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The Tuscan decorating style is truly one of the most endearing home decor styles today, and is also one of the most enduring. At the very core of the Tuscan decorating style is infused a centuries old love of beauty, simplistic function, and superior artistic craftsmanship, expressed so elegantly throughout every village and home in Tuscany. The warm, vibrant colors, earthen accents, and solid wood furniture all invoke a sense of comfortable familiarity with the past.
The elements of wood, earth, stone, and water are a common theme of Tuscan villa interiors and outdoors throughout the Italian country landscape. Understanding these elements will enable you to better incorporate them into your own Tuscan home and garden. Those who have experienced the decorating style of Tuscany firsthand will tell you that it is comfortable and happy. The Tuscan way of living is a relaxed way of living – not flashy or pretentious. It is defined by a focus on finding love and beauty in things most important: family, friends, and even food. The desire to return to a more relaxed way of living has encouraged many to embrace this time honored, nostalgic style, and seek to replicate it in their own surroundings.
Throughout history, Tuscany has been well known for its abundant forests, making wood a choice material for use in and around the home. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Tuscan landscape, the trees have been carefully fashioned over the ages to enhance the exceptional beauty of the rolling countryside.
Centuries long, thoughtful cultivation of the wild and transplanted woods of the region has resulted in a picturesque work of “ambient art”. The landscape is indeed a tribute to the longstanding relationship between the Tuscan people and their environment.
Tuscan carpenters and artisans have long enjoyed the wide selection of wood in Italy. The ancient Etruscans used timber from fir and chestnut trees for building most of their structures, including houses, temples, gates, bridges, and drainage works.
Even the Tuscan column was originally made of wood, and is one of the few remaining architectural contributions of the ancient society.
With the efficiency of the Romans, wood quickly played second fiddle to stone or brick as a building material, and became more prominent indoors as beams, doors, and furniture.
The most popular woods used over the years for making fine Tuscan furniture are the highly prized chestnut wood, and walnut wood used since the Renaissance, when some of the most beautiful furniture in Italy was created. Although much of the world’s chestnut trees have been destroyed by disease, Italy has managed to effectively protect it’s antiquated chestnut woods, making Tuscan chestnut furniture a valuable commodity.
A Tuscan handcrafted door demonstrates effective use of wood as an architectural feature.
Of the basic Tuscan elements, earth is perhaps the most dominant and apparent in Tuscan society. Indeed, the rich Tuscan clay has been incorporated in some way into every building across the region. From the characteristic terracotta rooftops down to the floor, Tuscany is thoroughly infused with the element of earth.
Terracotta- meaning earth (terra) that is fired or baked (cotta), has been used for centuries in Tuscany, dating back to the Etruscans who used the clay for pottery and building.
Some examples of their artistic work are still available for viewing, and have been used by artisans for centuries as inspiration.
The heart of the ancient Italian pottery industry was in a town near Florence. Remarkably, the terracotta ovens and kilns have been in production almost continuously since the times of the Etruscans. Considered by many to be the finest terracotta in Tuscany, the skilled artisans reproduce many of the ancient designs out of a unique clay rich in limestone. The fired clay is extremely durable and resistant to the elements.
This durability, economical cost, and ease of transport made clay tiles and bricks an attractive building material for ancient Tuscans. Entire cities, such as Siena, are comprised mainly of brick, as well as numerous casa colonica (Italian farmhouses) dotting the rolling countryside.
This large terracotta urn, now being used in a country garden in Rome, was once used to store olive oil.
Seen practically everywhere throughout the hillsides of the Tuscan region, stone is quite literally a foundational element to Tuscan architecture, both indoors and out. Used in farmhouses, churches, castles, and hillside villages alike, stone has been used as a primary building material throughout Tuscany and other parts of Europe for many centuries. Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for the extensive use of stone throughout Tuscany is the natural abundance of this element in the volcanic geography.
Throughout history, structures were built from whatever resources were readily available. For Tuscany, this material was frequently sandstone (which is easily found near the surface of the volcanic soil), limestone, and marble, all available in countless varieties of quality and color. It was likely the Romans who, by around 40 BC had pioneered the quarrying of stone, and are credited for the extensive use of it throughout the Tuscan region. They were quite aware of the importance of solid building materials and practices for defensive purposes, as well as the aesthetic value of various architectural details such as columns and sculptures. The Romans were particularly fond of the prized white Carrera marble, as were later architects and sculptors of the Renaissance period. The love of this beautiful white marble eventually trickled down to even the simplest of homes, as evidenced in garden fountains and simple kitchen basins.
This Tuscan villa features stone exterior walls and arched entry.
A stone courtyard demonstrates effective use of stone arches and columns so prevalent in Tuscan architecture.
Perhaps the smallest, and most discreet of all the Tuscan elements is that of water. Despite it’s transparent qualities, water is seen extensively throughout the Tuscan landscape, as well as in the smaller setting of villas and farmhouses. Whether in a private courtyard fountain, or a deep villa swimming pool, water is indeed the necessary balancing element to a landscape so dominated by earthiness.
Tuscany is heir to generous natural supplies of water, with a vast network of rivers that meander throughout the region. These are the essential waters that quench the thirsty hills of Tuscany, and provide a welcome relief from the hot summer environment.
While water plays the obvious important roles on the interior of the Tuscan home in kitchen and bath, it is outdoors where water is masterfully used as the aesthetic agent in creating the farmhouse and villa gardens. Pools, fountains, and other water features are common attractions in the garden, and often the entire landscape is designed around these specific features.
A typical small, formal garden may feature a solitary stone fountain surrounded by brick or gravel pathways, lemon trees in clay pots, and a lush surround of flowering vines or hedges. A less formal, or rustic garden commonly incorporates the use of vines, or fruit and olive trees. One cannot forget the ever popular geraniums, planted in terracotta pots for a splash of color, which happily sprinkled throughout the countryside. A cheerful planting of culinary herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, and basil, with their fragrance and aesthetic appeal, are most appreciated when found within easy proximity to the kitchen.
Used in the Tuscan garden since Roman times, the lion’s head as well as other animals, are long favored as fountain sculptures. Mythological creatures, and stone and marble masks make the perfect focal point when incorporated into the Tuscan garden as a water feature.
A symbol of rest and relaxation, the modern Tuscan swimming pool is usually cleverly tucked away behind the villa, out of sight. Designed largely for it’s aesthetic qualities, great attention is given to the design and location of the pool, and it’s ability to blend into the surrounding environment. Often the edge of the pool is even with the surrounding landscape, and a simple terracotta rim is employed so as not to distract from the view. Often to the observer, the end of the rectangular pools appear to fade seamlessly into the vista. Rather than viewed as a status symbol, the Tuscan pool is a rustic, practical, water feature which serves to maintain the harmony of the Tuscan garden.
(thanks to http://www.tuscandecor.com for help)