How many times have you sat at a café in Italy enjoying the restful moment that a cup of coffee can give you? You were observing people around you, occasionally and without being invited into the conversation you heard all that people were saying at the next tables. The colorful street life took all your attention and you wondered if people sitting at the café ever worry about anything. The atmosphere does feel as an outdoor living room, conducive to relaxation. But this is what café life is all about, leaving the worry behind to enjoy a small part of the day by ourselves and regroup, or connect with friends and cultivate relationships.
In Europe and Italy coffee shops have always been the cove to go to, often during the day, to stay, relax, meditate, discuss with friends and like-minded people and to make work deals. News and gossips came from the local cafés; often people asked what was going on in the cafés at the start of the day. One more important aspect of the café life is to find a love match. Why not? At least the catch is right there in front of your eyes, in all the details and with no surprises. In the past women were not permitted entry in the cafés, thus strolling by, was just good enough to be noticed.
Part of the Italian history was written in the cafés of Torino, the first capital of Italy, an elegant city in the Piedmont region.
Camillo Benso Count of Cavour frequented Caffè Florio where he met often with Italian officials to talk about the fate of the country. In this café we can taste the excellent pâtisserie production and appreciate the elegant atmosphere as we can in all of the city’s historic cafés. The huge and complicated coffee machines of the past make the focal point in the Italian historic cafés. Such a beauty on display!
From Torino, going down on the Italian peninsula we can enjoy Caffe’ Gilli in Florence built in 1733 during the reign of Gian Gastone de’ Medici, decorated in the Liberty style of early 1900s. For two and half century of history the café has been the cove for artists, painters, literates and political people. Its sophisticated décor, complemented with frescoed ceilings and glass chandeliers from Murano, never allowed fistfights and flying chairs or dishes, as it happened often in other cafés, where the décor was not so sumptuous and invited boisterous behavior.
At the elegant Café Gambrinus in Naples, the art of making coffee doesn’t stop at a cup of coffee. I tasted the finest baba, tiramisu’ and a lemon sorbet served in a hollowed out lemon peel that was the end of this world.
Naples is proud of the heritage left by the famous coffee shop, Caffe’ Molaro in Piazza Dante, whose origins go back to early 1800s.
The brewing of the coffee was simple family style: coffee ground was boiled in water in a clay pot and served in small clay containers. The fortune of Caffé Molaro came with other ideas that had nothing to do with coffee. The Café offered pastries, a variety of gelato flavors and a new sophisticated atmosphere with piano music. It attracted the upper classes that locked to the Café to experience the nightlife.
However, the creation of a new elixir, a digestive after dinner drink to serve with an improved coffee drink was the real novelty of Neapolitan Caffe’ Molaro and brought much success to the Café.
My favorite of all coffee houses in Italy has been forever Café Florian in Venice, in Piazza San Marco. Opened on December 29, 1720 under the name Alla Venezia Trionfante (To Triumphant Venice) was soon called Florian after its owner’s name Floriano Francesconi. This year Café Florian is celebrating its 291st birthday. What a fun place this is! I visit it every time I am in Venice, as I try to land there on purpose when I fly home to Italy to spend two-three days in the mysterious town.
Through the centuries this café too has been the hangout of artists, painters, literates, actors and actresses, political people and nobles of all casts, rich merchants and foreign visitors. Situated under the porticos of Piazza San Marco, this elegant café carries all the secrets of a rich and peaceful Venice of the past.
If walls could talk, they would tell us the stories of Goethe, Lord Byron or Casanova’s dangerous liaisons, always in search of new female lovers. Casanova, a gentle soul, really loved his women, cultivated their beauty, placed them on a pedestal and made them feel appreciated. Don Giovanni, au contraire, a young, arrogant, sexually prolific nobleman, abused and outraged all the women he had an encounter with. Casanova is my icon I had to defend him.
(Photo above: http://www.localidiamond.it)
(Sala Uomini Illustri – Photo above – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sala_Uomini_Illustri_Caff%C3%A8_Florian.jpg)
The typical Venetian interior style décor of the 1700s is the reflection of a secretly permissive era, during which coquetries and affected manners were the reach of the day. 1700s décor was very ornate, as Venice was one of the five wealthy Republics in Italy, independent from the rest of the government.
Café Florian is the summary of Venice’s wealth. It shows in the intricate details of mosaic floors, coffered or faux painted ceiling, rich colors on the walls, Damask upholstery of the chairs, expensive carved wood details and large gold foil mirrors. Today we can still admire all the artistic works made by hand by the masters of that era.
Café Florian was and still is the cove of gossips, fashion talks, political discussions, but especially the center of cultural, music concerts and art events, as the famous Biennale of Venice, organized the first time in 1895 in honor of King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Italy.
Starbucks tried to recreate the same atmosphere of Italian cafés in its franchised establishments, but sorry guys, the charm, the mystery and the magic is not there! Starbucks clients are the new yuppies, or professionals with a home based businesses that want to escape the boredom and solitude of their home office and find themselves even more alone inside of Starbucks with their computers and wi-fi.
Café’ is for relaxation and free the mind for a short while, not to develop work!!!
Now going back to my interior designer profession. Often, I have recreated tasting room in kitchens and wine cellars for homes, why not design a café corner in any part of a home, even in the garden. It would be so special and dainty! I have mine and it is perfect for me, let’s design yours!
Let me know if I can help you creating your cafe’ life in your home by leaving your name in the box below. Ciao,
Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved
Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer in business since 1990 and a former Fashion Designer. She has been developing projects in the USA and Europe serving a variegated group of fun people. She blends well fashion and interior in any of her design work. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn unattractive spaces into castles. Being Italian born and raised, Valentina’s design work has been influenced by Classicism and stylish, timeless designs. She will create your everyday living with a certain luxury without taking away a comfortable living. Find her books on