Small Steps…

Small Steps…

Over the summer, when we were averaging two or three house viewings a week and had some very serious interest in the house, if someone had told me that by October, we’d have taken it off the market, given up on The Printworks (and in the process, lost a lot of money) and be embarking on a whole new plan, I’d have thought they were crazy. Especially when we had accepted a firm offer and contracts were drawn up. But, things take turns you don’t expect – which at the time, seem just so awful, but often turn out to be the right thing.

So, two months on, we feel very differently. We could have stayed angry and upset and all “woe is us” – but what’s the point? We’d just have got more and more miserable and more entrenched in living in a house we no longer wanted to be in. Instead, we decided to own the situation. That woman from Germany, who pulled out, was not going to dictate our lives. She was going to have no further impact on us. A final email, articulating all of my thoughts, very politely, was sent, with the request that she never contact me again. That chapter is now closed and another has opened.

We’ve decided that we are going address the main issue which seemed to come up with viewers – namely, that they often weren’t sure where our boundaries where. Despite being demarcated by conifer trees at the rear of the house and the the front, big wooden planters. Supported by official documentation. But, I suppose some people just need a great big, thumping wall right in front of their eyes to believe what we tell them. So, walls will be built, but that’s a future blog. This one is about starting to document the small steps we are taking, which will hopefully get us right back on track and in the positive frame of mind to get the house back on the market, next year.

This cabinet goes back quite a way, with us – and probably a bit further back. When we lived in West Didsbury, our house was behind a beautiful interiors shop. called David Gavin Design and the owner sourced furniture. This piece, for whatever reason, didn’t make the cut, and it was put outside his shop, with a Free to A Good Home sign. I was lucky enough to be walking past and offered that good home, to take it off his hands. It wasn’t the prettiest – a kind of varnished brown veneer and plastic handles – but I figured we could do something with it. And, after sanding it back to the original wood, it has gone through a number of transformations and has moved from West Didsbury across to Istria. Quite the life, for something which was consigned, potentially, to the tip.

As well as moving to Istria, it’s also moved around our house. It’s been in the living room, the Well room, all of the bedrooms and last place being the upstairs landing outside outside our bedroom door. But it’s never felt quite right, anywhere. And, the deep navy paint never took to it, as I imagined it would, so it was on the list for finally tipping. Until I remembered that we still had some duck egg blue chalkpaint, which we’d used on the other bedroom furniture, and it was given a reprieve over the weekend. The plastic handles had been replaced long ago by silver handles from IKEA, so these were sprayed matt gold, to match the handles on the wardrobe and other cabinet.

OK, so it doesn’t completely match the rest of the furniture, but it does in terms of colour. It also provides us with more storage, especially as I took the opportunity to bin most of the contents. Much of which had been inside since we unpacked in 2017 and never used. So, definitely not needed! The main bedroom is also large, so a bit more co-ordinated furniture is always welcome.

There’s also a long IKEA floating shelf, which I’d previously covered with the pages of a book (“Ulysses” – totally unread! – if you’re interested), which had been above the bed. But since the bed was moved to the other side of the room, it just kind of, well – floated. It was going to be taken down, until I decided to cosy it up, with faux plants and foliage and tealight holders. Much better than taking it down, filling the holes, repainting and storing the shelf. Proper cosy, as us Mancs say…

So, whilst what we did at the weekend certainly isn’t renovation, it gave us a massive lift, in terms of the house. It’s fair to say we’d fallen a bit out of love with the house, which is ridiculous as, even though we say it ourselves, it is gorgeous and we have achieved so much. But, with small steps, we’re getting back on the horse, loving the house and gearing ourselves up for some BIG renovation work. Just need to find a team of builders now…



Moving On…

Moving On…

The phrase “End of an Era” has been used a lot over recent days, and although not on quite the same scale, it’s also the end of a bit of an era for us. In December 2020, we finally signed a pre-contract on the purchase of a very unusual building in Oprtalj, which had been up for sale for a long time. Constructed on one level, this expansive industrial, concrete building filled us with excitement, as we could see its immense potential for open plan living. We had already put our renovated Istrian stone house on the market, as the negotiations were carried out with the seller. We firmly believed that our house would sell quite quickly as it was fairly priced, based on its age, condition, location and the fact we had taken into account we do not have a pool. However, what we didn’t take into account was the impact of the global pandemic.

