Renovating a kitchen in Florence

I’ve put up with some pretty awful kitchens in my 18 years of renting, particularly in Florence. Most of them called for some inventive improvising and I’m sure in some way or another that I’m a better, or at least more resourceful, cook because of them. There was the one in the studio apartment with a mini bar as a fridge and only one burner, next to the bed. There was the one in a loft over the stairs – only one person could fit at a time and there was no window, or oven. I first began this blog in that very kitchen, nearly 6 years ago.

In our latest apartment, in the hills above Florence, I feel now grown-up enough to finally do something about it and ask permission to renovate the kitchen. It’s the space I spend most of my time in and the space we relax in as a family.

The original kitchen (scroll to the bottom to see the before photo), was small and unsightly. Some might have said at least it was functional but I would argue it was impractical: There was no light, not helped by the fact that the cupboards (all of them mis-matching) had been painted black to try to disguise that they didn’t match. The paint job of the previous tenant was a DIY effort, a bad one, and the surfaces were all sticky and peeling, making cleaning it difficult. There was no counter space, not even enough to place a normal sized chopping board on (something I am sure only someone who never cooks could design) and a double sink that was almost as large as the entire kitchen with a leak that provided a ripe environment for a little forest of black fuzzy mould. There were no drawers in sight.


Luckily the landlord was only too happy that we wanted to do something about it. It had to be something very simple, partly because I like being forced to be minimal, partly because of a very tiny budget (1000 euro but we were hoping – and did end up spending – much less). But with just a little, things can be made a whole lot better, a whole lot nicer and also quite practical.

We pulled apart the old kitchen, starting with the horrible cupboards, and anything that was left in them (mismatched beer glasses, mainly) and I cleaned off the blackest, dirtiest muck I’ve ever had to clean from the walls, the tiles and the floor underneath the oven. The only things we kept from the original kitchen were the tiles (it would have been a much bigger job to replace them – besides, they’re kind of cute, in a quirky, wonky way) and the tap of the sink. The washing machine (which commonly lives in kitchens in Italy), oven and stove top looked barely used if not quite new so they stayed too. I decided to move the refrigerator to another side of the room, as it was blocking the light coming in from the big, vine-draped window. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to see what you’re chopping, washing or doing, day or night in the kitchen.


We put in a wooden counter top (Ikea sales came to the rescue for this), which I love, but I admit am still concerned over how to make it last and keep it looking good – I have been treating it with beeswax and mineral oil and wiping up any single drop of water but I’d love to not have to be so careful sometimes especially around the sink and the stove. I’m so afraid I will absent-mindedly put a pot right on it one day and burn a hole.

The enormous sink was replaced with a new one that we found on sale for 20 euro and Marco decided to install it himself to save 180 euro on having a plumber come out to do it. Although I’d had my heart set on a white ceramic sink, this was a smarter alternative. It’s a good double sink (we have no dishwasher so the second smaller sink comes in handy) that takes up half the space of the old one, leaving plenty of counter space for kitchen prep.

Kitchen after with handmade pallet stools, kitchen island and open shelves

Instead of cupboards above the kitchen, we put in two wooden shelves, which serve to hold pantry items in jars, wine glasses and some crockery that don’t fit elsewhere. It feels lighter, airier, and for a small house which can also be quite dark for most of the day, I thought this was important. We bought a kitchen island that doubles as our table – one side has space for some stools that a cousin made for us out of pallets and I painted, the other (kitchen side) has shelves for pots and pans. It adds lots of extra work space and I love that my little one can sit opposite me and see what I’m doing while I’m cooking.

The only drawer we put it is one under the oven, which is handy for keeping baking pans and cake pans. I also keep my digital kitchen scales in there and my only two electrical appliances: egg beaters and an immersion blender. I sewed a piece of polka-dotted linen and put a rod through it to make a little curtain to hide the washing machine.

