demolition : update 1

demolition : update 1

the story of the little stone house

When we bought our house in Istria six years ago, this little tumble down cottage sat to the rear of it.There are lots of properties like this scattered across Istria and Croatia. There are many reasons for the properties being abandoned – wars and conflicts which displaced people, emigration, people dying and properties passing to multiple descendants, often scattered across the world, complicated boundary issues which can make buying such a property very, very problematic. In our village alone, there are more than a handful of these properties, overgrown with vines and greenery, the stone underneath crumbling and often falling. Thankfully, a lot of these properties are being salvaged and renovated and in the vicinity we have some amazing hotels which have grown out of an abandoned house. One hotel – San Canzian, in nearby Buje – is actually a renovated village, which we think is just wonderful.

So, back to our little house. We were totally naive in hindsight, as apart from knowing it belonged to a neighbour – who we were yet to get to know – we didn’t even consider where the boundaries between the two properties might be or what would happen if someone else became interested in it and purchased it, and the land around it. Luckily, we avoided a tricky situation when the neighbour agreed to sell it to us, once we had considered the implications of another property being so close to ours. It wasn’t a swift process and all told, took nearly two years to complete on – considering we bought the main house in about three months, this seems such a long time, but looking back, once we’d signed the pre-contract, there was no massive urgency as we’d secured it and it wasn’t our main dwelling. And, our solicitor had to navigate the new waters of Brexit, as half way through the process, we found ourselves as “third country nationals” (although luckily, with Croatian residency) and this muddied the situation for a while.

Over the past couple of years we’ve tinkered around the edges of this house, our main focus being on the renovation of the big house. We did ensure that we had a surveyor to establish the exact boundaries of the property and the land, and we did set about clearing it as much as we could ourselves and tidying it up. We seriously considered having it renovated – inside, a mezzanine level could definitely have been created as there is the height and it could have become a very beautiful self contained annexe. But, all of that comes at a cost and even though family and friends would definitely have got use out of it, for much of the year it would probably have stood empty, so we shelved renovation plans, opting instead to create a makeshift garden.

So, for the past year, we’ve had quite a nice outlook to the rear of the house – a natural boundary of conifer trees, in terracotta pots, white stones, a big new olive tree and a little table and chairs. But, it still hasn’t solved what to do with the house, which as the months have passed, has become more and more unstable. It also hasn’t resolved the issue that the rear of the house feels disconnected from the rest of the house. A bit of an add on. So the decision was made – demolition

arranging the demolition

Not as easy as you’d think. Back in the UK, we’d have had contacts or been able to google easily enough, to find builders who could do it. Here, we do have contacts, but they all have the same contacts and builders here are currently in very short supply. Post pandemic, there’s a lot of construction/renovation work going on in Istria, which is great, but it does mean that reliable workers are very, very thin on the ground. We were really struggling to find anyone, but finally had a stroke of luck. Work has been going on the village recently and our neighbour introduced us to two guys who were doing some other demolition work, and after a site visit, they agreed to take on our work. Another stroke of luck was that a contractor who was working with the local water company, who are also currently digging up the village to lay new pipes, knew our neighbour and so helped with the discussions re the work and was able to translate a lot for us. A price was agreed and a schedule of works discussed. Our understanding was that we needed to clear out the house and work would begin the following week, and would take approximately a week, followed by the site clearance.

Not everything happens as you expect though, and the day after we agreed everything, the two guys arrived – on a Saturday morning – and set about clearing out the house, with wheelbarrows full of rubbish being trundled away. This was a bit of an unexpected result, as we’d assumed we had to do the clearance. A bay tree has been growing outside the house – we think it was a tree we brought over from Manchester and which wasn’t faring too well, so it was left to its own devices, and having taken root in the thick, rich, red Istrian soil, has flourished. So, we asked that this be dug out so we could relocate it, prior to any demolition work beginning. Within half an hour, it was sitting in its new home. There’s still lots of planting and landscaping to be done, but we think our bay tree will thrive much more in its new position.

Almost as soon as the tree had been removed, the digger was swinging into action – quite literally – as the stones started to be removed from the house. We had initially had wild thoughts that we could actually take the house down ourselves. Surely all we needed to do was hire a cherry picker and swing a lump hammer and it would come down. And then the fairies would take away the stones and clear and level the site. We are now quite thankful that we didn’t actually pursue this ridiculous idea, because whatever we are paying these guys, they are professionals and worth every cent.

