8 Home Renovation Lessons Learned From ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’

This month, we celebrate 15 years since we joined Frances (Diane Lane), a writer going through a terrible divorce, in leaving it all behind and living the dream: buying a villa in Tuscany.

“Under the Tuscan Sun” is typically categorized as a romantic comedy, which is true—but it’s not really about the hot Italian man Frances has a brief tryst with, nor is it about the handsome American writer who shows up looking for her at the end. It’s about Frances falling in love with her life again. And it is also about that house.

(Image credit: Touchstone/courtesy Everett Collection)

She’s emotionally rebuilding her life and her family, all of which is happening while she physically rebuilds the 300-year-old Tuscan villa she bought on a whim. The bones of the place are so, so good, but, like Frances, it needs a lot of work.

So yes, “Under the Tuscan Sun” teaches us a lot about surviving divorce and that wishes for your life may come true in surprising ways—but it also teaches us a lot about the horrors and joys (it’s usually a lot of horrors before any joys) of home renovation. Here are our eight biggest home renovation takeaways.

Lesson One: Pick a room and make it yours

Frances gives a lot of advice via voice-over about combatting buyer’s remorse as she kicks off her renovation. Things like going slowly through your new house to let it introduce its quirks to you, and not panicking when you have a sudden urge to weep. This tip—to immediately pick one room and make it feel like home—feels like the most helpful. If, like Frances, you’re still living in your home while renovating, your life will be in turmoil for a while. To stay even a little bit sane it helps, if possible, to have space that is still yours and still functional. Frances keeps her bedroom in tact and even sets up a little writing space for herself. There’s no way you’ll truly relax during your reno, but a small space like this one might help.

(Image credit: Touchstone/courtesy Everett Collection)

Lesson Two: Be comfortable with your team

Whether you’re going the DIY route or hiring professionals for your home renovation, you want to make sure you have a team with whom you’ll mesh well. Frances turns down offers from a skeezy dude who is more interested in hitting on her, a man whose plan is simply “boom, boom, boom,” and one guy who has some untreated vision issues. She wades through all those options until she finds her merry band of Polish fellows. Not everyone has to turn their construction team into family like Frances does, but isn’t it nice to end your renovation experience with lots of hugs and new friends? Frances is really living the dream with this renovation.

Lesson Three: Be willing to adjust your plan—you might surprise yourself

Frances’s first step in renovating her villa is to tear down a wall separating two small rooms in order to make one large room. As she and her team work on tearing this wall down, the majority of it collapses, creating a sort of archway between the two rooms. And that’s how it stays! It adds a gorgeous, rustic feel to the place. Did Frances probably want to cry when that wall came tumbling down in a haphazard manner? Of course! Who wouldn’t? But instead, she laughs, and adjusts her plan.

(Image credit: Touchstone/courtesy Everett Collection)

Lesson Four: Don’t forget to eat!

Your meals may not be as lavish as the ones Frances cooks for her team—I know we’re supposed to be ogling the house but THE FOOD, you guys—yet no matter what you can manage to throw together, remembering to eat is important. You’re working hard! Take breaks! Speaking of…

Lesson Five: Have wine at the ready—always

And that applies to more than just home renovation, guys.

Lesson Six: Don’t let your renovation consume your life

Speaking of eating and drinking, there comes a time in Frances’s renovation journey when she just can’t take it anymore. A big reno like the one Frances is attempting will take a long time, and you will most definitely hit a point where you feel like you’re going to lose your mind. It’s easy to let your renovation be the only focus of your life, but that’s just not healthy and will send you into a Frances-like tailspin. So, get out. Get out of your house. I mean, it’s definitely more fun if you make like Frances and go on a quick getaway along the Italian coast and meet a man who, um, reinvigorates you, but if that’s not possible, even just an afternoon away from the house where you’re doing anything but thinking about your renovation is a necessary part of the process.

(Image credit: Touchstone/courtesy Everett Collection)

Lesson Seven: Have faith

It’s easier said than done, and much easier when you have a kindly realtor named Martini (Vincent Riotta) saying it to you while he makes you a fire in your hearth. When you’re in the middle of your renovation, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel—but it’s there! Remember why you decided to renovate in the first place, and think about how happy you’ll be once it’s over. Stay the course. And refer back to lessons four through six when in doubt.

Lesson Eight: Be Patient

Take Frances and her water spigot, for example. When she begins her renovation, that spigot doesn’t work. She tries to fix it, gets some drips here and there, but ultimately she leaves it alone. It’s only once her renovation is completely finished, once she’s filled her home with family and friends and laughter, that the spigot starts gushing water. She had to be patient. Patient with her home renovation. Patient with her writing. Patient with feeling like herself again. And patient with that water spigot. If you’re renovating and things aren’t moving fast enough for you, think about Frances’s water spigot. It was worth the wait.

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