Please Do Your Homework…

Please Do Your Homework…

If there’s one thing we do in this whole process of attempting to sell our renovated home in Istria, it’s provide information – LOTS OF IT – so that anyone who is potentially interested in it, can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for them, very early on.

Initially, we didn’t really refer to a swimming pool on our website and in other places, other than to state we don’t have one. Because, you know, we don’t have one. But, it became increasingly clear we were going to have to be a whole lot more blatant, because when viewings commenced after travel restrictions were eased, we found we were often being met with puzzlement. Because, there was no pool. So, we made it clearer on our website etc that although there is the space to install a small pool or a plunge pool, there isn’t one currently. We found we were almost having to justify why we didn’t have one, and this really started to irritate as it should have been so obvious a pool wouldn’t magically appear. Thankfully, we seem to have got this particular message across – and if asked, we do now politely suggest that should the viewers proceed to buying the property, they might want to consider installing one.

But something new has reared its head – something we’d not even considered.

Our house & gardens (front & rear) would be perfect for someone looking for a holiday home, with *manageable* outdoor space. We do not own any additional land/fields – as we are sometimes asked, even though we make it VERY clear on our website what do actually own, externally. We’re really quite surprised by the number of people who enquire – and often subsequently view – our home, who have on their list of requirements either “land” or a “field”. We can only assume they pay scant regard to the images and textual information as there is NO reference to either, and this does make us wonder what goes on in some people’s heads. These people who enquire – and sometimes take it as far as viewing before revealing this nugget – haven’t come from the next village. They’ve often travelled quite a distance, and usually from another European country. I think I’d want to be pretty certain that what I was putting in an awful lot of effort to view, at least ticked my main boxes so that I didn’t waste my time, and potentially build up the hopes of the people selling.

Most viewings are for the house to be used as a holiday home/let or a second home. And, for us, this kind of begs the question – would you really want to buy a holiday home & also take on the responsibility of more land/fields?

Who’d look after it in your absence? Things grow very quickly here, so you might find you’d be starting your holiday tackling an overgrown field 😩 Or, you’d have to find someone local, who could look after the land on your behalf, especially if you were letting the house out to visitors. I can’t imagine anyone would appreciate rocking up on holiday and finding they had no view as they couldn’t see beyond the overgrown field.

What would you actually do with it? Soil here is rich, thick, red clay – without a lot of additional work, it’s difficult to imagine doing anything other than growing crops. And, as lovely as this idea is, who’d look after your field of crops in your absence? Who’d treat the crops & harvest them? Who’d actually eat all of the produce? Would they be just left to wither and rot, if you weren’t here full time?

And, finally, if your thinking is to buy a house with a field/additional land attached or nearby, to build on or install a pool, we’ll save your time right now. You’ve NO CHANCE. Land here, which is designated as arable, can’t be built on. There may be ways for locals to get around this, but as someone coming in & planning to develop their property, you really would be wasting your time.

But, if you still think you definitely want a field, I think we can say, quite categorically, our home is absolutely not for you.You’d be wasting your time coming to view it. You might be viewing a number of different properties in the area, and decide to view ours too, as it looks nice and a bit unusual, but with no intention of taking things any further. A bit of a filler for you, on a day of viewings, perhaps. Please don’t do this. It’s cruel. With every single viewing, we ensure that our home is in the best state possible and this takes up a lot of our time. We emotionally invest in every single viewing, as it could THE ONE. We care about our home and who it might be owned by next, so it’s always a bit of a blow to find out that someone really hasn’t done their homework.