The pre-contract was excellent, as far as we were concerned. It was for eighteen months – more than enough time, we thought, to sell our home. A monthly rental was negotiated and it was agreed that these payments (and the deposit) would reduce the agreed sale price. We were also given permission to begin works on the property, whilst we were still under the pre-contract. All seemed very hunky-dory and we went as far as to engage the services of an architect who would help us to realise our vision. But, a global pandemic doesn’t make the selling of a house – however beautiful and desirable you think it is – very easy, as people were largely no longer travelling. And if they were, a house purchase probably wasn’t too high on their agenda. This would have been the prefect time to start on the structural work on the new property, but without the injection of cash from the proceeds of the sale of our home, we were a bit limited as to what we could do. With hindsight, it’s a good thing that the only things we did actually do, were the demolition of the internal partition walls. Otherwise, we’d be very much out of pocket.

Things started to pick up regarding our house, in summer 2021 as viewings started. We were selling it ourselves, via Right Move Overseas and our own website, as well as via our social media channels, but it became increasingly more difficult to manage the viewings. It was difficult showing people around, and trying to be dispassionate, as viewers made judgments about our home. So, we appointed a real estate agency in April 2022 and interest went through the roof, culminating in an offer being accepted and legal documents drawn up. But, sometimes things don’t go as you expect them to and people often turn out to be flakey at best. Seriously unhinged, at worst. And this particular one decided to pull out just as the contract was about to be signed and the deposit paid. We were furious and devastated in equal measure, having felt that finally Lady Luck was on our side. But, a couple of weeks later, we’ve calmed down and have realised that what happened, was likely for the best.

Looking at it now, objectively and without the desire to get everything over the line, we think that in the long term this buyer would have been a potential nightmare, so we’re probably well rid. Had our sale gone ahead, we’d potentially have been looking to store our furniture and rent, as work was carried out on The Printworks. And, this would have been over the winter, as she wanted to move here full time, and as soon as possible. The other complication is that the original pre-contract expired at the beginning of May, but thankfully the summer has meant that things have progressed very slowly as annual holidays are taken VERY seriously here. We have kept up the rent payments, in good faith, but have now decided that the time has come to end things. The signs are telling us, very strongly and loudly, that the property isn’t right for us at the moment, so we’ve been clearing it out, ready to hand back the keys.

We’ve also taken out house off the market. Not forever. It’s going back on, hopefully in Spring 2023. By which time, Plan B should have been executed, meaning we can still realise a big part of our dream…

For now though, we’re looking forward to an autumn and winter of interior and exterior planning, plenty of demolition and rebuilding and a lovely house to be cosy and warm in, instead of the prospect of renting somewhere we don’t really like. Onwards and upwards!


the snug reno : update2

the snug reno : update2

When we viewed our stone house in 2016, we found a very sorry looking room – a cellar, of kinds – down the stairs from the living room. The stairs were treacherous to say the least. Very thin pine treads, on a steep vertical with no handrail. These hinted at what we were going to find at the bottom of them.

Bare light bulbs hung from flexes, and stuck out of their fixings on the walls. The walls were half plastered, half bare stone. Original beams – a potential plus point – were in a very poor state of repair. They were untreated and the wood was rough and splintered. The ceiling, although plaster-boarded, was unfinished. Woodwork was unpainted. The concrete floor was rough and powdery. A far cry from the polished concrete finish I’d been visioning. It was also obviously a bit of a dumping ground. Window frames propped up against the walls, tins of paint, bags of concrete, and a deflated plastic swimming pool. All in all, a pretty depressing room. BUT – and we just couldn’t get this out of our heads – a room with a whole heap of potential, in a house with a massive amount of potential…

It does make me shudder to look back on these photos, as this room remained in this state, for quite a long time. In fact, it probably got worse, as it became our dumping ground, for packing boxes, furniture, everything which we didn’t unpack immediately because we didn’t know where things would go. Gradually, as we renovated rooms above, it did begin to empty out, but our focus was on the main house and to be honest, with so many rooms above, we weren’t actually sure what we were going to use this room for. So, for a good two or three years, it remained unloved, as we devoted our attention to the rest of the house.

