I always look for unique products with good quality, reasonable price, and hopefully some interesting stories behind them. Five years ago I heard a radio ad for the Italian Home and Kitchen store and decided to visit the place. Entering the store was like stepping in to a traditional Italian house; I was surrounded by all the beautiful traditional Italian linens and colorful ceramics. With every visit to the store education became an inseparable part of my shopping experience, as every product carries an aspect of Italian history, tradition, art, and craftsmanship.
The owners, Roderick and Francesca Carmichael, met at the university in Tunisia where they both studied Arabic. Since then the couple had lived in Egypt, Lebanon, Italy, France, Japan, South Korea, and the USA. Francesca is originally from northern Italy. When I asked them whose idea was it to open the store, Roderick, who teaches finance at the University of Washington, said laughingly “I love to tell people that it was my genius to recognize her genius.”
Francesca grew up with traditional Italian ceramics and linens. “Unlike in America where people have big houses, in Italy people live in small houses” she explained “They have no room for a lot of décor, so everything has to be functional and beautiful, even a dish towel.” To bring the Italian beauty to American homes, Francesca travels to Italy several times a year. She created a personal relationship with the local manufacturers from different regions and is the direct importer of the products, thus she can keep prices reasonable.
In the store there are a variety of towels from Tuscany with various designs all made from natural fibers. There are Jacquard towels made from 50% linen and 50% cotton with exquisitely weaved designs. There are also 100% linen towels which have been decorated in the old Italian traditional style with wood block printing. Francesca always keeps washed linen towels in the store to show how soft they get after being washed. The tablecloths and runners are also decorated with wood block printing, a craft that takes an experienced person to yield a consistent color with every stamping. The bed set is made out of 100% linen and has two different designs: red flowers with green leaves or lavender. “Linen outlasts cotton by three times.” Explained Roderick. When I asked him about the fabric’s thread count he said: “Thread count is an American invention. When making a thread it is important how thick and fluffy the fiber is. The thinner it is, the more threads you need to create a smooth fabric. The Italian linens are made from high quality threads, and because of that they are so soft despite the fact that they might be only 300-thread count.”
The ceramic collection in the store offers a variety of Italian craftsmanship. There are traditional Faenza ceramics from Montelupo Fiorentino, outside of Florence. “Many people find the Faenza similar to the Japanese Imari porcelain.” Roderick told me “That is because the design of both Japanese and Italian ceramic was influenced by the Chinese.” The Majolica ceramics from Tuscany are decorated with familiar Tuscan motives of different fruits and flowers. They are all hand painted and treated with 2000F fire temperature twice: once to seal the dish, and the second time to seal the painting.
The decorative tiles from Abruzzo, are copies of the decorative brick tile in the ceiling of the early 17th century San Donato church in the city of Castelli. In the photo below on the left is the church ceiling and on the right are two tiles from the Italian Country Home and Kitchen store.
The store also offers hundreds of different patterns of Italian papers. Using these papers Francesca created book boxes in different sizes and designs.
As an avid cook I love the Volcania glazed terracotta pots. I mentioned them in my cookware post. I love the rustic taste they give the food and the fact that I can use them on a cook top and also in the oven. Being the only direct importers of this cookware, Francesca and Roderick offer the lowest price in the country for this brand.
The Italian inox 18/10 flatware is sturdy and beautiful, I've had my eyes on them since my first visit to the store. I love their clean and modern design. “Inox in stainless steel is what sterling is for silver.” Explained Roderick. The Inox stainless steel flatware in the store is made of 18% chromium for hardness and 10% Nickel for brilliant luster. Most European flatware is made from Inox stainless steel, which is why they tend to be heavier than the typical American ones.
As I said at the beginning, every time I visit the Italian Home and Kitchen store it feels like a trip to the countryside of Italy, where I’m exposed to the local history, art, tradition, and beauty. If you are in the area - it is well worth the trip.
Italian Home and Kitchen
1811 130th Ave NE,
Bellevue, WA 98005
Tel. (425) 486-8676
Tuesday-Saturday 11:00 AM-4:00 PM