Sprint to the Finish. Weeks 7 & 8 of Our Crazy Tuscan Renovation are Full Tilt.

Have you ever had one of those mornings when you are three to four interactions into your day’s business and suddenly think,

“Oh my god, did I forget to brush my teeth?”

That pretty much describes every morning of the last two weeks. We are running so fast to finish that the demands of personal hygiene have fallen causality to chaos. As have most of our senses.

One particularly sweltering afternoon, I place a giant bottle of frizzante water in the freezer to get extra cold. I will guess no more than 60 seconds pass before those deliciously effervescent bubbles float out of my mind. Not to be thought about again, until…we hear an explosion during the middle of the night. One of us mumbles a feeble, “What was that?”, then both of us fall back into sleep. We are exhausted.

When we drag – and, I mean, drag – ourselves out of bed the next morning, we realize that forgotten bottle has exploded, propelling the freezer door open and launching itself into the middle of the kitchen floor. A little river still flowing in its path. This also fairly sums up the last phase of our renovation.

Pressure building, chaos, explosion, forward propulsion. 

That’s us.

If you remember where the last update Doubt Creeps In: Weeks 5 & 6, left us. We have just finished installing many significant markers including new bathroom shower, updated wiring and lighting, washing machine and air-conditioning. Each, truly a dance-worthy occasion. Now, we await kitchen cabinets and countertops. And, a-wait, we do.

Here’s how the sprint to the finish runs…

Everything but the kitchen sink.
Fully renovating a kitchen, especially on tight timeline, requires rock solid strategy. Each element depends on another. In this case: canals must be dug before pipes go in place. Sockets and switches must be created before walls can be patched. Sanding and painting must be finished before appliances and cabinetry are installed. Everything must be settled before the tile backsplash arrives. The process is delicate and deliberate.

Well, our strategy and all that planning soon goes down the tubes. We were told cabinets, countertops and sink will be ready in 30 days from when we place the order. As you may have guessed, this is not to be the case. Upon hearing of a somewhat open-ended delay, we beg, we plead, we reiterate promises made. Soon, we receive an update the delivery will, now, be only a few days behind schedule. Whew!

Not so fast, turns out. Next, we learn there isn’t an installation appointment, for another week. “What, you say?” we say to the company. We beg, we plead, we reiterate promises, again. This time with much-called-for wild hand gesturing. Our installation date gets moved up.

We shake off the hassles and delays, and wake on “installation day,” with a huge sense of excitement. All this work and planning will finally come to life in the most important room in the house! We banter happily with the installers Andrea and Aldo, joking about the fest we will cook this evening.

It takes a few seconds to notice a sea change, but suddenly I am aware of silence. I peer over Aldo’s shoulder and ask what is happening.

“Look,” he says, almost breathless. “The countertop doesn’t fit.”

There’s a significant gap between two sections of countertop. The sink countertop has been manufactured to the wrong dimensions. (Remember how IKEA had complained about our irregular shapes?)

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The agency vows to have a new countertop ready within two weeks. We are deflated and exhausted, but choose to celebrate. We invite a friend over for dinner, raise glasses and toast the lovely – and, despite everything, it is lovely – kitchen. After Laurie leaves, Matt and I are cleaning and he notices scratches on one of the cabinets. We begin inspecting each one in detail. The closer we look, the more scratches we see.

We crawl into bed no longer feeling deflated, exactly. Defeated, is more the sense.

How could this happen? What will we do with no time to replace the kitchen? What if the company won’t replace it?

Tears roll onto my pillow.

The next morning, from the backseat of our friend’s car on the drive to Trentino for another friend’s wedding, I begin texting and emailing – like a crazy woman, passing along our sense of panic to the kitchen agency and everyone who has keys to the apartment, including our realtor, geometra and friends.

“The kitchen people must be let into the house this afternoon to see this disaster,” I plead.

As he often does, Matteo comes to our rescue and offers to meet the lady from the kitchen company at our apartment that afternoon. The hours tick by slowly.

