European style is synonymous with elegance, grace, and a sense of time-honoured craftsmanship. More and more, Australians are welcoming a taste of Europe into their homes.
European flair is inspired by centuries past and underpinned by an ethos of fine craftsmanship and attention to detail. Modern European furnishings, interiors, kitchens and bathrooms honour tradition, and are infused with modern touches that can look fabulous in contemporary Australian homes.
Global architect and interior designer Blainey North says European elegance and influence is definitely finding its way into Australian interiors. “There’s a shifting focus from a very ultra-conservative and minimalist style which was prevalent in the 1990s and early 2000s to a more decorative look inspired by what we are seeing coming out of Europe,” says Blainey.
“When Europeans put together a room there are many many layers of detail and texture; architectural features, window mouldings, cornices, wallpaper, French panelling, padded walls, specialty paint finishes, fabric and drapery — it’s something people are beginning to get excited about in Australia. They don’t just want a plasterboard wall with a paint finish.
We know fashion, art and architecture all follow, and we are seeing fashion that is far more decorative and intricate than in the past. Designer Tom Ford advocated the sleek minimalist look; now we have Gucci doing vibrant pattern on pattern.
“People are interested in artisan work; we’re doing wallpaper at the moment that is hand-painted and hand-embroidered with beads. It’s an interesting process for the client to understand — who made it, where did it come from. We are seeing that attention to detail.”
Australians are embracing these European designer looks and adding their own nuances and signature to design. “Homeowners want to create something that reflects their style, they want something that’s specific to them, not just copying a designer look from Europe,” adds Blainey. In her work, Blainey is introducing traditional ways of detailing but adding more contemporary elements. “We’ve been working with a traditional panel moulding, but we might add more contemporary materials such as metal or leather,” she explains.
European-style furniture is another aspect. In luxury homes, furniture is not just about comfort, it’s also about looking good. Designer European-inspired furniture often takes it one step further, blurring the lines between furniture and art. “In auction houses in Europe a few hundred years ago, furniture was seen as one of the most valuable artforms,” says Blainey. “The right accent chair is a piece of art, a coffee table is a great talking point and you look at it every day. Why should art just be on the wall when it can be part of how you live?”
Blainey says she’s fascinated by the work of Kandinsky, a Russian painter, who said colour was a powerful way to make people feel emotion, so it is important to personally choose a colour palette that evokes emotion. “It’s linked to the subconscious and the experiences you’ve had with colour in the past,” she says.
As for what colour palettes are emerging in Europe, it’s all about depth. “The latest colour collections to come out of Europe are saturated tones in emerald greens and purples that have
a decadent feel to them,” she says.
Blainey points out that with European architecture, there is intricate and beautiful detailing and also a repetition of structure. “It’s lovely that those principles are being brought into Australian homes now and introduced in a new way with a fresh perspective that works well with our climate.”
Furniture as art is a wonderful concept. After all, it is something that can be handed down through the generations as European furniture is built to last. If you have a timeless design and a well-made piece of furniture, it’s easy to reupholster rather than buy new. With finite resources, sustainability is a key word on everyone’s lips.
Janine Vasta from Danish Red says European-style furniture is a great option for Australian homes. “Pieces are made to endure — there is lasting craftsmanship. The idea is that you buy a piece of furniture for the long term,” she says. “With European furniture it’s not static; there’s a story to tell. There is a human energy and vibe about it that you can feel.”
Janine says European furniture is an investment. “As opposed to buying into a fashion trend, you can adapt it over time. It’s all about the concept of timeless heirloom furniture. You can keep furniture current, exciting and relevant with your choices in upholstery — the bones of time-honoured craftsmanship are still there.” To introduce a splash of colour to reflect current trends and colour palettes, you can add a colourful throw, a few plush cushions and some designer decor.
In Australian spaces we have larger living areas than European homes, so Janine says it’s an opportunity to mix it up a little. “People are coming up with the notion of mixing two different sofas together; they don’t necessarily have to match and large armchairs come into their own here in Australia where people have the space to showcase them,” she says.
Janine adds that European furniture is often multipurpose and can be used in many different rooms. “For example, tables can become desks, a smaller dining table can work as a centrepiece in an entry, wall systems can be used in passageways not only for storage but to animate a space,” she suggests.
European furniture is indeed timeless and effortlessly beautiful, for many reasons. The luxurious feel of leather, the warmth of rich natural timbers, the soft sumptuous fabrics, as well as the quality craftsmanship that’s reflected in the intricate details.
Claire Cornish from Cosh Living says European-style furniture is all about everyday luxury. “Furniture is designed to be impossibly beautiful, intended to be used every day and made to be passed down from generation to generation.”
