It seems like no time – although it’s actually nearly four years ago! – that our West Didsbury home was being smashed to bits as we renovated. And, now we’re doing it all again – but this time in Istria, in northern Croatia.

When we first arrived we knew no-one apart from the local go-to builder/restaurant owner who had done much of the work on this house and who was introduced to us by the sellers. He was the obvious choice to do the work we wanted on the house – obvious as in, we knew no-one else, and had no idea how to get to know people who we’d trust with doing what we wanted. But as if often the case, things just work out. Massimo was incredibly busy and it was looking like we’d have a long wait if we wanted him to do the work. A chance encounter in a shop in our nearest town, led to us finding Misko, who is happily a much better fit for us. He’s worked on some amazing properties in the area before, speaks perfect English (a massive bonus) and is a bit of all-rounder who can turn his hand to most things. He, in turn, has introduced us to Sergio, and between the two of them, they are helping us to tranform our beautiful, but very traditional Istrian stone-house, into something so much more contemporary and of our taste. And today, the BIG renovation started in the kitchen…

The inherited kitchen, starting to be cleared out...

The kitchen ceiling is a false one and obviously had an apex above it. Having bought a new kitchen which looks like concrete, we were keen to open up this ceiling and hopefully create a much more industrial looking space, with cool lighting. Luckily for us, Misko is very solution oriented and so drilled out a small hole first to view the void – and declared that, yes, it could be done. A price was agreed, a date was set and at 10am this morning, he & Sergio were already smashing it out…

A once active - but now wmpty - hornests' nest, discovered in the void.

A once active – but now empty – hornests’ nest, discovered in the void.

The void filling included branches & wood. Kindling heaven!

The void filling included branches & wood. Kindling heaven!

The kindling pile, recovered from the void

The kindling pile, recovered from the void

The exposed ceiling!

The exposed ceiling!

Although it seems a shame to cover up the original beams, they’re not in the best condition and so would need a lot of TLC. And, we have exposed beams in every other room in the house and so have decided that, like the apex, these will be boarded out and painted. Current colour choice for walls and ceilings is along these lines…

So, tonight, our kitchen looks very, very different – and tomorrow it will look even more different as a new window is going in, to give us more light and more of a view over the fields and countryside. Although that makes it all sound remarkably easy. First task for Misko and Sergi is to make the hole for it. And our walls are thick. Very thick…

The Advice Bit

If you are doing what we’ve done, and are renovating a property abroad, here are a few tips we’ve picked up so far :

  1. Work on making contacts – they come from the least unexpected places. Our network of trusted people has grown from the chance purchase of external lightshades and needing an electrician. As they say, from small acorns…
  2. Download a translation app – even with people who can speak English, there can be misunderstandings when it comes to technicalities. Easy to resolve on the spot.
  3. Create your Pinterest board – most people we’ve dealt with don’t do Pinterest, but they quickly get the look we are going for, because we can show them.
  4. Seek out places that are the equivalent to say, B&Q. We love to shop local and independent but sometimes it is just too difficult to also take on this crusade when you are in a foreign country, with very little knowledge of the language and trying to plan, design and make, a big ticket purchase like a kitchen. We actually found a store called Lesnina in Slovenia and found the whole process to be very smooth – and were super impressed when the kitchen designer, followed up our in-store appointment with a visit to our house to double check everything.
  5. Prepare to be surprised – especially if you are lucky enough to be in Croatia – at how much you actually get for your money.
  6. Make sure you have sufficient power coming to your property to service all of the new appliances. Our house was only ever used as a holiday property, only a few weeks of the year, and so has had the minimum power supply. We’ve had to drastically increase it – an initial financial outlay to factor in – but a must. Especially if you are going to be welcoming visitors and therefore increasing the amount of electricity being used.
  7. And talking of electricity – having a kitchen run entirely on electricity is quite unusual here. The norm here is to have gas cannisters delivered (no mains gas supply) and we were initially being veered in this direction. We held our ground though as did not want the hassle of gas deliveries. Find out what supplies come directly to the property and don’t assume you’ll have both as you would expect in the UK.