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Remodeling an Apartment in Rome

Why remodel?

This story was a long time in the making. It started in 2000 when we returned to Rome after living in Colorado. We had originally left Rome because I was tired of the city; the smog, the traffic, the noise, etc. But in the end we moved back after a couple of years. When we moved back, we at first thought about moving to a smaller city. We thought about everywhere from Sardinia to Ferrara to Albarese. We went on several reconnaissance missions. The problem was always the same: smaller cities seemed to have a lot of the same problems as Rome, just on a smaller scale. Yet they didn't offer anything near what Rome offers as far as cultural events, shops, services, and the like.

So we decided to stay in Rome. My husband never really wanted to leave anyway. Then the question was what to do about our apartment. Upon returning to Rome, we had both started working from home. The problem was that the layout of our apartment didn't really allow for office space. So we thought about remodeling.

Then we found out that they were about to put in a restaurant below our apartment, in true Roman style, completely illegal. We are on what is called piano rialzato, which is just half a floor above street level. So the entrance to the restaurant would have been right below our windows. We fought it for more than a year. It really became a part time job for us.

In the end, we succeeded in forcing them to move the entrance around the corner. But once it opened, it was too much to see their smug faces gloating over their victory, so we decided to look for another apartment on a higher floor and a bit bigger to make room for an office and a guest bedroom.

We looked and looked. We limited ourselves to about a 5 km range around where we were living, which made things difficult. We also wanted a relatively quiet street, an open view, i.e. not looking in the windows of the apartment across the street, and a palazzo d'epoca (style of the building from the 30s-40s). This proved to be quite difficult.

Searching for an apartment in Rome was very different from what I was used to in the US. There is no MLS system. We left our requirements with just about every agent in the area. But everyone is looking for more or less the same things we were looking for, so the agents would only call to try to pass off the properties they couldn't sell. We scoured the ads in all the real estate magazines every week and made phone call after phone call and appointment after appointment. But no luck.

In over a year of searching, we only found a few apartments that would have worked, and we were never quite quick enough to sign the papers. We participated in a couple of "unofficial" auctions for really nice apartments but there was always someone willing to offer more.

In all this time, we realized that the restaurant really didn't create too many problems. The owners with whom we put up the fight are no longer around; just the manager and staff. It is on a side street and way under street level so it really doesn't do too much business. And moving the entrance seemed to have changed the flow of customers away from our windows.

Deciding on the floor plan

So we came back to our plan of remodeling. We had tried before with a couple of different architects, but it was always a battle to get the floor plan the way you wanted it. I would say I wanted the kitchen to remain where it was and they would come back with a drawing with the kitchen on the other side of the building, which created all sorts of technical problems. It would take about 4-5 meetings to get the kitchen to slowly make its way back over to where it was.

For any architects reading this, please don't be offended. I do appreciate your abilities, but my experience with these architects, and they were all friends, was not a good one.

So this time around we decided to go it on our own and just make a simple change. We had a big kitchen (too big) and a lot of wasted space in corridors. So we just needed to knock down a couple of walls, make the kitchen smaller and use the wasted space for 2 office areas near the entrance. This was done with just a straight wall splitting the kitchen in two.

The Contractor

Great. We were ready to go. We already knew who we wanted to do the work. A year or so prior, the stairwell in our part of the building had been renovated. Since my husband and I were both at home all day, we ended up dealing with the contractor whenever anything came up. So we got to know them and really liked the way they worked.

So we called them and got an estimate. When I tell friends that we only got one estimate they all think we are crazy. But I had a very good feeling about this company so we didn't feel the need to check around.

Deciding on what work had to be done

Aside from moving a couple of walls around, we also wanted to update the kitchen, the bathroom, and redo the electrical, plumbing and heating which was all circa 1940. While we were waiting for the estimate, we started talking about putting in new floors as well. Ours were original tiles and while I liked them, many were broken and had lost their luster. With everything else new and shiny, they would have really looked bad. So we asked them to add that to the estimate.

I wanted to replace our floor tiles with the same thing we had - graniglie. It meant a lot more work in that the contractor had to take up the old floor whereas with parquet they could have just laid it over the old. But I didn't want parquet; I wanted to try to maintain at least some of the style of our building. It also increased the price because one of the most costly things involved in remodeling in Rome is the removal of waste. It all has to be sacked up in these plastic bags and taken to a disposal site. And the different types of material have to be separated. It takes a lot of manpower and the fees for the disposal site are also high. But I didn't care. I wanted graniglie.

We got the estimate and agreed to it. They were ready to start the work around mid March. They said it would take 2 months.

Temporary digs

We had to quickly find temporary lodging. I went to the trusty Portaportese web site and did a search for ads for rentals containing brevi periodi (short term) and started calling.

It was difficult to find something for 2 months. It seems that they either wanted tenants for a couple of weeks or 6 months. It was also difficult to find something that was available for the time period we needed. I finally found a couple and went to take a look. The first was a studio apartment in a small villa in the area between Villa Torlonia and the university. It was a separate entrance to the villa on 2 levels, ground floor with dining area, kitchen and bathroom and semi interrato (halfway underground, windows at street level) with the bedroom and a nice sized armadio. 900 euro/month.

At first I wasn't too thrilled about living underground, but it had just been completely remodeled and all the furniture was brand new. We would have been the first to rent it. We went to look at the second but it was tiny and in an ugly building in San Lorenzo. It looked dirty and the furnishings left much to be desired.

So I called the agency of the first apartment and told them we were interested. We went by a few days later and signed the contract.

I also had to find temporary office space since our rental apartment had no phone line. I put the word out and finally found space in a friend's office. It was in the same building as our apartment so it made it convenient to check up on the work in progress.

