15 August 2010

The 'new kitchen' experience

We were at a stage in the house renovation where we needed a kitchen.

The kitchen 'space' is a square box with stone walls. However, all four stone walls are 'interrupted': a fireplace and radiator stand along one wall, two windows stand on another, there is a door on the third and another window on the fourth. As such, there is very little wall against which to actually place a kitchen.

Confident in the knowledge that kitchen shops are experts in such problems, we've been stalking several kitchen shops in the area over the last few months. This usually involves finding them, getting the gumption to stop outside then actually entering them, viewing the sample kitchens, then leaving before anyone can ask us questions. We'd done relatively well using this approach until we discovered the kitchen shop at Canelli. We were finally 'caught' at this shop. It happened too quickly for us; we hadn't even made it into the shop!

Fabrizio met us at the doorway with a loud 'Buongiorno!' and the smoke of his cigarette. He was in his 20's with very dark hair and very dark skin. He was very tall, very thin and very distracted. He lurched inside, turned the lights on in the showroom and watched our faces as we took in the initial view of several gleaming kitchens. Then he physically pulled us inside and started to demonstrate their features like a model on a game show. He opened every cupboard, moving it carefully and watching the hinges as they swung silently. Then he opened every drawer and turned to look at us to ensure that we noticed the smoothness of the runners. Then he played with every tap, turning them left and right. He even pulled one out of its casing so that we could fully appreciate its flexible hose. He ran his fingers along the stainless steel utensil rails revelling in the quality. Our smiles and our many 'Molto benes' caused him to beam with joy. I'm actually not sure who was more excited about the kitchens, the person selling them or the people buying them. Later we were to find out that his primary interest lay in details and beauty rather than the overall layout and other practicalities.

Then he waved his arms wildly which apparently meant that we should follow him. We soon found ourselves in his office. His gangly legs seemed to wave around dangerously as they lurched him towards the air conditioner which he turned on, and then the window which he closed. He then fell into his chair where we were relieved to see his appendages finally stilled. Not knowing exactly what we were getting ourselves in for, we watched him, perched on the edges of our fluorescent orange chairs. He opened his computer and waited. There was an awkward silence. Without enough Italian to make small talk, it was a very uncomfortably long wait. Was he opening his emails? Should we leave? Suddenly he burst into action and demanded measurements. A bit shocked, we told him we didn't have measurements; at this stage we just wanted to know about quality and approximate cost.

He sprung out of his chair and fell onto the door, opening it and again beckoning us outside with arms that looked like they would flail by themselves were they not attached to a body. Back in the showroom he walked us around the various kitchens again, this time providing approximate prices. I noticed his very long fingers lingered on certain elements of the kitchens, obviously his favourite pieces. We thanked him and told him we would think about the kitchens. On our way out he thrust a small piece of cardboard at us. 'Vieni!', he pleaded. The cardboard was an invitation to a special event that was to be held the following week. The business was launching a new cooker range. Guests would enjoy free wine from the region and free food cooked by a local Michelin Star chef.

Back in the car, we agreed that the kitchen prices were attractive. We also agreed that the event was attractive.

A few days later we found ourselves outside the showroom again, this time with a list of 'nice to haves' and several hand-drawn plans of our kitchen. I'd translated the 'nice to haves' into bad Italian. They included an island, a pull-out pantry and cupboards with wire shelving. The plans showed various views of the room: the first showed the walls, the second the arched ceilings and the third the wooden beams. Fabrizio's arms and legs were still worryingly active as he ushered us into his office. He took copies of the drawings, sat down, settled his limbs around his chair and opened his computer. Again, he waited for software to open, then he started to input all the dimensions on my plans. Slowly. Very slowly. After ten minutes, we realised that he intended to enter all of the dimensioms into his program then and there. Since he'd only got as far as half a wall in ten minutes we started to worry about the deep hole of silence and patience that stretched out in front of us. We suggested that we leave him to it and return that afternoon to see his design suggestions.

Five hours later we were sitting in Fabrizio's office, waiting for him to reveal his initial design.

We knew there was a problem because his arms and legs were considerably less animated.

'La cucina e molte difficile!', he announced, 'Molto problemo!'

'Si', we agreed.

We sat there, watching his face keenly for signs that something might be possible. Our faces must have inspired him to take further action because he suddenly beamed again, leaped out of his chair and bounded through the door. He returned with a short man in his 50's. This was apparently Giovanni, who we later discovered was Fabrizio's father. We watched Giovanni dither around the office for a while before he picked up my drawings and beckoned us to follow him. Like father, like son. We followed him out to the showroom but then found ourselves alone again except for a jittery Fabrizio who hovered around us playing with taps and cupboards. Eventually, Giovanni burst through the back of the building (via a door of course) with another man who we later discovered was his other son Luca. Giovanni beamed into our faces as the two of them walked past us and jumped into a car, where they started the engine and waited. We saw them peering into the showroom at us. We looked back at them, wondering where they were going. When Fabrizio mentioned that they were going to our place to measure our kitchen space, we realised that they were waiting to follow us home!

Aghast at the speed at which things were moving but feeling almost as enthusiastic as the locals we said goodbye to Fabrizio, who yelled 'Buongiornata!' at us through a fog of smoke, and jumped into our car.

There started a journey of two cars towards one home. The conversation in our car went something like 'How did this happen?' and 'Are we sure we're ready?' and 'How do we know they're the best/cheapest?'. The conversation in the other car probably went something like 'I hope they don't want it before the summer holidays' or 'Siesta's only an hour away' or 'Mama's made pasta for lunch'.

A few short minutes later, Giovanni was in our kitchen almost before we could open the door. Within minutes, Giovanni and Luca were deep in discussion regarding design alternatives and there were scotch tape lines all over our kitchen floor. I wondered how the tape was sticking to our dusty tiles and how long it would stay there. Then he grasped our wrists and took us for a journey around the imaginary pieces of kitchen. We liked it. Somehow, amidst many smiles, nods and grazies, we understood that Giovanni would give the design to Fabrizio who would enter it into his software and that we should return to the showroom to view the design within a few days.

We spent the next few days wandering around our scotch tape kitchen, considering possible enhancements. We also attended the special event, where we met two people who have since become our close friends (but that's another story...).

A few days later, we were in Fabrizio's office looking at our new kitchen in 3D. He had already built our enhancements into the design and we were in the process of signing a contract. We were immensely happy with the family and their business. We loved Fabrizio's enthusiasm, appreciated Giovanni's capability and felt secure in Luca's seriousness. We'd even met and adored Fabrizio's mother Philomena and we'd enjoyed the special event immensely.

We have a kitchen. Well, almost...

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