Over two days, we spent about 7.5 hours looking at lighting and making some decisions. We didn’t quite get to everything, but when we finished the second meeting, on our last day of the trip, we felt we were in pretty good shape.
To give us some guidance on our lighting choices, we had engaged Alessandra to help us. Off we went, joined by Kevin, to a lighting supply store.
Oh, my! It was a nice store, full of samples hanging everywhere, and my first reaction was that no one would ever buy any of it. It looked like just a bunch of unsold inventory. Both Anne and I had our doubts whether this was going to be a fruitful visit.
We were looking for 27 different types of lights, not counting where we were going to use the same light in multiple locations.
Slowly, we started to identify a few lights that might be right or that gave us some guidance for what to look for in the catalogs.
We spent quite a bit more time looking at catalogs than floor samples. One limitation of this approach, which we realized later, is that the floor samples were tagged with a price, so we knew what we would be spending. The catalog items were shown without prices.
Predictably, when the costs were totaled, we came in too high, probably 40% above what we expected. The only good news is that most of the overage was caused by just a few high-priced lights, so if we can find replacements for those we may be able to get the costs back in line.
We started our search for alternatives the next afternoon during our flight home. Anne was able to find lights she liked, but from US sources, and since the electrical system in Italy uses a different voltage and frequency, we can’t use US lights there.
So we’re looking at amazon.it and other sources, from which we may be able to have items shipped to Kevin for storage until needed.
In May, Angelo had proposed modern-looking vanities for the master and upstairs bedroom. We had agreed, but after we returned home, Anne rethought the topic and decided she’d prefer more traditional cabinet-like vanities.Angelo had forwarded drawings, so we just needed to confirm the new designs.
Another change we made was to the counter tops. Anne wanted stone, but had been talked into using tile, tile that matched the floor in the master and a bit of a funky design upstairs. Finally, I convinced her we should get what we want. There is a budget hit — isn’t there always? — but we settled on a stone counter top in the master and a more neutral porcelain in the upstairs bathroom.
This settled all the bathroom issues, except the downstairs bath vanity, where we plan a yet-to-be-found old furniture piece to use.
Last time, we had just touched on the kitchen, choosing an island design and a basic look for the cabinetry and talking about how best to use the wall space between the kitchen door and utility room. This is where I wanted an ice machine and Anne wanted a coffee bar. This time, we needed to settle on the specific layout of cabinets and appliances and confirm all the colors and materials.
Angelo presented two kitchen layout options. They were essentially the same, except for what to do with that kitchen wall space by the laundry. One option was designed around a large, one-unit refrigerator/freezer that included both an ice maker and a wine fridge. The other used separate units, all with cabinet faces to match the kitchen, and included space for the wine fridge and a coffee and liquor bar.
The more appealing of the two solutions was the second one, both for design and functionality. Of course, it was about 10% higher in cost. We discussed it for awhile, with Kevin suggesting that we go with the cheaper option unless we saw ourselves using the house a lot. In the end, we decided to splurge and go for the one we wanted.
Specific appliances? Kevin and Angelo recommended Siemens, saying that they were high-quality and had the best repair service in Italy. Here, we spent little time deciding, so I hope we’ve spent our money wisely. (We will have another chance to review the appliance choices. Angelo will write it all up and sent us detailed descriptions.)
One topic that got a lot of attention was one I would have gone right past: counter top height. Angelo assumed that Anne was the primary cook, so he recommended that we go a bit lower. He seemed surprised when he learned that I was the cook, so we adjusted the work surface height back up just a few centimeters.
Then on to the island height. Here, as this surface is used both for food prep on one side and seating on the other, we got into a long discussion about counter top and stool heights. Anne doesn’t want bar stools, where your feet just hang, so we didn’t want a raised top on the seating side. Angelo proposed a counter height of 90cm, to match the counters on the other side. OK, so how high do the stools need to be to make it comfortable to eat at that height, have space for your legs below the counter, and have your feet on the floor?
We started searching the internet for example stools and had trouble finding stools that were available in Italy with the look Anne wanted at what seemed to be the right height. By doing some measuring, we decided that at a 90cm counter top, the height of the stool seat should be about 55-60cm. All we could find online were stools with heights of 67cm or higher.
We left without this height issue resolved.
After we returned home, we measured our current counter and stools: counter at 90cm (36in) and stool seats at 60cm (24in). Now we know the numbers; we just have to find the right design from an Italian supplier.
Also, Anne pointed out that we had never discussed the backsplash for the kitchen walls. She figured they’d want to run the counter top up the wall and she doesn’t like that look. She proposed subway tiles. Both Angelo and Kevin thought they’d be out-of-place, so counter top up-the-wall is what it will be.
The last time we visited our house we noticed that there was one house almost directly across from ours on the other side of the valley, and we wondered whether they were bothered by the unsightly view of our construction.
A few weeks later, while looking for potential places to stay on our next visit, Ed happened to stumble on a website for an eco-friendly bed and breakfast in the vicinity of our house. When he put the B&B’s address into Google Earth up came a picture of that same house across the way. It’s called Le Foglie Ridenti, which translates roughly to Laughter in the Leaves. It’s owned by Graham and Saranne, who are originally from the Ireland and England, respectively, but have lived in Le Marche for over ten years.
