Martina Casonato – The Venetian Pantry
There were moments when Martina Casonato felt that the renovation of her North East London home would never end, not least because of the national lockdowns that saw things not only delayed, but uncertain. With time on her hands she turned her mind to Instagram, creating an account to share the progress of her home renovation, along with her passion for cooking in her beautiful new kitchen.
A graphic designer by trade, aesthetic intuition is evident in all her undertakings, and her home showcases it turn after turn. With the help of a team of trusted contractors, including BVDS Architects, Martina has created a home that reflects her and her partner’s nuanced eye for design, whilst meeting both their domestic and creative needs. We explored this Victorian conversion, learning more about the process and where to find Martina’s subtle Italian touches along the way.
The house was in fairly good condition (at least on the surface!). One of the reasons we fell in love with this particular house was that it was still in its original Victorian configuration, with the long and narrow kitchen galley. It had never been extended, which meant it was the perfect blank canvas. The walls had been recently given a fresh lick of white paint, the original wooden floors were exposed, and it still had two old Victorian fireplaces. It was empty, bright and airy, and made us feel instantly like we could live here. Of course, once you start the renovation process, things do start to pop up; cracks in the walls hidden by the plasterboards and a rotten roof, to name a couple! But nothing we hadn’t been prepared for.
I had just left my full-time job as a graphic designer and was working on a freelance basis when we started the renovation project. This gave me a lot of flexibility and freedom to follow the building site closely, especially during the early stages. Then the pandemic hit mid-way through the renovation, and we had to shut down the site for a month (which could have been worse, all considering!). It wasn’t until after we moved in, during the second lockdown in January 2021, that I opened The Venetian Pantry account. In hindsight, it was the perfect timing for it; being forced to be at home 24/7 gave me plenty of opportunities to fully enjoy our new home and start documenting it. I know it must sound slightly nuts, but I sometimes miss those days!
I have no formal training as a chef, other than a long-standing passion for food. But to answer your question, I guess as a creative person I have always been attracted to beauty in all its forms – whether it is a piece of art, a tastefully decorated restaurant or hotel, or a beautifully presented dish. But it was only through doing up our home that I got properly into interior design and discovered an inclination towards it.
The very first moodboard I have ever created, long before we even started looking for a house, was the kitchen. To me, a kitchen is the true heart of a home, a place people naturally gravitate towards and spend the most time in. I love to host, and I knew I wanted to create a space that felt convivial and inviting, somewhere our friends and family would want to hang out and feel welcome.
The pantry was really the focal point of the kitchen, around which everything flowed. I have always dreamt of having a walk-in pantry, so much so that it was part of our original brief to our architects. During the first presentation, BVDS came up with three different layout options for the kitchen. I ended up suggesting a fourth one that had elements taken from some of their proposals, but with an L-shaped extension instead of the more classic full-width configuration.
I wanted to create pockets of action within the kitchen, with the dining room being slightly separate from the cooking area, so that the space would feel more interesting and dynamic. George at BVDS has been such a great enabler, accommodating our every request. Once the layout and structural details were established, my partner Joe and I defined a colour and material palette, and I designed the kitchen units, island and pantry, working closely with our builders, Optimal Build, and carpenter, Tekton Joinery.
The honest truth is, we have been very lucky. I found BVDS through Instagram and was really impressed by how approachable and personable they looked in their videos. We have only ever interviewed George for the job, and were instantly charmed by his half Yorkshire, half Italian, fully professional attitude. We were a little bit naive perhaps and it’s not necessarily an approach I would recommend (it is always a good idea to interview different contractors before you make a decision) but it did work out brilliantly for us.
George then introduced us to four different builders he had worked with in the past and could vouch for, and again we chose Edi from Optimal because we instantly liked him on a personal level (other than coming across as very professional and reliable!). Edi then introduced us to his friend Vini, who ended up being our carpenter.
