Every village or even tiny hamlet in Italy seems to have its own handyman or tuttofare – if you need something plumbed or wired, or some pan tiles moved to fix a leaky roof, then Peppe - for he's inevitably called Peppe – is your man. It's somewhat surprising, therefore, to discover that Do It Yourself or Fai da Te doesn't seem to have generally caught on in Italy as a whole. In fact, Italians are extremely respectful of professions and even ordinary folks on middling incomes will generally call in the decorators if their home needs a lick of paint, rather than pop down to the local DIY store to stock up on tins of emulsion, eager to try out some new effects they've seen on one of the numerous property make-over shows on TV! Indeed, of all the franchised television shows whose formats are repeated all over the world, the DIY show has yet to grace Italian TV screens...although that's probably only a matter of time.
The knock on effects of this are that it can be quite difficult shopping for basics in Italy if you're not buying industrial-sized quantities of products. I once needed to buy a bag of sand to do some small jobs at home that required just a few buckets full of concrete. This turned out to be a day long quest...met at every stop by - “But you're a woman?!”
My first point of call, and yours too if you need to buy any household supplies in Italy, was the local hardware store - the ferramenta (ironmonger's) – where they could supply 25 kilo sacks of cement okay, but were flummoxed by me wanting to buy sand in bags. Truck loads by the cubic meter were fine, but anything smaller was met with smirks. To cut a long story short, I ended up in a quarry filling carrier bags of sand to the bemused amazement of onlookers!
Where DIY products do exist, they can be overpriced – products for treating terracotta floor tiles, for example, can be prohibitive if you're restoring large properties and are rarely as good as more traditional methods. To this end, here is the first of my personal favorite DIY tips for restoring property in Italy:
DIY Tip No.1 – The treatment of terracotta floor tiles
- Stage 1 – Linseed Oil
- Buy large drums of linseed oil (olio di lino) and mix it 50:50 with odorless white spirit(acquaragia).
- Paint (or mop) one coat of this mixture on the tiles evenly and wait for it to soak in.
- Continue adding coats until the tiles no longer absorb the mixture (i.e. when a residue is noticeable on the surface in some places).
- Quickly remove any residue before it dries.
- Allow the floor to dry properly.
- Stage 2 – Solid Wax
- Heat solid floor wax (cera per pavimenti) using the bagnomaria method (i.e. DO NOT heat the highly flammable wax directly) but indirectly in a saucepan of water (like heating food in a can!)
- Spread the now liquid melted wax over the floor evenly (this is where elbow grease comes into it) making sure it has been rubbed well into the surface.
- Allow to dry thoroughly.
- Stage 3 – Liquid Wax
- Applying a thin coat of undiluted liquid wax at the end of the initial treatment will help seal the floors and the overall impression is stunning!
- If you've followed the above stages to the letter, maintaining the floors afterwards should simply be a matter of applying periodic coats of self-shining liquid wax with a mop. Avoid using harsh detergents that will remove the wax coatings.