secret garden reno : update 2

secret garden reno : update 2

Whilst we’ve spent the best part of the last four and a half years, fully renovating our Istrian stone-house and creating beautiful gardens to the front and side of the property, the rear has been woefully neglected. We’ve tried to titivate it up, but it’s never really been the kind of place where we want to spend any time. When people are viewing our house for sale, I always internally shudder when we take them to the back of the house. I know that when you are buying property, you are often buying the potential, but we just felt that the time had come to tackle this much neglected part of our home. So, let us take you right back to the beginning, and what this area was like when we saw its potential…

Yep, this is what we saw when we viewed the house for the first time. A very, very sorry state – and don’t even get us onto the shutters! But, when you can see through the current state of things and have a clear vision, that’s what drives you on. Fast forward a couple of years, and we were given the opportunity to buy the little abandoned house from one of our neighbours. Although we were knee deep in renovations, we knew that other people had expressed interest in this property and we felt that if we didn’t secure it, we could have someone else purchasing it from under our noses. It’s very close to our main house and we were concerned with a) the potential proximity of another house and b) building works – out of our control – going on under our windows for goodness knows how long. So, the decision was made to purchase the house and land.This took quite a long time to complete on – much longer, in fact, than the purchase of the main house – but eventually everything was signed off and we finally owned it, meaning that no-one could build close our house. We were also at this time, in the very early stages of considering our next renovation property and toying with the idea of selling the house. Owning this smaller dwelling and surrounding land, with all boundaries legally established, therefore became even more important.

So, for the last couple of years, all we’ve really done is tidy things up, gradually. All of the building materials and the trailer, as per the contract our solicitor negotiated, had to be removed by our neighbour and the area generally cleared, prior to completion. This enabled us to begin assessing what we might eventually do with the land. We decided early on that the house would stay, especially if were selling up. Although it would need to be demolished, we felt that new owners should decide its eventual fate, and we knew that whilst we were still living here, it could be the backdrop for something very pretty. So, very slowly, when we had the time, we started to tackle this overgrown mess…

We think that originally, the small house would have been for the animals, as probably evidenced by the stone trough, below. It was in a bit of a state, with stones beginning to come loose and to be honest, hadn’t really been put together very well, so we decided to take it down. It did give us quite a bit more garden space – but, in an unexpected turn, it’s recently been rebuilt, using the same stones. This time, though, it’s not a drinking trough. It’s going to be the home for our gorgeous new olive tree…

Once the ground had been cleared of weeds and vines and ivy and stones, sheeting was laid and we marked out our boundary with flagstones, before infilling with bark chippings. (The quite strange shape of the boundary is due to the fact we agreed to give our neighbour access to another of his properties, which he plans to renovate, opposite the small house).

Starting to look better, but still a long way off finished! However, ideas were beginning to form. The table and chairs and the lone bamboo looked a bit lost, and we knew we most definitely wouldn’t be sitting out here for quite some time to come, as we still felt very exposed. Plus, the nearest property to us, beyond the little house, was an abandoned, tumble-down property which had recently been demolished and building work had started to create a new stone cottage. We were still focusing on the main house and moving on with the securing of our new renovation project, so things stalled a little at the rear of the house, but we did what we could to create a little bit more privacy.

To the other side of the little house, we also cleared the ground and started the process of laying flagstones, to create a pathway, and more of the bark chippings.

As summer ’21 progressed, we started to get more enquiries about our house for sale, and had a number of speculative visits, as people passing would see the A-board by the road and often just turn up in the garden. And this made us realise that once and for all, we had to properly tackle the rear of the house. However much we had improved it since we moved in, it all still looked far too ramshackle and not what we wanted visitors to see. So, Project Secret Garden commenced at the end of the summer, the intention being to have our builder construct a wall, all along the boundary. This became complicated as the land is on a slight incline and we didn’t relish the prospect of getting in a digger for excavation works. A wooden fence, supported by posts sunken into concrete was decided upon – and then abandoned when this too became problematic, for a variety of reasons. So, we took things into our own hands, and got creative.