We know that the next custodians of our home are out there, and they will most probably be people who we’ll really like, because if they go as far as purchasing, we’re pretty sure they’ll have left no stone un-turned. They won’t have unrealistic expectations as they will know we don’t have a pool, but won’t be fazed at the idea of actually rolling up their sleeves and having one installed. They won’t have the pipe-dream of a “field” because they recognise all of the above points if they are purchasing the house as second home or holiday let. And they will probably be super happy that our (very large) front garden is incredibly low maintenance, so they can get on pretty quickly with putting their feet up and relaxing, in their new Istrian holiday home…

 

A Vision : From Beautiful Home to Boutique Hotel

A Vision : From Beautiful Home to Boutique Hotel

Our renovated house, in beautiful northern Istria, is for sale. We have thought since Day One, that it would sell to people like us. People who wanted to either live in it it full time, or use it as a holiday home, for themselves, family and friends. We think this will most likely still happen, as the enquiries which are now translating into serious viewings, are generally from people who want to do one or the other.

However, we’ve started thinking a little bit outside of the box, and have realised that our market – because of where we are located – is actually potentially much wider than we initially thought.

Not Just A Home…

As we drive around Istria, especially in the north, we’re seeing more and more stone houses being renovated. This is wonderful to see, as however beautiful we think they are in their abandoned states, they will just continue to fall into further disrepair. Some of these properties are clearly being renovated to become holiday homes, but some are a lot more interesting to us – they are being, or have been, renovated to become very small, but very beautiful, boutique hotels. Some are one-offs, and some are outposts of other hotels, already established and successful. And this has got us really thinking about the wider possibilities of our renovated house. Presumably, at some point in the past, all of these properties were homes, like ours, and now they have taken on a new character. So, maybe ours could, too…

Constructed of Istrian stone, and built over three floors, our home could potentially be converted into a small hotel. We currently have three double bedrooms, with a further living space (one of three) being perfect for a fourth room, with ample space for an en-suite facility. We have a large living room, a dining room – with a very, very unique exposed and illuminated (although very safe as covered with reinforced glass) well chamber, which guests will love – and a fully renovated kitchen. Although not huge, the kitchen is fitted with everything that a small residence might need initially, but The Well Room could definitely accommodate a larger kitchen if required.

The main bedroom (top photo) is very definitely large enough to accommodate quite a spacious en-suite. The upstairs bathroom is situated in the room behind where the wardrobe stands, so plumbing would be a fairly easy job for someone who knew what they were doing. The other two bedrooms aren’t as large – but for a person with vision, this wouldn’t be a problem. Currently, with a partition wall between them, it would be a fairly easy task to take this down to create a large room, with an en-suite. These en-suites would pinch space from the current bathroom, but as it would be no longer needed, the area left could be the perfect storage space for linens, towels etc etc.

Knocking two rooms together would obviously decrease the number of rooms available for guests, and a boutique offering, however beautiful, but with only two en-suite rooms, would be less appealing as a project than one with three rooms. So, to get that third room – and a large room it is too – we have a very unique room at the bottom of the house, accessed by stairs from the living room. Our Snug…

This room could become perfect private accommodation, with an en-suite bathroom installed under the stairs (behind the curtains), and access either down the stairs from the upper floor – or, with a bit of imagination and investment, the window could be transformed into a doorway, with steps leading up and into the rear garden.

And, talking of which – if a boutique retreat is something which get your imagination going, we also have a small stone cottage included in the sale of the property. This currently in what we like to call a “rustic condition” – it is definitely not habitable, as the roof and walls would need serious attention. But, for the right person, this could be an amazing project. It could become a self-contained annexe, therefore providing additional accommodation space. If demolished, the beautiful stones could be used to create a boundary wall around what would become a very large rear, private garden. Certainly large enough to install a small pool. We think that this additional property, is the icing on the cake of our sale and with someone in charge, who had a clear vision and the finances to allow it, it would become an absolute hidden gem.

Very close by, are a number of properties which have been converted sympathetically and restored, to create beautiful boutique accommodation. Take a look at these and if you feel inspired, why not get in touch with us for a chat? Alternatively, have a look at our website, as a starting point

Casa Ars Natura, Groznjan http://casa-ars-natura.istria-hotel.com/en

Melegran in the Hills, Biloslavi https://melegran.com/melegran-in-the-hills

Fig Tree House, Bale http://fig-tree-house.istria-hotel.com/en

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Our Own

Growing Our Own

2022 is going to be Grow Our Own year. We’ve tinkered around the edges of growing vegetables and herbs before, but it’s always been pretty half-hearted as far too much else has been going on in and around the garden. We’ve had minor success with lettuce and tomatoes and back in Didsbury, we did successfully grow strawberries and potatoes. But this year, the house renovation has finished and we’re focusing on the garden, so being a bit more self-sufficient is the aim.

