Getting plastered…

Getting plastered…

Original stone walls, partly exposed and partly plastered

Original stone walls, when we moved in, partly exposed and partly plastered.

Throughout the house, in most of the rooms – apart from the ones we have totally taken apart and renovated – there is still evidence of it being an original Istrian house. A lot of the walls are either fully plastered, or at least, partially. And where they are only partially plastered, we’ve painted the original stones white, so that the rooms have more of a contemporary feel.

Original stone walls, painted white.

Original stone walls, painted white.

We did start renovating the walls some years ago, when we had a false wall constructed in the Well Room, with insulation, over the stone wall. The intention was to go through the house, repeating the process, but as with all renovations, unexpected tasks always take precedence.

So, here we are, still where we were. Admittedly, not with bare stone, which I quickly started to dislike because it was dark and made the rooms feel cold, but even when whited out, still not really what I wanted. So, the decision has been made, and the plastering of the bulk of the remaining stone will be done over the winter. I say “the bulk”, because we will leave little nods to the origins of the house, here and there – but as features, rather than the predominant look.

The Well Room will hopefully be the first room to be tackled, as it’s the room with the most exposed stone. We’ll also be doing something quite controversial but more of that later, as we’re still working on the practicalities. Because none of our walls are straight, we’re going to hopefully go with the wonkiness of the house and not get caught up in, and stressed by, the fact we don’t live in a box. So the walls won’t be perfect – but the plastering will. And the next thought process is whether we go for plaster with a pigment, rather than doing a big re-paint job…

I do love the softness of the pink tones of this plasterwork, but we need to have a big discussion, as to whether this will work or not in our house. I’m prepared to accept it won’t, but definitely like the idea of having even just a chat about it. Whatever we decide is right, will be a real improvement on what we have at the moment, so looking forward to getting going and making some BIG changes in this room.

 

 

An Anniversary…

An Anniversary…

Sunday 16th October 2016 saw us meeting up with the couple who we were buying our Istrian home from, and staying over in the house. With hindsight, all a bit bizarre. But then, not much about this adventure has been normal, so I guess we started off as we were meant to go on. It was a bright early autumn day, still warm us for us to initially meet up for lunch in Novigrad, and sit outside the restaurant, eating fresh fish, overlooking the Adriatic. It was also the day of the Chestnut Festival in Oprtalj – our hosts took us there, but to our amazement, this medieval hilltop town, which we are now so familiar with, was so packed we literally could not get a parking space. So, we headed off to the house.

Yesterday, six years later, the weather was exactly the same. And the Chestnut Festival was happening again, in Oprtalj. This time though, we didn’t even bother setting off for the festival as we knew how busy it would be, and unlike six years ago, our living room was just too far too comfy to even contemplate leaving. And, for avoidance of doubt, the “Before” is on the left…

Remembering that I took a lot of photos of the house on 16th October, I’ve spent part of today re-photographing the exact shots. I have thousands of photos of the house, but thought it might be quite nice to see the actual shots, juxtaposed against the “now” photos. Especially as there’s every chance we’re about to embark on the next round of renovation. So, the full Then & Now coming up soon…

Changing Our View…

Changing Our View…

Coming up to three years ago, we were very excited when one of the tumble down, abandoned houses beyond our property was demolished and heavy machinery arrived in the village. We were even more excited at the prospect of the neighbour building a new house, in the style – we were assured – of his current two, which are very pretty. The Istrian stones were cleared, and foundations seemed to go in pretty quickly. A crane arrived, creating even more excitement, as no-one surely, in their right mind, installs a crane. And then does sod all with it. Or, so we thought…

Two years and a bit later, the crane is still there. Along with a cement mixer and lots of building materials, but not much else. Now, this isn’t unusual in Istria. As is commonplace in many Mediterranean countries, building work can take a long time. Builders are often working on multiple projects. In the height of summer it is way too hot to be doing long days of heavy construction work. Buildings may be being built as holiday homes, and so owners often arrange for work to be done when they are able to be on site. There’s also a real culture of mañana mañana here. So, we get it. We know that construction work takes times. And so we’ve been patient, as the project behind our home has crawled along, with periods of nothing in between slight flurries of mild activity. We’re in one of those periods of nothing happening now, as no-one has been on site for over three months.

