Bathroom Reno Challenge

Bathroom Reno Challenge

The best part of the last two and half years has largely involved renovation. Somewhere in the house, something is usually being knocked down, built back up, painted, restyled, tiled, plumbed in or redesigned. We knew the challenges we would be facing when we bought our shell of an Istrian stone house which hadn’t been lived in for some time and needed an awful lot of TLC. Thankfully, much progress has been made and we can now count the things that still need to be tackled on two hands, rather than running out of digits. Still on the to-do-list are the following : the front garden boundary wall/fence; a car port/pergola to protect the cars from the sun and heat; outdoor electricity and additional lighting; deciding what to do with the shell of the abandoned house we are buying a the back of our house; creating an enclosed courtyard; completing the internal painting of floors and beams; finishing the industrial style banisters and spindles on the stairs. And, the small bathroom, upstairs.

Although we’ve been careful in what we have spent on this project, costs do tend to escalate and it’s easy to go over-budget, especially if you are a bit magpie-like and veer towards the shiny things. So, I’ve decided to set us a DIY/Reno challenge – and the challenge is to see if we can renovate the upstairs bathroom (excluding labour – we’re not stupid!) for no more than ยฃ500. That’s right – ยฃ500. Before we even to begin to plan in detail, we know that this will be very tight and will mean that much time will be spent online, and in-stores, sourcing and comparing and re-thinking. The current bathroom is awful. Even though we’ve tarted it up and it’s fully functioning and looking a million times better than when we moved in, the sanitary ware is really, really cheap and really, really unattractive. The bath is very small, meaning that it’s hardly ever used and the shower is just an attachment from the tap, meaning that if you do try and use it, because there’s no screen, chances are, however careful you are, the walls and floor, get soaked.

To make things better in the interim, we’ve painted the walls and the bath panel white, the woodwork the same soft, pale blue that runs through the rest of the house and the floor tiles have been painted in Farrow and Ball Railings. New accessories, such as the shelving for the towels, plants, lanterns and new bath mats have been added. Plus a new loo seat ๐Ÿ˜‰ But, however much we try and prettify it up, it’s still essentially an inherited bathroom and we want to make it ours.

The original plan was to reposition all of the sanitary ware. The bath, with a new shower, would go into the recess, where the sink and toilet currently sit opposite each other, and the sink and toilet would be moved under the window. However, even though everything is already plumbed in, it would involve quite a lot of moving of pipes – and especially the waste pipe and soil stack – and we decided that for a room this small, it just wasn’t worth the hassle. However much more sense the new, intended layout would make.

So, the decision has been made to keep everything in the position they are now, but with some (quite big) tweaks. A new bath, with a new bath panel, will now extend the full length under the window, meaning the shelving will go. A shower will be fitted to the right of the window, with aย  screen, which will fold back onto itself on the wall where the shelving currently is. The door which opens into the bathroom, will be removed and a sliding door installed, giving us the much needed extra space. A new sink and toilet will also be installed. Flooring and walls are still being discussed, as are storage options. I’ve been scouring the internet for bathroom inspiration, and pinning like mad on Pinterest. Some of the ideas I’ve liked, just aren’t suitable for such a small space. Some are just a bit too out there. But, there are elements in all of the ideas I’ve found, that make me convinced that with a bit of imagination, and patience, we can achieve the ยฃ500 challenge…

Bathroom Inspiration

Bathroom Inspiration

Bathroom Inspiration

Bathroom Inspiration

However, the theme that we seem to keep coming back to, is monochrome. The room is strangely proportioned – the floor space is small, but the ceiling is very high, so we don’t want an overpowering, colour (such as the greens above), at floor level, making the room seem smaller. However, the height will lend itself to something quite unusual, so the current thinking is white bath, sink and toilet with a white tiled floor and white walls. And then matt black taps and shower, and to the right of the current window, where the shower will hopefully be installed, black metro tiles. Perhaps the boldest thing we’re thinking, is to paint the ceiling black and the beams white. Might work. Might not. But we can only try.

So, my days are currently taken up with trying to source all of these kinds of beauties (including bath, sink and toilet), and coming in less than our ยฃ500 challenge.

Bathroom Challenge...

Bathroom Challenge…

Maybe we’ll go the whole hog, and if we can be very clever – and very lucky if we can source at a good price – go full on black…

Well, why not? Especially as I’ve now found black metro tiles…

So, can we do it? Only time will tell – but as we always, say…

Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

 

 

WorkAway Continues…

WorkAway Continues…

Our second and third WorkAway visits have just come to an end. We are delighted to report that our second visitors – a couple from Tasmania, who are travelling and working their work around the world – were another massive success. Like we said we preferred, they were a couple, they were independent, resourceful, creative, gregarious, kind, helpful and very mindful that they were living in our home, for a week. As with our first visitors, we really struck lucky with our new friends, from Down Under.

Our way of doing things, is to explain what we would like to achieve and let the WorkAwayers decide which task(s) they feel most comfortable/confident with and take it from there. However, with these two, there was very little they couldn’t/didn’t want to tackle and so pretty soon after their arrival, they started with real gusto.

First up, was the biggest task – the renovation of the horrible, and pretty dangerous stairs down into The Snug, under the living room. We already had all of the materials needed as our builder has been meaning to do this, but a new full time job has meant that he’s not as available as he has been. So, the wooden slats for the back of the treads – the staircase has been open and exposed – were firstly sanded, undercoated and painted in our beautiful Farrow & Ball Railings. Done in double quick time with these two speedsters!

Next up, because they had a concrete floor running under the staircase, the treads were removed so that the sides of the structure could be undercoated and painted. Again, these two worked so well as a team – it was great to pick up some excellent tips from them, too. Sometimes, the solution to your DIY problem is staring you in the face, but until you see it, it’s just not there – and they helped us to see certain things much more clearly.

