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.”
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, celebrate life. Chat with friends over a glass of wine and a slow-cooking roast in the oven.
Italian Kitenchs vs American Kitchens
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.
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 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.
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.
In Italy, there are tons of kitchen design stores. 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 kitchen stores 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.