And, although it looks as if we’re kind of back to where we started, much progress has been made over the last two weeks. We hope that the final pieces of the jigsaw will all come together this week, and that we will eventually have a beautiful secluded space, which is completely private. Which screens us off from the comings and goings in the village and means that come next spring, either us, or new owners, will be able to enjoy our secret suntrap – and no-one will know we are there…

Coming up – how we developed The Secret Garden…





Decoupage Doors

Decoupage Doors

Decoupage or découpage is the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it in combination with special paint effects, gold leaf and other decorative elements. Commonly, an object like a small box or an item of furniture is covered by cutouts from magazines or from purpose-manufactured papers.

Our internal doors are the pretty basic DIY store four panelled ones. They are on the list to replace, but we’ve not got round to bit of the list yet. They have all been painted a very soft pale blue satinwood and new handles have been fitted, so are OK for the time being. However, over a couple of rainy days we were sorting our holiday box – the one where receipts and tickets and maps get chucked at the end of a trip, always with the intention to do something with these memories. Sorting them all on the concrete table in the Well Room, it suddenly came to me – why not use them to decoupage the inside of the downstair’s bathroom door?

Materials Used

In my usual gung-ho way, I just decided that I knew what I needed (listed below), so if you’ve not done this before yourself but fancy giving it a go, perhaps check online in case I missed out something crucial. Although to be fair, I’ve gone on to decoupage other surfaces in the same way, and they’re all fine.

  • Paper Maps
  • Wallpaper paste
  • Scissors
  • Small paint brush
  • Clear varnish
  • Small sponges (one to smooth out any airbubbles and the other to dab away any errant wallpaper paste)

I decided to use just the maps, cut up, as was finding it too fiddly to try and place tickets, receipts etc in a pleasing pattern as they were all different thicknesses and looked too messy. I laid them out on the table first of all, and could see pretty immediately they weren’t going to work, so made the decision to cut up the maps. This made creating a pattern so much easier. I applied the wallpaper paste (and only make up a small quantity as you don’t need a lot) in sections and so was easily able to slide the map pieces to the edges of the door, so there was no messy overhanging. The panels were a bit more tricky, but I quickly realised that by scoring a line in the corner of the piece to be used, I achieved a neat fold. It did quite lot longer than I thought it would, but once all secured in place, it looked as I had wanted it to and so was worth the effort. Because the door is a bathroom door, and so obviously affected by steam and moisture, I applied four coats of clear varnish. It was completed a couple of months ago, and all of the pieces are still firmly secure. No peeling or coming away, so the more coats you can apply, especially in a room like a bathroom, the better.

Our downstairs bathroom is quite small and there isn’t really the space for magazines etc – and to be honest, I couldn’t stand the clutter. So, for those who like a bit of reading matter in the small room, there’s a door full of maps to be explored.

I have since done a bit more decoupage on a few other surfaces and have to say that I definitely found the pages of a book to be the nicest to work with. I would never normally destroy a book, so chose a book that we had a couple of copies of. And one that i thought would get more reading if if was randomly decoupaged on the back of a door…






First Impressions

First Impressions

A simple bar of soap, but packaged so exquisitely, that I *had* to buy not one, but three bars. The design is simple and quite retro, with a brown paper wrapper, reinforcing the idea that you are purchasing something good. Something that could have been made on an Italian agriturismo, using natural products from the land. Of course, it wasn’t – it was probably mass prouduced in a factory, but the design suggests handmade by independent artisans…

Saponette al Miele

The chosen fonts are beautiful – simple, but suggesting this is a product you can rely on. Harking back to a simpler time. We’re not often fans of all capitalisation, but it works here. And being a sucker for all things Italian, the description, for me, is just very alluring…

Saponette al Miele

“Vegetable honey soap enriched with natural bee production extracts…”

First impressions do count. They have to count, because in a world where we have images & messages rammed in our faces constantly, you don’t often get that second chance…