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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Renovating our house in Tuscany

Updated: Jun 2

PART 92. It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps and what we are learning along the way.

We love every minute of it, and what was once a dream is our life!

We live in Tuscany in the Fall, then back again in the Spring, and in California for the rest of the time (in a previous blog, I explained why we live in Italy only part of the year).

Let's explore our experience (so far) of renovating our house in Tuscany.

Step 1: We hadn't planned on buying a house in Italy, let alone renovating one. But at the beginning of this adventure, we decided that life is short and that we would plunge in and figure out the logistics of living in Italy along the way.

In a past blog, we explored how we moved from renting to buying a place in Italy.

So we bought a place and took possession just a few months ago. But it needed renovation, which included creating a second bathroom, completely redoing the present bathroom, upgrading the hot water system, replacing the kitchen, installing heating, painting the interior, and taking care of the leaking roof.

Now that we have completed about 85% of the work let's explore how it is going.

Step 2: Budget and ballpark figures

The first stage of any renovation is deciding whether I can afford it. Knowing that the budget can change along the way, especially when renovating a centuries-old house, we knew that the budget would be more ballpark than rigid, so we decided on how much we could ultimately afford.

The second stage was to gather information. We first spoke with our fantastic realtor (Remax in Abbadia San Salvatore) to ask if creating a second bathroom from nothing would be possible. Since he has a designer on on staff who knows local codes and permits, he asked her to take the measurements, create a blueprint of a complete bathroom within the second bedroom, and verify if it could conform to the codes.

She did, and it was.

The third stage was to find a contractor, whom we found through our realtor friends in our area. We met with him on Zoom from California, described the project, and he gave us a figure for all the work, with the assurance that an estimate in writing would be forthcoming.

He followed through, and we knew we could move forward.

Step 3: Living in the renovation and past experience

Experience is the best teacher, and we lived in our house in Palm Springs while renovating it some years ago. We had already experienced breathing in dust all day, having a bathroom pulled apart, and having a non-functioning kitchen.

It's tough to live in a house being renovated, but our budget didn't permit us to pay for a hotel for three months in Italy, and we knew we needed to be on-site as issues arose.

There were moments in Tuscany when the work and living situation became overwhelming, such as showering at the gym, only having heating in one room, breathing dust, having a non-functioning kitchen for a while, etc., but recalling that we had done this before in the US gave us some strength and insight to keep focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.

Step 4: Going the extra mile

So many things function in Italy through relationships. We learned this during our two years in Puglia and experienced the same dynamic in Tuscany.

We didn't know anyone in the area where we bought our house, but our realtor turned out to be not only the professional who accompanied us every step of the way but also our friend. He introduced us to his friends and colleagues, and soon, we began a network that felt like home.

"Where will we find a contractor for the work?" we asked our realtor/friend. "Don't worry; I will take care of that."

In fact, our realtor took care of many issues that showed his willingness to go the extra mile. From setting up our energy and water bills to finding an architect to locating an honest and professional contractor, he did it all.

Our contractor dove into the project the week after we took possession of the house.

Step 5: Why one must be present

There were times during the renovation when I said, "Can't we just go back to California and let them do the work while we're not here?" But this was more about whining than a decision.

Why? Why must one be present during the renovation of a historical home?

The simple answer is: because of the unexpected.

As our house dates back to the 15th or 16th century (depending on who you talk to), we encountered numerous issues as we opened up walls, installed plumbing, and dismantled the kitchen. These challenges required us to make quick decisions, such as determining how to route hot water to the new bathroom, addressing a wire running across a pipe inside the wall, and choosing a suitable vanity to fit into a narrow space. We often had to rush to Technomat (an Italian Home Depot) or our local builder's supply for information or materials.

I suppose someone can just commission a contractor to renovate a historical home without being present, but one would probably end up redoing some of the work.

Due to unexpected discoveries during the renovation of a historical building, it is essential to be present to make on-the-spot decisions based on new findings. There is no way around it.

Step 6: Changing decisions

When we began renovating our house in Tuscany, we had everything planned out: materials chosen, tile decided, and the scope of work locked down.

But as we moved forward, we started changing our decisions.

It started when we decided that the bathroom pedestal sink we had chosen wouldn't be practical because we needed storage. We then looked at the vanity in the other bathroom and decided against keeping it. Then, the position of the toilet needed to be changed. Then, we decided to remove the bidet from the existing bathroom to create more space. Finally, although the kitchen initially looked charming and historical, it turned out to be impractical for our needs, so we decided it would have to go.

Living in a space can reveal the changes that need to be made to make it more livable, and this is what happened during our renovation in Tuscany.

As issues became apparent, we spoke with our contractor, expanded the work, and braced for the outcome. He always reassured us that he could do the job and that he would control our costs.

He was correct on both counts.

Step 7: Hardships and rewards

Living through a renovation project is tough, especially in a foreign country. The most challenging aspects included trying to maintain a daily routine, having three meals a day, not obsessing over house issues 24/7, staying warm, and functioning without a shower.

However, the rewards of the renovation project have been significant. We've witnessed the transformation of the house taking place around us, had the freedom to make design decisions as issues arose, and have been able to create a home that we feel comfortable in.

Now that the house renovation is almost complete, the rewards definitely outweigh the challenges.

Step 8: Would we do it again?

"What do you think if we would do this again sometime? Perhaps sell this place someday and do a bigger project," my partner asked towards the end of our last stay.

My first reaction was, "No F—-ing way!"

But then I thought about everything we learned and how we could build on our knowledge and experience if we renovated a house in Tuscany again.

Now my answer is…"well….maybe…"

Step 9: Youtube it?

My partner has been capturing a lot of footage throughout the entire renovation process. He wants to create a Youtube series documenting our experience. The series will start with our dream of living in Italy, then move on to our time in Puglia, our decision to move to Tuscany, and finally the purchase and renovation of our house.

Creating a YouTube series is a significant undertaking, but I've assured him that I will support him and even help write some scripts if he wants to pursue it.

We will see.

Insights: Main elements

Renovating a house in Italy involves multiple aspects, including budgeting, living through the renovation, building local relationships, facing challenges, and reaping rewards. It is also important to reflect on whether we would undertake this endeavor again.

I hope others will realize that this adventure is entirely achievable, that life is short, and that learning throughout the process is an integral part of the journey.

More next time.

Now on sale for $2.99: My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

Amazon Italy- my book "Lei mi ha sedotto. Una storia d'amore con Roma":

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May 26
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Please create the video series !

Mark Tedesco
Mark Tedesco
May 26
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Thank you for the vote of confidence! Working on it...

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