Moving day

We were set. The work would begin 22 March and we had the new apartment starting 15 March. So that gave us a week to get everything moved out. The mini-apartment was already furnished so we moved most of our things to our country house. The movers came on Saturday, 20 March and we followed them to Alzano and moved everything into an area of the house that isn't used. I told my husband that agriculture was going to be set back a bit this year. Everyone was out planting their garden and didn't get anything done because they were too busy trying to see what was going on. It's a small village. Not much happens there.

We only took a few small tables, some books, everything we needed for work, dishes and clothes to the new place. Fortunately all our clothes and linens fit in the armadio so we didn't have to put them in storage. The apartment came with dishes but we brought our own just to avoid moving them to storage.

We took a number of things we no longer (or never had) used to Sant'Egidio. They collect used items and either sell them in their shop to raise fund and send them where they will be used.

Choosing material - the kitchen

It was now time to start choosing material for the apartment. We lucked out in that a home show was going on in Rome - Casaidea. We went 3 times in one week. We looked at everything but ended up focusing on kitchens. We initially looked at Veneta Cucine with a woman from Binacci (large furniture shop in Rome). She worked up a plan and an estimate. It included a discount from the show but we had to decide right away.

I had doubts about her as she kept making mistakes and starting all over and then things didn't fit as they had before. The poor woman had been there all day designing people's kitchens so she was probably dead tired, but once the seed of doubt has been planted in my mind ...

So then we went to the Alno booth. I've been told they are known as the Scavolini of Germany. We talked to a nice man who seemed much more competent than the woman at Binacci. He told us to come by his shop since it would be easier to work up the plans on the computer. He would honor the discount only offered at the show - a whopping 50%. I was a bit skeptical.

While walking out I noticed the Snaidero booth, operated by Pultrone Arredamento on via Gregorio VII. I'm not really up on makers of kitchens but I remembered that a friend who had just remodeled had chosen this brand. So we stopped by and drew up plans and got an estimate. It was a bit high, even with the show discount but I knew this was a better quality maker. They also offered a 10-year guarantee. And I trusted this friend's judgment. Unfortunately, she was in Cuba at the time so I couldn't ask her why she chose them nor whether she was happy with her kitchen. So we were considering this, but wanted to wait to talk to Alno.

Well, the Alno price with the 50% discount turned out to be higher than the Snaidero! So we went back to the show to talk to Pultrone. We talked to them and told them we wanted to go with them but wanted to lower the price. So we took out some of the higher priced gadgets we had added and they threw in a free washing machine to replace the free dishwasher they were offering that we didn't want. That got the price down low enough and we signed a preliminary contract.

We decided on a brick red color for the lower cabinets and glass and aluminum for the upper. The countertop was a laminate and. We talked about several materials for the countertop, but stones (marble, granite, etc) all had problems with stains, resins had problems with heat, so in the end went with a laminate, beige with an aluminum border. We wanted something practical.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

We were set on the kitchen and had plenty of time to get it ordered. Until.an architect friend came by (we seem to have loads of architect friends) and looked at what we were planning and said, "No, no, no. What were you thinking? This is wasted space, this area will be dark, there's no architecture in this, etc, etc." She will be known hereafter as The Architect.

I was not convinced. I kept asking Cesare, "do we really need architecture?" The Architect offered to give us a hand and drew up a new floor plan that I really didn't like. I started thinking, "here we go again." But we decided to give her a day or two to work on it.

The problem was that the shape of the kitchen would most likely change but fortunately they hadn't sent the order through yet. The other problem was that the contractor was already busily knocking walls down. We put a hold on everything.

In the end The Architect came up with a fabulous plan. Even the contractor liked it! It involved walls at 45 degree angles which we already had in the apartment. So we started working with the new plan. The kitchen people wanted to wait until the new walls were up so they could come again and take measurements. This meant postponing the order but we had no choice.

The new floor plan

The contractor started knocking down the rest of the walls that were being replaced and started building the new walls. This was certainly the most interesting part of the remodel. Each day we would go by and see new wall in place and see the apartment begin to take shape.

There were a couple of minor things that I didn't like about the floor plan. But I just assumed that we could modify things as we went along. We needed to order things for the bathroom and the radiators so the contractor could go ahead with the plumbing. We also needed to redesign the kitchen to fit the new space.

Choosing material - the bathroom

We went with The Architect to a bathroom shop she knew, Tondini - Le Superfici, off the Appia Nuova. We looked at radiators, toilets, bidets, sinks, tiles, etc until I was dead tired. Problems started to arise with the architect. Not only did Cesare and I have to agree on styles and colors, but it had to be to The Architect's liking as well. I wanted different floor tiles in the bathroom and she wanted to continue with the same tiles that were in the hallway outside. I also wanted sleek tones greys and beige. She wanted dashes of bright colors. She accused me of designing un bagno maschile new yorkese (a male New Yorker's bathroom). I was thrilled. That is exactly what I wanted. We argued for a while and finally got an estimate without tiles.

As we left the shop, we drove by another bathroom shop nearby and The Architect noticed it and said "what a great looking shop!" All the bathrooms were done in greys and beiges. She said, "So, it seems Stephanie is very trendy."

The Architect fires her clients

Later we went by another location of Pultrone Arredamento near San Giovanni where The Architect lives. We wanted to get ideas on how to arrange the new kitchen space. When The Architect saw the color I had chosen, she started saying, "Hmmm, I don't know about this". I loved that color and even Cesare, Mr. Paint Everything White, liked it. The honeymoon was nearing its end with The Architect.

We tried to change a couple of things about the apartment. The Architect wanted to have the bookshelf in Cesare's office in muratura, ie not wooden shelves but thick shelves made with bricks and covered with stucco. Very attractive but not very practical. She then wanted to have a normal bookshelf in my office. We wanted them to be the same because you see them both at the entrance.

The Architect started talking about how these 2 walls spoke different languages and that the bookshelves couldn't be the same. She had already lost me, but was now starting to loose Cesare.

She also wanted to lower the ceiling in Cesare's office to differentiate it from mine. But I love our high ceilings and didn't want to change them. Then there was the thick wall that ended abruptly in the living room and wasn't connected to any other walls (it had its own language).

