‘Frustration can disappear very quickly when you’re surrounded by silence’
It’s hard to imagine a more metropolitan-minded couple. Kyre, originally from California, has worked in set design and creative direction in New York and Milan. While Ivano, a former graffiti artist who has collaborated with major international brands, once owned a clothing store in Italy’s fashion capital. So when they abandoned their urban lives and moved to a tiny village in Sardinia, their friends thought they were crazy. Six years later, Kyre and Ivano sit at the helm of Pretziada (‘precious’ in Sardinian) – a successful creative project that explores the particularities of the island they call home, with the mission of showcasing the excellence of local artisans in an innovative, modern way.
What made you want to move away from the city?
KYRE CHENVEN: Initially, it was very banal reasons such as more silence and a better quality of life as parents. But it was also the idea of a new start, and a slower rhythm that would give us time to reflect and think. We do love cities and all they can give, we just feel we get much more from them as visitors on vacation while living full-time in the country.
The interesting part was to develop a survival strategy. We’ve always lived in cities and worked in creative areas, so we knew we needed more from the countryside than just lavender plants and peace at night.
We had to find a way to blend country life with our metropolitan souls; a way to use all our skills, knowledge and interests and have them come together in one project. We realised that project was going to end up being our daily mission. We probably ‘work’ way more than we ever did in the city, but work is life and enjoyment now. That’s how Pretziada started.
Can you describe what Pretziada is about?
KC: We have one sentence on our business card that says: ‘Pretziada is an interdisciplinary project combining the worlds of design, journalism, photography, craftsmanship and tourism.’
In Sardinia there’s an incredible heritage of crafts that is not well known outside of the island. It was very home-based, with people making excellent products like tapestries, clothing and knives, all from their basements. You didn't buy things from other people; it was more about how good you could get at doing it yourself. There’s a strong personal sense of excellence.
The first step was to introduce Sardinia to the world. We started a journal talking about all the things that are particular to the island. From the very beginning the idea was to work with artisans and have designers come here and create something that was based on Sardinian life.
How has the rural surrounding influenced your creativity?
KC: I think you get to a certain age where you can find coolness in everything. Moving here was freeing because it removed all interference. You don’t have to be constantly reminded of what everybody else is doing. You can give the right weight and time to certain projects and be influenced by your natural aesthetic and interests, and that’s really refreshing. I don’t know if we could have done this 10 years ago. The silence that you gain helps you find your voice in a lot of ways.
IVANO ATZORI: In cities you have to deal with constant distractions and expectations. Those are probably the biggest limitations for the creative process. Most young people here are desperate to leave – they need to escape, they need contamination, and they need to be surrounded by crazy noise. We’d had enough. I think our minds and bodies were not able to take any more.
How did you adapt to life in the countryside?
KC: When we decided to move to the countryside almost everybody who knew us said, ‘this is crazy, you guys are out of your minds, Ivano is never going to survive.’ He was such an urban person to people. Nobody could wrap their head around the fact that he might be able to live somewhere outside of the city.
But one of the first things that we both realised was that when you have a difficult moment here you can just take a walk outside, or go to the beach for a swim. It may not get to the root of the problem, or change your existence, but it’s amazing to see how much you can calm yourself when you’re allowed to.
Frustration can disappear very quickly when you’re surrounded by silence, and it’s a total gift to have plants and animals around. I feel like when you’re in the city you constantly have to be protecting yourself against your surroundings in a way that you may not even recognise.
I think whether you’re happy living in the countryside has a lot to do with figuring out how you want to spend your free time. There are those who feel more comfortable spending their free time on a metro observing the people around them or distracting themselves. And then there are people who feel exhausted on that ride home because they feel they need some sort of physicality to their life that, in modern times, we just don’t have any more.
What have been the biggest challenges?
KC: Of course we have doubts sometimes. But being surrounded by magical nature, excellent food for a reasonable price, and a community always ready to support you, helps us remember that our society started from these small agricultural beginnings and now we understand why.
We wouldn't suggest it to everyone. There are simple comforts in the city that we take for granted that make life so much easier. Here, a blown fuse can take three and a half days to fix: 15 phone calls, ten trial and errors, and four trips to the nearest city. And maybe that one blown fuse means you have no running water or some other modern necessity. But if you are willing to trade that for the ability to really be alone with your own mind and the people you love, then this is a great life.
