Creating a Car Park

Creating a Car Park

We’ve never had a garden big enough to accommodate our cars. In every house we’ve lived in, parking has always been outside, on the street. Apart from having to usually fight for parking space outside our house in West Didsbury, we’ve never really considered parking. Until now.

When we moved into the house, we had a big elderflower tree and a grassed area. The shovels and spades etc were being used to mark out what we thought might be a pool – that was knocked on the head pretty quickly! Cars used to be parked along the side of the house, but the grassed area there was starting to become worn, so we decided to use the grassed area below. The tree wasn’t very healthy so it was removed and we then had somewhere better to park the cars.

However, over the three and half years we have been here, this area has become more and more messy. Constant driving across it meant that the grass all but disappeared – although hardy weeds survived. With much building work going on in the house, lorries would often park up here, to drop off sand or stone or wood, and so the soil would be constantly getting churned up. And the soil we have here is thick, rich red soil, which, when it’s rained, is like clay. Looks lovely in the fields, not so much when dragged through the house on the soles of your shoes. So, a decision was recently made. The area was going to be sorted. With the house up for sale, it was another project on the list of jobs we wanted to do to ensure that our home was looking her very best.

Like all jobs we attempt ourselves, we grossly underestimated both how long it would take and how difficult it would be. But, you live and learn.

The first attempt involved the purchasing of a lot of flagstones – these were pretty inexpensive and we figured with a bit of leveling of the soil and plastic sheeting, we’d be good to go.

Of course, first rookie error – we didn’t think it through, because we wanted a hard surface down quickly, before the winter rain arrived – was that as soon the cars were driven onto the flags, some of then cracked immediately. We hadn’t really dug down and embedded them, so we had to have a rethink. Concrete was an option which we considered, but however we did it, it was agreed that the digging had to commence so that we could make the area as level as possible. And again, we didn’t think this through. With a wheelbarrow and a pick axe, we thought it would take a couple of hours or so – but how wrong we were…

We soon discovered where the outbuilding, which had been demolished before we bought the house, had gone. Buried. Under the soil. From slates to huge corner stones, the outbuilding was still there…

We quickly figured that we’d still be digging this time next year and that we needed a bit of advice. Working with our builder it was decided that a digger was needed and that the best solution, once the area was flattened, would be to backfill with a mix of stone and sand, compressed with a proper machine and then a top layer of Istrian stone chippings put down. This sounded like the perfect solution and all was arranged.

A full lorry load of rubble and soil was excavated and taken away, although we did retain some of the more beautiful stones as we had an idea for a wall…

Very early, on a very cold Saturday morning in later November, the first delivery arrived and not long after, with some good rake action, the area was covered, and the cars were driven back and forth to begin the process of compressing the material.

One of the things which has delighted us the most about doing this work, is that the excavation has now properly revealed the curved edges of the patio. Once this is repainted in the spring, it will definitely come into its own.

To finish this part of the job off properly, a machine was used to totally flatten the stones and when done, we had the hard area we’ve been wanting. And no more red soil.

The final piece of the jigsaw was the delivery of the top stones – beautiful milky white Istrian stone chippings.

And, within a couple of hours, it was done. What a transformation, for relatively little cost and done much more quickly than us attempting it with a pick axe and a shovel. The stones we’d saved were used to create a little wall at the front of our property, to finish things off. Heather plants and pink oleanders – which we hope will burst into colour, in the spring – create something more visual and definitely enhance the entrance to the garden now.

We are delighted with the finished result. No more trailing mud into the house and with a specific area for the cars, the garden just seems so much more complete. Depending on how long we are here for, the plan will be to maybe construct a pergola over this area, which will be planted up with climbers. But, that may be something for the new owners…

 
Our house for sale can be viewed here.
Green Wall Maintenance

Green Wall Maintenance

If you’re a follower of what we’re up to, you’ll know that our renovated stone house in Istria, is currently for sale. You might also know that we have a very unusual feature in our front garden. We are right next to an abandoned house and one of its walls forms one of our garden walls. Now, this might sound alarming – and I have to say if we were living back in the UK, the thought of being adjoined to an abandoned house, would fill me with fear. But abandoned houses in Istria are part and parcel of the landscape. These buildings were once family homes – dwellings – and all have fallen into disrepair because families either escaped or were forcibly removed, depending upon the regime they were living under at the time. Many are now being renovated and restored, as descendants lay claim to them or as sympathetic buyers bring life back to them. A lot, though, have multiple owners, often scattered around the world, and Croatian property laws dictate that every single living owner has to consent to the sale, so some are destined to probably never be purchased/renovated. The one next to us, is one such property. It has seventeen owners – we know this for definite as all had to be contacted when we were establishing our boundaries – and some of these owners live in America, some in Australia, a couple in the village and most places in between! So, one thing’s for sure – it’s not going to be sold any time soon.

So, what we do have, is a very, very unique boundary wall, which is covered in ivy and vines. It is an absolute haven for bees and butterflies and birds, and so we have “adopted” the Green Wall. We take responsibility for its upkeep and ensuring that it is kept cut back. The ivy is very heavy and although the strong, thick vines keep it in place, we don’t want to risk it being pulled down with the weight. There are windows (without glass) in this wall, and we always ensure that these are uncovered, because when the sunlight streams through them into our garden, it is beautiful, and we don’t want these to be obscured any more.

But, you do need a head for heights to do the big, once a year, chop back. Or a friend with a head for heights. And we have one of these. And he came to visit with his extendable ladder, a few weeks ago. All of the vines which were beginning to work their way into our roof tiles, were removed and the cracked roof tiles we discovered were replaced, mortared and sealed. This year, we actually had the vines cut well away from our house – there’s now a space of over a metre where there are no vines at all, so we’re hopefully all OK until next summer. The guttering at this side of the house was all cleaned out, too.

Next job was to completely cut back the bulk of the outgrowing ivy – we’re always a bit reluctant to do this, because the bees and butterflies do love it, but we can’t just let it grow wild. Tied onto the very long ladder, our friend chopped it all back – and to get to the highest branches, he unstrapped himself and walked along the top ledge, chopping away as he walked. Health & safety is shall we say, a little less stringent than in the UK…

We left the smaller wall to the right and just trimmed the ivy here, rather than cut it all back at this stage, as we still wanted the berries for the birds, and the late flowers for the bees and butterflies. It’s late October now, but still warm enough during the day for them to all be buzzing around.

So, that’s one of our big autumn jobs ticked off. In the past, when we had our little garden in West Didsbury, winter prep would largely consist of putting pots away and brushing leaves. It’s all a little bit more involved now, but once done, we can rest easy over the winter, knowing there’ll be no water ingress caused by leaves in the gutters or tiles being lifted because of ingrowing vines. It’s always a good day, too, when we know that the weight of the vines has been removed and that we’ll better growth next spring. Just need to get through the next few months of darker days, less vibrant foliage and no stretching out in the garden in warm sunshine…

 

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, bit 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 tthe 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 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…