Did We Meet Bathroom Challenge?

Did We Meet Bathroom Challenge?

A while back, I set ourselves the challenge of renovating our upstairs bathroom for less than £500 – excluding labour. Labour is a whole lot less expensive out here, but I’m not mad, as there’s no way we could do a whole renovation of a bathroom, including labour, for that price. So, the initial plan was to cost out labour separately and our trusty builder was going to be the one to do it. However, he now also has a full time job and so the time he can devote to our projects has been reduced, and so we needed to find another solution, or have the prospect of the job taking a long, long time.

Well, the solution became quite obvious – the WorkAway Scheme. Pierre and Patricia, a couple from the South of France, who were on a sabbatical and travelling via the scheme, contacted us as they could offer the plumbing experience we required. We clicked over email contact and a couple of weeks ago, they arrived in their camper van. Thankfully, we hit it off immediately with them and they were really keen to get going on the bathroom! We had an idea as to what we wanted, but we’d decided to wait until they arrived to buy everything, so that they could advise. And, off to Bauhaus in Pula, we went to make the purchases.

The £500 Challenge

Since I set the challenge, our circumstances have changed slightly. We’ve actually found what we think could be our next renovation project, and as a result, we have started the process of marketing this house! So, the plans we had regarding the bathroom changed – we felt that a retro style in green, which we were trying to source – would be just too risky when we’re attempting to sell the house and so decided to opt for the much safer, all-white option. It also meant that it was much, mcuh more easier to source, as our big go-to DIY store in Pula, has loads of choice.

The primary concerns were a bigger bath and a bigger sink – and we immediately fell for a very chunky, squared-off bath and sink, which whilst not absolutely matching, complemented each other perfectly. The toilet we inherited was in itself, not too awful, as it had obviously been installed new – it was more the cheap, plastic cistern which was the issue. So, we figured we could get away with replacing just the cistern and therefore saving a bulk of money. It also meant we could spend a bit more than we’d intended on the bath and sink taps. The finishing touches 🙂

So, what did we actually spend?

With current exchange rates, the spend on the actual bathroom “furniture” was :

  • Bath : 999 kunas = £121
  • Cistern : 219.90 kunas = £27
  • Sink : 549.90 kunas = £67
  • Taps (bath & sink) 1039.80 kunas = £126
  • TOTAL : £341

With additional extras such as piping, steel legs to support the sink, wood (for the bath frame), push button plugs, sealant etc, plus a glass door wall cabinet from IKEA, we spent a further £100 (approximately), bringing the total spend to less than £450.

Where we made savings…

Obviously, not replacing the toilet pedestal and seat cover helped in us not going over budget. The actual bath panel was made out of a spare pack of laminate flooring which we had left over from the kitchen renovation. The bathroom floor tiles were lifted, the glue removed (an absolutely hideous job) and the boards sanded. They were then undercoated and painted white – with paint we already had. Same with the walls – repainted white, using paint we already had. A rustic wooden ladder was moved from the bedroom into the bathroom to be used as a towel rail, and a grey felt basket I had bought to store logs in, was brought into the bathroom, to store extra rolled up towels. We didn’t need to change the lighting, as when we moved in, we replaced all of the typical Istrian half moon wall light shades, with amazing white opaque square shades, which had been rescued from a Communist era apartment block in Zagreb. Cool as…!

So, there you go. Challlenge met! Let’s hope whoever owns this house next, approves…

UPDATED

Never, ever satisfied with a job, we’ve continued to work on the smallest room in the house. The white painted floor was beautiful, but immediately looked a bit too pristine – and we knew that however carefully we cleaned it, it would eventually scuff up. So, we decided to go Scandi and sanded it lightly, but it just wasn’t working. We had wanted an all-white bathroom, to give a feeling of calm and relaxation, but we weren’t 100% happy with the final look. All of the bedroom floors and the upstairs landing floor were being painted navy blue, so we decided ot carry this through into the bathroom. You know, the very colour we’d had on the floor before we started renovating it 😉 Still, at least we had the paint, so no further costs were incurred. And, I have to say, I’m much happier with the bathroom now that the floor has gone dark again. It complements the wall and the new bath panel and provides a contrast.

