The plans for Kovaci

In January 2011 we acquired a property in Kovaci, a district of Kaštelir, about 10 minute’s drive from the Istrian coast. Renovation work started as soon as we were given the key, and I’ll be bringing you regular reports, following our restoration progress. But before we start, what exactly have we bought and what are our plans?


house and barn facing each other at the end of the plotPart of an old farmstead, our property lies tucked back from the road: a hidden oasis of green in the middle of the village. At around 500 m², the plot’s long and thin and, considering it lies on a hillside, surprisingly level and flat. On it are a house, barn and two outbuildings. Looking from the parking area at the entrance of the property, the house and barn face each other at the far end, and the two outbuildings lie on the left-hand side, against the boundary.

Our plan is to renovate the house to create a 3-bedroom rental property, with garden and pool. All the works will stay within the original building footprint and we are not adding or enlarging any windows. Although this leads to a few oddities in the restoration, it means that, under Croatian law, we don’t need any kind of building permission (which can take forever). And, so long as we stick within the original (pre-1968) footprint, we’ll be able to get a licence for tourist rentals. (There’s a lot to be said about building regulations and property tourist rental classifications. Suffice it for now to say, under current Croatian law, to qualify for a tourist regulation, it’s essential we don’t stray outside the original footprint).

At this stage, due to our limited budget, we will not be touching the barn


The house

Front wall of house at Kovai, IstriaPart of a short terrace, the house is a traditional, three-storey Istrian property. Like almost every old stone house of this kind, its internal dimensions are 7m x 5m.

Outside we have to work on two walls – the front and back of the house, both covered in old plasterwork. The front wall looks across our land, the back across our neighbour’s land. Both walls need restoring and damp-proofing. The old façade will be removed to expose the old stonework, which will then be re-pointed.

Back wall of house at Kovaci, IstriaThe roof is in excellent condition, with traditional old terracotta pan tiles outside and ‘tavele’ tiles lining the inside. However, it will still be removed and re-built, as part of the process of ensuring it’s fully watertight and to put in thermal insulation. We will put back new tiles outside, as the roof cannot be seen and many of the old tiles are probably broken. The ‘tavele’ will be re-used as flooring tiles downstairs (a standard renovation practice in Istria).



Despite its neglected appearance, the house is in remarkably good shape, especially as it hasn’t been lived in for many decades. Amazingly, it still has functioning water (a downstairs tap) and electricity (some filthy light bulbs). Obviously it needs totally rewiring and new plumbing. Unusually for a property so long abandoned, all its ceiling joists and upstairs’ floorboards are sound. But, not surprisingly, every window in the place is broken, along with the shutters.

Uniting the best of ancient and modern, the plan is to keep as many of the traditional features as possible – exposed beams, lime plaster and wood panelling – but add a dash of ‘today’ with bright, fresh bathrooms, a well-lit kitchen and plenty of electrical sockets.


Ground floor

view from living room into hall at Kovaci property, IstriaThe ground floor is currently divided into three rooms: a hall, kitchen and living room.

Ground floor photos before the work began

So long as there’s no issue with internal load-bearing walls, we plan to turn this into a large, open-plan living space. The kitchen will be at the back on the right-hand side, with the dining area next to it on the left, and the lounge area in front. If there’s space, we hope to put a toilet under the stairs. 

I apologise for the amateur, hand drawn sketch, but you should get the idea from this.

Pen drawing of ground floor plan of Kovaci property in IstriaA lot of work is needed here. The existing floor will have to be removed, so insulation, damp-proofing and under-floor plumbing can be installed. The lovely, old flagstones will be re-laid (with some extra taken from the barn) in the entrance and dining area. The ‘tavele’ tiles will go in the living area, and waterproof ceramic tiles in the kitchen. 

All the walls need stripping to expose the stone, which will be re-pointed. The beams will be left exposed, treated against rot and insects, and polished. New windows and shutters, and a glass front door (to increase the available light) will be fitted.


1st floor

Landing of property in Kovaci, IstriaThe first floor is in far better condition than the ground floor. It is divided into three rooms: a huge landing, a large front bedroom and a slightly smaller back bedroom.

Photos (1st floor and attic)

We will be keeping this layout and adding a family bathroom on the landing at the top of the stairs. It will be long and thin, with room for a large shower, double sinks with plenty of work surface and, of course, a toilet. It will also house the hot water boiler.

1st floor plan of house in Kovaci, IstriaSorry, this diagram’s no better ! I guess drawing’s not my strong suit …

Apart from building and fitting the bathroom, most of the work here is cosmetic – we hope! Old plaster walls need cleaning and resurfacing with lime plaster; doors and wood panelling need repainting; floorboards and beams need polishing; and all the windows and shutters need replacing.


Top floor

Attic space in house at Kovaci, IstriaThe attic is one large room with good head-height over a lot of the space. Apart from four broken windows, it’s in fantastic condition. This will become an enormous master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom.

 The floorboards and roof beams are solid, so will be polished. Plasterboard will be installed between the support beams and painted, the walls restored and new windows and shutters installed.


Attic plan in Kovaci house, IstriaAnother kiddie diagram. Dashed line indicates useable area

An en-suite bathroom with a roof-window will be created in the corner at the top of the stairs. The stairs will be altered so they point into the room rather than towards the back wall, to give more room for the bathroom. This will enable a shower to be installed at the tallest point of the room (so you can stand up in the shower!)



View from the parking at Kovaci, IstriaAt 500m², the plot of land provides plenty of room for a pool and space for kids to run around.

Photos (outside)

At the front of the property there will be a gravelled parking area, big enough for three cars. The parking will be separated from the rest of the property by a stone wall, with a metal foot gate. Coming through the foot gate, the 24 m² swimming pool will be on your left.

To create space for this, we will demolish the shed nearest the parking and reuse the stone for the wall. The other outhouse will be converted into the pool room, storage, and an outside shower and toilet.  

red-brick monstrosity next doorA paved dining area will be laid between the house and barn and covered with a metal pergola. A tall trellis will be added next to the house to screen the half-built, red-brick extension next door. Plants will be grown up this, eventually screening it completely.

On a practical note, we’ll also need to build a septic tank which will be excavated wherever the ground isn’t too rocky! Mains drainage is going to be installed in Koavci towards the end of this year or early next year, so we’ll put the necessary piping in now, while all the construction work is under way.



barn at Kovaci, IstriaThe barn is in brilliant condition. Its walls are all straight and its beams and roof in good condition, so it is safe to leave it for a future renovation project. For now, we will lay any necessary plumbing pipe work and electrical cables into the building, so the garden won’t need excavating again in the future.


These are our plans. Follow our progress week by week to see how well we manage to stick to them.

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