Fast forward in Spring sunshine

Week eight of our restoration project in Istria

In glorious weather, work shifts outside and moves on apace. The pool emerges from its formers and is back-filled into the garden, and work progresses rapidly on the šupa. The house gains a front door and the windows arrive, but the stairs disappear! And I finally make a decision about tiles.


Dramatic progress

Backfilling by JCB around concrete pool in Kovaci, IstriaWe have a pool! Well, sort of. Arriving at Kovaci on a fabulously sunny Monday morning, I found a concrete box instead of the wooden formers that had been there for a while. I’d missed it, but Toni told me the concrete for the pool was poured at the end of last week and, after a week-end hardening, the formers came off first thing this morning. By the time I arrived, he’d already started back-filling around it with his JCB. 

Things were also progressing fast with the šupa (garden out-building). The roof’s finished and Miro’s poured the concrete for the store-room floor; Vlado has installed the shower-room plumbing and Miro’s just started re-laying the flagstones.

It was great seeing so much progress in such warm, sunny conditions. And with it all looking so good, my faith in the project was renewed and I went home bouncing, feeling on top of the world!


To barn or not to barn

Half-built walls and pool plumbing in storeroom in Kovaci, IstriaI was brought back to earth by a meeting with Miro that evening. We were now very seriously considering renovating the barn, as well as the house (the reasons why are many and complex, covered in ‘To barn or not to barn?’). I’d been busy developing a layout, so Miro could give us a proper quote for the work. However, my first attempt didn’t meet with his approval – the stairs were in the ‘wrong’ place (for cost reasons). Feeling somewhat deflated, but determined to get it right, I spent Tuesday playing with designs and eventually, on Wednesday, Miro finally ‘approved’ my revised plans (relief!). Now I was just waiting for the quote – fingers crossed for no nasty surprises.

While I’d been busy with pen and paper, the guys had been busy on site with the šupa and pool. The šupa’s interior walls were going up and Miro had finished laying the flagstones in the shower-room – they looked fantastic. I think this rustic, ‘outdoor’ shower-room could become one of the property’s highlights: I doubt there’ll be a prettier one in Istria!

All the fittings are now in place for the pool and Toni has finished spreading rubble. With the ground level raised, it looks fantastic: like it was always there, in a space designed for a pool. Even better, the stone wall we fretted about for so long no longer looks like a towering edifice: instead, it forms a perfect back-drop!

Wall with gaping hole in Kovaci, IstriaMy elation was then somewhat tempered, by a new ‘problem’. With the ground tidied around the pool, a previously overlooked gap in the wall has now become extremely obvious. I hadn’t noticed it before as it had been covered by junk or rubble. I eyed it with mixed feelings: it was great seeing order emerging from chaos … but why did it have to involve unplanned, probably expensive work?!

Windows arrive …

Next morning, I walked through the biggest development of the week – the new front door!

New front door in Kovaci, IstriaOne of the biggest outlays with the house restoration has been the windows, shutters and front door. While most of the house was in great condition, they were all on their last legs and needed replacing. In keeping with the age of the property, I initially wanted everything in wood, but eventually concluded this wasn’t a practical option.

With any rental property, as you’re not living in the house, you don’t see it on a day-to-day basis. So it’s important it’s as self-sustaining as possible, with maintenance issues kept to a minimum. Experience with our other rental house had shown us that, in Istria, painting is the single biggest regular maintenance requirement. The hot summer sun and cold winters rapidly cracks and strips paint from wooden shutters, so they constantly need re-painting (or so it seems). It’s costly and time-consuming and I wanted to avoid it if possible at Kovaci. So, instead of the traditional wood, the most practical option was wood-look plastic. “Oh no!” I can hear you all thinking, “Horrible PVC windows!”  But having seen them in a recently finished house, I was very impressed: the technology’s come on a long way and they really didn’t look plastic at all.

Wood-look window in Kovaci, IstriaNevertheless, it wasn’t a decision I made lightly and today was the moment of truth. Even though I’d seen them before, I was still very nervous how the plastic window frames would look on our house. I stepped back from the front door and looked up. I needn’t have worried, they looked fantastic. Even better, on closer inspection they didn’t simply look like any old wood, they look specifically like oak. Best of all, they don’t need painting – ever! And as a final bonus … originally they had forgotten to use frosted glass when they made the windows facing onto Fiore’s land, yet, despite protestations that it was too late to change them, they had in fact done so. So all the windows had the right glass. Fantastic!

Coming out of the house, I saw Miro. “Where’s the quote for the barn you promised me yesterday?” I asked. He pointed at the carpenter who, having finished installing the house windows, was measuring the front door to the barn. The message was clear, he was just waiting for the quote for doors and windows. Who needs words?


… tiles are chosen …

With things really coming together, it was clear work would soon start on the finishing touches – including the tiling. The tiles had become something of an issue with me: I simply couldn’t find anything I liked (or could afford). P couldn’t understand what my problem was. “They’re only tiles,” he said. “No-one will really notice them, just pick something.” When pushed to help, he said “These are nice,” pointing at the most expensive in the shop – how useless!

The tiles chosen for Kovaci bathroom in IstriaI kept delaying the decision, but it was clear I couldn’t procrastinate any longer: Miro needed the tiles soon, so I had to bite the bullet and make up my mind. As tile shopping with P was hopeless, I decided to go back with Snježana. I knew she’d take the process more seriously. Even with her help, it was a difficult decision: what I liked was always horribly expensive and compromise was hard.

Finally I made up my mind, only to find none of the tiles were in stock and needed delivering from Italy! In theory, it should only take two weeks, but experience told me it was more likely to be four, or even five. It was my own fault. As it was a big shop, I had assumed they had everything in stock. I’d forgotten this is Croatia and everything needs ordering. 

When I told Miro about the delay, he was not impressed. Just hope they come soon.  


… and stairs go missing

Long over-due, with Azra’s help I finalised the transfer of the utilities into our name on Friday, which included visiting Kaštelir Opcina. As she was going to be nearby, Azra was keen to see how work was progressing: “I sell a lot of houses, but don’t often get to see how they turn out,” she said. So we agreed to meet at the house.

Both houses with Fiore's airco unit in Kovaci, IstriaSitting on the wall awaiting her arrival (Azra’s always late) I noticed Fiore had installed his airco unit. As agreed, it points onto our land and I was relieved to see how unobtrusive it is. I also watched Toni manoeuvre his JCB past the pool. He needed to get closer to the house to dig the ditches linking the house, barn and šupa with the septic tank. It was an extremely tight squeeze and, if you’d asked me beforehand if there was room, I’d have said, “No way.” But, fit it did – just. With no space either side, I was terrified he’d tip himself into the concrete pool pit.

Gaping space where the stairs should have been, in Kovaci, IstriaAzra turned up and I proudly showed her round – of course she was very impressed with what we’d done (or was too polite to say otherwise!) When we came to go up the stairs to the top floor, I was chattering and pontificating so much, I almost didn’t notice that the stairs were gone. It was a close call, but I didn’t go crashing down to the stairs below!

With the sun still shining, I again left Kovaci smiling. It’s not only Azra who’s impressed with how much has been achieved – I too am stunned by the change. After two month’s hard work, everything’s really coming together.


Next week I get a big shock!


Also see

Restoration diary:



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