When we started talking about changing all these things, The Architect said that it would completely change the style/design/architecture of the apartment and she would no longer be able to help us. It was either her way or on our own. So we were on our on again.

There were no hard feelings. We're still good friends and she still popped by to take a look at the work and give us pointers. She also asked us not to tell anyone that she had designed out apartment.

Playing Architect

I was fine with this. Of course, I hadn't yet realized how much work this would mean for me. I started drawing up samples of floor tiles, bathrooms, kitchens, bookshelves, etc on the computer. It took forever because I have graphics programs, not CAD software and I didn't really know what I was doing. Anyway, it was helpful to get an idea of how things would turn out and what colors to choose, etc.

My first project was to get the contractor the measurements for the radiators. This meant choosing the positions and the sizes. We had already done some of this with The Architect, but we needed to nail down the specifics. She had chosen some very narrow and tall radiators and we really wanted to have them all the same height. Fortunately, they had given us copies of the tables used to calculate the size based on square meters. So I went though them and came up with new sizes.

We also had to resolve the problems with this "wall with its own language". We finally came up with an idea to make an attic space over the entrance to the kitchen and build a wall with a nicchia to separate the kitchen area from the living room. The nicchia was open so it wouldn't block the light. This turned our really nice, and gave us a lot of attic space as well. We already had an attic in the space between the bedroom and bathroom, but you can never have too much storage space.

More on the bathroom

The shop we had been to with The Architect, Le Superfici, was not very close to our apartment. Cesare wanted to have everything nearby. So we went to a shop on via Po, Andreucci. We got and estimate from them and it turned out to be significantly higher. So much higher that Cesare didn't mind going over to the other side of Rome to place the order. The difference was probably due, in some part, to the discounts given to us as clients of The Architect. She apparently takes many clients there so gets a good discount.

So we went back to Le Superfici and ordered the radiators. We also decided to order the toilet, bidet and sink and faucets. It may seem odd, but we couldn't find a toilet bidet combination that we liked. There was one but it was Ideal Standard brand, and as everyone had told us, we didn't want Ideal Standard because their white isn't really white. But he helpful young woman assisting us said, "We can just order it European White". Why didn't anyone else mention this? We ordered the sink as well. We got an under the counter model with the plan of adding a marble top.

We were too tired to look at tiles, and still had time to think about it.

Wired

My second project was to get the contractor the layout of wiring for electrical, phone, network and TV antenna as well as the lighting. I had no idea how to do this so I came up with my own system of symbols. I'm sure the electrician had a good laugh when he saw it.

The contractor had been asking us for weeks to contact Fastweb, our hi-speed Internet provider, about coming out to talk about the wiring. I couldn't understand this. We had been using Fastweb for a couple of years and I didn't understand why he needed to talk to them. He kept saying he had done it with other clients and they had to come out to tell him how to wire the apartment. To me it was like asking Enel to come by and tell me where to put electrical outlets.

I finally remembered to call Fastweb and as I suspected, they had no intention of coming by to talk wiring.

We met with the contractor and his electrician. We started talking about Fastweb. I was trying to explain how it worked, how the apartment was wired before etc. I asked where the fiber optic cable for Fastweb was. They said they had no idea. I said, "but you were the ones who disconnected everything." We finally found the cable, all bent and broken in a few places. They hadn't taken much care when disconnecting it. Fortunately the part that was still intact was long enough to reach the gateway. The gateway had been wrapped in newspaper and stuffed in a box. I was wondering if it still worked.

I finally found out the contractor's previous clients had not used Fastweb prior to their remodel and that was why they came out. It wasn't necessary in our case.

I had to argue with the contractor and the electrician a bit on how things needed to be wired with Fastweb. I was having trouble convincing them I knew what I was talking about. In the end, we got it all straightened out.

The new wiring would include phone lines from the Fastweb gateway but still allow going back to Telecom if necessary. The data lines would be separated in to "circuits" since the gateway only allows for 2 computers and a TV. We would never have more that that connected, but wanted to have outlets in every room. You just never know when you might want to surf from the kitchen.

They started the work on the wiring by cutting traces in the new walls they had just finished. It seemed odd to me to build nice walls and then cut holes and traces in them, but I guess there is no other way. The electrical conduits ran across the floor and up the walls to the electrical boxes and switches. And then the walls were repaired.

The next step would be to build the massetto for the floors and then run the actual wiring through the conduits.

Tiles

It was now becoming urgent to order the bathroom tiles and the floor tiles. For the bathroom, we went back to Le Superfici. I wanted different tiles on the floor in the bathroom but I had been told that only certain types of tiles could be put on the floor - a monocottura (baked once??) rather than a bicottura (baked twice). The problem was that the monocottura tiles were much less attractive.

We looked at tiles for a while and then this guy comes over to help us. I express my opinion on monocottura tiles and he tries to find something to please me. When it wasn't working, he suddenly said that bicotture are fine for the bathroom floor, just not the kitchen. I was a bit suspicious of this sudden change so I told him we would think about it.

We left and went searching for the super chic shop with all the greys and beiges I had seen before. We called The Architect and she reminded us where it was located, Teoremo Tre on via Appia Nuova. There I found exactly what I wanted. But the sales woman talked us into some large tiles of gres porcellanato, 30X60 and 15X60cm. I didn't want large tiles but she showed us a sample bathroom with these tiles mixed with a mosaic tile and it did look nice. So we got an estimate and went home to think about it.

We went back to the shop the next day and I was still not convinced about the large tiles. So we went back to the tiles I liked from Sant'Agostino - the floors would be a 20X20 cm tile in a beige color, then 80cm up the wall would be a 20x20 cm tile in a dark grey with lines cut into it to make it seem like thin tiles, about 4X20. The rest would be 20X20 ivory colored tiles. And we saved a bundle!