The next stage was to deal with the actual treads – upon closer inspection, it transpired that they had never actually been secured. No wonder I always clung onto the wall as I came down them! They were all moved forward (as was done with the stairs going up to the top floor) and this time, very securely secured! Once in place, they were sanded, undercoated and top coated. Twice, for good measure ๐Ÿ˜‰

The next thing we had to consider was a handrail, because even though the treads were firmly in place, the stairs are steep and the exposed edge, still did look very precarious. We knew we wanted an industrial style handrail, but even with our clear-thinking WorkAwayers, we were struggling to get what we wanted, to actually work. A handrail going down the stairs at an angle, as you would expect, was proving difficult to achieve, because of where the fixings would go. And, the suddenly, a lightbulb moment! Why not go vertical? And this is exactly what we did!

Industrial fittings. With such a traditional house from the outside, we want the interior to be contemporary and bang up to date...

Industrial fittings. With such a traditional house from the outside, we want the interior to be contemporary and bang up to date…

The plan now, now that we’ve been shown exactly how do it, is repeat this pattern on the stairs going up to the first floor, and to replace the wooden handrail and spindles (above) with similar industrial pipes. If our second WorkAway guests had only achieved this task, we’d have been super delighted, but no – they ploughed on!

Our front door has been on the “to-do” list since we moved in. Not only is it pretty unattractive, despite our best efforts – it was also very poorly fitted originally, and the threshold has been very uneven. Meaning that if it rains, and we have a driving wind, the stone floor in the Well Room is full of puddles…

However, no longer – the threshold has now been filled and concreted and framed and painted. And, we’ve had rain since – and NO PUDDLES! Simple, but ingenious. Proof of what happens when you are lucky enough to have excellent WorkAwayers.

Not ones for letting the grass grow under their feet, this lovely pair also tackled our upstairs doors. Again, these are on the “to-do” list as we want to replace these very cheap, badly fitted doors – but with magnets, new handles and a plane, they’ve made them a hundred times better. All upstairs doors now close properly, affording that kind of privacy you really need sometimes. And, with a little nod to where we are now, our new industrial fish door handles…

So, three WorkAway visits in, do we think it’s a success? Well, yes, we most definitely do. Those of you who are doing your maths though, must be wondering about WorkAway Number 3. Let’s just park that one – not so much WorkAway as RestAway ๐Ÿ˜‰ But, we won’t let that experience cloud what so far, has been a pretty excellent experience. Two new sets of friends. Invitations to France and Tasmania. Lots of laughs and lots of jobs ticked off the list. And, to be fair, our third guest,managed to get us up and running for the winter, with a mountain of kindling chopped…

Yes, honestly...

Yes, honestly…

 

Discovering WorkAway…

Discovering WorkAway…

We finally we have come out of hibernation. After returning a few weeks ago from hot & sunny Mallorca, winter – or at least autumn – returned in Istria, with rain, rain and more rain and howling winds. We honestly felt we’d never see the sun again and so cracked on with indoor DIY work. Most of the big stuff is now done – apart from the upstairs bathroom and the outside areas – but our wonderful go-to builder/electrician has another job and so isn’t as available as much as he used to be and we were just starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with what was still to do, especially as visitors were starting to book in.

However, as often happens, a solution falls right into your lap – and this was the case when I found out about the WorkAway Scheme. Essentially, it’s a website where you can register as a host and post the kind of help you need – people who are travelling and who have the skills you need, where you live, get in touch if they are interested. And this was how we met Julie and Mariusz, a French/Polish couple who had just renovated their home in Roscoff, in Brittany and were travelling in Croatia, offering their building skills in return for accommodation.

We didn’t enter into this lightly, as we were aware that inviting people you don’t really know into your home can bring potential problems. However, the WorkAway website is comprehensive and there are a number of ways you can carry out your own checks and balances, before making any contact with anyone. I also found the actual help provided by WorkAway themselves, to be quick and informative and reassuring. You create a profile, as a host, and we discovered that the more information you can provide, the more suitable and compatible, are the people who contact you. We got back to all initial contacts, whether suitable or not, because it’s the polite thing to do and because the more you interact, the higher your rating as a host becomes. We made it clear that we preferred a mature couple (rather than clubbing kids who just wanted to get a bed for a few nights), stated the dates we could host and the skills we ideally were looking for – construction, plumbing, gardening.

Workaway is an international hospitality service that allows members to contact one another to organise homestays and cultural exchange. Volunteers or “Workawayers”, are expected to contribute a pre-agreed amount of time per day in exchange for lodging and food, which is provided by their host.

Julie & Maruisz travelled up to us from Split, from an eco-project they had been working on, and as soon as we met them, we felt comfortable. They were also travelling with their honey spotted Dalmatian, called Alda – they had informed us of this initially, and made it clear that they were OK if we decided not to go ahead because of the dog – and. yes,ย  we did have questions as we don’t have a dog. We exchanged many emails and felt ressured that Alda would not be an issue – and we were proven correct. He was the most clean, quiet, placid and very pretty animal we’ve seen for a long time ๐Ÿ˜‰

Alda, the Dalmatian. So of course, very at home in Croatia :)

Alda, the Dalmatian. So of course, very at home in Croatia ๐Ÿ™‚

As Julie and Maruisz had renovated their own home, they were what we would call, very “handy”. We had a list of smallish jobs that we were ideally wanting to be completed, and they attacked them with gusto. Despite the increasing Istrian heat…

Prepping the outdoor sink for mounting in the new frame...

Prepping the outdoor sink for mounting in the new frame…

We had kept the ceramic sink from the old kitchen, when we did our renovation, knowing that one day we would find a way to have it installed outside. Our WorkAway friends cleaned up the sink and made a frame, which was painted and fitted, outside the cellar. Istrian stones were sourced from around the house and a plinth built, onto which the sink was mounted. The tap still needs to be fitted, but we’re all good to go!

The entrance to the outside cellar has always been open, despite there being a frame and a door, just lying inside the cellar. We’d always intended that these be fitted, but other jobs just seemed to take precedence – until Julie and Maruisz arrived. The frame was undercoated and painted and drilled into place, and the door carefully sanded, cleaned down, undercoated and painted – and it all now looks great as it just finishes everything off…

The arrival of the guys spurred us into finally buying a power drill, which can now very easily easily get through our very thick walls. And this mean that our “homage” to our neighbour – those of you who’ve been to stay will understand – could be installed above the front door.

