Italy renovation:: where are we now?

As you know, Frank and I have been renovating La Fortezza our, 12th century fortress in the countryside for over a year. With the studio and main house complete, we have turned our attention to the guest quarters and commercial kitchen and lounge. The guest quarters are almost complete, and when they are finished, we will have 3 bedrooms in the guest quarters, all with their own bathrooms, a small kitchenette, and a lounge area for guests to enjoy snacks, coffee and wine.

The most exciting area is the commercial kitchen where we will teach cooking classes, and hold our Preserving Italy Workshop with Domenica Marchetti in the fall. We will also be hosting Canadian foodstylist, Marisa Curatolo in our kitchen. The decor will be practical and dynamic. The lighting is gorgeous as it has the exact same orientation as the studio upstairs. The giant Lacanche stove will settle into its new home, and we will prepare all of our workshop meals from the kitchen. To say I am super excited would be an understatement. Where are we now?

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The guest quarters are almost complete; windows are in, floors are set, and paint is done. We now will be placing the lighting, and the last steps will be the state of the art resin showers (as we have to wait for temperatures to rise for a proper set).

When I return in May, I will hit the ground running to finish furnishing the guest quarters with all the decor I have been collecting of the past year. Beds, lighting, cool rugs, and custom chairs from Marrakech. I can’t wait to see it all come together. Yes, I swear, it will all come together in May…

You can follow along on the progress report on my instagram. Once these projects are finished, then we will move on to the last project: the out building which will have 3 more bedrooms and bathrooms. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and believe me, it’s been a long time coming.

xx Annette

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Dispatch from the Parma Antique Fair

I have always wanted to attend the Parma Antique Fair because I have bought many things from the fair thanks to my pickers in Italy. Since we have been working on La Fortezza, I have woken up on Saturdays to tons of pics and choices sent to me by my designer Forrest and his partner Roberto from the Parma Fair. They both have an amazing eye. I am blessed to have them in my world, and the objects they have found for me over the past 2 years are astounding. This year I wanted to go along and see what all the fuss was about.

Well…I can tell you that the fair was dizzying. I have been to lots of fairs and antiques shows, like Round Top in Texas and Isle sur la Sorgue, but nothing compares to the beauty and the perfection in selection at Parma; it is like nothing I have every seen. There is row after row of Italian treasures. I was gob-smacked. No words could describe the sheer quantity and quality on sale. Mind you, we attended at the end of the show, but there were still gobs of beautiful objects everywhere. We waited until the end of show on purpose, too. Since I was shopping for basics, I felt that I could miss the crowds and leisurely take advantage of end of show pricing.

With Forrest by my side, we flew up and down the aisles with laser beam focus. I picked up a large dining room table and classic Italian wood chairs for the commercial kitchen as we plan to eat some meals in the commercial kitchen, mostly in the fall and winter if it’s too cold outside. The table will also serve as a beautiful surface for cooking, foodstyling lessons, and photography. The student lounge, located next to the commercial kitchen, now has some wonderful leather club chairs – all worn in, soft and comfy. The club chairs were in the most elegant booth manned by a most elegant vendor. She gave us a great deal, and we bought the last matching set. The guest quarters has a really cool rustic table for the entry, plus I found some wonderful wire chairs and a table for folks to hang out on while enjoying an espresso of a glass of wine with a few nibbles in the guest kitchenette.

We loaded all our finds into the old Range Rover. It’s incredibly roomy, but even I was surprised how much fit into the back, and we headed back home just in time for Aperitivo. It was a super successful trip – efficient and inspiring, just the way I like it. If you’re thinking about attending the Parma Antiques Fair, I highly recommend it. I would definitely schedule at least 2 to 3 days since there is so much to see. Plus Parma is such a wonderful place to visit.

Make sure you check in with the blog over the next months as we will be outfitting the rooms with all of our finds starting in May. I can’t wait to share the end results with you as we get ready for our summer of workshops and retreats.

xx Annette


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The Marrakech Express

Last weekend my friend Oma and I decided to take a quick trip to Marrakech. Since it is a quick flight from Italy, it is a rather easy weekend excursion.

We stayed at a charming Riad, and once we figured out how to get back to the place, we were golden. It is quite hard to find your way around the center of town, even if you’ve been there a bunch of times like I have. One incredible discovery was a map app that literally saved us a couple times called

The app, once downloaded works offline. If you’ve every been terribly lost in another country, this is a MUST.

