Making our home in Tuscany: How it’s going

As some of you know, we recently bought and renovated our first home — right out of lockdown in 2020 — in the place my husband Marco was born, San Miniato. It’s a hill top village between Florence and Pisa, and equidistant to Siena, San Gimignano, Livorno (the sea! The fish market!), Lucca and Pistoia. It’s really in the heart of everything. From the large windows of our home, a 100 square metre apartment that was built in 1800, we have sunset views over the valley and even the Apuane mountains, where I can tell with just a glance at what the weather is like or what season it is — so far I’ve tracked the blossoming of the walnut tree, the elderflower and False Acacia. I’ve noted the rambling blackberries and loquats that are way out of our reach. A garden is missing but somehow, seeing this horizon every day, and filling my senses with this nature and greenery, is a huge comfort.

We renovated the apartment on a budget, enough to make it liveable and “us,” while looking towards whatever thing we could do to make it more energy efficient and sustainable, and still adhering to the rules that surround renovating historic properties — which meant, we kept the original floors with their decorative cement tiles known as cementine in Italian, and we kept the charmingly old fashioned bathroom as it was, but we are replacing all the old, drafty, badly painted single-pane windows (taking advantage of a new government bonus called bonus infissi that will cover 50% of these expenses). The most exciting parts of the renovation however was building the kitchen and I’m sure that’s what you have come here for too!

Many of my readers followed the whole process over on Instagram as it was unfolding and I got many questions (and great advice!) about our choices in the kitchen that I promised I’d respond to. We finally moved in to our home in February and now, a few months in (with not only daily usage but I’ve just finished shooting my new cookbook all on my own here), I thought I would let you know how it is all going. I was recently visiting an architect friend in Venice and his first question that he wanted to know is:

What is one thing that I like best about the new kitchen?

It is a good question, because there are many things I like but I couldn’t help but blurt out right away: “It is so easy to clean!” Honestly, let’s be practical. New kitchens are lovely and choosing them are fun but it’s so hard to know until you put it into good use whether you really did make all the right choices. So this for me, right now, is my favourite thing about the kitchen. It cleans like a dream. It feels effortless!

What material are your beautiful worktops made from and how are you finding them?

This in some form is probably the most asked question I get! I am in love with marble terrazzo, so it was hard to resist when choosing what kind of counter top. Terrazzo is a traditional eighteenth century northern Italian (in Italian actually it is called graniglia or  pavimento alla veneziana, referring to the classic Venetian pavements) technique of reutilising off cuts of quartz, stone or marble and mixed together and cast with a binder (this one is bound with resin). Ours is marble and made in Verona by Santa Margherita and this colour combination is called Vendome.

I am finding it very practical as you don’t need to be as careful of stains as you do with marble or wood tops as we used to have (I am so tired of nagging Marco about wine stains!). Cleaning is so easy. However, like a whole marble slab, you do need to be careful about acidic ingredients (wine! Also coffee, lemon, juice, vinegar etc) and you do need to make sure to use a pH neutral cleaner for this reason too. But for the most part a quick clean up ensures that even a small spill doesn’t affect the finish of the terrazzo — if you missed a spill, what happens is you’ll see a duller spot at a certain angle — there are special creams and polishes you can use to touch these up and maintain the shine of your marble and terrazzo.

Very interested in your appliances. How’s the hob and dishwasher, size and function. Any regrets?

I have a dishwasher for the first time in my life and for the amount of cooking I do, this is so freeing! I am a little bit in love with the dishwasher. It’s a horizontal 90cm long design, from Smeg, so it is full size but it doesn’t go all the way down to the ground so you don’t have to bend down so much (I feel old as I write this but let’s be practical!). It is also designed to actually wash your dishes — which it does beautifully — so you do not need to rinse anything before putting them in. I keep testing it. I put things in there like a bowl I made a sticky dough in or a blender I made a smoothie in, a pan that I shouldn’t have tried to cook eggs in and I even leave them overnight to crust up. Comes out perfect. Watching my parents and mother in law load their dishwashers where they wash everything before putting it in, I always thought was so much work and so counterproductive. This is not a sponsored post, I’m sure this goes for most new dishwashers these days, but the point of this dishwasher is (and this is written multiple times in the instructions manual) that pre-washing is simply a waste of water and energy and therefore is not sustainable. So there’s the end of that argument! Don’t pre-wash your dishes.

