If the thought of having a major renovation in your native country scares you, doing the same thing in a foreign country should terrify you. In your home country, you have a basic idea of how construction is accomplished merely by having lived in houses (or apartment buildings) for your entire life. Where do light switches go? In the US, are outlets for grounded plugs (3 prong plug, which also accommodates a 2 prong plug) or is a GFCI? If you turn on a faucet, the left side control gives you hot water and the right side control gives you cold water. Where can you put windows?When you are dumped into the alternate reality of renovation in Italy after decades spent in the United States in multiple houses, it is a journey of startling revelations. In Italy, plugs that have three prongs don’t plug into all of the outlets that have three prongs even though it looks like it should fit. Even plugs that have two prongs which are seemingly spaced like the two outside prongs of a three-prong plug don’t plug into some of the outlets. Most floors are tile in Italy, but bullnose tile for baseboard molding is not an off-the-shelf item. If you have been thinking of moving to a house in Italy, or even purchasing a vacation home there, you will probably have to go through at least a minor renovation and more likely will have to experience a major renovation to get the house of your dreams. The older properties, with the charm of architectural details which are appealing to us foreigners, are mostly very run down. Those properties which are newer and have been redone are redone in what I call a style of modern Italian sensibilities—usually that involves a lot of shiny surfaces and modern design elements, not necessarily “modern” in foreign terms.If you are a foreigner, even if you are in the building trade in your home country, you need a guide through the renovation process in Italy. Vignaverde is an excellent choice to provide the guidance. If I had not had Vignaverde to hold my hand through the process of renovating, I would have given up and returned home. It is necessary to have someone who understands not only the Italian component of the renovation, but understands where you are coming from.A first area in which Vignaverde was indispensable was in shopping assistance.If I were in the US, I would go online to find places to shop for things like tiles, doors, plumbing fixtures, etc. Unfortunately, most stores in Italy in Abruzzo do not have websites that enable me to know where I need to go. Since I was living in the United States while the renovation was occurring, I could not spend a lot of time driving around and talking to people about where to go to buy things on my trip here to buy things for the construction. I didn’t have months to discover and round up what I needed. I was here for a short trip and needed to go and make my selections in a short amount of time. Some of the places that I was taken might as well have been on Mars. The place where my beautiful handmade interior doors were made was off a road which was down a road which was hidden by trees and not advertised anywhere, even as I drove up to the place. I had to go to three different places for my stone kitchen counters; the one that had what I wanted was in a small town (among hundreds of small towns) that I might have stumbled upon after living here for half a year. A second area in which Vignaverde was indispensable was in having a larger than life partner nicknamed Pino.Pino is Vignaverde’s geometra/architect. I had the vision for the house that we chose—which was a stone house built sometime in the last century and needed a major renovation. Pino not only saw my vision, he enhanced it. He helped lay out a floor plan that I would have been incapable of seeing because I was not aware of all options available in rearranging rooms. He suggested some dramatic second floor windows that completely opened up that floor and made it a spectacular space. He knew how to expose some of the interior stone walls to give it the character that we moved to Europe for. At all times, he listened to what we wanted, made suggestions (accepted when we didn’t like those suggestions, although there were very few that we didn’t like), and explained when we wanted something that was unreasonable. The thing about Pino is that he is willing to contribute as much or as little as you want from him. We relied on him heavily for our design, but we know someone else who used Vignaverde that was an architect and simply presented him with floorplans for their house, which Pino then executed. He is one of the few people on earth that I might trust to lay out an entire renovation and design plan with a minimum of input from me.A third area in which Vignaverde was indispensable was in our translator/project manager Silvana. Silvana is from Great Britain. Having undergone the transition from life there to life here, and having experienced a major renovation herself, she was better able to understand what we were going through and where she needed to support us. Sometimes we were shocked by the difference between “norms” here and “norms” at home. For example, there was a problem with the plaster on one of the interior walls that we felt was too rough. It was extra money to get it done. Because part of the walls was exposed, the original quote was only for what the contractor felt needed to get done, which was a certain number of square meters of wall. He had thought that what we felt was too rough was ok, so it was not included in the original quote. (Pino actually went and measured the number of square meters which had been done to verify the charge.) In the US, the exact number of square feet is known, and the quotes are easier to pinpoint—“partial walls” is not a concept there. Silvana explained the extra charge to us. If we had not had Silvana and her local knowledge as an interface, the resulting misunderstanding would have created a nasty, adversarial exchange between us and the builder (in two different languages). Throughout the process, Silvana was there to interface between us and the builder, and to sometimes explain to us that what we were experiencing was not someone trying to rip us off (always the fear of the foreigner), but merely a difference in approach between Italy and outside Italy. She also ran interference for us with some of the vendors—for example the kitchen supplier, the tile supplier.There are always bumps and delays in any construction project, but Silvana gave her all to minimize the rough ride. I also have to commend Silvana because she went above and beyond our business relationship to help us settle in. She showed us where to shop for fruit and vegetables, she helped us find a doctor, and she gave us tips on where to find things after we had moved into our house. A fourth area of strength for Vignaverde is the builder that they used for the bulk of our work, Cavaliere Casa e Design, a company formed by Angelo Cavaliere and his son Pasqualino. They were top notch. We had several people go through our house after we moved in that were also thinking of relocating here, and everyone marveled at the quality of the plastering and other visible aspects of their efforts. Cavalieres did not always meet deadlines for starting something, but when we were living in our house and having a second phase done, we were amazed at their work ethic. The start date was postponed a couple of times, but when they showed up, they showed up at 7 every morning and they worked until 6 or 7 in the evening, with a (for Italians) short lunch break of no more than an hour to an hour and a half. We were happy that we waited for such diligent workmen who provided what we feel is a superior product.Anyone who tells you that everything is smooth in a renovation project is lying. Anyone that tells you that every single thing comes out exactly the way that you want it is also lying. However, I can say that, looking at my house and looking back at the process, I would use Vignaverde again in a heartbeat.
Becky & Jim USA 9th September 2018