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




Martijn Doolaard on his land in the Italian Alps.
Martijn Doolaard on his land in the Italian Alps.  
  • Martijn Doolaard has been filming his renovation of two stone cabins in the Italian countryside.

  • His YouTube channel where he uploads his progress on the plot now has over 400,000 subscribers.

  • YouTube not only helps fund his dream, but the community offers crucial support and advice.

After years of traveling the world, graphic designer Martijn Doolaard decided to find a remote location to call home.

Martijn Doolaard beside his two cabins in the Italian Alps.
Martijn Doolaard beside his two cabins in the Italian Alps.  

Fifteen years ago Martijn Doolaard worked full-time as a graphic designer in Amsterdam, but he wanted more adventure in his life so he began traveling around the world on his bicycle, and documenting it on YouTube.

After spending many nights camping in beautiful landscapes he wondered how he could make a place like that his home. "I was thinking, how would it be to actually live there instead of one-night camping," he told Insider.

In 2021, while still living full-time in Amsterdam, he began looking at remote properties in mountainous regions, starting in Spain before exploring options in Italy.

After four weeks of traveling through the Italian Alps in his campervan looking at advertised areas, he discovered the piece of land which he decided to make his home: just under six acres of land in Piemont, Northwest Italy, which he said he paid €21,000 ($21,600) for.

It came with two stone cabins which Doolaard planned to turn into a homestead. Built in 1903, he said they looked more like barns or animal shelters at the time of filming.

"It's very bare bones. It's basically four walls and a leaking roof," he said in the video, adding there was no plumbing, toilets, or electricity.

Now 38, Doolaard 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 allowed him to fund his project, but also kept him motivated and provided a community of support and advice as he undertakes the renovation.

Doolaard's videos about the renovation immediately drew a huge viewership.

Doolaard posted the first video of 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 had signed the paperwork and taken ownership.

At the time, Doolaard had fewer than 1,000 subscribers, but the video blew up, and to date is his most-viewed video of all time, with almost 5 million views.

Doolaard was pleasantly surprised by the quick rise in popularity, as he thought he would have to make a lot of content over an extended period of time to find a larger audience. "You slowly build and you grow and you grow," he said. "That's how it usually goes."

 

Doolaard filmed his progress as a public way of motivating himself.

Martijn Doolaard building on his land.
Martijn Doolaard building on his land.  

To hold himself accountable and keep on top of the renovations, Doolaard tasked himself with making a progress video each week for his YouTube channel.

"It kind of motivates me to build and finish it and do the thing, even if I don't feel like it," he said.

The videos document Doolaard adding solar panels to the land, fixing the cabin roof, and building an outdoor shower. He also created a temporary campsite so he could live on the land while he worked.

 

Within three months Doolaard's audience grew to 100,000 subscribers and they began giving him tips and suggestions on how to build.

After six uploads Doolaard said he remembers receiving half a million views in one day. He was surprised by the videos' popularity but thinks viewers like them because they offer an escape.

"People come home from work or on the weekend, they open their laptop, they have a plate of food on their lap, and they're just spending an hour on a mountain in Italy," he said.

Once he'd established an audience Doolaard started receiving feedback from builders and people with related experience. They would leave comments with helpful insights or find his details and send him long emails full of advice.

"Because the audience has grown so much there's this feedback coming," he said. "The community grows really big and it becomes very interesting."

With limited renovation experience, YouTube tutorials were crucial in learning the skills he needed for the project.

Martijn Doolaard beside his temporary tent on the land.
Martijn Doolaard beside his temporary tent on the land.  

Aside from a "little bit" of upkeep in his apartment in Amsterdam, Doolaard had no experience with renovation. He knew there was a lot to learn and the process would not be straightforward, but said he found that aspect appealing.

"That's kind of part of the adventure for me and part of the project of just developing myself," he told Insider

Doolaard headed to YouTube to fill his gaps in knowledge, watching video tutorials that taught niche skills like how to fix a stone roof. The more videos he watched, the more the YouTube algorithm fed him suggestions that helped build his skill set.

"We live in a time where everything is online, you can just teach yourself," he said. "If you had the time and the passion to do it, I think you can get pretty far."

Uploading videos from such a rural location wasn't always easy.

Martijn Doolaard standing on a hill.
Martijn Doolaard standing on a hill.  

At first, Doolaard said he had a lot of technical issues when he tried to film himself, as his camera batteries broke in the cold weather of the Alps. He bought a new camera that was more reliable, and kept his filming set-up very simple, with just an additional drone for aerial shots.

Doolaard filmed the progress of his land throughout the week, then edited the footage in one day each Saturday. He spent Sundays rendering video so it was ready to upload to YouTube.

For the first few months he had to climb on top of a hill to get reception from the closest phone tower, in order to access the internet and share his updates online. Now he said the access to wifi has improved, and he always has the option to invest in a satellite if necessary."

"There's always some issues," he said. "Sometimes the microphone doesn't work and you have to reshoot, but I tried to deal with it."

The money Doolaard makes from YouTube helps him fund his materials and tools, and keep the renovation going.

Doolaard didn't keep track of the specific cost of the first year's worth of renovations, but he said a "ballpark figure" would be between €20,000 ($20,600) and €30,000 ($30,900).

He saves a lot of money by doing the heavy lifting himself and said the tools are one of the most expensive parts.

At first, Doolaard continued to work as a freelance graphic designer to pay his way, but due to the popularity of his videos he said he began to make enough money from YouTube's Partner Program to fund his lifestyle and materials.

With additional help from his Patreon supporters, who donate funds, YouTube has now become his full-time job so he has more time and energy to make the videos each week.

"That's perfect right?" he said. "I'm doing what I want to do, I'm doing the renovation and I live the life I want to live."

In October 2022 Doolaard uploaded a video that summarized the progress he had made on the land and cabins in the first year.

On October 21, Doolaard posted a three-hour video that showed a timeline of his progress on the land and cabins during his first 12 months of the project.

His main areas of focus were introducing electricity using solar panels, and creating a water connection so he could live comfortably on the land while he worked.

The video also shows the changes Doolaard made to the cabins which included adding a new door to the entrance, and new beams to the roof.

In the first month, it has received 2.9 million views, and the comments have praised Doolaard for both the work he has done on the land and the way he has 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 will continue to post weekly updates about his renovation.

After a year of renovating, Doolaard is still enjoying it and he will "definitely" keep making videos.

He said planning future renovations is tricky because it always goes wrong, but the goal is to complete the first cabin in the next six months, and he will embrace any mistakes he makes.

"I come out of bed every day, I go to work and if it goes well it's nice," he said. "If it doesn't go well, you try to learn from it."

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.

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