However, as pieces of furniture were moved upstairs and boxes emptied and our belongings put in their new homes, we realised that we could do with this room, what had done with the ones above. We had brought with us, from Didsbury, our Dovre Vintage woodburner and it quickly became apparent that this dinky retro burner, wasn’t large enough for the main living room. A new, much bigger, one was sourced, but it meant we had to find a new home for the Dovre. We considered the big bedroom, but the reality of keeping a fire going in there – and moving logs upstairs and cleaning it out – was pretty unrealistic, and all of the sudden we had the lightbulb moment. Why not create an additional living space, under the main living room, which could house all of our books, vinyl records, CDs, hi-fi system and a big sofa? So The Snug idea came about – named as such, because we wanted to create a room for the winter which would be a cosy hideaway. It’s actually a really big space, and we were able to create an area under the stairs which is now curtained off, but houses essentials such as a condenser dryer, a chest freezer, storage cubes and household appliances such as the ironing board, hoover etc.

We decided that all of the walls, ceiling, beams and floor should be painted white to maximise on the feeling of space and make it lighter and brighter. There are two windows which are quite unique – as this room is under the main living space, the the two windows open out onto ground level outside, giving us a very different perspective. Our two gardens – front and rear – are at eye level from The Snug, and this makes it feel even more cosy. To contrast with the all-white room, we painted the woodwork in the same pale blue satinwood as we have throughout the house. The stairs were also tackled – a safe back was attached to the treads, and each tread was pulled forward, giving more depth and therefore making them safer. Chrome plumbing pipes and brackets were used to create vertical grab rails, meaning no more looking into a void over the side. And finally, like the stairs leading up from the living room to the first floor, these were painted in the Farrow & Ball Railings, which we’d brought back from Manchester on one of our roadtrips.

In the winter this room really is snug – and as we stayed in Istria over Christmas, we decided to really utilise this space, and create a hygge haven at the bottom of the house. And finally completing the renovation.

New throws and cushions, and two chocolate brown furry rugs, were introduced to add more layers of warmth and comfort, and to increase the seating, without going to expense of buying more chairs, the garden chairs which have been in winter storage were moved down here. A Christmas gift of money was put towards a new Smart TV and an additional TV box, linked to our wi-fi, was also bought, meaning we can now access all channels in this room, as well as the living room upstairs.

Although this room may not be to everyone’s tastes, we think we’ve created a very cosy room. It’s a great additional living space and we think that once family and friends start visiting again, it will be well utilised as it will mean that guests will have a living room of their own, if they want some privacy.

In terms of our house being for sale, this room is an added bonus. As well as an additional living room, there is the potential to adapt it and create a fourth bedroom. There is ample space to install an en-suite bathroom, and the window which overlooks the rear garden, could easily be opened up and a doorway fitted, creating a private entrance and easy access into the garden. For anyone with bigger design ambitions, the space is sufficiently large enough to create a small self-contained apartment, with an en-suite and a kitchen area. In fact, if were staying here and not planning on embarking renovating another property, I think we’d be going down the self-contained apartment route.

This room has been the final piece of the renovation jigsaw. Now that it is completed, we’re turning our attention to the the gardens at the front and rear of the house to create two very different, but very beautiful outdoor spaces, that we can use throughout the spring and summer, and into the autumn. Watch this space…




The Gold Room…

The Gold Room…

I’ve thought long & hard about adding blogs to the website, in the current climate. It seems too frivolous to be posting about renovations and life-style things and recipes. But, and it is a big but, we’ve worked hard for so long to get to the point where are currently, that I have decided to carry on, adding blogs. My way of continuing to record our journey, as we, like so many other people, embark on self-isolation for the next few weeks.

Our second bedroom has gone through some changes since we became the custodians of our stone house in Istria. Before we started work on it, this bedroom was an undecorated space, with two sets of bunk beds, left from the previous owners, shoe-horned into a room which was just not working. Beams, although potentially beautiful, were untreated and clearly hadn’t been touched in a long time and very basic pine floorboards were bare. The window, which again we knew, could be a real feature, was partially undercoated and the ill-fitting door unable to close because of one of the most ugly door handle/locks we’ve ever seen. All in all, a pretty dismal excuse for a bedroom. However, we had to have at least one room where we could escape the madness of full-on renovation – and so three years ago, Bedroom Two, was for a while Bedroom One.

From what we inherited above, we were delighted with the first incarnation with the room. Walls were painted white, a new bed was ordered and delivered, industrial wall lights fitted, new bedding on the bed and we were in. Utter luxury! I cannot tell you how amazing it was, in the early days, to close the door at the end of the night and sink into that bed. If you’ve renovated a property, you’ll know where we’re coming from.

