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
Click image to enlarge
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
Click image to enlarge
Discussing Roof Slope with Jimmy and Kevin
Discussing Roof Slope with Jimmy and Kevin
Click image to enlarge

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
Click image to enlarge
Large Stones Bricks and Shards
Large Stones, Bricks, and Shards
Click image to enlarge

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

Finalizing the Construction Contract The Computo Metrico is Signed

While we settled on a project budget in October and construction was started in mid-November, we haven’t as yet finalized and signed the (primary) construction contract with the builder, a company owned by Brinza Ionut Bogdan who employs our contractor Francisc, or the contract with the geometra, Jimmy.

A key reason for having delayed the signing is my desire to have a clear definition of just what we’ll get for each budget item. Here in the US, we’d call this the construction drawings and specification. In Italy, the specification is called a computo metrico. (I’m not sure what the particular term is for the construction drawings.)

Kevin has been working to get these construction plans done, and Giovanna has been working to get the contracts completed. This week, they sent along a final draft with all the needed attachments.

On the whole, there were no major surprises in any of the documents. The computo metrico stretched to 31 pages and described in detail the construction of the actual house structure — the underground pylons, the floors, the beams, and the support columns. It also included, but in less detail, the installation of the internal systems, such as plumbing, heating, and electrical.

I noticed two small discrepancies between our past discussions and the drawings and elevations, both for items we had adjusted late in the planning: the size and placement of the window in the stairway and the layout of the door and shower opening in the downstairs bathroom.

The one place I had a surprise was when I saw the view of the front of the house. I had expected that the edge of the top floor terrazza would be “behind” a section of roof, but because of the location of the terrazza, it appears that there is a “gap” in the roofline.

Le Marche design front

I can see why it happens when look at an overhead view of the terrazza and its placement, and there is not an obvious solution: the terrazza can’t be “pushed back” to allow a roof section, as the door to the terrazza is right on the front edge of the terrazza, and that door can’t be moved because of the whole top floor layout, especially the position of the bathroom.

Le Marche house plan

Kevin and I exchanged some ideas about how to handle the issue — which is purely one of the visibility of the “side” of the terrazza from the front of the house — including some type of railing or maybe a small stone wall. Nothing seems quite right, but Kevin said he’d get with the architect and figure out a solution.

Giovanna’s instructions were to make two copies of the documents, sign each page, and send them back to her “by courier.” We did sign as requested, which was a bit of a task for me as I needed to carefully write my name on each of the hundred or so pages.

I’m not sure exactly what she meant by “courier” — maybe just not to send regular mail — but I wasn’t doing anything more than sending by DHL, which in itself cost $97, but will have the documents there in three days.

Next will be the “advance” payments we owe Francisc and Jimmy, which add up to a few tens of thousands of euro.

All images: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure

Redoing the Bathrooms Improving the Plans

Last week, Kevin took the proactive step to bring the bathroom designer, Angelo, into the process. The architect had done preliminary bathroom planimetrie (floorplans), but we need to finalize the layouts so the plumbing work can proceed. (The toilet placement is the issue that needs to be decided now,. The others can be tweaked later, though as you’ll see I think we’ve got it solved now.)

The preliminary layouts we had received before seemed to be reasonable, but I think the bathroom “specialist” made some great improvements, particularly in the placement of the showers and toilets and figuring out how to incorporate the nicchie.

The general recommendation about the nicchia was presented by Kevin as, “Nicchia is accommodated with a “faux” wall extension, seamless to ceiling.”

My question back to him on this was whether this would take too much space from the rooms, but it doesn’t look like it would from the drawings (below).

I’ll cover the individual bathroom. in turn.

Master bathroom

Here is the original design compared with the new layout from the specialist.

Original Master Bathroom Design
Original Master Bathroom Design
Click image to enlarge
New Master Bathroom Design
Click image to enlarge

Kevin presented the rationale like this:

(Kevin loves using capitals for emphasis and an ellipsis to join thoughts.)

• You enter the bathroom, and immediate have access to the double sinks … also, upon entering you profit from the natural light from the window
• The entire exterior wall is COMPLETELY “FREE”…
• The bathroom is very spacious with lots of free room
• Inside the shower area we can “extend” the nicchia wall extension to create an in-shower NICCHIA or an in-shower SHELF…or we can do nothing

The shower is a generous 1.8m x 0.9m (6 ft x 3 ft).

The only small detail, which is no problem to change is that Anne and I think we probably want a single sink rather than double so we have more counter space.


Ground Floor Bathroom

This bathroom runs across the front side of the house, to the right of the entry.

Original Ground Floor Bathroom
Original Ground Floor Bathroom
Click image to enlarge
New Ground Floor Bathroom
New Ground Floor Bathroom
Click image to enlarge

Kevin’s comments:

• You enter the bathroom, see the glass shower panel, then the sink … the toilet is tucked in the back, out of view when you first enter
• The entire right side wall is “free”, no clutter
• He puts the shower in the wall indentation … allows for a bigger, cleaner shower with glass panel, no cabinet … easier to clean, nicer to look at, more comfortable to use

Here. I want to tinker more.