I’m sure a very big part of my kitchen love is the induction stove top (more in next answer). It is a wide 90cm hob, equivalent to 6 hobs but these also work in “zones” so there are three zones where you can technically fit as many pots and pans as you can. I love the size — there is more space to spread out, I am often cooking side by side with Marco, or cooking multiple things for a recipe test and family meals, so I am absolutely loving the size. No regrets!

Do you have an induction or gas cooktop?

Why we chose induction — I get asked about this a lot. Marco and I have previously only ever both had gas stovetops, and years ago I thought I wouldn’t be converted, perhaps because I like the idea of cooking over a flame, perhaps something about the induction top reminded me too much of an electric stovetop that is my least favourite form of cooking. However, in designing our new kitchen we decided on induction purely for energy-efficiency and sustainability (although Marco had also convinced me that it would be perfect for beautiful food because this is what they use in the Michelin star kitchen where he works). We wanted to move away from relying on gas as a non-renewable energy source. We still have gas in this old apartment for heating and heating hot water — this is something I hope to change one day, maybe as new options come in (we cannot put solar panels on the roof because of rules surrounding preserving the historical centre of Italian villages – ie for aesthetics). But at least we are less reliant on gas for the kitchen, which I admit we use a LOT.

We did have to make sure that we could use our exisiting pots and pans on the induction stove top — you just place a magnet on the bottom and see if it sticks. Sadly, I can’t use the few copper pots I own (though they still work nicely in the oven so I kept them) and some small pans I gave away that we can’t use here anymore. I was thrilled that my old cast iron pans still work wonderfully. We invested in a couple of good, new pots and pans though and we use these all the time. The Piedmonte-based beautiful Ruffoni stainless steel pans are a dream to use.

I can say after using induction for three months now that I love it, I’ve cooked an entire new cookbook with it, and I have no regrets about our choice. It is easy to use, easy to control, water comes to a boil so quickly — I’m still being caught by surprise by it. Food cooks beautifully, even things that need to sear quickly or be cooked on very high heat. The only time that I’ve had a problem is a pot of liquid like milk that boils over and spills onto the cooktop sends the system bonkers and it turns off. But the same would happen on a gas stovetop too and you have to wait until it dries before lighting it again. And did I mention it is so easy to clean — a wipe and you are done.

Where do you store your plates and pans? Are you planning on putting in upper cabinets?

I was a tiny bit worried before we moved in that we wouldn’t have enough space for our things as we decided to forego any upper cabinets on the wall in favour of a lighter, brighter space — there is also a questionable pipe that goes behind this wall diagonally like a tree branch that we need to avoid if we put holes anywhere (you can see it in the before and after photos below!). So we went for a long rod (it’s actually 2 of the Fintorp rods from Ikea) for hanging larger utensils and accessories that we use often, and another two for pans on the wall. It means they’re on display all the time, quite like open shelves, but everything is so conveniently at our fingertips. I’m also really happy with the deep, wide drawers that we have for cutlery (especially the hidden knife drawer, it is now my favourite place for knives rather than a knife rack) and the bottom drawer for pots.

We have a separate cabinet for crockery, glasses and baking trays/cake pans that is working well for us. We also turned a funny little room off to the side of the kitchen into an open pantry with shelves (see the after photos below. It is a small room with a tiny window that is shared with the washing machine — my first time ever since moving to Italy not having a washing machine in the kitchen). Marco’s great-grandfather Angiolino’s old marble table, upcycled from a marble slab from the alimentari Angiolino owned before the Second World War and rescued from my mother in law’s attic sits in the middle of the whole kitchen.

Where did you get your pans/equipment/light switches/appliances/kitchen cabinets etc from?

For those interested in where we sourced some of the things you see here, I have a list of sources below, also for some details in the rest of the house that I’ve been asked about.

