How Italy Taught Me to Refute Throw Away Culture

Before my last year of college, I had the opportunity to spend my summer studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I was more than excited to spend the summer in my dream locale, but little did I know I would be experiencing a culture that would help shape my style as a designer. I had studied most of the famously historic architecture that the country had to offer, but being able to see the structures in person, walk through them, be surrounded by them, and touch their walls, brought a whole new sense of meaning to my thoughts on design. It wasn’t just the famous buildings, like the Duomo and Palazzos, that changed my perspective, but the buildings I saw everyday as I walked through the narrow city streets. The centuries old buildings that are now being used as apartments, restaurants, schools, and shops were what really opened my eyes to a different way of living.

Shops and restaurants
Shops and restaurants are found below apartments with original architecture.

In America we currently exist in a “throw away” culture, meaning most things we use everyday are not meant to last. We are so accustomed to throwing something away when it has served its purpose or when the next new shiny thing on the market has come along. It’s not just iPhones and material objects that we upgrade every few years but also things that are meant to last, like cars, houses, and buildings. The reason for this is partially due to the lack of quality in the initial construction of these things, but it is also because of our mindset of wanting everything to be new and representative of the current year. This “throw away” culture has allowed for many buildings and homes to be torn down, only to be replaced by new and modern designs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for modern design and function, but I don’t appreciate how our society views older things as useless and ugly. In the design industry we should be striving to create things that will not only be functional, but will also stand strong to stand the test of time.

The Duomo
The Duomo was undergoing construction during my time in Florence. It undergoes regular maintenance to keep the exterior looking as it originally did the 1400s.

When talking about “throw away” culture, Italians couldn’t be any more opposite. They built with a purpose of creating lasting architecture and they’ve clearly succeeded. Construction on the Florence Cathedral and Duomo began in 1296 and wasn’t completed until 1436. The architects and workers took plenty of time to have the structure completed in a way that would last centuries, which it has. The building that my school resided in was converted from a centuries old apartment style home. Even the basement apartment that I lived in was from the early 1900’s and had been recently updated. Despite the updates being made on these types of apartment buildings, the original architecture and style is still able to shine through. Italians celebrate their history and the architecture that goes along with it. They are constantly surrounded by their heritage through the buildings they work, dine, and live in. This is the type of culture that inspires me when I look at designing for our clients, specifically with remodels.

We do a lot of remodels here at Eklektik, and we get clients who either want to totally gut the space and start new or ones who want to keep existing elements of the home. More often than not though, they are on the side of totally gutting the space. I would like to inspire our clients to think about what aspects of their home originally drew them towards purchasing it—which elements they fell in love with. Then it’s our job to figure out how to incorporate those existing elements into the new design. Even if it’s something as simple as the existing molding or built in shelving, these elements can maintain the original charm that the home has to offer.

Historic architecture and charm
A beautiful example of a modern apartment home with historic architecture and charm.

We also do plenty of new construction at Eklektik, where we work with builders and/or a client from the ground up. In these instances we can utilize this same idea of refuting throw away culture, by building with a purpose to last. This means we need to design with the future in mind. What current trends will still work in the years to come? What materials will last for years without needing to be replaced or upgraded? These are the questions we consider when designing new builds.

This idea of refuting throw away culture won’t be accepted by everyone, but we can progress the movement by encouraging homeowners to preserve some of the initial design brought to life by the original architects and by designing and building quality, lasting structures. I’m thankful for my experience in Italy and how it opened my eyes to a new culture with new ways of thinking and living. Specifically how it taught me to appreciate the care and detail that goes into creating beautiful lasting architecture. One day I hope to own a home that has been thoughtfully designed, with unique characteristics of the time in which it was built, but that allows me to meld in my own style seamlessly.

5 Tips to Achieving Timeless Design

Striving for timeless design is most homeowners ultimate goal because it allows for years of adaptability. Timeless design also protects your investment, ensuring your home maintains a great look despite the change in season, style, or years. Follow these five tips, and you will be on your way to a well designed home with enduring appeal.

1. Good Bones

Make sure your floorplan is solid. Invest time envisioning yourself in the space and making the correct accommodations to your specific needs.  If you have a layout that flows nicely from one space to another and is well thought out – you won’t ever feel the need to move walls down the road.

2. Quality Flooring

Invest in high quality flooring that isn’t trendy especially in your main living spaces. You can always have some fun in smaller spaces such as powder or laundry rooms.

3. Staple Furniture Pieces

We always encourage our clients to splurge on the main sofa/sectional. Usually they hesitate due to cost, but we know that if they invest in a good, well-made piece, it will last them years and they will be pleased with their purchase. Quality is something that should never be compromised in high use items.

4. Know the Difference: Timeless vs. Trendy

Usually, it’s easy to spot whether something is trendy or not. If you see it in every magazine and all over Pinterest, chances of a style being trendy are high. You may love the farmhouse look of white subway tile and shiplap right now, but will you like it in five years? If you want something that is the current fashion, choose to use it in a space that is easy and affordable to update.

5. Keep Design Fresh

  • Paint: Simple, affordable updates like paint go a long way. If you feel like you are stuck and just need to freshen up – then painting your space is the answer! Wanting a more open feel? Pick a light color. Wanting a more bold change? Go dark. Maybe start with an accent wall and see how you like it.
  • Accessorize: Use and rotate your staple pieces like memorabilia from travels or generational passed down décor and mix them with new pieces. Don’t be afraid to use what you already have and add in new, fun pieces. Those are the best combinations.
  • Pillows: You can always make your sofa look more up to date by switching your pillows and throws—a very easy fix that won’t leave you broke.
  • Wallpaper: Wallpaper options have definitely outgrown our grandma’s homes. If you feel like going the extra mile when changing up a wall, definitely look into adding some fun wallpaper. It will make everyone who walks into your space do all the ooohs and ahhhs.