Cons of Renovating a Home in Italy

There is a bright, open kitchen in my dream home. One with a small but functional island that fits two bar stools. In my dream bathroom, there is a bathtub near a window. Paolo’s dream home has a small office with a door he can close. All in all, we’re not talking outrageous dreams. Yet still. They won’t all fit into our small space in Bardonecchia.

Cons of Renovating in Italy

Today Paolo and I went over our second set of plans for our Italian home renovation with our architect. I’d like to share how excited I am with you, but the truth is I’m underwhelmed. Here are the three hardest reality checks most expats will face during an Italian home renovation in 2020.

1. Language Barrier

Italy is in the bottom six countries in Europe for English speakers. While we interviewed just shy of a dozen architects only one spoke “a little” English and he wasn’t our final pick. Which means our architect only speaks Italian.

I realize even typing these words someone is going to comment “What did you expect, you moved to Italy!” Thankfully, Paolo speaks fluent Italian being born and raised in Italy. So our project can move forward while my Italian lessons do too.

Yet still, Americans should know before buying that dream home in Italy, that not speaking Italian is a very real barrier. Options for architects and general contractors with whom you can fully communicate will be extremely limited outside of Milan, Rome, and Florence. Something anyone considering one of those 1€ homes on a remote hilltop town in Italy should be aware of.

2. COVID 19

This week, Italy went into a partial lockdown due to COVID. Italians fear the government might soon restrict free movement around Italy if new numbers of COVID infections don’t start dropping. Which makes architects, contractors, and clients like us concerned about starting a project.

Design meetings, sourcing, reviewing, and purchasing materials, can all be done remotely, but it’s not ideal. Everything just got that much harder. While we are not giving up and putting off the renovation, we are very aware that the timeframe for our renovation is most likely going to slip. We just hope it doesn’t slip so far we loose out on the massive 2020 tax breaks the Italian government is offering for home renovations and improvements.

3. Space Restrictions

Two weeks ago I shared a post called 23 Quirky Differences | Italian vs America Homes. In that post, I pointed out the average size of an Italian home is 81 square meters (871 square feet) while an American home is closer to 2,600 square feet. That’s a huge difference. Especially for a girl who grew up in America like me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a small space. My favorite apartment ever was a 200 square foot gem in New York City. My kitchen was so small I used my dishwasher to store glasses, dishes, pots, and pans. Still, the only thing I missed in that tiny apartment was a bathtub. After a long hard day, it actually made me sad not to be able to take a bath.

I realized today going over the plans with our architect that there are certain dreams I have to give up. In a small space you simply cannot have it all. Like an island or a breakfast counter if I want to keep that bathtub.

Unless your budget is boundless, living in Italy means downsizing what a dream home looks like for most Americans. While Paolo and I still reserve the right to run off to Spain or France for months at a time in the future, this is our forever home. Which makes giving up ideas for our dream home a bitter pill to swallow. Giving up our financial freedom to buy a larger place, however, is not something I’m willing to do. Not even for a bathtub.

What’s the one thing you could never see giving up in your dream home?

Curious to see what we’re working with? Here’s a photography tour of or very 70s home in Bardonecchia, Italy.

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  1. When we moved to France I wanted a house with a big basement and a garden with a wood fired oven. My husband wanted a large swimming pool and we both wanted a view. We have a view to die for and the Domaine has a 50 metre outdoor pool but I didn’t get my sous-sol or oven! However, I wouldn’t give up the view for either and there’s a lot to be said for apartment living.

  2. Definitely check out sites like Apartment Therapy or Pinterest for ideas for small spaces. I’ve got a Pinterest board set up specifically for that while I’m still on a hunt for a bigger but affordable (ha!) living space in the city.

    And LOL, perhaps you should check out the magazine sites from our old job, like Sunset, Real Simple, etc for ideas. I admit I enjoyed browsing the interior design stuff sometimes more than the fashion and celeb publications we worked on. 🙂

    1. Hi Karen!! I’m a Sunset & Real Simple fan too. I was sad to give up my subscription when we moved to Italy but my Mom was delighted to get them forwarded to her. We ended up using Pinterest to gather concepts to show our architects. It’s such a great tool for collaborations. Wondering what things are like in NYC for apartments or condos? I’ve heard there are a lot of people leaving but an equal amount of people moving into the city.

  3. Don’t give up on your dreams – where there is a will there is a way… have you googled Tiny Homes? The things people can fit into trailers, I’m sure there are more options for your apartment.

    1. Thank you Dee! We’re pushing for the best use of the space. I might have to get creative and do an Island on wheels or a breakfast… cart! Not giving up that bathtub even if it’s a freakin barrel. 😂

  4. Thanks for sharing your stories about renovating your place in Italy. I’m remembering a lot of the qualities you’re saying about houses now that I’m living in an apartment that clearly has French influences on the layout and rooms!

      1. I’m living in the Mission District of Calgary which is where the first French mission was. I love it here! Still in quarantine, but my Mum and I know we made the right choice moving here! Whew! I’ll be posting more on my blog once I get out and see more stuff!