I’m being minimal here. The entire kitchen is 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) wide. There’s no space for fancy kitchen equipment (there aren’t even any electrical points in the kitchen so for now, smoothies are being blended over at my desk!) and nothing unnecessary, only the essential things (ok, and a few small things like my cannoli moulds, “just in case”). One problem we originally faced was having no drawers, not even for cutlery. A magnetic strip drilled into the tiles holds knives, a bar with hooks keeps small things hanging from it and a tall, second hand ceramic jar that I repurposed holds most-used utensils. I began storing everyday cutlery in metal buckets, thanks to some brilliant suggestions on instagram. It worked, but in the end we bought a lovely 1950s credenza from a flea market which has three drawers and a couple of shelves – it’s also perfect for plates, cups and glasses.

kitchen renovation with cart
What pantry items don’t fit nicely in the jars on the shelves, fit into a tiered Ikea cart that sits next to the kitchen sink. Marco hates it. These items are probably not really at their best on display, I mean that’s why most pantries have doors on them, right? But it’s working for now. I rejoice every time something is used up and I can take it out of there – surely a sign that it’s best not to overstock the cart. I’m still looking for attractive ways to store vegetables that don’t go in the fridge like onions and potatoes and thanks to more suggestions on instagram, I might hang them from the cart in hessian bags.

We took out some horrible track lighting and put in a pendant light with a rattan lampshade that we found on the road beside a dumpster by the Tuscan seaside (amazing how some people’s trash is another’s treasure!).

The last thing to complete it was a desk for me. There wasn’t much room so I went hunting and found an old singer sewing machine table and a wooden chair from the 1960s that I’m going to reupholster. It’s the perfect size desk for my laptop. It has one sweet little drawer for my pens and notebook – I still like to scribble notes on paper – and I don’t have to move far from the kitchen bench to my notes, or to be able to reach for my camera. Above it I created a little gallery of some favourite things — my Andrea Brugi chopping boards that I bought in Maremma, a still life painting found in a flea market for 15 euro, a photograph by my sister and a drawing of a cut artichoke.

It’s my first kitchen. And my first kitchen renovation. It won’t be ours forever, as one day we will eventually move on, which I think made it easy for this to come together quickly (less pressure!). I’m still keeping my hopes up for my perfect kitchen (where I might get that ceramic sink, or even a stone one, and a vintage white enamel cooking range, perhaps even a dishwasher but I’m used to living without one) but for now, this is pretty close.

In My Kitchen - Emiko Davies

Some resources in Florence:

I have to admit, Ikea was a huge help in making this renovation completely affordable. But to personalise it a bit, we went hunting for things in flea markets (mercato delle pulci in Italian) and second hand shops (conto vendita in Italian). In Florence, these are my favourites:

Piazza Ghiberti flea market (this is the one that used to be in charming Piazza dei Ciompi and is temporarily now located in Piazza Ghiberti, conveniently next to the Sant’Ambrogio market). Open daily until 2pm but the last Sunday of the month sees this market quadruple in size and fill up the piazza.

Mercatopoli, via Fra’ Diamante, 12a — an easy, short tram ride from the station to get to this gem of a shop where I found my sewing table/desk, the credenza and some fantastic props. There’s quite a mixed bag of things but prices are cheap and there is a great variety.

In Conto Vendita, via Gabriele d’Annunzio — this is also out of town, in the residential neighbourhood of Coverciano at the foot of Settignano. A small but packed and very selective treasure trove.

Some inspiring kitchens:

Tamsin of Tamsin’s Table in Gippsland, Australia, has my absolute dream kitchen. And bathroom. And house. And she does really beautiful cooking classes at her home too. You’ve no doubt seen a picture of it on pinterest already.

Matt and Lentil Purbrick’s country home in Victoria, Australia. The whole house pretty much.

Mimi Thorisson‘s dreamy Medoc kitchen. Oh, ok, and her whole entire life.

What would you include in your perfect kitchen?

The before and after:

kitchen before and after


  1. regula says:

    Your kitchen looks lovely now, well done!! I especially love the bar stools!
    I can see you sitting on those right now with a cup of coffee, gazing at your first grown-up kitchen 🙂

  2. georgette says:

    I am so wowed at how far this has come! You have done a wonderful job Emiko and I need to hire you to redesign our kitchen the day we buy a house. AMAZING

  3. Emma says:

    Wow, you have the magic touch Emiko. It’s utterly charming… I think the original tiles work perfectly in there. I don’t know how you manage in such a tiny space… our island bench is 4m long and it still ends up completely cluttered!

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Thanks Emma! I can’t wait for one day to have our very own place to play with properly but it’s nice at least to have a space that is functional and the way we like it!

  4. Juls says:

    This is just lovely. It is incredible how you managed to renovate it so beautifully with a low budget. Here’s to many productive cooking days in your cozy new kitchen!