But, we’ve come a long way since the room looked as it does above. The wooden beams are original – very old and very beautiful, but we did have a problem with woodworm, which we had to resolve very quickly, as this room became a guest bedroom. We called in a specialist company who treated all of the beams in the house, and we then got to work on them, ourselves. Just to be extra sure that the pesky woodworm had gone, we further treated them, wrapping them in clingfilm for a couple of weeks – just to be on the safe side. These measures seem to have worked, and we think the woodworm are no more. Although the beams were beautiful in their natural state, our style for in the interior is contemporary and they just felt as bit too country-cottagey. So we got to work on transforming them – and after undercoating and painting in a very soft gey satinwood, they are, we think, even more beautiful…

To contrast with the white walls and soft grey beams, the woodwork – window frames and surrounds and door and frame – have all been painted in a very soft baby blue satinwood, which contrasts well with the colours around.

Although the room isn’t the largest, it can comfortably fit a double bed and two wardrobes from IKEA – these are from the STUVA range. More for a child’s bedroom, but perfectly adequate, with plenty of hanging and storage space, for a smaller bedroom. And, much nicer on the budget too. However, as they are actually full of our stuff, they weren’t serving much of a purpose in a guest bedroom and so the decision was made a few weeks ago, to have a big change around and create bedrooms which worked much better as spaces. We’ve completed the dirty, dusty, disruptive renovation work, and so can now have a bit more fun, being creative and accessorising.

The wardrobes went to their new home, in the room next door and once we’d created a bit more space, we started on the new look. First up was the cerise pink table in the hallway. Once an old work table, it was covered in paint splats and oil stains, but a few cans of spray paint gave it a new lease of life and it’s been a proper pop of colour, for a couple of years on the upstairs landing. However, we wanted something that visitors could use – a table where they could dry hair, put on make-up, maybe catch up on a few emails on a lap top, but we didn’t want to go out and buy something else. Our house has rapidly become full of *stuff*, despite a massive clear-out before we moved, so we’re trying to recycle and upcycle where we can. The pink table was a perfect starting point…

Spray paint is now our go-to product for quick make-overs and within an hour, the pink was gone and replaced with shimmering gold. Accessorised with a beautiful opaque, glass vase, in a very unusual shade of green and tall faux blooms, scented candles in pinky coloured glass jars and a tortoise shell mirror, it now looks completely different. A round globe lamp sits behind the green vase, so at night, a really beautiful glow is cast around the room. The large pine mirror looked out of place, against the table, so this too has been sprayed gold and now looks a million dollars. For the cost of a can of spray paint. I didn’t want a bulky chair at the table and so found this rather lovely stool – gold frame and pale pink velvet seat. Perfect! The Moroccan style off-white & navy blue geometric patterned rug adds warmth and sits well on top of the newly painted navy floorboards. No more pine!

Yes, I did spray the bin, too 🙂 Rather than searching around to find something which was more suitable, the black, metal, flip top IKEA bin was given the bling treatment, too. And, why not?

To the left hand side of the window is the internal chimney, which comes up from The Snug and the living room below. Gorgeous in the winter, as it means we don’t need any additional source of heating in this room, but it does make the way we can lay out the room, a bit more problematic, because it is bulky. The bed can’t be located anywhere else, but space to the side is limited because of the chimney, meaning that we were also limited to what we could have each side of the bed. We wanted something that people could use for mobile phones, ipads, drinks etc and did a fair bit of head scratching as everything was always just a tiny bit too wide. Then, hurrah again for IKEA – we spotted these mustard coloured boxy wall units, which are just perfect. Attached off the floor, but not too high, they don’t take up too much room and mean that phones be charged, and there’s space for water, a book or two etc.

I think we might now be happy with this room. Although who knows? After a few weeks of self isolation, we may have sprayed the whole room gold…

well room reno : update 4

well room reno : update 4

Recently, we’ve had our latest Workaway couple staying with us, Kaiti and David, a couple from Oklahoma. Like the other couples who’ve come to stay with us, they are on a sabbatical, travelling and working and embracing the cultural highlights of other countries. They came to us via Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and southern Croatia and brought with them a healthy dose of mid-western American humour, friendship and many an interesting tale, hugely changing our recent perceptions of our neighbours across the pond.

