Timeless Italian Tole

From elegant antique chandeliers to whimsical mid-century bookends, Italian painted-metal creations continue to charm with their decidedly floral mindset and cheerful mission to bring the outside indoors
italian tole chandelier
An elegant antique 12-arm chandelier is a beautifully detailed example of the sophisticated style of Italian tole.

What is Italian tole?

Sheila Benson of Foxglove Antiques & Galleries explains, “Italian tole refers to the technique of adding decorative paint to metal and is usually made in or near Florence. The pieces add charm and whimsy to any room and are most popular in a kitchen or keeping room, sunroom, or powder room.”

Decorating with tole

italian tole chandelier
Italian tole chandelier in the home of Susan Hable Smith (Photo by Anthony-Masterson)

“This chandelier is a favorite of mine and was one of the first things that I bought when we renovated our house in Athens [Georgia] almost 9 years ago,” says Susan Hable Smith, an artist and designer for the textile firm Hable Construction. “I found it in Round Top, Texas, at a tent run by two very talented men. I didn’t really know where it was going to wind up in the house, but I loved it so much that I had to have it! It is a focal piece in our home, and I often will drape seeded eucalyptus in it for the holidays and other flora for various parties.”

italian tole bedside sconces
Tole sconces in a bedroom designed by Patrick Mele (Photo by Brittany Ambridge, Domino, Summer 2015, Condé Nast)

“Tole in general is so ladylike and is a throwback to an earlier ‘Lee Radziwill’ time. It can look really fresh in a more modern setting. My client, illustrator Hayley Sarno, is very feminine and when I saw these tole sconces, I knew they were perfect for her, and we would find a place to use them. We both loved the bright green color with the pretty porcelain flowers. The mix of all the elements in her bedroom keep the sconces from feeling grandmothery,” says Patrick Mele, interior designer New York City.

italian tole bookends
Tole pieces often include cheerful insects in the design as seen in these mid-century bookends that are perfect for holding a collection of garden books.

italian tole sconce
Charming butterflies in vibrant shades dance on a two-armed candleholder and would be a charming accent in a garden room or enclosed porch.

italian tole candleholder
An antique candleholder in muted tones shows off swirls of flowers and leaves and could be easily converted into a lamp.
tole yellow tulip chandelier
This small vintage, Italian tole, yellow tulip chandelier would look at right at home in a girl’s bedroom.
Italian tole painting
The liveliness of Italian tole is captured in these vintage candleholders with daisies, roses, and tulips, and leaves in varying shades of green.

Where can you find Italian tole?

Foxglove Antiques & Galleries and The Gables Antiques supplied several tole pieces featured in this article. ChairishEtsy, and Ebay regularly have tole pieces listed for sale.

Photography by Jeff Von Hoene | Photo Styling by Kim Phillips | Produced by Alice Welsh Doyle and Ellen S. Padgett

Holiday vignette with vintage blown-glass tree toppers in old bottles, retro-style small decorative Christmas trees, and a Tole candleholder fashioned to look like a vase of cream-colored flowers in the home of event planners Rick Davis and Christopher Vazquez
Photo by Jenn Verrier

More Tole Featured in Flower

Tole candle holders mix with vintage holiday finds in a Maryland farmhouse belonging to Washington, D.C., event planners Rick Davis and Christopher Vazquez. Read “A Merry Vintage Christmas.”