Hello, October

Hello, October

So, our long, hot – but very strange – summer, has drawn to a close. As in previous years since we’ve been here, I’m sure we’ll still have days which are warm and sunny, but the intense heat of the sun has gone. Days are obviously getting shorter and there’s a chill in the air. Our thoughts are definitely turning to getting the garden and the house, autumn/winter ready. All summer, the kitchen windows have been wide open and as they open internally, the shelf we put up last year, in the one that overlooks the front of the house, has been down. As it doesn’t seem likely that the window will be thrown wide open again until next year, the shelf is back in its place…

I want this shelf to bring colour into the kitchen. The room is painted in Farrow & Ball Hague Blue – walls and ceiling – and so in the winter, can be dark. I also didn’t want to go and buy more “stuff” so have searched around the house and repurposed old bottles I’ve kept, because I liked the colours or the shapes. The apothecary style gin bottle was spotted in Lidl – as cheap as chips and now very pretty, full of artificial orange berries. A rose lemonade bottle, sprayed gold, has taken on a new lease of life, rather than being condemned to the recycling bin. A cork bottle stopper, sprayed gold, makes a perfect candle stand for a collection of fat, squat candles I have – all, pleasingly, in autumn colours. I’ve also found that our potted basil plants seem to fare well in this window, and so the shelf has a *use* too – fresh basil leaves can just be plucked from the plants, which, surprisingly, given our track record with them, do seem to be thriving.

The window ledge was tiled over the summer and because it’s quite deep, it’s a good storage area. This year, we’ve gone a bit pumpkin mad, and it’s the perfect place for these autumnal beauties. The colours – oranges, yellows, greens, shades of blue – are gorgeous. Definitely too pretty to be hidden away in a cupboard. And they add to the joy of our autumnal window. A window which, until we renovated our kitchen, wasn’t even there…

The area outside the front door has also been tackled. Although we’ve painted the concrete pale blue, and the well was moved out here, we’ve not really done anything with it, to prettify up the front of the house. Well, we’ve made a start on making the entrance to the house just a little bit more attractive. The more delicate potted plants have been moved up onto the platform and now they create a much nicer scene outside the front door. Especially as the Virginia Creeper, which we planted quite late on in the summer, and so didn’t hold out too much hope for, is beginning to attach itself to the wall and turn red. The shutters to the kitchen side window are never closed, so hanging pots have been brought up here and twines of ivy have been round the bar. Plus some tiny lights which will twinkle away in the dark.

A sturdy willow wreath was sitting in the shed, basically asking for something to be done to it to make it a whole lot more attractive. A few lengths of artificial ivy, some orange leaves and russet berries did the trick, and the bare wreath is now resplendent in green and orange – and looking quite the autumnal thing, under the metal cattle skull. Very Istria.

As we have no plans to go anywhere very far this month, we’re making absolutely sure that our home (which is for sale, by the way), will be the cosiest it possibly can be. Looking forward to a winter of hygge inspiration…

 

The Shed Upcycle

The Shed Upcycle

It was back in May that we finally bought a shed and started the job of building it. We made the initial mistake of thinking we’d bought just a shed, like the B&Q one we used to have in our garden back in West Didsbury, which was functional, but a bit on the cheap and flimsy side. We thought that sheds in Istria were a bit pricey because this one definitely wasn’t cheap, but we went for it, because we were becoming frustrated with the search for somewhere that sold these. I’d spotted a beautiful image on Pinterest of how I imagined it might look, and the shape of the one we found was exactly the same, so the search was over.

However, once unpacked, we realised that what we had bought was actually what was known, in shed circles, as a Dutch Log Cabin – a much grander description, I thought 😉 Unfortunately, this particular cabin had to acclimatise and as such, all of the wooden components had to sit out for three days. Not good for someone as impatient as me! But, despite instructions being in Dutch, over the course of a week, we worked it out and soon we had the structure built. The wood was a lovely golden pine – much nicer than the floorboards we inherited and which we’ve only recently finished treating and making good – but we didn’t want pine. The external (and internal) woodwork in the house is a very soft pale blue and so we chose a complementary soft grey satinwood for external use. The bonus with this paint, was that we didn’t need to use undercoat. The tongue and groove wood was caulked inside the shed, for extra protection against the rain, and painted white. Two coats were necessary for the outside, but it was fast drying satinwood and after a couple of additional days painting, the shed was ready. To accessorise!

We couldn’t just be content with the shed, though, because the lovely new colour really showed up the cheap look concrete patio. I love a bit of concrete, but not this kind, and the decision was made that this would be painted, too. As the patio area is a high traffic area, we went for a specialist, waterproof (no undercoat needed) paint, which wasn’t the cheapest option, or the quickest option, but wow, what a difference when we were finished.

Yes, sorry, that is a big tub of cold water for feet and an electric fan outside! On the day this photo was taken, the temperature was mid-thirties and it was VERY hot!

But, a few days later, this was the scene in the garden – and this is where the shed has come into its own. In previous summers, when a storm was approaching, we’d be dragging garden stuff that we didn’t want to get wet, indoors. It would all sit in The Well Room, taking up lots of space, until the weather improved. Now, it’s all found a new home in the shed.

We didn’t buy the shed to use it as a “garden shed”, full of plants pots and garden tools etc. All of that is stored in the external cellar. This was specifically for the quick in and out storage of cushions, sunbed pads, candles, lights, the hammock, sun sails etc. And, so far, it’s been worth every penny (or kuna) we paid. A couple of sets of white metal shelves were bought and fixed to the back wall, so they didn’t topple over – these are perfect to slot in seat pads, cushions, the rolled up hammock and sun towels. Two or three wooden crates are used to keep things together, which we always need in the garden, but have always had to search around the house to find them – one crate for suncreams and mosquito sprays, one for citronella candles, lighters, battery operated lights, and a smaller one full of batteries, bbq lighters etc.