As much as possible I wanted to support local companies and Very Simple Kitchen were a big part of making my dream sustainable kitchen come true — someone asked me what the role of a kitchen designer does, and I have to say that what Federica and Riccardo did for me was invaluable! Their signature stainless steel kitchen modules are inspired by vintage industrial work benches, in other words, built to last and be practical but they can powder coat them in any colour you can imagine (we chose them in a deep teal green that they call ‘Comodoro’, it’s a chameleon, it changes hue depending on the light and sometimes looks dark blue). They made really good suggestions about the best, most practical layout — we wanted to maximise the counter space of the 3 metre long space we had, and have a huge sink and the 90cm induction; it was also their idea to hide the dishwasher to look like one of the drawers. I love what they did. Also using their contacts we also got a good discount on the appliances and terrazzo top. (Full disclosure, I only paid for half of the kitchen in return for visibility about their work, but I had already approached them over a year before we worked on this together to see their kitchens and I would highly recommend them now that I’ve been using it).

We chose Smeg for all our appliances, choosing the most energy efficient models we could afford in our budget (they’re high quality, Italian and rate well in terms of sustainability, I found this Ethical Consumer guide from the UK really useful, you can search their product guides to dishwashers, fridges, ovens, etc and find a list of which companies rate the most sustainable).

Can you share your budget?

We went over our restoration budget (is it ever possible not to?), especially once we removed the kitchen and I realised how awful the old white tiles were, but below you’ll see some of the numbers for the kitchen.

Our biggest expenses after the actual kitchen were the electrician and the lights/switches/cables, as we had to entirely redo the extremely outdated electrical system in the apartment. This turned out to be tricky because we couldn’t put the wires inside the walls anywhere (being load bearing walls) or under the floors (being heritage) so they had to be external and we went for a vintage style braided silk wire coverings (copper pipes in the bathroom). It was time consuming too. We ended up having to cover some larger wires for the heavy appliances just above the kitchen with drywall (and conveniently some lights went in here too). The builders were another a big expense but they were amazing, they retiled the kitchen, the toilet and fixed up many general little issues all over the house (for example removing the horrible pvc covers that covered the pipes and tubes in every room that the previous owners had installed; we simply left them exposed and painted them white) as well as painting the entire house and more. The plumber had to move the original sink taps towards the window and close off access to gas in the kitchen. I haven’t included those costs in the kitchen breakdown but I would estimate their combined work in this portion of the house to be about 3,000 euro.

In general, some other expenses to consider when buying property in Italy is the real estate agent’s commission (2%) and the cost of the notary and the surveyor (geometra) or architect who will see through the project, sign off on paperwork, research any past issues or interventions with the house and be present at all the major work. It all adds up!

Kitchen by Very Simple Kitchen (Bologna), including transport and mounting: 9,000 euro

Smeg appliances including Dishwasher (STO905-1), Induction Stovetop (SIM693WLD), Oven (SF6390XE), Fridge/freezer (FC183PXNE), Range Hood (KATE900EX), total: 3,800 euro

Kitchen tiles/backsplash are Atlas in Ivory by Cifre Ceramica (Spain): 28 euro per square metre and we bought some extra just in case so in the end I think we ended up with about 4 square metres of tiles, another 112 euro.

Before and After scenes:

Ready for a house tour?! Below you’ll find some of my favourite before and after (and a few during) of the process. The main projects were obviously the kitchen and the toilet. We left the bathroom as it was except for changing the taps, shower and sink — it made such a difference. The radiators were in pretty awful condition in all the rooms. I simply painted them and they looked brand new — you can buy special paint that is heat resistant for radiators. I recommend the spray paint version so you won’t see any streaks.

Before: The living room

After: The living room

Before: The kitchen!

After!

Before: The kitchen cabinets

After: The kitchen

Before: We moved the taps closer to the window to maximise counter space

Halfway through! We took out the gas, moved the water pipes and redid the tiles.

After: (and here is where the dishwasher is hidden)

After: my cookbooks, pans and the pantry

Before: The bathroom

After: The bathroom (we changed the taps and shower, sink, mirror and lights and the builders tidied up the tiles behind the sink)

After: In love with the new shower!

Before: The ghastly toilet

After: the toilet

Details in the bathroom

After: Details in the toilet

After: The girls’ room (still a work in progress!)

