Having renovated multiple properties in Australia Lisa Chiodo is now on her second in Italy. She lives the rustic life (really, really rustic) in a hamlet at the foot of the Alps in Northern Italy. Featured on House Hunters International, this Australian family are the slightly dysfunctional version of Under the Tuscan Sun.
Q: What are you doing now?
This is our fourth year living in Italy; in this time we’ve been busy restoring the Borgata, welcoming guests to our loft apartment, and helping others with the process of buying a house here in Italy through our website.
Our aim is to build a community feel in the Borgata, and to have guests experience a rustic life in the mountains. With two houses and out buildings still to restore we have a big project ahead of us.
We hope our project will give people an opportunity to experience rural Italian life. To feed the animals, pick the vegetables from our veggie garden, apples from our orchards, to experience the simple life with us.
So many readers of the blog have asked for a book, so that is underway and a release date is planned for June 2017.
Q: How did you come to this place in your life?
We left our beach lifestyle in Australia (our home was a street from the beach in sunny Qld) for the mountains of Italy. It was actually in a seminar when the presenter asked the audience to think about what they really wanted in life that we both leaned forward at the same time and said “Italy”.
We Googled ‘cheapest house in Piedmont’ and ended up buying it for a song; this story has actually circulated through the valley and often gets repeated back to us.
Q: What else have you done – and is there any connection between then and now?
We bought our first house back in 1999 for 50k, and the bank manager thought I wanted the loan to buy a car. This was the first of many houses that we bought, renovated and then sold for a profit including a previous one in Italy when the kids were one and three (we lived in Italy for two years that time before returning to Australia).
Neither of us wanted to work a ‘normal job’ and renovating was in our blood (Sam’s family built their own home and I grew up with a mum who loved to renovate). Both of us had many moves as children so the idea of moving country held no worries for us.
Q: What has been the most difficult transition in your life? How have you managed that?
Leaving a beach lifestyle in Queensland where we were easily able to renovate and sell houses to create income for an unknown future in Italy with no income was a stressful time for us. In Australia we had a network; we had a system and a proven way for us to make money.
We left all that behind; with the sale of our last renovation in Australia we had a limited amount as a safety net for Italy, and after that we literally had no money. This caused us to think on our feet, forcing us to create opportunities rather than waiting for them.
Our second year here we created an apartment within our property to give us a little income. We were also featured on House Hunters International and along with the readers of the blog the viewers of the program kept us booked out.
We still have to think outside the box to get by. I see our time here as a long term investment in our family and we live a very simple lifestyle, growing our own food and making do with what we have.
We really are living a very simple life in the mountains of Italy.
Q: What has worked for you during transition and reinvention that you can share to help others?
My husband and I are total opposites; he is super organised, always thinking outside the box and loves nothing better than to be cooking a big meal for friends to enjoy. I am far more relaxed and don’t really stress about the multitude of rules and regulations here in Italy, apart from when they impact on our children.
So having this odd balance in our relationship has worked for us – most of our friends and family never thought we’d last.
Even through our worst times I have always known that things will work out, forgiving, creating and then recreating our life together with that end goal always in mind.
Q: What drives you to keep going?
It’s a certainty, knowing that we move towards our dream each day; I couldn’t move back to Australia now. I love our life here in Italy, not knowing what each day will bring, sharing with guests and readers of the blog, having people tell me that we inspire them to follow their own dream – all of these and more keep me passionate, keep me going through the tough times.
Q: Who do you admire? What motivates you? Why?
Without question the person who I admire most in the world is my Mum. She has such an inner strength, and is fiercely independent. My Dad died very suddenly just before Christmas when I was four years old; he was only thirty-eight. He left a widow with three children; myself, my brother then eight, and my older brother aged twelve.
Many years later she married again, to a man who had a gambling problem. We lost our house, our pets and our innocence, and my Mum was forced to declare bankruptcy. Once she took a quiz in a magazine related to things that are stressful and she had been through them all including the death of my brother five years ago and the death of our son in 2000.
Q: How do you re-energise when you feel yourself slipping?
For me it’s all in the small moments; to re-energise I like to wander, to notice the world, the people, the daily little things going on around me. Often if I’m feeling down I’ll sit in my favourite café and just people-watch and write, creating little stories about the people that catch my eye.
Connection is my way to re-energise; connection with nature, with life, with the little moments of my life, to be outside in the sunshine, to slow down, to sit back and quietly watch life going on around me.
Q: What have you shed from your life that you were happy to see go? How did you do that?
Looking back on our life in Australia I see how tied up we all were with ‘the system’. I spent much of my time in large shopping centres, and I could wander for hours window shopping (we never had any spare money).
My husband had a nine-to-five job that he wanted to escape; our children were slipping away into the school system that I felt had no interest in their unique talents. In fact when I asked one of our son’s teachers how he was doing at school her reply was that “he is going steadily backwards”.
After that I knew our move to Italy was the right thing to do.
Q: What gives you the greatest satisfaction now?
My greatest satisfaction would be watching our children grow and develop in a new country.
Our daughter is totally fluent and when she started high school the teachers thought she was Italian. It was in English class – after putting her hand up with all the right answers – that her classmates finally let the teacher know that she is Australian.
Our son Luca, who is now 12, has high-functioning autism; he has a helping teacher with him at high school to help with the language.
One of the most moving moments of my life was hearing my 12-year-old son sounding out words and reading a full sentence. A whole new world is opening up for him; he has been unable to read at all until this year and even though he is reading in Italian and has a limited understanding of the meaning, he’s finally reading!
Q: What ‘rules’ and/or cultural expectations have you ignored or thrown off in order to be where you are?
Having a child on the spectrum and then taking him out of the system in Australia caused much ‘discussion’ with friends and family. Most gave us dire warnings; he’d fall behind, he’d not get the same level of support, and we were doing the wrong thing for him. I don’t remember many positive comments about taking him out of the school system.
We totally ignored this advice. I knew in my heart that we were doing the right thing for our family. I’ve never been one to follow the accepted advice given to parents of kids on the spectrum; if I had we would have stayed in the one house, never moved, always driven to school the same way, but none of this made sense to me.
I remember the vice principle at our children’s school in Queensland telling me that we’d be back within a year, and basically that our children would suffer. I’m happy to say that we proved her wrong. Our children were out of school for almost a year with the transition, which gave them time to adjust to the move.
Q: What advice would you give to another woman who is 50+ and feeling a huge pull to do something outside of ordinary, whatever that looks like to them?
Many of my friends are 50+ and I see in them a longing for change. They often tell me “Oh I’d love to do something to change my life but I’m not brave like you”.
Yet I’m not brave – we have problems, young children, limited finances, but we never gave up on our dream.
Our dream was to renovate a village in Italy, to create a community, to share what we learn, to live a simple life and leave the rat race. We still have a long way to go with our dream, but the wonderful thing is that we move towards it every day, not as a driven goal-type thing, rather as a simple love of what we hope to achieve and a passion for sharing what we discover on the way, both the ups and the downs.
Meet Lisa and her family online at ‘Renovating Italy’. www.renovatingitaly.com