  5. Asha says:

    Hey Emiko,
    Great work on the reno! love how IKEA makes it easy to make rentals home without breaking the bank!! Speaking of, we have the same exact island in our kitchen too (with black legs). I love it! Use it as my chopping table, mise en place, breakfast nook, coffee break area and also for shooting :)). So, there is always something on it! How do you keep yours so clutter free?!


    • Emiko Davies says:

      Haha, we have to actively keep it clean and free because we use it so much for everything, including our dining table! But I love that it’s so versatile — I need multi-functional things in such a small space!

  6. Cindy says:

    I like how you made a grungy kitchen really shine again. That is definitely a kitchen
    I would love to be in-and since I spend a lot of time in my own I know the
    Importance of liking the space you’re in by making it brighter, lighter, and more functional!
    I loved adding a small desk area to my kitchen, it helps make paying a bill or doing any paperwork while I’m cooking such a breeze!

    • Emiko Davies says:

      I’m absolutely loving the desk in the kitchen too! I was previously in another room, on another floor of the house and it was so inconvenient to have to move between upstairs and downstairs. The kitchen is truly the room I live in most!

  7. Zita says:

    Oh, Emiko, it’s absolutely stunning! I’m in love with your new small kitchen! Your working desk is so cute! 🙂

    I’m still dreaming about my “dream kitchen”. Hopefully we’ll move next year and we’ll be able to build, design the one I’ve been dreaming about! Right now we have a small kitchen too so I have the same Ikea cart but in grey (I like the color of yours). 🙂 I plan to have a dishwasher because it saves time that I can spend with my children! I also plan a ceramic sink but I’m afraid to break glasses in it if I drop them accidentaly. What do you think? Is ceramic/stone sink practical or just pretty? Here you can find a few ideas about my dream kitchen: 🙂

    • Emiko Davies says:

      A dishwasher would be handy. I wash the dishes when M naps 🙂 We actually have a ceramic sink in the family beach flat and it’s good, no broken glasses or anything like that, but it’s harder to keep it perfectly clean. I love the look of it though, and it’s lovely and wide, which I like as I seem to be always washing big chopping boards and baking trays! Love your pinterest board BTW.

  8. Emiko, it’s amazing. Exactly how my dream Italian kitchen would be x

  9. You are one clever lady! Beautiful!! You also brought a tear to my eye with your wonderful story of the first meal you cooked for Marco. X.

  10. Rosemarie says:

    I hear you about having awful kitchens in rental properties here in Italy. Looking at your pictures, I really wish I’d had the courage to ask my former landlord if I could have made some changes to the horribly tacky and cramped cucinino I cooked in for almost 5 years but hey, my husband and I bought a flat two years ago and I now have the kitchen, benchspace and dishwasher I wanted. I think I learned a lot about cooking and food prep from having to keep things simple, uncluttered and low-tech. Anyway, I’m really impressed with the DIY job you and Marco did, not to mention all the storage solutions you’ve found. Complimenti!

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Thanks Rosemarie, it’s been a fun project, and I think a lot of people maybe don’t think about renovating a rented apartment (some may not be able to but hey, it’s worth asking!). I can’t wait to do it when we have our actual own space one day (if that day ever comes!) but for now it’s made us pretty happy. 🙂

  11. Loving your new kitchen :- ) x

  12. TonyM says:

    I went from a large American kitchen to a small English/London flat kitchen a couple years ago but didn’t really mind it as we found a way to make it work for our needs. Of course I’m happy to be back in my large American kitchen again but if given a chance to live in a little hill town over Florence I would probably do exactly what you did…..make it work. Great Job!

  13. S@sha says:

    I also have that same island. Your space looks so much better now! Vast improvement. And how lucky to have such a large window in your kitchen. My dream kitchen has lots of windows, a gas stove, a dishwasher, and character of some sort.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      The window is a life saver because the rest of the house can be quite dark. It’s nice to have a bit of natural light come into the kitchen space too. I too dream of a dishwasher but I have to say, for now, washing by hand isn’t all that bad!

  14. matthew says:

    wow, is that really an apartment? it looks like a house, what a wonderful view!

  15. Wow, this is great. The renovation of your kitchen was very amazing. I love your new kitchen. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Hoodsly says:

    Small yet beautiful kitchen! Thanks for sharing such a post!

  17. Alex says:

    2024 visiting! I love the AFTER. i just had a appt with a kitchen maker in Bari, and was,sadly, just another blocky setup. i love yours!

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