However, the major task that was achieved, was the fitting of our outdoor uplighters, to light up the beautiful ivy clad wall which is our garden backdrop. Although our builder still needs to connect these to an indoor switch, they are in and working – they just switch on and off from the external cellar, but now that we have a door on this, it’s a pleasure to go in and out to do the switching we need to do…

First ever switch on,,,

First ever switch on…

As well as the above tasks, Julie and Maruisz also worked on chopping vines and ivy and doing concreting work that has been outstanding for a long time. We struck very lucky with them, as they were very easy company and having travelled extensively, they were interesting and engaging and had many tales to tell. We are fortunate that we have two bathrooms, so they (and us) could have privacy, but they just slotted in very easily into our lives for the five days they were here. We shared the cooking and they did their share of washing up etc. In return, we took them out for dinner on one of the nights and as they had been on the road working, let them wash and dry all of their clothes. They prepared a feast for us on their last evening – who knew that a salad (albeit a very packed, flavoursome, big one)ย  could be so amazingly tasty and filling?

And, as quickly as they’d arrived, they were off to their next project in Ljubljana. However, we think we may not have seen the last of our lovely new WorkAway friends…

We have not been paid to write this post. It is an honest appraisal of our first WorkAway adventure and it was a massive success. Our next visitors arrive in mid July and we are just making arrangements with a travelling English couple who are hoping to come to us, early August. Check out WorkAway – it’s definitely worth investigating.

Boiler Issues

Boiler Issues

As is quite usual here, we’re not connected to gas mains. If people do prefer gas, for heating or cooking, then you usually find that they have it delivered and huge cannisters will be located somewhere about the property and we didn’t really fancy the eyesore or the faff. So we’re all electric here – and that includes the boiler. Or, the water heater, which we inherited. This really old fashioned tank has been located in the outdoor cellar, a good place for it as it means that it’s not taking up space in the house. But that’s probably the only good thing about it.

Our current bath is tiny – it’ll be replaced by something much more substantial in the next renovation project – but the capacity of the water heater is so small, that we’ve never actually been able to do a proper fill up of the bath, with hot water, without also topping up with the kettle. That’s right, it’s one of those really old fashioned water heaters that empties and then fills up and you have to wait for the water to heat up again. Gawd!

Luckily, the renovated shower room downstairs has sufficed and we’ve delayed on getting the inevitable boiler issue sorted. Until this weekend…

We hadn’t realised that quite a serious problem was brewing in the cellar until we spotted a small drip, drip, drip from the boiler. A call was made to our builder who said he’d come out as soon he could and a bucket was put under it – and we thought that all would be OK, for a little while. But, like with most renovations, things sometimes don’t go smoothly. And when they don’t go smoothly, there’s always more expenditure…

Yep, this is the sight that greeted us at the weekend. With the top beginning to blow and rusty water streaming over the sides, we knew that it was time to act. But, we’d never bought a boiler before. Although we’d obviously had new boilers in houses back in the UK, they’d always been sourced by plumbers who knew what they were doing. This time – although we did have advice from our builder – we had to largely sort it ourselves. Thank goodness for Google and translation apps ๐Ÿ˜‰

Two years ago, we wouldn’t have known where to begin – buying a loaf of bread was a challenge in those days! But, like I said in the last blog – where there’s a will, there’s a way. Having since navigated the purchasing (and subsequent MOTing and insuring and all of the complexities that this entails) of two cars, a new kitchen and bathroom and sorted out all utilities and broadband, we knew that we wouldn’t be defeated by a boiler. Renovating a house, we are now regular customers of Bauhaus, which is the equivalent over here of B&Q, and this was our port of call for a boiler.

The one thing that we noticed immediately was the difference in price between boilers hereย  and back in the UK. Interesting blog, eh? BUT, when soooo much expenditure is going into a big reno, this difference in price is a GOOD thing ๐Ÿ˜‰ We feel quite proud of ourselves that we navigated this purchase of quite an essential piece of house kit, in a different country and in a different language – and now are very close to having a proper full tank of hot water. Which means, that for the first time since we moved here, just being able to turn on the tap and a bath can be filled. Without recourse to a kettle…

Next step is actually having it fitted. We’re reliant on a builder who is brilliant and who can speak perfect English – which is super important when negotiating building works – but who is also very busy, and so we have to be very patient. However, we are crossing our fingers that he’s true to his word and barring any unforseen complications, arrives to tonight to instal. We’re dreaming of that deep, hot bath…

UPDATE

Things here do often happen very slowly and you have to just accept it, generally and go with the flow. But, no so with our boiler. True to his word, indeed, our builder did arrive in the week and installed the boiler. What we’d do without him, we just don’t know! Establishing that network of trusted people – however small that network is – is crucial to living a new life in a new country. He’s introduced us to more people who have helped us to do things, especially with the house, that we would never have thought we could do. And, because he now knows us and we know him and there is trust between us, he does go that little bit further for us. Meaning that he called out to us – at no additional out of hours charge – and fitted the boiler one evening this week. Meaning that we can now have a shower again, and for the first time since we moved into the house, fill the bath to a reasonable level, without resorting to boiling a kettle ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

 

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way…

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way…

Renovating a property can be very expensive. Even though things out here are often less expensive than back in the UK, we don’t have a bottomless money pit and so sometimes, rather than splashing the cash, we look for alternatives. And, currently, spray paint is proving to be worth its weight in gold. Quite literally…

Rather than continually buying new *things*, we’re starting to give new leases of life to things we already have. And, we’re particularly delighted with the new look we’ve given to the (unused) vintage French woodburner. So many new looks for so few pennies.

Since we finished renovating our kitchen, one thing has really niggled me. The walls are painted in gorgeous Hague Blue and the units are concrete style. We’ve tried to keep accessories to a minimum, so as to avoid the usual cluttered look we usually have in a kitchen, and what we have is either copper or burnt orange. Consequently, the silvery stainless steel microwave, has bugged me as it just didn’t match with anything. I’ve looked and looked, trying to source one – but no luck. Baby blue, powder blue – yes. Navy blue – no.

So, there was ever really only one answer – take it into our own hands!

