It’s A Filthy Job – But Someone’s Go To Do It…

It’s A Filthy Job – But Someone’s Go To Do It…

Ah, Christmas Eve. Snuggled up on the sofa, the woodburner roaring away, lights twinkling, candles flickering, the scent of mulled wine filling the room as we wrap gifts and eat chocolates and watch festive films. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? It’s certainly what our plans were on the morning of the 24th, having done the last of the chores and put fresh new bedding on, with the washing machine humming away, in the background. Luckily, we needed something from the outside cellar – if we hadn’t, what next unfolded could have been so much worse, as it would probably have been well after Christmas when we next went into it. It was at this point, I heard the words I didn’t really want to hear on Christmas Eve – “I think we have a leak…

It did certainly appear that we did – the floor was wet. The first thought was that the new boiler might have sprung a leak – but all the piping was dry and there was nothing dripping. We had had very heavy rains and we wondered if perhaps the strong winds had blown the rain under the door – but it was dry around the door. We were perplexed as we just couldn’t see where the water was coming from. The floor of this cellar room is concrete and in the centre we have interlocking black gym mats – and suddenly we started to see water coming up through the joins. We pulled them back – and we don’t recall ever noticing this before – and saw that water was indeed coming up through the sides of a concrete cover. This was opened – and there was the problem. The washing machine was on its spin cycle and the water wasn’t draining effectively. The level did drop slightly, but not sufficiently and so we knew there was a blockage – and we realised that this drain led to the septic tank outside, and the thought of having an issue with that over Christmas meant we had to act. Fast.

We knew there was no chance of getting anyone out on Christmas Eve, but did work out that our refuse company also empty septic tanks, but they wouldn’t be able to come out until possibly after New Year, so there was only one thing for it. One of us had to roll up our sleeves and armed with a bucket and a big can, start emptying the chamber…

I shall spare you the details, but it soon became very, very apparent that it wasn’t just the washing machine water which was causing the problem. As the level of the water dropped, due to it being emptied manually, we could see that the pipe which fed into the main chamber, under the patio, was blocked, meaning that what was going into the small chamber in the cellar – everything from the dishwasher, shower, sink, washing machine, bath, toilets – wasn’t draining correctly and so was slowly starting to back up. Like I say, if we hadn’t ventured into the cellar on Christmas Eve, I dread to think what would have greeted us next time we went in! The decision was made to then investigate the main chamber under the patio.

When we bought the house, we asked the pertinent questions you would probably ask about a septic tank, never having had one before – and we were assured that we wouldn’t even need to think about it for about ten years. I, in particular, liked that answer, and so we haven’t really thought about it. A quick google search however – which in hindsight, I should have done when we moved in – indicated that domestic septic tanks should be emptied around every 3-4 years. We’ve lived here four years…

So, Christmas Eve afternoon, we’re in the garden. It’s icy cold, rainy, windy and the cover is off the septic tank. A quick peer inside told us that we needed to get the pipe unblocked pretty quickly – without plumbing rods, and nowhere to buy them from this close to Xmas, we had to use the first thing to hand. Let’s just say one of the garden umbrellas will need to be replaced come spring time ? Luckily, one of us has a much stronger constitution than the other, and the gross task was tackled – and thankfully, we soon had water running much more freely. We knew that we hadn’t resolved it, but at least we’d bought ourselves a little bit of time over Xmas. Although, we definitely considered the implications of using any appliances etc and really tried to keep everything – and I do mean everything – to a minimum.

So, how do you sort a blocked septic tank in Istria?

Luckily, we’ve found out, so the new owners of our home can be rest assured that all is sorted, and we can advise what to do and who to go to. It is indeed our local refuse company – although it took a bit of persistence to get someone to assist, as emails and calls were going largely unanswered. Maybe because it was just after New Year, maybe not, because in our experience you have to be very teancious in your dealings with utilities companies who don’t seem to possess high levels of customer service skills. However, we did finally crack it. An invoice was emailed – as I didn’t know if our septic tank was considered large or small, I went for the large option, as I knew if I’d paid for a small tank to be emptied and we had a large one, the process would have to start all over again – and was paid immediately. Then, silence. Nothing. Nada. Not even an acknowledgment of payment. The phone number I had been given to find out a date for clearance, would ring once then I’d get the “User busy” message. This went on for a good few days and just as I was about to implode, I got a call. The lorry was on its way! As happens here – you rarely get a time, even an approximation. You just need to be prepared. And of course, at home.

