Tales from Italy: Restoration Project

Tim Elster had long dreamt of a property abroad, but once he found Tuscany his mind was made up. Now he has ample advice for others looking to take the plunge?


Farmhouse Mancino pic 2Can you tell us about your restoration process?

My farmhouse is about three hundred years old and had been modernised about forty years ago. Structurally sound, it had been virtually stripped of character internally and needed re-roofing for insulation. Inside it was like a modern house with ceramic floor tiles and absolutely smooth, straight upright walls and sharp corners. Fortunately, the chestnut beams had been left alone. We hacked off every inch of plaster and replaced it with traditional lime and animal hair plaster that follows the movement in the walls. The ceramic floor tiles were replaced with reclaimed terracotta. The now beautiful floors and walls hide modern electrical and plumbing installations. I used a local family building firm and local firms of electricians and plumbers, all of whom were properly registered and had participated in the formal bidding process organised by my geometra. A good, trustworthy geometra is vital.

Farmhouse Mancino pic1Where is your farmhouse and why did you choose that location?

My farmhouse is high in the hills of the Upper Tiber Valley in eastern Tuscany near the border with Umbria; my nearest neighbours are about a mile away. The name of my house, ?Mancino?, translates as ?left-handed?, and I assumed it had been named after the man who first owned the house. Much to my delight, I subsequently learned that it had been the secret meeting place of the local communist party. As my father had been a member of the British communist party and had fought in the Spanish Civil War, it felt rather like coming home! I immediately fell in love with the house because of its simplicity, its honesty and its location. The view down into the valley and of the surrounding hills is breathtaking and really does nourish the soul.

How have you found life in Italy?

I spend whatever time I can at Mancino but this is very much less than I would like, as I am still working in the UK. I very much look forward to the time when I shall retire to Mancino as it will be a fantastic location from which to pursue the many ventures I have planned. I lived for many years in southern Africa and my work has taken me as far afield as China and the USA. A nice place near Cape Town had been my plan, but having visited Tuscany, things changed. Tuscany just offers so much; for me, it really is the cradle of civilisation and the Tuscan people are a part of that delight. They are warm, friendly people who look you in the eye, have a firm handshake and are always polite.

Farmhouse Mancino pic 3What advice would you give to other buyers looking to restore a property?

Do it ? you can spend too long researching, so pick your geometra very carefully and then let the local estate agents find the property. Narrow your search down to a fairly well defined area and a fairly well defined property type and then notify as many local estate agents as possible. Location is everything and the geometra is key to everything. I would advise you to use a young geometra who speaks good English and follows planning law to the letter. Use a good local building firm with an identifiable track record. Finally, I found it difficult to find good quality Italian antique furniture that I liked and I could afford and eventually bought and shipped a truckload of Georgian antique oak country style furniture from the UK. This furniture and nicely worn Persian rugs look wonderful in my high-tech but traditional Tuscan farmhouse.