‘Unknowingly, we plow the dust of stars blown about us by the wind and we drink the universe in a glass of rain.’
I am honored to share the latest in our series of guest posts on one of my favorite topics – Renovating in Italy. I knew that we couldn’t be the only ones out there dreaming about houses in Italy. Today we are joined by Tom and Colleen who share the renovation of their incredible home in Umbria a medieval Glass Factory – L’Antica Vetreria
What inspired you to renovate this property?
We fell in love with Umbria on our honeymoon in 1994. The next years found us returning again and again, exploring many regions, but our hearts were firmly in Umbria. We looked at places to renovate to create a place for vacationing travelers; daydreaming of what life would be like in this town or that village.
One day from my desk in Seattle, a miracle happened when I found a website of a geometra listing property, one had the title “industrial archeology” being curious, I opened the link. What I found was a vast abandoned 13th century glass factory perched right on the medieval wall of the little Umbrian village, Piegaro, near Perugia. We set off by plane two days later from Seattle to Italy to view L’Antica Vetreria
“Our hearts were firmly in Umbria…”
Can you remember the first time you saw L’Antica Vetreria and what were your initial thoughts?
On a rainy day in April, with the light disappearing we met the owner and walked into a tiny lane way, deserted for over sixty years, broken tiles strewn around, an old iron bathtub abandoned in the narrow street.
Fumbling with a heavy set of keys, Mario opened a padlock to a huge wooden factory door. With a flashlight we picked our way along beams, trying not to fall two floors below, within minutes my mind was racing with plans.
We spent the night in the hotel and when we saw L’Antica Vetreria in daylight, our fate was sealed. This huge space was three times what we were looking for, but we had to have it. We switched gears fast and drew plans for a villa in the main factory, showing these rough plans to the Geometra, Gianni Romizi, he immediately introduced us to the newly elected mayor of the Comune.
It was all happening so fast but we leaped in, knowing it was the right place at the right time with the right people.
“When we saw it in daylight, our fate was sealed”
The History of L’Antica Vetreria
We continue to learn about our ancient glass-works’ rich history, from the people who have lived in its shadow their whole lives. They transport us back to the Middle Ages when Piegaro was at its height of fame with renowned glass masters. L’Antica Vetreria was the first glass factory founded by masters who came from Venice in 1292 and started this amazing tradition that has lasted for over 720 years.
In every nook and cranny of Piegaro there were large and small vetreria, glass factories. Most of the Piegarese worked in them; men and boys fueling the hot ovens and blowing glass, women and young girls weaving the straw fiaschii that gave a base for the hand blown bottles.
“The people who have lived in its shadow their whole lives”
Renovating is a huge challenge. How have you survived the process?
It must be said that we were in the home building business back in Seattle and had renovated homes there. But we are talking wood houses with sheet rock walls. Being in the business, however, prepared us to work with sub-contractors and to make intuitive decisions. But, I must say that the overwhelming motivation was to live our dream…no matter how much bigger this one became!
“Within just a few minutes my mind was racing with plans.”
Your favorite rooms and why?
So many favorite rooms and areas in our massive property: The main factory floor that is now the Villa with the giant arch, the top of the tower with its arrow slit windows; the cozy Cantina, named for the wine barrels left from the 18th century. Being perched on the western wall with stunning sunsets over the panoramic countryside, and right inside a village is living our perfect dream…privacy when we want and life in the piazza just steps away.
“This is where friendships are made and nourished.”
What does ‘Living your Dream’ look like?
My daughter turned 21 the same year that I turned 50. She asked me a question that, when I really ruminated over it, changed my life. “Mom”, she asked, “What is the difference in the dreams you had when you were 21 and the ones that you have now?” The short answer was that I gave up my dream of 21, when life got in the way…the dream to live in Europe. I realized that I still wanted to do that. She encouraged me to follow my dream, and without missing a beat, my dear husband said, let’s go for it!
I think choosing to nurture a dream and making an intentional choice to be open to a new culture has kept us vibrant past our middle years. As we approach seventy, it is a guarantee that we will not slow down.
How important were your team?
We were lucky to meet the perfect Geometra (surveyor) who was adept at managing projects from start to finish, and to find a perfect property. In Italy, what makes or breaks a project is really who you know and what network those people will introduce you into.
That the Mayor took us to meet the head of the cultural committee really sealed the deal. We met several people who unreservedly recommended Gianni Romizi, our geometra and Mario Pagliaccia our main contractor.
It was very important for us to personally source all of our materials: choosing the lighting, fixtures, cabinets, tiles, the 12th Century stone lintel, travertine tile for the pool and negotiating prices. We asked for competing bids on everything and trusted ours and Gianni’s judgment. My husband and I also created the electrical plans for our contractor, specifying outlets,and light switches .
When we were within five months of finishing, I rented an apartment and lived there full time.
“We are still in awe of the devout attention of our geometra, Gianni Romizi, who nursed this project daily for over three years.”
Tell us a little about the fabric of village life. How has the village embraced you?
I knew little Italian when we started, but quickly immersed myself in village life and got very good at asking, “Come se dice” (how do you say) and pointing. We make it a habit to go on the daily evening walk around the village and hang out in the piazza so that we can be in contact with others. In a small village without yards, life is lived in the piazza and in the cafes and shops. This is where friendships are made and nourished.
Each year as we lose an elderly friend, we grieve intensely and each year when new babies are expected, we rejoice. Simple daily pleasures such as sharing a dinner menu at the butcher’s and being given a few extra fresh carrots and parsley at the market is the essence of a good life.
“Living within a village you enjoy the true flavor of Italy”
Many thanks to Tom and Colleen for sharing this wonderful life they have created.
and the gang x