The food in Marrakech is delicious and fresh. Some of my favorite places include Le Jardin, Nomad, and Terrasse des esepices  , but make sure you make reservations, this is very easy to do online. Note: Don’t miss Norya ayroN at the top of the stairs at Le Jardin for one of a kind Moraccan style kaftans and tunics.


We had a great time shopping for rugs and furnishings for our guest quarters. One of my big finds this trip was the most glorious rug vendor Bazar Du Sud, introduced to me by our guide Monica. I highly recommend that you hire a shopping guide. If you are interested in hiring my guide, just contact me through my site and I will connect you to Monica. I had a few places in mind for my shopping excursion, however our guide Monica had some new places on the schedule as well. I love shopping at Mastupha Blaoui, and if you have not been, GO! I found all sorts of great pieces for the guest quarters.

Warning: Leave plenty of time in your schedule as this place is enormous and chocked to the brim with amazing rugs, furnishings and home accessories. One amazing place we went, although it was not Moroccan and is owned by a Belgian woman, is called Magasin General. It is in an industrial part of town and is styled perfectly with treasures from all over Europe with a focus on Belgium. The owner is charming and full of helpful information; not to be missed. It is swoon worthy for sure.

All in all, our Morccan adventure was successful, and I managed to snag a few treasures for La Fortezza. I hope you will come visit sometime and stay with us in our newly appointed rooms.

Check out my instagram feed for more photos of our weekend trip to Marrakesh…Ciao for now

xx Annette

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2017 Holiday Gift Guide

'Tis the season for giving! I always have so much fun rounding up gifts for you, and this year my 2017 holiday gift guide is no different.

‘Tis the season for giving! I always have so much fun rounding up gifts for you, and this year my 2017 holiday gift guide is no different. Below, you’ll find some of my favorite prezzies for everyone on your list, no matter what your budget might be.

It should be no surprise that among my favorite gifts this year is an Italian workshop. It goes without saying that a trip to Italy for one of my workshops would make a fabulous gift, right? If you know of someone who’s itching to travel, nudge them in the right direction with an AJS Workshop gift card. I’d love to have them come along on next summer’s adventure!

Gift Guide 2017:

Get Happy Organic Body Wash: With scents like geranium and peppermint in this body wash, it would make any receiver happy!


Furla Bubble Keyring: Fluffy, feathery, and fabulous, this keyring is bound to put a smile on anyone’s face. It would make a fun stocking stuffer, too!

Dr. Jart Bright Lover Rubber Mask: These masks are not only fun to try, but they work well, too. As you know, I love a mask, and this one is one of my favorites.


All-Clad Gourmet Slow Cooker: Slow cookers are great to have on-hand in the winter for soups, stews, and other yummy recipes. Add this one to a friend’s repertoire to keep their kitchen chic.

Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker Cookbook: Of course no slow cooker gift is complete without a slow cooker cookbook, and Martha’s is recipe gold.


Salt & Pepper Grinders: Any home chef will love a set of sleek, streamlined salt and pepper grinders. I love the idea of pairing these with your favorite specialty salt for a gift that wows.

Star-dusted Passport Holder: Every jet-setter needs a passport holder. Pair this one with a gift card to one of our workshops for an unforgettable gift.

If you need more ideas for great gifts, especially for the guys in your life, check out Men’s Health and Esquire. Their gift guides were so good, I couldn’t top them, so I wanted to share them with you.

Happy holidays!

xx Annette

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Phase 2 Our Italian Renovation begins

This summer, I took a mini break for our renovation. Now it's time to rev it up again for phase 2 of our Italian renovation.

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This summer, I took a mini break from our Italian renovation. Now it’s time to rev it up again for phase 2. Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to take some time and think. I know for me that better solutions emerge and more functional ideas come to light. In this case, time has really solidified the functionality of the guest rooms and the commercial kitchen area.

Here are some ideas that showed-up for me. The walls in the commercial kitchen will remain deconstructed concrete and stone. The ceilings are already inlaid with wood and are beautiful. We will have white washed walls and industrial lighting. Of course, our giant stunningly beautiful black Lacanche will be included in the floor plan with plenty of room for prepping and demoing. Side note: I can’t wait to start teaching in our new kitchen.

We will have a student lounge that will double as another guest room. There will be a full pantry and a terrace overlooking the mountain views and the vineyard. We will have a large terrace with a shady pergola for enjoying the mid-day sun. It will overlook the kitchen garden.

Stay tuned for more updates as we start this very important part of our Italian renovation project.

I think the next phase of this project is going to be fun. xx



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