As well as providing great storage, the shed also now gives us privacy. We’ve potted up quite a few tall, thick bamboos and these now sit to either side of the shed, meaning that we don;t have to consider building a wall at the front of the house anymore. The BBQ will have a winter home, as will our wellies and umbrellas and general winter stuff we don’t want in the house. The quality of it is in no doubt, having had some very strong and ferocious summer storms – no leaking or water ingress and it’s solid. Who knew you could love a shed as much?

 

 

Then & Now

Then & Now

I’ve been sorting through hundreds and hundreds of online photos, from when we first viewed what was to become our home in Istria to now. To a couple of days ago, when weather stopped DIY play in the garden. We’ve been sorting because, as we have now decided to sell the house, we wanted to reflect on how far we’ve come. And boy, just house-wise, we’ve come a LONG way!

We’re not interior designers and we’re definitely not builders. We knew absolutely no-one when we landed here. Although we had recently renovated our house in West Didsbury, we had not a clue how to begin renovating a very different style of house in a completely new and unfamiliar country. But, needs must – and we realised pretty quickly that it we wanted some creature comforts around us, we just had to work it out. Looking at these before & afters, from around the house, we feel pretty proud of ourselves because we think we did work it out…

THE SNUG

So called, because now, in the winter, it is so snug and cosy. But, as you can see, it wasn’t quite so snug when we moved in. This room is under the living room and was partially decorated – a couple of the walls had been plastered and painted but it was mostly in a very unfinished state, The stairs down into it were very precarious, to say the least. But – and this was a real positive – it was dry. Not a sign of damp, we knew we could make something of it. The installation of our Dovre woodburner (and new internal chimney) has made a huge difference to this room – especially on colder days. And, only very recently, we found out that this room used to be where the cattle were housed. Where the chimney is now, there used to be a huge arch with double doors, with a ramp leading in front of the garden area. The stairs weren’t there and it wasn’t open, up into the rest of the house. I wonder what the cows would make of it now?

THE LIVING ROOM

The living room very dark, with much exposed stonework and even though it’s a large room, it felt claustrophobic. The dark furniture which we inherited, didn’t help. One of the first decisions we made was to get rid of all of the furniture -ours was on its way from Manchester – and to paint all of the walls and ceiling brilliant white, and the woodwork, a very soft pale blue. The pine floorboards were also painted, which really lifted the room. Eventually the wall opposite the grey sofa above was painted a deep, rich navy blue, as were the stairs, but we think we’ve still retained a feeling of space and lightness in this room.

THE KITCHEN

Oh, my word. The kitchen! Although it was probably the most “complete” room in the house, it was also the one we wanted to tackle first.The units were ill-fitting, the floor tiles definitely not to our taste and the one window (to the right hand side) also poorly fitted – it wouldn’t open because the sink tap was in the way… This room had to be dealt with by the professionals – we had the kitchen designed and fitted by a company in Slovenia, and all the building/electrical work done by a small of team people we’ve got to know. *Networking* – absolutely key to build up a trusted group of people. Everything was ripped out of the kitchen, including that low, false ceiling, to reveal the original beams. New lighting was installed and new plumbing to accommodate the sink being moved to below the new window we had fitted. The room isn’t the largest, but we’ve accommodated everything we need, including a lovely new breakfast bar with integrated hob on the other side. Perfect for perching with a vino, while the other cooks 😉 Underfloor heating, new flooring and accent lighting finishes off the room, which we painted completely in Farrow & Ball Hague Blue. (We couldn’t squeeze in our condenser tumble dryer, but this is accommodated under the stairs down in The Snug, behind floor length curtains, and our old fridge freezer is in the outside cellar as an overspill).

THE WELL ROOM

Now, this was a curious room. The front door opens straight into this room and when we bought the house, it was a bit like an outdoor space, but indoors. The walls were exposed stone, the beams were rough and ready and the floor was big slabs of cold, Istrian stone. Plus, slap bang in the middle of the room, therefore making it completely unworkable as a space, was a stone well, with a big metal bucket, suspended by a chain and pulley, sitting on top of it, and used for drawing water. Yes, when the lid was lifted it was apparent that this was still potentially a working well, as it was full of water.

A big stone platform, against the rear wall, completed the cold, outside feeling of the room. The door to the right, led into a very dingy downstairs bathroom – meaning that all in all, this room wasn’t creating the best impression as the entrance to our new home. Things have been done gradually in this room, because of necessity it has been a makeshift kitchen, a storeroom, a work room and a place for dumping various builders’ tools and pieces of machinery. But we’ve reclaimed it and are delighted what we’ve achieved :

  • The well was drained over four days, and re-sited outside the front door, and the down-pipe diverted so it didn’t begin to fill again. Once the chamber was fully dry, LED lighting was installed underneath the rim of the hole in the floor and a triple glazed, reinforced safety glass cover fitted – strong enough to take weight. We don’t think about walking over it now, but it takes a bit of nerve initially!
  • Once the well was out of the way, we had space for a dining table and so had a concrete table built, in-situ.
  • The big stone platform was painted white, a wooden side built and foam pads used as a “seat”. Many cushions, throws and faux sheepskins have helped us to create a very comfy sofa/day-bed. Also perfect if you need somewhere for an unexpected guest.
  • The walls (with the exception of the wall outside the bathroom, which was painted the same colour as the floor), the ceiling and the beams were painted white and a false wall was built behind the stone platform as we decided to insulate this part of the room. A shelf was created with soft LED lighting.
  • The cold stone floor was thought about FOREVER, but it became increasingly clear that what ever we did with it was going to be costly and complicated because of its uneveness and the fact that the walls it meets are also very uneven. Hence we think, why the previous owners might have just left this room. However, we really didn’t like the cold stone so the whole thing was eventually painted with very durable, navy blue concrete paint and covered in rugs to soften the space. Perfect.

