As sure as porcini appearing ten days after a rainstorm, the winter real estate sections of the FT or the New York Times inevitably feature a couple who has bought and renovated a house in Tuscany, making it the center of their leisurely, but culturally rich and intensely social lives. I can only marvel at how quickly they assimilate, how friendly they become with the quirky but helpful, open-minded locals, and how thoroughly they live the dream.
“Dale and Lori Hutchinson had always longed to buy a house in Tuscany, and while they own other properties, they now consider their house here in Lerigno, an out of the way corner of this beautiful region, their one true home.” Dale and Lori came to the Tuscan real estate fad too long after the publication of Under the Tuscan Sun to get anything within fifty miles of civilization. They come for the middle two weeks of August and not a day more.
“Lori’s passion for nature and all things Italian meant that she felt at home here from the beginning. ‘Here, we can be close to the land. We grow our own vegetables and the children play in the fresh air all year round,’ Lori explains.” Lori speaks Rosetta-Stone Italian to her gardeners, without realizing they’re Albanian, while the kids hunker down in the basement media room.
“On the outside, Dale may seem like just a successful business man, but he is passionate about wine, having amassed an important collection of vintage bottles from Italy’s top regions, and has lately been cultivating a small vineyard of his own.” Dale tried hoeing, for twenty minutes, then went back to booze.
“They initially bought and renovated a house in the neighboring town of Molieto, carefully preserving the medieval façade while opening up the interiors and choosing important modern furniture in clear, neutral tones.” There are more expensive ways to get that Pottery Barn look and feel than by going to Pottery Barn. Outside, they covered the high-maintenance stonework with a coat of slick, beige cement that is visible from Perugia.
“That project was a multi-year collaboration with a leading Milanese firm that has since been chosen for a series of notable restorations in the Italian lake district.” They overpaid by €100,000. No architect ever set foot on the building site. The firm quickly re-focused on its Russian clientele.
“Soon after the Hutchinsons finished refurbishing the house, a kindly farmer next door mentioned that a larger, older property in Lerigno had just come on the market. ‘We bought it the following week,’ Lori says.” The locals aren’t stupid.
“This larger property was originally a monastery, with a cathedral-like room and a grand hearth at one end, around which the priests all slept.” Mrs. H has no idea what medieval buildings or priests were like but suspects human sacrifices were involved.
“The bottom floor is where the animals were kept.” And bestiality.
“‘When pilgrims stopped in, they joined the priests around the fire to take nourishment, or in individual rooms, to pray.’” Yes, dear.
“The house was more expensive to restore than the Hutchinsons had originally estimated, and the project took five rather than two years.” The locals are more than not stupid. Lori’s hot.
“‘It took a while to develop a rapport with the workers,’ Dale explains. ‘But eventually, a great sense of mutual respect evolved. They appreciated my vision, and my love for this area, and I of course revered their skills.’” Mr. H is a slow learner, but eventually he coughed up the right amount.
“Getting approval for remodeling a building of this historic importance was quite a challenge. The town rightly wanted to protect its historic patrimony.” Dale greased the wrong politician, so they got the pink marble jacuzzi, but not the pool.
“For centuries, the monastery’s sheep were herded into the lower level barn-like area at night.” When the Hs visited the house that first time, he thought she farted, and she thought he farted…
“To get rid of the smell, the architects proposed an insulating structure around the ground-floor stonework.” They turned to construction techniques developed in Chernobyl.
“‘To be doubly sure that we wouldn’t have a problem with odor,’ Dale explains, ‘they used air circulation pockets to keep each enclosed section isolated and dry.’” It still stinks. And leaks.
“A vacation home in Italy provides Dale and Lori with the ideal environment for enjoying their wide circle of friends.” Lori and Dale are rich and indiscriminate, a combination that causes anyone they come in contact with to stick to them like glue.
“Every August, Lori hosts a luncheon to raise money for restoring the roof of the town’s church.” The Italians are all at the beach, but Belgian, English and German tourists happily ash on Dale and Lori’s lawn while scarfing down Bon Appetit’s idea of a Tuscan buffet, before high-tailing it back to their agriturismi, to dive into their olympic-sized pools.
“Overall, the house is an example of the perfect marriage of modern technology with the totally-preserved beauty of authentic Tuscan living.” La Cornue, Sub-Zero, and beige.