We Bought A House in Italy

My apologies for the radio silence over the last couple of weeks. It coincided with the Easter Holidays, the last mad rush of the builders finishing and, well, a short trip to Italy where, as some of you may already know, we signed the papers for a house in a lovely village near Turin.

We have dreamed of owning a place here since we first met nearly 30 years ago and this is the culmination of that long-held dream. I will talk another time about the buying process and the practicalities but for now I thought you might like to have a look around. Most of the images here were taken when the family was still in residence. We have bought some of their furniture from them but the current decor is fairly dilapidated and everything needs updating.

It was almost exactly a year ago that we first saw this house in a small village in the hills of Turin. It was our second house-hunting trip and we had already seen a Liberty Style villa, a remote farmhouse, a country estate and this was the last on the list. We had been very focused on online searches to really make the most of our weekend viewing trips concentrating on a different style and location each time. This was the one we were most excited about. The day before we were due to meet the estate agent, we drove up to have a look from the outside.

As we stepped out of the hire car it was pouring with rain. The house is on a corner and we headed off in different directions peering over the fence and trying to see what it looked like inside. Minutes later we met back at the corner. We both had wet faces and it wasn’t the rain.

The following day we met the estate agent as planned and wandered around inside. It was being sold by the five children of the elderly resident who had moved in with her husband and their first child in 1964. She now lived there with her 22-year-old granddaughter who was looking after her until the house was sold.

It’s no exaggeration to say we fell instantly in love. It’s also no exaggeration to say we spent six months trying to talk ourselves out of it. We were in the process of selling our London townhouse to move to a smaller cottage so we weren’t in a position to make an offer anyway. It was too big. It would have to earn its living as a holiday let, a space for interior design trips, location shoots, brand events, cooking schools and writers’ retreats. For every argument against there was another equally persuasive to draw us back in.

The house lies with its back to the hill and a instead of a front and back garden it has one either side. One thing we quickly understood from previous viewings was that with no grass it was much easier to maintain. No turning up for the weekend and spending a full day mowing the lawn.

It has also been divided into two with the possibility to shut a door between the top floor and the rest of the house. We had long conversations with the architect about re-uniting the space before realising that a three bedroom self-contained flat with a kitchen, two bathrooms and a sitting room with views over the valley is perfect for renting out or for saving on heating bills.

Like I say, it was bigger than we planned, but every time we turned against it the house called us back. It took ages to finalise the London sale. The house waited for us. We took our sons to see it in the summer, the Grandmother, now fully recovered from a knee operation, welcomed them in while the Grand-daughter told us how pleased they were that we might buy the house. Neighbours dropped in to meet us. A handyman who had worked for the family for years came round with his wife. The house was singing to us.

We kept looking online, trawling through hundreds of pages to find something else. Smaller, better, neater. But there was nothing. A smaller house would have cost us more. A flat in Turin was out of the question. This big house was the most affordable thing we saw. And still she sang to us. A song of possibilities and dreams. Of earning potential and la dolce vita. Like the siren songs of old we were powerless to resist.  Even the location was perfect.

It is situated about 30 minutes from Turin Airport, an hour’s train ride from Milan and six hours from Paris on a TGV (which costs about £25). Turin is a beautiful city full of art galleries and museums, stunning churches, including the one that houses the Turin Shroud, and countless bars and restaurants. It is home to Cinzano and Martini and lays claim to having invented the idea of taking an aperitif with with an array of tiny snacks including the Tramezzino – small triangles of white bread filled with combinations such as tuna and olive, ham and artichoke, mortadella, cream cheese and pistachio. It’s close to Alba, the centre of the truffle trade and the local wine is Barolo.

Once the seat of the Italian Royal Family, there are large elegant squares, monumental buildings and industry – the former Fiat factory, where the original Italian Job filmed the mini cars racing on the roof track, is now a fabulous mid-century hotel. All this is a 40 minute drive from the house and for anyone used to living in London where it takes an hour to go anywhere this is nothing.

Turin you have stolen our hearts and now we have a house to call home. But not quite yet. First there is the rewiring and the plumbing. The bathrooms to replace and the kitchens to redo. And gallons of painting and rolls of wallpaper. The moving of furniture from storage in London to rooms in Italy.

And then, then we will see how this noble old house will sing once more.


Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. This house is a masterpiece of design and architecture, with its stunning blend of traditional and modern elements, exquisite attention to detail, and impeccable taste.

  2. Congratulations on acquiring such a beautiful and charming house in Italy! The pictures are stunning, and it’s clear that this place is going to be a wonderful retreat for you and your family.

