Just a note: A wrote this article earlier this week and, for a variety of reasons, almost didn’t share it today. Then I was reminded that there’s a dear friend out there who has been key to our house search and life in Lucca. This friend has shared his expert advice, come to our rescue more times than I can count, and encouraged us every step of the way. I know he as excited to see this last round of possibilities as I am to share it. You know who you are and this one’s for you, with all the loves.
This image may seem an odd introduction into this final round of contenders for our property search in Lucca, Italy. Don’t worry, there’s much house-hunting voyeurism to come below, but first I thought you might be curious to stand with me and gaze through a window from this semi-nomadic, stranger-in-a-strange-land life that Matt and I have chosen. This image, taken just last week, perfectly sums up how these last few months have looked and felt.
The sweet life is out there. If, and only if, you can see past the red tape.
A friend in Lucca recently commented that I was keeping everyone on tenterhooks with these property search updates. And, she’s not wrong, but trust me, that’s not by design or choice, really. I like suspense as much as the next person, but this time around the property-purchase process has been complicated, often to the point of comedy – or, is that catastrophe? – and it has dragged on for far longer than we ever expected.
I think most people who know Matt and I consider us to be positive and straight-forward, but I tell ya, through this process, we have had to gut-check ourselves over and over again. Once we decided on a property – aka “the one” that set our imaginations to spin – we made an offer back in November. The offer was contingent on a relatively-minor, yet crucial repair, which was accepted, so we moved forwarded to the initial closing (in Italy, property purchase is a two-step process), and scheduled the final closing for Spring.
Hooray! We were very happy and excited about the decision. It just felt right, like the instant connection with a person; we were drawn to this property from first sight of the front door. The sellers agreed to our requirements in writing, and we foraged ahead. We “constructed” our timeline, carefully, and with intention. (insert belly laughs here). Italians, foreign residents, and any other being who has ever spent more than a few days in Italy, is shaking their heads in amusement at this notion. In our little brains, we had designed it so there would be two months of overlap before leaving our current home to move into our new home, meaning we could begin renovations on the new, while still living in the old.
Oh, how sure we were this would work. (more laughter here, I know). We patted ourselves on the back for learning lessons from the last renovation project when we cohabitated with dust, dirt, and chaos and lived without a kitchen for three entire months. This time around, we wouldn’t have to exist within an active construction site. We would go to the new apartment every day to work on projects alongside the contractors, yet go home in the evenings to a comfy, calm space, with working kitchen and, hallelujah, a functioning bathroom.
We were especially excited about this plan because it would allow us to say farewell to that beautiful little apartment with the great view, during the magic early Spring days in Tuscany. We would celebrate the “last hooray,” enjoying wine on the terrace with friends and savoring every minute of this place we were honored to have renovated and called home for these last three years. Then, we would welcome the new owners with open arms to their new home as we moved on to our new home. Planning perfection, right?
But, then…well, nothing happened. And, I mean, nothing. At least, nothing good, regarding the agreed upon repair to our new home. Months rolled by, then before we knew it, March was approaching and, for a variety of reasons and multitude of excuses, the issue wasn’t addressed. We made the tough decision to postpone the closing, even though the delay would cut into our renovation timeline.
As you can imagine, that process has been a wee bit stressful. Matt and I can normally take things in stride, but the senselessness of this situation has pulled at our sanity’s every lose string. “Are we making the right decision?” we wondered, time and again. And, there were times when I almost feel like we forgot who we are and began to doubt our own judgement.
Thankfully, we have the BEST team by our side, including our real estate agent, geometra, and notary, to remind us that even though buying a property in Italy – or any country for that matter – isn’t for the faint of heart – Matt and I do have the heart for this process – along with that essential and intangible mix of courage and crazy, in equal measure. We’re here to chase dreams, after all; even, when that means breaking through that red tape barrier to reach that sometimes-elusive little fairy known as la dolce vita.
Which brings me full circle to this, our current view. “What’s happening here?” you might ask. Well, a few days ago, in our “old” apartment, we woke at 7:30 am to the sounds of tapping on glass. “Is someone outside our window,” I mumbled, in sleepy delirium. As the knocks grew louder and became full-on knocks, I realized it was coming from outside our balcony door, three floors up. I raced to the door in my pajamas to find two construction workers staring inside. In rapid fire Italian they explained that we needed to immediately remove everything from our balcony. “I don’t understand! Can you repeat that, more slowly, much more slowly?” I begged, still hoping this was a bad dream. We soon learned they meant to rip the entire balcony off, all the way down to the flooring. Apparently this project was discussed at the last condominium meeting which we didn’t attend. So, like it or not, our “last hoorah” in this sweet little apartment took an unexpected turn, down a crazy-messy and stupidly-loud road. In our PJs, we stood on that balcony for what it turns out was the last time, briefly taking in the morning view alongside the workmen who would become a constant presence in our day.
