Martina Casonato’s Instagram account, The Venetian Pantry, has had its 40,000 followers in raptures for the past two years, occupying a very special place at the intersection of design and culinary craft.
Her posts are, however, about far more than her superlative home design and the sort of recipes that people yearn to recreate. They are a philosophical insight into how to live and eat, and the very essence of home life.
The walk-in pantry, which is the inspiration for Martina’s Instagram account, was our backdrop as we joined her for probably the finest cup of tea Tales of the City has ever been poured.
Martina was born in Castelfranco, a medieval, walled town one hour from Venice. That idyllic childhood setting remains a significant and beloved influence on her life and work to this day, but as an adolescent she felt the irresistible lure of a more cosmopolitan life than her small, traditional hometown could offer.
What was your journey from rural Veneto to London N16?
Between the ages of thirteen and sixteen I went on month-long English language trips to Exeter each summer. These trips were the initial spark of my love for the UK. I moved here in 2012, aged 23. I had a one-way ticket and was by myself. From the moment I arrived, my relationship with London has been, quite simply, a love affair.
I did a master’s degree with people from all over; the Netherlands, Turkey, Austria, Spain, Italy, India. It was everything I had dreamed of after growing up in a small town. My first decade here was spent living on Kingsland Road. Shoreditch is great fun when you are in your twenties, but in my thirties, me and my husband wanted to live in a vibrant, creative community but which feels a bit more grown up, and we were delighted to buy a house in Stoke Newington.
I love this area. It’s a tight-knit community with everything we need. This is particularly true when it comes to sourcing good food, from the fishmonger to a fruit and veg shop that has everything, including, to my astonishment, a variety of radicchio from my hometown, radicchio di Castelfranco. They also have all sorts of Italian varieties like Barba di Frate or Puntarelle, and then we’ve got an Italian deli just around the corner from there which has amazing prosciutto.
What qualities from your upbringing did you bring to your London home?
To consider the heart of a home to be the kitchen is a quintessentially Italian mentality. As well as cooking – my great love in life – we work in this space and entertain here, which is why I wanted a slight separation between the dining and kitchen areas. Big, open plan kitchens with huge windows are understandably popular, but I am excited by designing smaller pockets of action and a dynamism throughout the house and especially where I cook.
It was important for me to create a kitchen space that felt warm, inviting, cosy and not precious. That’s why we chose terrazzo for the kitchen floor. It is an immensely attractive and practical material, and of course it’s Venetian.
I wanted the whole house to be uplifting yet tranquil, a place to decompress and feel calm and relaxed, away from the hectic rhythms of the city.
What makes a good walk-in pantry and what does it bring to your life?
The heart and soul of my kitchen is the pantry. In fact, no – it is the heart and soul of the whole house! I get a feeling from my pantry of abundance and good health. It is nurturing and reassuring.
I designed and renovated the house in lockdown, and I think that experience of scarcity, and the threat of empty shelves, is part of the reason why seeing a well-stocked pantry feels so comforting and adds ballast to your life.
A pantry is about long shelf-life products that don’t go off or wilt in the back of your fridge. There is an element of anxiety with a fridge because there‘s a financial necessity and guilt associated with making sure nothing is left to go off, whereas the pantry is about pulses, grains, nuts, seeds, spices, teas. It’s always there, waiting for you.
When I use the word “abundance” I don’t mean it in a vulgar way because the pantry is full of things which aren’t expensive and mean you can open those doors and know you will be able to make something. You can feed your family. What that does to your homelife is bring this sense of calm and agency in uncertain times.
Looking inside it, is there an element of nostalgia too?
Yes, and that nostalgia is rooted in collecting things on my travels. So, there is some packaging from a shop in Tokyo that is purely decorative, has no function, but reminds me of this beautiful grocery shop we walked into on our first visit to Japan. I’ve got a specific variety of garlic from Sicily hanging in there, which we never used, because I love having it as a memento from that particular trip. There is a copper mould that once upon a time was in my grandma’s kitchen, and there are ingredients that I’ve sourced on my travels, like weird salts and exotic teas.
