Decisions, kitchens and furniture

Week four of our restoration project in Istria

Like most of Europe, Istria continued to freeze in the second week of February. But despite over-night temperatures below -10°C, work moves forward apace in the house and many decisions need to be made. With P away in the UK, I go furniture hunting and … complicating my life even further … started daydreaming about the barn.

Toni & Amir working on the half-height wall in Kovaci, IstriaUnderstandably, no-one was outside when I arrived on site on Monday morning, it was just too cold. I took a quick look, before I dived into the comparative warmth of the house, and saw the septic tank taking shape: wood formers are in, waiting for the concrete to be poured. Inside I found Toni and Amir putting finishing touches to the bar, and Danjel preparing to start the upstairs wiring. Unusually, everyone was working quietly so I tiptoed around taking photos, not wanting to disturb their concentration.

I’d also come wanting to discuss carpentry for the upper kitchen cupboards and a built-in wardrobe with Miro, but he wasn’t around. Guess I’ll e-mail Miran when I get home.


Here comes the chaos …

Ensuite bathroom in attic with piping and concrete floorTuesday started calmly enough: Miro had seen my e-mail and wanted Miran to sort things out ASAP, so we agreed to meet later that morning. I was surprised Miran was planning to drive so soon after his operation: maybe he wouldn’t be off work for as long as I’d feared. But of course that wasn’t the case – he called just as I was leaving, to say he couldn’t come because of physiotherapy and could we reschedule? “Is it urgent?” I replied. “When does Miro need the information?” I couldn’t make Wednesday or Thursday, so we agreed on Friday. I was sure we were miscommunicating, as Miro seemed to need something urgently, but, trying not to panic unnecessarily, I vowed to put my unease aside and went up to the house to take photos. 

Miro plastering downstairs at Kovaci, IstriaWhen I got there, I found Miro throwing plaster at the downstairs wall and anxious to see me. “Where are the kitchen drawings?” he demanded. “But Miran said Friday,” I protested. Why don’t these guys ever communicate! Out came Miro’s phone and he was soon jabbering away at Miran. “I’ll be there in half an hour,” said Miran. Again I wondered if he should be driving just after a knee operation (I’m too kind), but as I clearly needed some help, I wondered if there was an alternative solution? It was time once again for my secret weapon: friend and fixer extraordinaire, Snježana.

A quick phone call and we were all sorted. Snježana and I would meet Miro at his house at 6 pm, to discuss the kitchen. “I need the exact sizes of the appliances to build the dividers,” was Miro’s parting shot as I left the house. Weren’t all kitchen appliances made to a standard 60 cm width? What if I’m wrong and when the equipment arrives it doesn’t fit the gaps? This was a scary thought – I was off to Labelle, Porec’s main white goods shop, to double- check sizes.


It’s all moving too fast!

As I left, I met Toni, wanting to know where I wanted the pool? What? I thought it would be weeks before that came up! It seems I need to do everything before everything else! Of course I knew roughly where it should go – next to the big wall, under the huge pile of rubble – and it would be 24 m² (the maximum allowed without planning permission, which takes forever). But what dimensions should it be? And where exactly?

Pool location under a huge pile of rubble“How wide is the plot?” I asked. With the rubble in the way, it was hard to be sure. Miro and Toni paced it. “It’s 10×10,” they concluded. “I’ll have a drawing for you tonight,” I said, hurrying off to my ever-increasing afternoon’s workload.

After a quick bite of lunch, I rushed off to Labelle: all was as I thought, my design didn’t need changing (relief). Then back home for some hurriedly-drawn sketches of upper kitchen cupboards (and the pool, of course). I’d just finished and it was off to Miro’s with Snježana to discuss kitchen, wardrobe, pool – and lots more. How had I managed without her?  


It’s time to look at furniture

On Wednesday, I took P to Trieste airport. He’s off to the UK for a week of ‘good son’ duties and while he’s away, I’m going to try and firm up the outside (garden and pool) and furniture prices – the bulk of our outstanding ‘unknown’ costs. 

Boards going up in the roof in Kovaci, IstriaKovaci will be a holiday-rental property, so renovating the house is only part of this process. We also need to buy all the necessary furniture, fixtures and fittings – everything which makes a house a home, from the sofas and wardrobes down to the toast-rack and teaspoons. While P was away, my goal was to visit as many furniture shops as possible, short-list possibilities and see if we’ll be able to furnish the place within our allotted budget. No pressure then! See how I get on in The Istrian furniture experience.


Snježana sees the house … almost

Walls going up for the family bathroom at Kovaci, IstriaNext morning (before going furniture hunting in Rijeka), Snježana and I were at the house bright and early (well early anyway), to meet the Opcina chief about the shared boundary wall (see “Please can we demolish your eye-sore?”). Typically, they have changed their minds: we can’t now remove their old animal shed. Such is life! In fact, I wasn’t too disappointed, it was beginning to get a bit expensive. 

After that, I was dying to show Snježana round the house – she’s my closest friend here and hadn’t yet seen inside. Today seemed the perfect opportunity, but it was locked when we arrived, and then we got caught up discussing landscaping with Miro and wardrobes with the carpenter. By now, we were frozen and only interested in grabbing coffee in the warm café around the corner. The grand tour would wait until next time.

Walls going up for the ensuite bathroom in Kovaci, IstriaOn Friday evening, after another day hunting furniture, I found an e-mail from Miran waiting with answers to previous price quote requests. Good news was that the price for restoring the barn was very interesting – definitely worth considering. Bad news was that the price from the carpenter for the kitchen and wardrobe was … well, scary! My plan to save money by having Miro build me a kitchen wasn’t looking such a good idea. It was time to look into Plan B – the cost of a fitted kitchen. I’d originally rejected that as I thought the walls would be too rough, but I can see they will probably be OK. So on Saturday, off I went to look into kitchens and – assuming they can do it – it seems the better option. I’ll find out next week.


To barn or not to barn?

Spent Sunday playing with spreadsheets and short-listing furniture. Then, with time on my hands, I started day-dreaming about the barn, playing with layouts in my head. Idle speculation soon became concentrated thought, when I realised it might actually make practical sense to turn the property into a five, rather than three-bedroom place.

The barn at Kovaci, Istria - should we restore it?As it stands, the living space in the house is rather small for six people. If we could spread into the barn, the ground floor of the house could become a huge kitchen-diner easily large enough for ten, with a large living-room and two further bedrooms in the barn.

While it made great practical sense, would it also make financial sense? I spent the afternoon comparing rental prices for five-bedroom holiday homes – well you never know, P may find the money somewhere (and it always pays to be prepared).


Forward progress

While I’ve been charging around looking at furniture, work has been steadily progressing at the house and things began to feel back under control (for now!). End of week four and Miro’s pretty much finished plastering downstairs. The walls are going up for the family bathroom and in the attic, the concrete’s been poured for the ensuite bathroom and the lining is going up in the roof. It’s all looking good! But will it continue to next week when I face a series of set-backs, confusions and mistakes.


Also see

Restoration diary:


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