Entrepreneur Stina Haglund and her husband had just started talking about eventually buying a small house in Italy when she stumbled upon the dream property.
- An old terracotta factory with nine apartments in the middle of the Italian countryside. I was instantly hooked, this is my passion project!
Entrepreneur and consultant Stina Haglund has lived, worked and commuted in/between Umeå and Ö-vik for many years. Going forward, there will be more Umeå due to work assignments and the start of high school for one of the children, she says. And of course there will be the occasional turn to the passion project in Italy as well. The idea was actually that the dream (which was initially about a small house and not a whole factory) would only come true in ten years, but once the idea was sparked, Stina just couldn't help it.
- That's how I am, if the thought is raised, it's hard not to act. But much is also due to the fact that this property is so fascinating, a large old stone terracotta factory in the middle of the Italian countryside. It has such possibilities and I really believe that coliving is something that attracts more and more people, she explains enthusiastically.
So what does coliving mean? Simply explained, it's about creating creative meeting places, says Stina, and it's something she's worked with for a long time. A few years ago, she started the coworking business OffCoff in Ö-vik, an office cafe where you don't have your own fixed office location but work and network together with other companies. When OffCoff was bought by House Be not so long ago, Stina joined as a minority shareholder, but was also able to invest in her Coliving Italy.
- Coliving is about you living and working in different places in the world where you can also meet other exciting people. During the pandemic, many people discovered that it actually works remotely, and why not try living in Italy for a month or two? There have always been digital nomads who lived like this but that group has broadened and many professions can work remotely.
As I said, the plan was to eventually find a small house in Italy that would be rented out for part of the year, but when Stina stumbled upon Il Fornello, as the factory is called, during a trip last summer, it was over.
- I drove around on my own when I discovered the area on the border between Umbria and Tuscany, halfway between Rome and Florence. It made me let go of the idea of the coast with fried food and inflatable toys.
Stina headed south to meet her husband, who basically just got in the car, before they returned together to take another look at the factory and the area that is like a parody of Italy, she explains. There are picturesque villages, fancy vineyards and magical food just everywhere.
At first it was mostly a fun thing to look at the house, an old terracotta factory that was also used to dry tobacco once upon a time. (Il Fornello means the oven or stove). In recent years, however, the factory has functioned as a private residence, but the owners had only used one of the nine apartments in total.
When the husband agreed that the factory had something certain, the dream of Italy suddenly took a more concrete and significantly larger form.
- We drove to the nearest larger city. It was the same day as the 2021 women's Olympic soccer final, and while my husband watched a game and had a beer, I sat with an excel file doing financial analysis and marketing plans. When the match was over I said: "This can work!"
Buying and equipping a property in Italy, and then starting a rental business with guests, is of course not something you fix overnight, or even over a couple of months. Stina admits that she is glad that she did not understand from the beginning that the project would be both more expensive and more complicated than planned. Then she probably wouldn't have dared to bet.
- No matter how much you count, there are things you can't count and don't get over. It was about apartments that had been standing for several years, so just getting everything up and running and getting furniture meant a lot of work. In January, I went to the factory with a colleague to start up the heating system, but out of nine apartments we got it to work in zero. What do you do? In the end we decided to go and buy a sop. We had to start somewhere, says Stina and laughs.
The hope was to be able to open for bookings in April this year and it succeeded. Although there is still some work to be done with some of the apartments, everything has worked out as expected. Putting the public areas in order has been prioritized so that guests can meet and socialize in a natural way. That is the very idea of coliving, says Stina.
- The outdoor kitchen, where people meet and cook together, was something we wanted to complete at once, and it has really worked out great. In the beginning, it was a bit of a challenge to explain what coliving is. Although we always have a host on site who arranges some joint activities and helps with check-in and check-out, Il Fornello not a full service tourist resort. The idea is also for the guests to stay there for a longer period of time, she explains.
Stina will never forget the feeling when the very first booking came in in April, but she was allowed to get used to it quite quickly because so far around 60 companies from different parts of the world have visited the factory. Many friends and acquaintances have helped in big and small ways, in September, for example, two friends who are doing research will come down and take care of hosting, says Stina, and then her mother-in-law and some friends will take over the baton for a month. She herself was there with the family throughout July, which was a nice experience.
- I have heard so many stories, guests who told about their lives so openly. That there are so many cool people! Even though this is the very basic idea of the project, I still did not understand how enriching this type of meeting can be.
- We had high pressure during the summer, but now it remains to be seen how many people want to live in Italy during the autumn and winter. It is basically a passion project with the goal that it will pay off, not that we will get rich. Coliving is a concept that many people are curious about, says Stina Haglund.