Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck may never have set foot in a kitchen in Roman Holiday. But for most Italians, home life centers around the kitchen. Barbara Pensa, herself a Roman, makes it a literal center, too.
That, at least, is what Architetto Barbara Pensa did in a penthouse in a 19th-century palazzo near the Piazza di Spagna—the home of a woman who co-owns a prestigious shop selling fashion fabrics. The kitchen became key to Pensa's transformation of a traditional flat into a modern-day loft. Her other goal, she explains, was to forge a connection between an "antique structure and new technology."
In a word, the renovation meant demolition. Tutto. Or at least quasi-tutto, as the brick structural walls were left standing. Their configuration created an open layout of just under 1,000 square feet, composed of three fluid zones: a 215-square-foot kitchen in the middle, a living area on one side, and a master suite for the client and her companion on the other.
But that's not all. Profiting from the 23-foot ceiling, Pensa built a mezzanine, slipping in a sitting room, which doubles as a guest room, as well as a bathroom and a small kitchen to serve the roof terrace, also part of the renovation. With 645 square feet added on the mezzanine and an equal amount of space on the terrace, the formerly diminutive flat began to approach loftier proportions.
Among the more traditional elements, Pensa chose slate for the stairway to the mezzanine and limed oak for flooring throughout the first level. New windows—made to blend in with the palazzo's facade—are draped by ivory-colored linen curtains. As for contemporary components, some kitchen cabinets and counters are Corian, a material that Pensa likes for its neutrality, while one standing unit is topped with the African hardwood iroko.
The ceramic-glass surface of the cooktop and the stainless-steel oven are incorporated into an 8-foot-long island that doubles as a personal espresso bar: Just pull up one of Stefano Giovannoni's Bombo stools. Overhead, the range hood performs triple duty, providing not only ventilation but also sandblasted glass shelves and halogen lights.
Since Pensa's client knows that daily life isn't always la dolce vita, she wanted to have the option of closing off different spaces from time to time. So the architect installed sliding doors of transparent acrylic, about half as heavy as glass, between the kitchen and the living area—where renovation had revealed a bricked-over opening that was once a fireplace. Pensa made it one again, installing a prefabricated cast-iron firebox and a pietra serena surround. By using the opposite side of the stone's cut face, she gave the look of concrete to the traditional material of palazzi and cathedrals.