When she left for London, Francesca Granata was 24 years old, with a fresh degree in law and a simple idea: improve her English and go home before Christmas.
Now, 23 years later, she is Head of the Italian Desk at one of the most prominent property law firms in London, she is the Founder and Managing Director of Casa Londra – a consultancy company for people wishing to invest in London, Trustee of the Rava Foundation for the UK, global Ambassador for Genoa – her hometown, and is married to a Brit with whom she has three lovely children.
What pushed you to move to London?
I wanted to have an international experience before starting my vocational training at a law firm in Milan. I then fell madly in love with this city, and I am still here…
Was it difficult for you to find your way in town?
I felt at home from day one. I rented an attic room in Notting Hill, and when it rained I had to move my bed to avoid getting showered. And yet, to me it was the most beautiful place in the world.
In the morning I studied English and in the afternoon I’d found a part-time job in a very classic perfumery, Penhaligon’s, in the beautiful Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly. I had dropped my CV there when walking by without imagining that they’d offer me a job the next day…
What did you find in London that made you choose to stay?
I’d discovered that if I studied two years at the College of Law I could qualify as Solicitor. My dream was to work for a large law firm in the City, and so I asked to be sponsored during the two years in college. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the letter from a large American firm, Coudert Brothers, inviting me for an interview! They offered a grant to cover my studies so long as I passed all my exams with top grades and then stayed on to work for them. You can imagine how hard I studied, I was petrified of losing a great opportunity. And so I became Solicitor, specialising in corporate finance. In that period I also met my husband, Dominic: gorgeous, British and a finance lawyer. At that point, returning to Italy was out of the question.
Without ever stopping work, you created a family and a home, you had three children and founded a company: Casa Londra. How did you get the idea?
I had just had my third child, I was still working as a lawyer in a British law firm but I had left the financial markets to specialise in property law.
The working hours in property were way more compatible with family life than the ones of a corporate finance firm, and I also always had a passion for the property market. I assisted my clients with the legal procedure for buying (actually doing what notaries do in Italy), and my clients were for the most part Italian. Once the purchase was completed, they stayed in contact with me because they wanted help in managing or renting their property, or they were asking me to find other property for their friends… I therefore realised there was a gap in the London market: there was need for an Italian property agency that could assist clients wanting to invest in London, or who were moving here.
And so I asked a couple of girlfriends to help me, and Casa Londra started its operations in the living room of my house in Fulham. We were initially managing four houses, and now we have more than 200… It has been amazing watching the business grow, finding the first office, recruiting new staff and delivering such a unique and tailored service to Italians in London.
What is your strength?
It is the passion that I, my partners and the whole team put in this work. Our ability to assist clients 360°: from the search for a home to the legal buying procedure, management of the property, refurbishments, and even tax assistance for those having income from rent. Basically, we lift all problems from our clients and keep their London homes in the best way possible, as if they were ours.
Who is the team at Casa Londra?
We are a team of 12 people, all ladies (we tried with men in the past but it did not work: they always run away!). We keep on hiring because the properties are increasing and many clients are starting to buy again. Despite Brexit, there is still a lor of interest in London; the price of properties has slightly gone down recently, and with a weak pound, the bargain is just around the corner.
What are your special spots in town?
Portobello Road, of course, around the corner from my house. It is beautiful in all seasons. At 7.30 I drop the kids off at the school bus and start the day with food shopping and a nice coffee.
Also Old Brompton Road, where we opened the Casa Londra Shop, a showroom of purely Italian house decoration. And Holland Park: the attic house where my London adventure started is close by.
Three children, lots of work, and now Trustee of a Foundation. How do you do it all?
I do have an intense life, and maybe I do too much: I cannot stay still. When the Chairwoman of the Foundation, Mariavittoria Rava, was looking for a London law firm to create a fundraising office in the UK, I immediately offered my support free of charge. After years in London in which I built lots for myself, it was time to give back. And so I learned about the extraordinary activities of Mariavittoria’s team, which for twenty years has helped struggling children in Haiti, in nine countries across Latin America and in Italy. After the legal side was done, I found myself organising the launch of the charity at the Italian embassy, and more wonderful events followed, where we raised substantial funds for the NPH family home children. Even though my life is very full, I always find time for Fondazione Rava, and in July I will actually be going to Haiti to volunteer with my eldest, Millie. I do not doubt it will be an amazing experience for both.
What projects do you have for the future?
In the past few days we’ve launched the Casa Londra Milano page on our website. We have many clients returning to Italy and Milan is now a top destination. They certainly need us to find the right house for rent or sale, and to get assistance during the relocation. It is the proof of my close bond with Italy, and with my deepest wish of returning to live here eventually, maybe in my little house in Nozarego, on the hills above Santa Margherita Ligure. This is my piece of paradise where I run for shelter with my family when London becomes too stressful. In Liguria, life flows with another speed compared with London, and maybe I’ll be able to return, and slow down a little… Or at least I can try!
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