A man who filmed his year-long renovation of two stone cabins in the Italian Alps said he's making his dream come true thanks to YouTube
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Martijn Doolaard documents his restoration of two cottages.YouTube: @MartijnDoolaard
Martijn Doolaard filmed his renovation of two stone cottages in the Italian countryside.
His YouTube channel, where he uploads his storyline progress, now has over 400,000 subscribers.
Not only does YouTube help fund his dream, but the community also offers vital support and advice.
After years of traveling the world, graphic designer Martijn Doolaard decided to find a secluded place to call home.
Doolaard was looking for adventure so he bought the property in Italy.YouTube: @MartijnDoolaard
Fifteen years ago, Martijn Doolaard was working full-time as a graphic designer in Amsterdam, but he wanted more adventure in his life, so he started traveling the world on his bike and documenting it on YouTube.
After spending many nights camping in beautiful landscapes, he wondered how he could make such a place his home. "I was thinking about what it would be like to actually live there instead of camping for a night," he told Insider.
In 2021, while still living full-time in Amsterdam, he began looking for remote properties in mountain regions, starting in Spain before looking for opportunities in Italy.
After spending four weeks touring the Italian Alps in his campervan, looking at advertised areas, he discovered the piece of land he wanted to make his home: almost five acres of land in Piedmont, north-west Italy, which he says he owns had paid 21,000 euros ($21,600) for.
It came with two stone cottages that Doolaard wanted to turn into a homestead. Built in 1903, they looked more like barns or animal shelters at the time of filming.
"It's very naked. It's basically four walls and a leaky roof," he said in the video, adding that there were no plumbing, toilets or electricity.
Doolaard, 38, has been posting videos of his renovation for a year and his channel has grown from a few hundred subscribers to over 400,000. His platform on YouTube has not only enabled him to fund his project, but also motivated him and provided a community of support and advice as he undertakes the renovation.
Doolaard's videos about the renovation immediately attracted a huge audience.
Doolaard released the first video in his renovation series on October 19, 2021. It documented his visit to the remote piece of land in the Italian Alps a day after he signed the papers and took ownership.
At the time, Doolaard had fewer than 1,000 subscribers, but the video exploded and to this day remains his most viewed video of all time with nearly 5 million views.
Doolaard was pleasantly surprised by the rapid rise in popularity as he felt he would need to do a lot of content over a longer period of time to find a larger audience. "You build slowly and grow and grow," he said. "That's how it usually goes."
Doolaard filmed his progress to motivate himself publicly.
Doolaard lived in the country while he worked. YouTube: @MartijnDoolaard
To hold himself accountable and keep up to date with the renovations, Doolaard has set himself the task of creating a progress video for his YouTube channel each week.
"It kind of motivates me to build it and finish it and do the thing even if I don't feel like it," he said.
The videos document Doolaard installing solar panels on the property, repairing the cabin roof and building an outdoor shower. He also set up a temporary campground so he could live in the country while he worked.
Within three months, Doolaard's audience grew to 100,000 subscribers and they began giving him building tips and suggestions.
After six uploads, Doolaard said he remembered getting half a million views in one day. He was surprised by the popularity of the videos, but believes viewers like them because they offer a way out.
"People come home from work or at the weekend, open their laptop, have a plate of food on their lap and are spending an hour on a mountain in Italy," he said.
Once he built an audience, Doolaard began getting feedback from builders and people with relevant experience. They left comments with helpful insights or sought out his details and sent him lengthy emails full of advice.
"Because the audience has grown so much, that feedback comes," he said. "The community is going to be really big and it's going to be very interesting."
Due to his limited renovation experience, YouTube tutorials were crucial in learning the skills he needed for the project.
Doolaard built a shower and makeshift tent on the land.YouTube: @MartijnDoolaard
Aside from a "little bit" of upkeep at his Amsterdam apartment, Doolaard had no experience with renovations. He knew there was a lot to learn and the process wouldn't be easy, but said he found that aspect appealing.
"It's part of the adventure for me and part of the project of just moving forward," he told Insider
Doolaard took to YouTube to fill in his knowledge gaps and watched video tutorials teaching niche skills like fixing a stone roof. The more videos he watched, the more suggestions YouTube's algorithm gave him, which helped him build his skills.
"We live in an age where everything is online, you can just teach yourself," he said. "If you have the time and passion for it, I think you can go pretty far."
Uploading videos from such a rural area wasn't always easy.
Wifi access was limited at times.YouTube: @MartijnDoolaard
At first, Doolaard said he had many technical problems trying to film himself as his camera batteries died in the cold weather of the Alps. He bought a new camera that was more reliable and kept his filming setup very simple, with just an extra drone for aerial photography.
Doolaard filmed his country's progress throughout the week and then edited the footage over one day each Saturday. He spent Sundays rendering videos so they could be uploaded to YouTube.
For the first few months, he had to climb a hill to get signal from the nearest telephone tower in order to access the internet and share his updates online. Now he said WiFi access has improved and he always has the option to invest in satellite if needed."
"There's always some problem," he said. "Sometimes the mic doesn't work and you have to reshoot, but I've tried to deal with that."
The money Doolaard makes from YouTube helps fund his materials and tools and keep the renovation going.
Doolaard didn't keep track of the specific cost of the first-year renovations, but he said a "normal number" would be anywhere from €20,000 ($20,600) to €30,000 ($30,900).
He saves a lot of money by doing the heavy lifting himself and said tools are one of the most expensive parts.
At first, Doolaard continued to work as a freelance graphic designer to earn a living, but due to the popularity of his videos, he said he was making enough money from YouTube's affiliate program to fund his lifestyle and materials.
With additional help from his Patreon supporters who donate money, YouTube has now become his full-time job, giving him more time and energy to create the videos each week.
"That's perfect, isn't it?" he said. "I do what I want, renovate and live the life I want to live."
In October 2022, Doolaard uploaded a video summarizing the progress he had made on land and in the cabins during his freshman year.
On October 21, Doolaard released a three-hour video showing a timeline of his progress on the land and huts during his first 12 months on the project.
His main focus was on introducing electricity through solar panels and creating a water connection so he could live comfortably in the countryside while working.
The video also shows the changes Doolaard made to the cabins, including adding a new door to the entrance and new beams on the roof.
It received 2.9 million views in its first month, and comments praised Doolaard for both the work he has done on the land and the way he filmed and edited his videos. "This deserves some kind of award," one comment said. "It inspires people in so many ways."
Doolaard tries not to plan too far ahead, but he'll continue to provide weekly updates about his renovation.
After a year of renovations, Doolaard is still enjoying it and will "definitely" keep making videos.
He said planning future renovations is difficult because things always go wrong, but the goal is to finish the first cabin in the next six months and he will accept any mistakes he makes.
"I get out of bed every day, go to work and when things are going well, it's nice," he said. "If things aren't going well, you try to learn from them."
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