David Turner & Aileen English - Bedford & Santa Domenica Talao

It wasn’t a home in the beginning but it is now. We had decided to look at Calabria in April 2008 and with the aid of Google and not much else, we went on an inspection trip with Tony, didn’t go anywhere else, and found the house we wanted in Santa Domenica Talao two months later on our next trip.

We weren’t sure we wanted a renovation project but what swayed us was the “before” and “after”. We looked at some wrecks and saw a finished house which looked, without exaggeration, fabulous.

The house we bought was basically a two storey house on top of a basement with a log store, bread oven etc. The basement opened up on to the road on one side and backed up against rock on the other. This is fairly typical in hill villages where houses are built on slopes at the edge of the village.

We spoke, at some length, to Antonello, the architect, and Salvatore, the builder. The whole building was reasonably watertight but in poor condition. What Antonello was able to show us was that by removing the floors and raising them we could create a three storey house. Because the house is in a conservation area we couldn’t raise the roof level or significantly alter the appearance, but we wouldn’t have wanted to. We now have a three storey house with a roof terrace partially sunk into the roof.

There are two advantages in a total renovation. Firstly the price is attractive and secondly because nearly everything needs doing there is no temptation to say “let’s leave that the way it is”.

With the setting of different floor levels, all the balconies had to be replaced, and all the doors leading on to them. This led on to the outside being re-rendered. We now have a three bedroom house with two bathrooms.

Antonello and Salvatore priced the work item by item and the initial price of €91000 rose to €99000 as our specification changed slightly and extra work was needed digging out and creating the new ground floor. The quality of the building work was excellent. I fitted the kitchen on to a vertical wall, and with a square corner; definitely a first. Everything worked first time, and we never arrived during the build to find nothing had happened, or the builder had gone off in a different direction than agreed. Communication was good, with Tony as project manager, and we had regular updates and photos between visits.

Problems versus plus points? The problems were mainly of our own making. We found the lack of choice of finishes, other than tiles, a disappointment. An example was the bath. We wanted a free-standing one with rounded ends. The only one we could find was a superb Villeroy & Bosch at 3000 euros, so we bought one in Bathstore for £250. This led us on to quite an adventure. We bought a large van in England and filled it with furniture, a flat packed kitchen, solid oak flooring, shower screen, beds etc and drove it 1500 miles to Santa Domenica. We could have sourced everything locally but now we have a house that was affordable and is exactly the way we want it.

The plus points were starting in the Scalea area. House prices can be higher if you move significantly up or down the coast. We were also lucky to find an agent who offers a service after the purchase, and has become a friend, and the skills that we encountered with the renovation were excellent. We now have a house that is genuinely a second home.

David Turner & Aileen English - Bedford & Santa Domenica Talao