Making Some On-Site Decisions about the Layout and Structure Just Some Fine-Tuning

Once we had discussed the slope in front of the house and the slope behind and developed at least some next steps to take toward a solution, we moved to the house itself, for discussion with Kevin, Jimmy, and Francisc.

Laundry/Utility Room

We had altered the original plan for the laundry/utility room in the fall to take advantage of the adjacent space under the stairs. Now we find out we have a chance to use the space even more efficiently.

In addition to the washer and dryer, this room needs to include the boiler, used for both hot water and underfloor heating, an expansion tank related to the boiler, and some equipment that is part of the solar and photovoltaic systems. By stacking some of the items, including the washer and dryer, we’re left with plenty of counter space, room for some kitchen storage, and an area under the stairs for a bit of additional storage.

An Update

After we returned home, Kevin said that we could improve the situation even further. Some of this equipment can be moved outside the utility room wall, toward the kitchen, where it will be housed in a little stone-walled, tile-roofed shed with a louvered door, similar to the wood store on the other side of the house. Cost: none.

I like the idea and the cost.

laundry and utility room layout
Revised Laundry/Utility and Bathroom
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Ground Floor Bathroom

Kevin and the team recommended a reworking of the ground floor bathroom. It had been adapted in the fall to have the shower in a little alcove just inside the door. When the alcove was built, it became clear it wasn’t really wide enough to use comfortably. So they recommended that we change the design back to the original, with the shower in the far end, where it can be a comfortable 80cm (32in) wide, and the sink in the alcove.

We also are using a pocket door to provide some more space on entering.

Stone Wall and Fireplace

Our plans called for an interior stone wall across the back of the house. (We wanted to use some of the stone from the ruin and bring it inside the new house.) That introduced a design problem we hadn’t considered in the fall.

The fireplace was planned for a corner where the stone wall would join a plastered wall, while the fireplace and wall above would be a combination of stone and plaster. This seemed like it would make a visually jumbled corner.

Kevin also pointed out that the interior stone wall would take 8-10cm (4in) from the width of the room, and that, in fact, since this back wall is mostly French doors, there wouldn’t be that much stone visible.

One option Kevin proposed was to do the stone on the opposite wall of the main room, between the entry and the laundry room, where it can sit between the columns and not protrude into the room. That makes the fireplace corner a junction of two plaster walls, so we can do a stone fireplace. He also proposed the idea of a niche in the stone wall as an accent.

Another option was to move the fireplace to this opposite wall. This had the disadvantage of disrupting the flow from the front door, along with requiring a change in the stairway wall above. The other placement option, on the side wall, is a no go because the chimney would be in the middle of a bedroom.

In the end, we decided to keep the fireplace in the corner and move the stone wall across the room and do it without a niche.

Top Floor Ceiling
pianella color example
Selected Pianella Color

Currently, the top floor beams and cross-beams (braccialetti) are in place and anchored to the reinforced concrete structure. The next step will be to place the pianella terracotta tiles that will form the ceiling of the top floor. We needed to decide on the color of these tiles. Francisc showed us some color options. We chose a traditional, somewhat lighter, shade of red.

The Bidet Question

When designing the house, we had left out bidets entirely. We’ve been in dozens of European hotel rooms and have never had the slightest interest in using a bidet. Then Anne hears from a colleague that without bidets it will be hard to rent or sell the house.

Kevin didn’t feel that the lack of bidets would be a real roadblock to selling or renting, but he said there were three ways we could do them without taking up bathroom space now.

  • Rough in the plumbing, but don’t install bidets
  • Use a combo toilet/bidet
  • Add a wall-mounted spray head, like those in a shower, next to the toilets. (They call this the “telephone option.”)

We decided to go with the telephones.

Wall Adjustments
Kevin at Top of Stairs
Kevin and Stairway Wall
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Discussing Roof Slope with Jimmy and Kevin
Discussing Roof Slope with Jimmy and Kevin
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When we looked the SW bedroom, “Emma’s room”, we decided that we needed more clearance between where the end of the bed will be and the wall. We decided to move the wall between the two bedrooms by 40cm, which will give the two rooms equal spaces around the beds. It will mean taking down and rebuilding a small section of interior wall.