The moral of the story is, of course it is important to do some proper research, but ultimately I think you should follow your gut instinct – especially if you are planning to be very involved in the process, like I was. You are going to have to work closely with your contractors (in my case, on a daily basis) and so I can’t understate how important it is to have a good working and personal relationship. For us, it made the whole process so much more enjoyable.
The whole process ran fairly smoothly, thanks to our amazing contractors. I’d say the toughest part for me has been the wait; I am not a patient person by nature, and at some points it felt like we were never going to see the end of it. My main takeaway from the whole experience, I think, would be to trust your instinct and stick to your guns. And do lots and lots of research!
We made the conscious decision of taking a slow approach to decorating our home. To give you an example, we only got our bed after a whole year of sleeping on the mattress on the floor! Aside from the obvious economical benefits, it also allows you to take your time and make sure you are only getting pieces you truly love, that hopefully will serve you well for years to come.
I love antiques because I am attracted to the story they tell – the layers of patina and ageing, which make them so much more interesting (and to me, special) than a shiny new thing. We also collect things from our travels for the very same reason; it’s all about the storytelling. But ultimately, there is no right or wrong – it’s your home and you are the one who has to live in it. At the cost of sounding like a broken record, trust your gut and if something really grabs you and makes you smile (and you can afford it), just go for it!
Definitely! Although I would say that the Italian influence in our home is quite subtle, and evident mainly through the choice of materials; marble (to name the most obvious), rich-coloured woods and Terrazzo alla Veneziana – which was all the rage in London a couple of years ago, but is considered a super traditional (if not downright old fashioned!) type of flooring in Italy.
I guess I also get my love for arches from Italy, which has resulted in the two arched doorways in our loft. But the one thing that reminds me most of home is a corner in our Kitchen, which we have nicknamed ‘the Venetian wall’. Whilst our builders were stripping the kitchen walls down, we discovered a patch of old pink plaster, beautifully intertwined with some green hues. It immediately reminded me of the colours you see in the streets in Venice, the crumbly facades of the buildings covered in layers of grandiose decadence. I immediately knew we had to keep it exposed and it is one of my favourite features – it adds so much character to the room!
It has a very soothing effect on us, which is exactly what we wanted to achieve. I believe the decor of a home is either a reflection of the nature of the people who inhabit it, or of their needs. In our case, I would say it’s a bit of both. We wanted our space to feel relaxing, an oasis of quiet away from the hustle and bustle of London. As graphic designers, we are also very conscious that colours go in and out of trend, but there is a timeless quality to neutrals. So we put together a palette of off-whites for the walls, letting natural materials, such as wood and natural stones, shine.
I started The Venetian Pantry in January 2021, smack in the middle of lockdown numero two. We had just moved into our newly renovated home, and I had all the time in the world on my hands. Initially, the account started as a way to share the progress on the house with friends and loved ones, but it quickly became a space to explore and combine my love for design, food and photography. In hindsight, that was the greatest gift I got out of this time in lockdown – the chance to slow down and explore new creative avenues. I have been secretly working in the background on exciting future plans for The Venetian Pantry, I’m hoping to be able to reveal more soon!
My family always teases me that I keep banging on about our shower! Aside from the kitchen, it’s the spot that gives me most joy in our home. I am particularly fond of the cosy seat I put inside – I love to start my day curled up on it, with a stream of hot water pointed at my face. The best way to wake up in the morning, if you ask me!
Hmmm not really… We spent a long time pondering each and every decision to make sure we didn’t have to regret it later. Having said that, I do sometimes wonder if the aforementioned shower would have been even more epic with a roof light window on it. But it’s definitely something I can make peace with!
The biggest job left on our list is the front garden, which needs a complete redo. Aside from that, we’ve got bits and bobs left in the rear garden (I’d love to eventually hire a garden designer to help with that) and then there is an endless list of little things we still need to do or buy indoors; a runner for the stairs, upholstery for the dining room, a sofa, a headboard…. The list goes on! But, as I said, we like to take a slow approach, one thing at a time, and enjoy the ride.