getting to know the house…

getting to know the house…

We’ve been in The House now for over a year and a half, and whilst we have made some massive progress, renovation wise, we are still getting to know the house. It’s an old house, like many houses back in England are – but, and it’s a very big but – has been built in a very different way to what even we, as complete DIY amateurs, have come to understand. Old houses here weren’t built by a team of qualified builders, roofers, plumbers, electricians. One guy, and his mates, (unless very wealthy), would have cobbled together a dwelling, adding to it, as and when, finances would have allowed. So, that means that nothing quite fits. Although houses like ours look like Istrian houses – beautiful grey stones, cream Istrian stone window surrounds, shutters, red roofs, tall chimneys – they all have different individual identities. Our house, in a small village of no more than twenty dwellings (some renovated, some not, some completely abandoned), is different to them all. And they are all different to ours, and each other. And we guarantee that all, like ours, have wonky windows, walls which are definitely not straight and linear and floors which sometimes fall away to a bit of a slope.

And this has meant that our renovation project has been – and continues to be – a ride! Each room we tackle, throws up new challenges. We have become very resourceful, and adept at solving some of the issues we encounter. We are also so, so fortunate that we have forged a fantastic relationship with someone who can turn his hand to everything we have so far requested. And, although we are reluctant to admit this, because it’s a bit of a cop-out on our part, the fact he speaks near-perfect English, has made thing so much easier. He can work out the technicalities that need to be done, that we can’t work out, and can then go and source what we need to resolve things. This is a real top tip if you are ever considering doing what we’ve done and embarking on a renovation project – find someone who speaks your language well. You’ll have plenty of other opportunities to practise your language skills, but don’t make things harder for yourself by appointing someone who doesn’t speak your lingo. Seriously. It’s just too hard. And if you don’t believe us, try asking someone in your local DIY store (which also sells bread) for silicone and caulk and masking tape and white spirit. Go on, try it…

Our latest “Getting To Know The House” has involved sealing all windows with rubber strips. This obviously should have been done at various points prior to now:

  • when windows were originally fitted
  • at the onset of last winter when howling gales were blowing through the gaps in the windows
  • prior to us undercoating & painting the frames, last spring

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and if all we had to do previously was fix these rubber seals, I bet we would have done it. But small jobs like these tend to get forgotten when you have more pressing things to attend to. However today, we tackled the seals. All of the downstairs windows have now been done, so that means they are sealed, we have blinds up and big, velvet curtains. And that, when coupled with roaring woodburners, equals no heat loss equals a much warmer winter house.

Tomorrow, the upstairs windows will be sealed. Which will be fantastic, because, as the title of this blog says, we are still getting to know the house. And today, we got to know the ladybirds who are finding it quite a warm place at the moment. They sure love our bedroom windows, as they have obviously been getting in through the gaping gaps and snuggling up on our frames.

But, sorry ladybirds. Now that I’m getting to know the house better, I’m not prepared to share it, inside, with you. I’m more than happy for you to pootle about in the garden and do what you do, but NOT in our bedroom. If ladybirds were the only creatures we had to share our space with, we’d probably be OK with them. But, as we get to know the house, there are far too many gaps, crevices, holes, ways-in, that encourage nature to join us.

So, those gaps, crevices, holes and ways-in are being dealt with. And whilst we know, that as we get to know The House better and better, we’ll find more things to deal with, we’re confident that we are becoming so much better at the dealing with scenarios that present themselves. It’s what you need to do, if you do what we’re doing and want to remain sane and solvent 😉

PS : No ladybirds were harmed in the removal. All (as far as we could) were safely removed & rehoused in the outdoor cellar...

PS : No ladybirds were harmed in the removal. All (as far as we could) were safely removed & rehoused in the outdoor cellar…

 

 

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…

 

living room reno : update 1

living room reno : update 1

We’re at the stage in our house renovation, where we can now be quite a bit bolder in terms of decor. We’ve taken on an Istrian stone house, which in parts, is over 200 years old – and possibly more – so there is a wealth of history and tradition attached to it. Houses in our part of Istria, fall into three categories – the traditional stone dwellings like ours with tiny, shuttered windows, modern hacienda style houses with multiple balconies and often painted in deep pinks, oranges and reds, and ultra modern cube style buildings, usually white or grey on the exterior and with floor to ceiling glass walls. We definitely don’t want to adversely change the exterior of the house – although next year, Project Garden will be a different story – and so when you approach it, it does look like many other houses in the area. Although, we were so lucky that the previous owners had done all of the structural work, including a new roof, repaired stonework and new aluminium guttering, so it is in excellent condition and looks rather smart from the outside.

Inside, it’s taken nearly a year, but all rooms are now white washed. We knew we didn’t want a traditional Istrian stone house internally, and so early on the decision was taken to paint the exposed stone walls. We have seen interiors where the stone walls have obviously been sand-blasted and cleaned up and these do look lovely, but our walls were not in this state and so the house seemed dark. With the exposed wooden beams, it was a bit country-cottagey and definitely not what we wanted. Although it’s been a labour of love – those Istrian stones don’t half soak up the paint – we’ve finally got a house which is much lighter and feels so much more spacious. So, you’d think we’d be happy and stop there and sit back and enjoy our new lighter, brighter rooms…

Wrong!

All white is all fine and good – but we realised that we were going to have work a bit harder to get that contemporary look we were after indoors. If *everything* was white – flooring, furnishings etc – we could probably have achieved that Scandi minimalism, but we’re living in a home, not a styled shoot, and the amount of cleaning that we’d need to do to keep our Scandi dream going, plus the additional expense of new furnishings, meant this was a non-starter. So, we’ve gone for the less expensive option – pops of colour. I’ve been scouring Pinterest for inspiration and pinning like mad, and I kept coming back to these images, in particular…

Our living room, although it has a low ceiling and the two windows are quite small, is large and I felt sufficiently big enough to take a very, very dark wall. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do too much arm-twisting and the only decision was what colour to go for. Having found the equivalent of B&Q out here, it’s easy to get paint mixed and we are becoming quite well known on the mixing counter 😉 Although you can get familiar brands like Dulux, the range of colours doesn’t seem as extensive as we’re used to and so we always now opt for the mix option. This paint, in coverage and texture, is very similar to Farrow & Ball – and at a fraction of the price, we’re being won over. One coat was all it took to cover a large expanse of wall, and now that it is finished, we couldn’t be more delighted with our feature wall!

As well as the ceiling beams, the windows have big, thick beams above, to support. The wood used isn’t the best – it looks in places, as if it has been used previously to cut other pieces of wood on, as there are deep gouges. So, we’ve decided to also deal with these and in the process, make the windows seem larger. As with the beams, the wood around the top of the windows has been treated for woodworm – you can never be too careful with these critters – and undercoated and top coated in the beautiful calming matt grey used on the beams upstairs. Eventually all of the beams throughout the house will be done in the same way, but we’re having to be realistic about the amount of time it takes and so have set a target of two beams a day…

So, the living room is *almost* there – the floor still needs to be painted and then we need to deal with the issue of the open plan staircase, as well as finishing the ceiling, but we feel massive progress has been made over the last week. It’s also very gratifying to stand back & see our own handiwork, rather than that of a builder. And, DIY, without the accompaniment of a hammer drill is blissful…