Picture an old house, on a hill, in the lush Italian countryside, completely surrounded by vineyards. Sounds idyllic, right?
Especially if you’ve seen or read “Under The Tuscan Sun” you’ll already have indulged yourself in a fantasy of doing up a house in Italy. Read this superb article in The New Yorker if you’re under any doubt of the power of this perceived paradise.
My move to Italy was nothing like that. I arrived, knowing only that a winemaker would be putting me up for a few months. I knew nobody else in the area but when you are working harvest, you don’t have time to be bored! I had thrown caution to the wind and let fate decide my future.
As it happens, the order in which things worked out for me is very different from that commonly portrayed in the films: only once I was here, did I meet the dream man (meaning that I chose to stay in Italy.) Then the puppy arrived (she found us) and that prompted me to settle down but she now rewards me daily with her company and then the house, which is our current project and the point of today’s blog post.
For the sake of keeping Under The Tuscan Sun film within two hours, no mention was made of the hurdles of legislation that you’re going to have to jump through when renovating a house in Italy.
Let’s do a quick quiz to see how realistic you are!
So imagine that you are the new owner of this dream-house. Because it is actually close to falling down, you have to do some renovation works on it. You have an architect, engineer and a trusted workforce. However, the local comune has decided that this old house has “historical value” and therefore must be protected.
Question 1: What can or can’t you do with this house?
a. Because the house is protected, there’s nothing much more you can do than a few cosmetic touch-ups. It’s protected after all.
b. You can restore the existing structure and build a relatively large extension for your guests once they come to stay in the finished house.
c. Demolish the building completely but you have to build it again to the exact, same, precise dimensions.
Question 2: There are tons of building regulations in Italy and an expert from the comune will come to check that the works have followed the proposal to the last square centimeter. What changes or exceptions are allowed?
a. You can use these renovation works to put a door where there was previously a window and vice versa…
b. Ok, you don’t want a really large extension… but you would like to put in another couple of rooms, which would correspond to an increase of roughly 25% in terms of surface area.
c. When rebuilding your protected-but-demolished house, you can raise the height of the roof a certain amount but only to put in earthquake protection measures and isolation panels.
Question 3: In Under The Tuscan Sun, Frances Meyer found a wonderful, original fresco in her villa. In this old country house, what did we find?
a. Authentic mosaic flooring.
b. Absolutely nothing exciting.
c. A dead goat’s skull.
ANSWERS: In all three questions, the answer is the final option. You can demolish an old house as long as it is rebuilt to spec; we’ve only been able to raise the roof for the cement anti-earthquake structure and, yes, we found a goat’s skull!!