DOWNSTAIRS BATHROOM

As soon as a we moved in, this little room was immediately whitewashed, as it was straight off the Well Room and we just needed it be brightened up and looking a bit, well – cleaner. But, as with all of the rooms in the house, there was only so long we could live with it. Unsurprisingly, for a house which was not used very often, the sanitary ware wasn’t the sturdiest or the prettiest, the shower cubicle was quite frankly, horrible, and the room was poorly laid out. As in, a cheapo toilet, visible to all when the door was opened. A complete no-no, in my book! So, as with the kitchen (and, perhaps with hindsight, stupidly, at the same time) the downstairs bathroom was smashed out and reconfigured with new sanitary ware. A wall-mounted toilet was moved to where the shower cubicle used to be, therefore completely private. With underfloor heating and big concrete tiles, a wet room was created, meaning that without a cubicle, we created a sense of much more space. Much, much more pleasant a showering experience!

STAIRS & UPSTAIRS LANDING

The stairs down in to The Snug and up to the first floor, and spindles and handrail (there was nothing going down into The Snug – health & safety alert!), and floorboards, were not of the best quality pine. And not fitted very well, either. However, over time, we’ve addressed all of this. The treads on the stairs were pulled forward and all secured, with a back attached to each flight, so now you don’t see through the treads. They’ve been painted in a deep navy blue, as have the floorboards and the handrails and spindles. Industrial piping and fixtures have been used to create grabrails going down into The Snug – we scratched our heads for along time trying to work out a safe solution here. The angle was difficult, butu we think we’ve found a super stylish – and unique solution!

All walls and the apex ceiling are painted white, and we’ve finally sorted the exposed beams, which are now also white. The upstairs doors are on our “to replace” list, but we’ve just not had the chance yet, so they are painted the same soft baby blue as the windows and shutters.

BEDROOM ONE

If I’m honest, I’m hard pressed to say which is my favourite room. It depends on the time of day, season, whether it’s hot or chilly. But, I’d say this bedroom was a contender. When we buying the house, this room was almost a game-changer. We came out to see it with the couple who were selling, and we stayed overnight in this room. Because no-one had been in the house for over a year, nature had taken over, and this room was clearly home to one of the biggest spiders I have ever seen in my life. It seriously gave me the heebie-jeebies and after being convinced that a spider could not possibly be a good enough reason for pulling put of buying our dream home in the sun, I vowed that this room would be spectacular, to banish the memory of our eight legged visitor.

I think we’ve achieved a spectacular room. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but we LOVE it. It’s huge, with a soaring apex ceiling and two windows with amazing views across fields and an orchard, up to the village. It’s painted completely white, with floor length curtains, which we never need to close as we have complete privacy.

BEDROOM TWO

From an unpainted room, with bare pine floorboards and two sets of bunk beds, we tackled this bedroom first, as the big bedroom, in the early days, was full of packing boxes. White walls, white ceiling, pale grey beams and very soft pale blue blue woodwork, coupled with a navy blue wooden floor transformed it. As this is primarily a guest bedroom – although we do tend to move into here in the winter, as it has the internal chimney from the woodburners below and is so cosy – we decided to glitz it up a bit with gold spray paint…

BEDROOM THREE

Same story as Bedroom Two – a bit of a sorry room, this time with a sad looking single bed. For this room, we bought two new single beds, which are usually joined as a double, but give us flexibility for visitors. The walls, ceiling, woodwork, beams and floor were painted the same as the other bedrooms and voila… A whole new room!

BATHROOM TWO

A full rip-out was again all we could really do with this room. While everything else was being renovated, we limped along with this bathroom, but the bath was so small, it was impossible to actually have a bath. This has now been sprayed black and is in the garden, planted up with three blooming honeysuckle climbers – *that* is how small it was 😉 A full size bath has now been fitted with a gorgeous new square ceramic sink and matte white and silver taps. Like the rest of the house, it has been transformed with white walls, pale grey beams and navy wooden floor. A new boiler, with an increased capacity, makes bathing an absolute joy.

It’s been a long journey and it’s been bloody hard work – even given that the big jobs have been done by the professionals. But, we want to live in a home that is cosy and comfortable and has an element of style and individuality. We think we’ve done it – and now cannot wait to get going again!

If you are interested in finding out more about about our property, drop an email to helen@escapetoistria.com

Property For Sale In Istria…

Property For Sale In Istria…

Renovated Property for Sale in Istria

In March 2017 we moved lock, stock and barrel to Istria, in northern Croatia and set about renovating a very traditional stone house. Fast forward three years, and the big renovation is complete :

  • Completely new and updated kitchen
  • One bathroom gutted and completely remodelled, wet-room style
  • Second bathroom totally renovated with new sanitary ware
  • Internal cellar gutted and now utilised as an additional living room
  • Living room and dining room (with an uplit internal well chamber with a reinforced glass cover) completely renovated
  • Three bedrooms decorated to a very high standard
  • Additional land (including a small house with potential for renovation/development to the rear) acquired
  • All boundaries established
  • Garden to the front created, with various zoned areas

It’s now the house we always imagined it would be, and whilst we’re still pottering around, now doing the “nice” bits of DIY, we’re thoroughly enjoying our new home in the sun. But – and it’s a big but – we’ve got itchy feet. Because we’ve seen another property. It caught our eyes when we first moved here, but it was nothing more than a bit of minor flirtation as we had our hands full with getting to grips with our stone house. But, over the months and now years, that minor flirtation has grown and we have to be honest and say our heads have been really turned.

