Mediterranean-style interior design is a riff on the décor found in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Whether you’re channeling a warm, carefree summer in Santorini, Capri, or Ibiza, the best Mediterranean-style interior design focuses on indoor-outdoor living; natural materials and finishes; and an effortless, minimalist-chic approach to decorating that is rooted in centuries of life along the beautiful Mediterranean coast. Mediterranean is a variation of coastal design, which is a broader term based on the generic codes of seaside living.
History of Mediterranean-Style Interior Design
When interior designers talk about Mediterranean style, they are generally referring to the aesthetics of Southern European countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, notably Greece, Italy, and Spain. But it’s important to keep in mind that there are actually 21 countries that border the Mediterranean, meaning that true Mediterranean style is just as likely to come from Israel, Morocco, and beyond. While many Mediterranean cultures borrow elements of one another’s style and share a collective sensibility related to their shared proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, they each still possess centuries of distinct culture and design traditions.
Variations on Mediterranean style even exist within individual countries. For example, in the part of Southern France that borders the Mediterranean, French Riviera Style is a glamorous take on Mediterranean style that originated in the 1930s. This particular style has seen a resurgence in recent years everywhere from fashion to hotels, restaurants, and design. One example of French Riviera style are the vintage and widely reproduced rattan sun-shaped mirrors that have become mainstream in all manner of interiors around the world in recent years.
Though Mediterranean style has a timeless appeal, it can be interpreted in both classic and more contemporary ways. The original features of older homes like natural stone walls, exposed wood beams, or tile floors might preserve the character of the property, while adding contemporary furniture and decor make the home feel current. Contemporary Mediterranean architecture and interior design might focus on modern lifestyles with bigger rooms, larger energy-efficient windows, and modern luxuries like swimming pools, but old school materials and architectural details may be preserved or added as a nod to history.
Because Mediterranean-style architecture is particularly suited for warm, sunny climates, in the U.S. it is most often found in places like California and Florida. But Mediterranean-style interior design has become a catch-all for building and interior design and architecture throughout the U.S. and beyond. Just like spaghetti and meatballs is an American riff on Italian cuisine, the generic, clichéd way that Mediterranean-style interior design is often interpreted in the U.S. and elsewhere can be unrecognizable to a native of a country bordering the Mediterranean Sea. But there are some commonalities that can help you to identify the essence of Mediterranean style and adapt it for your interior regardless of location or climate.
Key Elements of Mediterranean-Style Design
- Emphasis on indoor-outdoor living
- Maximizing natural light and views of the outdoors
- Arched windows and doors and interior arched casings
- Exposed beams, natural stone walls, and tile or hardwood floors
- Airy, breezy interior spaces
- Less-is-more styling
- Use of natural materials in finishes and decor such as wood, rattan, tile, ceramics, terracotta, wrought iron, linen, and cotton
- Neutral palette with white plaster walls and natural finishes
- Use of color as an accent, with palettes that reflect the natural environment, from the blue-greens of the ocean to the yellows and golden tones of the sun
- Space planned for hospitality and family, with plenty of focus on common areas to include multiple seating options, and a large dining table
Mediterranean-Style Interior Design Tips
- Focus on the essentials to keep clutter at bay
- Opt for shades of white or cream on the walls
- Allow natural imperfections on walls to show through to add texture
- Consider white-washing walls or floors to add texture and patina
- Opt for wide plank wood flooring or tile depending on preference and climate
- Use same flooring throughout to create a cohesive look
- Leave flooring bare or use flat-weave rugs in natural materials and muted colors
- For finishes, consider raw materials such as natural stone, unfinished wood, bamboo, or cement
- Incorporate natural materials for furniture and decorative objects, such as rattan, wicker, straw, rope, jute, linen, and cotton
- Highlight existing architecture or add in details such as faux exposed beams, stonework, or tilework to add character to a newer build
- Choose rustic, sculptural objects, whether vintage or handcrafted, such as ceramics, bowls, baskets, and vases
- Make the most of natural light with bare windows, solar shades, or pale gauzy curtains
- Create opportunities for indoor-outdoor living with French or sliding doors
- Experiment with mosaic tiles to add interest and pattern to minimalist rooms
- Use multiple textures to create warmth and interest
- Furnish outdoor spaces like a patio, balcony, or terrace with the same care you would use to decorate the interior spaces, with a cohesive aesthetic between indoors and out
- Mimic arches with paint, or incorporate arched window mirrors or bookshelves
- Use open shelving in the kitchen to show off dishware, glassware, and accessories
- If your climate permits, choose Mediterranean greenery like potted olive or lemon trees. Otherwise, try placing branches or simple dried flowers in a rustic vase.