IA: Our rhythm is still the urban rhythm. I remember in the first 2 years I used to hate going to the greengrocer because I’d get trapped for an hour in a beautiful conversation about vegetables. I was like, ‘I’m wasting my time here. I need to go back, I need to respond to emails.’ I’m getting better though. You have to – otherwise you’re going to hate it.
Have you become more accepting of the local pace?
KC: Something that you learn very quickly when you are running your own business is that there’s a difference between putting in the hours and getting quality work done. I could sit in front of the computer for 5 hours and end up with nothing at the end of the day. And it would have been much more productive for me to continue building the rock wall outside.
Do you give yourself permission to take these kinds of breaks from your work?
KC: We’re getting better at it.
IA: It’s something that I do quite often. It gives me more satisfaction. Unfortunately, it’s not really helping financially.
KC: But Ivano, I find you often come back inside from working on the rock wall for example with more ideas than if you had been sitting in front of the computer.
In cities you have to deal with constant distractions and expectations. Those are probably the biggest limitations for the creative process
Does the weather affect you?
KC: The weather is way more influential on how you spend your day and your year than it is in the city. The heat can be extreme. Sometimes we have large amounts of rain and things get flooded. In a way it’s a more archaic way to live because you have to have a real connection with nature.
It’s not idealised like, ‘I’m going to plant lavender and then collect the flowers’. It’s more like, ‘there’s a snowstorm and I can’t get to town because no one dug out our road. I’m going to have to live in my house for the next week.’
IA: You need to accept it. If it’s raining, you’re going to arrive at your appointment wearing shoes covered in mud. If it’s 45 °C outside, you need to rest otherwise you’re going to get sick. You’re not able to work because your brain doesn’t work. It can be very frustrating feeling like you can’t produce.
What’s your approach to social media?
IA: We don’t have a personal account, but for Pretziada it is necessary to say we exist. We have even sold pieces by posting a nice picture on Instagram. We are cut off from the world geographically so there is not a lot of contamination during our day-to-day life, but Instagram is like a window to the world.
KC: You can use it to make connections that you otherwise had to be travelling the world to make. Next week a ceramic artist from Brooklyn is coming to our area. It’s sort of a coincidence, but she followed us on Instagram, and we’re going to have dinner together. It’s fascinating when you can have real high quality connections through something that seems so superficial.
How easy did you find it to connect with the local community here?
IA: Well, we moved to a community that, for the last 2,000 years, probably hasn't changed that much. We are outsiders for sure. Aliens, compared to the locals [laughs].
You need to have a constant appreciation for everything they do. That’s the easiest way to be included.
KC: It’s not hard to be amazed by the incredible olive oil that your friends make when you’ve never done it. I think the main thing is realising what everybody can add to your life. Being able to remember the humanity in everybody is one of the huge things that helps keep me focused on what we’re doing.
Our situation is very particular because Ivano speaks Sardinian. Even though everyone here speaks Italian, the fact that he spoke Sardinian and was from a nearby town made it a lot easier.
Another big advantage is that we have children. That gives you access to people. We have made some really good contacts and connections with people, and sometimes we feel closer to them than some of our longer-standing friends in cities.
Frustration can disappear very quickly when you’re surrounded by silence
Do you ever feel people are less open-minded than in the city?
IA: Sardinian people are particularly curious. When they see something moving differently, or being coloured differently, or acting differently, they just find a way to get close to it.
Cities are contemporary ghettos. I don’t think you can grow as a human being if you’re not talking to people that are different to you. In the city it’s really difficult to have that opportunity because you just surround yourself with people exactly like you.
KC: The biggest surprise to us was when friends would come to visit and say, ‘don’t you get bored?’ When we’d go back to visit them in the city we realised that they were all going to exactly the same shows, talking and working with the same people and, in a way, moving in much smaller and less varied circles of people than we interacted with here. It was a real wake-up call.
It’s fantastic to feel like you’re talking about broader things, that you’re talking about life in general. I think more than anything you start to make connections between things that otherwise can be difficult.
How often do you visit cities?
KC: Not as often as we should or we’d like to, probably. Maybe three or four times a year. If I only lived here it would feel stifling. What’s amazing about this day and age is being able to feel like you have access to all these different worlds even though you are based in the countryside. It protects you.
IA: Of course I do miss the city sometimes, but I also need to remind myself that it is always there for us. It’s very easy to get in touch with the city environment or atmosphere. But it’s not that easy to live in the city and be close to the countryside and the opportunities it brings.
This piece was originally featured in City Quitters. You can purchase a copy here.