Friends of mine recently lost a beloved uncle, who bequeathed to them a beautiful carved chest that he and his wife had bought on a trip to China sometime back in the 1930s. They asked my advice as to whether or not they should find a place for it in their Summerlin home.
I asked them to show me a picture of the cabinet and once they did I didn’t hesitate for a second to tell them they’d be mad not to find a spot for it. It was a beautiful, hand-wrought piece that I felt would be super in their dining room.
And that’s about the same time that my dear friends also became wonderful new clients and we embarked on a journey of transforming their existing space into the Italian country dining room of their dreams .
Italian or Tuscan-style design is synonymous with rustic charm, which was exactly what my clients were hoping to achieve. To that end, they had already commissioned an artist to execute a wonderful mural of a country scene along with colorful flowers and foliage on the walls, very much an integral part of this design style. They wanted friends to dine in an area reminiscent of the sun-filled meadows and gently rolling hills of central Italy’s wine country that they loved so much.
Throughout the room we used the traditional country color palette along with furniture and fabrics that would all come together to create a soothing and comfortable ambience reflecting the easy, slower pace of that part of the world while, at the same time, capturing its love of beauty and nature’s brilliant colors.
Once the heirloom chest was placed under the windows, we got to work on the focal point of the room: the dining table. Handcrafted wooden pieces are what define and typify the country style so I turned to one of the best craftsman I know, Rico Mazzi, to create the trestle table the clients had always wanted.
Normally, trestle tables are supported by two bases, but, my clients preferred to have one solid, rectangular base which, like the table top, featured the traditional plank style and distressed look associated with this kind of design .
The Old World-style chairs of weathered mahogany (from Andre’s Originals ) had a slightly reddish tone that picked up on that touch of color in the table finish while the wonderful floral tapestry fabric served to bring all the colors in the flowers and furniture together in one glorious and yet somewhat subdued burst of country charm.
Without a doubt, it’s the colors of the Italian countryside that are at the very heart and soul of this style of design. In most cases you’ll find soft lavender that reminds one of the fields of lavender that are grown to support the region’s perfume industry , as well as soft green which calls to mind the luxuriant rolling hills and green meadows of Tuscany.
Sunflower yellow, deep red and bright orange (which all appear in the table’s floral centerpiece as well as in the fabric) comes from the sun-filled days of country living. And the deep, azure blue comes from the pure blue sky of that region, while a range of pure whites to slightly yellow is reminiscent of the blinding sunlight pouring through country windows.
With Rico’s help we were able to transform the existing built-in storage and wine cabinet as well as an exposed door from a typical tract home to fabulous faux wood . The same alchemy was applied to an existing pale wood breakfront that now graces the space as a true complement to this style of design. What a difference a little paint and a lot of talent can make.
Finally, as with all types of design, it’s the accessories that complete a look and breathe life and charm into a room. In a country home these need to be kept simple and useful, like the colorfully painted earthenware sprinkled here and there . A beautiful Oriental rug with flowers and vines covered the existing buff-colored porcelain floor and, typical for the Italian country look, my clients hung a sturdy rustic style chandelier with a canopy over the dining table and all hardware was refinished similarly .
The new dining room is a wonderful example of a combination of natural materials, earthy colors and simple furniture design that is the Tuscan country style, a style that mimics the life of rural Italy — carefree, relaxed and friendly.
Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design International; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He has served on the board of directors of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and is a certified professional in green residential design. Questions can be sent to stephen@soleildesigninter