We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

Even before Martina Casonato bought her 120-year-old house in north London, she was fantasizing about what her pantry would look like. “My goal was to re-create an old Italian grandma’s kitchen,” she says with a laugh. Having grown up near Venice, Martina knows a thing or two about “nonna chic” style. And she has a serious passion for cooking (while she’s a graphic designer by trade, she has a newsletter on the side called The Venetian Pantry that’s dedicated to all things food and interiors). 

It’s perhaps unsurprising that she landed on an architect with Italian heritage. “I know that you’re always supposed to interview at least three contractors, but we had such an immediate connection,” says Martina of George Bradley, director of Bradley Van Der Straeten. The feeling was mutual for Bradley, whose mother is from Rome and, like Martina’s husband, Joe, also has roots in Yorkshire. “I liked the synergy that they were buying their first home in London, as my parents once did,” says Bradley.

The couple got the keys in 2019 and were clear in their vision for converting the attic level into a primary suite and extending the kitchen. Martina knew she would go with terrazzo flooring in the kitchen (which hails from the Venice region) because it hides every crumb and speck. “It’s funny because it’s now the trendy thing to have, but in Italy, it’s almost considered old-fashioned,” she says. There are reminders of her native country throughout the house, but employed in subtle and thoughtful ways. Here’s how she pulled it off. 

Prioritize a Pantry Over a Double-Door Fridge

The kitchen, before.

“Give me a walk-in pantry any day of the week over a walk in-wardrobe,” says Martina, laughing. While renovators usually hanker after a generous fridge-freezer, she was all for lo-fi storage: “There’s something so comforting and wholesome about long-life food that’s always there when you need it,” she explains.

The couple flipped the island to run perpendicular to the kitchen cabinets (all of which were custom-made by a millworker) and then dedicated a central spot to her dream pantry. “As I prep food, I look out to the garden and have all my supplies behind me. And I can interact with my guests rather than stare at a wall,” says Martina. 

Embrace the Surprises You Uncover

The dining area is technically attached to the next-door neighbor’s extended outer wall, and it was never an option to cover up those bricks “because they’ve got such a gorgeous patina,” says Martina. The same thinking applied to the exposed brickwork in what the couple refer to as “the Venetian corner.” As the construction crew removed the old units, a patch of pinky green layered plaster revealed itself. “I fell in love with it immediately because it reminds me of the crumbly buildings that you see in Venice,” says Martina. The contractors were shocked, but Bradley got it: “That derelict look gives such a rich character, particularly [reminiscent of] southern Italian towns and villages. For Martina, there is something very comforting and nostalgic about having that look in part of her home.”

Turn a Problem Into a Statement 

It was Bradley’s idea to curve the edge of the en suite wall in the newly created attic bedroom. “Loft spaces can often feel very boxy, so this softens it and creates a sense of flow,” he explains. But the builder vetoed the planned pocket door, foreseeing the micro movement from the tiles in the shower behind it would cause problems down the line. Cue Martina’s suggestion for a set of arched double doors, inspired by a hotel stay in Paris with a similar feature: “I remembered the feeling of opening the doors each morning; it felt so indulgent and luxurious.” Adding a bench in the shower was the cherry on top. “Other than the pantry, that is my biggest joy—sitting there in the morning with hot steam in my face,” she says.

Pack in the Storage

The window seat in the couple’s bedroom is a classic example of a dream-versus-reality moment. Her original vision was a glass box, “like a closed balcony filled with plants,” but she soon learned that would likely be vetoed by the local permitting board (not to mention, it would cost a fortune). Bradley’s solution was to make it a wood-lined seat with hidden storage. “The sill is intentionally low, so from the bed you have a beautiful view of the garden,” he says. It’s now one of Martina’s favorite details. 

The couple’s double desk, though, was their own creation. They designed it to be deep enough to accommodate their monitors and with drawers wide enough to stash their A0-size proofs for work (Joe is also a graphic designer). Because they wanted it to look like it’s floating, the millworker had to expose the joists in the wall and attach brackets to them.

Narrow Down Your Paint Palette

The living room, before.

There was no doubt that the paint palette would skew neutral: “Whites and beiges [are] more timeless, and we wanted the house to feel like a place of calm and quiet,” says Martina. But settling on the right shades felt daunting. They began by applying Bauwerk’s limewash in the color Stone to the kitchen and primary bedroom. The extra touch of texture makes the “new” spaces feel like they’ve always been there. For the older rooms, they used Strong White by Farrow & Ball, and for the woodwork throughout, Skimming Stone. “By limiting the number of colors, you create a seamless feel around the house,” explains Martina. Like Italian cuisine, less is always more.