Along the side of our house and garden, is a long strip of communal land. This was originally the road into the village, but it isn’t any longer. The road is on the other side of house, so this strip of land – owned by the local council and a number of individuals – is largely unused. Somewhere, presumably on hiking maps, it may still be marked as a right of way, because on a couple of occasions, we’ve had people with hiking sticks appearing. And being as startled as us! Maybe once a year, one of our neighbours will bring his tractor along the grassed lane to get to his field, but we can probably can count on one hand, how many times it’s been used by anyone other than us. So, we’ve been working hard to make it good, and frame the house. We have a hammock, in the summer, strung up between two of the trees and patches of wildflower seeds have been sown. This year, we’ve added pots of bulbs and a cluster of potted bamboos. But, it’s the veg we’re working on, more than anything.

If there’s one thing we have an excess of around the house, it’s Istrian stones, so these are being to use and we’ve made a vegetable patch, which sits in front of a small wall, and is in full sunlight. As we also have an excess of logs, we’ve divided the patch up with these and labelled each section. So far, we have sown peas, courgettes, cucumbers, rocket, lambs’ lettuce, carrots and onions – and already, just a week after sowing, the green rocket is pushing up through the soil. The bed was dug down and raked over, before the stone frame was built around it. To save on good soil, we back-filled the whole thing with twigs and branches, then mulch, then our own rich, red soil before adding a layer of top soil. A water butt, which was useless for collecting rainwater as the tap had snapped off, and couldn’t be replaced, was cut in half, and this has made an excellent planter for potatoes.

We have two apples trees and a cherry tree which were planted early last year, but didn’t produce anything very much last year – we did celebrate the one apple! – but already this year, they are heavily budding so we have high hopes for them. Once the much needed rain passes, we’re going to be planting up tomatoes and strawberries, too. It’s fair to say, we are crossing our fingers for a bumper harvest across the board this year.

The Easiest Irish Soda-bread

The Easiest Irish Soda-bread

Like everyone else in lock-down, we tried our hands at bread-making. Not the arduous kind of bread where you have to proove it for days. More the kind that you knock up in a bread maker. We did have success although we did still find even using the machine to be a faff, and so never really got away from the supermarket purchases. Until now…

I think it might have been on an Instagram feed that a recipe came up from Siggi’s, using their Icelandic inspired yogurt which does not contain artificial preservatives, thickeners, sweeteners, flavours or colours. I love this yoghurt and so was immediately interested. And, with so few ingredients, decided to give it a whirl.

The recipe uses cups as a measurement, as it’s an American website, so a bit of conversion had to be done first. For the record, this accurate:

  • 1 cup = 136 grammes
  • 1 cup = 237 millilitres

RECIPE

  • 4 cups (544g) of all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups (473ml) of 0% plain drinkable yoghurt

METHOD

Honestly, this could not be easier. If you have the four ingredients pre-weighed, it’ll take no longer than 5 minutes before it’s in the oven. Especially if you’re an expert kneader!

reheat the oven to 190°C (or 375°F).

Add flour, salt, and baking soda to a mixing bowl and mix together with a fork. Pour in the yoghurt and stir briskly with the fork until the ingredients are combined and it holds together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed for 30 seconds. Pat into an 8-inch and 1 1/2 inch thick round on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a knife to cut an “x” in the top of the bread.

The recipe says to bake for 45 minutes, but we found the bread to be very pale, so did it for 55 minutes and it was perfect for our taste. Let it cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Wrap in a lightly damp towel and let cool completely. And, that is it!

