Mark and Sara have always had a passion for everything Italian and during one of their yearly holidays, they made the life-changing decision to move to Italy permanently. They found a barn that needed completely restoring and took the plunge! This stunning property is in the quiet town of Alfiano Natta, in the Monferrato region of Northern Italy. With sweeping rural views, the property is located a ten minutes drive away from Moncalvo, Italy's smallest city. Join us as we find out more about their renovation and go behind the scenes.
Beautiful Period Barn
When Mark and Sara purchased the barn, they knew a lot of restoration work needed to be done. They hired professional builders to undertake most of the work, but they also got involved directly, learning new skills along the way. DIY projects soon became part of their new life in Italy.
The garden borders a small vineyard of Nebbiolo grapes and a peach farm. Sara developed the garden and created a vegetable patch for enjoying fruit and vegetables all year round. Sara has also become a dab hand at homemade chutney, which she gifts to local neighbours.
"Moving to a new country to make a home and livelihood was quite daunting, but thanks to the kindness and generosity of the local people we are now happily embedded in Italian life."
The barn dates from around 1800, although nobody knows for sure about its history. There were many original features that were saved and restored during the renovation, and some interesting finds along the way!
Vaulted Brick Ceilings
The vaulted brick ceilings were an incredible find and, thankfully, all were successfully saved and restored. The bricks had to first be sandblasted and then protected. They were in a terrible state and were blackened by years of smoke from the open fire. After some research, Sarah discovered the fireplace was used to cook Passata - a traditional tomato sauce for ragu.
Once the ceilings had been restored, the next nerve-wracking process was the staircase installation. A section of the ceiling needed to be removed to make access and there was a possibility of the whole ceiling being brought down! Thankfully, this was also a huge success.
The original ledge and brace doors were also a successful save. They were refurbished and had new latches and handles fitted. Sara wanted to keep the rustic look as much as possible and chose Suffolk Latch Company's traditional thumb latches and pull handles. Hand forged black beeswax ironmongery is ideal for antique doors and retains the authentic period look.
Brick Walls & Secret Finds
To complement the rustic, country style, Sara and Mark wanted to retain as many exposed internal bricks walls as possible. But as the original bricks were old, they not only needed cleaning and restoring, but also protecting from any future degradation. To give the best protection, the walls were insulated externally - this is known in Italy as a "coat". Insulation panels were fitted to the external walls of the house to "coat" the bricks.
When restoring old properties there are always surprising finds, whether it be a tiled floor under an old carpet, or a fireplace behind a boarded wall. For Sara and Mark, there were a wealth of architectural finds, but the most exciting were the discoveries that told a story about the history of the barn. On one of the walls, they found height markers of children - clearly from a family who had once lived there. And in the air bricks, Sara found lollipop sticks with secret messages on them, possibly written by those same children.
Under what is now the open plan living room area, the builders discovered a deep hole and were not sure what it was for. Further investigation came short and Sara thinks it was probably a second world war hiding hole. Did a fugitive or someone running from the Nazi's hide here?
Making a Home
Mark and Sara were keen to make the rooms inviting and relaxing, to include modern luxuries, as well as embracing the history of the property. We asked which part of the property was their favourite room.
"The main bedroom suite is probably my favourite," Sara said, "Because the view from there has never been seen. There was a wall where now there are French windows."
Mark prefers the terrace, which is like an outdoor room in the Spring and Summer months, with unspoilt views to nearby hilltops towns and the sounds of nature drifting on the air.
After getting involved and being hands-on during all parts of the building works, Sara and Mark have gleaned some brilliant tips they would like to pass on:
- Before painting any internal walls, use a breathable, transparent undercoat. This ensures you only have to apply one coat of paint and will help to reduce the overall cost.
- Invest in good quality insulation for the floor, walls and roof. It is invisible to the naked eye, but will earn its cost many times over with your heating bills. Here in Italy, gas and electric are very expensive.
- Keep the builders on site and make sure they complete your project before they take on another one. Once they begin something else, they will lose focus and your renovation will drag on.
- Try to do as much research and decision-making before the builders start. Making decisons as you go along really slows the process down and stops work.
Stay At No. 18 Holiday Home
Sara and Mark have made their renovation into a holiday home in order to share their new lifestyle with visitors. When the world opens up again, why not book some relaxation time at No.18 Casa di Campagna and take in the views. Find out more and make bookings at www.number18.
Follow them on instagram @stay_at_no.18
We hope you enjoyed this holiday home edition of House Tours. For sneak peeks of more House Tours, new product updates and photos of more home projects, why not check out our instagram page @suffolklatchcompany
*Please note prices of products quoted are accurate at the time of the article publication but may be subject to change*
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