Next we had to get the floor tiles ordered. We both wanted graniglie, which is what we had in the apartment. We had already been to the manufacturer, D'Ascenzi, just outside of Rome in Monterotondo. And I had a copy of their catalog. I had scanned the images of several tiles and played around with them on the computer.

Normally you use a base tile and then decori (decorated tiles) to make a border around a room. But it only works if you have rectangular spaces and we did not. There were a few decori that did not need to be placed one next to the other to make a rectangle. Our plan was to use this type and place a decoro every two or three tiles and make a pattern with them.

There were some problems with this. The first being that the base tiles are made industrially and the decori are done by hand, which means that the colors might not be exactly the same. When working with the tiles that make a rectangle, this is not a problem because there is always a different colored border to separate the two. But not in the case of our tiles.

We asked them to show us an example of two tiles that were not the same color to get an idea of how different they can be, but it really didn't seem like that big of a deal to me. And our base tile was bianco carrara, which they told us showed the difference the least. So we decided to risk it.

The second problem was that of tile placement. My drawing on the computer, as close as I tried to make it to scale, could never work out to be just right. The contractor explained that he would have to start in a certain point and go from there and we would have to accept how things turned out. If we started with a decoro centered just right in one area, that didn't mean it would be that way on the rest of the apartment.

So I came up with a pattern that would work. We chose a decoro with a small diamond shaped decoration, in green and yellow. It wasn't too loud so that if one ended up a little off center, it wouldn't matter too much; at least that is what we hoped.

We ordered bianco carrara for the entire apartment, except for the bathroom and the diamond decori for the offices and living room. We decided not to try to put decori in the kitchen, even though there was this nice little square area for the kitchen table. We couldn't find the right color and decided it might be too much.

The bedroom was a nice rectangular shape, so the normal decori would work fine there. We went round and round trying to decide which decoro. I don't usually go for the floral patterns and I'm not very fru fru, but for some reason I felt the bedroom should be a bit feminine. So we (I) chose a floral pattern in a light red (OK, let's called it pink). It was very close to what we originally had in the bedroom. We had gone with a modern style kitchen and bathroom and I felt like we needed to maintain the older style in the bedroom. So we placed the order and we were done with tiles.

Bedroom furniture

We already had a new sofa and armchair, and a table and chairs for the living room, but we needed bedroom furniture. This turned out to be difficult. The style in Italy these days is a low bed with a giroletto (what goes around the frame) that sticks out like a shelf. Very pretty but my shins already have enough bruises so not exactly what I wanted. The headboards and giroletto are also often covered in fabric or leather. Didn't want that either.

So I learned to walk into furniture shops and right away ask for all wood and a non-protruding giroletto. We walked up and down via Anastasio II and via Gregorio VII and finally found a couple that we really liked at Mobilnovo. I love straight lines and a nice chunky wooded look and they had a couple from Poliform.

But, gasp, they would have looked horrible with the floral decoro I had chosen for the bedroom. I realized this on the Sunday after we had placed the order the previous Wednesday. I was in a panic. I found another decoro that would have looked great with the new furniture.

Cesare called on Monday morning and flirted with the woman that had helped us and we were able to change the order. Whew. We left the bianco carrara but changed the decoro to an Etruscan pattern with thick black lines.

We went back to Mobilnovo and ordered the bedroom furniture. We mixed and matched pieces from Poliform, all in weng (dark wood finish). The bed was Teo, the nightstands were Oz and we got two chests, model Ando.

The bedroom was almost finished. We just needed an armadio.

The Woodworker

We had several items to be made to measure: we wanted two built in bookshelves in the offices, a desk for Cesare, an armadio for the bedroom, 3 sliding doors, cabinets in the bathroom, doors for the entrances to the attic spaces. So we called the man who had renovated our windows and he came by to give us an estimate. We also asked the contractor to send his woodworker by. He did but was much, much higher in price.

Part of the reason the other was so high was because the armadio, the doors and the bookshelves would have been laccato, a painted finish cooked in an oven for a very durable finish. We decided it wasn't really worth the extra cost and that a painted surface would be fine.

The woodworker came out and took all the necessary measurements. There was some question about painting the wood. He didn't want to do it. And, it seemed, neither did the contractor. The woodworker wanted everything to be painted along with the walls of the apartment. Which made sense. The contractor wanted everything to be painted before it was installed so it would interfere with his work schedule. Which made sense.

I don't really understand why this was a problem. Just about anyone who remodels has things custom made by a woodworker, which then need to be painted. Who knows? In the end we talked the contractor into painting them.

We went out to the woodworker's shop one day so he could show us how the work was going and also show us examples of moldings, etc. We then went with him to another apartment he was working on and showed us samples of armadios. It's nice having things custom made, but sometimes it is difficult to imagine how they will turn out. We decided on doors that were flush with the frame of the armadio.

Lighting

We decided on hanging lamps in most rooms and wall lamps in the offices. We went to several shops around Rome and many had really beautiful lamps, but also really expensive. I just couldn't see paying a fortune for lighting. We also had one fundamental requirement that wasn't easy to meet. It had to be possible to put in high efficiency light bulbs. We found many lamps that we liked, but they either took halogen light bulbs or the high efficiency type wouldn't fit.

Fortunately, I remembered a small shop on via Salaria called New Lux. We went by and found just what we were looking for at good prices.

We found hanging lamps to center over the table in the kitchen and living room. And one for the center of the bedroom. We went back twice until we found some modern looking wall sconces for the offices. We still needed a ceiling light for the bathroom, but they didn't have anything simple enough.

The Floor Tiles

The floor tiles were delivered on a Friday and we played around with them all weekend. We placed them in the middle of the floor to make sure what I had drawn on the computer would work, and it did. They looked great.

They started with one decorated tile in the center of the space between the kitchen and the living room and went from there. As luck would have it, the decorated tiles ended up in all the right places. And the color didn't look to different from the plain tiles.

