Beautiful Sicilian inspired home in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 15:43 11 August 2020 | UPDATED: 15:43 11 August 2020

The garden room, Bespoke mirror; hand made. Console from Conran Shop London, wicker chair by Marston & Langinger (photo: Tony Hall)

The garden room, Bespoke mirror; hand made. Console from Conran Shop London, wicker chair by Marston & Langinger (photo: Tony Hall)

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The Valentis have a beautiful home in Norwich, but it is the garden which has Tony Hall raving

Thank heaven that Norfolk attracts so many creative people. Is it the light, space, freedom - or maybe those big skies? Probably all of those and more.

I have been blessed over the years to meet several of them and certainly Emanuele and Helen Valenti have all the credentials. When my friend Mel asked me if I had ever met the Valentis and seen their stunning Italian garden in Norwich, the answer was no, but I soon did. My apologies to Annie Green-Armytage, Norfolk magazine garden feature writer, for stepping on her toes, but as the pictures show this was an opportunity not to miss.

On a perfect summer’s day, under windless, clear blue skies, I arrived at the house, the front garden giving a taste of the delights to come. It is laid with box hedging with symmetrical gravel paths between, the centre piece, a large flowering antique urn. Emanuele and Helen will be well-known to some readers, as they ran the Toni & Guy hairdressing salon in Norwich for over 24 years.

Inspired by Italian and French formal parterres, the front garden features symmetrical box hedging with yew cones (photo: Tony Hall)Inspired by Italian and French formal parterres, the front garden features symmetrical box hedging with yew cones (photo: Tony Hall)

Emanuele was born in Sicily and moved to Canada with his parents. He became a chef, a skill he uses to this day, then a hairdresser. In his 20s he came to England to enhance his hairdressing skills. He was taken on as a stylist straight away by Toni & Guy in St. Christopher’s Place, London.

Emanuele recalls, “they had five salons so I used to move around, but in 1995 I came to Norwich to set up the salon.” Helen, from London, had a career in publishing but decided on something more creative. Her father was a well-known photographer working for The Guardian newspaper as a press photographer.

The couple met in London and, when they came to Norwich, Helen started off front of house and running the business side of the salon. “Norwich is great fun as a city and we felt immediately at home,” says Helen. “I have always liked a challenge, so I decided to train as a technician and also a colour specialist. I love interacting with the clients and chatting about all subjects, especially film and art exhibitions we have seen. We found this house in 2004 and immediately loved the quiet, peaceful location overlooking woodland.”

Italian cypresses and formal box cubes with antique urns in the Italian garden (photo: Tony Hall)Italian cypresses and formal box cubes with antique urns in the Italian garden (photo: Tony Hall)

“It was at that point,” adds Emanuele, “that my thoughts of creating an Italian garden were born. I had always harboured the idea, as I love the outdoors and open spaces, probably influenced by my childhood in Canada.

“The influence of all the wonderful English gardens stimulated my interest in gardening, as did the grand houses in Palermo and other Italian locations.

“I started my design with Himalayan birch trees, with their stunning white bark, to create an avenue to various garden rooms and corners. Over the years I have scoured antique shops and salvage yards for unusual urns and features and for plants,” says Emanuele.

The living room: Osaka Coffee Table, Habitat. TV chest, Country & Eastern, 01603 663890. Various pictures brought back from Italy (photo: Tony Hall)The living room: Osaka Coffee Table, Habitat. TV chest, Country & Eastern, 01603 663890. Various pictures brought back from Italy (photo: Tony Hall)

“Many are from the romantic gardens at Swannington and Petersham Nursery at Covent Garden, London. Also some items are from the Chelsea Flower Show. The large blue copper urn, one of my favourite items, was bequeathed to me when a neighbour sadly died.

