De Ja vu, our foolhardy project continues!


Here I am , it is minus 5 or 6 outside and I am standing in my fenile (hayloft ) in half light dust is flying everywhere as I try to focus on the job in hand.

the upper barns fenile are on each side behind the fancy brickwork.

The Fenile are on the upper floor, each end behind the fancy brickwork.

Yesterday after much encouragement from the builder we finally agreed to let him loose in our upper barns. We are quite aware that we need to press on with this renovation as this next phase will include our rental rooms. However we have had quite a good break over the last few weeks which has given us the insight into how life will be after the builders have gone. We now have quite a beautiful and comfortable place to live and we have been  enjoying the luxury. This makes it a huge effort to start the renovation again especially as the dust has started to fall from the ceilings of my smart house and my daily chore is to continually clean and clean and clean.

So back to the job. There is OH, Nicolo, the builder and I in the half light peering into this enormous space like a large black hole from the galaxy. All excitedly trying to plan its future.

You see this is worthy of a grand design programme on channel 4 Uk , Kevin Mcloud eat your heart out. We have broken every rule, yes we started with an architect but we soon parted company ( amicably) took over the designing ourselves and now completely control the project.

Early in the restoration we found ourselves a geometra and changed builders to our choice. OH does the labouring, me all the translating,ordering and dealing with various tradesmen.

cement, dirt all just outside my backdoor

cement, dirt all just outside my backdoor

We do all this on very little funds which now and again keep running out which stops us for a few months till we can save enough to continue pushing forward.

Even worse we are doing this in another language to our own which at times we are not always comfortable with. In fact quite often we feel as if we are standing in the pitch dark staggering about to find our way forward.

The craziest thing of all is that neither of us has had any previous  building experience so we are absolutely naive but  I do think this helps.

making a hole is easy! it what to do with it next!

making a hole is easy!   It is what to do with it next!

Our builder  does not spend his time sighing and shaking his head, he is quite inspirational and very positive, all ideas get credibility even if not put into fruition.

I can see Kevin standing rubbing his hands outside our shack of a farmhouse condescendingly telling the cameras about this crazy couple who break every rule but still manage to continue on.

sometimes it is hard to keep smiling

sometimes it is hard to keep smiling

We have found over the years every problem big or small can be overcome. OH,’ s favourite saying when I am torn between which bill to pay first is

” can they shoot us at dawn”.

of course not and most things are easily resolved. This build has taught us that anything can be achieved if you want it enough.

Most of our design drawings are done on A4 sheets with a biro doodling usually with OH, myself and Nicolo sitting around the table where everyone’s input is listened too,.

we have many of these

we have many of these

We take advice from our geometra who keeps us within the law and obviously reigns us in when things become too fanciful. Especially since June 2015 when we found ourselves in a newly designated UNESCO area which makes it particularly more difficult for permissions.

We have learned to salvage everything nothing goes to waste as it may live another day. Bricks, old wood, sinks, even old rusty nails, Pani our maestro bricklayer loves them.

Last night we were using our other weapon, a spray can which we use to mark out the rooms , doorways, partitions  etc.

How useful is a spray can

How useful is a spray can

We stood up in the cold discussing the usage of the space trying to avoid wastefulness. Ideas were bandied about for balconies, bathrooms, waste pipes, electrics and so on. Why do we need fancy architect designs when we can stand with spray can in hand actually visualising the rooms in their full complement.

Lets face it we had an architect who managed to design a roof for our house  without chimneys. Unfortunately the farmhouse has 3 fireplaces and although OH pointed this out to the builder on numerous occasions during the build. His warnings were ignored until a week before completion when we were asked “where would you like the chimney stacks to be sited.” Funnily enough we said over the fireplaces.


Then it became an enormous and costly job to ourselves to put things right.