More faux greenery – you know we don’t do *real* as we forget about it and kill it – has been introduced, as well as some lovely Meraki candles from my favourite shop in Ljubljana, plus a lovely concrete based lamp, which gives off a beautiful glow, enabling a really relaxing bathtime experience. I *think* we’re now pretty happy with our new look bathroom…

 

 

We Might Be On The Move…

We Might Be On The Move…

Sometimes things take a turn of events that you just didn’t anticipate. And this has happened to us.

We’ve spent the best part of the last two and a half years renovating our stone house in Istria, from top to bottom and have almost, almost completed it. We’re on the final lap now. The new upstairs bathroom has just been installed and the room is now being properly decorated. Later this week, another couple of WorkAway visitors arrive and they will be installing a new wooden floor in the Well Room, ready for us to paint. And with these two jobs done, we should be a point where we can put our feet up and relax and enjoy the renovated house.

But, we don’t think we’ll be doing that for too long. Because, we think we’ve found our next renovation project and we’re starting the process of selling this house…

That’s right. Selling up, just as we can kick back and relax. But, what we have seen is just too good an opportunity to at least not investigate.

It’s a property that has been up for sale for as  long as we’ve been here. We’ve driven past it so many times, usually remarking that one day, somebody would snap it up and create an amazing home. And then the penny dropped – why couldn’t that “somebody” be us?

It’s a very unusual property as it so different to where we are now. In fact, it’s currently not even a residential property. So it is a massive renovation project. We have viewed it, and yes, our work will definitely be cut out, but we’re ready for the challenge!

Our solicitor has checked out all of the legalities and ownership issues and he thinks we’re ready to go! So, we’ve designed a website for our home and will be listing it on overseas properties websites. In the meantime, if you know of anyone who may be interested in our house, please do send them the link to the website. We’d be very appreciative 🙂

We’ve also got a dedicated account for the house sale, so if you’re on Twitter, and you want to follow this particular journey, we’d love to see you here.

If you have any questions, please drop us a line to helen@escapetoistria.com  and we’ll do our best to provide you with as detailed information as possible.

 

Our Latest Workaway…

Our Latest Workaway…

We’ve just said au revoir to our lastest WorkAway visitors, a very handy French couple, from the Pyrenees area, but on a travelling sabbatical, in their trusty campervan. They contacted us, having seen our profile on the website, and felt that their skills were a good match for what we required.

We’ve had two previous fabulous WorkAway experiences, but the last one was not so good and so we really investigated our French would-be guests, as we definitely didn’t want people who were actually on HolidayAway, rather than WorkAway. Like the last one. But, we felt very reassured with everything we read and our email communications were easy, friendly and informative. And, so last Saturday Patricia and Pierre arrived in their campervan.

We always make sure that one of the spare bedrooms is made up for WorkAway guests – the whole point of this scheme is that there should be a fair exchange. So, if people are coming into our home and giving us their time and skills, free of charge, then it’s only right that we ensure that they are comfortable, warm and well fed.  Now that we feel at ease and confident with the scheme, we make sure that on arrival, we discuss expectations so as to minimise any room for confusion or misunderstanding. Although they were happy to stay in the campervan if necessary, we didn’t feel this was a “fair exchange” – especially as we immediately hit it off with them – and so they were delighted, after weeks in the van, at the prospect of having a big, comfy bed, as well as a hot shower when they needed it. We also provide breakfast, lunch and an evening meal – we cannot expect people to do quite manual work, without feeding them.

We can almost see the finishing line in terms of our house renovations. We could go on forever, but we have a new, exciting plan in the pipeline and so we’ve honed our profile so that anyone looking for hosts, knows exactly what we need and why we need it. With Pierre’s background in plumbing and building and Patricia’s in landscape gardening, they came to us just at the right time.

So, what did they do?

