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Taste of Italy


When Frank and Sharon Pici made the decision to forego looking for their dream house and instead renovate their existing Malvern Colonial, they knew they were in for a major project. The almost 20-year-old house had many areas in need of improvement to fit their lifestyle. But the major changes would come to the heart of the home: the kitchen.

“We knew we wanted a much larger kitchen since we spend a lot of time in there,” says Frank Pici.

Ample space in the back of the house allowed for an addition that would double the size of the original kitchen and breakfast area. The Picis thoroughly researched the aesthetic they were hoping to achieve, scouring countless home décor magazines. What their search revealed—in addition to the desired cabinet colors and styles—was the longing for a luxury item rare in most kitchens.

“When we lived in our previous home in Houston, we used to always host pizza parties for our kids’ sports teams,” says Sharon Pici.

The Picis really enjoyed making the pizzas themselves. But a single oven in their current house wasn’t conducive for that, so the tradition was put on hold for several years. Still, says Sharon, “Frank’s mother used to host parties for him when he was growing up, so it was a fun tradition to carry on.”

That in mind, the Picis decided a wood-fired pizza oven would be the focal point of their new and improved kitchen. “Over the period of several years, we looked at ideas for ovens in magazines and found an article about a kitchen project with an Italian-made oven imported through Mugnaini Imports in California,” explains Frank.

They finally had what they’d been looking for. And while most wood-fired ovens are incorporated into outdoor kitchen areas, the Picis wanted it indoors to ensure year-round use.

“Having the pizza oven was one of the driving forces of why we wanted to redo our kitchen,” says Sharon.

The oven isn’t simply an impressive showpiece: The Picis use it constantly, making everything from pork roasts to bread and, of course, pizza. The couple has five children, with two still living at home, and a large extended family, so there’s often a full house of guests.

“So far, the oven has worked out very well,” says Frank. “Especially once we solved a smoke problem by installing a fan at the top of the oven chimney flue.”

After interviewing various design and construction firms, the Picis hired Gardner/Fox in Bryn Mawr for the renovation. “They said what we were looking to hear,” says Sharon. “They had the same thought process I had.”

The firm could provide the architect, the builder, the landscape designer and the interior designer to cover all aspects of the project. “I think that’s what really sold me—the one-stop shopping,” she says.

As a nod to their time in Texas, the Picis had been considering a Southwestern interior for the new addition. But after the wood-fired oven became a definite, it seemed more appropriate to go with a Mediterranean feel. Contracted through Gardner/Fox, Conestoga Kitchens handled the renovation.

The dark cherry-wood cabinetry from the outdated kitchen was replaced with refreshing cream-colored cabinets. The bases of two 10-foot islands are topped with granite and feature warm brown cabinetry; the bead-board backsplash on the oversized display hutch is a similar color.  “I found a picture of a kitchen with the same color scheme of cream and brown, and I loved it,” says Sharon. “I knew that’s what I definitely wanted.”

The two islands were easy to accommodate thanks to the room’s size. With its farmhouse sink, the working island has a raised level that doubles as a breakfast bar with stools. Two columns sitting on either end of the island add architectural interest while disguising posts necessary for structural reasons. The second island has a massive workspace—minus the area devoted to a small prep sink—perfect for prepping and cooling pizzas. The kitchen floor’s ceramic tile has the rustic look of travertine.

A butler’s pantry separates the kitchen and dining room; it includes a bar area with two refrigerators—one for wine. A corner of the kitchen area is devoted to a workspace with a desk, television and computer. There’s a spectacular view of the pool, and two skylights brighten up the space. “This is my office,” says Sharon. “My family always knows where they can find me.”

Angled in a corner of the kitchen is the prized wood-fired pizza oven, which shares a chimney with the outdoor fireplace. Pizza peels hang on both sides of the oven; mounted above it are four handcrafted decorative plates the Picis had custom designed when they traveled to Tuscany, each displaying one of the four seasons in Italian.

“My husband and I don’t speak Italian, and the man making the pottery didn’t speak English, so we were unsure of how the final product would turn out,” says Sharon. “But they were exactly what I wanted.”

Frank gave Sharon the trip to Tuscany for Christmas-a journey that included classes offered by Mugnaini Imports on how to use their new “appliance.” The couple spent a week fully immersed in the culinary world of Tuscany and came home with plenty of tips and recipes to impress family and friends.

“We use the oven all the time; it’s definitely not just for show,” says Sharon. “We’re thrilled that we decided to get it.”

French doors in the kitchen lead to the Picis’ second rehabbed living space: a wrap-around, covered porch with a fireplace. “My husband and I love to be outdoors,” says Sharon. “Redoing the back of the house was a definite for us. We had a deck and a pool in Houston, and we wanted that again.”

Mahogany in various shades of brown gives the deck a sophisticated look. A set of black wrought-iron furniture from Restoration Hardware, with tan and red cushions, combines with a black coffee table to provide a sharp contrast to the porch’s wood decking and white moldings and columns. A ceiling fan over each seating area improves air circulation and keeps the porch cool on humid days. A flat-screen television is the highlight of the second seating area.

Pebble Pools in Royersford designed the natural, free-form pool with raised spa. Gardner/Fox’s landscaping team added to the pool’s organic appeal by surrounding the perimeter with lush plantings and small trees. A built-in grill completes the outdoor entertaining space.

The kitchen makeover required an update of the adjacent family room. Susan Gracki, an interior designer with Gardner/Fox, assisted Sharon in picking complementary furniture and colors for the room. “I’d never worked with an interior designer before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” says Sharon.

As it turns out, her worries were unfounded. “Susan and I clicked right away,” she says. “We had so much fun, and she was right in tune with what I wanted.”

Sharon was looking for a relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere where guests would feel comfortable. “I wanted the rooms to be welcoming,” she says.

A half-wall that had divided the family room and the kitchen was removed and replaced with arches and white columns opening up the area between the two rooms. A distressed, dark-brown leather sectional from Propper Bros. in Manayunk faces the fireplace and the television in the family room. The cream paint on its walls complements the neutral colors in the kitchen.

“Now, if people are sitting in the family room, they don’t feel removed from the people in the kitchen,” says Sharon. “And that’s important—especially when we’re entertaining.”

In the end, the extensive transformation of the Picis’ home perfectly reflects the sociable nature of its owners. Not surprisingly, within weeks of the completed renovation, the family hosted a large birthday party for Sharon.

“When we first moved here, we were completely unfamiliar with the area,” says Sharon. “Now we love the location and the area so much, and we didn’t want to have to move again. Our house is exactly what we envisioned it could be.”

Architect, Builder, Interior Designer, Landscape Architect: Gardner/Fox Associates, 919 Glenbrook Ave., Bryn Mawr; (610) 525-8305, gardnerfox.com
Kitchen Designer: Conestoga Valley Custom Kitchens, Dean Taylor, 2042 Turkey Hill Road, Narvon; (717) 445-5415, cvck.com
Pool: Pebble Pools, 425 E. Linfield Road, Royersford; (610) 948-5550, pebblepoolsinc.com

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