Home decorating

The European Touch

4:46 PM

Last December, I hosted a Christmas party at home. A party that was attended by many of my expat friends, all of them European. My guests loved the whole atmosphere of said party and some commented on my decor. One of them told me she loved the European feel of my home.
Being European myself, I of course knew what she meant, but still spent many weeks reflecting upon it after this event.

The lhasa chest of drawer from urban ladder is perfect to give a bit of european touch to your home.

I saw the potential for a blog post, and ended up polling my friends for it. Because, you see, in India there is a thing called Western or International style.
The problem, like with many a Western thing in India, is that it is more often than not heavily inspired by American trends. However, the truth is, there is a much different approach to home decor on both side of the Atlantic.

In Europe people favour very nutral wall, wooden tones and splashes of bold colour in the soft fursnishing

If what you end up picturing at the mention of a Western home is something that involve a lot of white, painted furnitures and splashes of pastels with an overall coordinated set of accents, your inspiration likely comes from an American home.
Ditto if you are picturing big comfortable furnitures, large airy rooms and open plan kitchens. Or if you heard of terms such as Costal theme, or country, or boho, or city chic...


Homes in Europe are on average smaller than the average American homes to begin with. Open plan kitchens aren't as common and themes are something people in Europe aren't going to preoccupy themselves much with.
And while Americans have a love for old painted furnitures (preferably in white or grey), Europeans favour wood tones, even for non-wood furnitures. The inclination to go for an all white decor is far less dominant on that side of the pond.



There is also a marked preference for compact furnitures with simple lines. Bonus if your pieces serve a dual purpose (think hidden storage or dinning table that can expand itself). This probably has to do with the fact homes are smaller.

After quizzing my friends, we came to the conclusion that while furnitures in Europe aren't uncomfortable (far from it) they are favoured for their versatility. There is a tendency accross Europe to look for items that can be shuffled around and not only work well for one room, but can adapt to being later used in another. It seems shuffling your furniture around is a more European thing than it is in the State. Which is why pretty basics are often favourited.


Several of my friends also pointed out that Europeans seem to favour bolder colors when it come to walls and soft furnishing. And almost always in solid colors rather than patterned ones. Think bright splashes of reds, blues, yellows, greens and purples, on throw cushions, curtains and carpets. In general, the lack of statement made by the furniture themselves is more than made up where wall, floor and window decor is concerned.
There is also less concern for what I call the "matchy matchy" look. New pieces of furnitures are made to blend in with what is already there without resorting to painting everything the same shade the way it seems to be now the trend West of the Atlantic.
A friend once told me that the European home decor seems organic and is meant to evolve and grow over the years rather than be a finite picture perfect thing from the start.


Being European, I of course agree to it all. And, yes, my home definitely has a European feel. Living in India, that goes without saying that there are some ethnic touches too. But, the core of my home is and will always be European.

14 comments

  1. Anonymous11:50 AM

    Your house looks clean, functional and spacious. I have seen houses where people use heavy curtains and dark furniture to block daylight and air creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. Then there are homes which are so clean that you are afraid that if you spill something the lady of the house is going to murder you. Back in may days, no one bothered about furniture and wall paint. The painters would arrive with their families carrying metal tins full of lime and water, and brushes made of straw. They scrapped the old paint and dabbed the walls with white lime. This was called white wash as white was the only colour used/known. Blue colour was obtained by mixing blue colour powder to the lime solution, which is also used to for whitening clothes after washing. It is called Neel powder. Branded paint was non existent till few years ago. Our government accommodation got painted once every Diwali with this solution.

    About furniture, I still retain many items which came with my mother's dowry. Bloody strong they are. In 1989, when my father got a bigger government accommodation, my mother got a little worried. She learned that the drawing room of the new house was huge and our wooden furniture was tiny. How to fill the room was her main worry. She persuaded my father to buy a sofa set and box bed from a neighbor who was moving out. My father reluctantly agreed. We also brought many other furniture just to fill other rooms. Thus, our timely purchase of additional furniture saved our reputation in the eyes of our prospective neighbors. The sofa after three upholstery changes in 25 years is till going strong. Our sofa I guess is forty years old, slightly less than our older furniture which are atleast forty five years old. Not furniture but loving memory of my parents.