There would be no glasses of wine on the balcony to bid farewell. There would be no last looks at that mountain view. In fact, there would be no daylight moments, nadda, without the bang and buzz of construction ringing through the apartment.
Allora. (My favorite Italian word, which has many meanings, including “Oh well” and “That’s just how it goes” and often, “You’ve got to be f-ing kidding me?!”) Allora, allora, and allora. You plan. Life laughs and says “Hey, watch this.” You whine about the unfairness of it all. Life sends a couple of Italian workmen to assure you that it can get worse, much worse.
But, what are you going to do, right? We’ve loved calling this beautiful apartment “home,” and goodness knows, we have soaked up much of the sweet life on the balcony while immersing in that incredible view. We’ve done it up, I guess you might say. And, now, it’s time to move on to new views – and, naturally, much more construction.
Okay, that’s a really long intro to say…here is the last round of contenders in Home Search Lucca!
Let us know what you think. Hope you enjoy the views!
The Proud Papa
We have been stalking this particular neighborhood for months. One day in September, I set out on a run to once again explore the area which is centered around a restaurant popular for what’s known as pranzo di lavoro, or the worker’s lunch. As my feet pounded the pavement, I noticed two familiar figures – who have been highly important to our life in Lucca – seated on the restaurant’s patio.
“What are you doing all the way out here,” the eldest of the pair asked. Should I tell them, I wondered. This father-and-son team of plumbers have saved us time and again during our last renovation project, especially when it came time to create the new bathroom. Reliable, easy-going, and sincere, every renovator out there knows that’s more rare than a double-rainbow-jumping unicorn.
“We are thinking of buying a new place and starting another renovation,” I said, then held my breath, hoping they wouldn’t leave skid marks as they ran for their work van to get the hell out of there. But, they didn’t run, in fact, they dug in and wanted to know all the details (which is no easy feat for me to relay in Italian, but I did my best). “It’s a good idea, you need more space,” the son said and smiled.
The very next week, we heard about a house – an entire, single family home – for sale just a few doors down from that restaurant and not far from one of the best bakeries in Lucca, a pharmacy, and a gelateria, all within easy walking distance. Surely, our plumbers would approve.
This place oozes curb appeal. We were drawn in by the sweet front porch and mature olive trees and couldn’t wait to see inside. Then, the front door opened and out came an older gentlemen with a young man’s joyous smile. He welcomed us inside warmly and wanted to share every detail with us. And, oh, the details. The interior was spotless and elegant, with marble floors throughout, large windows, and a good layout and flow. In the back of the house, there’s a completely separate apartment, garage, and laundry room.
And, then, there’s the garden – the enormous 2,220 square meter garden! There are dozens of fruit and olive trees, a built-in barbeque, and canopied entertaining area.
We could see why he was proud of this home he had worked so hard to create. It’s a beauty.
Location: 20-minute walk into the center of Lucca. Located in a serene neighborhood, though very near one of the busy roads.
Size: 243 meters, huge yard with fruit and olive trees.
Renovation Potential: This is one of those “fine line” places. As is, the price is too high to rip out the kitchen and bathrooms and start again, even though it’s not to our taste. However, the bones are so good that a facelift and lipstick may do the trick.
Pros: This place feels good, you can tell it’s been honored and cherished. The attention to detail is amazing, from the floor work to the painting.
The outdoor space is incredible considering how near it is to the city. I can envision the gatherings we would host in that yard and around the barbeque pit.
And, of course, how wonderful to have that great café and bakery within a block’s distance!
Okay, at this point, we really must laugh at ourselves. Our quest for space has lead us time and again into gigantic properties which leave us asking, “What would we do with that much space?”
Are we ready to be the caretakers of fruit and olive trees?
A Noble Floor
Matt thinks this is a shameful confession, but I’ll tell you anyway. I choose wine based on the label’s artwork. Likewise, I’ve bought many an album and book for no better reason that cool cover art. I figure if a musician, winery, or author has the good taste to choose compelling artwork, then there must be something interesting there. And, that’s what led us to this apartment. I noticed an extraordinary piece of art hanging on the wall in a photo for this listing for a doctor’s office housed in a prominent palazzo in the center of Lucca. I didn’t really pay that much attention to the details, I just wanted to see this giant collage of photographs titled “50 Faces of Juliet” in person. “Let’s go see it!” I told Lorrain. “But, you said you aren’t interested in living in centro?” she replied with a huff.
