Villager from Italy feels right at home in Charles Village


Attracted: Dr. Vincenzo Grippo and wife Judith Hofmann didn't want to move until a Charles Village gem convinced them otherwise.

May 27, 2001|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The story of how Judith Hofmann and her husband, Dr. Vincenzo Grippo, came to live in their home in Charles Village actually began in a small village in Italy more than a dozen years ago.

She was a painter visiting with her sister, touring museums and discovering the lush Italian countryside. He was a young medical student intrigued by the American painter.

She spoke a little Italian.

He spoke virtually no English.

But as the saying goes, love knows no bounds. Hofmann and Grippo fell in love, married and moved into a small house in Charles Village that she once shared with her sister.

For the new bride, who grew up nearby in Bolton Hill, Charles Village was a comfortable, friendly and familiar place to live.

For the young Italian doctor, Charles Village was his introduction to life in America. "It was not so easy to adjust to a new life here," he said. Besides learning English, he had to get used to how Americans lived.

"The culture is so different. I come from a country where you will see people out in the street. ... Here, people drive everywhere. They stay in their houses," he said.

But there was something about Charles Village that was different than many other American neighborhoods, he said.

"Here you do see people out. There are the students and neighbors and people walking. We can walk to church. It's right behind the house. ... Those are important things to me."

Though Charles Village isn't Italy, "it does have a village feel to it," his wife said.

"I think it always will be not so easy for me to adjust," says Grippo. "It is a process. I have been here 12, 13 years. I was there for 35. The place where you live when you were a kid, that is the place you love."

So the couple lived relatively happily until six years ago, when their two children, now 10 and 13, were growing and becoming more active, and the home was beginning to feel cramped.

Hofmann was reluctant to look for another house. That would mean another move and another major adjustment for her husband. "I couldn't see where else to live. We were comfortable here," she said.

But she happened to mention the space problem to a real estate agent friend, who called later to say she'd found a solution.

"She said, `I know you're not looking, but you have got to see this house,' " Hofmann recalled. The house, built in 1902, was just a few blocks away in Charles Village and perfect for the family. "I loved it the minute I saw it," she said.

But her husband "was not so crazy about it," she said, repeating his, "`I don't like change."'

The whole process of buying a house and moving strained his nerves. "This would be the first property he owned in America," his wife said.

Although it was nearly 100 years old, the home had been updated by the previous owners.

Among the renovations was a three-story atrium with a large skylight. Hofmann continues to work as a portrait artist, and uses the small space near the top of the atrium as her studio.

"The light there is just wonderful," she said.

Several walls were taken out to make larger rooms.

"You look at a lot of the homes on this block and they all have many, many tiny rooms. I like the fact that this place has so much open space," Hofmann said.

Many original details remain in the house, which according to land records was purchased for $158,000.

Grippo likes the pocket shutters on the windows. His wife likes the exposed brick walls and the tin ceiling in the kitchen. And except for painting the walls bright colors, the couple have done no work on the house.

Grippo says he feels at home in Charles Village, but he has not forgotten his roots.

In the kitchen, he keeps a calendar of Italy. Pointing to the pages he says, "See this, this is my village. This is where I came from."

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