 

Kitchen Makeover Time

Kitchen Makeover Time

The kitchen was the first room in our Istrian stone house to receive the full renovation treatment. The units we had inherited were ripped out, the flooring taken out, the ceiling taken down, a new window installed, brand new units and appliances fitted and under floor heating put in beneath new flooring. It’s quite a small room, but is a light room and we decided to go bold with the colour. On a trip back to England we brought back 10 litres of Farrow and Ball Hague Blue paint and to the dismay of our builder/decorator – who thought it was the vilest colour he had ever seen – we went ahead and painted all of the walls ceiling.

This colour is a bold one, especially as the kitchen isn’t huge. But, with two windows, and light coming in from the Well Room, we felt it could take this deep shade. For over four years, we’ve loved it, and would happily have left it this colour. But a couple of things made us have a re-think. Firstly, with all of the comings and goings in the kitchen, the walls were due a lick of paint and to get the same one, we’d have had to have gone to the nearest Farrow & Ball showroom, which is in Treviso. Not a bad trip, but a bit out of the way for a tin of paint. We could also have had the colour mixed, which we’ve done before, but we’ve never achieved the exact shade. Also, as our house is now for sale, we felt that the time was right to introduce a new colour.

We know that if people are seriously interested in a property, they will look beyond what is it is like currently, and see its potential. However, the kitchen was maybe a bit too “out there”, in terms of selling and with such a strong colour, we felt that for some people it might be a step too far. So, the decision was made to tone it down and introduce a more neutral colour scheme. We love our greys – various shades of grey appear around the house, because it’s such an easy colour to work with, and so we opted for a soft, smokey grey for the kitchen. Thinking that the coverage would be an issue, we bought three tins of it – completely unnecessary as it was a dream to apply and covered the dark cover really well. In fact, we had so much left over, that we also decided to paint over the dark wall in the Well Room. And, voila! A house very ready for the lighter days of spring and summer…

The newly painted wall in the Well Room, does now look so much better, in its lighter softer colour, making the room seem larger and more spacious. Although we don’t keep the door to the downstairs shower room open, when you do open it, the big, grey concrete tiles seems to sit so much better against the new colour outside…

It does feel that spring might have finally arrived, after a long winter, and the house now reflects so much more the lighter, brighter days outside. If our home is something you might be interested in, as aholiday home, perhaps, do take a look at our website. We’d love to hear from you…

 

Filo Tart

Filo Tart

Winter is the season of comfort food. When the nights draw in very early and it’s dark and cold, we tend to cook comfort food. Hearty stews, thick soups, pasta dishes often loaded with a sauce, Sunday roasts. The kind of food that is often followed by a snooze on the sofa, under a furry blanket, in front of the wood burner. But, you can only eat this kind of food for so long, and as we have noticed spring bulbs beginning to emerge and days seeming to last a little longer before it gets dark, our evening meals are starting to change, too. Marinaded tuna, salmon, chicken fillets, lighter pasta dishes. And this weekend, a very spring-like filo tart, filled with punchy colours and flavours. It was the simplest and quickest tart to make, made up as we went along. The filo pastry was shop-bought – there is no way I’m standing in a kitchen making it, when it can just be unrolled from a packet. Sorry to pastry purists and serious cooks, but I’m not messing around with filo. And, within 10 minutes, everything had been chopped and prepared and it was in the oven.

The pastry was rolled out into rectangular baking tray and smothered in green pesto. Lightly roasted peppers and chopped cherry tomatoes were added, with back olives squished down into the veggie mix. Feta cheese was crumbled across the tart and chilli flakes sprinkled on top, then baked for about 25 minutes. It was served with a fresh spring salad and potato rosti. The pesto made a real difference as it during the cooking, it soaked into the base, giving it a creamy texture. A lovely, light and fresh dinner dish – which reminded us that spring is not too far off…

The Snug

The Snug

When we viewed our stone house in 2016, we found a very sorry looking room – a cellar, of kinds – down the stairs from the living room. The stairs were treacherous to say the least. Very thin pine treads, on a steep vertical with no handrail. These hinted at what we were going to find at the bottom of them.

