Renovation blues

Renovation blues


Renovation blues

Among two highly trafficked Internet sectors are expat life and domesticity. Expat renovation blogs are at the intersection of these two sectors and are catching on in a big way. Not only do they document renovation projects, but also encourage interactivity, writes Roxana Popescu

Renovating a farmhouse is a lot of work. But renovating a 400-year-old farmhouse in a foreign country where you don’t know whom to tip or whom to flatter, let alone how to say “undermount sink,” is inspiring, insane or both – which makes the process the perfect subject for (what else?) a blog. Expatriate renovation blogs are a niche at the intersection of two highly trafficked Internet sectors: expat life and domesticity.

While the most popular blogs can get millions of views a month, hundreds of comments per post and occasionally translate into lucrative deals, these narrowly focused sites draw a small fraction of that attention and revenue.

Still, they feature the show-and-tell standard for renovation blogs in alluring locales, where the most frustrating mishaps, from malingering contractors to septic system sagas, can seem enchanting.

Nicole Bekdache, who grew up in England and lived in Dubai, Cyprus and Oman before moving to France, discovered this during a friend’s party. People were asking about her renovation project, a stone cottage in Provence, when another guest suggested that she write a blog. Then someone sent her a link to the blogging service Typepad, and Live.
Love. Conquer. was born. Her first post was about hunting for the house.Within a year, everyone from her husband’s manager to strangers from Vietnam were regular readers.

She said that, at first, it had felt “freaky” knowing so many people were following her life. Eventually she stopped minding as she led readers through the villa’s structural overhaul and her do-it-yourself decorating – the house’s 1970s decor and crowded rooms giving way to brighter, open spaces decorated with vintage and flea market finds. One original feature she retained: shutters painted periwinkle so they stood out against the hand-cut stone facade.

For Lisa Chiodo, the transition from Australian housewife to expat cybergoddess started when she and her husband left for Italy. In the foothills of the Italian Alps they spotted a farmhouse that once sheltered people, animals, hay and chestnuts. At first, Chiodo kept a journal, then she started taking pictures, and finally, she started a blog called Renovating Italy.

One school of thought says readers, especially those who follow design and lifestyle blogs, are looking for a dreamy version of domesticity, life through a lens of “what if.” But Darren Rowse, the voice behind ProBlogger, widely considered one of the most successful blogging ventures, does not entirely agree.

Now that Bekdache’s house, a six-bedroom villa with an entertainment room and a creative workspace, is almost finished, she says she should have written more about the hard parts, the times when contractors were difficult or her imperfect French proved to be a problem. For such bloggers, though, there is an upside to exposure: They can ask total strangers for advice.

Olga Slavkina moved from Latvia to Spain to Belgium, where she renovated a 1920s villa with a large garden. As the work began, Slavkina, a branding and marketing consultant, decided to use the Internet strategically, telling her contractor that she was documenting the project online. He stayed on budget and ended up getting new business from her readers, she said.

While she has not blogged recently, her early posts asked readers for comments on structural changes and colour schemes and recommendations on decorators. In return, she offered tips like where to find cement tiles in Belgium.

Susanne Crosetto and her husband, who is Italian, took a vacation to southern Italy in 2006. They ended up falling for an 18th-century palazzo. From the outside, it was “very charming and romantic,” Crosetto recalled. Inside, they had to install electricity and plumbing, rebuild the floors and walls and replace 29 windows and doors. Crosetto had a long trail of people itching for updates, so she started blogging at Palazzo Pizzo.

She says she learned that, when you cannot invite friends over in person for a second opinion, crowd sourcing is the next best thing. Torn between three options for laying some hardwood flooring – front to back, side to side, or a combination of both – she posted diagrams and asked for a vote.

Ten people responded. While it may sound as if these bloggers are just reading and responding to one another, several say some of their most rewarding interactions have happened away from their computers – meeting readers and being asked for advice.

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