My biggest concern is with the way the door opens. As drawn, there is no place for wall switches, except behind the door or in the hall, neither of which I like. I want to reverse the swing, so it opens on the right. This requires the shower opening to be put at the other end, so it’s not behind the door.

Again, the shower is a good size, at 1.4m x 0.6 m (4½ ft x 2 ft).

The other tweak is to put a half wall between the sink and the toilet.

Top Floor Bathroom

Here, we told them we didn’t want the bidet and he has the great idea of how to use the space: add a shower along with the tub. (We want to tub for guests with little children (grandchildren?))

first floor bathroom
Original Top Floor Bathroom
Click image to enlarge
first floor bathroom
New Top Floor Bathroom
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• He recommends going with BOTH a tub and a shower – his reasoning is that by eliminating the bidet, we pick up some space … the vast majority of usage will be shower over tub … also, from a cleaning point of view, the shower will keep the bathroom cleaner, contain more water splashes, etc., than will a shower in the tub … he cites the fact that you might rent the house as another motivator for the cleaning/usage rationale
• You enter the bathroom and have immediate access to the sink … the toilet is tucked in the back, out of view when you first enter

Our only comments are that we’d like that half wall here, also. (There may be a slight issue with the door placement, given the special door we’d like to use for the adjacent linen closet.)

We sent our comments and questions off to Kevin.


After hearing the recommendations from Angelo and Kevin, we decided to drop the half wall idea, as the spaces are somewhat small and it would chop them up unnecessarily.

We did make the small revision to switch the master sink from double to single.

My biggest concern was to redo the way the door opens in the ground floor bath. They were able to deliver what I wanted, as shown in the plan below. (I have rotated the previous revision image so they can be seen side-by-side in the same orientation.)

ground floor bathroom design
Original revision of ground floor bathroom
Click image to enlarge
Ground Floor Bathroom
New revision: Ground Floor
Click image to enlarge

All images: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure

Strong as Bull Technical Drawings for the Reinforced Concrete Structure

Kevin sent along the technical drawings for the pilings, foundation, and framework of the house. Some of it is Greek to me, but it’s reassuring about the strength of the construction.

I can see that the construction is solid. The supporting columns seem to be 30cm x 30cm (12 in x 12 in). There are sixteen of these, even for this 205mt2 (2200 ft2 house. Plus, the beams supporting the floors are 55cm x 30cm (22 in x 12 in) with the floors 25cm (10 in) thick.

Here’s a look at the structural drawing for the ground floor. Trave is a beam and soliao a floor panel.

Beams and Floors Click image to enlarge and see plan details
Beams and Floors
Click image to enlarge and see plan details

Image source
Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure

Lighting It Up

When I was in Marche a few weeks ago, I asked Kevin about the electrical plan. I had assumed the architect or geometra would handle this and we’d comment. (The architect and geometra have overlapping roles. The architect has more formal training and certification, and seems to handle the big picture elements of the design. The geometra handles the details, plus acts as a surveyor and project manager.)

light-bulb-referencing-home-electrical-planHe told me that I ought to make the first pass at an electrical plan. I was happy to take this on, as I wanted to avoid some shortcomings in our current house. (This house was built in 1946, so some of the weaknesses, such as outlet placement, remain today. Also, an addition was put on in 1997, which was done without paying attention to some details. For example, we have light switches behind doors which could have been avoided by hinges on the other side or switches on the other wall.)

Kevin gave me a couple of examples of plans past clients had done. I thought they were a bit incomplete in that they left out some important details, like switches in general or the connection of which switches to which circuit.

My goals for our plan were to make sure we have enough outlets and in the right places, having logical switch locations and connections, and appropriate built in lighting. (One thing I wanted to avoid was hanging lights in the main room, as it seemed to me they’d look awkward hanging out by themselves.)

I also wanted to be sure we’d have good wireless internet coverage throughout the house.

I’ve probably been through five or six iterations of the plan, which included the network plan, which I wrote about before. I’m fairly pleased with the plan as it stands right now.

I tried to meet our goals by including an outlet on almost every wall inside, using quad outlets in high use areas like the office and kitchen, and waterproof outlets for outside; clearly showing switches and the connections to circuits and using three-way switches and dimmers as appropriate; building in recessed lighting in the main room ceiling and in the walls in the stairway; and providing connections for outside elements like landscape lighting and irrigation system wiring.

I’m also wanting to have a separate ice making machine, as Italians don’t use much ice and refrigerators don’t have ice makers, so I specified a special outlet for it. (I’m not sure if I can make the ice machine happen. Those I can find online that would work in Italy might be too big or too expensive.)

I considered, briefly, the idea of a “smart home” with special outlets and switches and smartphone control, but I found it’s pretty expensive and when I thought about it, would be more for fun than useful. We can just use timers instead of computer controls.

electrical plan for a new house in Le Marche
Electrical plan
Click image to enlarge and see electrical plan details

When Kevin saw this, he called it, “one BEEFY electrical plan.”

He’s off this week to discuss the plan with the network and electrical specialists. I’m hoping that the plan won’t be too expensive to implement. I’m counting on the incremental cost of a few outlets and switches as being fairly small.

First image: CC0
Second image: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure