City dwellers in the United States, unlike those in Mediterranean countries, seldom indulge in a four-hour lunch break. But the more fortunate urban Americans are finding another source of relief from the daily grind: the weekend-getaway house.
With this new lifestyle comes a different attitude toward the furnishings for a not-so-second home. Cast-offs aren't often spotted in these retreats, nor are linoleum floors and painted kitchen sets. Similarly, the antiques found in a rustic hideaway are usually more Ralph Lauren than Salvation Army in their styling.
In fact, the city apartment is often less elegant and comfortable than the "country cottage." That may be one reason why there's been so much interest in recent years in the country look. This interior style generally looks silly in a city setting, but it can be very attractive in a rural or beachy environment. As a byproduct of their popularity, however, authentic country-type originals are now priced out of reach even for the affluent.
But furniture in the proper styling is only one part of this desirable look. The big picture -- that is, the entire space -- is what first needs to be considered. Specifically, it's essential to select the right sort of surfacing for a room's surround, since it's the walls, floor and ceiling that set the stage for all the furnishings and decorative objects.
Handmade ceramic tile comes immediately to mind as an especially appropriate background material for a country home.
Antique decorative or just plain old terra-cotta tiles are now much favored by collectors who embed them in cement or plaster walls. Sometimes the tiles are affixed to drywall panels with ordinary adhesives.
Patterns can be formed by alternating new and old tiles and by combining plain-colored pieces with glazed terra cottas. New glazing techniques make possible various textures and mottled colors that simulate the appearance of handmade ceramics.
In the photo, a kitchen countertop and backsplash have been surfaced with French country tiles. The combination shown here consists of a white and rose field tile, mottled in texture and capped with a cerise lambrequin V-cap that acts as a border. This arrangement comes from French Country Living of Great Falls, Va., which imports terra-cotta floor tiles.
Wall coverings in dark backgrounds with mini-patterns, like that shown in the photo, make a good accompaniment for natural as well as plain and glazed ceramic tiles. I find that color contrasts are often needed in creating the warmth that a country-type setting is supposed to exude. Cute, soft pastels should certainly be avoided in this sort of interior, since they will produce an ordinary ginghamlike effect.
Ceramic as a surfacing material makes sense in a country home for another reason: It's easy to maintain. No one anxious to escape the demands of city living wants to spend precious weekend hours cleaning the floors and other surfaces.