More project creep … and Miro’s on an economy drive

Weeks 6 and 7 of our restoration project in Istria

Despite miscommunication, mis-translations and mislaid e-mails, work progresses steadily. I add yet more to an over-packed schedule, the pool starts taking shape and warmer weather finally arrives. Miro and I go shopping and, in a strange reversal of typical roles, I seem intent on spending money while Miro tries saving it!


Super šupa

Old cart shed, Kovaci, IstriaOriginally there were two out-buildings in the garden, which were never registered at the Cadastral Office, so were illegal. As we didn’t need them (or thought we didn’t) and because registering them would be an expensive hassle, our plan was to demolish both to increase the garden space.

A few weeks ago, the smaller one with an open front – probably a cart shed – came down to make room for the pool. But when it came to it, I just couldn’t bring myself to demolish the second. It was such a gorgeous little building, it would be a crime to destroy it. But what to do with it?

Cute old shed in Kovaci, IstriaA shed (or šupa in Croatian) in the garden is always handy and from day one, we had in the back of our minds that it could be useful somehow. A little thought and some measurements and we realised we could use part of it to house the pool pump and equipment, part as a store for garden furniture and part as a garden shower room. It was exactly the right size and even had an internal wall already in the right place. It was perfect!

It also seemed in great condition, so shouldn’t cost much to convert – or so my thinking went. WRONG! We started with an initial budget of €1000 (which even I knew was too low) but, once we started looking at the place, the work started to mount up. First the roof needed to come off and be re-laid with proper water-proofing. Then we found some rotten beams needed replacing, the floor needed lifting and a damp course fitting, and… the list went on and on.


Google gibberish

By week six of the renovation we had, I hoped, finalised what needed to be done with both the šupa and the garden, and Miran had sent me a quote – in gibberish! Miro had written his quote in Croatian, Miran had translated it using Google Translate and e-mailed it to me. Even knowing what needed doing, very little of it made sense: what, for example, was ‘supplying the country with scattering’? or ‘set-up of the old cup’?

On Monday afternoon, in freezing cold weather, Snježana and I met Miro at Kovaci to work out what he had really meant to say. I only had the English version and Miro hadn’t brought his original quote with him so, sheltering in the local coffee shop to keep warm, we went through the crazy process of Snježana translating the nonsense English back into Croatian, so Miro could work out what his original had said, so Snježana could translate it into real English! Two hours later we were finished – and exhausted.

(In case you’re wondering, ‘supplying the country with scattering’ should have been ‘supplying top soil and spreading it,’ – Croatian uses the same word, zemlja, for both country and soil. And ‘set-up of the old cup’ should have been ‘reinstalling old tiles.’ In Istria, old-style tiles are often referred to as cupola because of their cup shape.)


Took my eye off the ball

Our goal is to have the house ready and rented for the end of the summer. To pull this off we’re going to need a lot of luck and good weather, as well as no mishaps or unnecessary delays.

We’ve had fantastic building weather thus far so, with Miro on or even ahead of schedule, it was time I finalised the furniture – I didn’t want to be the one causing the delay! With my attention focused on shopping and spreadsheets, I didn’t visit the house for the next few days. Mistake! End of Wednesday, I received a text from Miran: ‘Miro can’t make meeting tomorrow [we had arranged to go buy bathroom fittings and outside lights], he is expecting concrete for the pool’. PANIC! Although the hole’s been sitting there finished for the past few days, I hadn’t put two and two together and realised they would start finishing the pool so soon.

I’d been trying to talk Miro into installing an automatic water filling system but, as it’s not a standard fitting, I’d met a lot of resistance. Miro seemed to think it would be complex and expensive (they’re not) and I hadn’t been able to get a yes or no on it, let alone a price. I had meant to get back to him about this and now it looked as if we may be too late. I know it sounds a small thing and we have someone to maintain the pool, but you don’t want your guests to have to monitor water levels while on holiday … and imagine the costs if guests did start running hoses to top up the level of the pool and then went off and left the water running (scary). Sent a pleading e-mail to see if we could get this sorted in time.

Burnt out with stress, I took refuge under the duvet. Emerged late the next afternoon to find pool panic solved (relief, big time). Miro had spoken with his pool guy (why he couldn’t have done this before I don’t know!) and the upshot was that, as pool and pump are at the same level, there’s no problem with an automatic filling system. I’m relieved we can have it, but now anxious about what it will cost!


Pool progresses…

Miro smoothes the concrete for the pool base in Kovaci, IstriaAt last the cold weather’s broken: Friday dawned a beautiful sunny, spring day. Re-energised by the sunshine and a good rest, I headed to Kovaci and passed a concrete mixer driving down the hill. I arrived to find Miro spreading concrete in the base of the pool. From Miran’s text, I’d expected to see the concreting nearly finished, so it was a relief to see how much was still left to be done.