Bare light bulbs hung from flexes, and stuck out of their fixings on the walls. The walls were half plastered, half bare stone. Original beams – a potential plus point – were in a very poor state of repair. They were untreated and the wood was rough and splintered. The ceiling, although plaster-boarded, was unfinished. Woodwork was unpainted. The concrete floor was rough and powdery. A far cry from the polished concrete finish I’d been visioning. It was also obviously a bit of a dumping ground. Window frames propped up against the walls, tins of paint, bags of concrete, and a deflated plastic swimming pool. All in all, a pretty depressing room. BUT – and we just couldn’t get this out of our heads – a room with a whole heap of potential, in a house with a massive amount of potential…

It does make me shudder to look back on these photos, as this room remained in this state, for quite a long time. In fact, it probably got worse, as it became our dumping ground, for packing boxes, furniture, everything which we didn’t unpack immediately because we didn’t know where things would go. Gradually, as we renovated rooms above, it did begin to empty out, but our focus was on the main house and to be honest, with so many rooms above, we weren’t actually sure what we were going to use this room for. So, for a good two or three years, it remained unloved, as we devoted our attention to the rest of the house.

However, as pieces of furniture were moved upstairs and boxes emptied and our belongings put in their new homes, we realised that we could do with this room, what had done with the ones above. We had brought with us, from Didsbury, our Dovre Vintage woodburner and it quickly became apparent that this dinky retro burner, wasn’t large enough for the main living room. A new, much bigger, one was sourced, but it meant we had to find a new home for the Dovre. We considered the big bedroom, but the reality of keeping a fire going in there – and moving logs upstairs and cleaning it out – was pretty unrealistic, and all of the sudden we had the lightbulb moment. Why not create an additional living space, under the main living room, which could house all of our books, vinyl records, CDs, hi-fi system and a big sofa? So The Snug idea came about – named as such, because we wanted to create a room for the winter which would be a cosy hideaway. It’s actually a really big space, and we were able to create an area under the stairs which is now curtained off, but houses essentials such as a condenser dryer, a chest freezer, storage cubes and household appliances such as the ironing board, hoover etc.

We decided that all of the walls, ceiling, beams and floor should be painted white to maximise on the feeling of space and make it lighter and brighter. There are two windows which are quite unique – as this room is under the main living space, the the two windows open out onto ground level outside, giving us a very different perspective. Our two gardens – front and rear – are at eye level from The Snug, and this makes it feel even more cosy. To contrast with the all-white room, we painted the woodwork in the same pale blue satinwood as we have throughout the house. The stairs were also tackled – a safe back was attached to the treads, and each tread was pulled forward, giving more depth and therefore making them safer. Chrome plumbing pipes and brackets were used to create vertical grab rails, meaning no more looking into a void over the side. And finally, like the stairs leading up from the living room to the first floor, these were painted in the Farrow & Ball Railings, which we’d brought back from Manchester on one of our roadtrips.

In the winter this room really is snug – and as we stayed in Istria over Christmas, we decided to really utilise this space, and create a hygge haven at the bottom of the house. And finally completing the renovation.

New throws and cushions, and two chocolate brown furry rugs, were introduced to add more layers of warmth and comfort, and to increase the seating, without going to expense of buying more chairs, the garden chairs which have been in winter storage were moved down here. A Christmas gift of money was put towards a new Smart TV and an additional TV box, linked to our wi-fi, was also bought, meaning we can now access all channels in this room, as well as the living room upstairs.

Although this room may not be to everyone’s tastes, we think we’ve created a very cosy room. It’s a great additional living space and we think that once family and friends start visiting again, it will be well utilised as it will mean that guests will have a living room of their own, if they want some privacy.

In terms of our house being for sale, this room is an added bonus. As well as an additional living room, there is the potential to adapt it and create a fourth bedroom. There is ample space to install an en-suite bathroom, and the window which overlooks the rear garden, could easily be opened up and a doorway fitted, creating a private entrance and easy access into the garden. For anyone with bigger design ambitions, the space is sufficiently large enough to create a small self-contained apartment, with an en-suite and a kitchen area. In fact, if were staying here and not planning on embarking renovating another property, I think we’d be going down the self-contained apartment route.

