Guide to Creating an Old World Kitchen

Classic architectural elements, vibrant colors and distressed finishes create a warm family-gathering place.

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Old World design includes free-standing furniture and usually features a fireplace. Design by Ann Morris.

Fine Workmanship

It's new but appears timeless. It's robust and rustic. It's Old World, and it's large in scale and largely handcrafted. In fact, the craftsmanship is one of its key characteristics, says Mary Broerman, a California-based interior designer whose work is regularly featured on HGTV.com.

"Old World style, to me, means bringing in classical architectural elements or styling," says Ann M. Morris, a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer based out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Reflecting antiquities, she says the design style resembles Greek, Roman and Old English elements on a grand scale. You might think of what you would see in a stone castle.

Since kitchens back then were a far cry from today's modern facilities, she says, the design today should mimic what it was in some way, such as the use of freestanding furniture. The kitchen should include a fireplace, Morris says.

Thick wooden beams exposed from high ceilings and iron forged pot racks or baker’s racks are common in the Old World kitchen. Also look for screened scrollwork and wrought iron chandeliers. Metals play a key role in this timeless design style that isn’t afraid to age like the patina you can expect from copper.

Borrowing inspiration from the sun, wine and ocean, vibrant color plays a vital role in this design style that may incorporate various shades of ambers, reds and blues. The point is, when you’re in the room you should feel as though you’re someplace else, Broerman says.

Bright and Dark

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Go dark with the cabinetry and furnishings but lighten up the room on the ceiling, wall space and floor. Design by Didier Michot.

Smooth or distressed finishes on the interior walls can help define Old World texture, for instance, faux plaster painted walls recall a Michelangelo fresco.

Because of its reliance on daylight, dark woods and wrought iron elements, Old World design naturally contrasts the light with dark. Natural stones, such as travertine, limestone, marble and granite are often combined with cherry-wood floors or walnut cabinetry to set the scene. The use of clay pavers may also be used, but because this material doesn’t give and is hard on the feet, it’s best used on the backsplash and perhaps in a basket weave pattern.

Common architectural elements in the kitchen that also bring the old into the new include the use of arches and columns around windows, the sink or stove area, and also at the doorways. If your home already has these elements, it’s a good bet an Old World design would work well in the space.

Hiding modern stainless steel appliances behind wooden panels is recommended for this design style. Since they didn’t have stainless steel in the 1500s, modern appliances like this clash, Broerman says. For those who don’t like stainless steel, she says black appliances blend in well in the Old World kitchen.

Getting the Look

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Distressed finishes on the interior walls help define Old World texture. Design by Dan Raney and Jaymes Richardson.

Here are several suggestions from Broerman and Morris:

Accessorize with hand-forged metal. Consider black metal, bronze or copper for the hand pulls on drawers, knobs on doors, faucet fixtures and other hardware, as well as pot racks, chandeliers and other lighting.

It's OK to step out of the classical look a bit and go whimsical. A good place to try this is with wall sconces. Look for unusual shapes or designs to light the room in this way.

For Old World fabrics, pick rich colors, fewer flowers and more stripes. If you have to use flowers, consider sunflowers but not roses, which are too delicate for the Old World motif. Look for texture. Anything that is knubby woven, or a chenille, works well on seat covers.

The Old World backsplash is a great place to experiment with hand-painted tiles. Choose a light colored stone, such as travertine or limestone, as the background, and add a pattern of hand-painted tiles or a colorful mural color. This will help create that light and dark contrast.

Overview

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Natural stones are often combined with cherry wood floors or walnut cabinetry to set the Old World scene. Design by Gail Drury

Natural stone or tile floors work well in an Old World kitchen, but you won’t go wrong if you decide on wood. Planks of walnut, mahogany and dark cherry make good choices here.

Dress the space in ornamental cabinetry, applied molding, heavy-duty cornice molding, freestanding armoires, china cabinets and buffets.

Remove wood panels on the cabinetry and replace them with wrought iron. Add wrought iron as window dressing as well.

Go dark with the cabinetry and furnishings, but lighten up the room and bring in that daylight theme on the ceiling, wall space and floor. If you’re worried the room may seem too dark with all that wood an Old World kitchen requires, you can go light on the granite countertops, too.

Then punch the room up with color by storing big glass bowls, pottery and pictures on thick wooden shelves.

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