“My nephew Francesco helped me enormously when we created the pergola, which is painted in traditional terracotta. I have been greatly influenced by the garden at Great Dixter and the work of Christopher Lloyd. I like structure and a palette of interesting colours, such as dahlias, roses and box hedging: Classical design, with memories of the gardens of Villa Carlotta on the shores of Lake Como. I have also added little quirky touches, little garden rooms, such as the Japanese room, the Seaside room, the Rose Arbour, the Prosecco Bench, and a G and T Bench, each are garden areas in their own right and making use of shade and sun, so different room areas, like a house can be used at different times of the day.”

Naturally throughout their home, rooms are filled with plants and flowers. “Our favourite rooms,” continues Helen, “ are needless to say the open plan garden room and the kitchen, which take full advantage of our Italian view. Emanuele is always looking for items not just for the garden but our home as well. Before they closed, he found several interesting pieces at Marston and Langinger, including a circular breakfast table.”

Flowering plum from Petersham, surrounded by Marguerite Daisies (photo: Tony Hall)Flowering plum from Petersham, surrounded by Marguerite Daisies (photo: Tony Hall)

To the front of the house, both the living room and dining room take advantage of the formal front garden, as does the master bedroom upstairs. Emanuele still keeps his hand in daily producing wonderful Italian inspired meals, proving he has lost none of his skills.

When I ask Emanuele where they like to go for a day out in the county, I should have guessed. “The Old Vicarage Gardens at East Ruston,” he replies with a smile, “but we enjoy a walk to Whitlingham Park and Broad. When I am not either weeding the garden, or creating something new, Helen and I also like the wide open spaces and skies at Holkham Beach.”

By way of a change Helen adds; “It has to be cultural visits to the theatre and cinema, plus art and fashion exhibitions.”

The design, influenced by Fernando Caruncho, is evocative of the Mediterranean garden architecture (photo: Tony Hall)The design, influenced by Fernando Caruncho, is evocative of the Mediterranean garden architecture (photo: Tony Hall)

I finally ask Emanuele for three defining words to describe his approach to his garden. “Colour, shape and aesthetics,” he concludes.

“I am obviously very proud of this labour of total love, creating my Italian Garden in Norwich.” Which proves the old adage, you can take the Sicilian out of Sicily but not Sicily out of the Sicilian.

Emanuele and Helen in their garden (photo: Tony Hall)Emanuele and Helen in their garden (photo: Tony Hall)

The kitchen from the garden room: breakfast table from Marston & Langinger, mortar and pestle from Italy, terracotta pine cones from Sicily (photo: Tony Hall)The kitchen from the garden room: breakfast table from Marston & Langinger, mortar and pestle from Italy, terracotta pine cones from Sicily (photo: Tony Hall)

Master bedroom: Bedside tables and lamps, Laura Ashley, 01603 505041, stained glass from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (photo: Tony Hall)Master bedroom: Bedside tables and lamps, Laura Ashley, 01603 505041, stained glass from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (photo: Tony Hall)

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Factfile

Owners: Emanuele and Helen Valenti

Property: 1950s detached house.

Built: 1952

Location: East Norwich

Bought: 2004

Moved in: 2004

Professions: Helen and Emanuele are independent hair specialists who ran Toni & Guy until 2018.

Favourite room: The Garden Room and outside The Italian Terrace.

Favourite item: The blue copper urn in the garden and the breakfast table

Favourite interiors shop: Until it closed, Marston and Langinger; now it’s Petersham Nursery at Covent Garden London.

Favourite other shop: The Romantic Garden, Swannington.

Favourite part of the county: Holkham Beach, for the wide open spaces and skies.

Favourite day out:
Old Vicarage Gardens at East Ruston.

Favourite waste of time: Just being in the garden.

Favourite walk: Whitlingham Park and Broad.

Favourite pub: Gunton Arms.

Hobbies: Cultural vacations, theatre, cinema, art and fashion exhibitions.

Most magical moment in the county: “Our wedding day at Rainthorpe Hall, Tasburgh. It was a gorgeous day with family over from Italy.”

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