The reasons behind our decision to make a move…

The property we have our eyes on now, is so very different to our current home. Although we’ve renovated it in a very contemporary way internally, the exterior is still quite traditional, built as it with Istrian stones and with the traditional Istrian red roof. The new property is absolutely at the other end of the spectrum. In fact, it’s not even a house, It’s a former industrial unit, sitting on one level, and with only partition walls internally, making open plan living something more of a reality.

We do genuinely love our stone house, and we had absolutely no intention of renovating it to sell it, but sometimes opportunities present themselves and they feel like they are meant to be. With the help of people we’ve got to know here – builders, electricians, plumbers, stonemasons – we’ve created what we know to be a very unique property.

Living here full-time…

We live here full time and have very quickly adapted to the Istrian way of life. It’s a slower pace of life than back in the UK, but we are so close to so many wonderful places, that in normal times, we can still have a similar kind of life to the one we had in Manchester. Larger supermarkets are about 30 minutes away, Pula and the airport about an hour. The border to Slovenia is 10 minutes away, and Trieste less than 40 minutes. The sea on each of side of the peninsula can be reached from our house in less than 45 minutes to the east and about 25 minutes to the west. We can be in Ljubljana, the uber stylish and trendy Slovenian capital within an hour and a half. Venice is two hours away, by motorway – or by catamaran, if you prefer.

Anyone who wished to purchase our home and make it a full time move as we have done, we’d be on hand to offer support and guidance and share our valuable network of contacts and expertise.

Holiday home/rental potential…

The house has been renovated to an incredibly high standard, because it is our home. This would mean that it would literally be ready for any new owner to just turn up and unpack their suitcase, if bought as a holiday home. Much of the furniture is included in the sale, simply because we’d have to dismantle much of it, to get out of the house. Our website details what is included and what is not.

The small house to the rear of the main house, is also included in the sale. This is NOT currently habitable – it is what we call one of the abandoned houses of Istria. However, it could be renovated or demolished and rebuilt, either as an annexe or joined onto the main house. We have chosen not to have a swimming pool, but this could be the ideal space for one…

The rental market for holiday homes in Istria is huge. With good marketing, our property could be a great source of income. We have considered doing it ourselves, but we think our industrial unit will take up all of our time going forward and so we have made the decision to move on and pass our home into the hands of new owners, who we know will fall in love with it it, as we have. And, if you don’t believe us about how amazing, see what family and friends who’ve visited, have to say.

Safe Viewings

The world is now a very different place to how it was a few months ago, when we designed our website and suggested how viewings could be done, in person. Like everyone the world over, we’ve had to rethink how we do things, and so can now offer the following…

We have uploaded a virtual tour of our home, where you can walk you through the house, room by room and the outside area.  If this then whets your appetite, we’d suggest that you drop us an email via the contact form and we can arrange to delve deeper via Zoom or FaceTime or WhatsApp. We’ll also be able to answer any questions you have in real time.

We would still welcome serious viewings in person, but we would obviously insist on all safety measures being adhered to, including the wearing of masks and use of hand sanitiser. In a move that is just not us, because we are very much “people people”, we’d also request, sadly, no hand-shaking and no touching of anything around the house. As the visit would be relatively short, we would ask that our bathrooms not be used. We are so very sorry that we need to ask these things, but we would much prefer to be safe than sorry…

Detailed information is available on our website, so do please check it out in the first instance. To then make an enquiry, or to request further information, please complete the contact form on our website or email helen@escapetoistria.com

The Well Room : the original well is now situated outside the front door and the chamber has been drained. It has been fitted with a triple layered reinforced (safety) glass cover and is uplit.

 

The Shed Has Arrived…

The Shed Has Arrived…

For the first time this year, we made the trip to Pula. Normally, we’d by now, be making fairly regular trips to the airport to pick up and drop off visitors, but this is no normal year. Our first trip, done with a bit of trepidation, was to Bauhaus and Pevex, our equivalents of B&Q, to purchase the garden shed, paint, plants and assorted garden accessories. We paid a fair bit more than we were expecting to, but just thought sheds here might be more expensive than back in the UK – and as we didn’t want to add to the cost with paying for delivery (approx 70 euros), it was monkey-gripped onto the top of the car and driven back. On unwrapping it, we realised why it was more expensive than we had anticipated – it wasn’t a shed, like the ones we’ve had previously. This was desribed as a Dutch Log Cabin and the wood was clearly much, much better quality. Being a very impatient person, I didn;t like the fact it had to be unwrapped and all of the panels and wood laid out, to acclimatise, for two days! However, I was persuaded that we do this right. So, progress has been much slower than I anticipated, but we’re getting there.

First job, once the wood had acclimatised, was to seal the slats which would form the floor, with a moiosture proof sealant. Lukcily, the weekend was quite hot, so drying was rapid.

The idea had been to position the shed at the far end of the concrete patio, facing the new kitchen window. But, as soon as we placed down the floor to assess the size, we remembered that this part of the garden is on the long to-do list. When it rains heavily, water pools in this area, and we need to drill in drain holes, so we decided against this position, opting for the right hand side instead.

The wall which we’ve been considering for ages, is no longer going to be a wall. We thought we’d made a decision and were going to fo for a boundary wall made of those geometric patterned blocks, which everyone had in their gardens in the ’70s. Much as we do love this idea, we decided that if we are going to sell the house, this kind of wall might not be to everyone’s tastes and so we’ve decided that with a few more potted bamboos we can create a thick natural wall – which we can then take away with us, eventually.

