Italian Home Renovation Blog Series. This week, one of the biggest differences between Italian kitchens and American.
Last week on Renovating Bardonecchia, I promised to share the biggest shock I’ve had so far while renovating our home in Northern Italy. Well my friends, here it is. One, despite floor plans opening up in Italy, the modern Italian kitchen, is still hidden. Two, kitchen design in Italy is like fashion. Are you a Marc Jacobs or Tom Ford kind of girl? I’ll explain.
I think it’s fair to say, ask an American what the heart of the home is, they’d say the kitchen. One would think in Italy, home of pasta and epic family meals the kitchen would be equally celebrated. So imagine my surprise during our first meeting at a kitchen design store when I was told “if you want to hide your kitchen you shouldn’t put handles on the drawers.”
Italian Kitchens are Mostly Pre-Fab
Full stop. Wait, what? Why would I want to hide my kitchen? I love kitchens! The kitchen is where I want to hang out, be creative, and celebrate life. Chat with friends over a glass of wine and a slow-cooking roast in the oven.
That first meeting in a kitchen design store in Italy was a bit of a blur after the hidden comment and it wasn’t just the language barrier. Before I knew it, there were chips of colors on a chain being spread out in front of us. The cabinets. What color did I want?
But, wait a minute. I want Aegean Blue, bottom cabinets only. On the top, open shelving. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I pulled up my Pinterest page to help convey what I wanted. My words kept falling through the divide between English and Italian.
Custom Cabinets, Not so Much
In response, the kitchen designer started looking through the color chips, trying to find the closest match. Dark Blue. Navy Blue. Blue Green. Hunter Green. All of them, off.
Why can’t we just paint the cabinets, I thought. I wasn’t getting it yet.
Suddenly we’re walking through the showroom. Looking at countertop surfaces. Cabinet pillars. Two types of sinks. Aluminum and sinks of the same material as the counter. As if the sink had been pushed down. A sink you couldn’t see unless you were standing right over it. A hidden sink.
Everything But the Kitchen Sink I want
I like farmhouse sinks.
Paolo asked me to show the designer a picture of a farmhouse sink. I didn’t want to. I already knew the answer.
The designer looked and shook his head no. “That’s not easy here.”
That’s when I started to feel sorry for the poor designer. He saw the look on my face. He was so proud of what he was selling. It was a high design and quality craftsmanship. Yet there I stood confused, overwhelmed, and disappointed.
In short, I was hella naive.
I was fixated on my dream kitchen. My head was full of ideas, based on everything I knew and loved, in America. I wasn’t in America. I was in Italy. What my head should have been full of was knowledge about the way things are done in Italy.
Now, after months of working through the design of our kitchen, I know better.
Modern Italian Kitchens are Hidden
In Italy, there are tons of design stores for modern Italian kitchens. All of which are filled with what I can only describe as modern kitchens. Kitchens that seem to be hidden in plain sight. Here are some photos of modern Italian kitchen design to help illustrate what I mean.
Everywhere we went, the Italian kitchen store had collections with names and designers. Take for example “Liberamente” described (and roughly translated) as “Two decorative shades create a truly comfortable kitchen environment: Concrete Jersey decorative for the base units and open wardrobe, Voyage Oak decorative for the tall units, shelves, and backrest.
A simple style, but effective, which does not exclude practicality thanks to the equipped setup backrest. Essential lines, clear and functional geometries, in search of maximum compositional freedom. Characteristics notes: minimal design and aesthetics (no handles), open modules for the most diverse configurations, interesting living elements, and a great variety of finishes and colors. In fact, in the foreground, there are the materials: marble effect laminates, available for doors and tops; warm decorative Walnut effect and decorative Oak, all with vertical grain; Bio-mortar material effect with a metropolitan flavor; interesting metal effect lacquers. All style choices for the high-class kitchen environment.”
In a way, I get it. The modern Italian kitchen is smart. High design in a pre-fab world. Preset colors and materials. Pillars of 60, 90, or 120cm can be configured. Controlled variability. Appliances are subtlety there. Inset, hidden behind cabinets and low profiles. They are beautiful. Sleek, clean, and cohesive with the rest of the rooms. Works of art.
They just aren’t me. I’m a SMEG, kitchen island, dried beans in ball jars kind of girl.
What Makes Italian & American Kitchens So Different
Open floor plans in America sort of shout “Welcome to my kitchen, the heart of my home!” From everything I’ve seen, it’s not really like that in Italy. Aside from cultural differences around the formality of entertaining at home, there is one other reason I can think of for the difference. Size.