However, our patience has now worn very, very thin. Written communication to the neighbour has proved fruitless as our requests for information re the progress of the work, and maybe a possible end date, have gone unanswered. Builders have from time to time, assured us (when they have been on site) that all is progressing and that when it is finished, and landscaped, it will be very beautiful. Of that we have no doubt. But it’s the WHEN – because until someone pulls their finger out, and “when” actually arrives, we are still looking out onto a building site, no matter what we do to hide it.

Our living room (pictured above) is on the first floor, and so even with the border of the potted conifers we have installed, you can still see the building site beyond. This is something which has been repeatedly brought up by viewers, asking about timescales for the construction work – and, as the neighbours have so far not deemed it important to discuss/share their plans with us, there’s been very little we’ve been able to say. So, we’ve decided that we’ll take things into our hands and do what we can do to improve our own outlook.

Within our boundaries, we also own the little stone house, above. This was purchased from a neighbour and is definitely in need of renovation. We thought that it would potentially be an amazing selling point, as once renovated it would provide additional accommodation. But most viewers seemed to see it only as additional work, and the potential didn’t have the appeal we expected it to have. Either that, or we just had a run of very un-curious and project-shy house viewers! So, a big decision has been made.

We’re exploring having the small house demolished and building a boundary wall, thereby creating an enclosed rear garden. We think if anyone comes along in the future and says they’d have bought our house, if only there had been a small building included in the sale, with scope to renovate, then we’ll take it on the chin. We’re still working out the best way to do this, but the eventual wall, will be rendered. It will also be a high wall – high enough to give us 100% privacy from the outside. And because of its height, we’ll hopefully have a panel (or panels) made up of glass bricks on the wall opposite the main house, meaning that light will still flood into the garden. Foliage will be planted to give extra depth and interest, along with lighting. I’m very much liking the examples below, and at least now I have a better idea of what to show to a builder to begin to explain our thinking.

Access to the rear garden is currently via the communal grassed area to the side of the main house. We intend to open up the living room window by installing French windows and creating a small balcony with external steps leading down into the garden, meaning that this communal path will not need to be used. Access to the garden, will be from the house. And, if funds allow, the final piece of the jigsaw will be the installation of a pool, along the lines of a Dip Tank. Therefore also addressing the second most asked question – “Do you have a pool?”

So, roll on autumn as we’re heading towards another BIG project!

 

Small Steps…

Small Steps…

Over the summer, when we were averaging two or three house viewings a week and had some very serious interest in the house, if someone had told me that by October, we’d have taken it off the market, given up on The Printworks (and in the process, lost a lot of money) and be embarking on a whole new plan, I’d have thought they were crazy. Especially when we had accepted a firm offer and contracts were drawn up. But, things take turns you don’t expect – which at the time, seem just so awful, but often turn out to be the right thing.

So, two months on, we feel very differently. We could have stayed angry and upset and all “woe is us” – but what’s the point? We’d just have got more and more miserable and more entrenched in living in a house we no longer wanted to be in. Instead, we decided to own the situation. That woman from Germany, who pulled out, was not going to dictate our lives. She was going to have no further impact on us. A final email, articulating all of my thoughts, very politely, was sent, with the request that she never contact me again. That chapter is now closed and another has opened.

We’ve decided that we are going address the main issue which seemed to come up with viewers – namely, that they often weren’t sure where our boundaries where. Despite being demarcated by conifer trees at the rear of the house and the the front, big wooden planters. Supported by official documentation. But, I suppose some people just need a great big, thumping wall right in front of their eyes to believe what we tell them. So, walls will be built, but that’s a future blog. This one is about starting to document the small steps we are taking, which will hopefully get us right back on track and in the positive frame of mind to get the house back on the market, next year.