Probably a bit mad, but as I had exactly the colour I wanted in a spray can, it was worth a go! And do you know what? For just under four euros I have the microwave that I’d visioned, which would fit perfectly in the new kitchen…

As they say, where there’s a will, there’s *always* a way ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Our Kitchen Renovation

Our Kitchen Renovation

When we moved in, the kitchen seemed quite a cold room. Which seemed odd, because even though there was only one window to the side, it was a light room. The walls were white (and this was the only room that had actually been decorated) and the units were pretty inoffensive cream IKEA base and wall cupboards, with a standard laminate worktop. But nothing really seemed to work, design and layout wise. Terrazzo floor tiles can be stunning, but the ones we inherited were the blandest of the bland, and some had cracked, through obviously not being installed correctly – and they were COLD! There was no additional heating in the kitchen, so the floor always felt icy. The sink was positioned under the only window, which looked over the side of the house, so it always felt in the wrong position. And where we thought the sink should be – looking out to the front – was where the oven was. But there was no window. Electric sockets were in the wrong places. The ceiling was quite low, with an awful glass lightshade in the centre. And we also had a very peculiar step up into the kitchen, which was about 25cms high – a complete danger if carrying anything in or out of the kitchen…

What we inherited, kitchen-wise...

What we inherited, kitchen-wise…

As soon as our belongings arrived, we set about doing what we could with the kitchen. As we’d be spending so much time in it, it had to be as nice as we could make it in the short term. However, there were things that we just didn’t want to spend unnecessary money on as we knew that a whole new kitchen would be being designed, so things like the curious gap between the oven and the cupboard remained. And the issue of the window (below) which we could never really open – as the tap had been fitted right in front of it. (We did do a cheapo replacement of this tap, as we did need to have air in the kitchen from time to time, but it was never right).

There's no way that window was going to open properly. #designflaw

There’s no way that window was going to open properly. #designflaw

One feature that we did love, and which we have kept, was the sink. This will be relocated in the garden, as an outside sink is something that will come in very handy, especially as over the summer, we need to do a lot of watering of plants.

It was all well and good deciding we wanted a new kitchen, but we were in Istria – and had absolutely no idea where you’d get a kitchen from, so we had to begin researching. We had bought bedroom furniture from IKEA in Zagreb (these were the days before discovering the much closer IKEA, near Trieste), but we knew that there had to be something closer to home. Bit by bit, the pieces came together – and we found the kitchen we wanted in a store in Koper, just over the border in Slovenia.

Once we’d found the kitchen, it was actually quite an easy process – the in-store designer helped us choose the components, once we’d provided the measurements and then came out to do a site-visit to make sure that was what was planned would fit, and all was ordered.

The kitchen plans...

The kitchen plans…

It hadn’t actually been that long since we’d remodelled our kitchen back in West Didsbury, and once our builder was on the job, here we were again. Back in kitchen chaos!

We knew that the ceiling was false, but didn’t know what would be revealed if it was to come down. But once the seed of the idea was planted, it wouldn’t go away and so the demolition started. In November. We definitely hadn’t thought this one through, but out here, when you get a builder who can start work, you start the work. Even if winter is setting in and there’s going to be structural work.

All starting to be stripped out...

All starting to be stripped out…

The first job to be tacked was the ceiling. I had naively thought that the plasterboard would just be taken down and that we’d have a new ceiling. All done and dusted quickly. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite happen that way. Our builder (like most out here), doesn’t do just one job – he can be working on various projects and so can’t really commit to being with us full time. Initially this was frustrating, as it just wasn’t what we were used to, but we are used to it now and so don’t panic if he now disappears mid-job and we don’t see him for two weeks. We’re much more relaxed about this side of things now, because this is just how it happens out here. So, back to the ceiling…

Breaking through...

Breaking through…

A decomposing wasps' nest...

A decomposing wasps’ nest…

How insulation used to be done in these traditional Istrian stone houses - soil and twigs. And lots of them!

How insulation used to be done in these traditional Istrian stone houses – soil and twigs. And lots of them!

The start of the building site in the garden. Which we had for nearly six months.

The start of the building site in the garden. Which we had for nearly six months, over a wet winter.

The original ceiling is finally exposed.

The original ceiling is finally exposed.

The above photos do belie how long it actually took to take down the ceiling – don’t forget, we didn’t have the builder full time, so it was a good couple of weeks of living in utter chaos and filth.

We had a major stroke of luck, window-wise, which saved us quite a lot of money. The front of the house always looked odd, without a window. But there had, at some point, been a window here – if you look closely, just to the left of the drainpipe on the right hand side, you’ll see where a very small window once was, now bricked up. Our stroke of luck was the discovery of a new window frame, complete with glass and handles in the cellar. It has obvioulsy been intended to be fitted, but for whatever reason, never was – and this meant we had a window, which matched all of the thers, which could be fitted to the front of the house. All that was required now, was scaffolding and the power drills to knock through an Istrian stone, wall which was measured at just over 80cms thick!

The kitchen is above ground level (the outdoor cellar is underneath), so we needed scaffolding – which we got. Thankfully, the H&S inspectors didn’t pay us a visit ๐Ÿ˜‰

Health & safety...

Health & safety…

The window knock-through begins.

The window knock-through begins…

Our builders pointed put that different coloured stones had been used below the chimney – and they suggested using the grey stones from the window to replace them. Once the reddish stones were pointed out, they became very obvious and so we went with the suggestion. It looks lovely now – and we’re very glad we did it – but at the the time, it did mean that we had a huge, gaping hole at the front of the house, only covered by plastic sheeting, and we were approaching December.

One thing which hadn’t considered previously, when we found the window, was that all of the other windows in the house, have traditional stone surrounds. Because this new window was going in right at the front, we decided that we wanted to keep it the same as all of the others – and so beautiful, creamy Istrian stone slabs were ordered. They were a bit eye-wateringly expensive, BUT we figured that if we were going to to do this kitchen renovation, we had to do it properly. And they really are quite stunning –

Once the window was in, attention turned back to the newly exposed ceiling – the boarding out was an exciting stage as for the first time, we were able to begin to see what it might look like. We also began to think about the beams – newly exposed, they were beautiful, but weren’t in the best condition. However, we decided to wait until we made a decision about them, as we wanted to see them against the ceiling when it was painted.

