7 Design Elements In U.S. Homes that Surprise First-Time Visitors

updated Aug 20, 2019
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I recently moved to Italy a few months ago after living in Chicago my whole life, and while trying to put together my new house near Venice, I found some culture shock I wasn’t expecting.

Some things I noticed right away? Online furniture stores are almost non-existent, many apartments I was looking at came painted in Crayola-like colors, and everything felt much… smaller. But that got me thinking: What design elements in US homes would surprise first-time visitors?

In order to find out, I conducted a highly scientific study via Instagram stories to see what my European friends and family were confused about when it came to American homes. The results were interesting, to say the least. 

1. Lack of Color

There’s nothing wrong with wanting an all-white kitchen or a soothing off-white and beige living room. But many European homes veer towards bright pops of color. We’re talking about bright orange kitchen cabinets, chartreuse living room walls, crayon-purple couches, and saturated hues that aren’t for the designer that is faint of heart. Basically, think of Monica Gellar’s apartment in “Friends”. 

2. Minimal Tile in the Bathroom

It’s not often that you walk into a bathroom in the U.S. and it has tiling everywhere. But as I was apartment hunting in Italy, I noticed that all the bathrooms were completely covered, floor to ceiling, in tiles. And not just simple white tiles that fade into the background. No, there were floral explosions, electric pops of color, and one time even tiger stripes were involved.

In the U.S., often just the shower area and sink backsplash have tilework, but the rest either has wallpaper or paint. As one Instagrammer asked in a concerned manner, “But how do you keep the walls clean without them?”

3. Dens

From man caves to family rooms, many of my European friends found it odd that Americans have a separate space from the living room where the relaxing takes place. “It’s literally called a ‘living’ room, though,” one survey taker commented. Something about a den just feels cozier. 

4. Lack of Outdoor Kitchens

An outdoor kitchen feels like a luxury in the U.S., and it doesn’t exactly come with a starter home. But many Europeans find it an essential part of their homes—especially since many people build their own houses from the ground up. Adding a small kitchen in the backyard just seems like common sense, especially if you love being a host during the summer months. 

Credit: Darren Asay

5. Having A Dryer

Whether it’s the middle of summer or deep in the depths of winter, many Europeans forgo the dryer and just have a drying rack in their balcony or living room. Having a dryer just seems like an excessive waste of energy. 

6. Cut the AC

Americans are obsessed with their AC, but many European countries skip the units and just rely on fans and open windows. The Arctic temperatures inside U.S. homes are seen almost like a caricature of the typical American suburban house—but at least we’re covered during a heatwave. 

7. Our Love for White Picket Fences

Blame it on the ol’ American Dream, which includes 2.5 kids, a station wagon, and a golden retriever, but Europeans are under the impression that a white picket fence is a must for us. Maybe once it was, but things really have changed over the past half-century.