Our upstairs bathroom hasn’t been renovated, to date – apart from us giving it a lick of paint and adding some nice accessories. But, with us starting to now market the house, we felt that this room finally needed to be tackled and so bit the bullet and made this the priority, ensuring that our French visitors knew beforehand what we wanted then to do.

Although we knew exactly what we wanted in terms of bath etc, we didn’t purchase anything before they arrived becasue we wanted to take their professional advice re fittings etc, and so set off, with them, to Pula, to make the purchases. Only we were thwarted by the not-very-well-publicised Pula Half Marathon, as all roads into the city were closed until 3pm and on a Sunday, Bauhaus – where we were making the purchases from – is only open until 2pm. However, once back at the house, it did mean we could set about ripping out the old bathroom. A mightily pleasurable task…

A return trip to Pula the next day was much more successful and meant that Pierre could begin the task of installing the new sanitaryware. I don’t want to give away too much here, as the bathroom isn’t fully finished, although the bath, sink, toilet and new taps are all in. Our new friends left yesterday, to head off for their next adventure in Dubrovnik, so it’s over to us now.

The floor tiles have all been removed but have left behind that hideous, sticky adhesive which is hellish to remove. However, with a mix of a sander, a scraper, a hairdryer and good old elbow grease, we will succeed and we will get rid of it. (We could go out and buy a solution which could make it easier, BUT this would involve a long trip back to Pula, probably, and we’ve decided that in the time this would take, we could probably have shifted a fair amount by other means).

The sander is sanding away upstairs and hopefully the boards will be smooth and glue-free, quite soon. We had toyed with the idea of removing the white wall tiles and replacing with Spanish style tiles – BUT, with the prospect of the house being up for sale, we’ve decided against this expense and instead are going to paint one of the walls in a feature colour.

We’re veering towards either Parma Gray or Lulworth Blue, and in a very handy coincidence, we’re off to Treviso for a short visit – where there is a Farrow & Ball showroom. That’s what I call a result.

I’ve also set us a bit of a challenge – to try and get the bathroom (excluding labour) renovated for £500 or less. All will be revealed in a subsequent blog, when all is finished, as to whether we’ve met this challenge or not…

As well as the bathroom, Patricia also focused on the garden, helping to get it winter ready for us. Plants have been cut back, the little area we call the “The Secret Garden”, because it is hidden away, has been cleared and tidied up and lots of bulbs have been planted, which we hope will produce some pops of colour, come springtime. Much advice was also dispensed by her, so that if we are still here next year, we have a much better idea of how to make the garden, more of a garden.

Would We Recommend WorkAway?

Absolutely, we would. The one blip we had, was entirely my fault, as I didn’t really do my research on this one. It was in the early days of us being part of the scheme, that arrangements were made and I didn’t go back to them, until he was about to arrive and I felt it was unfair to cancel at such short notice. I did have reservations, but thought we’d give this one a chance – when it became quite clear that this particular exchange was going in one direction (us providing accommodation, food, comfortable living etc) and we were getting very, very little reciprocated, we brought things to a close earlier than had been arranged.

Four experiences in, and we are very much enjoying the scheme. We have made three sets of great friends and our house has come on in leaps and bounds, thanks to the skills these people brought with them.

If you don’t really like having people in your home, this scheme is probably not for you. But, we’ve found it be overall a very positive and enriching experience and has enabled us to meet interesting people who we wouldn’t have otherwise met, and we’ve learned new skills – as well as being able to tick off a whole load of tasks on our to-do renovation list.

Next week, we have a couple from the States arriving – and the agreed task this time, is to have a wooden floor, with insulation, laid over the stone flags in the Well Room. No more cold feet in the winter 😉

 

 

 

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 £500. That’s right – £500. 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 😉 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 a  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 £500 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 £500 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 😉

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 😉 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,  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 😉

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

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

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)  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 😉

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 here  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 😉 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 😉

 

 

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 🙂

 

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 😉

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 😉

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!

 

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…

 

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 create  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 😉

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…