Before and After: A Dark, Dated, 592-Square-Foot Italian Apartment Is Totally Transformed

published Jan 3, 2022

Before and After: A Dark, Dated, 592-Square-Foot Italian Apartment Is Totally Transformed

published Jan 3, 2022
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Home Type
Bedrooms
Square feet
592
Sq ft
592
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Name: Sara Amrhein, husband Luigi Valerio, with 15-year-old cat Michelangelo and newest addition, 3-month-old kitten, Rosallina
Location: Florence, Italy
Size: 592 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment
Years lived in: 2 years, owned

Artist and jewelry designer Sara Amrhein is originally from Southern California, but now calls the beautiful and historic Florence, Italy, home. “I moved here after coming to Italy on a study abroad trip where I met Luigi and simultaneously fell in love with him and the city of Florence in all of its Renaissance glory,” Sara explains.

Credit: Sara Amrhein

“After months of searching we found our apartment online. We had been scouring the internet everyday so we saw the listing as soon as it went up and called right away. We almost missed the appointment because it was located in an area of the city that we weren’t as familiar with and we were about 15 minutes late trying to find it. When we got here the agent was closing up the windows and just about to leave thinking that we were a no-show. We apologized profusely and she agreed to give us the tour. We were the first ones to see it but she had another viewing lined up that afternoon, luckily we made an offer immediately and it was accepted by the owners,” writes Sara.

Credit: Sara Amrhein

“We really love everything about it but especially the light; we had lived in ground floor apartments up until now and in a city, that means that usually means they are pretty dark. We were thrilled to walk in and see the big windows and that it was up one flight of stairs,” Sara describes of the apartment when they first saw it. Still featuring lots of natural light, the apartment looks much different two years later thanks to the full-gut renovation the couple completed. “We don’t know for sure, but we believe that the last updates were done somewhere around the 1950s,” Sara admits! “There was no heating system and we had to redo all the electric to code. It was a big job to say the least!”

Credit: Sara Amrhein

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Cozy and traditional with an artistic flair

Inspiration: Color is always my inspiration but I also wanted to make sure that we honored the era of the architecture, too. The building was constructed in the 1930s so I was inspired by the vintage aspects and wanted to keep those elements in the design.

Credit: Sara Amrhein

Favorite Element: It’s so hard to choose because I really love it all, but I would probably say the bedroom. I love the way the sun comes in in the morning, giving off the perfect light, and the view out the window with the tree-lined street and the small stream that attracts the most beautiful birds, including ducks, and these beautiful green parrots with bright red beaks. No one knows how they got here but there are loads of them!

Credit: Sara Amrhein

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge by far was the amount of time it took us to actually obtain ownership. Because it is a historical building and this was the first time the apartment had ever been sold since the original owners, the cultural association of Florence had to approve its sale and declare that they were not interested in purchasing it for historical purposes. Essentially it was a protected property. We waited a full year from when we put in the original offer to when we officially signed the papers. It took a lot of patience and essentially there wasn’t anything we could do except wait. We had been looking for the perfect place for months that was within our budget and when we first viewed this property, we knew it was the one so we decided to stick it out and wait for the approval. It was a very long, drawn-out process but in the end it was worth it.

Credit: Sara Amrhein

Proudest DIY:  The entire apartment was actually a DIY; my husband used to work construction and in fact he and his brothers owned a construction company many years ago, so that enabled us to do all the work ourselves. But if I had to choose one, I would say the additional bathroom! The only bathroom in the apartment when we bought it was a tiny toilet and sink with a shower on the enclosed veranda. Since the bedroom was a bit larger, we were able to put up a wall and install a whole new bathroom from scratch! I love the vintage feel of that bathroom with the black and white floor tiles, the white subway tiles on the walls, and the charcoal grey paint — I added the vintage bird prints and it all came together perfectly and looks like it has been here all along.

Credit: Sara Amrhein

Biggest Indulgence: The kitchen! And even through it is still small by some standards, it’s actually the biggest kitchen we’ve ever had! Our previous two apartments were even smaller than this place and the kitchens were smaller still. We went for the highest end of our budget and upgraded the appliances and we FINALLY have a dishwasher! This is the first time in our city-living life that we actually have one.

Credit: Sara Amrhein

The other indulgence is the backsplash above the stove. The tiles are handmade in Mexico and I bought them in Old Town San Diego on one of my trips back home to California and put them in my carry-on luggage to get them here but they are so perfect and they give the space that pop of color it needed along with an artisanal touch that is so important to us.

Credit: Sara Amrhein

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? During the height of the pandemic, I decided it was in the best interest of my business to close my brick and mortar store in the center of Florence and move my workshop home. There isn’t a ton of room, but we moved some things around and now, I use the enclosed veranda — which is also our laundry room — as my studio space. Sure, I share it with the washer and dryer but it has big windows that allow for beautiful natural light all day long. I have set up a table and added some shelving and now this is where I work all day! I hope to have a store again one day soon, but for now, this is working out quite well for me!

Credit: Sara Amrhein

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love our IKEA Ivar bookshelves and Rast dressers. They come in raw wood so we were able to paint them — we decided to go with the same color as the walls to make them look like they are built-ins and they work perfectly for the living space. We can display all of our favorite objects on the shelves and hide away anything we don’t want out in plain sight inside the dresser drawers.

Credit: Sara Amrhein

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Luckily we have high ceilings so I like to use the vertical space whenever possible. In the kitchen we added a second set of cabinets to the top of the standard height for additional storage and in the bedroom — since in Italy the rooms don’t have built-in closets — the armoire we purchased is also tall and I added decorative boxes to the top for our out-of-season wardrobe.

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Make sure not to hang  art or wall decor too high! It really makes a difference in the way it pulls the room all together. When it’s too high it can make the elements feel disconnected from each other. I’m also a firm believer in ‘if you love it, buy it.’ Don’t worry so much about making everything match perfectly; it’s those little details that are different from the others that will make your space unique.

Resources

Credit: Sara Amrhein

ENTRY

  • Shelf — ​HomeGoods, another things I carried home from the US
Credit: Sara Amrhein

LIVING ROOM

Credit: Sara Amrhein

DINING ROOM

Credit: Sara Amrhein

KITCHEN

Credit: Sara Amrhein

BEDROOM

Credit: Sara Amrhein

BATHROOM

Thanks Sara!

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.