We also decide to make the wall of the stairway a half-wall. This will open up both the upstairs hallway and the stairway to light.

Upstairs Terrazza

We made no changes here, but Jimmy showed where the roof sections will join and how high they will be. This set my mind at ease about a question I had a couple of months ago about how the roof lines and terrazza walls look from the front and back of the house. Jimmy also indicated where the “false” roof will be above the kitchen. (The kitchen ceiling is flat, but the roof above is peaked.)

External Features

As I described in a previous post, we have a few exterior elements we added for functionality and/or appearance. We clarified locations and sizes.

  • There will be three copper faucets mounted inside some type of decorative stone plate on the SE, SW and NE corners.
  • Our fountain trough in back will sit outside the portico and can be up to about 110cm x 50cm.
  • The dovecotes will be on the back of the house between one pair of French doors.
  • The wood store on the south wall will have inside dimensions of 1m wide and deep and 1.6m high. It will “share” the left wall with the exterior of the house.
  • We will continue to “hold” on the tettoia above the front door to assess the light situation.

Exterior Walls

Francisc showed up how the exterior walls will be finished. They start with four layers of hemp insulation on outside of Poroton, so everywhere but where the structural columns are. That will be covered with the exterior stone layer.

Example Stone and Brick Wall
Example Stone and Brick Wall
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Large Stones Bricks and Shards
Large Stones, Bricks, and Shards
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He also explained that, while it’s mostly a stone wall, a traditional Marche wall incorporates brick, as well. Brick is used to frame the windows and doors and as an occasional layer between the stones. The stones are various sizes and both the stones and bricks are set with no clear pattern. Further, gaps between stones are filled with small stones and shards of brick.

Our decision here was to choose the color of the grout that goes between the stone and bricks. Kevin and Francisc showed us the options and we all agreed on a color that goes with both stone and brick. To be sure were pleased with the result, Francisc will do a small section of wall and then send us pictures for final approval.

Wrapping Up

I had brought some T-shirts with a Chicago logo to give to the team as a gift. I had made the mistake of getting size large, which is too big for most of the guys. Oh, well, I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Finally, Francisc and Jimmy told us that someone who can see the construction from across the valley had called the comune to see if everything we were doing, in particular the pool, was on the up-and-up. It may be the couple across the valley at Le Foglie Ridenti, which I located a few months ago from our pictures and Google maps.

We’ll send then an introductory note a try to establish friendly communications.

Here are a few more pictures.

All images: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure

Oh, My! The Slope is Steep in Back! Adding Additional Terracing May Help

After discussing the slope situation in front of the house, we move to the back and the slope there. Our group includes Kevin, the geometra Jimmy, the general contractor Francisc, and a landscape designer Paula.

The first thing we discuss is the size of the flat area behind house. It’s rather small, with not much room before there is a steep drop off to the levels below. We had designed it this way to try to save the nice fig tree that sits fairly near the house.

Photo of back of house
Flat Area Behind House
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Moving down the hill, we can see that the fig is very close to the current level behind the house, making it difficult to extend the level area.

Slope Behind House
Slope Behind the House
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Moving down the hill some more to the garden level below the house and looking back up the hill, it’s easy to see the drop off we have now is too severe. Based on the original land diagrams from Jimmy, we had planned on four plateaus: parking, house, garden, pool. Now we decided needed five, with two rather than one between the house and pool: parking, house, garden 1, garden 2, and pool.

Back Up the Slope
Looking Back Up the Slope
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Slope down to pool
Pool from Current Level Below House
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It became pretty clear that the fig’s position was limiting our options. We couldn’t extend the house plateau and have an opportunity to make the slope more manageable without removing it. Paula said that maybe it can be moved, but it’s uncertain if it will work and it’s probably expensive. Trying not to feel too bad about losing the tree, we reminded ourselves that in the current position is does block some of the view and that, as we learned when we lived in Raleigh, a new fig tree will grow pretty fast.

To build these plateaus on the hillside, we will need some sort of earth retention. One option is to build retaining walls. Jimmy proposed a system that is less expensive. It’s built using horizontal grids of iron, which are layered with a level of earth on top of each grid. They stabilize the soil over time as it settles and compacts. Plus, the iron will eventually decay, making it more earth-friendly than the other option using pvc grids.

