secret garden reno : update 3

secret garden reno : update 3

So, the last renovation blog detailed the thinking behind creating the Secret Garden. Although it’s not a real Secret Garden – it’s pretty obvious it’s there when you look out of the living room window – it feels quite secret, when you’re in it. And, we are delighted that, finally, it’s a part of our home that we are now very proud of. Our home, which we are now selling, so this this Secret Garden could be yours

The project started a few weeks ago, when we finally decided that a wooden fence, with the posts sunken into concrete, would form the boundary wall. We decided on a wooden fence, because we wanted something which could be quite easily removed by new owners, if they decided they wanted something different. Wooden posts were purchased, concrete and metal holders to keep the posts in place. Thankfully, looking back, we didn’t go the expense of also buying the wood to create the actual fence. Immediate obstacles presented themselves, particularly that the land is on a slight incline and we had no digger and therefore holes for the fence posts were having to be dug out by hand. It was immediately apparent that doing it this way was going to be a very slow process, and we wanted something in place quite quickly, so despite the purchases already made, we had a re-think. Our builder couldn’t work as much as we wanted, and so we also decided that we’d do it ourselves and see how far we got. First thing we did was abandon the idea of the wooden fence. The holes were re-filled and the wooden planks used to create a boundary at ground level. (PS – the mess beyond what would be come The Secret Garden is on-going work by a neighbour, who is building a small stone cottage. We’re hoping that the crane and the building materials won’t be around for too much longer and that the finishing touch will be a bit of landscaping).

A lorry load of sand was then ordered and this was flattened over a layer of Geotex to prevent weeds growing. Using just a rake, a snow shovel and our feet, this was soon quite compacted and we could begin to kind of see what the space could potentially look like.

We decided to surface the area in the way we did the car parking area at the front of the house, as this has proven to be very hard-wearing. Next delivery was three cubic metres of white stones. These were tipped into the corner and we started the process of moving the stones, using a wheelbarrow to get them up the incline, and then raking into place.

Having decided against the wooden fence, we still had to come up with a solution, which would not only demarcate our boundary but would also give us the privacy we wanted. We considered potted bamboos, having lots of these in the front garden, but quickly decided against them on the grounds that they shed leaves and so over the winter would look quite bare. We had also decided that if we were going to have a privacy hedge, we wanted to be able to take the plants away with us to The Printworks, and so very quickly, we settled on the idea of potted conifer trees, which would be quite thick and impenetrable. Ten, plus pots, were bought from our local garden centre. On delivery however, we realised we had seriously underestimated the number we’d need and safe to say we now in excess of twenty! Lesson learned – always measure and calculate…

As well as conifers, we also thought if we were finally going to do this, we might as well do it properly and have the garden area we’d always imagined. So, back to the garden centre – who by this time, were thankfully giving us good discounts! – and more pots were purchased. Along with some very beautiful big plants – a feijoa, a eucalyptus, a fig tree and, the best of all, a mature olive tree. Smaller pots and plants were also included to add a bit of colour and winter pansies, to hang from pots on the palette planter on the wall.

A small table and two chairs have been added (we already had these so saved on a little bit of expenditure) and we’ve also brought the fire pit around. Nights are very chilly now, but we have sat out, warmly wrapped up, with the fire on, with a glass of wine. I’m not sure quite how many times we’ll repeat this, this winter, but it was nice while it lasted! A new shed – in a very pleasing grey colour, which was a real bonus as I assumed it would be green – has also been constructed, meaning that all of the garden tools, bags of soil, plant pots etc etc, can now be stored away.

On one of our visits to the garden centre, I spotted a beautiful vintage, wrought iron wall basket, full of succulent plants and ferns, and knew it would be a gorgeous addition to the garden. A bit of negotiation ensued, as it wasn’t actually for sale, but a cash price was agreed and it was ours. It’s now securely attached to the wall, above the table, and come springtime, when the succulents and ferns start growing and twisting of the basket, I’m sure it’ll look very pretty, indeed.