This cabinet goes back quite a way, with us – and probably a bit further back. When we lived in West Didsbury, our house was behind a beautiful interiors shop. called David Gavin Design and the owner sourced furniture. This piece, for whatever reason, didn’t make the cut, and it was put outside his shop, with a Free to A Good Home sign. I was lucky enough to be walking past and offered that good home, to take it off his hands. It wasn’t the prettiest – a kind of varnished brown veneer and plastic handles – but I figured we could do something with it. And, after sanding it back to the original wood, it has gone through a number of transformations and has moved from West Didsbury across to Istria. Quite the life, for something which was consigned, potentially, to the tip.

As well as moving to Istria, it’s also moved around our house. It’s been in the living room, the Well room, all of the bedrooms and last place being the upstairs landing outside outside our bedroom door. But it’s never felt quite right, anywhere. And, the deep navy paint never took to it, as I imagined it would, so it was on the list for finally tipping. Until I remembered that we still had some duck egg blue chalkpaint, which we’d used on the other bedroom furniture, and it was given a reprieve over the weekend. The plastic handles had been replaced long ago by silver handles from IKEA, so these were sprayed matt gold, to match the handles on the wardrobe and other cabinet.

OK, so it doesn’t completely match the rest of the furniture, but it does in terms of colour. It also provides us with more storage, especially as I took the opportunity to bin most of the contents. Much of which had been inside since we unpacked in 2017 and never used. So, definitely not needed! The main bedroom is also large, so a bit more co-ordinated furniture is always welcome.

There’s also a long IKEA floating shelf, which I’d previously covered with the pages of a book (“Ulysses” – totally unread! – if you’re interested), which had been above the bed. But since the bed was moved to the other side of the room, it just kind of, well – floated. It was going to be taken down, until I decided to cosy it up, with faux plants and foliage and tealight holders. Much better than taking it down, filling the holes, repainting and storing the shelf. Proper cosy, as us Mancs say…

So, whilst what we did at the weekend certainly isn’t renovation, it gave us a massive lift, in terms of the house. It’s fair to say we’d fallen a bit out of love with the house, which is ridiculous as, even though we say it ourselves, it is gorgeous and we have achieved so much. But, with small steps, we’re getting back on the horse, loving the house and gearing ourselves up for some BIG renovation work. Just need to find a team of builders now…

 

 

Defining Boundaries

Defining Boundaries

If there is just one thing we have learned from the journey of selling our renovated house in Istria, it’s that boundaries are number one priority for nearly every potential purchaser. To the point of obsession. Even before getting into the house, the questions asked were usually :

How much land do you own?

Where are your boundaries?

Now, to a pair of Brits, not fanatically concerned by boundaries, because they are either sorted – or you do what you need to do to sort them – these questions started to grate a little bit. Because we just didn’t understand the importance behind them. Always living in England, until five years ago, boundaries never really raised their heads as an issue with properties we bought and sold. If we knew of any friends who were experiencing boundary issues, it usually involved trees or fences. Nothing hugely major, that couldn’t be sorted fairly easily. But, and it’s a very big but, boundaries are BIG things out here.

When we purchased the little stone cottage to the rear of our house, with adjoining land, from a neighbour, we set about ensuring that our boundaries were established and legally recorded. This was a lengthy, protracted process and fairly costly – but not doing it would have caused mayhem further down the line. So, all good. We had the documentation. It was lodged with the Croatian Land Registry. And we were able to mark out the boundaries with potted trees and wooden markers. As we wanted to keep our aspect from the house, very open, we didn’t really want to begin building walls and we assumed that if people were intelligent enough to travel to another country – or come from a fair distance away in Croatia – they’d be intelligent enough to look at a document, and understand where our land started and ended.

Good grief, though – we gave far too many people, far too much credit. We also naively thought that people viewing, might be more interested in the quality of the renovations, the space the house afforded, the potential it had, the neighbours, for goodness sake! But, no – BOUNDARIES!

