Our Little Abandoned House of Istria

Our Little Abandoned House of Istria

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

Why We Should Have Bought It Initially…

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

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

What Happened Next

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

 

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

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

So, What Now?

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

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

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

 

The Gold Room…

The Gold Room…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Room Done…

Another Room Done…

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first incarnation of the room – storage space…

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

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

August 17 : The first phase of decorating begins…

The arrival of the beds.

The arrival of the beds.

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

Becoming a bedroom...

Becoming a bedroom…

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

Bedroom / Home Office

Bedroom / Home Office

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

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

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

Almost back to being a bedroom...

Almost back to being a bedroom…

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

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

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

The painting never seems to end...

The painting never seems to end…

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

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

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

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

UPDATE : MARCH 2020

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Well Room…

The Well Room…

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

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

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

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

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

The raised reinforced glass well cover.

The raised reinforced glass well cover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Your Dream...

Follow Your Dream…

 

 

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.