The tiles were put down "grezzi" or rough and would be ground down and shined once in place. We wouldn't be able to tell much about the difference in color until they were shined.

It took them about 3 days to do the offices, living room and kitchen. They left the small entrance area to be done last so they could get in and out the door without causing problems.

Next was the bedroom. We place the tiles on the floor to make sure we had ordered enough of the decorated tiles as well as the black tiles to make the checkerboard. We were in good shape. There was some question as to whether there were enough white tiles, but only time would tell.

We were about 2 meters short of white tiles! We called the factory and they manage to scrounge up 2 meters. The contractor just happened to be going there the next day for another client so he picked them up and the floors were finished.

The Bathroom Tiles

The bathroom tiles were delivered while I was not around and unfortunately, they were not correct. The dark tiles for the lower part of the walls were to have lines cut into them to make them seem like thin tiles, but they did not. I called the shop where we bought them and after several hours they finally figured out that they had simply sent the wrong tiles out. This was good news because otherwise it would have meant waiting a couple of weeks to get them from the factory. They brought the correct tiles the next day.

And with the bathroom tiles came our first major snag. The floor tiles in the bathroom looked absolutely horrible next to the floor tiles in the hallway. Absolutely horrible. Part of this was our fault in not choosing the right color/texture, but this was difficult, as no one would give us samples to compare the two together.

They also looked bad because the door to the bathroom, which was part of the original floor plan, was really crooked. We had the tiles in at a 45 degree angle, and they had to be cut straight in reference to the doorway, but it was crooked, and that through everything off.

The Architect had tried to talk me into putting the same floor tiles in the bathroom as the rest of the apartment. But I was opposed to this. I had this idea that the bathroom should be different.

Once I saw these two tiles together, I realized that it would e much better to have the same tiles throughout. This would also mask the problem with the crooked doorway.

We called the factory again but were not so lucky this time. They had no tiles of that color on hand. It would be 3 weeks before they could get them to us. This was a huge problem because it would hold everything up in the bathroom. We told them we couldn't wait and would have to fine another solution.

We spent the afternoon thinking about how to solve this problem. We tried convincing ourselves that it really wasn't that bad, but it was. Then the phone rang. It was the factory. They said they could get them to us in 4 days time if we confirmed the order right then. We quickly called the contractor and he grumbled a bit but agreed. We ordered the tiles and sighed with relief.

Colors

Once the floor tiles were in place, we realized that they were very white. The last thing I wanted was to have white floors and white walls. I wanted color. However, my husband, being the typical Italian, wanted white walls.

The contractor brought samples of colors and I told him right away that there were not enough. He told me most people complain because there were so many colors that they couldn't decide. This was not my case. He also told me his non Italian clients always wanted wild (read not white) colors.

The next day he brought a brochure with more colors so we started trying to decide. Everything I liked was too dark for Cesare and everything he liked was too light for me. We called The Architect and she came by to help us choose colors.

For me, every color she pointed out was white. And for her, all my colors were grey. We finally came up with a beige for the living room, a light blue-green for the offices and a lavender for the bedroom.

I had seen photos of bookshelves where the inner part was darker than the edges. And I wanted this! The contractor moaned a bit but agreed. We wanted to do the same thing with the niches in the living room.

The painter made some tests with the colors we picked out and I LOVED them. They were perfect. Exactly what I wanted. Just one problem, Cesare thought they were all too dark. So we tried again and chose lighter colors of the same basic shades. We tried very light olive green color for the offices, a very light beige for the living room and the bedroom a very light blue. All trim would be white. The ceilings and about 10 cm down the walls would also be white with a stucco trim piece to separate the 2 colors.

Well I didn't like the new colors at all. The light blue in the bedroom ended up looking like a baby's room. We both agreed that the lavender shade was much better. The beige in the living room had no character at all; it just looked washed out. The olive green wasn't bad but Cesare thought it was still too dark.

So we needed to try new colors. The problem (or solution) was that Cesare was leaving for a week so I would have to make the decisions. He left everything in my hands. At first I was thrilled but then I panicked. I really wanted to try to find colors that we both liked.

So I tried a brighter, lighter lavender in the bedroom that turned out to be perfect. I love that room. When I walk in I feel that color wrap around me. I tried different beige and it was OK. I really preferred the darker one but once he painted the entire room, it looked OK, and it was more what Cesare wanted.

The light blue green in the offices wasn't quite the color I wanted. I asked the painter to try 2 more colors but they turned out to be almost white. It is really difficult to choose colors from the samples. So rather than try yet another color, I decided to go with the light blue green. And again, once he painted the entire room, it looked fine.

In the end we decided to paint the bookshelves white to lighten up the offices. And we decided to paint the inside of the niches white and the outside the beige color of the living room. But the beige was too light. With the shadows you really couldn't tell there were 2 different colors. I decided to wait to see the walls with 3 coats of paint. If you still couldn't tell I would have them paint the inside of the niches the darker beige color I wanted for the living room.

More on the Bathroom

The new floor tiles for the bathroom arrived and they looked so much better. And fortunately they looked great with the wall tiles. After a few days to let them dry the tile man came back to do the walls. We had dark grey tiles to go part way up the walls and the rest would be a light ivory color. He put the tiles in and it all looked fine except for 2 things.

We had them put in two short walls on either side of the tub, about a 20 cm above. The tile man had cut tiles around the lip of the tub where it went into the wall. And the lnes between the tiles above and below lip did not line up on one site. This did not look good. He saw it as a separation and I wanted it to be continuous.

They actually had to cut the tub to eliminate the lip. I was concerned this would damage the enamel but it worked fine. They also made the wall a bit wider to make the tiles line up.

It all turned out looking very nice.

We then had to decide on the marble or travertine counter top. We also needed something to go on top of the short walls around the tub and on the step going up to where the toilet and bidet are.