This room has been the final piece of the renovation jigsaw. Now that it is completed, we’re turning our attention to the the gardens at the front and rear of the house to create two very different, but very beautiful outdoor spaces, that we can use throughout the spring and summer, and into the autumn. Watch this space…

 

 

 

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

So, the last renovation blog detailed the thinking behind creating the Secret Garden. Although it’s not a real Secret Garden – it’s pretty obvious it’s there when you look out of the living room window – it feels quite secret, when you’re in it. And, we are delighted that, finally, it’s a part of our home that we are now very proud of. Our home, which we are now selling, so this this Secret Garden could be yours

The project started a few weeks ago, when we finally decided that a wooden fence, with the posts sunken into concrete, would form the boundary wall. We decided on a wooden fence, because we wanted something which could be quite easily removed by new owners, if they decided they wanted something different. Wooden posts were purchased, concrete and metal holders to keep the posts in place. Thankfully, looking back, we didn’t go the expense of also buying the wood to create the actual fence. Immediate obstacles presented themselves, particularly that the land is on a slight incline and we had no digger and therefore holes for the fence posts were having to be dug out by hand. It was immediately apparent that doing it this way was going to be a very slow process, and we wanted something in place quite quickly, so despite the purchases already made, we had a re-think. Our builder couldn’t work as much as we wanted, and so we also decided that we’d do it ourselves and see how far we got. First thing we did was abandon the idea of the wooden fence. The holes were re-filled and the wooden planks used to create a boundary at ground level. (PS – the mess beyond what would be come The Secret Garden is on-going work by a neighbour, who is building a small stone cottage. We’re hoping that the crane and the building materials won’t be around for too much longer and that the finishing touch will be a bit of landscaping).

A lorry load of sand was then ordered and this was flattened over a layer of Geotex to prevent weeds growing. Using just a rake, a snow shovel and our feet, this was soon quite compacted and we could begin to kind of see what the space could potentially look like.

We decided to surface the area in the way we did the car parking area at the front of the house, as this has proven to be very hard-wearing. Next delivery was three cubic metres of white stones. These were tipped into the corner and we started the process of moving the stones, using a wheelbarrow to get them up the incline, and then raking into place.

Having decided against the wooden fence, we still had to come up with a solution, which would not only demarcate our boundary but would also give us the privacy we wanted. We considered potted bamboos, having lots of these in the front garden, but quickly decided against them on the grounds that they shed leaves and so over the winter would look quite bare. We had also decided that if we were going to have a privacy hedge, we wanted to be able to take the plants away with us to The Printworks, and so very quickly, we settled on the idea of potted conifer trees, which would be quite thick and impenetrable. Ten, plus pots, were bought from our local garden centre. On delivery however, we realised we had seriously underestimated the number we’d need and safe to say we now in excess of twenty! Lesson learned – always measure and calculate…

As well as conifers, we also thought if we were finally going to do this, we might as well do it properly and have the garden area we’d always imagined. So, back to the garden centre – who by this time, were thankfully giving us good discounts! – and more pots were purchased. Along with some very beautiful big plants – a feijoa, a eucalyptus, a fig tree and, the best of all, a mature olive tree. Smaller pots and plants were also included to add a bit of colour and winter pansies, to hang from pots on the palette planter on the wall.

A small table and two chairs have been added (we already had these so saved on a little bit of expenditure) and we’ve also brought the fire pit around. Nights are very chilly now, but we have sat out, warmly wrapped up, with the fire on, with a glass of wine. I’m not sure quite how many times we’ll repeat this, this winter, but it was nice while it lasted! A new shed – in a very pleasing grey colour, which was a real bonus as I assumed it would be green – has also been constructed, meaning that all of the garden tools, bags of soil, plant pots etc etc, can now be stored away.