But, plans have changed a little bit and for a variety of reasons, we’ve decided to take the house off the market over the winter and will be using this time to do some more work on the house. Things are still in the initial planning stages, but much of it will focus on the rear of the house. However, having taken on board the confusion over the boundaries, we’re also planning to make these much more clear and do what we didn’t really want to do. Build a wall. Albeit a bit of a funky, retro wall, with patterned bricks, meaning we won’t feel totally enclosed. Now, just to find those bricks, Which we all had in our gardens in the ’70s…

Image : www.breezeblocks.com.au

Image : www.breezeblocks.com.au

 

Moving On…

Moving On…

The phrase “End of an Era” has been used a lot over recent days, and although not on quite the same scale, it’s also the end of a bit of an era for us. In December 2020, we finally signed a pre-contract on the purchase of a very unusual building in Oprtalj, which had been up for sale for a long time. Constructed on one level, this expansive industrial, concrete building filled us with excitement, as we could see its immense potential for open plan living. We had already put our renovated Istrian stone house on the market, as the negotiations were carried out with the seller. We firmly believed that our house would sell quite quickly as it was fairly priced, based on its age, condition, location and the fact we had taken into account we do not have a pool. However, what we didn’t take into account was the impact of the global pandemic.

The pre-contract was excellent, as far as we were concerned. It was for eighteen months – more than enough time, we thought, to sell our home. A monthly rental was negotiated and it was agreed that these payments (and the deposit) would reduce the agreed sale price. We were also given permission to begin works on the property, whilst we were still under the pre-contract. All seemed very hunky-dory and we went as far as to engage the services of an architect who would help us to realise our vision. But, a global pandemic doesn’t make the selling of a house – however beautiful and desirable you think it is – very easy, as people were largely no longer travelling. And if they were, a house purchase probably wasn’t too high on their agenda. This would have been the prefect time to start on the structural work on the new property, but without the injection of cash from the proceeds of the sale of our home, we were a bit limited as to what we could do. With hindsight, it’s a good thing that the only things we did actually do, were the demolition of the internal partition walls. Otherwise, we’d be very much out of pocket.

Things started to pick up regarding our house, in summer 2021 as viewings started. We were selling it ourselves, via Right Move Overseas and our own website, as well as via our social media channels, but it became increasingly more difficult to manage the viewings. It was difficult showing people around, and trying to be dispassionate, as viewers made judgments about our home. So, we appointed a real estate agency in April 2022 and interest went through the roof, culminating in an offer being accepted and legal documents drawn up. But, sometimes things don’t go as you expect them to and people often turn out to be flakey at best. Seriously unhinged, at worst. And this particular one decided to pull out just as the contract was about to be signed and the deposit paid. We were furious and devastated in equal measure, having felt that finally Lady Luck was on our side. But, a couple of weeks later, we’ve calmed down and have realised that what happened, was likely for the best.

Looking at it now, objectively and without the desire to get everything over the line, we think that in the long term this buyer would have been a potential nightmare, so we’re probably well rid. Had our sale gone ahead, we’d potentially have been looking to store our furniture and rent, as work was carried out on The Printworks. And, this would have been over the winter, as she wanted to move here full time, and as soon as possible. The other complication is that the original pre-contract expired at the beginning of May, but thankfully the summer has meant that things have progressed very slowly as annual holidays are taken VERY seriously here. We have kept up the rent payments, in good faith, but have now decided that the time has come to end things. The signs are telling us, very strongly and loudly, that the property isn’t right for us at the moment, so we’ve been clearing it out, ready to hand back the keys.

We’ve also taken out house off the market. Not forever. It’s going back on, hopefully in Spring 2023. By which time, Plan B should have been executed, meaning we can still realise a big part of our dream…

For now though, we’re looking forward to an autumn and winter of interior and exterior planning, plenty of demolition and rebuilding and a lovely house to be cosy and warm in, instead of the prospect of renting somewhere we don’t really like. Onwards and upwards!

 

kitchen reno : update 8

kitchen reno : update 8

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…

 

the snug reno : update2

the snug reno : update2

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…

 

 

 

secret garden reno : update 3

secret garden reno : update 3

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…

 

secret garden reno : update 2

secret garden reno : update 2

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…