After: We had some of the doors restored rather than get new ones and I’m so glad we did this

Sources:

Ceramic light switches by Fontini (Garby series, Spain) and Fanton (“Country” series, Italy) which in Italy you can buy online here

Pans and olive wood boards and utensils and copper utensil holder by Ruffoni (Piemonte)

Washable paper bag containers in pantry and bathroom by Uashmama (Tuscany)

Kids bunk beds — which I get asked a lot about — are the Kura bed from Ikea!

Cotton curtains for bunk beds were repurposed from a long window curtain by Numero 74

Bathroom mirror and shelf from Zara Home

Taps and shower head by Bugnatese in “Classic” series

Hexagonal terracotta tiles in toilet by Cotto Impruneta (Tuscany)

Linen curtain in bathroom made from vintage linen from La Grosse Toile (France)

Subway tiles in toilet by Artens (a good solution for small budgets! 12 euro per square metre).

Artwork around the house from my children, flea markets, Marta Abbott, La Tipografa Toscana, me, Arts Project Australia.

 

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Comments

  1. Ana says:

    Wow! How beautiful! There’s so much work and love put into this place, it’s definitely my idea of a dream house, congratulations! 🙂

  2. Vicki says:

    What a wonderfully informative read! I dream about owning a place in Tuscany one day and this post fed into that so much. The apartment is stunning – congratulations on your beautiful home!

  3. Ann says:

    What a treat to see so much of your remodeled home–you have such good taste! (I could be talking about your food, too!) Thank you for sharing so much with us. Seeing so much “before and after” is fun–and full of suspense and surprise. I can’t get over how high your ceilings are! You’ve done a beautiful job–and what a creative environment you have created for yourselves and your two girls.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Your new home is so lovely!

    Like you, I live in Italy (farther north than where you are, in Veneto) and bought my first home last week. We are beginning renovations now. We are using a local firm for the kitchen and are torn between gas and induction. Do you mind if I ask you a couple questions?

    Is there a steep learning curve with induction? (I have always used gas. I cook A LOT but not quite as elaborately as you)

    Did you have to top up the available supply in your electricity contract? I worry about my power going out if I have the induction going at the same time as the oven (I use both often) or other major appliance.

    So glad I found your blog via myscandinavianhome.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Hi Jennifer! Congratulations! No, I have to say it wasn’t a huge learning curve, it’s rather like when you get a new phone and you have to figure out the new buttons but then it’s a cinch and you do it without thinking! But I would say definitely have a read through the instruction manual so you can get the most out of it. After being a gas-lover my whole life, I wouldn’t go back now that we have induction. Really love it. As for the electricity, we had to redo our entire electric circuit from scratch so I can’t say if we had to up it, I think that the electrician already took into consideration all our appliances. So far I’m thrilled to report that we can have our washing machine and oven on at the same time AND be cooking on the induction! :))) But that said, we have a 90cm induction (with 6 plates) and for the first time we had the dishwasher and 3 plates going at once, quite high (we were cooking a lunch for friends) and the power went out. So the induction takes quite a bit of power but also it was the first time (not something that we always do) we were using so many at once. I hope this helps!

  5. Paula says:

    Your home is beautiful and congratulations on buying your first! Those windows and that view would have had me hooked immediately, and the tiles and old doors, and such high ceilings – I can see why you fell in love with it. I have never seen such a dishwasher – something else to add to my wish list! Thankyou for such an informative post and for welcoming us into your home.

  6. Elena Nelson says:

    This is absolutely inspired! Any chance you would share where the TP holder/magazine rack is from? I have never seen that!
    Thank you!

  7. Dianne says:

    I love everything about your remodel but especially love the kitchen. I am looking at a property in Italy from afar, hoping to make a trip there soon. The kitchen is very similar to yours and I am wondering if you could provide me with the kitchen dimensions.

  8. Margarita says:

    I love your photos and blog comments, we have a project in Abruzzo, Mountains and I would like to involve the cusine of the local Area on the project
    So please let´s be in contact and let me know if you have in program any Abruzzo cooking blog post so we can help and show you the areas
    Great photos

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