On one of our visits to the garden centre, I spotted a beautiful vintage, wrought iron wall basket, full of succulent plants and ferns, and knew it would be a gorgeous addition to the garden. A bit of negotiation ensued, as it wasn’t actually for sale, but a cash price was agreed and it was ours. It’s now securely attached to the wall, above the table, and come springtime, when the succulents and ferns start growing and twisting of the basket, I’m sure it’ll look very pretty, indeed.

Although we’ll continue to develop this little garden while we’re still in the house, it is now such a nice feeling to look out of the living room window and see something which is cared for and attractive, rather than a cobbled together, makeshift garden, overlooking building work. The conifers give us the privacy we wanted, whilst being portable and easily able to be taken to the new renovation project and eventually planted. The same with the other plants. New owners will definitely have their own ideas about what they want to do with the rear of the house, so we made the decision that whatever we did would be temporary and could be moved with us. I can already see the big olive tree and the fig tree, especially, in the internal courtyard we are going to create. So, whoever buys the house, won’t also be taking possession of everything in the Secret Garden, but they will have seen the potential…

 Next stage for this garden, is to finish planting up spring bulbs, which we’re staggering, so that rather than one hit of flowers, we have a few waves of colour. I also have a couple of ideas which I think, if implemented, will be the icing on the cake, but I’m biding my time with suggesting these…

 

Creating A Secret Garden

Creating A Secret Garden

Whilst we’ve spent the best part of the last four and a half years, fully renovating our Istrian stone-house and creating beautiful gardens to the front and side of the property, the rear has been woefully neglected. We’ve tried to titivate it up, but it’s never really been the kind of place where we want to spend any time. When people are viewing our house for sale, I always internally shudder when we take them to the back of the house. I know that when you are buying property, you are often buying the potential, but we just felt that the time had come to tackle this much neglected part of our home. So, let us take you right back to the beginning, and what this area was like when we saw its potential…

Yep, this is what we saw when we viewed the house for the first time. A very, very sorry state – and don’t even get us onto the shutters! But, when you can see through the current state of things and have a clear vision, that’s what drives you on. Fast forward a couple of years, and we were given the opportunity to buy the little abandoned house from one of our neighbours. Although we were knee deep in renovations, we knew that other people had expressed interest in this property and we felt that if we didn’t secure it, we could have someone else purchasing it from under our noses. It’s very close to our main house and we were concerned with a) the potential proximity of another house and b) building works – out of our control – going on under our windows for goodness knows how long. So, the decision was made to purchase the house and land.This took quite a long time to complete on – much longer, in fact, than the purchase of the main house – but eventually everything was signed off and we finally owned it, meaning that no-one could build close our house. We were also at this time, in the very early stages of considering our next renovation property and toying with the idea of selling the house. Owning this smaller dwelling and surrounding land, with all boundaries legally established, therefore became even more important.

So, for the last couple of years, all we’ve really done is tidy things up, gradually. All of the building materials and the trailer, as per the contract our solicitor negotiated, had to be removed by our neighbour and the area generally cleared, prior to completion. This enabled us to begin assessing what we might eventually do with the land. We decided early on that the house would stay, especially if were selling up. Although it would need to be demolished, we felt that new owners should decide its eventual fate, and we knew that whilst we were still living here, it could be the backdrop for something very pretty. So, very slowly, when we had the time, we started to tackle this overgrown mess…

We think that originally, the small house would have been for the animals, as probably evidenced by the stone trough, below. It was in a bit of a state, with stones beginning to come loose and to be honest, hadn’t really been put together very well, so we decided to take it down. It did give us quite a bit more garden space – but, in an unexpected turn, it’s recently been rebuilt, using the same stones. This time, though, it’s not a drinking trough. It’s going to be the home for our gorgeous new olive tree…

Once the ground had been cleared of weeds and vines and ivy and stones, sheeting was laid and we marked out our boundary with flagstones, before infilling with bark chippings. (The quite strange shape of the boundary is due to the fact we agreed to give our neighbour access to another of his properties, which he plans to renovate, opposite the small house).

