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Contractor Wins Award

Traditional wood-fired Italian ovens are being installed in Northern Virginia kitchens.

<bt>The moment Ellen Zelano’s wood-fired oven was functional during her kitchen remodeling, she made a gourmet, thin-crust pizza for the workers.

“They scarfed it all down before my partner could get there,” said John Schmitt, part-owner of Kingston Custom Builders in Fairfax Station, the company that did the work on Zelano’s kitchen, which included the installation of a traditional wood-fired oven handmade in Tuscany.

Installing these ovens in home kitchens is no longer a passing fancy. The vendor for the Zelano’s oven, a company out of California called Mugnaini, said that their residential sales in North America have doubled in the past year, with several in the Northern Virginia area.

The actual oven that Zelano has in her kitchen was designed more than 50 years ago by Sylvio Valoriano, an Italian who was commissioned by his country’s government to design new wood-fired ovens after many of the country’s communal ovens were destroyed during World War II. The new wood-fired oven that Valoriano designed and patented was much more fuel-efficient and allowed individual families to get their own.

They have since spread throughout Italy.

With rising sales of this type of oven in the U.S., more and more people are getting the opportunity to cook as it is done in the homes of Italy.

“What people find amazing is that it’s completely wood-fired — there’s no gas and no electricity,” said Schmitt, describing Zelano’s oven.

What Schmitt’s peers found amazing is the building feat that was required to successfully build Zelano’s remodeled kitchen and install the oven.

“We like to build things like this,” said Schmitt, who has been a contractor for eight years. “We’ll build anything, I guess.”

For his ingenuity and expertise in what turned out to be a tricky project, Schmitt’s company won a Contractor of the Year award from the local chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“I was happy to put it in because I knew how important it was to Mrs. Zelano."

THE OVEN CAME assembled and crated, weighing about 4,000 pounds.

“I felt we needed a crane to get it in, but we ended up using a forklift,” said Schmitt. “In retrospect, I would have used a crane.”

Because the oven, fully assembled in the crate, was eight feet tall and so heavy, Schmitt had to create angle irons to “carry the weight and distribute it across the floor.”

“Not only did we have to install the oven, but we had to build the chimney,” said Schmitt. The chimney for the oven, which was triple-walled, rose about six feet above the roof when completed.

“We also had to make sure the air conditioning was up to snuff in there because of the heat,” Schmitt said.

Zelano, a teacher at Corcoran College of Art and Design, says she loves to cook and uses the oven for all sorts of dishes.

“Anything you can put into a regular oven, you can put in there,” Zelano said. For the past two years, she’s cooked her Thanksgiving turkey in the oven.

“I guess the idea was that at my age I wasn’t going to be getting a new kitchen, so I thought it’s now or never,” said Zelano, who uses the oven most to prepare pizza and roasted meats.

“It’s a little bit over the top, I have to admit that,” said Zelano, who moved from Herndon to Falls Church in 1981.

“It looks like a pizza oven and that’s what she calls it,” said Schmitt, describing the Zelano’s new oven.