Onward, onward, ever onward

Week twelve of our restoration project in Istria

It’s been the driest winter and spring anyone can remember. As April begins, cooler, cloudy weather arrives, but the drought runs on – bad for the garden (everything’s as dry as a bone), but great for building work. This week, Kovaci is inundated with workers, upstairs in the barn takes shape and I lose a battle over colours – but plead mitigating circumstances.



Channels everywhere at Kovaci, IstriaToni’s been digging, digging, digging. By Monday morning, we had channels everywhere. ‘Will there be an inch of garden untouched?’ I wondered, as I hopped into the channel running the length of the garden and followed it to the house.

I arrived to a hive of activity – the sheer number of vehicles parked outside was a good warning of what to expect. They’d filled all our parking space, spread along the road and into the Italian’s plot next door. Luckily for us (and its new role as a spill-over car park), workmen had also been busy next door: the old stone wall along the road had been removed, providing easy access, and the plot had been almost stripped bare of vegetation. I just hoped the Italians didn’t mind us borrowing their space, because I doubt anyone asked!

Toni & electrician at work in Kovaci, IstriaToday’s main action was at the barn. Outside, I found the electrician hard at work, while Toni was finishing off the channel by the front door (using a spade this time, not his JCB). Upstairs, Boban was working on the plasterboard walls and the airco guys were installing the wiring before the walls were sealed.

While sad to see the beautiful, open space being divided up, it was great seeing the upper floor taking shape. I’d never seen a plasterboard wall being erected before and was fascinated to watch the process. (It’s basically a cardboard sandwich with an insulation and cable filler, supported by a metal frame – just in case you too didn’t know.) Boban started work last week and, by today, had all the metal frames in place and most of one side of the sandwich.

Opened up, the small square bathroom window in Kovaci, IstriaAlso upstairs, the openings for small landing and bathroom windows were complete, with lintels installed. All that was missing were the windows themselves.

Compared to the barn, the house was deserted: just a lone Miro was there, working contentedly upstairs on skirting boards in the peace and quiet (Miro always seems at his happiest when working quietly on his own with wood!).

The one person I didn’t see was Amir. He’d always been on site whenever I’d visited before, so I was surprised he was Amir digging behind the house in Kovaci, Istriamissing. Looking out the back bedroom window, I finally spotted him in Fiore’s garden, digging a ditch at the back of the house.

Kovaci lies on a hillside and, although it is hard to see, our house is actually built on a slope, with its back wall dug slightly into the hill. While it backed directly onto next door’s land, as the wall belonged to our house, it was our responsibility. It had been untouched for years and was covered in ivy, so we’d agreed with Fiore that it would be cleaned, repaired and replastered. The first step was Amir digging down to expose the bottom of the wall, so a proper damp course could be installed.


The things you see!

Beekeepr mowing his lawn in Kovaci, IstriaAs parking was often difficult on site (Monday being just an extreme example), I’d taken to parking up the road near the cafe and shop. This was no hardship, as it was a lovely, short walk down the lane, past a garden with beehives and a view of the sea in the distance. On my Wednesday stroll, I was amused to see the bee-keeper mowing his lawn in a bee-keeping helmet – I guess he needed it!

Today, it was Toni who seemed to be missing. As soon as I arrived, Miro dragged me into the barn to discuss the bathroom downpipe – as you do. We stepped over a large channel now running the width of the barn and he immediately started talking to Toni. As Toni wasn’t there, I thought this rather odd. Odder still, Toni was talking back. All became clear when Toni’s face popped up at the back wall window: he was outside, next to the road, finishing the channel for the drainage outlet. 

Channel running across barn floor in Kovaci, IstriaThe bathroom downpipe runs down the corner of the living room and Miro proposed cladding it in rockwool to reduce noise, then encasing it in a tavele pillar. “Is that OK?” Toni asked, through the window. It sounded great to me – a practical and attractive solution!

