- Alan Bruton moved to Italy in 2022, after years of visiting a biannual design festival in Venice.
- The designer went from a $1,200 studio in Houston to a roughly $1,070 three-bedroom home in Venice.
- He said contributing to Venice’s culture before retiring is beneficial for him and the city.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Alan Bruton, 59, about his decision to move to Venice, Italy in 2022. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I have Irish parents, and was born in Dallas. I moved to New York after college and I became a professor of architecture and interior design at Parsons.
After September 11, I decided I would eventually leave because I’m a European citizen. I was in Tribeca right next to all of that. I thought, “Well, I’m just going to do that. I can’t afford to do that. I don’t know when I’m going to do that. I’m definitely going to do that.”
I was offered to start a program in Houston in 2016, so I went and was the director of interior architecture at the University of Houston.
Being in Houston during George Floyd and the further polarization of United States politics, I was concerned about the way the country was going politically and economically
I’m also a single person getting older and I wasn’t liking the health system in America, which is neither about health, nor is it a system. It was hard to manage the paperwork and the insurance aspect of it, even though I had really great coverage. I don’t want to get older and sicker and have to manage that on my own.
Academia didn’t set me up for the retirement that I wanted
Being an academic, I realized that I wasn’t going to be making any more money. My retirement accounts were fine, and the contribution to the retirement account from the university was fine, but it wasn’t going to provide me with a retirement that I could actually build on in America.
I’m 59. Do I wait until I retire when I’m 63 and then move to Venice, or do I just do it now? I talked to a bunch of people about this, and they said it’s better if you go when you’re younger because you’ll meet people and you can work and contribute, and you won’t be seen as some kind of retired person showing up wanting to have a nice dinner.
They encouraged me that it was better to go as a contributing member of society with a wealth of experience at an advanced age.
I was thinking a smart person would’ve waited until they were 62 or 63 to move abroad, and would’ve done another five years at the university and then gotten a better 401(k) deal. I wasn’t on the pension plan or anything, so it was all my 401(k).
I had only visited Venice before, so I was nervous to make the move
In 2008, I was the exhibition designer for the US Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, so I lived here and worked here for a few months. After that, I came here every two years for the Architecture Biennale for a week or so, and every time I’d come, I’d just fall more in love with the city. I started to see the city more as a place where I could live and work.
During the summer of 2021, I took a trip and visited six places that I decided that I could live: Dublin, Cork, and Galway, Ireland. I looked in Rotterdam, Netherlands. I looked in Vienna and Zurich. And then the trip ended here in Venice, and it just was clearly right.
I was nervous about moving to Venice because it is so particular. I had two reservations. One was that I had worked here as a foreigner before with foreign clients. I didn’t know that I could ever get an Italian client or actually build a business here.
And two, I’d been here in certain seasons — mostly the nice ones — but I had never been here over the winter. The city floods and it does all kinds of strange things.
I didn’t know it well enough climatically, socially, and in business terms to think that it’s actually viable. I had to be here to really ask and answer those questions.
When I got here, I opened my design studio, APB: All Projects Being, and I have my first client already.
For me, the cost of living in Venice is less expensive than the US
Venice is so much more reasonable in every single way. It’s a walking town. There are boats, but no cars. The buses are boats. I can buy a bus boat pass for a month for 30 euro ($32), and I can go as many times as I want.
In Houston, I was renting a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom, beautiful midcentury-modern gem of a building with a little courtyard and a pool, for about $1,200 a month.
Here I have a sprawling 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom place for 1,000 Euros plus 200 Euros a month in a utility deposit.
My studio now is working on a game about bringing people together in conversation, called Salon. Venice is perfect for this project because it’s a place where people come to make conversations.
Venice is a place that’s filled with cultural producers. It takes a while to be calm and slow and establish that you’re here to stay. When you do, suddenly everyone’s happy and receptive to you.