Us with our spray can and our A4  can overcome all. We see it , we discuss it, we take advice and we make it happen.

a spray can can be so useful

a spray can is so useful

my 100 spray paint becomes a window with a perfect view of the vineyard

my spray paint becomes a window with a perfect view of the vineyard

After our meeting in the hayloft I spent a full night thinking is there a better use of the area, what can we do to save money maybe less arches, less windows , less doorways. Although this at times maybe tempting there is one thing that we are totally relentless with NO compromises this place is to be the best we can achieve.

It has not been unknown for things to completely change course in a day, like when we were renovating the cantina we all decided it would be a great idea to put a rustic fireplace in the corner of the room. One day Nicolo arrived excited with an A4 drawing in hand of the design of our new fireplace. He had found a second hand stove in a good condition with a beautiful large glass door to incorporate into the chimney, He said he had done this amazing deal with its owner and said it was a steal.  I was sent with one of the young workers to collect and pay for the said item. We were instructed to wait in a car park at a nearby town where the deal would be done. Unfortunately the owner or the stove did not appear he had apparently changed his mind, maybe he also thought the deal was to good to be true or even worse he may have been selling someone else’s property without their permission. We will never know. There we were left standing with a huge empty van in the middle of a car park like a couple of fools.

Plan B there is always a plan B, Nicolo is never phased” We can have an open fire I have just the thing in my yard do you want to come and see.” he says.

I tell you it needed much imagination to work out how a load of cast iron and huge fire bricks one with an enormous crack down the centre could be changed into anything like a handsome open fireplace. Nicolo saw the negative expression on our face and said keep faith in me, believe me, when Pani gets this it will be fine.

It was hard to visualise this could make anything beautiful

It was hard to visualise this could make anything beautiful

We returned to the house all bits carried in the rear of the van to be met by a very  enthusiastic Pani who immediately set about the job. And what a job simply stunning.

The fireplace in the cantina

The finished fireplace in the cantina

Moreover the chimney pulls amazingly well and it does make a romantic spot for a cosy dinner on a winter evening.

The handle for the air vent

The handle for the air vent

They even asked the fabbro ( black smith) to make a handle in the shape of a bunch of grapes which open and shuts the air vents.

So on that particular day we started with one idea and finished with another even better.

We are open to all ideas, changing course and retuning, we do have a sort of idea as to what the finished project will be.        well !  at least OH says he does !! rather convincingly. Me I do spend a great deal of time floundering in the dark or checking the Italian dictionary to work out the meaning of the last two words the builders shouted to us.

Happy days they have returned and the build continues.


Please note anyone who is intending to take on a project such as this in Italy,  you must get the professionals ( an Architect or a geometra) involved before you undertake any restoration. We also have found living  on site although very difficult at times has paid huge dividends.

2 thoughts on “De Ja vu, our foolhardy project continues!

  1. Jenny

    Hi Julia

    Have just discovered your blog. It makes very interesting reading for us as we are thinking of doing the same, albeit with a much smaller property (a barn in the Aosta valley). Best of luck to you with your ongoing project and please keep writing about your adventures :). PS You don’t know of an English speaking geometra in the Aosta area do you?!

    1. Julia Gilmour Post author

      Hi Jenny
      Thankyou for your comments I am glad that you found my witterings interesting have tried always to write exactly as it is. I do have many more stories but these days i seem to be very busy. I teach English at a group of Secondary schools so at the moment they demand my time. The exams are soon so then I will be able to give more time to update the blog. Unfortunately the Aosta is a good hour and a half from here, we do not know any Architects or Geometras in that area. The best advice I can give you is to make sure the person you use is local it really helps to open many doors. It is still very parrochial here and they frown upon bringing in outsiders even if it is just 10 kms away. If you read the start of the blog about the roof we did start with English speaking Architects but very quickly parted company. (when they speak English they charge a premium and we still had huge translation problems or rather interpretation problems.) These days we deal with everything in Italian it has worked far better for us. Maybe you have some contact who could do the translation for you. I do not know whether you have read Renovating Italy’s site but it maybe worth asking on their site or Italian community magazine. Good luck if I can answer any questions for you please ask. Incidentally where are you from ? If you are passing by please come and say hello we are always happy to give a guided tour of the renovations. regards Julia


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