Lately I have gone back in history to find inspiration for home designs with a different feel and character, homes with pleasant lay-out flowing harmoniously from room to room, homes filled with natural light and homes where nature decorates the interiors just by itself. Modern shoebox homes don’t provide that inspiration anymore. In the market I see only houses with ceilings so high that even the soul can’t find a resting place and it escapes the body, or I find homes with rooms without any creative detail.
Sometimes ago, I went to meet a new client in a new built home. She was so tiny, skinny, short and young, when she opened the large six feet doors I mistook her for one of her daughters. The ceiling was 20 feet high, she even admitted to have a feeling of cold emptiness when she was in the house. She purchased large furniture to fit the scale of her high ceilings, but she felt lost in them and I noticed her feet dangled when she sat in the sofa. The house was a huge shoebox built on a small lot and no yard. Is that a good living sticking people between four walls and not a stitch of garden or outdoor space?
In Italy I grew up in a round building, one storey high with a terrace up above where women hang their laundry, dried tomatoes for the winter on large wood planks and kids played together. The building had a central atrium, a common area to everybody, open to the sky. It was a playground for the adults, it felt just like an outdoor space but it was really enclosed between walls secured by a large iron door. The adults gathered in the atrium to play cards, to shoot the breeze, to enjoy a drink or two, sharing food together, or in case of needs someone was always ready to help.
Balconies on the first floor led to each apartment and overlooked into the atrium.
In Europe people live in building apartments. It is still very common to find buildings with an interior atrium closed with a door to the exterior. Life around the atrium becomes a public one, puts everyone in close proximity, basically we know everybody’s business.
Even in America at one point atriums were popular in buildings with apartments. In fact, in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window with Grace Kelly and James Stewart we see how the life of people living there evolved around an atrium. In a single family home an atrium is a private affair. Basically the backyard shifts to the front of the entry and it becomes the playground for kids and adults, a BBQ and entertainment area. The exterior door to the street protects and encloses people between walls.
(Roman Homes photo source: Pompei – Past and Present – Guide to Reconstructions)
Patrician Romans built their homes in this fashion. In my picture the House Of The Faun (above), bedrooms opened up to the atrium, as well as dining areas for summer and winter. The layout of the house ran around the atrium. They situated bedrooms under a portico of Ionic columns, from where people and guests enjoyed the white noise of a fountain, bronze statues and the view of fragrant central garden. Kitchen, baths and servant quarters were located farther to keep the smells away. In the Roman atrium, musicians entertained with their music, men talked about politics and business, women occupied themselves with kids, gossip and women activities, the atrium was the area of the house for socializing, as we might use the living room today.
Centuries later my life as a kid evolved the same way in the round building with an atrium.
The four walls of a house are what they contain, they protect the dreamers. I dream of a natural living, surrounded by nature, colorful waters, positive vibes from a fluid architecture that exudes the earth’s energy, allows me to live mostly outdoor and shelters my friends and family as an oasis. Ciao, Valentina
Copyright © 2016 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved
Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She especially loves to design all those rooms with a “make me feel good” tag attached, such as kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is a public speaker and a mentor. She is also the author of two Italian regional cuisine books and an interior design book on the subject of colors, all-available here in this site on the Books page and on