Style Guides Direction for Designer: Kitchen, Bathrooms, Flooring

Kevin asked us to provide some guidance to the kitchen and bath designer, so he can prepare some plans and ideas for us to look at during our May trip.

Here’s how he described these “style guides”:

We are NOT looking for brands or model numbers or exact products. What we ARE looking for are images, with your voiceover, that give us a sense of the styles and looks you like and want to create at the house. From these stimuli Angelo will present a RANGE of things that fit the look and make suggestions based on those looks that you may not have previously considered. He will do this for FLOORING, BATHROOMS and KITCHEN.

Anne pulled together a short slide deck that describes and illustrates our general desires, which unfortunately I can’t link to for image copyright issues.

Here’s a summary.

  • We are going for a “modern farmhouse” feel.
  • Clean, bright, modern but NOT super-sleek contemporary.
  • Simple, classic, and timeless, but maybe some rustic or industrial touches.
  • Nothing “fussy”
  • Don’t want something that looks dated in 5 years.
  • Classic look: white or possibly painted gray-ish.
  • Possibly have island painted in different color than rest of cabinets.
  • Could be a mix of open and closed shelving.
  • Efficiently designed for max storage.
  • Classic hardware- not too contempo.
  • Pull-out drawer for garbage.
  • Under cabinet lighting.
  • No fussy flourishes.
  • No curtains on lower cabinets!
  • Light (grayish-white) quartzite. Like marble but more practical
  • Another option: wood, maybe darker, like windows and door
Backsplash Tile
  • Simple and clean – subway tile or similar. No fussy designs.
  • If white, could add “texture” via the layout/pattern.
  • No contrasting grout
Other Kitchen
  • Undercounter wine refrigerator and ice machine
  • Single basin sink
  • Terracotta (?) tile – not too dark, not too regular or smooth. Varied sizes and layout/pattern. A bit “rustica.” A good model is Ken’s house.
  • This flooring will carry over to all of ground level (possible exception is master bath).
Master Bath
  • Clean, simple, classic, bright.
  • Vanity (not free-standing sink), with as much counter space as possible, and cabinets/drawers below
  • Niche shelving over toilet.
  • Shower: open glass, rain shower plus handheld shower unit. Inset shelf/niche for shampoo, etc.
  • Recessed medicine cabinet
  • Flooring: white/light colored tile?
Ground Floor Bathroom
  • Vanity could be a converted piece of furniture (or look like it).
  • Niche shelving over toilet.
  • Shower: open glass, rain shower plus handheld shower unit.
  • Flooring: Same as rest of ground floor
Top Floor Bath
  • Clean, simple, classic, bright. Or could be a bit more rustic
  • Vanity (not free-standing sink), with as much counter space as possible + storage below.
  • Shower: open glass, rain shower plus handheld shower unit.
  • Flooring: tbd. Faux wood tile as an option ?

A First Pass at a Design

One of the things we were looking for in a house was an open floor plan on the ground floor. It’s not that easy to find. On my first exploratory trip in 2015, I looked at 39 houses, and thought 5 had some potential overall. Only one of these had an open plan.

imageI think there are three reasons it’s hard to find this feature. First, in virtually all of the older, restored farmhouses, which were made of stone, there were interior load-bearing stone walls. If those were to be removed, steel beams needed to be inserted, which would have been fairly expensive. Second, the structural restorations were done a number years ago, when open floor plans weren’t as common, especially outside of the US. Third, many were redone with the idea of renting part of the house to tourists in the summer. That meant dividing the house into apartments and having multiple kitchens.

This year, based on this goal, we saw two finished houses with this feature and two “shells” — houses that had been structurally rebuilt on the exterior but were open inside, except for a few load-bearing columns. We also were shown a plot on which we could build from scratch a house with the open interior we want. All of these were situated to provide wonderful views across the Marche hills.

As Anne has mentioned, we chose this last option.

Home design concept in Le Marche Italy
Original option @ 160m2
Click image to enlarge

As part of this option, we were presented with plans for a 160 square meter house (about 1700 square feet) that had already been approved for this location. It had the added feature of a ground floor master suite, which would let us live on one floor when it’s just the two of us in the house, without the need to heat the top floor. (I’m avoiding mentioning that it also reduces the need for my knees to go up and down stairs.)

We had a couple of issues with this design. First, it gave us only three bedrooms, with no space for an office/study which could be used as another bedroom. Since Anne is envisioning constant guests, she wanted this extra room, ideally also on the ground floor. Further, some of the rooms seemed a little small.

Fortunately, we were told that on this plot we should be able to build up to 190m2. (The amount you can build is based on the size of any existing buildings on the land. This plot had a tumbled-down house from which we could “reuse” the space). Interestingly, we could only build within 100 meters of the original building. There are a lot of regulations designed to preserve the character of the land and environs. Overall a good thing, but it does add a whole host of constraints.

