April 16, 2013
Searching For Design Inspiration For My Tuscan Renovation
After the wettest winter for 40 years, the sun welcomed me last week as I arrived at the boggy site of my Tuscan renovation. It has now been a full 12 months since we began demolishing and rebuilding the ancient buildings I have bought in the heart of Tuscany, turning it hopefully next year into a stylish and chic luxury inn. Here I will hold my Tuscan Getaways, Women's Weeks, Special Birthday Weeks, Brainstorming Seminars and Corporate Get-Togethers and of course my Come-and-Pick-the-Olives Week. The participants will be basking under the Tuscan sun in the most magical surroundings, fortified with copious amounts of local food and wine. But before I jump the gun too much, I need a roof, many doors and windows, floors, pool – well as you can see from the pictures we have a hell of a lot to do before I can welcome you all to my little corner of paradise.
I plan to be there most of this summer as there are many, many decisions to be made. The last year has been spent rebuilding the main structure which began life in the 7th century as a stumpy lookout tower. The tower has been added on to for generations mostly with the local building material, a gorgeous, butter coloured stone, and served as the center of a working farm over the last three hundred years or so. The area where all the animals were housed is now one massive space with six grand arches that will eventually be a stunning living and dining room. The kitchen is literally stuck on the outside of the main building and was once a series of pigsties. In the main house will have five ensuite bedrooms, and a further nine bedrooms will be located in two outbuildings. Thankfully, I did not have to move the pigs since they were long gone, probably eaten by the previous owners.
For most of us, it is overwhelming to just redesign a bathroom, so taking on a project of this magnitude needs all the determination and passion from me that I brought to all my TV design projects. I seem to change my mind everyday about how the spaces should look. Now it’s time to focus before I kill my patient, but pushed to the max, Italian architect, Bolko. I needed inspiration and ideas of what is new and exciting in the very best of design. There is no better place for inspiration than 'ISaloni', the largest furniture, lighting and design show in the world which is held in Milan annually and just happened to be on while I was in Italy this week. So I hopped on the high-speed train and joined the throngs (over 600,000 people go through this show) of incredibly stylish designers and manufacturers who packed the massive halls filled with the latest in indoor and outdoor furniture and lighting. This was a high, high-end design show. Many of the coolest products could really only be used in a nightclub in Ibiza but at least you can dream.
Some of my best ideas actually came from the stands themselves. One company, which was displaying its sleek, modern glass furniture (not right for my place), had used rough wooden packing cases, which they had whitewashed, as wardrobes and shelving for all their brochures. OMG, what a perfect idea for storage space in my guest rooms, inexpensive yet chic – rustic chic is definitely the way I am going.
Many exhibiters had wooden logs as side and coffee tables. Some had the tops stencilled in lace or painted in tartan patterns. I 'so' did this years ago on The Painted House and since I own a forest now – guess what the bedside tables will be made of?
After 3 days at the show, a suitcase full of brochures, notebooks packed with my handwritten ideas and hundreds of photos I headed back to Tuscany and my property.
Next stop was rather different and rather less glamorous. I needed stone. All the windows have been opened up. Traditionally these homes were dark. If you had been labouring in the fields all day under the hot Tuscan sun, the last thing these farmers wanted was bright sunny rooms in their homes – they craved shade. Not the new owners!! The problem is you can't just expand a window or create a new one but what you can do, is get a permit for opening up original blocked-in doors and windows. We have many on the property as it is so old that over the generations many different doorways and windows had been created then blocked in. All to my advantage. The house is now incredibly bright as I have opened up just about every opening that I am allowed to.
This is Tuscany and you must abide by the renovation laws, which is why the area is so unspoiled and beautiful. We needed lintels in original stone for all these openings so I headed out to the most massive architectural salvage site I had ever seen. I was just as excited walking outside along the mile long collection of old 'stuff' as I was in Milan walking the carpeted showrooms of the worlds most modern 'stuff'. Here, there were piles of stones salvaged from all parts of Europe amongst ancient pillars, wells, fountains from the grandest villas and stone kitchen sinks from the poorest farms. Not cheap though. I choose 15 long pieces of gray stone which will be used as architraves and some blocks of stone that will replace some hideous newer bricks on the outside staircase. I still have the pained scream from my old man, Hans, in my ears when I called to tell him it he needed to wire the money.
Be brave Hans, we have a long way to go.