As we were in utter chaos anyway, we decided that new electrics would be put in. The sockets were all now in the wrong places and we wanted the option of being able to dim the lights and have undershelf LED lights, and on the step risers, into the kitchen. We also decided that additional wiring would be installed so that we could eventually run power and lighting outside, into the garden, and control from the kitchen. Looking back, it was the best thing we did, as we’ve since added a new overhead concrete pendant, over the breakfast bar, and our electrician had everything already in place. So, a good bit of forward planning on his part ๐Ÿ˜‰

Because we were moving the sink and dishwasher, the plumbing also had to be sorted. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say – and more chunks were hacked out of the walls as new channels were made for the piping. Oh, and in the middle of all of this, the tiles were taken up from the floor, in preparation for new concrete being poured in and the underfloor heating being installed.

The entrance to the kitchen was potentially quite tricky – for some reason, a very steep step had been built and we had concerns about people tripping, or it being too high for our younger visitors.

Smashing out the step up into the kitchen

Smashing out the step up into the kitchen

We thought we’d have to have a second, lower step built, extending out – but our builder came up with a much better solution. He hacked out half of the depth, creating two much more accessible steps – and it was at this stage that we decided to have LED lights embedded into the steps. With hindsight, another great feature, because they look very effective, especially at night and even more so if they are the only lights on in the kitchen.

New steps with reinforced plates, with gaps for LED strips

New steps with reinforced plates, with a tiny overhanging lip for the LED strips

All of the original sockets and switches had been binned because they were cheap, bog standard and not all attractive to look at. Again, we decided that if we were going to to do this renovation properly, everything had to be done to such a standard that we wouldn’t look back and wish we’d pushed to boat out a little more. So, knowing that the walls were eventually going to be Farrow & Ball Hague Blue (we brought it back with us, from a trip to England), we opted for matt black switches – they are super touchy-feely and we are so glad we paid a little bit extra.

By March (over four months since the work started), spotlights were in and the ceiling had been completely boarded out, all ready for plastering. We were quite taken with the white of the walls at this point, as it looked so bright – but, with the rest of the house largely being white, we wanted something more dramatic for the kitchen. Maybe one day, we might go back to the whites, but for now, we love how the kitchen has turned out.

The plastering was a long job, simply because our builder is meticulous. And, boy, are we glad he is, because, unlike the walls in the rest of the house, the ones in the kitchen are super smooth and every line is straight. I think this is what makes the kitchen so special at the moment – but hopefully one day, ALL walls will be dealt with and we’ll iron out all of the wonkiness.

It was a big day when the Hague Blue came out and the first coat was applied – even though the actual kitchen was still to be delivered and installed, we felt this was a massive milestone. We still had a long way to go, but for the first time in months, the kitchen was beginning to feel like a room.

The builder did think we were quite mad, concerning our choice of colour. Having done lots of research and seen inside quite a few Istrian houses, it is an unusual choice for here. But, we love it and when the walls were painted, it was exactly as we had imagined. This was another good day – we had lights, the window frame was painted and the walls and ceiling were painted.

I suppose, as with all renovation projects, things seem to move very slowly at the beginning, but then there’s suddenly a point when things start to come together, and this is what happened after Easter last year (2018), when the underfloor heating was installed, the new flooring laid and the LED lights wired into the steps.

After nearly five months, we were almost there – and the next big thing was the delivery of the kitchen. This was a fantastic day, but all was a bit tricky space-wise, as we had to store everything until the next day when it would be installed – and at the same time as it was being delivered, the well was being relocated outside, the downstairs bathroom was also being renovated, with the Well Room being used as a kitchen, and our concrete table was being built. Oh, and we had a week until friends arrived. It is amazing at how you cope with madness all around you, but all we could think was how delighted we were that the Well Room was also now choc-a-block full of boxed up units and appliances…

The kitchen installer was actually fantastic – we couldn’t believe that one person would fit everything in the timescale he’d estimated. In fact, he was so swift and speedy, he’d largely put the units together before I even thought about taking photos. And by mid-afternoon, we were starting to get everything back into their new homes.

Putting it all back together...

Putting it all back together…

And so, with a day to go before friends arrived, and five months after it all started, we had a working kitchen!

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However, all not entirely finished, and over the past twelve months, we’ve been adding the finishing touches. The window cills have also been painted Hague Blue, just as a “make-do” because the intention here, is to have mustard coloured tiles. We just need to source these out here – we did find them in Topps Tiles when we were back with the car at Christmas, but unfortunately, due to my excessive purchasing of food stuffs we can’t get here and cushions and bedding and candles, we literally couldn’t fit the boxes of tiles in the car. When we can source the tiles, they will also go around the worktops and especially as a splashback by the side of the hob and breakfast bar. So, these are still on the “to-do” list.

The beams have now been painted and they are a super soft pale grey. As we suspected, there was woodworm, so they were treated and caulked, prior to undercoating and painting – and they now are home to hanging plants and faux ivy which wraps around one of them. A concrete pendant has been hung over the breakfast bar, giving us additional lighting when needed, or moodier lighting if we don’t want too much illumination. Our mustard yellow bar stools, which were bought for our West Didsbury renovation, sit perfectly at the breakfast bar – it was if they were actually bought for this kitchen.

This weekend, we think might finally have finished the kitchen (apart from the elusive mustard tiles) – a second coat of Hague Blue has been applied as there were paint splashes from the beams and a bit of general wear and tear. The entrance into the kitchen (where the new matt black switches are positioned) was left white, but it never looked quite right. It’s now Hague Blue and just perfectly frames the kitchen. The last couple of jobs to do are a little bit bonkers and involve spray paint, but they have to be done. I’m not going to say just yet, what they are – I think I’ll leave it until they’ve been done and I’m sure that they have been successful.

So, this is the kitchen as is now…

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We think, looking a little different, to the kitchen we inherited…

What we inherited, kitchen-wise...

What we inherited, kitchen-wise…

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT FROM THIS RENOVATION?

Renovating at home is a challenge. Doing it abroad, is doubly challenging. If you’re doing something similar, here’s what we found – hopefully, these may help and/or calm your nerves!