Since we had their contact information from their website we decided to drop them a line to introduce ourselves…and also apologize for our construction noise and mess. They invited us to stop by on our upcoming trip, so we made a date.
When we arrived at Le Foglie Ridenti we found out that Saranne, who writes children’s science books, was on deadline from her publisher, so we spent most of our visit with Graham. He showed us around the place and explained that they built their house using an innovative eco-friendly building process and sustainable materials.
Most of their power comes from passive solar energy and their entire home is heated by one wood stove, that they also use for cooking. The house is kept cool in the summer and warm in winter by an innovative insulation technique. They spend just a few hundred Euro per year on electricity, unheard of in a part of the world where energy costs are sky-high. Graham said the construction technique he used had been pioneered in Germany and he had now started a business to bring it to Le Marche and help other like-minded people build their own eco-friendly homes.
Graham and Saranne had also built their own natural swimming pool. With water lilies and other plants it looked more like a pond except for being rectangular. The pool uses no chlorine or any other chemicals, relying on plant life and and an aeration pump to keep the water oxygenated and algae free.
Graham is quite the modern-day Renaissance man and there seems to be nothing he can’t do. In addition to working in eco-friendly construction and farming their olives, vegetables and fruit trees, he is an expert in local wines and leads wine tours for his guests and others, as well as olive tours. In addition, he does farm-to-table catering for local residents, cooking for them in their homes with locally-produced organic ingredients.
We are so glad to have this warm and friendly couple as neighbors. I am sure they will also be a terrific resource for us when it comes to their knowledge of the area and their connections with local producers.
It seems we keep circling back on this issue, looking for a really good solution that probably doesn’t exist, given our constraints.
During our trip in May, we had come face-to-face with the problems the slope of the land was causing, both in front and behind the house. While there, we outlined a solution for the problem in back and discussed various options in front.
After that visit, Alessandra had proposed a solution for the front of the house. Paula, the landscape designer, had chimed in with another attractive solution, adding an additional level to allow a car to be parked right next to the kitchen. (My knees liked that idea.) Kevin cautioned us that Paula’s solution was likely to be expensive, as we’d need serious earth reinforcement to support a car in that location.
Kevin started getting bids on both Alessandra’s and Paula’s solutions. He passed on renderings of Alessandra’s approach, which used the terra armata reinforcing technique on the slope above the house.
This terra armata solution seemed to be the best, but Anne had raised a concern about whether we could plant on top and sides of the terra armata structure, given its internal reinforcement.
Paula was in agreement on the terra armata above the house, but wanted the cemento armato technique — the same method used the build the house — used to build a “shelf” for the car near the kitchen.
Kevin’s cost estimates confirmed that adding the parking shelf would be expensive, on the order of €15,000, on top of the costs for the terra armata in front of the house. (He also told us that Francisc had worked a great deal to supply both the earth and the earth-moving to implement the solutions front and back.)
So we all gather at the property to work this out.
First, Kevin and Paula assured Anne that we wouldn’t be limited in what we could plant by the terra armata technique. Second, we decided that we needed to forgo to lower parking space, as it was just too expensive.
One new issue popped up. In Alessandra’s solution, the path from the parking down to the house was on the right side, where the slope was more shallow. This made sense, but directed visitors to the kitchen door, rather than the front door.
I proposed adding an access, via stairs, that would go from the parking directly to the front door. While this path might not be as practical for everyday use, it did return the focus to the center of the house and the front door. We decided to build this new access into the landscape plan.
So, I think we have the overall plan settled. Next steps will be for Francisc to get the earth moving done and for Jimmy to draw the resulting levels, which will be input to Paula’s landscape plan. I hope we can make this move quickly.
Next, we went inside for a look-see. Having seen the pictures from just a few days before, not much had changed on the ground floor and without the stairs or a ladder in place, we weren’t able to see the top floor.
We did discuss the design on the fireplace. I was interested in having a curved front rather than just a straight line. After reviewing some options, we settled on a mostly straight front, but with the corners tapered, to make it more interesting. We’ll have a raised hearth, wood storage below, arched firebox. brick and stone below mantle, old wood piece as mantle, and a tapered plaster wall above. Rather traditional, overall.
After we had finished our pow wow, Anne and I walked the property down to the pool, to see what it looked like and to see what the house looked like from down there. Anne climbed down into the pool and made an important discovery: the shallow end of the pool isn’t very shallow.
When Anne stood at the bottom of the shallow end, we realized just what 140cm was. She wouldn’t be able to stand up without the water coming up to her nose. Hmm. Clearly, we needed to address this and make the pool less deep at this end.
When we raised this with Kevin, he said that 140cm was a standard depth in Italy. (Anne discovered on line that a US pool would typically be just 90cm (36in) in the shallow end.) He promised to discuss with Francisc if we could adjust this depth.
Stone Wall Grout
After we returned up the hill, Anne raised another interesting point: did we want the grout on the interior stone wall to be the same as the outside stone, or would it look better if it were a little lighter? Lighter seemed right, but we decided to get Alessandra’s view.
Kevin has reported that we can reduce the pool depth, but it takes more than just pouring in some more concrete. It will require some rebar work to tie the new concrete to the old. We decided 120cm (47in) would be OK, but I’m still wondering if we shouldn’t reduce it to no more than 100cm (39in).
On the grout, we decided that a shade lighter inside was the way to go.