Experience the best of the Piedmont region
Let us introduce ourselves. We are a Finnish couple who came to Italy to escape Finland’s long winter. We found lots of sunshine, happy people and harmony in daily life – and a lovely historical winery. When we first arrived at località Visette, we knew at once that it was our home. We were charmed by the peace and calm of the place, the vicinity of the village, the courtyard surrounded by vineyards, and the snow-capped mountains on the horizon. We decided to stay and turn this wonderful building – whose walls resonate with the history of Piedmont and Barolo – into a guest house. We want to continue the story of the house, leave our mark on it and give our guests an opportunity to do that too.
You can read about the renovation project in our blog below.
Sari & Petteri Laine,
Guest house Visette
Being a communications professional, I have organised and brainstormed numerous customer, stakeholder and personnel events. My aim has always been to create events that are distinctive and a little different. It’s all about the details! This is also my objective at Visette.
I’m a keen tennis player, and I definitely wanted our house to have a tennis court. You’re welcome to play tennis with me – my racket and shoes are always waiting by the door.
The story of an old winery
We didn’t find the house and our new home by accident, just driving by – our home has a long, partly bumpy history. It includes moving to Italy, laboriously studying the language, spending weekend after weekend in house viewings. And when we finally found the house, making an offer, negotiating the price, endlessly waiting for planning permission… But in between the bumps, the road has been smooth. There has been lots of dreaming, leafing through interior decor magazines, planning with architects, picnicking in the sunny front garden with building materials all around us and enjoying wine in the company of friends. Now we are finally here, the plans are ready and our house is being renovated. Our new home is waiting to be finished.
The opening of Casa Visette is nearing at an alarming speed. Alarming, because matters and decisions can no longer be postponed for weeks, everything has to be done here and now.
Workmen are bustling around the house daily like ants in their anthill: we have painters, layers, electricians, gardeners. They all have a pile of questions when we arrive at the house. It’s understandable. Now we should have taken months off from our actual jobs and just remain at the house deciding on all the small details. So we’re not there. We have to trust our magnificent workmen. Up to now, their decisions have been stylish, thus we’re in good hands.
We spent the children’s winter holiday week in Monforte d`Alba and a few days skiing in Sestriere. On the example day at the house, we decided on the wall colours, tennis court surface and the faucets and sinks in the toilets and bathrooms. After such rigmarole of decisions, one is quite wiped out and barely has the energy to drag oneself out for a drink at the town bar.
Therefore, a few days of skiing was in order. It takes a few hours to drive to Sestriere from our house. There are also other ski centres in the vicinity, as the area is extensive. The sun was shining, and I forgot about the renovation worries for a while.
I’m choosing faucets in the courtyard
Clearing our heads in Sestriere.
Cantina waiting for the doors.
The entrance to the wine cellar
From the kitchen to the cantina
The house from the pool.
Testing one of the fire places.
Everything in the house is old, from every corner of the found old tools, logs, wine barrels and original wooden doors. The oldest part ot the house is probably few hundred years ago, no-one really knows. Some of the old goods transferred directly to the landfill. At the same time we were trying to save on everything worth saving. In particular, we are attracted by a recycling of old timber structures and slabs. We dismantled, for example, the old oak wine barrels into boards, which final use will be decided during the project.
We wanted to use old materials as much as possible, as they exude the history of the house and create a place of permanence during the turmoil the house is facing.
Rossi brothers – our geometra and his brother, who takes care of the construction – saw at once what we were aiming at. The yard was piled into neat stacks, old tiles, used bricks, logs and old iron window frames. From there, they picked up little by little to be used in different interior design ideas. The level of handicraft is really high. In particular masonry as most of the original roof tiles and stones and bricks will be re-used. This gives the original feeling of the Visette as the house has been in the good old days!
In a long project, you have to celebrate simple things – like finally having a roof on the house after two years! No more rain inside or heat escaping, thanks to proper insulation boards made in Switzerland. The boards are made of wood fibre, and they are 20 centimetres thick.
The roof is built by hand. Timbers are lifted to the roof one by one, with the assistance of several men. One end of each beam is placed on top of the ridge beam as a joist, while the other end is bedded in the longitudinal wall. A layer of planks is laid on top the beams, which is then covered with a new set of beams, roof insulation and waterproofing. Traditionally, roofs have not been insulated at all; roof tiles have been installed directly on battens. No wonder it’s been cold in the winter and gas consumption has been high.
Energy efficiency is a top priority for us in other respects as well, and we pay attention to the insulation of the walls, windows, roofs and doors. The whole house will be faced with an insulating material which should significantly lower annual heating costs. This is also encouraged by the government: all energy-saving solutions make us eligible for substantial tax allowances. They can add up to thousands of euros every year.
We’re going to install both solar panels and solar collectors on the roof. The former will generate electricity for the geothermal heat pump and other equipment, while the latter will have water circulating through them, to be heated by the sun and used to heat the floors, swimming pool and domestic water.
Over the course of the spring, summer and autumn, the following were completed: the frame of an annex, the exterior of a sauna, a swimming pool and an underground tunnel that starts in the cantina. It was great to see tangible results. The permit process was so protracted that the whole project sometimes felt unreal. But now concrete lorries are pouring in.
Two and a half years have passed since the plans were approved. Actual construction has lasted for a year, and we estimate we still have a little over a year to go. The aim is to have the interior finished by Christmas 2016.
In the summer of 2015, Hugo’s team laboured in blistering heat. When we visited them to say hello, I quickly retreated into the shade. The men just took their shirts off and didn’t seem too bothered about the weather.
Craft work is highly valued at our building site. Old bricks were removed from the walls one at a time, and all other dismantling is also done by hand. When the heat was at its most oppressive, we set up a parasol and one of the men worked under it, cleaning bricks – a task that took more than a few days to finish.
Although we have had our own trusted supervisor for the project, we visit the site at least once a month to check on what has been done. These are rather routine meetings, since the project outlines have been approved and carefully specified at the design stage. We mainly communicate by email.
Architect Kuosma and construction guru Saku Sipola sometimes accompany us on our inspection visits. Usually the plan is to examine the house, explore the surroundings and play a few rounds of golf – although we’ve never got that far. Rather, we’ve concentrated on evaluating local agricultural produce. For the workers, visitors are a welcome change whose presence is clearly appreciated: they clean up the place, seem to get on with their work faster than usual and try to make a professional impression in every way.
Finding the house was a long process, but redesigning it took even more time. We argued about a number of details with the municipal engineer: where we could put windows, how large they could be and what they could look like. In February, we were suddenly notified that municipal bosses would assemble the following week to decide on the fate of our project. We waited in limbo for the decision the whole week.
We had no idea how large a role politics, personal relations or sheer luck played in getting the designs approved. When you are building in a foreign country, you are at the mercy of other people, and you just hope that no one is cheating too much. Luckily, the council – which has a reputation for being very strict – gave the green light to the project. In the end, only minor changes were required.
When the plans had been approved, it was time to pick a construction company. That was an easy enough choice: we settled on Hugo, our project manager’s brother. Hugo is always cheerful and friendly, and he never objects to our decisions. Instead, he tries to find a solution to every problem.