  • Although it’s wonderful to learn a new language and be able to practice, during a renovation is NOT the time to do this. Try and find someone who you can communicate easily with – there are far too many possibilities for misunderstandings, misinterpretations and general confusion – all of which can be costly;
  • If you’re a novice, like we were/are, buy your big ticket items from big stores. It’s more likely that you will be understood, the range is bigger, you’re more likely to find someone who can understand you/communicate with you, returns policies are better, and you’re more likely to find most of the things you’ll practically need, under one roof. Go indie and local for your accessories, if this is important to you – but go big and national for the main items;
  • Be patient – especially, if like us, you are using a local, to do your building work, as opposed to a company. You will find they probably won’t work to set hours and may seem to be “unreliable”. Chances are, you’ll find out that as well as working for you, they’re working for other people, holding down other jobs, perhaps doing seasonal work (especially if you’re in an area like ours, which is in the country);
  • Know that your builder will become part of the family;
  • Depending on where you are, be aware that Health & Safety regulations literally do not exist in some countries. However, because your worker is probably multi skilled and completely sensible and able to improvise, you’ll (probably) be fine;
  • Negotiate how you pay from the outset – we pay by a fixed rate for the hour and we keep a meticulous record of hours worked;
  • Always have beer/wine in your fridge. We find it to be a very motivating tool, as well as a nice way to get to know your builder. At the end of the day…

Garden Project…

Garden Project…

Although the weather is still not *perfect*, we’ve definitely come out of winter and hibernation. The woodburner is on less these days, our heaters are only switched on to get rid of the early morning chill, and we’ve even had a window or two open. The garden, which last year was largely a building site, is now starting to look a whole lot more presentable – and we are excited that this will hopefully be our big project this year. We can’t do anything major until our boundaries have been rubber-stamped by our local land registry, but this is now all in hand and we are starting to think about funky boundary walls and fency and outdoor lighting and seating and all sorts of lovely stuff, which will make summer all the more special.

In the meantime, we’ve decided to do what we can to spruce things up. New bulbs and plants have been planted up and these are starting to grow, adding some colour in between the potted (for now) bamboos and shrubs. We’ve moved our two wisteria plants to the base of the huge wooden pole and these are now beginning to twist and curl and the first beautiful lilac fronds are beginning to to bud.

We’re renovating a gorgeous vintage wrought iron table and chair set, which we bought just after we moved here. It was white, but had previously been painted and the layers of hard paint were beginning to crack off and rusting had started – I did a quick made-do spray paint job, but didn’t prep properly. Two years later, it’s in a bit of a sorry state, so the long job of painstakingly removing all of the cracking layers of old paint (the spray paint has now faded) and sanding off the rust has started. I did originally spray it a dark charcoal, but as it’s faded, the original white has started to be exposed and it just looks a bit of a mess, so we’ve taken the decision that we’ll restore it to its former white glory. Hopefully, the weather this weekend will be kind and we’ll be able to crack on with the table and chairs.

But, we wanted some quick pops of colour over Easter weekend, so we raided our now-quite extensive collection of spray paints and got going on a variety of objects which are now dotted around the garden.

First up, was a bird box which we bought years ago from David Gavin Design in West Didsbury. It’s a metal box and it’s safe to say, we’ve never had a bird come near it, so we decided it had to be made a little more attractive for our feathered Istrian friends. A can of bright turquoise has certainly spruced it up, and it now matches our solar lanterns in the tree…

We had three plastic “stools” – at least, this is what we’ve always used them for – which were bought years ago in Habitat, and brought out with all of our belongings. They’ve always been outside and so were a bit weather battered, a bit faded in places, full of water (as they come part) and again, in a pretty sorry state. As the general idea was to createย  immediate colour in the garden, I opted for spraying them different colours – one the turquoise of the bird box, the second a tangerine orange and the third, a sunshine yellow. Again, what a difference for next to nothing, cost-wise…

Before the spray paint...

Before the spray paint…

AFTER...

After the spray paint…

We’re trying to get a bit more cohesion in the garden, colour-wise.Everything we brought over with us, was a bit mix and match, as never really had a plan back in our Manchester garden. So, lanterns are coming out of storage and all getting a make-over too…

New lease of life for the lanterns...

New lease of life for the lanterns…

Even the rusty old watering can has been blinged up ๐Ÿ˜‰

We’re also going to be creating lots of little nooks and crannies and “secret” areas in and around the garden, and so are in the process of collecting some interesting objects to secrete away, and be half-hidden, amongst foliage.

Ms Flamingo : Pretty in Pink

Ms Flamingo : Pretty in Pink

The Buddha in the bamboos....

The Buddha in the bamboos….

We’re crossing our fingers that the weather now starts to be consistently warm and sunny, so that the proper riot of colour we’ve been planting, starts to emerge – and so that we can finish the first phase of the Garden Project…

The Outside Renovation Begins…

The Outside Renovation Begins…

To the front of the house, we have an area which is mix of concrete paving and grass. The grassed area, in particular, is a bit of a mess, as it’s where we currently park the cars. We’ve used bamboo plants to screen the garden as much as possible from the road – although to be honest, it’s not a busy road and so being overlooked isn’t a huge problem.

But once we get the plans back, finally showing where our boundaries are, we’re going to have a wall built, which will afford us more privacy and enable us to begin really sorting the front of the house. Most houses here use Istrian stone for walls but our whole house is stone and we want something that marks our house out as a little bit different. We love living in Istria and feel very lucky to be able to do so, but we’re not Istrian and so want to stamp a little bit more individuality on our new wall. Current thinking is a concrete construction, which will be rendered and painted – but with some little twists. Something like this, which we spotted yesterday, as a starting point –

We have a lot more space around this house than anything we’ve ever had before. There is a communal right of way that runs alongside the house, although it’s very rarely used by anyone, apart from the local farmer who sometimes drives his tractor through. A small dry stone wall then separates the right of way from another communal strip of land which runs alongside the farmer’s field. This wall has never been looked after and so up until now has been covered in creeping ivy and moss, and stones regularly dislodge. Behind the wall, at the edge of the communal strip of land is a little copse – beautiful in the summer as the full growth hides all the dead wood and broken branches, but at this time of year, still a bit of a mess. So, in preparation for the big garden work, we’ve decided to take a bit of action, and by stealth, are tidying up this area…

Beginning the tidying up of The Copse...

