Making a dream a reality is often much harder than most of us imagine when the seed of the idea first plants itself; an idea such as renovating a property in a foreign country. As many of us have discovered, such a project can soon become a seemingly insurmountable task, but still, we take it on and, more often than not, see it through to completion despite all the obstacles encountered along the way.
It was in 2005 that Canadian Dawn Buckler and her English boyfriend Rocco Barker decided to take the plunge. They lived in London and had been together for a few years; she worked in the media industry and he was a guitarist in a band. They had dreams of living a Mediterranean lifestyle and loved Barcelona. On one of their weekend breaks to the Catalan capital, they decided to explore the outskirts of the city and during that exploration, they found a house in the village of Sant Feliu del Racó just north of Terrassa. “When we saw the house, we knew we had to have it,” said Dawn Buckler.
“The idea was for a designer relaxation pad in the Catalan mountains,” explained Buckler. She would take care of the business side of things and Barker the creative side; they would “completely refurbish the house into five-star luxury, complete with a modern retro design, themed bedrooms, swimming pool, extension etc...[and] include chauffeur, chef and tour guide services as a complete package for tourists who wanted to enjoy luxury in real Spain,” Buckler said. They planned to call it Casa Jetset.
Back in London, she saw an advert placed by a TV company looking for people to feature in a fly-on-the-wall documentary about setting up a business overseas and she pitched their idea for Casa Jetset. The proposed renovation was a hugely ambitious project and the TV company loved the idea; the charismatic couple and the realisation of their dream seemed the perfect subject for the documentary. Dawn and Rocco purchased the house and signed the contracts to live the next eight months of their lives under the watchful gaze of the television cameras.
Eager to see their dream house take shape, Dawn and Rocco wasted no time finding an architect, contractors and someone to help them with translations. After an initial spurt of activity, however, what followed were months of red tape delays and rapidly increasing debts. The couple were living in a caravan on the drive of their home; the cramped living conditions and lack of progress and money put a huge strain on their relationship and they began to argue.
But far from seeming intrusive, Buckler thinks the presence of the TV crew actually helped, and said that they enjoyed the experience of being filmed. “It was great. The director doubled as Rocco and mine’s therapist, which made the experience more surreal. I don’t think Rocco and I would have even made it past the first hurdle if the camera and crew weren’t around to constantly console us through the process.”
By the time the series ‘A Place in Spain: Costa Chaos—Dawn and Rocco’ was due to air in 2007 on the UK’s Channel 4, the situation at Casa Jetset had taken a turn for the worse. Although the house had come on a long way, the relationship between the two co-owners had completely deteriorated. Casa Jetset was now habitable but Buckler was the sole occupant; she and Barker had broken up and he’d moved back to the UK.
What happened after the cameras had stopped rolling is the subject of Buckler’s recently released book. Looking back, Buckler said, “It was the worst experience of my life—living on a building site with no money for over two years is enough to make anyone admit defeat.” But despite being heartbroken and emotionally drained, she was determined to try and complete Casa Jetset and decided to stay. “Quitting or giving up has never been an option for me in anything that I do,” she said.
In Stripped in Spain Buckler has written a very frank account of the renovation project and the breakdown of her relationship with Barker. Many of the episodes she recounts are hilarious while others are shocking but with a cast of colourful characters, there’s never a dull moment; her agent describes the book as “Under the Tuscan Sun meets Sid & Nancy.”
Buckler had always wanted to write a book and says living through “the turmoil of a ‘house from hell’ refurbishment project” gave her just the impetus she needed. She now realises that when they took on Casa Jetset they “jumped in blindfolded”, but now she’s more than familiar with the renovation process, would she do it again? The answer is an unequivocal “no”.
“The next house I have I want it all to be perfectly decorated before I move in,” she smiled. Does she have any regrets? “I don’t regret a moment of it,” she said, “as I am now living the life I wanted to live and have written the book I always wanted to write.”
After three years and hundreds of thousands of euros, the house is nearly complete but still needs some work. “My goal at the moment is to get the house rentable and furnished,” said Buckler, who now feels settled into local village life. “I am more content living here than I have ever been anywhere. The way people think here, the concept that life is to be lived, is more in tune with my ideals than anywhere else I’ve lived,” she explained.
Dawn Buckler now shares Casa Jetset with her new love Carlos and two dogs. She and Rocco still jointly own the house but their relationship is purely professional.
Stripped in Spain by Dawn Buckler is available to buy online from www.dawnandrocco.com