I can honestly say, I’ve never been as relieved to see a big orange lorry. Within half an hour, we were all unblocked and it was nowhere as horrific as I had thought it might be. Nor was it anywhere near as expensive as I thought it would be. I suppose we still compare things with UK prices, and so we’d thought that for a job like this – where they do kind of have you over a barrel as it’s pretty unlikely you’d be able to do it yourself – we’d be paying at least €200. Not a bit of it! €40 – result! The guys who did the work were quick and efficient and spoke perfect English – always a bonus when you are trying to establish the workings of something quite technical, and they definitely deserved the couple of bottles of wine we gave them as a small thank you.

So, a Christmas Eve was not quite as we imagined and a festive couple of weeks followed, being very careful about what entered the septic tank, but all’s well that ends well. The tank is now cleared and although we won’t be giving the advice we were given about the tanks, we think the orange lorry may not be needed for a couple of years at least. And, whoever becomes the new owner, will at least have all of the necessary contact details to hand. They’ll just need to sit tight until the lorry arrives, and not leave the house…

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

The Living Room

The Living Room

The living room, when we bought our Istrian stone house, was dark and oppressive. Walls were plastered in places, painted in places and in other places, the stone work was exposed. Window frames and external shutters were a faded green colour. The pine floor boards were untreated and the original beams, very dark and exposed.  The stair treads were also exposed, and there were no risers or spindles and no handrail, meaning that they felt very unsafe. The previous owners had left much of the furniture – all dark wood and dark brown leather, and definitely not our taste  – and all in all, it was a pretty unloved space.

This was the first room we tackled as we needed to have somewhere that would be a comfortable retreat from the renovation chaos going on around us, and as our furniture arrived from England within a couple of days of arriving, we had to accommodate quite a lot of it somewhere, away from the building work. One of the first things we did was paint all of the walls, including the exposed stone work, white, which immediately lifted the room. We also stumbled along with the ornate cast iron stove we had inherited but it was proving to be very efficient, and so when we spotted this concrete beauty we knew it would be perfect for what we were planning.

A new chimney had to be built from the Snug (immediately below the living room), as our Dovre Stove which we brought over from Didsbury was being fitted down there, and up through the living room, into the bedroom and out through the roof. New ventilation was also installed. The white walls did definitely make a big difference in the early days, and with some familair and some new furniture in place, we did have a cosy room we could retreat to at the end of a long day.

However, we’ve continued to chip away in this room and today, we think we might finally be happy with it, and be able to put away the paintbrushes. For the time being.

Those beams have all been treated for woodworm and caulked, as there were too many gaps and holes and we wanted clean lines between the beams and the ceiling. They were then undercoated and then top-coated with a soft grey satinwood.

The faded green paint on the windows and frames and external shutters was sanded away and the woodwork was primed, undercoated and finished in a very pale blue, to complement the grey beams.

I find it very difficult to look at a room and think that it’s finished, especially when the rest of the house is in renovation chaos. I suppose I should try much harder, but I can always see something else that needs doing, or I go somewhere and see something I like and have to incorporate into the house. Such has been the case with the living room. The white walls have definitely been much, much better than the exposed stonework, but something just wasn’t quite right – and a visit to a beautiful bar in Ljubljana told me what was missing…

I loved the deep navy and gold and the patterns and textures and accessories and knew that this was what the living room had been missing. so set about creating an area of the room that was dark and luscious.

We decided that as well as painting the wall a very, very dark navy, the time had come to tackle the floor. The pine boards were not looking good and so it was decided that the whole floor would be painted in the same soft grey satinwood as the beams, pulling the whole room together.

The very dark wall just lends itself to a bit of contrasting bling, so as well as the gold sprayed stove, these angel wings take pride of place. A purchase which I just couldn’t resist…

The white IKEA cube storage was also sprayed and I think it all looks a whole lot better. Instead of the white cubes dominating the room – and being very obviously IKEA – they now blend into their surroundings much more. The spray painting was all done outside and it was completed very quickly. meaning that we didn’t have to wait hours for paint to dry before putting books back and accessorising. The artwork is actually from Bauhaus – our equivalent of B&Q. I’d spotted something very similar on Pinterest and had been searching online to see if I could source something like it – and there it was, as we were buying paint 🙂

Those rickety old stairs were given a much needed safety overhaul and makeover, too. It was a bit of a concern to discover that some of the treads had never actually been secured, so they were brought forward – given more foot room – and all securely attached. We also fitted a wooden back to the stairs, meaning that they looked a whole lot safer and much sturdy. Those spindles, will, at some point, be replaced, but we decided that as the stairs were being painted, they might as well also have a lick of paint. Considering how pretty bland they are, we think they look quite a lot better in their new colour and disguised ever so slightly, with two faux sheepskin covers.