The average home in Italy is an apartment or condo under 900 square feet. So while an open floor plan in America can feel like three separate zones in an open space (kitchen, dining room, living room) an Italian open floor plan is one space for three purposes. This is why I believe modern Italian kitchen design hides the kitchen in plain sight.
Yes, I know this is my own cultural bias folks and I have to own it. I just didn’t realize it was until we were in the middle of a kitchen design store in Italy. That day I walked out of the store numb. My dreams for my first kitchen felt crushed. Paolo and I decided to visit as many kitchen design stores as we could to get a better sense of how things are done in Italy. Each experience was the same.
While I appreciate that a home should be a reflection of the culture it’s in and the local people who design it, I also want our home to reflect us. Here’s where the story takes a happy turn.
I knew Paolo wanted that gray bidet and control of his studio. He knew I wanted a bright, happy, vivacious, cheerful kitchen. Which is how we ended up going down the route of a custom design kitchen here in Italy. We braced ourselves to completely blow the budget. Luckily, my love of open shelving brings the cost of a custom kitchen below that of a pre-fab kitchen!
My dream kitchen will, in fact, become a reality. I hope you’ll join me next week to see two design elements I’m over the moon excited about in our soon-to-be kitchen.
I asked on one of the Living in Italy Facebook pages whether people “take” their kitchens with them when they move. Looking at listings, they all looked like what we might put in an RV or maybe a tiny home. Aside from leaving a sink everything goes unless it is listed as furnished,
I find it ironic in that I suspect people from the US turn over their homes more often than the EU. When we sell, we might take our washer and dryer, pretty much everything else stays and apparently EU people take everything that isn’t screwed down?
Early in the trend to install LVP ( luxury vinyl plank) the first manufacturer to make inroads into the US market is based out of the UK, Cardeen. Their ads stated how easy it would be to install and remove and take with you when you move.
🤣I love that story thank you for a morning laugh! I sold anything in the US that was an electronic or inexpensive. We only brought sentimental or high quality useful items. That said, IF we even move in Italy… I might just have to take my kitchen with me after all the work we’re putting into it! Are you planning a move in Italy soon?
Not so different from France where they have teeny, tiny kitchens
They do, but they also have Bordeaux! 🍷
Ummmm….to my eye that third “Uber Modern Italian Hidden Kitchen” looks very 1980s cheap white laminate slab with integrated wood edge/handle. I get that it shows a bright yellow integrated edge/handle, but it nods at the exact same 1980’s appearance. Not my cup of tea. I can feel your disappointment. Looking forward to seeing your finished space and the compromises.
That kitchen indeed looks like an 80s space capsule. I have a feeling you get what I’m talking about now!
Although I do love the look of the Italian kitchens in pictures, it doesn’t look usable. I’m with you I love a welcoming open kitchen.
To me the honestly all felt… cold. I understand the direction but I also understand how happy a home that feels like you can make you. If that makes sense!
I get it, stick to what you want 🙂
Bellissimo.I loved what you wrote .As an Italian living in the country with a real kitchen and in town with a hidden kitchen;I totally understand your disappointment.Probably you’re right as our spaces in town are much more limited than spaces in USA,but it’s so much in fashion to have hidden kitchen also in large spaces….and designers most of the times do not cook.Enjoy your kitchen !
That last line gave me a good laugh! We had an Interior Designer as a client once who said “people don’t need pantries anymore. No one really has ball jars full of dried beans.” In my head I was silently saying, I DO! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I truly appreciate the time it took. Simply cannot wait to share photos of my kitchen and cook like crazy in it! PS: Can I ask where in the country? We’re in Bardonecchia.
Ciao, I am in Chianti in Tuscany.I know Bardonecchia:it’s so beautiful.Ah,just one thing:my beans ,rice, lentils and chickpeas are in jars on a shelf.Looking forward to seeing your kitchen.
It has been a savior living here over the last year, the mountains are my therapy and new friends 🤣. Looking forward to heading to your site to see more of Tuscany!
That’s really interesting about Italian kitchens and the culture shock that comes with it. It was an adjustment for me as well to have a French kitchen in my apartment in Canada!
Lots of French influence in Canada. Have you had people start speaking French with your first then quickly switch to English?
That always made me laugh! Hope you’re doing well.
Yes, indeed. I don’t know any other country where that happens. I am well, thanks :). Glad to see you’re well with your new home!
Getting there day by day. Fingers crossed for end of April!
Fingers crossed indeed!