By Sunday evening, we’d managed to get this far – but are back on it again today. Once the roof has been installed and the door fixed, all gaps will be caulked before undercoating and topcoating. And then – accessorising…

 

Garden Renovation

Garden Renovation

The garden area at the front of the house has not really been renovated, as such. It’s certainly been tidied up and areas of it do look a whole lot better, but apart from the addition of garden furniture and potted plants, that’s about it. We did have big plans for it, but then bigger plans – as in selling the house and moving onto  our next renovation project – came along, and it now longer makes sense to spend a lot of money on a garden design that a future owner might not like and just rip out. We’d rather leave a potential owner with more of a blank canvas.

But, as we’ll be going nowhere very far this summer apart from the garden, we’ve decided that a mini-makeover is in order. At the weekend, we repotted and relocated plants, created a potting table for the tomato seedlings and generally did a big clear up. We’ve decided that we’re going for a shed, but this will be customised and shabby-chiced up so that it looks a bit more rustic and vintage style. Along these lines…

I’ve also finally discovered a shop nearby which sells all sorts of wonderful things, that so far I’ve not been easily able to source – old terracotta pots, old industrial and farming bits and pieces, spades, wheelbarrows, watering cans. The kind of stuff that people here would just discard once they’d become redundant, but which I need for our garden. Like they say, one person’s rubbish is another’s treasure. So I’m going to spend a nice day, at the end of this week, hunting out some accessories for the garden, along these lines…

Image : Mari Potter // Unsplash

Image : Mari Potter // Unsplash

Image : Annie Spratt // Unsplash

Image : Annie Spratt // Unsplash

Image : Annie Spratt // Unsplash

Image : Annie Spratt // Unsplash

Image : Jørgen Håland // Unsplash

Image : Jørgen Håland // Unsplash

Image : Annie Spratt // Unsplash

Image : Annie Spratt // Unsplash

Image : Lou Ashley // Unsplashed

Image : Lou Ashley // Unsplashed

Image : Alex Blajan // Unsplash

Image : Alex Blajan // Unsplash

Image : Sue Hughes // Unsplashed

Image : Sue Hughes // Unsplashed

Image : Philip Moore // Unsplashed

Image : Philip Moore // Unsplashed

The weather is looking particularly summer-like this coming weekend, so I’m hoping by the end of it, we have a rustic shed, painted in a pretty pastel, with a table and chairs outside, meaning that we can treat ourselves to an early evening cocktail…

Our Little Abandoned House of Istria

Our Little Abandoned House of Istria

When we bought our stone house in Istria, we were advised by the sellers that the little abandoned dwelling, to the rear of the property, could be purchased from one of our new neighbours. We were interested, and with hindsight, should probably have sorted the purchase of it, at the same time as the main house. But we didn’t, and you live and learn.

Why We Should Have Bought It Initially…

Boundaries in Istria (and, as would seem to be common across The Balkans, Italy, France…) are complex issues and often are not established legally. The particular problem in Istria is that because the region has been ruled by many over the years, each regime has had different ways of demarcating boundaries and so what you might think is your land, may not be. On the flip side, what you think may not be your land, could be. Sorting all of this at the time of the initial purchase could have saved us money, but more importantly, the process may have seemed swifter. However, we didn’t – the enormity of taking on a property to be renovated in a new country where we couldn’t speak the language, probably meant we had other things on our minds back in early 2017.

But, we did begin the process in October of that year, agreeing a price with our neighbour and having a contract drawn up by our solicitor to seal the price. Surveyors were appointed and the ball got rolling. With a little unexpected blip when we had a visit from the Land Registry who had to come and assess the house and certify that it was actually permissible to be used as a house. Yep, that’s right. It’s only after we’d bought it that we found out that there was a possibility that it wasn’t actually included on any official records and that it wouldn’t be classed as a dwelling. Luckily, we were legit…

What Happened Next

Once the surveyors had been, and using three sets of ordnance survey maps – Austro-Hungarian, Italian and Yugoslavian – our borders, all around the house, were established. Some surprises here – we found out that we actually owned a little more on one side than we thought, but that the little patch of land, in between our house and the (other) abandoned house we are attached to, isn’t actually ours after all. However, it belongs to seventeen people – three of whom are in Australia – and so we figured that if we tidied it up, no-one would object. So far so good…

 

It turned out that none of the neighbours objected to either our new boundaries or our purchase of the abandoned property and associated land behind the house, and so nearly two and half years later, we signed the official documents, paid the balance to our neighbour, and hey-ho, we now find ourselves the owners of a bit more land and property. It all sounds very grand, but it’s not at the moment. The potential is massive but we’re in a real quandry about what do with our new acquisition.

Two and a half years ago, the plan was for us to either renovate it as a self contained property, or knock it down and create a walled garden. But that was before we decided to sell our house, having found our next renovation project. And before Coronavirus shut the world down…

So, What Now?

Our plan is still to sell the house and buy what we have our eyes on. The dilemma is what can we feasibly do, under our steam, to make the rear of the house look as pretty as it can, especially as we can’t get to builders’ merchants or DIY stores for the foreseeable future. We have dismantled the Istrian stone trough which was attached to the front – leading us to believe that this property was probably actually for cattle. But, you can see that inside it was once on two levels, so possibly cattle on ground floor, people on the upper. We’re trying to find out what it’s history is, but it’s quite difficult, records-wise. We’re also in the process of making it as safe as we possibly can – the slate roof is still pretty intact, but to be fair, it’s held together more with the ivy which grows up and through it, than any kind of mortar. Internally, there’s very little to be salvaged apart some great big beams, which, along with the Istrian stones, if we dismantle it, will be salvaged and reused. Without a cherry picker or proper cutters, we can’t really tackle the foliage as we’d like, but we’ll be trying to cut back the lower levels around the outside to tidy the property up.

