In Inspiration

10 Design Lessons I’m Bringing Home From Croatia (And The One I’m Leaving There)

Last week we touched down in Manchester Airport after the most amazing ten days in Dubrovnik. We wandered the warren of Old Town streets, kayaked across crystal-clear waters, floated in saltwater lakes, island hopped and snoozed. Many times, we snoozed. Always, we were inspired by the state of design in Croatia.

And, it goes without saying, I picked up design inspiration all over the place. From the beautiful Scandi modern hotel we stayed in, to the patina of old town’s gable ends.

Here are the ten design in Croatia ideas I’m bringing home with me – and the one I’m definitely leaving back in Dubrovnik…

1. Muted Colour Schemes

Every glimpse down a Dubrovnik side street reveals a new, perfectly coordinated vignette of sandy lime render, bleached terracotta tile, bird’s egg window frames and gleaming paving stones worn shiny from the tread of millions of curious feet. The effect is completely bewitching. You find yourself drawn to turn every corner, to hunt down every view, collecting them like the most beautiful playing cards. Convinced that the next one will be even more perfect – it usually is.

2. Use Greenery Architecturally

The hotel bar was home to perfectly placed greenery to compliment and reflect the features of the open-plan space. This is a common feature of design in Croatia. A blousy banana plant in front of a pillar obscured the structural harshness. A cluster of tall fiddle leaf figs zoned a corner of furniture to create intimacy in a large space. Trailing rhipsalis on shelving broke up symmetry and softened the clean industrial lines.

3. Patina Is Always More Interesting

Dubrovnik is a medieval city with a complex history. Layered with conflict and tragedy like the rings of an ancient tree that’s survived draught and fires fires. In every way, on every street the city’s history is – often literally – etched into its walls. Everything carries the rich patina of age. From the crumbling render on the walls to the tarnished cast iron artefacts, spider-webbed with rust from infrequent rain.

4. Switch Up Coffee Table Books

Big, beautiful books on display are one of the greatest ways of injecting your personality into your space. And it’s a cornerstone of design in Croatia. The term “coffee table books” sometimes feels a touch derogatory to me – as if the book is no more than the sum of its aesthetic cover, or equally that displaying books is somehow superficial. That a certain type of book is “good for a coffee table” and the person who owns coffee table books probably doesn’t really read them. But book covers are pieces of art and as such deserve to be displayed proudly. It isn’t superficial to put your books on display rather than squirrel them away in a bookshelf. But the very best thing about coffee table books is the ability to play – swap out, contrast, theme, change with the seasons…the only limit is your personal library!

5. Mid-Century Modern Furniture

This one isn’t new – I love a tubular metal frame paired with tan leather, or a finely tapered teak chair leg runs deep. Mid-century design in Croatia is very popular. And the pairing of different shapes and lines in the hotel bar was a lesson in mid-century styling. The curves of a sling chair rub up against the angles of a console table and the soft upholstery of a squared Scandi sofa. It’s a look I’m hoping to borrow from for my living room makeover

6. I’m A Sucker For Shutters

Before this holiday, I was on the fence as to whether shutters would be worth the expense for our living room makeover. But Croatia – like many warm Mediterranean countries – is awash with perfect wooden shutters. And just like that, I’m utterly smitten. Every home is perfectly finished with painted window dressings to keep heat out, allow light in, and maximise privacy. Perfect.

7. Matte Black Accessories Have My Heart

You could show me anything with a nice matte black powder coating and I’d decide I needed it. Console tables, standing lamps, electrical sockets… Light plays wonderfully on matte black accessories, lending it a soft, almost ethereal glow. Seeing these used so artfully against a neutral backdrop has inspired me to incorporate matte black into my living room makeover.

8. Wooden Baton Panelling

Straight from the saunas of Sweden, this Scandi decor motif has likely cropped up in a coffee shop near you recently. It’s elegant and sophisticated, creating natural shadow gaps that add interest to expanses of wall. Think of it as a modern execution of traditional tongue-and-groove panelling – it can inject drama into a space but takes some skill to perfect, especially in a wonky home like mine. I have one spot in mind for a small-scale implementation, but won’t be attempting a feature wall any time soon…

9. Designing For The Aspect

Dubrovnik is included in pretty much every list of the world’s best sunsets – which seems like a very odd thing to quantify in a list, but it’s useful to make this point! Our hotel faced west across the Adriatic, so we saw some sunsets that were quite literally breathtaking. And as we sank into armchairs each night, whisky sour in hand, to watch the sky turn electric pink, it occurred to me how much what was outside had influenced the design of the space inside.

Not just the full-height, wall-to-wall windows, but everything from the colour scheme to the lighting. The warm wood parquet floor positively glowed in golden hour, while the tan leather and neutral furnishings lit up as the sun turned the whole scheme into the perfect warm palette. Even the ceiling lighting worked on a subtle programme that gently swung from cool to warm as the sunlight did the same.

10. Symmetry And Asymmetry In Balance

When we talk about balance in interior design, it’s easy to mis-read that as “symmetry”. But if you favour a sense of “un-done-ness” in your home, as I do, then symmetry can be a turn off. Here, I found symmetry and asymmetry in perfect balance, and I loved it. Anchoring pieces like chairs were in twinning pairs, but any sense of mirroring was avoided by use of mismatched accents – occasional tables, accessories, plants – all at different heights and in odd-numbered groups. The effect was ordered without feeling like a school room, easy to understand but wonderfully relaxed.

And the one thing I’m leaving in Croatia…

1. Carpeted Skirting Boards

What is it they say in magazine publishing – one’s a scandal, two’s a coincidence and three is a trend? Then there was definitely a trend of carpeting skirting boards in our hotel and it was…questionable. Every other detail was perfectly judged, and yet in every room and corridor the carpet had been extended to cover the lowest four inches of the walls. Truly bizarre, and not something I’ll be trying out. Here’s a peek of the example in …

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