If you’ve seen any of our other posts about WorkAway, you’ll have a fair idea of what it’s about. Basically, people travelling and would-be hosts join an online scheme. The “workers” showcase their skills and the “hosts” describe their project and if it all works out – as it has done so far for us – compatible workers and hosts communicate. The deal is that the people travelling agree to do tasks – we always clarify these in detail, in advance – in exchange for food and accommodation. Between us, we decided to focus on The Well Room, specifically the floor, as David has had experience of floor laying.

However, our floor is not a normal floor. Our builder has always put this job to the back of the queue – and we now absolutely understand why. There are a number of issues with it :

  • it is entirely made up of Istrian stone flags – all different sizes and different levels and different textures
  • the stones do not join the walls smoothly – there’s much undulation, let’s say
  • the glass cover of the well chamber is about 4cms high, but the stone step into the living room less, so somehow the difference would have be levelled
  • we want to try and preserve the stones as much as possible, as future owners may find this a real feature and want to once again reveal them

We looked at the potential cost of laying a new wooden floor and it started to become a bit more prohibitive than we had originally anticipated. There was also the issue of fixing the batons to level the floor. Because of the uneveness of the flags, the batons would have had to be cut to various sizes to ensure that the boarding, onto which the flooring would be fixed, would be level. A bit of a nightmare in itself, which would have required mathematical precision. And, time. Time which we didn’t really have as Kaiti and David weren’t with us for that long. Then we considered laying self-levelling concrete – sounded like a solution until we quickly realised that this should probably have been done way back, when the house was still a building site. Not when it was 95% complete. And definitely not when we had people staying as the room would effectively been out of action meaning no access to the kitchen or downstairs bathroom. Next solution we considered was coir carpet. This would have worked well in this room, but the same problems were still there, specifically the uneven base. And, where on earth would we have sourced coir here? Doable, but not in this WorkAway timeframe.

Suddenly, we realised that we were overthinking the floor situation, and we had the lightbulb moment. Back to the start… *PAINT* Yes, masonry paint. How much easier could the solution actually be? 5 litres of navy blue mixed and the floor covering was solved 🙂 However, before the floor was painted, another job was tackled – the concrete table. We’ve never found a suitable finish for this table and so it’s never been quite there.  The plinth has also been left unfinished as we were waiting to make the decision on the floor.

The dual issues with the concrete table and the floor can easily be seen in the photo above. The table plinth is still rough and unfinished and the top of the table is still too powdery, not having ever been treated properly. The floor is effectively like an outdoor patio – uneven and cold. And, you can see the height of the glass cover, which we now also need to take into consideration with any floor we lay. However, once the paint option was decided upon, we figured we could now finish the table – and this was when David revealed another string to his bow. He works with RESIN! So, without further ado, a trip to Koper was done and the resin tracked down – it’s much harder to source here, than you might imagine.

Armed with a blow torch, rubber gloves and the resin, David set about transforming the concrete table top – our timelapse video shows he set about it. We also bought wood, cut to size for the plinth – this was painted the same navy blue as the floor and silver profiles were sprayed gold, to finish off the edging.

The resin top was left for two days to ensure that it was completely hardened – and wow, what a difference! Because we’d used other varnishes and finishes on the table, and had sanded it a few times, the overall effect is quite marbley, rather than grey polished concrete. Definitely not what we expected, but the resin has highlighted the colours in the concrete and it is just so beautiful. In places, it looks as if specks of gold have been scattered. Just stunning…

Once the resin had been applied, and dried, the floor was painted. Why we haven’t done this previously, is beyond me! The results are amazing and now the Well Room feels like a room. A proper, finished room.

The final touch will be another couple of big chunky blue rugs to soften the floor and add warmth to the room. Not so long ago the Well Room was a storage room for builders’ tools and general mess. Now, it feels a very luxurious, warm room, with the deep navy colour scheme and touches of gold. The high gloss table top complements the well chamber when it’s lit up, and the soft uplighting on the back wall adds to the ambience. We’re now looking forward to cosy autumn evenings, with the thick navy velvet curtains drawn, and being able to finally sit down and eat at our concrete table.

If you, or someone you know, fancies doing what we did and making the move to a place in the sun (well, mostly…), get in touch. Having now largely renovated the house, we think we’ve found our next doer-upper and so have started the process of marketing out Istrian stone house. It will be being listed on property websites, but in the meantime, have a sneak peek at the website we’ve designed. And if you’re interested, drop us a line…