Then, my phone dings and I see a photo from Matteo.

A photo that immediately makes me laugh, blush, and laugh again. Tears roll down my cheeks.

Turns out those aren’t scratches on the cabinets. Those scratches are on the…plastic…coating. Yeppers, plastic wrap.

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With everything going on with the countertops, the installers forgot to remove the cabinets’ protective coating. As you can only imagine, we are mortified with embarrasement. But, hey, Matteo gets a good laugh at our expense – and, we get a much needed laugh, too! And, in the end, that sense of relief is worth the mortification.

We have a new kitchen – and, it’s perfect! (well, almost). 

The day before re-installation is supposed to happen, the company calls to say the corrected countertop is not ready to install tomorrow. We will have to wait, again. 

By the end of this process, eight weeks have passed by (twice the original estimate). Though it must be noted – we still await carbon filters for the stove’s hood. Yes, we wait, again.
Mission (semi)-accomplished. 

Would we do things differently?

Without a doubt. (I have tips and suggestions coming soon, for those of you who plan to tackle your own renovation process).

I take no pleasure in bringing up negative aspects of working with this company. They are incredibly nice and have done the best they can through everything. The whole experience goes back to two old adages:

Don’t make promises you are not sure you can keep.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

They failed in some areas, we failed in some areas. No regrets here. We learn, we keep moving. And, hey, we’ve got a beautiful kitchen! And, hey, we survived the process! #allgood

Under our Tuscan sun.
From the beginning, we set our aim on creating a space that could only exist in Tuscany. With a diversity of styles and elements, we want the overall vibe to exude the baked-sun earthiness of this region.

No other element conveys that for me like the custom, hand-made tiles from one of Lucca’s most revered companies, A. Tessiere & Co. You may remember that I stumbled upon the factory and showroom, located just outside the city walls, almost a year ago during a long run. Not only did we not have an apartment at the time, we weren’t even convinced buying in Lucca – or anywhere in the world, for that matter – was on our horizon. Yet, I was mesmerized by the tiles in the window and took a photo to show Matt.

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The company specializes in flooring – in fact, it’s the same company that produced the apartment’s characteristic red and yellow tiles almost 80 years ago. Today, they are known for projects on grand scale (think: villas). We weren’t sure they would bother with a small apartment like ours, especially given that we envisioned using their tiles as kitchen backsplash, not floors.

They met with us, discussed options and took us through the factory to see how each tile is crafted. The process is impressive and inspiring.

Craftsmen set to work, using molds to create the shape and tinting each tile by hand. Two weeks later, when the designer messages to say each tile is complete, there is something so sweet about it. He says it will take a few weeks more for each to dry, outside, baking under the Tuscan sun.

Fast forward to installation day, and Nico arrives with stacks of these thick, hefty beauties. Though the countertop doesn’t fit, and we have plenty of kitchen woes to go, we are excited to see this element come to fruition. We gather in the kitchen as Nico mounts the last tile. After, he grabs a chair, places it in the middle of the lounge, sits down and stares at the work. Christophe turns on all lights, illuminating and bringing the rich colors to life.

“Bella cucina”, Nico says.

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It’s a proud moment for everyone involved.
Mission accomplished.

The next morning, I email the designer with an image of the finished work and thank him for craftsmanship. He quickly responds.

“Can we send a professional photographer to your apartment to take images for our brochure?” he asks.

The Tuscan sun is shining.

Our pilgrimage to Mecca.
Five years ago, when visiting Florence, I took a long run along the banks of the Arno, venturing further east than ever before. I came across a funky shack of a place with giant sign reading, “La Mecca.” Old bikes, flower pots and iron railings littered the outside, and through an open door, I could see stacks of tables, chairs and cabinets.