… quotes don’t

Taking a break from concrete smoothing, Miro asked if he could go ahead with the šupa. I was surprised, as I’d sent an e-mail to Miran yesterday saying “go ahead”. I then asked about some missing quotes, only to find Miro thought they’d been sent yesterday as well. On top of Google mis-translations and our miscommunication, it seems our e-mails were now going astray!

Wood former construction for pool in Kovaci, IstriaChased Miran for missing quotes on Friday and Saturday – nothing. By Monday, I was mega annoyed and decided a new communication strategy was needed. It was time again for Snježana. Before I went up, I called and asked her to be on ‘translation stand-by’. We then discussed what I wanted to say to Miro and I set off for Kovaci. It worked like a dream. After a quick “dobar dan”, etc., I called Snježana and, with her magic touch, Miro promised my outstanding quotes … tomorrow.

I left Miro building the pool’s concrete former, feeling a lot happier and sort of back in control (I knew I was deluding myself, but I enjoy the false feeling of control when it happens).


Miro starts economising…

Next morning I finally got my quotes (see, miracles can happen) and had two options for the šupa floor in the storage area. The old floor needed to come up and, to fit with the character and charm of the building, I wanted to re-lay the original flagstones. To save money, Miro wanted just concrete.

Shed with wheel barrows at Kovaci, IstriaWe stood in the šupa doorway, arguing. “Flagstones might be more expensive to lay, but they would look so good,” I pleaded. Miro shrugged and looked disapprovingly at me, with ‘You’re the client, but you’re wrong,’ written all over his face. I called P to back me up and play the bad cop, but the traitor agreed with Miro. So I caved. And of course Miro was right. As he said, it’s a storeroom and concrete’s much more practical. At least he let me have flagstones in the shower room. While it’s mostly great to have a builder who thinks and doesn’t run up costs unnecessarily, I do wish he’d agree with me just occasionally!


… and economising…

Finally went buying sinks and outside lights with Miro – something which had been urgent, according to Miro, for over two weeks. (It’s strange how things he says I need to do are always urgent, but if he needs to get involved, they can be postponed!)

Posh sinkBeing a good little client I’d done my homework and knew exactly what I wanted. WRONG! First sinks: I had originally picked out a rather stylish but expensive sink, and Miro soon talked me into a simpler (otherwise known as cheaper) one. Despite this, we were both happy with the choice and  felt it would go nicely with the intended wood surround, but this time we were both wrong. According to Igor, the sink specialist in the shop, the one we’d chosen wasn’t suitable. We needed a special sink with a lip, to prevent water getting into the wood. Of course it was more expensive, but for once, even Miro agreed it was worth the extra cost.


… and economising!

Next came outside lights. I’d put a lot of thought into this and decided we needed a mix of sensor- and switch-activated lights. Sensors were needed to activate a spotlight for the parking, and to trigger four lights along the path from the parking, along the length of the garden, to the front door. The lights by the door and on the terrace would be on switches, as would ground-level up-lighters (which would shine up the stone wall next to the pool). Simple and straight-forward, I thought – but, says Miro, expensive.

Once again he was all set on saving me money. He had no problem with the spotlight or the pool wall up-lighters: it was the lights along the path that caused the problem. I wanted a sensor at either end, triggering all the lights. He proposed each light have its own sensor, so they’d come on in turn – which I thought would look odd. But his solution needed one electricity cable, whereas mine needed three (one for the lights and one for each sensor). With a path of over 20 m and underground electricity cabling alone costing €2 per metre, it was an argument Miro quickly won.


So what else has been happening?

Part re-pointed and part plastered house facade at Kovaci, IstriaThe weather was glorious all week and it was great seeing the builders working outside in T-shirts, when so recently they’d been bundled up like Eskimos. When he wasn’t arguing or out shopping with me, Miro steadily built his pool formers – a major, four-day job. Meanwhile, Amir finished re-pointing the outside of the house and plastered those stone sections which were too soft to be left exposed. I’d been worried this would make the front look strangely piebald, so was mightily relieved to see it looked great! It adds character and somehow makes the house sink into its surroundings – well, that’s my opinion!

Boban puts the finishing touches to the ensuite bathroomInside, much to my relief, they finally lowered the bar in the kitchen to the height it should have been: I know, I measured it – twice. Upstairs Boban (the gyproc specialist) finally finished in the attic – a job he’s been working on for weeks – and the air-co guys finished their wiring and piping pre-installation work.

The team at work replacing the supa roof in Kovaci, IstriaThis renovation update started with the šupa and freezing cold weather. It ends with the šupa and Spring sunshine. First the derelict fireplace was cleared out, then the flagstones lifted and finally, at the end of week seven, the roof came off … and then back on again. Miro suspects this roof was originally laid over seventy years ago and its underside was showing its age. With its old tiles back in place but new water-proofing and boarding underneath it looks unchanged, but is now set up for another seventy!

The šupa’s going to look fantastic. I’m so glad we decided to keep it. I just hope legalising it doesn’t turn into a saga of its own!


Next week project creep looks set to go into overdrive as we debate ‘to barn or not to barn?’


Also see

Restoration diary:



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