Our discussion then moved on to radiator locations and Toni was suddenly standing next to me, on our side of the window! I’ve seen some odd things during the course of this project, but I was pretty sure he couldn’t have walked through the wall or materialised out of thin air … but how had he got here so fast? He simply hadn’t had time to have come all the way round the Italian’s place and along the length of our garden.

Boban on his ladder, putting up plasterboard, in Kovaci, Istria“I didn’t walk round, I just popped over the wall,” he said, pointing to the house next door with the monstrous red extension. He’d gone up their steps, hopped over our wall and climbed down over the old water tank at the back of our garden. It’s far shorter, but needed quite some agility. I know, I followed him back over later and it was a very long stretch for my little legs.

Radiator locations agreed, I went upstairs to see how Boban was getting on. Today, he was cutting holes in the plasterboard for electric sockets and installing the wiring. The way he walked around the room on his ladder, gripped between his legs, was amazing – I stood in awe. But what amazed me most was that he had a copy of my plan (with electric sockets marked) – and was following it!


The colour war

Leaving the barn, I moved over to the house to see if anything new was happening and got quite a shock. Up in the attic, I discovered the painter had arrived and started painting the bedroom – white.

Miro and Jori, the painter in Kovaci master bedroom, IstriaI hadn’t realised this was about to happen (which is the norm) and had been meaning to talk to Miro about colours, but hadn’t … I was thinking of painting the walls a pale yellow and the doors and frames a sea-blue. At this suggestion, both the painter and Miro looked most disapproving. “Yellow will look strange under tungsten light,” said Miro. “White is best.” I may be being cynical, but I suspected his suggestion was at least partially motivated by the fact they’d already bought the white paint and it’s cheaper than yellow.

We argued for a while. Then, after another good look around, I conceded he was, in fact, probably right – yet again. Especially on the ground floor, where there is limited natural light and a lot of dark wood, white was the obvious wall colour. It was also ideal for between the beams on the ceiling, as it would help bounce the light around, making the room look larger.

While I was prepared to concede defeat on the walls, I held out for something more colourful on the doors and stairs. Unfortunately, the painter didn’t have his colour swatch with him. So, we agreed to resume the discussion tomorrow and I left determined to win at least one colour battle.

It was a total whitewash (pun completely intended): Miro again won the argument.  My excuse was ill health. I woke up feeling dreadful, but needed to get to Kovaci – after all, important colour decisions needed to be made – so P drove me.  It was probably a mistake. My flu-befuddled brain was no match for Miro. He proposed painting the woodwork a dull brown, the closest colour to the existing colour on the stairs. His argument was, it was a neutral colour (the opposite to what I wanted) and wouldn’t clash with anything. It was also the simplest and quickest, of course.

Overview of site in Kovaci, Istria with channels and stuff everywhereDespite wanting to disagree, I again conceded he had a point. After all, this was a rental property and bright colours polarise people’s opinions – they either love or hate them (I love them, P hates them), so why risk putting off potential guests with an unnecessarily personal choice? Also, on a practical point, I didn’t know what colour fittings (bedspreads, curtains, pictures, etc.) I’d be able to find. With choice often limited here, I needed to keep my options as wide as possible – the last thing I wanted was a mess of clashing colours! Looking around, I also realised the house didn’t really need any colour enhancement. It was full of attractive features, in a wide variety of natural colours and modern, bright paint would be completely out of keeping with its ‘period’ charm.

Finally, and more importantly to me then, I simply couldn’t find a colour I liked and P refused to get involved. “I’m just the driver,” he said. “With four of you on this [Miro, Toni, the painter and me], another point of view is only going to confuse things further.” Feeling I might be making a mistake, but not sure how, I agreed to brown (a decision I just hope I don’t live to regret).

Colour chosen, I got back in the car, went home and barely got up for a week. Kovaci would have to cope without me.

Next week I’m back in action and hit tiling troubles.


Also see

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