Overall, to go with our unresolved situation in front of the house, we don’t have a solution behind the house, either. However we resolve these problems, a lot of soil needs to be added and moved by heavy equipment. The costs for this work is unknown, but I’m sure it’s not in the budget.

To get us moving to find some solutions, Jimmy will provide a survey showing the five plateau concept. Paula is to develop a proposal to design a long-term landscaping plan that deals with these immediate issues but which can be completed over time. We’re going to give Paula an idea of the types of plantings we’d like to see.

Now it’s time for lunch. Were we and our little rental car stuck at the bottom of the slope?

Fortunately, I was able to get the car up the driveway. I got a running start in first gear and, though the car whined and threatened to stall, we made it. A bit of flat and then another steep section on the access road. You need to keep your speed up the whole way to the top, even around corners, so we’ll need to install some mirrors to make sure no one is coming the other way.

Kevin says the road and driveway will be improved after construction is complete, but the slope will still be there. I’m now concerned about access for guests in their little rental cars. Plus, what do we do when it snows? We’ll have an unplowed driveway and road, uphill and unpaved for the first 1km. We may find ourselevs trapped until the snow melts.

We need to consider having a 4wd vehicle, but then we run into two other issues: without being residents, we can’t own a car and they are expensive to rent, like €300 a day (!). There is a leasing option that works for trips over about 3 weeks and the way to do it is to pick up the car in France.

I guess we just need to consider all of this part of the adventure of Casa Avventura.

All images: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure

Oh, My! The Slope is Steep in Front! Looking at Options to Make Coming and Going Easier

Our first morning here and our first chance to see Casa Avventura. Today, we’ll have a chance to evaluate the progress and make some decisions that have been on hold for us to be here in person.

We’ve got two big topics to discuss today. First, there is the land and terrain, specifically the slope, and second, a number of design decisions to make and potential chances to consider.

Since the land and slope is the first thing we see, I’ll write about it first and cover the house-related topics in another post.

Kevin said to meet him at the site at 9am. Not only will this be our first viewing, it will be our first time driving to the property on our own. We set off in our Lancia Ypsilon, a “supermini” class car.

As the site is out in the countryside, there is not really a street address. Fortunately, I had a pretty good sense of where the property is from our previous visits and I had gps coordinates I identified from Google Earth. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was the turn off the SP129, the road from Colmurano to Urbisaglia.

The turnoff was actually easy to identify. We started down the hill on a paved road for about 1km, where the road splits. We went right, down the so-called strada bianca (white road), a fancy name for gravel.

Now it’s about another 1km on this road, down and around. The last 500m or so is the section that was graded for (and paid for by) us. I’d say it’s just in fair shape now, due to the use by construction and earth-moving equipment. Kevin says it will be redone when the house is ready to go.

When we arrive at the end of the road, where our property access/driveway begins, I hesitate. We look down the slope of the last 100m and I can see it’s steep, steeper than I remembered. I’m worried that once down the hill, our little Ypsilon with the 1.2L engine won’t get us back up. I’m also starting to wonder if we haven’t picked too hilly a hillside.

Downhill in Front
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Getting down to the temporary parking area near the house, we look back up the hill. Hmm.

Stone on Neighbors Land
Looking Back Up the Driveway
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I think we had overlooked the driveway steepness problem because the drawing we had seen of the land profile didn’t include the driveway. It just showed the level in front of the house.

property slope diagram
Side view of slope
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I have written about the house being “in a hole” before, but in person it was easy to see it’s true, at least with the current land shaping.

Panorama of Slopes in Front
Looking Across the Front Slope
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Our Front Side Problem Slope
Looking Across Slope from Other Side
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Slope and Grade on South Side
Problem Front Corner
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The “final” parking area is planned to be in front and above the house. Certainly above. Right now it’s about level with the top floor, with a fairly steep slope down to the house.

Slope in Front from the Kitchen
Looking Back Up the Front Slope
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And to have enough flat space for cars, there is an area dug out of the slope.

Cut Out Area for Parking
Parking Cut Out in Front
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How can we make this better?

Here to try to sort this out are Kevin, the geometra Jimmy, the general contractor Francisc, and a landscape designer Paula, who we hadn’t met before. We start outlining the problem and possible solutions.