The contractor brought some Carrara marble and travertine samples. Travertine is a very porous stone, so the holes have to be filled if it is used for counter tops and such. The samples he brought had the holes filled with a light beige color that more or less matched the color of the stone; one with a resin filler that can be colored, which to me looked horrible; and one that had been treated in some way to change the color. This last one also looked horrible.

We tried the samples and the travertine with the holes filled with a similar color looked great with the wall tiles but not with floor. And the marble looked great with the floor but not with the wall tiles.

So we decided to put the marble on the step where it looked good with the floor and the travertine as the countertop and on top of the short walls.

The Woodworker Returns

The wood worker brought the doors he had made as well as the windows he had restored. He had previously restored some other windows in our apartment and had done a great job. But these latest windows did not look good. There were several problems.

And the doors, which were paneled, didn't look very good either. The trim around the panels in the door didn't meet up well in the corners and there were nicks here and there.

Then I started looking at the doorframes he had already mounted and I found 2 that had big holes right on the edges where knots had been.

We brought all this up but he wouldn't budge, saying that it was impossible to make things perfect, that a good painter could hide all of that, etc etc. He only agreed to fix some things on the windows. We were very surprised at both the mistakes and his attitude. It was in fact the contractor who first pointed out that the doors weren't made very well and explained that he couldn't work miracles with putty and paint. Fortunately we had only paid the wood worker half so far.

The Rental Apartment

I'll review this apartment on Slow Travel, but I wanted to include some notes here. We had a couple of problems with the apartment. First of all the agency assured us this was a legal rental contract and that the owner would give me a receipt for the rent. I wanted that because I could deduct part of the rent as a business expense. As it turned out, the contract was not legal. The owners refused to register it. And without registration, any receipt was worthless. So I couldn't deduct any of the rent.

Second, and far worse, was that the apartment was incredibly damp and humid. It has some serious problems. The owners of the villa had just completed major consolidation work because of cracks they claim were due to vibrations from the subway. The villa is right on a street with san pietrini (cobblestones), which filter water.

The combination of relatively fresh cement from the consolidation work, an incredibly rainy season, the san pietrini were all factors in creating a humid environment.

Our apartment was once part of the villa. We suspect that closing off this small apartment, which used to communicate with the rest of the villa, also contributed to the problem.

With the humidity, came problems with doors on the armadio, on cabinets, the front door. The wood swelled and doors would no longer close. Mold started forming on the walls, which were bright white when we moved in.

So we complained a bit and convinced the owners to buy a dehumidifier. They did after a few days. This helped quite a bit. We still had to put up with the noise and constantly empty the water out, but it did dry things out a bit.

We asked the owners to buy a second one for the upper level. They did. This helped even more.

It's a pity there were humidity problems because otherwise the apartment was fine. It was small but big enough to tolerate for a couple of months. It was also brand new, everything new and shiny, all new furniture.

And it was incredibly quiet. The street it was on was only a couple of block long, quite narrow and very few cars passed.

I have to say, aside from the problem with the contract, which was really the fault of the agency for lying to us knowing full well that I wanted to deduct part of the rent, the owner we really very nice about the whole thing. They did everything possible to make our stay comfortable.

We at first thought we would end up staying an extra month because the remodeling work was a bit behind schedule. We asked to stay without paying any more rent because of the all the problems and they agreed. This lowered the rent to around 650 euro/month, which was much more reasonable considering everything.

Then we realized that an extra month would not be enough. The owners told us we could stay as long as necessary (within reason) without paying any extra rent. They also told us they wouldn't be renting the apartment right away as they wanted to resolve the problems due to water infiltration and humidity.

The Floor Tile Saga

The guy came to grind the floor tiles down to make them even and shine them. The first thing they noticed was that one tile where one of the workers had put his bloody cigarette out was indeed stained. I had told them this from the start, but they said after they were ground down, it wouldn't show. But it did. So they had to come in and replace that tile while trying not the break the ones around it.

Then once they got everything shined up, they found 2 more tiles that were stained; one in the center of the living room and the other at the entrance to the kitchen. This was not a cigarette but a red stain of who knows what. The problem with this is that they had noticed it on Monday, but we didn't find out until Thursday. Now replacing the tiles was going to be a problem.

They managed to remove the stained tiles without breaking the one around it but when they replaced it and ground it down, they could never get it to be the same exact level as the others and it has a bit of a white halo around it. This is something you would never notice on your own, but we were still disappointed with the problems and the fact that they hadn't let us know about it in time.

Then when they were making the final pass at shining the tiles, they used wood shavings as they always do to help dry the tiles and some of them got wet and stained the tiles. We were finally realizing that these tiles were not properly sealed, or as the floor guy suspected, had not been left to dry long enough.

This was of course a huge problem. I couldn't possibly live in constant terror of spilling a bit of red wine or tomato sauce on the floor and having it stained. So they decided to try a sealant.

The problem was that we already had furniture scheduled for delivery. We had purchased a new sofa and arm chair before even starting the work and the company we bought them from was refusing, rightly so, to hold them for us any longer.

So the furniture was delivered and they had to move it around as needed. They put down two coats of this sealant which we won't know until we spill something if it did the trick.

The Kitchen

They delivered the kitchen and it was full of mistakes. They way it works here is that you pay a certain amount down when you order and then nearly the entire balance when they deliver, leaving a little something for after they install it, in our case 200 euro. It's really nothing if you consider how much the kitchen cost.

So we gave the guy a check when he arrived with the kitchen and started noticing all the problems after it was installed. There was a set of drawers that were supposed to be red but they were white. The cabinets on the opposite wall from the sink were supposed to be shorter in height to go over the kitchen table, but they were the same height as the others. The handles on a cupboard near a wall were mounted horizontally instead of vertically and therefore couldn't be open completely. Almost all of the handles were steel instead of brushed aluminum. I say almost all because they did manage to get a few of them right.