Although we’ll continue to develop this little garden while we’re still in the house, it is now such a nice feeling to look out of the living room window and see something which is cared for and attractive, rather than a cobbled together, makeshift garden, overlooking building work. The conifers give us the privacy we wanted, whilst being portable and easily able to be taken to the new renovation project and eventually planted. The same with the other plants. New owners will definitely have their own ideas about what they want to do with the rear of the house, so we made the decision that whatever we did would be temporary and could be moved with us. I can already see the big olive tree and the fig tree, especially, in the internal courtyard we are going to create. So, whoever buys the house, won’t also be taking possession of everything in the Secret Garden, but they will have seen the potential…

 Next stage for this garden, is to finish planting up spring bulbs, which we’re staggering, so that rather than one hit of flowers, we have a few waves of colour. I also have a couple of ideas which I think, if implemented, will be the icing on the cake, but I’m biding my time with suggesting these…

 

project printworks : update 3

project printworks : update 3

So, we’ve finally made a proper start. The old industrial unit, which has sat unloved and empty for as long as we’ve lived in Istria, is being internally dismantled in preparation for the major renovations. A scaffold unit, an extendable ladder and a demolition drill have been added to our arsenal of tools and equipment, and we’re off! Sensibly, we’re largely staying away whilst our builder smashes down the walls – we’re on hand to offer words of support and photograph what’s going on. It’s not very pretty at all at the moment, and won’t be for quite some time, but you’ve to crack some eggs to make an omelette, as the saying goes…

The walls to be dismantled were clearly identified and the mallet swung into action.

Unless you know the layout of the building, none of what we are currently doing will make much sense. But, in a nutshell, we are creating three ensuite bedrooms, all with big windows overlooking the valley and Oprtalj, with simple ensuites. Access to each room will be from a newly created corridor to the the rear of the bedrooms. This idea is to work with the main structure of the building and create a very simple, minimalistic, open plan space inside. We’re still negotiating on outside land, so as there is much space inside, we’re stealing some of it from the other end of the building, to create an internal courtyard/potted garden. But that’s all way, way in the future.

At the moment, we’re just delighted that we’re surrounded by rubble and masonry – oh, and wasps because we’ve uncovered a wasps’ nest – because this all means one thing. PROGRESS.

In the meantime, we are selling our current renovated house. It could be the perfect holiday home for someone out there. Check out our website – and if you’re interested, get in touch and let’s see what we can do.

 

project printworks : update 2

project printworks : update 2

2020, as everyone knows, was a pretty unbelievable year, all round. If someone had told me the following, in January 2020, I’d have thought they were daft:

  • that we’d have to have official travel permits to drive to the supermarket
  • that wearing a mask would become the norm
  • that apart from a couple of local people, we’d see NO-ONE else socially the whole year
  • that we could count the number of meals we had out, on one hand – we had three
  • that apart from a night in Rijeka in January, we’d not be away from our house for the whole year
  • that we could not make the very easy trips to Slovenia and Italy – usually a once a week occurence, if not more
  • that we would have absolutely no visitors at all, for a whole year
  • that we could not make the annual roadtrip back to the UK at Christmas to be with family and friends
  • that Zoom would become our lifeline
  • that we would put our house on the market and begin the renovation of another property…

All of these points sound incredibly mad, but perhaps the last one, most of all, because yes folks, in the middle of a global pandemic we did actually embark on a house sale and purchase. When we viewed the property which will become our next renovation, it was when the world was “normal” and the viewing (and subsequent ones) set us off on a path it was hard to get off. This new property was potentially everything we had ever wanted – it had a view, it was near amenities, it was where friends lived, it was huge, it would enable us to have proper open plan living, and it was affordable. And all things considered, meant that we decided to sell up and go for it. Then the pandemic took hold.

To cut a long story short, our house is still on the market because interested potential buyers cannot easily travel to view the property and with COVID, we don’t feel it is appropriate to be doing viewings anyway. However, the guy who owned the property did want to sell it to us and so the upshot is, we are leasing it until our house sells. We have a contract in place, which allows us to begin doing work to the property – we could renovate it fully, if we wanted to, but until ours sells, we won’t be able to go at it hammer & tongs, as we need to free up the capital. However, with a strong contract in place, which was thrashed out between solicitors, we feel in a very fortunate position. We still have our warm, cosy, renovated property to return to but can begin the initial clearing of the new property.

It was, quite a long time ago, a commercial unit, where a printing business operated – hence the name we’ve chosen for it. The Printworks. It had been up for sale for quite a long and was full of machinery and the mess of a long abandoned business, but fortunately for us, the vendor agreed to clear it before we signed the documents. Pre-signing, this was what it looked like…

I know. Just. Awful! But, after having imagined for so long how it could eventually look, we were able see beyond and through the horror show and we weren’t daunted by the project that lay ahead. Having already renovated a property in Istria, albeit not on this scale, we also felt we were in a much stronger position than we had been four years ago, when we knew nothing and no-one. So, we said good-bye to 2020 with leases and pre-contracts signed, and got the keys to the property. A nice way to end a not-so-nice year.