House placement near boundaries
House placement near boundaries
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Currently, since the property is triangular, the house is close to property lines on each side. Plus, it’s high up in triangle, leaving little room for parking above. And our access via the driveway is just a narrow strip, which we don’t own, but on which we have the right of access.

One solution might be to buy some land from the adjacent properties, so we have some room to move the steeper slopes away from the house. That would require some land on the south side of the property.

And/or we could buy some land on the uphill/east side, where we might be able to move the parking and let the driveway curve down the hill and be less steep.

We have a meeting set for tomorrow with the farmers who own this adjacent land, so we’ll see if we can make something happen. (We also need to get them to agree to let the electric company build a pole on their land so we can get electricity to the house, not only for us in the longer term but for Francisc and his crew. Right now they are using generators.)

Paula, trying to be optimistic, thinks that there are some ways to make the slope in front of the house not be too much of a problem — maybe even an advantage — through some plantings and stairs, and the the house being low makes the first “reveal” more exciting. Features rather than bugs. I’m not sure I’m buying.

More to come about behind the house.

All photos: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure

Setting Off to See the House A Trip to See the House First-Hand

Enough looking at pictures. It’s finally time for us to see the house for ourselves.


Last fall, we had penciled this first trip into March, but with some construction delays caused by bad weather in January and a chopped-up schedule on our end, we ended up with a trip in May.

Kevin had set up three full days of meetings and visits to suppliers, so we knew we’d be busy. Plus, we needed to meet with Giovanna, our lawyer, and to straighten out online access to our account at Banca Marche.

To be able to use miles to get to Ancona, we had to make two stops each way: London and Munich outbound, Munich and Frankfurt inbound. Early on the Sunday morning of our departure, I get a text from United saying our 6pm flight to London was cancelled and to rebook online. Of course, probably because we were using miles, online said I had to call. At this point, it looks like we may have problems getting to Ancona and that Kevin’s schedule will go up in smoke.

Text about flight cancellation

Fortunately, it only took an hour on the phone to get rebooked on a 9pm Lufthansa flight directly to Munich. It let us make the connection to Ancona on the same flight as before, so we arrived at the airport on time about 5pm Monday night.

So it all worked out well. Shorter trip, fewer stops, same arrival time. Plus, United, trying to recover from their PR disasters, gave me 7500 miles for the “trouble” caused by the cancellation.

We did have a longer trip to the hotel than I expected. For some reason, the phone gps led us away from the autostrada. Against my better judgement, I followed it, which turned a one hour easy highway drive into an hour and a half winding route through the Le Marche hills. Beautiful, but we were wanting a glass of wine more than a pretty view.

When we did get to the hotel, we had both: a room with a balcony looking out on the hills and a bottle of wine the hotel was kind enough to supply.

Next stop: Casa Avventura.

Calendar: Pixabay CC0 |

Buying More Land? A Land Purchase Might Solve Two Problems

There are a couple of other issues, beside the design questions, that we need to address in person during our trip.

A few weeks ago, Kevin recommended that we alter the original property grading plan. The property slopes downhill and he felt that we needed to do more grading, plus truck in some soil, to help soften the slope in front of the house and have more flat ground behind the house, on the downhill, view side.

This work was done, but there is still a bit of a problem on the south side (the left side when viewed from the front) of the house. It leaves the house in a bit in a hole here, as I wrote about earlier.

The best solution would be to make the slope more gradual in this side, but the problem is that we’re already fairly close to the property line. There isn’t enough room to do the reshaping we’d like to do.

Also, the electrical line needs to enter our property on this side of the house. The best route needs to cross the adjacent land and the landowner wants to be compensated. (There is also apparently some issue about an electrical pole as part of the line installation.)

One possible resolution to both issues would be for us to buy some land on this side. It’s a plot of olive trees, so Anne would like to have the land for that purpose, as well.

Google earth view of property in Le Marche
Property layout
Potential Purchase at the Bottom of the Image
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Of course, we’re not in a particularly strong bargaining position, as there is only one place we could get the land we need.

Kevin has us set up to meet with the landowner. I hope we’ll be able to reach a reasonable deal, either with or without land purchase.

Property layout: Google satellite image