Italian Bedrooms: Past and Present
For Italians, a well-furnished bedroom is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Italian bedrooms embody the importance of the private life for an Italian man or woman, a relaxed place to sleep, dream, nourish, and take part in intimacies.
Italian bedrooms: History, Beliefs
From historical times, Italian bedrooms have been known for their comfort and elegance. Amongst the nobility who lived in castles, the bedroom was furnished with the elaborate four-poster bed with its curtains, or the letto a baldacchino, the armadio, or the wardrobe, and the cassettone, or the chest of drawers. The bed or letto, dominated the room, which was as much a symbol of matrimony as it was of repose.
The Italian bedrooms of those times, especially in the rural areas, were structures with thick walls and small windows to keep the room warm in winter, and cool in summer. These bedrooms were a little dark with their shutters drawn, but anyone who has been to a restored Italian villa down south would attest to the charm of its bedrooms. In the poorer houses, however, the beds were more modest. But they were no less clean, and nearly as comfortable.
This is because Italians love a well-made bed, and the bedding or lenzuola must be always just so. The bed sheets are mostly of good quality cotton, or even silk. White is usually the colour of choice. The mistress of a house, even a modern woman with jobs outside her home, sees an unmade bed as a sign of slovenliness. When the bed is made, the sheet and bedspread are impeccably straightened, and the cushions and pillows kept in their proper place.
Making a bed has its cultural significance, because there exist traditions regarding the making of the matrimonial bed. The bed on which the married couple spend their first night is supposed to be made by at least two virgins, or in some areas of Italy, by the sisters and the mother of the bride. In earlier times, the gifts of money received by the newlyweds were arranged on the bed itself in some parts of Italy, and the bride received her guests while relaxing on her matrimonial bed, signifying her prosperity and happiness in marriage.
Other beliefs related to the bed include its positioning. Italian beds are never placed with the bottom of the bed facing the bedroom door. This is because the dead are carried out feet first from the home, and the foot of the bed pointing towards an open door is bad omen. Placing hats on the bed is another old taboo, because it is supposed to bring bad luck. This is because in earlier times the priests visiting the dying placed their hats on the bed.
Modern Italian Bedrooms
In modern times, Italian tastes have tended to lean towards the minimalist, and the detailed curves and designs of earlier bedrooms have made way for clean, functional lines, though no less beautiful. The most common beds now found in Italian households is the letto matrimoniale, or the queen-sized beds, with letto a due piazze or king-sized beds, gracing more opulent bedrooms. Beds are made of wood, metal and entirely of fabric, and while some of them have elaborate, carved or textile headrests or testiere, the majority of the beds have simple headrests. Shutters on bedroom windows are now relatively uncommon, unless it is a restored or vintage Italian house. Fluttering curtains have come to replace them, and modern Italian bedrooms are a lot better-lighted and airy than those of the yesteryears.
Italian bedrooms today have come to resemble modern bedrooms worldwide, especially in cases where space is an issue, and beds double as sitting areas or have headrests which double as book cases. Italians are stylish as well as frugal, so they choose their bedroom furnishing to last. Italian beds and wardrobes are strong as well as beautifully-shaped, and it is possible to re-decorate and use them for decades. With the sort of care Italians lavish on their sheets, a good quality bedding is expected to last up to ten years.
Italians do not like carpets in their bedrooms, as these are considered unhygienic, because they cannot be washed often. Small rugs often provide accent to wooden floors instead. A ceramic pot or two could find its place in the sitting area of bigger bedrooms, where a full-length mirror and a dressing table may stand. Modern Italian cupboards and wardrobes are a marvel of good looks and convenience, and are known all over the world for their superior design.
Quaintness and Romance in Italian Bedrooms
The art of tapestry and wall papers or tappezzeria still flourishes in Italy today. Italians who like to make their bedrooms a really soft and cosy space opt for flowery printed upholstery. They make it a place of retreat from the punishing pace of modern Italian living, a space in which to dream and rejuvenate oneself. While it is usual for Italian bedroom walls to be painted in white or simple pastel shades, some villas still stick to the quaintness of a wall-papered bedroom, or even a room decorated all over with personal photos.
Personal taste governs Italian bedrooms, because above all it is a space where a couple can relax sotto le lenzuola, or, between the sheets. Love and its expression is a major Italian preoccupation, and recent statistics show that 82% of Italian women think making love is the most important part of a couple’s relationship, as against the European average of 75%. So, no effort is spared to boost the ability of the bedroom to inspire romance, be it in terms of soft lighting, exquisite bed-sheets, and luxurious beds.
Italian bedrooms are the backbone of every Italian home, providing a space for intimacy and repose. Traditionally, it is a sacred area symbolising prosperity and fertility, and modern Italians try their best to maintain the exclusivity of this private, personal area. La camera da letto is definitely a cherished part of the Italian existence, a product as much of tradition as it is of modernity.
By Damyanti Ghosh