I do have some ideas and if we can pull them off in the short term, we’d be delighted. I do need to keep myself away from Pinterest though, as I actually considered this as a possibility, this morning. Still wondering if it might work…

We’re going to be using our next few however many weeks/months in the house, to assess what we can do, but in the meantime, if you have any ideas, we’d love to hear them 🙂

 

The Gold Room…

The Gold Room…

I’ve thought long & hard about adding blogs to the website, in the current climate. It seems too frivolous to be posting about renovations and life-style things and recipes. But, and it is a big but, we’ve worked hard for so long to get to the point where are currently, that I have decided to carry on, adding blogs. My way of continuing to record our journey, as we, like so many other people, embark on self-isolation for the next few weeks.

Our second bedroom has gone through some changes since we became the custodians of our stone house in Istria. Before we started work on it, this bedroom was an undecorated space, with two sets of bunk beds, left from the previous owners, shoe-horned into a room which was just not working. Beams, although potentially beautiful, were untreated and clearly hadn’t been touched in a long time and very basic pine floorboards were bare. The window, which again we knew, could be a real feature, was partially undercoated and the ill-fitting door unable to close because of one of the most ugly door handle/locks we’ve ever seen. All in all, a pretty dismal excuse for a bedroom. However, we had to have at least one room where we could escape the madness of full-on renovation – and so three years ago, Bedroom Two, was for a while Bedroom One.

From what we inherited above, we were delighted with the first incarnation with the room. Walls were painted white, a new bed was ordered and delivered, industrial wall lights fitted, new bedding on the bed and we were in. Utter luxury! I cannot tell you how amazing it was, in the early days, to close the door at the end of the night and sink into that bed. If you’ve renovated a property, you’ll know where we’re coming from.

But, we’ve come a long way since the room looked as it does above. The wooden beams are original – very old and very beautiful, but we did have a problem with woodworm, which we had to resolve very quickly, as this room became a guest bedroom. We called in a specialist company who treated all of the beams in the house, and we then got to work on them, ourselves. Just to be extra sure that the pesky woodworm had gone, we further treated them, wrapping them in clingfilm for a couple of weeks – just to be on the safe side. These measures seem to have worked, and we think the woodworm are no more. Although the beams were beautiful in their natural state, our style for in the interior is contemporary and they just felt as bit too country-cottagey. So we got to work on transforming them – and after undercoating and painting in a very soft gey satinwood, they are, we think, even more beautiful…

To contrast with the white walls and soft grey beams, the woodwork – window frames and surrounds and door and frame – have all been painted in a very soft baby blue satinwood, which contrasts well with the colours around.

Although the room isn’t the largest, it can comfortably fit a double bed and two wardrobes from IKEA – these are from the STUVA range. More for a child’s bedroom, but perfectly adequate, with plenty of hanging and storage space, for a smaller bedroom. And, much nicer on the budget too. However, as they are actually full of our stuff, they weren’t serving much of a purpose in a guest bedroom and so the decision was made a few weeks ago, to have a big change around and create bedrooms which worked much better as spaces. We’ve completed the dirty, dusty, disruptive renovation work, and so can now have a bit more fun, being creative and accessorising.

The wardrobes went to their new home, in the room next door and once we’d created a bit more space, we started on the new look. First up was the cerise pink table in the hallway. Once an old work table, it was covered in paint splats and oil stains, but a few cans of spray paint gave it a new lease of life and it’s been a proper pop of colour, for a couple of years on the upstairs landing. However, we wanted something that visitors could use – a table where they could dry hair, put on make-up, maybe catch up on a few emails on a lap top, but we didn’t want to go out and buy something else. Our house has rapidly become full of *stuff*, despite a massive clear-out before we moved, so we’re trying to recycle and upcycle where we can. The pink table was a perfect starting point…

Spray paint is now our go-to product for quick make-overs and within an hour, the pink was gone and replaced with shimmering gold. Accessorised with a beautiful opaque, glass vase, in a very unusual shade of green and tall faux blooms, scented candles in pinky coloured glass jars and a tortoise shell mirror, it now looks completely different. A round globe lamp sits behind the green vase, so at night, a really beautiful glow is cast around the room. The large pine mirror looked out of place, against the table, so this too has been sprayed gold and now looks a million dollars. For the cost of a can of spray paint. I didn’t want a bulky chair at the table and so found this rather lovely stool – gold frame and pale pink velvet seat. Perfect! The Moroccan style off-white & navy blue geometric patterned rug adds warmth and sits well on top of the newly painted navy floorboards. No more pine!

Yes, I did spray the bin, too 🙂 Rather than searching around to find something which was more suitable, the black, metal, flip top IKEA bin was given the bling treatment, too. And, why not?

To the left hand side of the window is the internal chimney, which comes up from The Snug and the living room below. Gorgeous in the winter, as it means we don’t need any additional source of heating in this room, but it does make the way we can lay out the room, a bit more problematic, because it is bulky. The bed can’t be located anywhere else, but space to the side is limited because of the chimney, meaning that we were also limited to what we could have each side of the bed. We wanted something that people could use for mobile phones, ipads, drinks etc and did a fair bit of head scratching as everything was always just a tiny bit too wide. Then, hurrah again for IKEA – we spotted these mustard coloured boxy wall units, which are just perfect. Attached off the floor, but not too high, they don’t take up too much room and mean that phones be charged, and there’s space for water, a book or two etc.