Italian house floor plan
Option B @ 190m2
Click image to enlarge
Italian home design in Le Marche
Option A @ 190m2
Click image to enlarge

Earlier today, we received two proposed designs for a 190m2 house. As you’d figure, we liked the ground floor of one option, the top floor from the other. Since the two designs have different exterior shapes and different stairway locations, we can’t just plop the two floors together. Also, we had a few suggestions about room placement and size.

You never know how someone who has designed a house — or even been involved in the design — will react to proposed changes. Would they think we were destroying their perfect design, thinking we were unartistic slugs, and then unenthusiastically attempt to make changes? Or would they understand that it will be our house, not theirs, so let us go ahead and change it to fit our desires? (I feel like I’m back working with creatives from an advertising agency.)

It’s probably helpful that we have an intermediary between us and the artist, our real estate agent/general contractor Kevin. I talked over our ideas with him. I got no push-back, just some “options to our options.” He’s off to talk to the architect to see what they can come up with.

First mage source: License: CC0 Public domain. Free for commercial use. No attribution required. Other images: Copyright Our Big Italian Adventure

House Hunting in Le Marche – Day 2

We had only five properties to see on Day 2, but one of them was about an hour away from the others, so it was still going to be a full day of house hunting.

Casa Duetto

Casa Duetto in Le Marche

First we saw the close in houses, starting with Casa Duetto, a small compound of two buildings and a pool on 9.3 acres, with awesome views of snow-capped mountains. The smaller building, a 70 sq. meter cottage, was a perfect little guest house for 1-2 people. The only bad thing was the spiral staircase up to the 2nd floor. I couldn’t picture my older sister climbing that every night to get to her bedroom.

The key issue with the main house was you had to walk down a steep set of stone steps to get to the front door, as the house was built on a hillside. I would not look forward to schlepping my groceries down icey stairs in the dead of winter. Ed’s knees hurt just thinking of those steps. Plus, since it was built into the hillside, it was quite dark inside.

Casa Blu

Casa Blu, Le Marche

Kevin had nicknamed this house Casa Blu (Blue) since the doors, shutters and trim were all painted blue. At 350,000 Euro it was on the less expensive end of the spectrum, but it did need some work and we weren’t too wild about the mismatched IKEA kitchen and the power lines that were in view. Probably not a contender.

Casa Casale

Casa Casale, Le Marche

This was also a two building compound on a nice 2.5 acre property, but it needed a lot of upgrading, which would take the cost up to around 525 Euro. Emma didn’t like it at all and went so far as to say it was haunted. I guess that’s a no.

Casa Ideale

Casa Ideale, Le Marche, Italy

This was actually just a ruin on a little less than an acre of land. Literally a ruin: one wall and a pile of rubble. The owner already had provisional approval to build a 160 sq. meter house on the property. We wanted something bigger, with at least three bedrooms and an office/den and 2-3 baths. Kevin said we could build up to 190 sq. meters, based on the size of the original farmhouse. We were intrigued by this possibility because we could design the space the way we wanted and build with energy-efficient materials. Even with a rough plan of a house, Emma was having trouble visualizing what it would look like, and she was more in favor of getting a house that was already done, like Casa Ben Pensata or Casa Immersa from yesterday

Casa Col di Luce

Casa Col di Luce was the house that was an hour northwest of the others, near the town of Pergola.
We loved it immediately. It had a beautiful, 8 acre property with a gorgeous pool and knock-out views. The side of the house facing the pool had a shady loggia, and the interior of the house had just the right amount of space and just the right rooms. Everything was meticulously cared for. This was it, we thought! We had just had one question: what was around here? We had driven an hour and were not familiar with this area. Kevin was only able to say it was not as good a location as the other houses in terms of being near restaurants, shopping and things to do. That gave us pause. We would not like to move here and sit by ourselves in our house, no matter how lovely.

restored farmhouse with pool near Pergola Italy

Images: Copyright Our Big Italian Adventure

House Hunting in Le Marche – Day 1

There’s a good reason the region of Le Marche is not overrun by tourists and expats (at least not to the extent that Tuscany and Umbria are): it’s not near anything and there are no major cities here. The biggest city is the region’s capital, Ancona, and that’s not on anyone’s bucket list of places to go in Italy.

There’s an airport in Ancona which you can fly into if you are coming from elsewhere in Europe, and the Ryan Air flight from London’s Stansted airport directly to Ancona has increased the number of British vacationers and second home owners in Le Marche.

Le Marche townBut if you are coming from Chicago, the most obvious thing to do is take a direct flight to Rome and drive the three-ish hours to Le Marche. And that’s what we did this trip. Fortunately our arrival was less eventful than Ed’s a year ago. (He had rented his car, stopped at a mall outside of Rome to buy a Sim card for his phone. While he was inside, his car was broken into and his suitcase stolen. Luckily he had his backpack with computer and passport with him. But still, not a great way to start a trip).

Anyway, we rented our little red Jeep Renegade, found our way out of the airport and headed north to Le Marche.