    When I told this story to my wife, she told a similar story to me. Apparently, they had also brought a second hand sofa. In addition, many of the stuff in their house were used. At that time, this was the normal practice because new things were either not available or very expensive. Today we throw away even a slipper which is torn.

    Today, we have stepped into the world of pastel colours, light furniture and modular kitchen. But our understanding of interior decoration does not go beyond changing wall paint, intricate POP designs on the ceiling and hanging fancy lights. Houses are either heavily decorated and claustrophobic or functional with drab furniture, lights and paint.

    Apple

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    1. The all white look freaks me out completely. It seems so impractical, not just in India where the dust and grime settles everywhere but in any home were people should have a life. the idea of cleaning the whole day long of go catatonic at the first sight of spill...no thanks, not for me.

      It's funny, because in Europe a white wash paint job on walls meant using a acid based solution on the walls.

      I trained as a upholsterer as you know, and in Europe only people with money and heirloom pieces really bother having them not only reupholstered, but repaded completly, because it is a labour intensive work. Having a professionnal repad and reupholster something from a store like IKEA would mean paying two or three time the cost of a new one.

      I think homes should be airy enough, and practical and functional. As I said, being European, I favour basic furnitures and compact design. The idea of having too many furnitures and things going on in a room makes me feel very claustrophobic.

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    2. Most interior walls in US houses are 'drywall' which is a panel of gypsum encased in thick cardboard. Once a primer is applied to the drywall (& possibly spackling to create texture) you can easily paint the interior walls any color you choose. Actually white or beige is usually the standard base color as the primer & texture are usually white & it's just easier to spray white or beige paint over that.
      From what I recall most European homes have plaster walls or what we'd call wattle & daub.
      It's odd, I keep seeing these magazine photos in US decorating magazine & websites showing all these INTENSE wall colors like charcoal or deep turquoise with stark brilliant white seating (sofa, armchairs, dining furniture).
      I don't know any Americans with homes decorated like that. I mean you are really 'out there' if you paint your walls some pastel hue like apricot, butter yellow or baby blue. Beige, tan, & taupe walls with possibly white or ecru trim are more likely.

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    3. Yep drywall is not done at all in Europe, in Switzerland it is or cement bearing walls covered with a thick layer of plaster, or non bearing brick walls covered with...you guessed, another thick layer of plaster.
      Wall paper was still extensively used in the 90's when I begged my dad to let me get rid of the crazy 70's rut that my bedroom was. My room had a avocado green and white wall paper from hell and a bright orange wall to wall carpet then. My dad agreed only at the condition we put wall paper instead of paint. So I picked a light blue wall paper and we ripped that ugly monstrosity of a rug off the floor to reveal the natural blond wood floor tiles that are still common sight in apartment building the the country. Then my parents divorced and my mom purged the flat of all the 70's blond and black laminate furnitures she and my dad purchased, and in the 90's there was a very short lived fad to do kids room in white laminated furnitures, and of course I wanted that. It was short lived of course and when I moved out of my childhood home I was stuck with the bookshelf, the wardrobe and the dresser in my studio apartment, I bought all my other furnitures in pine wood at IKEA and ai never bothered painting the walls in my place, the builder's pale yellow felt nice enough. Everything else was still a riot of color of course. I still miss my IKEA stool bench which I used at my computer desk. I was wide, oblong and purple, and super comfy, I could sit cross legged on that thing. I don't know who inherited that thing when I left the country, I gave away a lot of my stuff with the second hand market being as pathetic as it was back then. But that purple stool would look right at home in my current home :-)

