Barnstorming progress

Week eleven of our restoration project in Istria

March ended with yet another glorious week of warm sunshine: more like summer than early spring. In Kovaci, the barn was the focus of everyone’s attention this week – a lot needed to be done to bring it up to the same standard as the house.


Progress – what progress?

Progress on roof & upstairs window in Kovaci barn, IstriaThe sight greeting me Tuesday morning was much the same as last week: Amir was still working on high, on the barn roof, and the stonemason was still chipping away, creating windows – but things had, in fact, progressed a long way. 

The stonemason was now opening the upstairs bedroom window, having finished downstairs. Despite seeming to stand and stare at the wall interminably, he was actually achieving something – when I went inside, you could see light through the wall. As breakthrough seemed imminent, I hung around hoping to see it happen, but soon realised it wouldn’t be any time soon. Such stone-masonry is a delicate, slow process which can’t be rushed (unless you want a wall to collapse :().

Amir’s progress was less obvious: he toiled steadily on the roof and apparently wouldn’t finish it until Thursday.

Upstairs in Kovaci barn with bathroom concrete floor, IstriaInside, progress was far more obvious. Props were up downstairs supporting the ceiling and, with my newly acquired knowledge, I was pretty sure this meant they’d poured the concrete for the bathroom floor. When they’d done this in the house, I’d immediately panicked there was a structural problem – second time around, I was far more laid back. I scaled the wobbly ladder and sure enough, the barn now contained a concrete block with green plumbing pipes sticking out of it. Vlado, the plumber, had clearly been (I later saw he’d also finished the plumbing in the šupa’s shower-room.).

Toni cleaning his JCB engine in Kovaci, Istria“But how exactly did they get the concrete up there,’ I wondered, envisaging bucket-load after bucket-load being carried up the wobbly ladder. “We barrow-loaded it in, running up planks through the old hay-loft window,” explained Toni. WOW! – I was impressed and sorry I’d missed it: it must have been a sight worth seeing. These guys really are strong: I am in awe!!

Toni’s pride and joy is his JCB, so, while Amir and the stonemason worked up above, he brought it down by the house for an engine clean. It had been busy digging channels and when he turned on the compressed air, the quantities of dust created was amazing.


Extra flooring

Last week, I agreed with Miro that, because it is open-plan and the beams are pine, not oak, the barn’s ground-floor ceiling needed some extra support – two pillars. This week, it seemed, it needed more support, in a different way. When the barn was built, upstairs was a hayloft: as hay’s light and doesn’t need a lot of support, the beams were more widely spaced than they would be in a house and this was causing a problem.

Downstairs in the barn in Kovaci with supporting props & lifted floor“We need to install another floor on top of these floorboards, running in the opposite direction, to increase rigidity,” Toni explained on Wednesday, stepping onto a bad spot to demonstrate: the floorboard bowed dramatically beneath his weight. Toni’s a big guy, but he’s not huge, so I quickly agreed another layer of flooring would be a great idea, but what did he suggest? My terror was laminate flooring: I knew we were doing this restoration on a tight budget, but laminate would look so cheap and would ruin the ‘period’ effect.

“Don’t worry,” Toni was quick to reassure me. “We’re planning on using traditional tongue-and-groove floorboards, like you have in the house.” He produced an example from a pile of old timber. “This came from your house,” he said, “and we simply want to use the modern version. Are you happy with that?” I was happy and thought it would look great, but was nervous about the cost – real wood flooring doesn’t come cheap. But if the alternative was a cheap-looking floor – or a tourist with his foot through the ceiling – I guess I didn’t have a choice!


It’s all a bit quirky

Front of Kovaci barn, Istria showing quirky window alignmentBy Friday, the stonemason had finally finished the upstairs window. The front of the barn was now complete and, with their reclaimed-stone lintels, the openings looked as if they’d always been there. However, I must admit, as the two upstairs windows don’t line up, it all looked a bit strange. Inside, the new window looked fantastic and allowed in exactly the right amount of light, but from outside the alignment looked decidedly quirky!

Plasterboard walls going up in Kovaci barn, IstriaWhile I was there, the stonemason had shifted his attention to the small upstairs windows on the back of the barn. Originally they’d been blocked to form circular openings and he was opening them up to a useable size.

Also working upstairs was Boban, the plasterboard specialist, and his mate, who’d started constructing the barn’s interior walls. With the barn’s high ceilings, they had quite a challenge ahead of them. Today, the first of the metal frames were being positioned and a few boards had gone up. This clearly was a big job which was going to take several weeks.


Life outside the barn

Meanwhile, outside the barn, Amir had finally finished the roof and was now capping the tall wall next to pool, while Toni was shifting rubble around with his JCB. He’d just finished digging the channels linking the house and barn with the septic tank, ready for the sewer pipes, and was clearing up. I interrupted him to discuss heating – something I’d forgotten.

Two capping tiles in place on tall Kovaci wall, IstriaThe property will be let May to October, and the bedrooms have air-co systems providing both hot and cold air. Hopefully, the place shouldn’t need much additional warmth but, with all today’s climatic chaos, I’d decided it was better to be safe than sorry and also install electric heaters downstairs and in the bathrooms.

With all the electricity now finished in the house and the walls plastered, I wondered if I’d left it too late. “These things always happen,” said Toni reassuringly. “Last minute changes are normal – where do you want them to go?” We quickly agreed where the extra electricity sockets were needed: Toni climbed back in his cab to continue his clear-up, and I left to go shopping for heaters. Another week in Kovaci was nearly over.


Next week activity resumes in the house and I have to choose colours.


Also see

Restoration diary:



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