Starting to look better, but still a long way off finished! However, ideas were beginning to form. The table and chairs and the lone bamboo looked a bit lost, and we knew we most definitely wouldn’t be sitting out here for quite some time to come, as we still felt very exposed. Plus, the nearest property to us, beyond the little house, was an abandoned, tumble-down property which had recently been demolished and building work had started to create a new stone cottage. We were still focusing on the main house and moving on with the securing of our new renovation project, so things stalled a little at the rear of the house, but we did what we could to create a little bit more privacy.

To the other side of the little house, we also cleared the ground and started the process of laying flagstones, to create a pathway, and more of the bark chippings.

As summer ’21 progressed, we started to get more enquiries about our house for sale, and had a number of speculative visits, as people passing would see the A-board by the road and often just turn up in the garden. And this made us realise that once and for all, we had to properly tackle the rear of the house. However much we had improved it since we moved in, it all still looked far too ramshackle and not what we wanted visitors to see. So, Project Secret Garden commenced at the end of the summer, the intention being to have our builder construct a wall, all along the boundary. This became complicated as the land is on a slight incline and we didn’t relish the prospect of getting in a digger for excavation works. A wooden fence, supported by posts sunken into concrete was decided upon – and then abandoned when this too became problematic, for a variety of reasons. So, we took things into our own hands, and got creative.

And, although it looks as if we’re kind of back to where we started, much progress has been made over the last two weeks. We hope that the final pieces of the jigsaw will all come together this week, and that we will eventually have a beautiful secluded space, which is completely private. Which screens us off from the comings and goings in the village and means that come next spring, either us, or new owners, will be able to enjoy our secret suntrap – and no-one will know we are there…

Coming up – how we developed The Secret Garden…

 

 

 

 

JouJou Botanicals

JouJou Botanicals

When we first moved here, unless I could get candles at IKEA in Trieste, I used to wait until our trips back to the UK to raid the shelves of TK Maxx and HomeSense and fill up the boot of car with coloured jars of scented lusciousness. We had too many other things to work out, for me to even mention trying to find the kind of shop that would satiate my candle obsession. But, they had to be found, because once autumn sets in, our house very much lends itself to becoming a hygge haven. Once we got to know Ljubljana, I sought out shops which would enable me to satisfy my cravings…

And of course, now that I do know my way around retail therapy options now, in our Istrian home, I’m never short of a candle. Or fifty. But, when I discovered JouJou Botanicals, via an account I follow on Instagram, things changed. Not only could I buy online, but the process was easy and the delivery extremely swift. If there’s one thing that’s not quick or easy here, it’s dealing with ordering and delivery – it can be done. Of course, it can. But, it can be protracted and if the website you’re ordering from does not have an English language version, you’ll spend quite a lot of time translating various parts of the website.

However, the JouJou Botanicals website is not only beautifully designed, with branding we definitely approve of, but it’s also in English – and has the familiar look and feel of the kinds of websites we design. As soon as I placed my order, I got an immediate email confirmation, plus an invoice. And, within three days of ordering, I took delivery of a lovely package.

The website also sells a range of soaps and bath products – made in small batches, which are all vegan, palm oil and cruelty-free. And, incredibly pretty. So, although candles were my initial priority, I couldn’t resist stocking up on these gorgeously fragranced bathroom products. Which, I cannot wait for family and friends to enjoy, hopefully come the spring, when travel restrictions have gone and the weather is warming up again. Feast your eyes on these pretties…

I love the attention to detail with these products – the packaging, the fonts used, the ingredients, the subtle (definitely not over-powering) aroma. The perfect accessories for any bathroom! And, my fail on the candle front. Two was far too few – they’re long gone now – so another order has been placed. And, I’m guessing by the weekend, my living room will smell as delicious as my bathroom.

Sadly for UK friends, JouJou don’t do international delivery. But I am sure, I can work out a way to introduce these gorgeous products to you…And how lovely to once again be able to support a brilliant, independent business.

This is not a sponsored post. JouJou Botanicals have not asked that I review their products. All products I have ordered have been paid for in full.