The property is on one level and is kind of rectangular in shape. Although we have a very clear idea about what we want it to eventually look like, we will be involving architects as we want to ensure that we can actually do what we want to do – and to take their professional advice. We are working to a strict budget at the moment, and so we are doing as much of the preparatory work as possible, ourselves. Where we can remove walls, we’re removing them ourselves, and this is what has been the main focus recently. Two small rooms were divided by a wall which didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, so it was pretty obvious this wasn’t a supporting wall and this has now been knocked down and the larger space we have now opened up will eventually become one of three en-suite bedrooms.

The first task was to rip up the mock parquet linoleum and remove the main internal UPVC doors and frames so that we could begin to assess the space we were starting to play with. The lino came up pleasingly easily and we were very relieved to find solid concrete floors underneath. Hopefully, a starting point for the eventual laying of underfloor heating – and if not, at least we won’t be worrying about wrecking wooden floors as the work progresses.

All of the UPVC frames are white and are all actually in really good condition. However, all of the windows are at the front of the house and to maximise on light and space, we think that most of the windows (and certainly the ones in the three bedrooms) will be widened and sliding glass doors fitted. However, we wanted to see what the frames would be like in an anthracite colour and so did a quick spray paint job, touching up the walls around in white to see the contrast. What an immediate difference! The darker frame, quite literally, framed the view and there and then the decision was made – whatever the windows were going to be like, the frames were going to be dark. I cannot wait for the summer when everything is vibrant green outside and we’ll see for definite what inky frames will look like.

So, this week’s demolition has involved knocking down the partition wall between the two small rooms, to begin creating a larger space, which will hopefully become one of three (simple) ensuite bathrooms. As I said earlier, we knew we were OK with demolishing this wall as it didn’t go to the ceiling. Despite one of the rooms having a toilet in it…

Today, this wall was finally down – it’s been a bit too chilly to work on the house recently. And, to be honest, we’d have been mad to leave a fully renovated, fully working and very warm house to work on our new project. However, the sun returned today and the wall was dealt with…

The plan is to have a corridor that runs along the rear of the three bedrooms (behind the wall where the toilet is currently situated) and have access to the rooms off this corridor. The walls that currently block off the views (to the left of this photo) will be demolished and the dividing walls extended to the front of the house. By doing this, all three rooms will have uninterrupted views. We’re hoping to install sliding glass doors in each room, instead of the windows which are there now – and each set of doors will hopefully lead out onto a balcony which will run along the length of the front of the house. Because of the incline that the property is built on, the bedrooms are much higher up from the road and so a long balcony will still be private.

Two of the bedrooms will be guest rooms and will be similar in size and design. Both will have simple – but beautiful – ensuites, and as we have plumbing already in, the job will hopefully be easier than starting it all from scratch. We envisage the ensuites being back to back to further cut down on plumbing problems.

The work has definitely started, but once we’ve done the clearance we can do, it’ll be over to the professionals. We need the electrics to be looked at – and we’re preparing ourselves for a complete overhaul in this department, especially as we want this house to be as intuitive as possible. We need architects to help us with the plans. And we obviously need to start the investigation into the boundaries again. Although at least this time, we know what to do and what to expect. It’s been a long time in the planning and we’re very happy that in the midst of everything that is going on, we have a renovation project to keep us occupied. Think we’ll definitely be kept busy…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

house reno : stairs

house reno : stairs

Who’d have thought stairs could be so problematic? To be honest, I’ve never really given stairs a lot of thought, because they’re just…there. But our stairs need a lot of thinking about, because they’re pretty unusual. We have one set going upstairs from the living room, and another going down into what will become The Snug, from the living room. They are both open staircases, and I read on a website that these…

provide a sense of freedom, as open stairs do not feature risers, allowing you to look through the staircase enjoying the rest of an interior…

All well and good, BUT when they have been quite poorly installed, and the treads are very narrow, and there is no handrail and the banister at the top of the stairs – to prevent anyone falling – is very rickety, all of a sudden, that “sense of freedom” doesn’t quite seem a selling point.

We’ve looked at having both sets replaced, and maybe it’s a language thing and we keep getting lost in translation but we’re finding it to difficult to get across what we want. And, for some reason, stairs (or the construction of), seem to be prohibitively costly in Istria. We originally had someone out to quote on concrete stairs. My dream, but these must stay as a dream as we wouldn’t be able to afford to eat if we went with his quote.

But, if we are to live a comfortable life and be able to get up and down the stairs with ease – and be sure that our guests will be safe – we need to arrive at a solution. Currently, they are quite awful – half finished, cheap looking and fairly poorly fitted. It’s a job which has been added to the ever-growing list and which we are fairly confident will be shunted down when other projects become more of a priority. In the meantime, we’ll just watch our feet and try not to climb or descend after a drink too many.