I think we might now be happy with this room. Although who knows? After a few weeks of self isolation, we may have sprayed the whole room gold…

Another Room Done…

Another Room Done…

Yes, we are edging closer and closer to having the house fully renovated, with the completion of the renovation of the second guest room. This room, on the top floor,  currently looks out over the village and has a great view down onto the piece of land, with a tiny little abandoned house, which we are in the process of buying. Meaning that one day, this room will have a much nicer view. One day, it will be looking down onto a walled garden, or a pool or a renovated annexe. Depending on our future plans – more of which later – this room will definitely be a Room With A View. However, let’s go back over three years, from when we first viewed the house and look at how it’s changed…

Our first viewing in July 2016. The room we've just completed is top left.

Our first viewing in July 2016. The room we’ve just completed is top left.

First viewing : bare pine boards, unplastered walls, exposed brickwork. Lots to do...

First viewing : bare pine boards, unplastered walls, untreated beams, damp patches, exposed brickwork. Lots to do…

The first incarnation of the room - stoarge space...

The first incarnation of the room – storage space…

This room was actually one of the first to be tackled – probably because it was quite an easy shape and it was fairly obvious what we needed to do to make it look a lot better, very quickly. Walls were all painted white, the woodwork was done in the same pale blue satinwood that was being used on the external shutters and the pine floorbards were painted grey. First mistake, right there. When the floor was finished and had dried, we knew immediately we liked neither the colour nor the sheen of the topcoat. Too late though, as we had friends coming to stay and beds had been ordered.

August 17 : The first phase of decorating begins...

August 17 : The first phase of decorating begins…

The arrival of the beds.

The arrival of the beds.

We wanted flexibility with our guest bedrooms and so opted for two single beds in this room which could be fitted together to make a large double, when necessary. The arrival of the beds meant that the room eventually started to take on more of a homely feel…

Becoming a bedroom...

Becoming a bedroom…

Because we work from home, we have to actually have somewhere we can actually work – and during the house renovations, we really needed to create a quiet space, away from the demolition, drilling and general rebuilding. This second guest room was the perfect place – well away from all of the work going on downstairs and in a room that had the space to serve both functions.

Bedroom / Home Office

Bedroom / Home Office

Dec 18 : The home office is a whole lot more comfortable...

Dec 18 : The home office becoming a whole lot more comfortable…

During spring/summer 2019, we joined a scheme called WorkAway – a scheme which puts together people who are travelling and who have skills to offer, with hosts who need people with specific skills. We wanted our WorkAway guests to have their own space in the house, and as we were using this particular bedroom less as an office, we decided to take it back to a bedroom. Meaning that when WorkAway visitors arrived, we weren’t constantly changing the room and moving out desks and PC equipment etc.

Almost back to being a bedroom...

Almost back to being a bedroom…

We did still feel that this room had never been quite finished – not all of the beams were painted, the beam above the window was still in its original state and we’d decided we definitely didn’t like the floor colour – so the decision was taken to finally get it completed. And that meant moving everything out – again! – so that the floor could be painted in the same colour as we were doing throughout the upper floor and the beams finished. So, back to bedroom chaos for a little while…

Oct 19 : Starting the *next* clear-out, so that we can finish the second guest room. At last...

Oct 19 : Starting the *next* clear-out, so that we can finish the second guest room. At last…

The painting never seems to end...

The painting never seems to end…

A room never seems a finished room until we’ve put thought into it and worked out what the purpose of it will be. I think we’ve finally decided that this room will stay a bedroom. We have The Snug downstairs, with a woodburner, so one of can decamp in there with a laptop and we have a funky desk arrangement in the corner of the living room, so we’re definitely not short of work space. Our internet connection is now strong and so we can work from almost anywhere in the house, so it finally makes sense to have three decent sized bedrooms, all ready to go, for visiting family and friends.

Once the floor and beams were finished, we decided to upcycle an old cabinet we’d brought over with us from Didsbury. Matt, at David Gavin Design on Burton Road had put it outside his shop for anyone to take, and we saw a lot of potential in it. Hope he approves of its elegant new look…

Becasue this room has always been a bit neglected, we decided to inject a little more oomph into it. A thick-pile cream and blue rug adds warmth underfoot and blue velvet curtains now block out the light, ensuring a very relaxed night’s sleep. Our love of faux foliage comes out strongly in this room, with vines and swathes of ivy wrapped around the beams and long fronds of greenery hanging down. New bedding, including a very comfy new duvet, makes this room a real room now. Not an after-thought.

A lovely space for you to rest your head if you come and stay with us…

UPDATE : MARCH 2020

Unable to ever leave a room, close the door and congratulate ourselves on a “finished” project, we’ve been revisiting this bedroom. To be honest, we’ve re-visted then all, but that’s another couple of blogs. Let’s stick with this one for the time being. Although the room was so much better, design-wise, than it had been previously, we felt it still wasn’t *quite* right. It still felt a bit sterile. A bit cobbled-together. And we suddenly realised why. We had the wrong furniture in the wrong rooms. Simple as that! And so another week was spent emptying cupboards, wardrobes, drawers. Filling vacpac bags. Cleaning, touching up paintwork and moving furniture from one room to another. Gone from the room above are the navy blue cabinet, the thin beechwood display shelves, the office chair which we tried to make look prettier (it’s properly gone), and the Moroccan rug. They’re all elsewhere, in new homes and are looking much better for the various moves. So, what’s in this room now?

Because the second and third bedrooms aren’t our main bedroom, and so smaller, we needed storage that didn’t overwhelm and didn’t break the bank. Step forward modular wardrobes from the Stuva children’s range at IKEA. The perfect colour and the perfect size – and looking a whole lot more at home in this room. We can’t work out why exactly, as this room and the room they came from are exactly the same size and orientation – apart from the position of the window, so maybe it’s the light that makes all the difference. The geometric Moroccan style rug which was originally in this room had to be moved as it was too thick for the the wardrobe doors to open – but now our prized Berber rug, brought all the way from a tannery in Marrakech, has found its forever home. We hope! Soft cushions, throws and faux foliage create more of a feeling of a room that is used and is comfortable – and now the long, navy velvet curtains seem to “fit” the room more easily.