The final thing we did to finish off the room – for the time being! – was to repaint the sideboard, which the TV sits on top of. It had been a pale grey but was beginning to look a bit grubby, so the bavy blue satinwood came out again, and transformed it, into something quite beautiful and elegant…

And there you go. For not too much expenditure, a new living room, inspired by Kolibri Cocktail Bar, in Ljubljana.

 

workaway : update 2

workaway : update 2

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!

 

An open void where the stairs used to be, going down into The Snug...

An open void where the stairs used to be, going down into The Snug…

Panels and supports for the back of the stairs being prepped and painted...

Panels and supports for the back of the stairs being prepped and painted…

Shandelle & Jeremy 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!

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.

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…

sunny sunday reno reflections…

sunny sunday reno reflections…

The intense heat of summer seems to have receded. Fans are no longer constantly whirring and the early morning sunlight is not quite as blinding in our bedroom, which is blessed with the most gorgeous sunrise views. Summer is still clinging on though – it is very warm during the day and we haven’t seen a cloud for days. But there is still the feeling that autumn is just around the corner – and the impending new season has spurred us into a new flurry of DIY action.

The current big renovation projects, requiring workers to be in the house, are all but completed and we’ll wait until spring to start on the next phase. So, apart from a some smaller, more specialised jobs which will need the expertise of our builder, it’s down to us at the moment. We’re mostly at that lovely stage, in quite a few areas of the house, where we’re finally able to put things back together and make rooms more homely and comfortable. Wakening up this morning, the light streaming into the bedroom was gorgeous – we’d forgotten to close the shutters so we woke up to the sun rising just about the church steeple in the village, and sunlight starting to flood the room. Everything just looked so lovely!

Sunday morning sunlight flooding into the bedroom...

Sunday morning sunlight flooding into the bedroom…

IKEA Maskros pendant lightshades work a treat in the high ceiling – and cast very pretty shadows...

IKEA Maskros pendant lightshades work a treat in the high ceiling – and cast very pretty shadows…

Here little fishy… I *knew* all of the cushions I’ve been stockpiling would be used...

Here little fishy… I *knew* all of the cushions I’ve been stockpiling would be used…

Now that the interior stonework is painted white, the house, especially upstairs is so much lighter & brighter and more able to accommodate pops of colour…

Now that the interior stonework is painted white, the house, especially upstairs is so much lighter & brighter and more able to accommodate pops of colour…

The upstairs bathroom is one of the winter/spring projects, but now that the downstairs one is completed, it doesn’t seem quite as awful as we once thought it was. Probably because we now have a choice and don’t have to use it. But we’ve tried, in the short term, to make it as pleasant as possible – and hopefully, we’re creating somewhere that in the interim is calm and relaxed. Helped by some bits and bobs brought over from England…

Our very serene Buddha…

Our very serene Buddha…

Hamsa hand & trailing faux ivy...

Hamsa hand & trailing faux ivy…

In the grand scheme of things, there’s still an awful lot to do in and around the house. We need to experience this coming winter (last year’s deep freeze was apparently very out of character) to decide how we’re going to go, heating wise. Maybe the wood-burners will suffice – there will be three when the final one is fitted, but there will still inevitably be cold-spots, so a decision will have to be made about the most cost-effective way of heating the house, bearing in mind that for seven/eight months we’ll generally not need any form of additional heating system. Both the inside and outside cellars need to be tackled – the one under the living room will become a den/snug with, hopefully, a new door leading up & out into the piece of land we’re in the process of acquiring behind the house, to create a secret courtyard. The outside cellar, once cleared of junk will become much needed storage space. A new boiler needs to be installed. A utility room needs to be carved out of the internal cellar space so that the washing machine & dryer can be hidden away. Floors need to be painted. Two sets of internal staircases need to be radically improved and beautified. More beams need be give the TLC treatment. Bathroom #2 needs to be renovated. And, then the outside space needs to be tackled. For a house which was structurally sound when we purchased it, and apart from a paint job, OK to live in, we’ve created a mammoth task for ourselves! However, it’s not every day you have such an amazing blank canvas to work with – and it just means that every DIY day is a day nearer to our dream home. Which, if history repeats itself, we’ll obviously then sell and start all over again…