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  2. Well, I'm an American (a Californicator to be exact) & I can tell you that you don't really see the 'all white' look in many American households.
    The 'all white' look went out of style in the 90's, & the Americans I knew who went for the 'all white' look in the 80's spent most of their time fastidiously cleaning to maintain that look..
    Most Americans are very practical (almost to the point of being a bit frumpy) & go for neutral shades of browns- like tan, beige, taupe, caramel, chocolate etc. in furnishings.
    It is interesting that in my native California most households don't really have that much furniture.
    Why? Two main reasons-
    1) Because the cost of housing (be it rent or mortgage) in California is so ridiculously high they can't afford a house full of furniture.
    So what you'll typically see is just the bare basics as far as furnishings go.
    For example, the main living space will have a huge oversized, cushy sofa & the absolute biggest fancy name brand TV the family can afford & THAT IS IT!
    (I just realized this is a change that has occurred over my life, when I was a child in the 70's most American households would have a seating area where chairs & sofas faced each other in some sort of grouping conducive to 'conversation' known as the 'conversation pit'. Nowadays all seating faces the TV, definitely a 'sign of the times', Americans no longer wish to chat together face to face?)
    2) Once you buy a piece of furniture in the US it is worth almost nothing. That's right, Americans do not like to buy ANYTHING used.
    So that gorgeous solid cherry wood 5 piece bedroom set or full bison leather sectional sofa that you paid oodles for & is handcrafted to last a lifetime (or 2) is worth MAYBE barely 10% of what you paid for it should you ever decide to sell.

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    1. Interesting, none of the American friends I quizzed mentioned that, but then I don't think any of them lived in California, so could it be that in area with a high cost of living people downsize everything too?

      I heard that thing about the TV being super central in living rooms, in Switzerland and France people usually like having a TV on the small size that can be tucked in a corner if possible, or locked into a TV cabinet. Those who have a spare room or a remote corner in their living area have the tendency to shove the TV there.

      There isnt much money to make selling second hand stuff in Sitzerland too, not with people having gone IKEA gaga and the general habit of using things until they die and cannot be salvaged anymore. But you can still find things at the flea market if lucky, and in any cases in thrift stores where most people donate their old stuff when they move. fresh out of the nest and students usually head to these places to get a cooking range if their flat is not equipped already, and might grab a piece of furniture or two if they aren't looking too old fashioned, but prefer IKEA. My boss used to visit these places to see if there wasn't a discarded vintage armchair or bench at a steal price, he then would assign its restoration to me, the apprentice, because it is the safest way to let apprentices practice skills without the pressure of a deadline, or the risk of a big snafu that could miff the customer, the bonus part being that once restaured, he could resell it for much much more.

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    2. In California it isn't unusual to spend 50-60% of your income on housing (especially if you live in a very popular urban area like the San Francisco bay area, Silicon Valley, or Los Angeles). Land is usually more expensive than than building the house upon it in these areas too. The last house I built in Sonoma (SF bay area) in 2002 cost $150,000 (3,000sq ft, 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths) to build, while the property (1 acre, hillside) cost $350,000.
      In other parts of the US where housing isn't so expensive people do spend more on home furnishings, but the darned HUGE TV still has center stage. And Americans all over the most of the US are still a bit conservative in decorating their homes despite what you see in magazines. An upscale condo in New York city is going to be much more chic & trendy than say a mansion on a golf course in Atlanta.
      That's actually an interesting point too - most of the wooden furniture manufacturing in the US is in the south eastern US, in North Carolina especially. So houses in the south eastern US will tend to have more upscale, traditional wood furniture. My dad's family is originally from North Carolina & manufacture furniture so we always had gorgeous furniture.
      You can find some incredible furniture bargains in the US if you are willing to buy used, going to thrift stores, or just browsing ads in newspapers. It can be inconvenient as you'll have to transport whatever furniture you buy yourself. I always drove a Toyota truck (unfashionable but practical) & people were always borrowing it to move stuff.

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  3. Anonymous8:08 PM

    Many of my friends told that European apartments are tiny and very few people can actually afford a good independent house. Apart from the population density even area wise those countries are quite small. You can actually do road trip to Geneva Italy and France in a day they say. Sigh! That would be do nice. Here we can't even get into another state unless we really live on the border. :-) You must have visited quite a few countries right? Since traveling isn't that expensive due to such close proximity of so many advanced developed nations.