And we have this 45-degree angle that they were going to make a special cabinet for, but they brought a normal rectangular cabinet and the guy said he obviously couldn't cut it on the spot. This is what I had been told by the salesman. And they had come out to measure this cornet countless times. To top it all off, the doors on this cabinet were also white instead of red.

At this point we told the installer we wanted the check back and would pay a smaller portion of the balance and the rest once these problems were all worked out. But he was just part of a coop that does the installation and told us to call Pultrone and talk to them about it. We did but they reassured us that everything would be taken care of as soon as possible.

This would be one of my biggest regrets. They delivered our kitchen on July 27 and as I write this, on October 17 nothing has been fixed. Of course we can't count the month of August because everything was closed, but that is still almost 2 months. We call the shop often. We can never talk to the owner. We leave messages but they never call back. Meanwhile they have our money and we had a multicolor kitchen with a big hole on one side.

This is a problem with both Snaidero, the manufacturer because the completely blew the order and Pultrone because it is up to them to make sure our problems are taken care of.

Yet More on the Bathroom

The contractor brought the travertine piece for the bathroom countertop and the marble for the step on the floor. We hated it. I didn't really like the color and they all had bit rounded edges. Everything else in the bathroom was all very straight lines because I like straight lines. But at that point, we were exhausted. We decided to go ahead with these pieces. I really wanted to take the extra effort to try to find something else, but Cesare talked me into accepting this.

After it was installed, I just happened to be walking in the bathroom and slipped on the new marble piece on the floor. It was very shiny and very slippery. When I told Mr Prudent Cesare about it he said let's change it.

So we had to immediately find marble that would work. But where? Where would one go to find emergency marble? The only thing we could come up with was near the main Rome cemetery, Il Verano. There a numerous marble workers in the streets surrounding the cemetery so we just walked into one at random.

They took us to the back to look at some pieces and nothing really thrilled me. Then I brought up a suggestion that Cesare had vetoed before, black (marmo nero di Tarquinia). I had samples of our bathroom tiles with us and even Cesare had to admit it looked great. We would use this for the countertop and the top of the half-wall by the tub.

Then we chose a piece of white marble for the step on the floor. We asked them to cut straight edges with just a bevel and to rough up the piece for the floor so it wouldn't be slippery.

The owner of the shop came by the next day to take measurements and took the sink with him. They were to deliver it in 2 days.

Unfortunately, when they brought it, I realized that it was not going to work. They had cut the hole for the sink in the wrong place. It was so far back against the wall that there was no room for the faucet. They had used the measurements but had inversed 2 of them.

And the white piece they brought for the floor had a huge grey vein in it. Now on a big piece of marble that sort of thing might be attractive, but on this thin strip, it looked horrible. And the piece we had looked at was solid white.

So we told them to take it back, we weren't paying for it. They told us to come by to look at other pieces of marble they had on hand. We did but all the black pieces had big white veins running through them.

We were desperate at this point. We were holding up the rest of the work in the bathroom and were very anxious to get this over with and move back into our apartment. So I suggested inserting a piece of marble behind this one to allow for enough room for the faucet. The inserted piece would be higher that the other like a little ledge. And they could just cut off the front of the other piece to make it fit.

At that point, they told me they could cut off the front of the original piece and stick it on the back and you wouldn't be able to tell. I was extremely skeptical but we decided to let them try since we hadn't paid them yet.

Amazingly enough, you really couldn't tell. OK, if you look at it in just the right light and know where to look, you can see a hairline.

They couldn't solve the problem with the piece for the step so in the end, we only paid them half of what they wanted. Considering all the problems and the fact that we helped them save a 1-meter square slab of marble, which would have been otherwise useless, I think it was fair.

We then asked the contractor to cut off and bevel the piece of botticino marble that I slipped on. He roughed it up a bit too. That is what we finally installed on the step. It looks great.

The Final Stretch

Most of the dirty work was done. We started having our new furniture delivered. We had the hanging lamps and wall sconces delivered and the contractor installed them. We purchased a mirror/container for the bathroom and had him mount that over the sink.

And we moved all our stuff from the rental apartment and finally spent a night in our "new" apartment. By then we were at mid August when everything is closed so we didn't even try to find a mover to bring the rest of our stuff to Rome. And we had been living without it for almost 5 months, so what was a few more weeks.

Conclusions

All in all, we are quite happy with our apartment. We love the floor plan and it is nice to have everything new and shiny. It was a huge pain. I certainly hope I never have to go through this again. Once in a lifetime is enough.

We still have a few loose ends. Our paintings are still stacked in a corner of the bedroom. There are still leftover tiles on our balcony. But we will get to it all in due time.

I remember seeing a friend's apartment that had been remodeled a couple of years ago. They had completed the work about a month prior to my visit and there was still a wire with a light bulb hanging on it in the hall. I was shocked. How could she live there for a month without a proper light fixture in the hall? Now I understand.

More On the Kitchen

February 2005

The kitchen installers finally came back on October 23, 2004, after 3 months. This time they brought the drawers and cabinet doors of the right color. And they changed the handles on the cabinet that wouldn't open fully, moving them from horizontal to vertical.

They even brought the cabinet cut at 45 degrees. Definitely an improvement but there were still problems.

Apparently no one had ordered the right handles. The ones they installed were steel and they should have been brushed aluminum. I should say most of the ones they installed; a few were actually the right type.

The inside of the cabinet they cut to 45 degrees did not look great. There were parts at the top that were not painted, holes where they had drilled, part of the base was damaged. Granted it was all inside so you only see it when opened, but it was not what I expected. And the shelf was missing.

There was also to be a cover to go over the space between the oven and this cabinet, making the 45 degree angle. This was the wrong size and would not fit. So we still had a hole. A much smaller one, but a hole just the same.

They moved the handles to be vertical on the tall cabinet so that it would open, but on the other end of the kitchen we had a similar cabinet with the handles mounted horizontally. Looks a bit odd, but we can live with it.

We found out after they had left that the electric spark ignition of the stove was no longer working. So we were back to using matches to light the stove.

