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Aosta Valley

I converted a farmhouse...

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Originally published on www.welove2ski.com


The story so far:
Back in December 2005, Jay Nagley and his partner Maria decided to buy an old farmhouse in the Aosta Valley, in Italy. It took a year to fight through Italian bureaucracy, to reach the point where they actually owned it. Then they applied for planning permission... which took another 18 months.

Finally, in July 2007, they got permission to rebuild - right in the middle of the summer holidays and not long before the first snows of autumn. Could anything happen before 2008?

September 2007
We're back in Italy, and approach the house with trepidation - will there be any visible progress, or have the builders decided to defer major works until the following spring? The answer is obvious from 100 metres away - there is a huge hole in the ground where the derelict annexe used to stand. Peering in to the hole, we are amazed to see a scene from a "What not to do" Health and Safety video. To get the correct floor height in the annexe, the builders have excavated below a five-metre retaining wall that is holding an earth bank, but have not supported the wall in any way: the only thing still holding it up is habit.

We tiptoe away to look at the rest of the house. Internal walls have gone, ceilings have gone, but it is hard to discern the logic behind their schedule. Our major concern is the ground floor of the main house, which only allows just over 2 metres ceiling height, rather than 2.3 metres that is now standard. We wanted the builders to excavate the ground immediately, as we reckon the best approach is to deal with the biggest problems first. The builders take the opposite view - get lots of straightforward jobs done to show progress. After a bit of negotiation, they agree to try excavating the ground floor next.

The other major problem is car parking. We have never really found a satisfactory place to park six cars on land that slopes at 30 degrees. Eventually, we decide that the only sensible approach is to dig into the earth bank above the house and build six garages. The only problem is that it obliterates the path a neighbour uses to access one small field, so a radical solution is found. We will rebuild the path on the roof of the garages, creating the "Autostrada di Gignod": a concrete flyover in the middle of a field. The neighbour chuckles at the idea of the crazy English - and we can't say we blame him.

November 2007
Who needs Polish builders? Just take some Italian ones, add espresso, and watch them go! In the last two months, the roof has been taken off, the walls raised, and then the roof put back with new beams. The outside walls, plus roof, of the replacement annexe are in place and the interior has a new three-storey central staircase. The whole building is just a couple of weeks away from being weather-proof, meaning the winter snows will not cause major problems. The builders even report that excavating the ground floor will not be a problem. We are thrilled - suddenly the completion date of October 2008 looks, if anything, pessimistic. At present, everything seems to be going our way: one unexpected bonus is that the constant movement of equipment on to the site has widened the path from the width of a Fiat Punto to the width of an HGV. That's one less job for us to do.

We spend the afternoon in an Italian tile shop: this dream is starting to feel very real...

January 2008
January 2008... what happened to Christmas? The builders appear to have worked straight through. New internal walls have started to appear and the ground has been excavated for the south-facing conservatory. Although we agreed the internal layout months ago, we want to check it still makes sense now that we can walk around each apartment. We are keen to avoid the standard French apartment feel with walk-in wardrobes masquerading as bedrooms. We had originally hoped that we might get six two-bed flats, but we decide to make the smallest apartment (about 55 square metres) into a one-bedroom flat so that everyone gets a sense of space.

February 2008
With the building approaching completion, the big question is what to do with the land outside. Christian, our architect and project manager has been talking to our neighbour and a deal is in the air. Instead of building the "Autostrada di Gignod" to give the neighbour access to his land next to our house, we might be able to swop some of our land furthest from the house for his land next to the house. We decide to leave most of the negotiations to Christian: our dealings with the neighbours when we bought the place ended in a six-hour shouting match.