Always considered the third bedroom, and therefore with not much thought ever really being put into it, we hope we have finally created a room which is a beautiful one in its own right.

If you like the look of what we’ve done with this room, why not take a look at the rest of the house? We have a website – www.propertyforsaleinistria.com – because we think we have found our next renovation project (very close-by) and so we are selling our beautiful Istrian stone house. We moved out here lock, stock and barrel and we’re aware that not many people might want to do what we did – but, it could be just perfect as a holiday home or a holiday rental.

Interested? Drop us a line, via our website and we’d be delighted to give you as much information as you need.

 

The Well Room…

The Well Room…

Recently, we’ve had our latest Workaway couple staying with us, Kaiti and David, a couple from Oklahoma. Like the other couples who’ve come to stay with us, they are on a sabbatical, travelling and working and embracing the cultural highlights of other countries. They came to us via Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and southern Croatia and brought with them a healthy dose of mid-western American humour, friendship and many an interesting tale, hugely changing our recent perceptions of our neighbours across the pond.

If you’ve seen any of our other posts about WorkAway, you’ll have a fair idea of what it’s about. Basically, people travelling and would-be hosts join an online scheme. The “workers” showcase their skills and the “hosts” describe their project and if it all works out – as it has done so far for us – compatible workers and hosts communicate. The deal is that the people travelling agree to do tasks – we always clarify these in detail, in advance – in exchange for food and accommodation. Between us, we decided to focus on The Well Room, specifically the floor, as David has had experience of floor laying.

However, our floor is not a normal floor. Our builder has always put this job to the back of the queue – and we now absolutely understand why. There are a number of issues with it :

  • it is entirely made up of Istrian stone flags – all different sizes and different levels and different textures
  • the stones do not join the walls smoothly – there’s much undulation, let’s say
  • the glass cover of the well chamber is about 4cms high, but the stone step into the living room less, so somehow the difference would have be levelled
  • we want to try and preserve the stones as much as possible, as future owners may find this a real feature and want to once again reveal them
How do you a solve a problem like our stone floor?

How do you a solve a problem like our stone floor?

The raised reinforced glass well cover.

The raised reinforced glass well cover.

We looked at the potential cost of laying a new wooden floor and it started to become a bit more prohibitive than we had originally anticipated. There was also the issue of fixing the batons to level the floor. Because of the uneveness of the flags, the batons would have had to be cut to various sizes to ensure that the boarding, onto which the flooring would be fixed, would be level. A bit of a nightmare in itself, which would have required mathematical precision. And, time. Time which we didn’t really have as Kaiti and David weren’t with us for that long. Then we considered laying self-levelling concrete – sounded like a solution until we quickly realised that this should probably have been done way back, when the house was still a building site. Not when it was 95% complete. And definitely not when we had people staying as the room would effectively been out of action meaning no access to the kitchen or downstairs bathroom. Next solution we considered was coir carpet. This would have worked well in this room, but the same problems were still there, specifically the uneven base. And, where on earth would we have sourced coir here? Doable, but not in this WorkAway timeframe.

When we realised that we were overthinking the floor situation, we had the lightbulb moment. Back to the start… *PAINT*

Yes, masonry paint. How much easier? 5 litres of navy blue mixed and the floor covering was solved 🙂 However, before the floor was painted, another job was tackled – the concrete table.

We’ve never found a suitable finish for this table and so it’s never been quite there.  The plinth has also been left unfinished as we were waiting to make the decision on the floor. Once the paint was decided upon, we figured we could now finish the table – and this was when David revealed another string to his bow. He works with RESIN! So, without further ad0, a trip to Koper was done and the resin tracked down – it’s much harder to source here, than you might imagine.

Armed with a blow torch, rubber gloves and the resin, David set about transforming the concrete table top – our timelapse video shows he set about it. We also bought wood, cut to size for the plinth – this was painted the same navy blue as the floor and silver profiles were sprayed gold, to finish off the edging.

The resin top was left for two days to ensure that it was completely hardened – and wow, what a difference! Because we’d used other varnishes and finishes on the table, and had sanded it a few times, the overall effect is quite marbley, rather than grey polished concrete. Definitely not what we expected, but the resin has highlighted the colours in the concrete and it is just so beautiful. In places, it looks as if specks of gold have been scattered. Just stunning…

Once the resin had been applied, and dried, the floor was painted. Why we haven’t done this previously, is beyond me! The results are amazing and now the Well Room feels like a room. A proper, finished room.

The final touch will be another couple of big chunky blue rugs to soften the floor and add warmth to the room. Not so long ago the Well Room was a storage room for builders’ tools and general mess. Now, it feels a very luxurious, warm room, with the deep navy colour scheme and touches of gold. The high gloss table top complements the wellchamber when it’s lit up, and the soft uplighting on the back wall adds to the ambience. We’re now looking forward to cosy autumn evenings, with the thick navy velvet curtains drawn, and being able to finally sit down and eat at our concrete table.

Where we once had drills and toolboxes, we now have a gorgeous corner…

Just moving the alignment of a set of shelves from straight on, to angled, creates a new corner.

If you, or someone you know, fancies doing what we did and making the move to a place in the sun (well, mostly…), get in touch. Having now largely renovated the house, we think we’ve found our next doer-upper and so have started the process of marketing out Istrian stone house. It will be being listed on property websites, but in the meantime, have a sneak peek at the website we’ve designed. And if you’re interested, drop us a line…

Follow Your Dream...

Follow Your Dream…