I believe that a good pantry has an element of telling stories about the places we’ve been and revealing something about our family histories. It stands for what we choose to retain and adopt from our adventures and ancestry.
Are food and design the beating heart of @thevenetianpantry?
For me, food, design, and quality of home life are totally inseparable things. I believe in that, and it is reflected in what I talk about and post. It is also simply about the joy of homemaking and beautiful things. From a social point of view, what I love about the pantry is I see the pleasure it brings to people who are not used to having one. When our guests step into it, their body language is like a kid in a sweet shop. It’s lovely to just observe people interacting with the pantry.
I’m a massive tea drinker, so I always have the kettle on whenever people visit. I have a half of one side of the pantry dedicated to infusions and teas. People sniff and explore and open all these jars and discover things. Nothing gives me greater joy than my friends and guests treating the kitchen as if it is their own. I love it when old friends come and head straight to the pantry. They don’t even ask anymore. I put the kettle on, while they choose their favorite tea or get adventurous and try a new brew.
For me, there is a massively important but rather simple social element to a kitchen, and the pantry in particular. People feeling at ease in your own home is a beautiful compliment and a measure of friendship.
What compromises did you have to make with the house?
There is no project that doesn’t have problems to solve. Compromises and restrictions are a really good source of creative inspiration. For me, that applies both to designing our house and to me and my husband’s work as graphic designers.
When we bought the house there was a large extension wall on the neighbouring house that cast an unwelcome shadow over our patio. That gave us the perfect excuse to apply for 3m partial width expansion, which we were granted because the wall was already here. Had we not had the problem wall we might not have come up with, and been permitted, a beautiful extension for our dining room.
The dining area has its own feel as a result because it’s not in the middle of the kitchen. I really wanted the dining table to have its own separate area, but to still be able to see the kitchen island and the pantry from it. If I’m cooking at the island, I can socialise with guests sitting at the table. I like that dynamic of having autonomous yet connected spaces.
For the passageway that links the living room and the kitchen, I originally had a vision for an Italian orangery, with a lemon tree and a green corner because it’s such a sunny spot. For the lovely wide steps I envisaged there, I planned to use the same beautiful bricks that we used in the garden, to link these two green areas, one inside, one outside. But then we had to add cupboards there to house the boiler so that it wasn’t in the kitchen. Compromises are inevitable, and I actually feel an affection for them, because this is a practical home we are designing, not a statement or an art installation. I don’t want to pretend that we don’t need things like a boiler cupboard and a place to put brooms and hoovers; I just want to accommodate them beautifully.
Where do you get visual inspiration from?
As Kirby Ferguson would say, everything is a remix! I get endlessly inspired by things I come across in the real world, either in London, back in Italy or on my travels. The arched half-doors in our ensuite bathroom were inspired by Hotel des Grands Boulevards, my favourite hotel in Paris. I love entering the bathroom with this ‘tah-dah’ gesture of opening the doors. It’s a more inspiring way to start the day than trudging to the shower!
The look of the pantry doors was taken from a bakery in Paris I visited called Circus Bakery. There was no fluted glass there, but the front of the shop had this wooden structure that I loved.
But the biggest influence on me, other than Italy, has been the London restaurants we love. Two local ones in particular, Perilla and Jolene, have had a big impact on me. Our downstairs loo, which is the pink powder room, was inspired by the Jolene bathroom as well as by the pink plaster and exposed water pipes at the nearby Bib Gourmand restaurant, Primeur. I love the powder room because it’s so cosy. It’s the only room in the house that has no windows, and I embraced the darkness with low lighting.
When it comes to inspiring visuals and places, what excites me is seeing a design or material that makes me think not just how good it looks but how it makes us feel. For me, design is about living well, and food is about feeling good.
Martina Casonato’s stunning combination of design and food can be found @thevenetianpantry