La Casa di Sand and Fog, Emilia edition… (less sand and more fog).

casa di sand and fog movie posterAn emotionally fragile couple living on the edge of insanity, finds themselves overwhelmed by dreams of bright colors and interesting designs. Seeking respite from the confines of their cramped and antiquated apartment, the couple retreats to the solitude of the balcony, only to find themselves entangled in the tragic lives of their neighbors. All the while, rising from the edge of their property line and looming over their solitary balcony, stands a constant reminder of the barriers between rural Emilian life and architectural vision: the house that leaves no observer unscathed:


(que music)


Don’t make fun of me; I’ve had a really long week.

You say dramatic. I say justified.

You ready for my rant? Here it goes:

My husband is an architect. I am a designer. We are good at what we do. We design healthy, sustainable, comfortable, and beautiful (if I do say so myself) residences for people with a lot more money than us. IF… I repeat, IF we get paid, we make less than half per hour euros than one of the bricklayers on our site. (I’m getting to the point; bear with me).

Every morning I wake up to an apartment full of thermal bridges and colonies of black mold making themselves at home on my walls… walls which I have treated with everything from tea tree oil to mold-resistant paint to even bleach.  In order to escape the glaring architectural inadequacy of our current living situation, we try to spend as much time as possible on our minuscule balcony (which may or may not be overcrowded with plants, by no fault of my own).

Excluding the fact that the weather here is at all times either (a) disgustingly humid, (b) freezing cold, or (c) scorching hot… about 99% of the time that we dedicate to attempted peaceful meals on our balcony, we are interrupted with the the shockingly forceful and raspy voice of the patriarch in our neighboring house.

He can often be heard yelling the names of his two small grandsons, followed by threats including but not limited to: “Get over here right now, or the wolves will eat you!”. The grandsons then squeal and continue to run in a circle around the concrete house, kicking their soccer ball against the concrete walls, tripping and falling on the concrete sidewalk, and crying concrete tears. Meanwhile, the 3 to 4 leaves that fall from the poodle-like pruned tree on the tiny little stretch of grass that has been allowed to persist at the corner of the property must be raked almost every day.

Rake on concrete = good sound.

The icing on this torta is that running alongside our tiny little balcony, obstructing almost the entire view, is the bare, unpainted wall of probably the ugliest (if not most representative) house of Emilia. We call it La Casa di Sand and Fog… except without the sand part, which would imply that we are near a beach instead of a pile of sisso. We call it this because on multiple occasions, people have entered our apartment, looked out the kitchen window, and commented on the dense fog settling in. When we then alert them to the fact that the “fog” is actually a concrete wall, they don’t believe us and venture out onto the mini balcony to verify… at which point the neighbor begins yelling at his grandsons and our guests come running back inside to the moldy interior.

It is everything that we are trying to work against, as design professionals. Yet we live it. Every day.

La Casa di Sand and Fog is a classic, 1970’s, geometra-designed*, cement box, which no one has even cared to paint in the 4  decades of its existence. The roll-down window shutters (taparelle) serve as homage to the winter 1996/7, when a very bad hail storm punched holes through everyone’s shutters, causing MOST people to REPLACE them. Not at La Casa di Sand and Fog, though. On the vast expanse of concrete that stares us in the face every morning, there is a very noticeable horizontal line where the wall has clearly been demolished and filled back in, probably to allow for a gas line to the kitchen. Acoustically, the wall contributes to the echo chamber that exists between our neighbor’s crappy concrete house and our own crappy concrete building, culminating with optimal sound performance exactly ON our minuscule balcony.

This past month, when the temperatures pretended for a moment to be representative of spring, I made the mistake of preparing lunch with the kitchen window open. I was promptly greeted by the elderly nonna in La Casa di Sand and Fog, who had peered into my kitchen and (as all nonnas) was pleased to see food preparation going on. She exclaimed, “Oh, hello, dear! I do like it so much when you kids have your windows all open like that!”.

All in all, it’s spectacular.

Now, we are solution minded people, so don’t assume that we have not discussed possible fixes to this scenario. Many things have been discussed, with the top of the list looking like this:

  • hire a guerrilla gardener to install overnight a large trellis with a beautiful climbing plant – wisteria perhaps,
  • sponsor a local artist by asking them to graffiti the wall with a pleasant image,
  • start hosting Movie Nights where we project films from our balcony and set up seats in the parking space below.

Ultimately, however, we always come back to the fact that it would be fairly obvious who the perpetrators are. So, short of moving (which BELIEVE ME, we are working on)… we always come back to the place we started from: é così”

*no offense intended towards geometri (building designers), who are constantly receiving shit from architects, but if you’d like to not have a reputation as designers of concrete boxes… stop designing concrete boxes.

10 thoughts on “La Casa di Sand and Fog, Emilia edition… (less sand and more fog).

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  3. You should sneak out under cover of darkness and paint it. In fact, you should secretly start painting all the ugly houses in the town. And make sure you leave a cryptic calling card…

  4. haha, that was funny! i find italy a funny mix of beautiful old buildings and crappy structures thrown up in the 60/ (in my area at least). lol ahh life, you are full of hurdles arent you…. 🙂

    ps. how long will it take for your new property to be inhabitable?

    • years. years. and more years.
      we have a couple other “family projects” to finish first before ours gets started, but we’re already throwing around ideas… we’ll see, piano piano!

  5. It has been placed there to keep your design/architectural spark alive, a blank canvas to help produce ideas, a constant reminder of why you do what you do … Sorry, just joking! It must be torture…

    • true. it does spark our imaginations… for example, right now I’m imagining that the neighbor beneath my balcony, who is apparently having a great time hitting a stone with a loud hammer, is instead hitting that dang wall.

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