  3. Congratulations! I am so pleased you fell in love with my hometown and maybe one day we wil meet on the Turin hills to have an aperitivo together! Valentina @valentinainteriors

  4. The house looks absolutely wonderful and I know you will apply exactly the right level of respectful touch to it. So happy for you – you have provided so many of us with information and inspiration for years, I’m so glad that you’ve found yourself with your perfect place. Really looking forward to seeing how it develops.

  5. Oh I am overjoyed for you, Kate! The house is absolutely fabulous and will be more so once you get stuck in. Torino is a joy and as someone who has expat-ed all over the place, being close to civilisation and an airport is a really excellent move. Can’t wait to see the project unfold!

  6. This place looks absolutely stunning! So full of the stories that have been told and to come with your move!
    Congratulations to you and exciting!

  7. Oh wow! I actually had goosebumps when reading your descriptions, especially the bit about wet faces!
    I’m so excited for you and if ever goes up for holiday rent, I will be there.
    Can’t wait to hear and see all your updates! How very exciting! xx

  8. I have never seen so many comments Kate and think I know why – a wonderful house with a wonderful story woven into it about you finding it and it finding you. Wishing you all happy times ahead and we will all be following with great interest and enthusiasm.

  9. Wow, it’s beautiful. Well done on holding on to it
    (Or letting it hold on to you). We had a similar story with our house, which is ancient and very special. we are renovating it slowly over ten years! I hope you make time for it the process too, let it form you.

  10. Oh wow. I love it and only needs a light touch as it has so many wonderful features already and lovely colours. Gorgeous

  11. Congratulations !
    How wonderful the house looks, as it is.
    Retain every inch of the character you fell in love with…it’s so homely! Those colours on the doors…the frescoes above…the floors…the patio!
    Can totally see why you fell in love with it.
    Your description is magical.
    Write a book about it !
    Chapter One is done!
    So so lovely…

  12. It’s so beautiful, as is your description of finding it. The colours are already very Mad About The House. How exciting to be able to make wonderful memories with your family and anyone who visits!

    1. How wonderful. Hope that rental property is ready soon, I think you’ll have lots of people wanting to rent it.

  13. It is indeed a lovely house and love the location, may you have many happy times there including the renovations!
    Can’t wait to see how you progress but if anyone can do it you can ..

  14. Congrats – what a dream home, even I can feel the draw of it. Enjoy it and the new life and memories you will have in it.

  15. Congratulations!! What a beautiful magical house — it was clearly meant to be!
    I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am that your place is in Piemonte, Torino. It is one of my favourite places, and I feel a deep love for it. When we lived in Geneva, we would often head to Torino — for the day or the weekend. My son took his first steps outside the house in Torino. Rainy Saturdays at the Egyptian museum and historical cafes in the passages. The Cinema Museum! We always stayed in the same hotel, the same room, so it felt like home. Always went back to the first restaurant we ever went to in Torino, and were always served by the same grandmotherly waitress. Glasses of Bicerin, and glorious tiny pastries! Oh, and the hazelnuts. Elisa di Rivombrosa (when it was the seat of the House of Savoy) and more modern tv shows set in Torino — just some of my favourite things.
    I cannot wait to read of all your adventures of making this house your home!

  16. Wow! Absolutely breathtaking! Congratulations! Looking forward to see how you will make it even more fabulous!

  17. Many congratulations! What a stunning house. Keep sharing so we can all dream alongside you.

  18. Oh my gosh! What a wonderful story of you and your new house!! I can’t wait to follow your journey.

  19. Congratulations! It looks wonderful and I’m very excited to see what you do with the house.

  20. What a stunner!! I know you will preserve its beauty. Apart from the electrics etc, it looks like it needs a pretty light touch approach. So envious! Good luck!

  21. At the bus stop reading your wonderful descriptions with tears in my eyes! Thankyou for sharing Kate, although I joined you during lock down and purchased one of your courses and have your books, this is first time I have commented. Congratulations the house looks amazing and it’s obvious you have fallen in love. Dreams do come up true x

  22. Oh, this is both an absolutely wonderful story and such a beautiful house. Many congratulations!

  23. What an amazing place and a fantastic new chapter! Makes me think about what our next step could be…thanks for the inspiration. And good luck with the work, am sure you’ll take it in your stride!

  24. Your beautiful post has made me cry! I have cried before when it’s clear that a building provides such joy to someone, and when you can feel their passion about the opportunities it provides to live they life they want, deserve and will cherish. I cannot wait to see more updates about this – and to sign up for an interiors retreat there! Congratulations to you, the Mad Husband and the boys, what an adventure awaits.

  25. What exciting news for you! And for us who hope to attend an interior design retreat there! A hearty congratulations to you! I look forward to seeing the process unfold!