Beginning the tidying up of The Copse…

Stone by stone, the wall is being rebuilt and made secure. Who knew we'd be turning out hands to dry stone walling?

Stone by stone, the wall is being rebuilt and made secure. Who knew we’d be turning our hands to dry stone walling?

As ivy and moss have been growing in the wall, we’ve decided to try and prettify it a bit and we’ve started to plant up alpine plants. It’s all a bit of an experiment, but fingers crossed, these will grow and flourish.

Left over from building work, we also had five, quite short, railway type sleepers which are really quite lovely – and we’ve decided to utilise these to create a bed, planted up with lavender and wild flowers. Again, we’ll have to wait and see if we can nurture these, but I have high hopes! In the corner of this raised bed, we’ve also found a home for the chimney stack which was removed from our West Didsbury roof when we had our woodburner fitted, and which has followed us to Istria. Even though we’ve pulled up all of the rambling ivy, the plan is to pot up some tumbling ivy which we hope will grown down the stack.

From West Didsbury to Istria...

From West Didsbury to Istria…

Because so much deadwood has been cleared, we’ve exposed ourselves a little bit more, so have have three dwarf conifers which will eventually be planted in the soil, once we can work out the best position for them – in the meantime, they’ll have to get used to large pots. And, when all is done and cleared, the beautiful French vintage wrought iron table and chairs will have a new home in the copse – it gets sun all day, so we’re liking the idea of being to have breakfast out here. But first, the set needs to be renovated as it’s very old and very rusty in places, with peeling paint. It’ll be a tricky job, but one we think will be well worth it…

 

Bedroom Renovation Update

Bedroom Renovation Update

The main bedroom, just after we moved in and our belongings arrived, in its undecorated state...

The main bedroom, just after we moved in and our belongings arrived, in its undecorated state…

Like every room in the house, the main bedroom had a mix of natural, untreated stone walls, bare plaster in places and some parts of the walls, already painted white. Pine floorboards were untreated, and ceiling beams were in the same state. They were actually quite lovely in their naked condition, but just felt a bit too country-cottagey. Window frames and shutters seemed to have been tackled but never finished and the door into the bedroom was unpainted too. For a few months, because the room is actually massive, we used it as an over-spill room, as well as a bedroom, until we could begin to work out where things would be accommodated in our new house. The actual bedroom furniture was also inherited from the previous owners, until we could replace what we’d decided to get rid of back in England. So, thankfully, the bedframe & drawers would soon be replaced…

Makeshift wardrobe, pre new furniture arriving...

Makeshift wardrobe, pre new furniture arriving…

Chairs & footstool from David Gavin Design, West Didsbury

Chairs & footstool from David Gavin Design, West Didsbury

New flatpack bedroom furniture...

New flatpack bedroom furniture…

We realised very quickly we had to get on with getting wardrobes etc as we needed to get organised. However, we’d only been in Istria about a month and were still finding our feet, not knowing where we could actually buy things from. We had been to IKEA in Zagreb, as we needed a bed in one of the other bedrooms, but we decided to find places closer to home to source some of the furnishings for the big room. We didn’t need to rush on a bed, as we had the inherited one, plus the new one in the other room, so we decided storage was the priority. Everything was flat pack and was delivered – and I’m not exaggerating whnen I say it took three days to assemble everything. Although when I say *everything*, it wasn’t quite everything, as one of the packages had no screws. The intention was always to take the package back and get a replacement, but things are never that simple in Istria. It never was replaced…

Assembling the flatpack...

Assembling the flatpack…

Three days, and just the odd argument here there & there, later...

Three days, and just the odd argument here & there, later…

Flat pack assembled, next task was to get the walls, and the soaring apex ceiling, sorted. It was decided very early on that all walls in the house had to be painted white initially, so that we could assess the space and get used to the light in the rooms, before making any kind of colour decision. Painting this room was a long, long job, even requiring the purchase of bigger extendable ladders so that we could get right up into the eaves. We still cannot get over the size of this room!

Starting the big white wash...

Starting the big white wash…

Rollering up into those eaves...

Rollering up into those eaves…

Once the walls and ceiling had been painted, the next thing we needed was a better bed. I’d been scouring Pinterest and had an idea of what I wanted…

Bed goals...

Bed goals…

I loved the idea of making a bed out of planks, but the reality was, we didn’t really know where to get them from and it would have taken forever to sand, plane, treat, stain etc so that splinters weren’t an issue, and so this was discounted. The new bed frame had to be the right size to accommodate our gorgeous Eve mattress, brought over from West Didsbury and so flat pack was again, the order of the day, knowing that we’d do something with it, to make it a bit different.

Flatpack bed...

Flatpack bed…

Once the walls were painted, the bed was built, the mattress was fitted, new bedding on and beautiful see-through (we’re not overlooked at all) curtains hung, the room was beginning to feel like *ours*.

Flat pack no longer...

Flat pack no longer…

The room definitely became more & more how we wanted it to be, but looking back, we were still a way off. The beams were still unpainted, as was the floor, and we still had “overspill” furniture in the room. However, a year on from moving in, it was definitely looking better!

On a trip back to England, we were very impressed with how my sister & her husband had treated their wooden floor – a beautiful walnut stain, with a sheen of high gloss varnish, and we felt that this would work perfectly in the big bedroom. And, it would mean we’d be rid finally of the pine floorboards. It did take a bit of work, as what we perceived to be “Walnut”, wasn’t walnut in the Istrian version of B&Q, so it took a fair few attempts to get it right!

Those pine coloured boards are actually supposed to be “walnut*. We realised almost immediately that the colour was so wrong, but had to continue staining the whole floor in the wrong colour, and then do again with a much, much darker stain, so that the colour was consistent.

Window frames still unpainted. Looks odd now to see them in the state they were, with faded greeny-blue undercoat, rather than in the gorgeous pale blue satinwood we’ve gone for. The beams above the windows have also been treated, caulked, undercoated and painted.

Finally finished! A number of coats of stain (of various colours, until we got it right) and a high gloss finish. A total transformation, from pine boards.

Staining the floor gave us the idea to do the same with the new bed frame. We’d bought this knowing it wasn’t exactly right, and knowing that at some point we’d do something with it – and voila! The inspiration being the image on the left.

