Actor Buys A Crumbling Home For 1 Euro And It Turns Into A 'Big Italian Adventure'

Nov 1, 2020
Originally published on November 1, 2020 3:23 pm

An American actor buys a 200-year-old Italian home for 1 euro. What could go wrong? Well, a lot, as it turns out.

Lorraine Bracco is best known for her roles in The Sopranos and Goodfellas. In her new HGTV show, My Big Italian Adventure, Bracco renovates — really renovates — the abandoned house she bought in Sicily.

The home she purchased was one of a handful of properties in Sambuca di Sicilia offered for a single euro — with the requirement that the new owners would spend a boatload of money fixing up the dilapidated homes.

Many of these homes fell into disrepair after the 1968 Belice earthquake, Bracco explains. "Those 16 houses, from what I understood, were either abandoned in 1968 because of the earthquake and/or ... the family just didn't have any more family to pass it down to."

She says her children were unfazed: "When I told them that I wanted to do this, they said, 'Well, it's not crazier than anything else you've ever wanted to do, Mom.' "

Bracco says she's a big fan of HGTV and it occurred to her that this project would be a fun renovation show.

"Little did I know that there were 16 houses and there were 100,000 emails [from] people all over the world for these homes," she says.

But Bracco got her house and became the owner of a little piece of property in Sambuca. The houses, she says candidly, were "s***holes."

"Nobody in their right mind would have bought this. But, you know, you had to have that adventurous spirit and I sadly have that," she laughs.

Bracco dreamed of turning her 1-euro wreck into a warm, inviting home. She says she has had many homes in her life, and she considers it a "huge compliment" when visitors tell her: "Oh, it's so homey here. It's so warm. ... It's a house I'd like to live in."

She says this house struck her as one that had potential: In addition to having good bones, it was situated on a corner, which allowed for plenty of light. And she was blown away by the craftsmanship.

"When I went in, I saw these beautiful tiled floors under 3 inches of dust and dirt," she recalls. "And I was like, oh, this. This is beautiful. ... The people who built this house — God bless them — they were incredible artists, they did everything by hand. There was no sheetrock. They did everything with plaster. ... It's amazing."

Bracco's paternal grandparents were born in Sicily, so she has a family connection to the place, but she hasn't had the opportunity to really get to know it.

"I can't wait to go there and spend two or three months in the house living in Sambuca," she says. "I've not been able to do that because of COVID. I was planning to go there in March."

In the small town, people were kind to her. "They were very welcoming," she says. "It was just so sweet when I would wait at the cheese shop or go to the grocery store or the hardware store, they would be like, oh, yeah, you bought that 1-euro house."

As for whether she'd recommend this sort of adventure to others?

It's "never too late," she says. "Never say never."

She tells her kids: "Think big, dream big — you don't know what's out there."

Sophia Boyd and Melissa Gray produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

An American actress buys a 200-year-old Italian home for 1 euro. Now, what could go wrong?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MY BIG ITALIAN ADVENTURE")

LORRAINE BRACCO: OK, what the hell is this? Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Sorry. Sorry.

BRACCO: What happened here? No. No. What did you do? Oh, my God. I just knocked down a wall. I need a manicure. I'm an actress. We got a long way to go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, a lot, as you heard there can go wrong, as Lorraine Bracco could tell you. Bracco's most known for her roles in "The Sopranos" and "Goodfellas." And that one 1 home in Sicily renovating it cost her many more euros. It's a journey she takes us on in her new HGTV show, "My Big Italian Adventure." And she joins us now. Welcome.

BRACCO: Hi, Lulu. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am doing OK. What made me feel a lot better was actually seeing you do this...

BRACCO: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Because when this story came out a few years ago, I saw it. And I daydreamed about taking advantage of it, you know, a picturesque Italian town, giving away houses to revitalize the area because its youth are leaving. But you actually went through with it. And that's crazy (laughter).

BRACCO: Yes. Like my children said to me when I told them that I wanted to do this, they said, well, it's not crazier than anything else you've ever wanted to do, Mom.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you want to?

BRACCO: You know, I don't know. I really can't even answer that, but I saw the pop-up on my phone. I read it. I - then I started to search. I did the Google map. I did the Google about the town, about Sicily. I must admit that I'm a big HGTV fan. So the next morning when I woke up, I said, oh, my God, this is a great idea for HGTV. Little did I know that there were 16 houses, and there were 100,000 emails of people all over the world for these homes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I might have been one of them. I'm not confessing to anything.

BRACCO: OK, good. Well, you could come visit. How's that? Because I did all the hard work, let me tell you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You did. First, I want to talk about this town, Sambuca. What did you know about this part of Sicily?

BRACCO: Listen. Thank God Sambuca, Sicily - isn't that where you make Sambuca? Otherwise, I would have never have made it back.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This was your first time in Sicily. These are, you know, your roots. Your paternal grandparents were born in Sicily, right? I mean, what did they make of this famous American actress sort of rocking up in their small town?

BRACCO: There's about 5,000 people in the town. So since they, you know, didn't really know me, they were very welcoming. And it was just so sweet when I would wait at the cheese shop or go to the grocery store or the hardware store. They would be like, oh, yeah, you bought that 1-euro house.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's how they know you. So you buy this 1-euro house. And there's this extraordinary scene at the beginning where you're taken around by the mayor, of course, to see the different houses that are available. And they're wrecks.

BRACCO: Yeah, in my opinion, they were [expletive]-holes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

BRACCO: Nobody in their right mind (laughter) would have bought this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have a particular approach to the design of the house. You were very adamant about keeping a lot of the original elements, like the tile. I mean, where do you get that? I mean, you're an HGTV addict, but I mean, where do you get your sense of design and style and this idea of wanting to just renovate something completely?

BRACCO: Every time I've had a home - and I've had many homes in my life - everyone who's ever walked in and said, oh, it's so homey here. It's so warm. It's a house I'd like to live in. And I always found that, you know, as a huge compliment. So when I looked at the three houses and I saw this house, a couple of things hit me that I really loved. One, it was on a corner. So you had a lot of light. And I think that's very important when you buy a home - is that you have the bones that are interesting.

The second part is yes, when I went in, I saw these beautiful, tiled floors under three inches of dust and dirt. And I was like, oh, this is beautiful. And by the way, the people who built this house - God bless them - they were incredible artists. They did everything by hand. There was no sheetrock. They did everything with plaster. They plastered, you know, the walls, one, two, three, four, five times. They put all these rocks, you know, to build up the second floor. It's amazing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm curious - has this journey changed your identity being Italian? I mean, has it made you connect more directly to your heritage?

BRACCO: Not yet because I haven't - I can't wait to go there and spend two, three months in the house living in Sambuca. And I've not been able to do that because of COVID.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think that people should be doing this, going off to another country, getting a house and renovating it top from bottom? I mean, I guess it's never too late for an adventure.

BRACCO: No, never too late. Never say never is another one of my things which my kids really know about me. And I say it to them, dream big. You never know. Don't cut yourself out short. Think big. Dream big. You don't know what's out there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Words to live by. Lorraine Bracco's new show is on HGTV. It's called "My Big Italian Adventure." Thank you very much.

BRACCO: Oh, you're sweet, Lulu. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.