Never one to pass up an antique store or thrift shop, my run took a detour. The next day, I persuaded Matt to return with me. “You wouldn’t believe all the Italian antiques – car-size armoires, dining tables, paintings, mirrors – surprisingly great prices,” I said. “And, there are a ton of cool vintage bicycles!” (We can all guess what got him there, right?).

We joked that day that if we ever bought a home in Italy, we would come to this place – known as a mercatino dell’usato – bring $1000 and furnish our entire house. It was a joke. Then.

And, now, here Christophe and I are in a rental car, in route to Florence (90 kilometers away). We are not going to browse. We have only ten days remaining to completely furnish the apartment. The car has been rented and pointed in the direction of La Mecca for one purpose: to buy, baby, buy. (No pressure).

And, we are armed with a mighty list of needs: guest room armoire, storage bench, bedside tables, bedroom cabinets, dining room table. Necessary and important pieces. (Again, no pressure).

It’s been over a year since I’ve set foot in the shop, but I email to make sure they are open and confirm Saturday hours. Naturally, we have no idea what items will be in stock.

Will there be anything that fits with our apartment – and is affordable?

We arrive at 9:15, fifteen minutes past opening, to find the shop, well…not open. “Oh shit, what are we going to do?” I ask Christophe. It’s probably just “Italian time,” we decide. I suggest we go to my favorite café in the area and wait. Along the way, we spot another shop whose sign has the La Mecca icon. It turns out this is the shop for more delicate goods. And, it’s open.

I inquire about the riverside market and a handsome man behind the counter begins to say words, followed by more words, in rapid-fire Italian. Neither of us is sure what is said, but think maybe someone is at someone else’s apartment, and, one of the someone’s will come to open the shop, at some time. We really have no clue.

We go to a café and discuss options. Scenarios aren’t good. How to score this volume of furniture in one day, on budget – plus, find items we love?!

Luckily, “plan b and c” need not be called into action. Twenty minutes later, the doors of our mecca fly open. Sweet relief. And, just as remembered, the space is loaded with treasures. Within two minutes (not an exaggeration), we have spotted a storage bench perfectly suited for the entry. “That’s for sure,” we say.

Digging and hunting in room after room, we quickly spot “the” armoire, as well. This piece will serve as vital storage, but also a tone-setter for the whole space. It’s one of the first elements you see as you enter the apartment.

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After debating half a dozen dining tables – including a show-stopping round baroque-style table – Christophe finds a beautiful square table, with a nifty latch that opens the table to double size, seating 6-8. We also find a vintage mobile bar to serve as bedroom cabinet for clothes and jewelry.

We arrange delivery for three days later and reward ourselves with a wine-fueled lunch. Mission accomplished.

Social networking.
What to do with the guest room has been one of our biggest debates. We hope to have a beautiful stream of visitors and guests (as per usual), but don’t want a room that goes unused when there’s only two people in the apartment. We briefly consider a Murphy bed – you know the cool contraptions that pull down from the wall – but, realize that doesn’t accomplish the goal of having a second lounge.

I may gripe about the uniformity of IKEA, but the megastore’s stylish functionality has come through for us, time after time, including this quest. We spot an eye-popping lounge bed that, by removing cushions, instantly becomes double-bed. No pieces to pull down, over or out. Simple, elegant and, actually, quite comfortable.

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Just one problem. When I try to order, the item isn’t available online. There isn’t even one to be had at our nearest store in Pisa. Somehow I must get to IKEA in Florence (yep, back to Florence). We are a week out from leaving and need a bed – at this point, maybe any bed – in the guest room bed before getting on that plane.

We consider renting a car again, but Matt and Christophe both have many projects left to complete in the apartment. There’s no time for either to spare driving me to Florence. “Why can’t you drive to Florence?” you ask. You must trust me: anyone who has ever been with me behind the wheel would agree: not a viable solution.

