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A Touch of Tuscany in the Bathroom

Whether you're seeking Old World glamour or modern flair, you can bring some Italian pizzazz into your bathroom with these expert design pointers and products.

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The world's gone selvaggio for Italian bathroom decor, which makes perfect sense to Cynthia Watson, owner of Accents of Salado, an Old World Italian, Tuscan and Mediterranean decor supplier in Salado, Texas.

"In the master bath, the trend is for people to want sheer indulgence and timeless beauty, and traditional Italian design provides that. And more contemporary Italian design fits right in with modern, metro bathroom design. It's all polished and refined and so easy to live with."

If either type of Italian accessory tickles your fancy, bear in mind that you can indulge in a touch of Tuscany on a small scale. No need for a complete bathroom overhaul as long as you choose wisely from the bounty of Italian-inspired and Italian-designed products on the market. Here's how:

Try to match styles with what's already in your bath. "You can use Italian accessories to take your bath in a glamorous-retro or metro mix direction," says designer Denise Simons of Nashville, Tenn., who has a special affinity for Mediterranean-style design. "You can't really blend an Old World look with the fresh, clean, crisp look created by today's Italian designers."

Consider some new paint, curtains or towels. Add some brown, gold, creamy yellow or terra cotta to your color scheme to create warmth and to set the backdrop for Tuscan-style accessories.

Cue up some cut-glass containers. Traditional Italian style is all about glass, and traditional cruets and canisters add a nice touch to open shelving — and some great storage for bath oils and salts. Watson's Accents of Salado sells tall Old World canisters and cut glass containers, one of them shaped like a salad-oil cruet. They're a nice start if you're just getting into the Italian look (or aren't planning to go very far with it), since they're mostly clear glass and so can merge with most any bathroom design. "One reason they sell so well is that glass won't create conflict in any decor," says Watson.

Know your crystal knobs. Another nice traditional touch: Italian glass and crystal knobs from companies such as Omni Industries.

Welcome wrought iron. "Metal is an accent that really defines a traditional Italian decor," says Watson. In the bathroom, work with wrought-iron candle holders or metal wall-mount baskets that hold towels and toiletries. Note, though, that while the wrought iron pieces are Italian style, they are rarely made in Italy or designed by Italians. In fact, even Target offers a wrought-iron vase that would lend a Tuscan air once fastened on the wall behind the toilet.

Take care with finishes. A good rule of thumb, says Simons, is to emphasize "shiny" metals in the contemporary Italian look, like the Dante Faucet from Marco Mammoliti Spas with its Space Age colored rings and chrome finish. For the Old World look, stick with metals such as pewter or hammered copper — and don't cross over into "shiny" stuff.

Gild your own lilies. "One lovely traditional Italian look is intricate hand-carvings, historically cast in bronze or other precious metals, and used to make furnishings or mirrors," says Simons. "If that's not a look you can achieve on your budget, consider adding carved wood pieces to an existing mirror, chest or vanity and then use gold leafing to make it look like the traditional pieces. Even the craft stores now carry ready-made pieces for just such projects."

Go for a traditional glass sink. "The glass brings the piece into the modern design realm, but the shape has the old-time appeal of an Italian pitcher and bowl," says Watson. "You can place a glass vessel sink on top of a piece of rich wood furniture for a rich, traditional Italian look. They're perfect for a powder room and each piece makes a personal statement. And just adding that one piece completely changes the look of the entire bathroom."

Take two on tile. Italian glass mosaic tiles make a nice addition to either glam traditional or metro mix bathrooms, and you don't have to do a whole wall or shower to get the benefits. Consider a small backsplash made of colorful tiles by a company such as Bisazza tile. Or, tap into any number of Italian art styles with one, two or more decorative Italian tiles suspended on the wall or worked into a backsplash or border. The "Sicily - Alessi Blue Owl" from the Pottery Company is a fun piece to consider and the company has more than 15 pages of other arty tiles to choose from.

Consider a contemporary glass sink. Lacava Designs is a Chicago-based company so Italian that its logo is shaped like Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that buried Pompeii in 79 A.D. Its streamlined glass sinks, like the Integrato model, are much more up to date. The pieces are intended for modest metro spaces or powder rooms but still have the open, crisp look that defines contemporary Italian design.

Get fun and funky with new-wave Italian accessories. Companies like Alessi employ the clean lines so much a part of Italian bathroom design? but they have a lot of fun, too. Here's an example: a brightly colored blue base with a lime green protrusion that resembles, maybe, an alien's walking stick but turns out to be the Alessi toilet brush.

Such extras bring a hint of Italian design to what Nashville designer Simons affectionately calls the "eclectic" bathroom. But Italian or no, use radical accessories sparingly, she cautions. "It's always good to have an element of surprise," she says, "but not an element of shock."

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