word!

    Now tell me what you think about tablescaping.

  2. Just in case you run out of things to vent your spleen on at a time you feel splenetic.

  3. I've danced around that very subject a couple of times but I keep shying away from it. Too cowardly I suppose. There are a lot of toes to step on and people to offend with that topic. I need to come up with an angle that won't get me shunned by the rest of the design blogosphere.

  4. Wow Paul --very well said! I didn't think you were brutal at all. Sometimes honesty can be brutal, but I thought your comments were not. I liked that you tried to get to the heart of what people are thinking when they are attracted to "Tuscan" style but don't really understand why.

    Hopefully your reader took your advice and spent her money on a real Tuscan experience. While she was there, I hope she had the opportunity to notice that people in that part of the world probably don't don there living rooms with "American West" decor.

    I'm not a big fan of "themed" decor unless it fits the region where you live. Palm trees and shell encusted lampshades just don't work in Idaho for example. Where I live in California wine country, everybody seemed to want a Tuscan kitchen a couple of years ago. Gag me with a spoon! Some of the things I've seen and been asked to design are horendous and without soul. Now the Modonna Inn http://www.madonnainn.com/, take that for an example of local vernacular! Talk about Vegas galingalang-- Taken right out of the pages of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. Inspired by Solvang no doubt. There are rows and rows of ranch houses here built in the '50's and '60's with chalet trim detail and diamond widows. UGH!

  5. Ugh. There are no shortcuts to character. I say it all the time.

  6. Much nicer than what I would suggest: "Start with some lighter fluid and a match..."

  7. Having read this with just that sort of view right outside my window, I say Bravo! What am I doing stuck in my room at the computer when Tuscany awaits, you ask? Turning it off and going out into the piazza. Loved reading this from here; was a great time-warp sort of thing!

  8. I like the way you think Raina and Saxon, as I was combing through my archives on Friday and looking for things to re-run, I came across this gem. I grabbed it right away because I knew you were actually in Tuscany right now. Do me a favor and count the number of bunches of dried roses you see.

  9. Just a little twist on this, When Pam said they don't decorate the Living rooms with American West decor, she was probably right...... but, while visiting in Provence a few years ago we came across a small development of new homes being built. You guessed it. The Sign read New California Style homes for sale. The homes looked like something out of one of our track developments. I think I may have Pics some where I will see if I can find them. So while we are imitating European style, the ARE imitating American style. Funny world.

  10. I went off on a tear about that in August. One of my Australian readers sent me a link to a Melbourne builder who specializes in American-style homes. Here's the link: http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com/2010/08/american-design-in-melbourne.html

    That sent me off on a wild goose chase to find them all over the world: http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com/2010/08/american-design-in-melbourne.html

    It's some crazy and I think misguided stuff.

  11. Ugghhh, It is worse than I thought this epidemic of American Houses. Don't know how I missed that post. Really funny I didn't get any of them right. Sue

  12. Doing the research for that post was mortifying.

  13. This totally reminds me of the post about the lady who wanted the matchy-matchy bedroom furniture that was so ugly..

  14. Believe it or not, I received an e-mail from someone six months ago who'd just bought the very bed I used as an illustration in that post. She was highly offended by that post and needed to tell me that. The e-mail came from a dummy e-mail address. I love it when people have strongly held convictions. Hah.


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