As much as Matt makes fun of my “Facebook-ing habit,” he can’t deny its power. Not long after I make a post in a community forum about visiting IKEA, I’m making plans with a Danish fellow named Lars. He’s a pilot newly stationed in Pisa and he’s been looking for an excuse to drive over to Florence. We agree to go tomorrow afternoon. He will drop me at IKEA, explore the city for a few hours, then pick me up. I will pay for gas, beers and pizza. Deal!

On the drive, I offer tips on where to park and what to see in Florence and we share tales of travel, as strangers like us often do. Hours later, when he returns to pick up the cargo (which means me + way, way, way too much stuff), he simply laughs as we cram everything into his hatchback. Even with seats down, we are loaded to the top. (I may have gotten a bit carried away).

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He helps Christophe, Matt and I to unload the car, which turns into drinks on the terrace, which turns into dinner. We end the evening with a new guest bed and new friend. Mission accomplished.

With a little help from our friends.
It has been my running joke through process that we would finish the renovation, hear our visa clock ticking down to the second, then be forced to get on a plane. Well, that’s basically what happens.

The housewarming party begins at six.

At three, Matt is hunched over the saw, while I hold wood boards for him to cut. It’s taken us four days, but we are almost finished with installing baseboards throughout the apartment.

Around four, we begin paint touch ups. Doors, walls, ceilings. The closer we look, the more needy spots we see.

At four thirty, a lovely lady comes to view the apartment. She hopes to spend more time in Lucca and may stay here, at times, when we are not able to be in the country.

Around five, I run out to the bank for money to pay a few vendors coming by in 10 minutes.

Somewhere around 5:45, reality hits and tough decisions follow.

“What’s more important for the house-warming party…we are clean or the apartment is clean?”

We opt for the latter. Still, I try my best to scrap paint out my hair, again. It’s useless.

We clean the kitchen and bathrooms, make antipasti, and get ready for the party – all in 15 minutes. The door bell rings promptly at six.

Our first guest is, very fittingly, Nico. Muritori, ace wall and tile worker, and all-around good guy.

Each guest who follows continues to provide a beautiful snapshot of this new life in Lucca. Anatasia, the plank-walking neighbor. Christian, the incredibly stylish electrician. Tony, an American we met last year in Lucca, who is visiting with his friend David. Joanna, my yoga bud and all-around ray of sunshine. Laurie, Mauro, Andrea, Laura and Rei, a little tribe of friends that have become our tribe. We may be running on fumes and covered in paint, but feel energized by these friendships.

Four people key to our life in Lucca cannot make the party. So, naturally, we decided to throw another party the very next evening. Now, we are joined by the woman who has been with us from the beginning, our rock and rock star realtor Lorrain; geometra and friend – and essential partner in renovation – Matteo; and, friend extraordinaire Anne.

And, almost by surprise, one of Matt’s oldest and dearest friends from the U.S. comes for the night (not all the way from America, of course). Stu takes a break from visiting his sister in Florence to help us celebrate.

The only person we are missing is Christophe, who returned to visit his family a few days ago. He’s been with this project since the beginning (in fact, he was the first one in the apartment before we arrived and endured life with no furniture or conveniences). Our gratitude flows over the hills. This is one of my favorite pictures from the reno. Matt walked into the room to see and capture this ridiculous scene of me attempting to drop a chord down to Christophe. Good times.

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We toast and toast some more. And, then, after the guests depart, we pack it all up. Our flight away from Italy, and this lovely new apartment, leaves in a few hours. This journey continues.

 

 


And, finally, here’s the before. And…hallelujah, the after! 

Mission accomplished.

Kitchen (cucina)

before:

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during (please let me know if slideshow does not appear):

 

 

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after:

 

 

Lounge (Sala):

before:

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during: 

 

 

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after:

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Master Bathroom (created from hallway)

before:

 

 

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after: 

 

 

 

More Spaces

 

 

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Matt and I would like to extend a big “GRAZIE MILLE!” to everyone who worked on the renovation with us. We could not have dreamed of a better team!!

And, thanks to everyone who has followed the journey and encouraged us along the way. We are grateful!

 


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