We’re now a week on, and the house has all but been taken down, stone by stone, and they are currently being taken away. We could have used these stones to construct the new wall, but to be honest, we’re a bit over Istrian stone, as the main house is constructed of it, we still have exposed stone (albeit painted white) internally, and we are surrounded by it outside. The stone is also of differing sizes and quality so it would have taken a long time to sift through and sort and store, so we’re just letting the guys get rid and if they make a few euros out of it, good for them. We’re a few weeks away we think, from us being able to even begin thinking about the new wall, but we are just very delighted that, finally, the little house is no longer standing and our vision for our secret garden, is a little nearer. Meanwhile, chaos reigns…

The guys are back on it currently, and the digger is hoisting huge slabs of stone onto the back of a lorry to be taken away. Although the view from our rear living window is horrendous at the moment, we have to go through this, to achieve what we want to achieve. The stones will be cleared. The ground will be levelled. A beautiful white, rendered wall will be constructed, with big chunky wooden struts to hold climbers which will form a natural sunshade. And our hideaway will be an oasis of calm and peace and solitude. Just maybe not yet…






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…











a place for dinner

a place for dinner

Although we are lucky enough to have a few options regarding where we can eat, sometimes we just want to eat in the living room, where the big woodburner is and where we can watch TV. When we’ve done this in the past, it’s had to be on the sofa, eating dinner on our laps – or if I want something less slouchy, I’ll eat at my desk, which is in the living room. Sofa/desk dining just does my head in. Not only is it pretty uncomfortable, it bugs me that we are not using what we we have. We went to the trouble of having a big concrete table made in the Well Room, but this has been so under-used. If the truth be told, I’ve never really liked it since we had resin applied, which changed its look and colour – but that’s another renovation story, as we’re currently tackling it and giving it a big make-over. We also have a breakfast bar in the kitchen which comfortably sits two, and we do use this at meal times, but again, it’s not as ideal as a table, especially if there are a few dishes and you want to spend a leisurely hour or so, eating and drinking and chatting. And then, suddenly, right in front of me, I saw the answer. My desk.

Because it’s not really like a desk. It’s a very simple table, quite mid-century in style, with beautiful tapered legs and a bevelled edge, with a dinky little drawer. from IKEA. Made of ash, it has a beautiful grain pattern, and as it ages the color deepens moderately towards a deep straw color, with the tapered legs in solid birch giving a warm, natural feeling. And the perfect size for two. It was moved to where we thought it might work as a dining table and tried for size – and the decision was made there and then, that this was an ideal solution. Although we now have hot foot it back off to IKEA to buy the same again, so that I still have a desk.

We didn’t want to have to bring chairs in from the Well Room whenever we wanted to eat, but had to have something that would enable us to use the desk as a dining table. Something that would be unobtrusive and able to be packed away. Something just like these little rattan beauties we found in Jysk.

Of course, one change always leads to many more, so as well as having to get an additional Lisabo table to use as my desk, we’ve decided that the navy curtains are going. They’ll be used in The Snug, to hide away the freezer and the condenser dryer and storage shelving under the stairs, so will have a new home. In their place, as we’re going to IKEA anyway, we’ll be buying up a few pairs of the sheer curtains, so that we can still have a bit of a backdrop in the living room, but not as blocky. The curtains are long and light and will be perfect for those spring days when we can have windows open and they billow in the breeze.

Our home is gradually becoming a beautiful neutral palette of whites and sandy colours. The kind of home that might just appeal to someone wanting to buy a property in the sun, to spend their summers in…










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…

the *unfinished* apartment : citta alta : bergamo

the *unfinished* apartment : citta alta : bergamo

Although we’ve largely finished the renovations of our stone house, I can always find something else that needs to be done. So, effectively, it always “unfinished”. But not on the scale of these properties, which have been designed to be deliberately “unfinished”.

Peeling wallpaper, floors that have been left untreated and hanging cables give character to these interior design projects, which look as though they’ve been abandoned halfway through decorating.

All photographers credited in Dezeen article :

All photographers credited in Dezeen article :

There’s something very appealing about rough-around-the-edges, industrial rawness – combined with softness, through colour palettes and accessories and lighting. We’re lucky that our home lends itself to a certain unfinished look in places. Parts of the internal walls are still original Istrian stone, as opposed to smooth plaster, and so even when painted white, they still look, well, not quite finished. But they are! OK, we could have them plastered, but the stone is a nod to the heritage and history of the house. Renovated mostly in a contemporary style, we made the deliberate decision to keep parts of the house in its original state, and so we have a bit of an interesting mix going on.

However, not as interesting – or as bold – as some of the houses featured in the Dezeen article, or the apartment we found in the heart of Citta Alta, Bergamo.

Stripped back and very minimalist, this upper floor apartment in a very old townhouse, was absolutely beautiful, in its deliberately unfinished state. Exposed beams, highly polished floorboards and the remains of stunning frescoes in the rooms. I think this is a really bold design choice in a tourist apartment – I’d be so worried about damage to the historical features – but I guess people do show respect. The apartment does have modern amenities and facilities – in particular, a very contemporary kitchen is housed behind a sleek, high gloss white partition wall – and so the stay is very comfortable. I have tried to locate this apartment again online, as we would recommend it, but it would seem it’s no longer taking guests, which is a shame.

However, we will be taking inspiration from this apartment and from the properties in the Dezeen article, as we begin a new journey in 2023. After a topsy-turvey house experience last year, when we actually popped a bottle of fizz as we thought we had sold it, we’ve picked ourselves up and are ready to go again. We’ve taken a long, hard look at our home and have decided that we have a few projects to tackle to get it ready to re-market. And, we’ll definitely be definitely going for “unfinished” – but absolutely finished – in certain places, to create a house which has a very different feel and vibe to the one which was up for sale last year.