IN RECENT MONTHS you may have noticed a mass exodus to Europe in the throes of an awfully hot summer. The great Mediterranean vacation of 2022, if you will. After two years spent confined to a single country, freedom is a few new passport stamps; a four week holiday spent sun-tanning in Ibiza and the Greek Islands.
Lockdowns aside, the Mediterranean has long been idolised for its salubrious style. Who hasn’t wished life looked a little more like La Piscine, the 1969 poolside thriller set on the Côte d’Azur? Who hasn’t dreamed of spending a year swanning about the tiled villas and bougainvillaea-clad balconies of The Talented Mr Ripley?
In the May 1953 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, the American author John Steinbeck penned an article about his time in Positano, a cliffside village on the Amalfi Coast. “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone,” wrote Steinbeck, who, in that moment, could have been talking about almost any corner of the Mediterranean.
Spanning three continents and more than 20 countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Turkey and Morocco, the region cannot be distilled into a single look, but through the lens of a foreign traveller it is a destination customarily reserved for holidays. Like an artist’s muse, the Mediterranean is a fantasy to be relived and recreated again and again.
As an interior architect recognised for her globally inspired aesthetic, Georgia Ezra offers insight into why the Mediterranean enchants the collective imagination. “When you go to Europe, you feel something,” says Ezra, founder of Melbourne-based design practice Studio Ezra. “Across the Mediterranean, the spaces, buildings and courtyards are centuries old and built by hand. Those layered cultural components have an energy that’s warm and experiential… and we all yearn for that.”
It is a RELAXED sense that really SUITS our way of life
Ezra suspects that what Australians find so alluring is the history, craftsmanship and intricate detail that can be found “even in the most unassuming places, while walking through a riad or an alleyway with marble parquetry.”
Anna Trefely, director of Sydney-based studio Esoteriko Interior Architecture, also nods to the region’s history as a fecund source of inspiration. What first comes to mind, Trefely says, are “the materials that have stories to tell and have been developed over centuries”.
Consider some of the material elements that distinguish Mediterranean style — stone, terracotta, brick. The design of early Mediterranean homes was determined by what was available locally, and therefore many were constructed from adobe — a composite of earth and straw — with clay tiles and stucco wall finishes. These materials are functional first and foremost, but they are also imprinted by time and human touch, which, as Ezra puts it, “triggers all of your senses”.
Where the handcrafted, of-the-earth nature of the Mediterranean home is desired for its other-worldliness, the Mediterranean lifestyle is romanticised for its compatibility with Australia’s savoir faire. “Australians are drawn to the vibrance of coastal living and entertaining under the European sun,” explains Heleena Trahanas, co-founder of Alex And Trahanas, a design store coveted for its artisanal Italian ceramics. “We’re drawn to the depth of culture and traditions that extend to food, wine and design. We love the warm hospitality that brings family and friends together around the table to enjoy the simplicity of Mediterranean food”.
A Mediterranean aesthetic, then, also encompasses a laidback approach to entertaining, with beautifully styled tables, hand-painted dinnerware and wine-stained linens. It is convivial, communal and carefree. Adds Trevely: “it is a relaxed sense that really suits our way of life”.
Over the past two years, Trahanas has observed customers wanting to recreate that environment. “During the Covid pandemic, we tuned into our surrounds, which were our homes. Our focus shifted inside and we sought opportunities to create beauty in our everyday ceremonies. People were yearning for escapism, they wanted to buy into the dream and the feelings ignited on a coastal European holiday.”
Ezra too experienced a peak in clients requesting Mediterranean- inspired home interiors about two years ago, but the region’s influence on Australia’s architectural landscape has been felt for over a century. Mediterranean-style homes emerged in Australia in the 1920s when local architects and designers noticed how Spanish-style houses and Mediterranean gardens had an aesthetic attitude that harmonised with the local coastal geography, climate and culture. At the same time, Mediterranean Revival homes were made popular by American architects in California and Florida, where leisure-driven design fit right in.
Embraced by coastal borders, Australia naturally possesses a style redolent of homes situated on the Mediterranean Sea. Both style vernaculars eschew closed-off rooms in favour of open plan spaces that dissolve the barrier between inside and out. The patio — an unofficial design icon — finds a kindred spirit in the Mediterranean terrace, a place for recreation, repose and alfresco dining. Arched entrances, an aesthetic and structural pillar of buildings in some parts of the region, have become one of the most popular design features in Australian homes.
The trend for rattan furniture, terrazzo surfaces, natural textiles and a white-on-white palette (paired with pops of cobalt blue and a citrus motif or two) is, however, evolving into what Ezra calls a more authentic, experiential home. “People want something bespoke and unique that’s done in a timeless way with beautiful design details,” she says. “This includes not just interior design but also furniture — there is a new focus on the whole picture.” More than ever, Ezra says Australians are investing in handmade pieces that recall the history and unhurried nature of early Mediterranean design, from custom-made stair rails to door knobs and light fixtures. “Our interior spaces shape our wellbeing, and people want an authentic escape that’s not off the shelf.”