An Atlanta entrepreneur searching for the perfect home base finally found it in a Tuscan ruin -- see the before and after photos of her 12th century Italian fortress

Annette JosephBefore and after: the master bedroom at La Fortezza.
  • American stylist, photo producer, and author Annette Joseph found a 12th century fortress in northern Tuscany and renovated it from the inside out.
  • She turned the property into a space to teach workshops, and to rent out for weddings, events, and company retreats.
  • After two years of renovations, she’s turned the fortress into a home base for her business.

Stylist, photo producer, and author Annette Joseph wanted a space to expand her workshop and teaching business. What she found, or – as the Italian saying goes – the house that found her, is an 8,500 square-foot 12th century fortress in Lunigiana, Italy.

“I knew it would be the perfect location to conduct creative workshops and retreats, and, everyone could stay on the grounds,” Atlanta-based Joseph told Business Insider of the 27-acre property in northern Tuscany. The main building was once a fortress housing soldiers who protected the land. Joseph has aptly given it the name of La Fortezza, “The Fortress.”

Reimagining and renovating the space was a process – the previous owners had plans of making the space a bed and breakfast, but construction halted in 2011 and it was put on the market. She had to redo the front stone facades, as well as the roof and floors – all the while skirting hiccups like bats living inside the master suite. “Let’s just say that renovating in the Italian countryside is not for the faint of heart,” said Joseph.

Ahead, a look at La Fortezza, which has gone from “a dark and damp mess” to “collected, bohemian, and very comfortable.”

Joseph purchased the 27 acre property after more than four years of searching. Coincidentally, La Fortezza was the first house she and her husband, Frank, viewed during their search — but at the time, Joseph was hesitant about the amount of work that needed to be done.

Annette JosephA view of La Fortezza.

“I was a little worried about the amount of land and the scope of the renovation,” said Joseph. Soot covered the walls in the upstairs walls due to a chestnut-drying technique, and she described the second floor as a “dark and damp mess.”

Annette JosephThe guest quarters before.

However, after four years of searching, the house was still on the market, and they decided to take the plunge and make the purchase in July of 2016.

Annette JosephThe exterior of La Fortezza during construction.

To begin the massive undertaking, Joseph brought on a “Geometra” or supervisor, who worked with her to make sure everything was up to code with Italian construction guidelines. “One cannot renovate anything in Italy without one,” she noted.

Annette JosephExterior of La Fortezza during construction.

Construction began in November, 2016. “We ended up tearing off the roof on the master bedroom and bathroom, then added a new ceiling and roof,” she said.

Annette JosephThe master bedroom before.

Since Joseph wanted to offer cooking classes, the kitchens on the property needed a major overhaul. “We tore apart the kitchen and enlarged it. It’s now brand new, but looks vintage,” she said.

Annette JosephThe kitchen before.

As for the exterior, “We removed all the mortar from the stone facades and re-mortared them. This was a painstakingly long and involved process that took much expertise and experience,” said Joseph.

Annette JosephThe exterior of La Fortezza during construction.

She also wanted to provide guests with an outdoor space to serve meals and enjoy the sunset — however the terrace desperately needed retiling and restoration.

Annette JosephThe terrace before.

Over the course of last year, the fortress began looking — and feeling — like a real home. Its front grand entrance welcomes guests with its original doors. “We kept the entrance to the house the same, just gave it a cosmetic and structural facelift and kept the original antique doors,” said Joseph.

Annette JosephThe exterior of La Fortezza after.

Post-renovations, La Fortezza has six bedrooms and bathrooms. “We can sleep up to 11 people with some shared rooms,” said Joseph.

Annette JosephThe exterior of La Fortezza after.

The master bedroom now has an accent wall made of the exterior stone.

Annette JosephThe master bedroom after.

In the newly outfitted kitchen, meals can be cooked with food grown in the garden. “We grow everything: zucchini, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes by the ton, peppers, artichokes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pumpkins, and grapes for eating,” said Joseph.

Annette JosephThe kitchen after.

Joseph decorated the house with various findings from local flea markets and antique shows.

Annette JosephThe living room after.

“La Fortezza’s design aesthetic is very Italian, very collected and bohemian, and very comfortable,” said Joseph.

Annette JosephThe dining room after.

The terrace offers scenic views and a space to serve guests. The 27 acres looks over the village of Moncigoli and has its own working vineyard. “We produce our own wine and hope to produce our own olive oil in about four years,” said Joseph.

Annette JosephThe terrace after.

The studio space — which was originally a barn — is where workshops such as the upcoming “Preserving Italy” will be taught. Attendees will learn how to preserve, jar, and can various fruits and vegetables will be taught.

Annette JosephThe studio after.

Styling and photo workshops are also offered be offered this summer, and renovations are expected to a completed by this July.

Annette JosephThe studio after.

“The house needed someone to come in and love it and restore it and we were the ones it picked. In Italy, they say the house picks you and not the other way around. Completely true in our case,” said Joseph.

Annette JosephAnnette Joseph.

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