More tile tales … and loads of chipping

Week fourteen & fifteen of our restoration project in Istria

In the last two weeks of April, I’m preoccupied with tiles – the lack of them – and Miro gives me a kitchen panic. The pace of work ebbs and flows; we get shutters, gutters and a new front door. Amir keeps working on the barn’s walls and the month closes with a tiling frenzy.


We’re missing tiles!

House with new shutters, Kovaci, IstriaTuesday starts well. It’s a lovely sunny day and I arrive to a house with shutters and they look great! My goal today is to talk to Miro about floor finishes, but it’s not to be. For the first time ever, neither he nor Toni are around. Only Sali, the tiler, is on-site and extremely relieved to see me, as he’s about to run out of tiles! Following last week’s tile-checking fiasco, this is just the news I’m dreading. 

Together, we go and check. But no matter how hard I look, we’re definitely short of tiles. Miro was supposed to have collected all the remaining tiles on Saturday, so where are they? Have I forgotten to buy them? Has Miro been given too few? After a panicked phone call, it turns out Miro knew they were missing. So why hadn’t he told his tiler and saved me a heart attack!? They Ground floor of Kovaci barn with plumbing pipes, