the well room : a makeover

the well room : a makeover

With Spring knocking on the door and a house to get back on the market, we’ve been beavering away at the interior of our home since New Year. Now that we are also seriously looking at other properties to buy, we’re seeing things slightly differently and have realised that if we are to sell, we need to present a house which looks like something new owners could see themselves in. Not our home. So, we’ve been de-cluttering, stripping back, changing colours so that we have a much more neutral palette. We haven’t stripped away our personality, because we obviously still live here and I certainly don’t want to live in a sterile space. We’ve just focused on making it a little less us. And in The Well Room, this is where we’ve started making the biggest changes.

Our concrete table – which was a beautiful grey colour – had a resin coat applied a few years back, and this changed it completely. Close up, it still looked lovely. The resin highlighted the different tones and it had a beautiful finish – but the colour overall had changed too, and it’s taken us until now to admit that we’ve never really liked it. We also thought that it might be difficult to paint over resin, but we just decided to go for it, by sanding it down and then applying a very good quality soft sheen gloss in white. What a transformation.

The navy floor has had its first undercoat in white. The floor is original stone and therefore a bit uneven in places – as stone flags tend to be – so our original thinking (when we realised that having a wooden floor laid was more problematic than we were prepared to deal with at the time) was to paint it in a dark navy, and cover it with rugs. This has been fine for the last four years, but as soon as the table was painted, it was just too dark and uncompromising. So, like with the table, we just went for it and went white. The plan is to top coat it in a very pale grey, the same colour that we have in the living room, so that the two rooms flow, but at the moment we’re just basking in the whiteness. The blue rugs have gone too, now having found a new home in The Snug, and replaced with new jute rugs. Again, a huge difference – and with very little effort and expense.

The Well Room should always have been a lovely dining/living room but in reality, when we’ve been doing renovations and DIY, it’s become a glorified storage room for all of the decorating paraphenalia. And so it was never really used, Or loved. Well, that’s all changed. We’ve purchased two children’s wardrobes from IKEA – I know! – but they were just the right size and colour, and a very funky design, so pretty perfect for hiding away coats and bags and trainers and boots. In the other, we’ve stored away all of the excess kitchen “stuff” – blenders, food mixers, casserole dishes, carafes etc – that sat on top of cupboards and shelves just adding to the feeling of clutter. Meaning that in addition to a much better looking Well Room, we also have a much less busy kitchen. Lots of our bits and pieces have also been boxed away – again, a good exercise in de-cluttering but also, subliminally, a start to the packing up – and so what we have in the Well Room now is much more considered and contributes to an overall feeling of calmness.

We’re very used to the glass well cover, but we do realise that some people might be a bit spooked by looking down into – or standing over – a 10 metre drop. So a white furry rug has been bought, to sit on top of the glass, leaving enough around the edges, so that the uplighting can still be seen. And, so that the rug does not get stood on, a coconut palm tree in a basket sits on top, creating a green focal point for the room.

We still have work to do in this room. The floor needs to be finished and the walls repainted, but then it’s over to the professionals, as we are finally tackling the bathroom door and the front door. A sliding wooden door will replace the cheap, not very pretty door, into our renovated bathroom, and in even more exciting developments, we’ve decided that a new front door is an absolute necessity. These, along with two wooden dining benches in the same wood, will be hopefully made to our specifications, rather than off-the-peg. Spring is definitely shaping up to be a very exciting time and we hope it will springboard us into a very different kind of life…











new year : new project : the house

new year : new project : the house

Summer 2022 ended with a bit of a whimper of the house front, as we reluctantly made the decision to take the house off the market and give up on our dream of The Printworks – the property we had secured which we hoped would become our open plan, super modern, dream home, on the outskirts of the medieval town of Oprtalj in northern Istria. After getting so close to closing the sale on our house and it falling through, we felt pretty defeated and just wanted to take some time out, away from viewings and everything related to selling.

However, a few months of breathing space have worked wonders and we are truly invigorated.

We have made the decision that our beautiful stone house is going back on the market – and we are now truly, truly thankful that the sale did fall through and that the dream of The Printworks is no longer happening. Looking at it practically, even costing out everything to the euro, we finally realised that this project had the potential to be a money pit. Also, our vision for it was quite out there, and again we came to the realisation that although there are very contemporary houses scattered across Istria, we would be located on a main road – fairly quiet, but a main thoroughfare all the same – and that perhaps what we wanted to do, wouldn’t be right or appropriate in the location.

We spent a lot of time over Christmas and New Year looking at all of our options and from thinking we only had one – The Printworks – we’ve come to see that there are lots of options. We’re not tied to Istria. We design websites for a living, so can work from anywhere really, as long as there is good internet access. And, now that we are living in Europe, we have more countries to more easily explore. Post-Brexit, things are a little more complicated but we have an application in for Irish citizenship and we have been consulting with an immigration solicitor to work out our options, and this has led us in a whole new direction. And, a new country…

But before we head of in a new direction, into the sun, we need to focus now fully on the sale of our house. Last time it was up for sale, we think we made the error of not putting ourselves in the shoes of the purchasers. Most people who were viewing, were viewing to buy a summer holiday home, not a full time home. We do live here full time and we can’t escape this fact, but I think our house looked too much like a home, rather than a holiday villa. A place in the sun, where you could arrive for your vacation, unpack and unwind, without “us” being stamped all over it. The decor of our home is quite unusual and reflects what we like design-wise, but we’ve decided that we need to pare it back. Take away some of the “personality” that we think was potentially getting in the way of people seeing our house as just that. A house. To come and spend nice, quality time in with family and friends, and then lock the door and go back to their own full time home, at the end of their holiday. So, 2023 has started with paint pots and brushes and rollers and sandpaper, as we’re going light, white and bright. Gone are the dark Farrow & Ball navy colours on walls and floors. Summer vibes are incoming as we transform the house…

The start of the transformation - landing floor sanding before undercoating begins.

The start of the transformation – landing floor sanding before undercoating begins.

The big white-out as the undercoating continues...

The big white-out as the undercoating continues…

The wooden stairs were painted a very deep navy, and we have loved having them this colour, but – and it’s a very big but – they were very dark. And, very us so the decision was made to also change these. It’s a big job, and a fiddly one, because the stairs are open wooden treads (but with backs) and there are two flights, so the past few days have been spent in awkward positions, undercoating all the nooks and crannies, as well as the stairs themselves. However, even just half-undercoated, we can see a big difference – and that house which we hope will be seen as a holiday home, rather than our full time home, is beginning to emerge. (Although one massive perk for new owners is that this is very much our full time home, and so it’s a house which is upkept all year round, and not just in the summer).

Tomorrow the renovation continues…

it’s a filthy job – but someone’s got to do it…

it’s a filthy job – but someone’s got 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 : update 2

the living room : update 2

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.