As we walked to the viewing, Matt asked me about the apartment and, with every step forward, as he realized I really didn’t know much about it other than the intriguing artwork in the listing’s photos, he began huffing, too.
“How big is it?” he asked.
“Hmm, I can’t remember,” I replied.
“Do you know what floor it’s on?”
“I can’t remember, first, maybe second,” I muttered. “But, wait until you see the artwork!”
When we arrived, we found so many interesting and distinctive features that were not mentioned in the listing – because surely I would have noticed and remembered – right? It’s a bit of joke, but this is very much a re-occurring theme of the property search in Italy. More often than not, listings are vague and uhm, let’s say “light” on details. Rarely does a listing reveal what’s special about a particular property. And, when it comes to photos, most listings feature images so dark and blurry you wonder if the goal is to keep prospective buyers away. But, I digress.
Back to cool features: we soon learned that this property is what is known as a piano nobile. In the 15th and 16th century in Italy, the homes of fine noble families would often reserve the floor above ground level (known as the first floor in Italy) as the space exclusively for entertaining guests. Typically, these floors in a home would feature extra large windows, hand-painted frescos (like the beauty above), and large, open spaces for socializing.
Turns out, the cool artwork was just the beginning.
Location: On one of the busiest streets, smack in the very heart of Lucca. The building is a corner-lot and the apartment is in an L-shape, ensuring much open space and light.
Size: 215 meters square.
Renovation Potential: Because this space has been utilized as a doctor’s office for years, the kitchen and bathrooms (which have been used as storage space) are total gut-jobs. There’s another pink tile disaster of a bathroom and in order to create individual rooms for 3 different doctors in the practice, there’s strange partitioning of spaces. The floors don’t appear to have been cleaned since the last time guests arrived by carriage.
The rooms are huge, with soaring ceilings and windows the likes of which you’ve never imaged. Even though it’s in the center of town, it’s a corner-lot, L-shaped apartment with windows overlooking one of Lucca’s most beloved churches and squares.
Did I mention it’s right in the heart of Lucca? Right outside, there’s a church, school, restaurant, and bus stop. The street, one of Lucca’s original Roman-era thoroughfares, is bustling with visitors and locals alike. Our entire goal has been to find more serenity, not bustle.
Yet, another pink “vintage” bathroom to endure.
The Even-Pinker Palace
What’s the universe trying to tell us? We cannot seem to get away from the color pink, whether it be the exterior of a home, the popular “vintage” tile from our current bathroom (and, it seems, every other bathroom in Lucca), or this explosion of pepto-pink, inside and outside of this otherwise lovely and interesting duplex property.
Time and again, we’ve gravitated back to this hilltop neighborhood just outside of Lucca. Monte San Quirico is what you think of when you think of Tuscany. With rolling hills and cyprus trees in every direction, Lucca’s fanciest estates and villas are located in this area.
Location: High on a hillside, with stunning views. 20-minute walk from the center of Lucca.
Size: 220 meters square
Renovation Potential: Really the only changes here are cosmetic – and, believe me, a toning-down-powder could work miracles. For starters, we would repaint every inch of the space and de-pink as much as possible.
Pros: Out of all the neighborhoods we’ve viewed, this is definitely our favorite. It’s on a hillside near the city, with incredible views of all the goodness we associated with Tuscany: Cyprus trees, vineyards, mountain peaks.
All the benefits of a “stand alone” property without the worry and expense of a traditional single-family-home.
It’s located next door to an elementary school, which means it’s chaos during morning drop-off and afternoon pickup. Plus, I’ve spent my entire life avoiding screaming children. Do I really want to belly up to class loads of them?
Okay, wooee, that’s a wrap! You’ve seen 9 properties, each distinctive and promising. So, what’s it gonna be? Which do you think is our “one”? Cast your vote! Anyone who guesses the correct answer gets to help us paint! (Kidding. Maybe). Perhaps we will treat you to a glass of wine in the soon-to-be new kitchen of our soon-to-be new home….because, actually, we closed a week ago and began renovations the very next day…giving us exactly 8 whole days to do as much work as humanly possible before we must move from “Apartment Great View” into “New Home Lucca.” Allora, we’re off and running, as always!
And, we are head-over-heels in love with the new space and can’t wait to share pics with you. Coming soon!
Meanwhile, here’s a cheers to big views!