Last year when Ed came he stayed at a little Agriturismo called L’Olmo di Casigliano. Giuliana, the owner, had been very helpful to Ed in getting his stolen meds replaced, so we stayed with her again. What a beautiful and serene setting.  Giuliana settled us in our rooms and we drove over to the town of San Ginesio for dinner at a little trattoria in the main piazza.

Kevin, our real estate agent, picked us up at 9:00 the next morning and we started our house hunt. The first house was a cute old farmhouse near Colmurano with a pool and a great view, called Casa Immersa. (Kevin gives all his listings names as a memory aid for house hunters).

Emma immediately fell in love and was ready to buy the house right then and there. The price was right, but it had one major drawback: a tiny living room. Probably not a problem in good weather when we’d be spending our time outside in the loggia or by the pool. But a long, cold winter in these cramped quarters? Not ideal. There did seem to be a couple of ways to solve the problem, either by expanding the room or by breaking through a wall to a small den and opening up the space. Given the possibilities and the affordability of the house, we decided to keep it on the list.

Casa Immersa

house with pool in Le Marche

Next up was a restored farmhouse near San Ginesio called Casa Godetevi. It was a little bigger than the first one and fresher and brighter inside. It also had a pool and a nice view, but the really great thing was a covered pavilion / outdoor kitchen by the pool. We could see having great parties there in the summertime. Despite that cool feature, we just weren’t “feeling” this house.

Casa Godetevi

house with pool and view in Le Marche

The third house, Casa Eleganza,  was something a little different. It was a restored shell of a house on a nice piece of property with an outbuilding on the property that could be used as a studio or guest house.

Casa Eleganza

Italian house in Le Marche

The builder had done all the heavy lifting of re-building the basic structures, and it was up to the buyer to finish the house according to his own tastes and needs. The view wasn’t quite as good as the other two houses and this photo doesn’t do it justice at all, but this house exactly matched my vision of an “Italian” house, and I liked the idea of designing the interior ourselves. The only drawback: with all the costs of finishing it, the final product would be 25% more expensive than the other houses we had seen.

Villa Lupo

Casa Lupo near Morrovalle

Casa Lupo kitchen

The fourth house on the list is one which all three of us had been very excited about seeing, based on the description and photos on line. The owner of Villa Lupo had gone to great lengths to take excellent photos that really conveyed the lifestyle to be enjoyed in this house.  It had two living rooms, a modern kitchen and the bathrooms had been recently remodeled. It also lots of outdoor seating areas as well as olive and fruit trees, which is a key component of my Italian fantasy. But the pool was on the small side and Emma was turned off by how modern it was on the inside. It did not fit her idea of an Italian farmhouse. As I waxed on about the olive and fruit trees, she was drawing her finger across her throat to signal that this house was a no-go in her mind. And, it was at the high-end of our budget.

Casa Sorpesa

Casa Sorpresa, Le Marche
House #5 (Casa Sorpresa) was situated right on the road, didn’t have much in the way of landscaping or a pool, and the entryway was a bit awkward, as you walked right into the stairs as you entered the front door. But the inside had good space and all the rooms in all the right places, so we tried to decide if it had enough going for it to keep it on the list. Ultimately I couldn’t get past the fact that it had not one, but two, sets of utility poles running parallel to the property, which didn’t do much to enhance the view. We crossed it of the list.

It’s now getting late in the afternoon, and all the houses are starting to run together in our minds, but we still have two more to see today. Casa Ben Pensata was utterly charming and we fell in love immediately.  The house was compact, but well-designed. The living room was cozy but spacious and open feeling.  It was an “upside-down” house, with the main living area and master bedroom on the ground floor and the other bedrooms and loggia down a level. We really had only two issues: the master bath was on the other side of the foyer from the bedroom, and the plot was very small (only 1200 sq. mt). We felt we could address the first one, but the small plot was another story. Could we buy some land from the owner of the adjacent farm?

Casa Ben Pensata

farmhouse with pool

One more to go: another house that has been structurally restored but not finished inside. Kevin has named it Arcobalena (rainbow). It is right on a country road that probably only gets traffic from tractors. Like Casa Eleganza it has a outbuilding, though at the moment it’s filled with hay. And this house has a breathtaking view all the way to the snow-capped peaks of the Sibillini Mountains. The inside of the house is a blank slate to do whatever we like. But, like Casa Eleganza, this house will end up being at the top of our budget (or above it) when it’s complete.

Casa Arcobaleno

farmhouse to be restored in Le Marche

We’ve now seen seven houses and our heads are spinning. Emma is pushing hard for Casa Ben Pensata. Knowing we have a day and a half more of house hunting, Ed and I are trying to avoid getting too attached to any one option. Our assignment for the evening is to eliminate all but three of the houses we saw today. At dinner the three of us review the pros and cons of each house and agree to keep Casa Eleganza, Ben Pensata and Immersa (which Emma still likes) on the list.

First image source: Flickr/Il Conte di Luna from License: Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike Generic 2.0, Other images: Copyright Our Big Italian Adventure