Claire says signs of life and age are deeply treasured. “In an Australian home we seal our marble, protecting it from red wine and balsamic vinegar. The Italians? They prefer to keep it in its natural state which is considered much more beautiful,” she says. “A wine spill and balsamic splash is just a memory of a great party, and amplifies the history and beauty of the piece.”
European furniture also celebrates natural leathers because the patina — the marks, softness and creases that leather acquires over time — makes the piece even more special, she adds.
Claire says European-style homes often have a neutral colour palette. “Think natural tones — beiges, whites, charcoals, soft greys and browns,” she says. “This creates the perfect foundation for layering furniture with accents of stone, marble, solid timber, sumptuous leather, brushed brass, linen and a touch of warm seasonal colour.”
There are plenty of new and emerging looks in European furniture that design consultants such as Claire are getting very excited about. “In outdoor furniture, brands out of Belgium, Italy and Germany have long been producing luxury pieces with ample cushioning that ooze comfort and really leave us astonished that they can survive outside,” she says.
Claire adds that with new technologies evolving, there’s an amazing array of woven furniture that’s built to endure, which is important given Australia’s often harsh weather extremes. “Collections utilising strands of recycled plastics that are soft to touch, weaves that resemble wicker, weaves that can be melted down and reused endlessly — the Europeans are using the latest technology and engineering to reinvent outdoor silhouettes,” she says. “Combining their history of making by hand, knowledge of cushioning and these new weaving techniques — there are so many exciting new products on the market!”
European kitchens and bathrooms
Of course, it’s not just beautiful furniture and home interiors that sets European style apart. Europe is also known for its cutting-edge technology in home appliances, as well as its stylish kitchen and bathroom fittings. European kitchens are built and designed with rich natural materials, beautiful textural finishes, and state-of-the-art technology appliances are added to make preparing, cooking and cleaning up after meals virtually effortless.
Carlo Pollastrelli from Made in Italy Kitchens says there’s a lot of research happening, and new innovative materials coming out of Europe. “In kitchen benchtops, for example, there are products such as a nanotechnology laminate that doesn’t attract dust or leave fingerprints, and with any kitchen mishaps, micro scratches can be restored by applying a flat iron,” he says.
Carlo says porcelain ceramic benchtops are also sought after in Europe. The porcelain has a glass-like finish that is extremely durable and resistant to very high temperatures. “It was previously only used for worktops, but it can also be crafted for doors and panels,” he says. “We always suggest using two different colours so it’s not just monotone, which is very uncommon
With the global shift towards sustainable living, another material that is crafted in European kitchens is Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), says Carlo, used for doors and panels because it ticks the box for green living and is very flexible. “There are also products coming out of Italy and Europe, similar to two-pack, but the top layer can replicate different materials such as metal. When you touch it, you realise it’s a painted panel. Another trend is veneer with vertical brass threads which is very elegant.”
Fabulous new backlit splashbacks that have magnetic qualities are making waves in the industry. If you’re short on space, or just want to add a designer element to your kitchen, it makes
a bold statement.
In Europe the look is handle-less instead of handles. There is an aluminum finger rail that can be vertical or horizontal. “Another option is to have the handle integrated into the door itself,” says Carlo. Open shelving is another European-style element that is finding its way into more Australian kitchens.
According to Carlo, the key to creating a timeless beautiful kitchen is more about what it’s constructed from and less about the colour you choose. “Colours are just fashion and that changes, but if you choose beautiful quality materials, they will last. European style can translate functionality to beauty, and that’s what good design is all about,” he says.
In bathrooms, the look is all about pure luxury. Metals are dominant, with brass finishes becoming more popular. Here in Australia with our larger interior spaces, there is room for a big shower, and a generous bathtub is a must, of course. For a touch of European style, some bathrooms have a splash of vintage with a clawfoot bath. Vanities are generous with ample space to tuck away bath products.
In Europe, petite wet rooms can look effortlessly stylish with the right combination of tiles, glass and mirrors to add the illusion of space, and also clever storage solutions. If you are short on space in your home you can apply the same principles.
European technology has found its way from the kitchen to the bathroom with thermostatic mixers, so there is continual hot water, even if it’s being used in other rooms of the home. Touchless tapware improves hygiene, and there are also smart toilets that have washing and drying functions and a nightlight.
Lighting also makes a big impact in European bathrooms. Integrated lighting in the architecture of the room casts a gentle subtle glow, while a mix of soft accent and task lighting creates a calming space. Mirrors are designed in a vast array of different shapes including oval, round and hexagon, and many are backlit to create a streamlined luxurious look that adds depth to
This article originally appeared in Grand Designs Australia Magazine Edition #9.5