I’m tired of seeing cavernous kitchens that are termed “small space,” and I cannot watch one minute more of would-be home buyers traipsing around far-flung locales flinging around $700,000 budgets for vacation homes they’ll visit for a few weeks a year. So-called “Tuscany style” books, *so* aren’t.
Magazines show lovely before-and-after photos, but when you’re dealing with a house that is mere decades old and giving it a makeover, and you have a super-sized home improvement store down the street, it’s fairly easy to be a do-it-yourselfer. This Old House? HA!
Shows that promise design solutions make me laugh. Sure! Anyone can remodel when you’re pulling out wafer-thin drywall, slapping up a coat of latex, and scattering advertiser-sponsored accessories about liberally. I say, try taking a 300-year old stone building cantilevered onto a mountain with walls that are three feet thick and an electrical system that is roughly one generation removed from Edison…then find me and we’ll talk.
We’re discovering why big home-improvement stores aren’t…uh, big in Italy. Any small undertaking has the potential to become a major ordeal. This is a bit tough for Bryan, an avowed putterer and competent DIYer.
I carried home some Italian magazines which had fabulous photos and ideas, and were well qualified to offer suggestions on ancient structures and their unique qualities, but they suffered unfortunate bloody deaths in my suitcase. The sole survivor was the one I purchased for the cantina restoration, a project we won’t be tackling for quite some time.
To make the place habitable, at least to a camping level, we need a kitchen. Houses in Italy, if you don’t already know, come bare. We’re talking no fixtures, no kitchen cupboards, no sink, buck nekkid bare. One dusty bulb hangs from a wire in the living area as a lone light source. We are luckier than some: we have functional bathroom fixtures and a roof. Many homes we looked at contained neither.
Lovely Old-World Kitchen...would love to find one of these!
I wasn’t thrilled with the previous owner’s placement of the kitchen and gray-tiled walls. I have been weighing the idea of moving it to the other side of the large living space. I explained my thought to our engineer-slash-contractor friend who assured me it was doable. All I’d have to do would be to jackhammer up the floor the entire length of the room and plumb in piping, then jackhammer some more to create a drainage system, make a trench through the stone wall to transfer electrical wires, and then wrap a gas line around the outside of the building to that part of the house. Then, of course, find tiles that match the flooring to fix the jack-hammered parts or else tear out all the tiles and redo the entire pavement for the room. No problem.
I think now the kitchen may remain where it currently rests. But the odd-sized space, the fireplace, the uneven walls, and weird window placements present challenges. I’ve sought solutions, but so far they’ve eluded me. All the kitchen designs here are for enormous rooms with an acre of countertop and a six-burner pro-style stove. In short, they’re bigger than my entire allotted living-dining-kitchen space.
Italian design kitchen sites are fabulously geared toward small spaces, but are also frequently, fabulously modern. I briefly toyed with going sleek and gleamy as a contrast to the antique character of the place, but then decided that I’d prefer to keep it rustic. Finding the items and figuring out how to make them fit in the limited space is another matter. The visions pirouette in my head but whether they’ll work in real life is anyone’s guess.
But first things first. Doors. Our first simple project is to replace the two sets of decayed French doors that lead to balconies from the living room and bedroom. Alas, “simple” is such a relative word. The project is going to involve stone masons and wood workers. A door cannot simply be purchased and installed. There are no standard, pre-fab sizes ready and waiting at Lowe’s. It has to be specially made to fit the opening. Rotted lintels and jambs must be removed. The stone must be repaired after their removal. New lintels and jambs must be installed. Then the doors that have been made just for our piccola casa can be hung. Except. The thresholds need work, too. More stone masonry.
It probably would all be fairly simple and straight-forward if we were there, but communicating back and forth by email and phone calls is slow and tedious. I’ll be traveling there shortly but we needed to the get the ball rolling: the woodworker needed to order the materials so he can make the doors. The stone mason had to meet with him in case the stone work would change the dimensions of the openings. Photos, emails, and misunderstandings have abounded. It’s a clumsy ballet played out in work boots and cyberspace.
If HGTV wants some compelling restoration viewing, this would do nicely, I think. Much more challenging than most of the “reality” shows I’ve turned off. But alas, they have no programs like “Design on a Euro-Dime” or “Rustic Old World Kitchens in the Old World” or “Generation Renovation: The Medieval Edition”, so I’ll be tuning out.