Still not quite right, but the mahoosive light shades we’d bought in IKEA were fitted – but as great as they looked, only serving to highlight that we needed to do something with the beams…

And so we did. Apart from the main (newer) beam, which still needs to be done – it’s on our Spring 2019 list. The others were treated for woodworm as they are old, undercoated and painted in a very soft grey satinwood, giving the room an overall much more contemporary feel.

Beams...

Beams…

We’ve continued to chip away at making the bedroom the room we really want. Ideally, the stone walls, as nice as they are, will be insulated and a false facade created, so that the room is beautifully plastered and smooth. In the meantime though, we can live with white washed Istrian stone.

The white chairs are actually garden chairs, which we had to bring inside over the winter, so that they didn’t crack in the frosts. With faux fur throws and cushions they’ve worked well, but we’re thinking ahead to spring when they’ll go back outside and we need something to go in their place. We have a lime green 1970s Egg style chair, which will sit perfectly in that corner by the window, once the garden seats have gone. And that got us thinking about introducing some colour into the bedroom. And so, recently, we’ve introduced a green wall…

And this is where we are now. No doubt things will change and evolve, but two years on, we’re pretty happy with getting our heads down in this room at the end of a long day ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

 

Renovation Update

Renovation Update

1st March marks exactly two years since we moved into the house – the renovation project in Istria which has been the most amazing journey! Two years ago today, the day before all of our belongings arrived from England – we sat in an icy cold kitchen, watching our breath as we talked, taking in our new surroundings. Apart from essentials we’d bought in IKEA to tide us over, the house was largely empty. The previous owners had left some furniture for us, until ours arrived, but comfort definitely wasn’t the order of the day.

The day we moved in...

The day we moved in…

Fast forward two years and it’s a very different story. The house now feels like a home. It’s full of our familiar belongings from England, as well as new things we’ve acquired along the way. The structure of the house is still the same, but wow, the interior is so, so different. Previous posts on this blog document what we – and our builders – have achieved, and we are staggered at what’s been done. We’ve developed new skills and done things we would never have thought possible. We’ve definitely become much more competent DIY-ers and are beginning to understand how to get things done in Istria. #nomeanfeat

So, a quick gallery of what we’ve done over the winter…

The Well Room...

The Well Room…

We discovered that the back external wall was starting to become damp and before anything major took hold, we took action. Our builder firstly painted the wall with a charcoal coloured sealant, before attaching large polystyrene tiles across its entirety. Insulation was then installed into a cavity, which had been created after a false wall had been built – with a ledge, with soft LED lights. The whole wall was plastered, sanded, replastered and fine sanded again. They don’t do things by halves here! We’ve still not absolutely been able to establish what the concrete platform in the photo above, was for, but we’re using it to create a day bed/sofa. This was painted with mould-resistant paint, and then like the back wall, painted white. Foam pads, cushions and throws were returned to their rightful place, and we now have a very comfy seating area in the Well Room, as well as additional soft lighting.

Day bed/sofa : The Well Room

Day bed/sofa : The Well Room

Our beautiful lightshades, bought in Moth in West Didsbury, are now suspended above the new concrete table, giving another glow of soft light, and the navy blue wall, outside the renovated downstairs bathroom, has been softened up with a tumbling display of faux cream flowers.

Ceramic lightbulb shaped prendants from Moth, West Didsbury

Ceramic lightbulb shaped prendants from Moth, West Didsbury

We are very lucky to have an internal cellar (as well as an outside cellar), but it was becoming a dumping ground.

 

The internal cellar...

The internal cellar…

We realised that this room had so much more potential and felt that we could create a very cosy, hygge-led room, right under the living room. Months and months ago, we had our Dovre woodburner (bought from The Stove Room in West Didsbury and brought over to Istria) installed, and we were itching to make use of this room and get it lit again. We decide to create The Snug – somewhere to watch TV, listen to vinyl, generally chill out – and this spurred us on to DIY renovate this room.

Same viewpoint as photo above...

Same viewpoint as photo above, with new chimney & installed Dovre woodburner…

The Snug

The Snug…

We deliberately painted all internal walls white, so that we had a blank canvas while we were getting used to the size of the rooms and how the light changed throughout the day/night, and we’re at the stage now where we can see where we can inject big pops of colour. The newly renovated kitchen has been the most obvious palce where we’ve introduced colour…

This weekend’s DIY project is going to focus on the big main bedroom, which is still all white, with soft grey coloured beams. We think that we can be bold in this room, colour-wise, as it is ridiculously massive – definitely the biggest room we’ve ever had! So, we’re going for a statement wall, in a dark/bottle green – still to decide on exact colour, but we’ll be using these ideas for inspiration…

Green inspiration...

Green inspiration…

We seem to have spent FOREVER painting – the end results are brilliant, but I hate waiting for paint to dry, especially satinwood. So, I have been embracing the spray paint as drying time is almost immediate and it means I can very quickly revamp/upcycle/change accessories – and furniture – around the house. Hot pink and banana yellow, as well as greys and charcoals, have featured quite heavily, but this week, I’ve been getting blinged up with gold. Gold has never been my colour of choice, but I’ve dipped my toe in the water with lovely bits of rose gold accessories, and after visiting the most beautiful bar in Ljubljana recently – all navy & gold – I’ve gone for it. Familiar lanterns and tealight holders and pots, and even an IKEA Hektar floorlamp,ย  have taken on a whole new lease of life, shimmering as they now do…

Before & After : Charcoal v Gold

Before & After : Charcoal v Gold

But – and I am most delighted about this one – is the transformation of an art deco French enamelled woodburner. We bought this when we moved into our house in West Didsbury in 2000, from an antiques shop in Hebden Bridge. However, we never had it renovated and so it was never used as a woodburner. Instead it was moved from pillar to post, from room to room, from indoors to outdoors and finally from country to country. For the best part of the last two years, it’s sat outside in the garden, exposed to hot summer suns, icy winters and torrential downpours – and in much need of some TLC. It was in such a bad state of repair, that I took the decision that even if my reno plan didn’t work, it wouldn’t matter that much. But it did! And, here she is, now sitting in our living room.

And I have promised that I will step away from the gold spray paint…

*Honest*.