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    1. Yes apartments in Europe are small, and in Switzerland Independent houses in cities is something very few have. Most of the people in Switzerland rent their flats, there is very little for sale on the market. And the average flat size for a family of 4 is 700-800 sq ft. Most of Europe is extremely costly too, high cost of living, and travelling can cost you a fortune, sure you can drive around, but the price of Gas is far higher per gallon than it is in the States, and hotels will charge a bomb for a night almost everywhere, even more so in Switzerland, most Swiss vacation abroad for that reason. The only way you can sensibly reduce costs while travelling accross Europe is by or camping, or staying in youth hostels and motels, but then the quality of service will go down too.
      Despite that, vacationing is still done, but Europeans are VERY concervative about their spending habits, big brands, big TVs, big cars are really not high on priorities. In Switzerland I know more people who bought a second hand car than a new one, and a lot of people are totally fine shopping in supermarket for basic clothes, the most popular brand being H&M and still falling in the budget label. I never even stepped in a Levi's or a Benetton outlet back home, not once. The closest I had to a big label item was a black esprit bag I got in a clearance sale at 50% off. Most people I know in Geneva wait until the sales to consider brands provided the bargain cut it.
      What we don't spend on status symbol back home is spent on leisure, but we religiously save for months, if not a year for a holiday. Buying anything in EMI is simply not done and frowned upon in Switzerland, and the idea of not paying your credit card bill in full at the end is simply outrageous. Depending what credit card scheme you have, they could even block your card until the balance is paid.

      In cities, people will rather walk if they can, take the public transports if they can't and the car only when there is too much inconvenience taking the public transports, because parking is very rarely free and cost a bomb, though public transports aren't cheap either, they still come a tad bit cheaper than the cost of fuel and parking for the car.

      That is Switzerland and a fair bit of Europe in a nutshell

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    2. Oh and no, you can't do a Italy, Geneva and Fance road trip in a day. it takes 2 hours to reach Chamonix from Geneva, and sure yes taking the tunnel you are in Italy, but doing a round trip and back to Geneva will mean a 6-7 hour drive, meaning that all you have left to enjoy is a quick meal before going back, and you would not even have touched any touristy spots in Italy. My parents used to drive to Spain to co camping when I was a kid, it took us about 6-7 hours to reach the South of Spain on the highway. The distances accross Europe might be smaller, that is sure, but they aren't the kind of stuff you can do in a day trip. Those in the middle of Switzerland near no border would spend a couple of hours driving to even reach a border. Zurich is 3 hours away from Geneva be it by car or train already. reaching the Canton of Tessin which is near the Italian border can take you all day as the roads to cross the Alps are all narrow pass with a speed limit of 50 KM an hour you rarely get to reach due to the steepness of the road in these alpine pass. A century ago, these areas were litterally cut out from the world came Winter, and the narrow gauge toy trains had difficulties going in bad weather...heck having been there, I am amazed at how they even managed to built railways up there in the first place.

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  4. Anonymous5:07 AM

    I have stayed in Scandinavia and the all white look is quite popular across Norway and Sweden atleast in the cities, not in the cabins. Many of my friends there have white furniture too. I find it works when there is not much natural light. Its more clean, modern look and Ikea might also have something to do with it.

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    1. IKEA must have a big role to play thee, I remember that they had a lot of white and blue in the 90's and it was hugely popular in kids and teenagers room then. it was short lived in Switzerland and neighbouring countries. I. Switzerland people prefer pine wood or birch wood over other because they are light and yes, helps in dark gloomy condition. In Southern Europe darker wood tones are more prevalent.
      Northern European cities are also far more under the influence of the Bauhaus movement, which is synonymous with minimalistic modern design. Scandinavian modern design is well known accross Europe.

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  5. Anonymous2:28 PM

    While googling ,came across your blog.Just love it.Your house is neat and beautifully decorated.Would love to see more of DIY crafts.and more of Feng shui tips.thanks.

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    1. Thank you!
      Three will be more DIY coming soon. And I have been planning to write about Feng Shui too. Stay tuned :-)

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