I called the shop where we bought the kitchen and complained. The owner came out a few days later and I showed him all the problems. He took notes and measurements. He assured me they would take care of everything. But he told me the inside of the cabinet made to measure couldn't be done any better, that is was very particular, very difficult, etc. Pity he didn't tell us that when he designed it.

After almost 3 more months, on January 15, the installers came back. This time they installed the little corner cover; it was the right size. And they fixed the problem with the stove.

They brought some handles this time, but they were completely different from what we have. This time they were aluminum but not brushed and completely different.

They cut the shelf for the 45 degree cabinet but cut it wrong. They would have to order another and cut it again.

We also had a shelf that was to be mounted under the cabinets over the kitchen table. We had never had them install it since these cabinets were the wrong size. But in the end we just decided to keep them. So this time we asked that the shelf be installed.

It was quite heavy and the installer had some special mounting bolts. But then he told us the wall it was to be mounted on was probably too thin. He could try but the bolts might come out on the other side, which happens to be the bookshelf in my office!

I couldn't believe this. The architect who designed the kitchen knew that was not a load-bearing wall. Mind you, it is probably thicker than any internal wall in any house I've ever lived in the USA, so it is not like we are talking about a cardboard wall. And it is just a shelf. But it is designed to be mounted so that the mounting gear is completely hidden. You just see the shelf sticking out from the wall.

In any event, I certainly didn't want to risk it. So the shelf remains in the broom closet, where it has been since last July.

After they left, we noticed that the aluminum baseboard that goes under the cabinets was cut wrong so it sticks out on one side. It is made so that you can easily take it off to occasionally clean underneath. It has clamps that hook onto the legs of the cabinets. But since it was cut wrong, it won't hook on and sticks out.

And apparently they had moved the fridge because it no longer closes. We have to lift up on the door to get it to close.

My husband called the architect on his cell phone this time. He said he was out of town and would call in a couple of days when he returned. That was a month ago. We have yet to hear from him. We've called the shop and left messages, but no reply.

So I sat down last night and wrote a long letter to the manufacturer and the shop where we bought the kitchen. We'll see if this gets me a response.

Glossary

Massetto what goes under floor tiles
Piastrelle tiles, usually smaller and for walls
Mattonelle tiles, usually bigger and for floors
Maioliche tiles
Impianto elettrico electrical system or wiring
Impianto idraulico plumbing
Impianto telefonico telephone system
impianto di riscaldamento heating system, includes the boiler if autonomous And the radiators
Stucchi decorations made of stucco to form a frame on the ceiling
Verniciatura painting
Nicchia niche
Armadio a muro build in armoire, made to measure and attached to the walls. Not to be confused with an armadio su misura, which is made to measure but not attached to the walls.
Libreria a muro built in bookshelves
Bugnato paneled
Mostre door or window frames
Soglia door threshold
Termosifoni radiators
Scrigno brand name for a sliding door, which has become a ommon name for any sliding door.
Maniglie handles
Pensili hanging cabinets, as in a kitchen
Piano di lavoro counter space
Sportelli cabinet doors
Ante cabinet doors
Rosone stucco on the ceiling in the center of a room, usually for a ceiling light
Lampade sospese hanging lamps
Applique wall sconce (French term used in Italy)
Prese electrical outlets
Presa comandata electrical outlet connected to a wall switch
Interruttori switch
Lavabo sink, usually in a bathroom
Lavandino sink, bathroom or kitchen
Lavello kitchen sink
Piano cottura cook top
Soppalco attic space, usually obtained by lowering high ceilings
Controsoffitto lowering high ceilings for esthetic or architectural reasons
Incassato made to look built in
Serratura lock
Ristrutturare remodel
Tinta paint or color on a wall
Mattoni bricks
Rasatura sanding walls down so they are smooth.
Fughe space between floor or wall tiles, the white stripe
Frigo da incasso built in refrigerator
Zoccolo baseboard under a cabinet, armadio or bookshelf
Battiscopa baseboard
Muro portante load bearing wall, one you can't knock down
Parete wall
Tramezzo a non load bearing wall, on you can knock down
Metri commerciali commercial square meters of an apartment, includes unusable space such as part of the perimeter walls and one third of balconies, terraces and basement or attic storage space.
Metri calpestabili square meters of living space
Caldaia boiler
Scatola di deviazione junction box for wiring
Sfilabile wiring that you can pull out of conduit
Cerniera hinge
Rubinetto faucet
Sottopiano when talking about sinks, one that mounts under a countertop
Vaso another term for the toilet
geberit brand name used for the plack for flushing the toilet that has two buttons for 2 types of flushes
Ghisa cast iron
scarico a parete/pavimento type of mounting for the toilet, either wall or floor
monoforo o tre fori when talking about bidets, the number of holes for the faucet, either one for a ... or three for faucet and 2 knobs for hot & cold
Monocomando faucet mixing hot and cold
campione sample
rivestimento parete/pavimento wall or floor tiles
cappa hood over stove
d'arredamento used to refer to utilitarian objects that have been made designer, such as radiators
sgocciolatoio a ribbed surface, usually of stainless steel, on the counter top in the kitchen for draining pots and pans
scolapiatti dish drain, usually mounted in a cabinet over the sink
mensola shelf
lucido shiny
satinato satin finish
laccato Lacquered painting finish, very resistant

Resources

Beware: these are Italian sites so many have music and flash intros ;-)

www.poliform.it  - furniture maker

www.dascenzi.it  - graniglia floor tile manufacturer

www.snaidero.it  - kitchen maker

www.pultrone.it  - furniture shop in Rome

www.mobilnovo.it  - furniture shop in Rome

www.t-lesuperfici.com  - bathroom shop

www.fratelliteodori.it  - bathroom shop

www.santegidio.org/it/solidarieta/ecosolidale/  - Sant'Egidio used shop where you can take things you no longer need.

© SlowTrav.com, 2004

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