  26. What a great new venture for you and TMH. Provided you welcome dogs, I will add my name to the waiting list to rent! Congratulations, and very much looking forward to the updates. xx

  27. Love this story, love this house, love the chasing of a dream! Congratulations, can’t wait to follow this adventure! xx

  28. Kate, that’s just the most glorious news: and let’s not overlook the fact that your new home is very lucky to have met you. I can’t wait to see your reno evolve.

  29. It’s beautiful ! How fortunate to have you as the new owner. As we know you’ll keep what you can and enhance its lovely features at the same time. Sounds a great area, another one to put on my list!

  30. Congratulations. Can’t wait to see what you do. If every you are looking to rent Please let us know. Will be retiring soon and looking for long term vacation stays. Michaela

  31. Amazing. We did the very same in Portugal with an old house. The lady who had lived there was born there and her two daughters (aged 71 and 73) called by to see what we had done to the place. We kept the character and charm but added a few modern touches such as surround sound and hot tub on the roof terrace. We invited them in and between our smattering of Portuguese and their understanding of English we had a wonderful time and they regaled us with stories of their lives in the house. They loved what we had done. They cried happy tears and kissed the original handrails on the staircase as they came up. It was a special afternoon. We have just done it all again with our third property. You will make special memories Kate

  32. It’s beautiful and will certainly earn its keep! So please you’ve found her and she’s happy to have you guys! Congratulations!
    I would like to place a bet that the curved writing desk was on the ‘buy’ list!!
    I do hope to see lots of updates here on the blog as I’m done with Instagram! 😊

  33. Looks so beautiful. Our dream too. We have family in Ivrea, close to Torino, which you no doubt have visited. Back from the Battle of the Oranges in February which everyone from surrounding areas goes to- the best festival I’ve been to in Italy. You need to go. And Viverone is the lake that all the locals go to. Good times ahead for you all!

  34. That’s fantastic news! The house is absolutely beautiful and it’s no wonder it called to you so strongly. Some things are meant to be and this is a match made in heaven. Can’t wait to follow your adventures in Italy.

  35. So happy for you & can I rent it please when ready?! With your amazing talents it will look stunning when finished, can’t wait to see more photos as the refurbishment takes place xx

  36. Congratulations! As an Italian always reading you in the UK, I am so glad you found your happy house in my country and I am looking forward to seeing you making it sing full potential. I am also very glad you chose a place that is not the VERY predictable British choice, i.e. Tuscany and Umbria!

  37. I love your description of how you tried to resist but the house kept singing to you – on a cold wet miserable day on the west coast of scotland ( which i love, and where I bought my current home because it too sang to me,} your description made me smile with joy at your finding a place you love. I will watch and listen to your new adventures with great anticipation

  38. I looked at my small mobile phone keyboard for some minutes, not knowing what words to use. Because I felt a bit speechless, so happy for you, so happy you found this elegant, classy and mature lady house.
    She experienced a lot, she’s gorgeous and she has new companions who will look after her for the time being. And she’ll outlive us all and tell the story you imprinted on her body. It’s a privilege to have her, I’m sure, and it’s a privilege she has you.
    From my heart to yours, I’m very happy for you two ladies xx

  39. Such a beautiful house, it will be singing from the top of its voice when you get your hands on it. Many congratulations, how exciting for you all.

  40. We moved from Surrey to Shropshire nearly 4 years ago. We were very broad in our house search, looking at every style and period. However, when we came out of a visit to a house built in the late 1600s, we turned to each other and both burst into tears – that’s when we knew a period house was what we really wanted. We didn’t buy that one, but we are still renovating a Georgian farmhouse (hoping we don’t uncover the 1500s house which is lurking underneath!).
    Our best friends bought a house in Italy near Ferrara 4 years ago and it has been wonderful for them, their family and friends and they have a section they can rent out to cover costs.
    Relish this new adventure!

  41. Wow! How wonderful for you both…and what a beautiful gorgeous old house. No wonder you were so captivated by it! Can’t wait to read more about this new chapter in your lives. Bravo! 👏

  42. This is so wonderful. When you know, you know! So happy to hear (and see) your dreams coming to life! Well done. It’s brave and bold and, as my teenage daughter says, I’m here for that.

  43. Absolutely stunning. With Italy I think your heart definitely tells you the house is right. I love the feel of the neighbours and Turin is beautiful, with so much to offer. It’s that mix of country and big city action that will makes it so exciting. I’m looking forward to reading your updates.

  44. It looks beautiful. Congratulations to your family. What an exciting next chapter for you all

  45. Wow! Wow! Wow!
    Best of luck and can’t wait to see what you do in this beautiful place. Congratulations.

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