Michele estimated that it would take until late-May to complete all of the work and we had no doubt that this was optimistic, especially as the list of items to be done grew and grew. Most of the additions were recommendations from Michele who decided early on that he knew what we wanted much better than we did. For the most part, he was absolutely right. Among the add-ons: new marble thresholds; towel warmers in the bathrooms; an intercom system at the front gate; a remote garage door opener; and, cable connections.
At Michele’s suggestion, Jessica and I agreed to return to Puglia at a time mid-way through the project so that we could make any adjustments to the scope or changes to the work-in-progress while he and his crew were still on site. Colleen and Francesco, who served as “owner” in our stead, sent us updates and photos every few days, negotiated with vendors, made the arrangements with the utility companies, paid the bills and did everything else necessary to get the work done properly, toward the end of December, advised us that the boys were making great advances on the works, owing to the beautiful weather. She suggested that February would be a good time for us to come and check on the progress.
Some of the photos attached to Colleen’s emails seemed to undermine the idea that the project would be halfway to completion by February. In one picture, there was actually a bobcat (the piece of construction equipment, not the feline) in the hallway tearing up floor tile. In others, gashes were open in the pristine plaster walls where new pipes or wiring had been placed. I must say that we were a bit horrified by what we saw.
We arrived late-afternoon on that Saturday in mid-February and checked into a B&B just outside of Cisternino. Colleen was tied up all day in Brindisi, the town that boasts the nearest airport to us, so we were on our own until our scheduled meeting with her the next morning. We fought off the temptation to go to the villa and, instead, spent the rest of the day and evening wandering around Cisternino, finally settling in at Il Cucco for dinner. Il Cucco is a small restaurant with a wine store with which Jessica and I have become enamored. The food is typical of the region, simple, rustic and fresh. The wine list, which is simply the offerings of the wine shop in the front of the dining room, is long, representative of all of Italy and cheap. In all, Il Cucco has become one of our favorite places to dine in Cisternino.
The next morning we met Colleen and Michele at the villa. We were invited inside by Michele who displayed the ministrations of one about to unveil a masterpiece and, I think that that is exactly how he felt at that moment. When we walked through the door, our breath was taken from us by what we saw. Everything was perfect. We expected to see a construction site. Instead, we saw the home we had been envisioning for the last three months. The stylistic tile floors that had been unrecognizable in the photos were beautiful again. The plaster walls that only Italian craftsmen can create were back in pristine form. The two bathrooms were just as we had imagined them.
As we walked giddily through the house, Michele, with Colleen translating, would point to things here and there that needed his further attention. Then he delivered the news: he and his crew would be finished with the work by Tuesday. It meant that we could stay in the house this trip, a surprise that we never even hoped for.
Colleen arranged to have a cleaning crew come to the villa on Wednesday morning. She then called Mimmo at Euromobili and scheduled delivery of the furniture we bought after getting the kitchen design settled. The items consisted of a bed and large wardrobe for the master bedroom, twin beds for the guest room, another large wardrobe for Jessica’s dressing room, and a white leather sofa for the living room. Mimmo said that everything except the second wardrobe, which was being custom-made, could be delivered Wednesday afternoon. We were elated.
In the meantime, we had one significant task to accomplish on this trip. As instructed, Michele had made provisions for ceiling lighting in the living room, kitchen, hallway, the three bedrooms and the renovated bathroom. We had not, as yet, however, selected the fixtures and we were committed to doing that before we headed back to the States. Michele volunteered to go with us to some of the suppliers he used and help us with selection and pricing.
Monday evening, after finishing his day’s work, Michele met us at Colleen’s office and off the four of us went to buy light fixtures. Our destination was a shop called For-El with two locations in Locorotondo. First, we checked in at the location nearest to town. There we found a hanging lamp for the kitchen ceiling that looked almost like a street lamp and gives off a bright white light. We also bought outdoor lights for the veranda and around the back of the house, the latter with motion sensors. As the shopkeeper gathered all of those from his stock room, we left to go to the For-El showroom to find the other fixtures we needed, promising the shopkeeper that we would be back before he closed to collect our lights.
The showroom was not far away, but the route to it was full of twists and double-backs such that all I could do as the designated driver is react to Colleen’s translation of Michele’s directions. Soon, though, we arrived and walked into a large two-story lighting extravaganza. The four of us just began wandering through the rows and rows of light fixtures, eventually landing on a collection that was of the level of design that struck a chord with us. The prices, however, left me suffocating. Colleen tracked down a clerk and asked about the price of a particular ceiling fixture. The number he gave her was a third less than the price on the tag. When she asked about the price tags, he told her to ignore them. “You ask me the price and I’ll tell you,” he said. Okay.
At one point, as I roamed the aisles of the store, I came upon a staggeringly gorgeous chandelier made of purple Murano glass. I called to Jessica. “Come here. You have to see this,” I said.
“Holy crap,” she gasped. “How much is it?”
“The tag says 7,200 euro,” I answered and saw the look in her eye. “Honey, don’t even think about it. We can’t spend that much on one light.” Here is a picture of it hanging happily in our living room.
Michele’s crew did finish their work on Tuesday, the cleaning folks showed up, as planned on Wednesday morning and finished in time for the arrival of the furniture. On Thursday morning, Jessica and I checked out of the B&B and moved into Villa Tutto. That night we slept in our new bed in our new home with all of the dreams that go along with that. The next morning we realized that we had left the bedroom window blinds open when the sunlight poured into the room. It was a warm awakening.
A little later that morning, Michele came by to give up the key to the house. I think there was a tear in his eye when he walked away. I know there was one in mine.
Next: With a Little Help From Our Friends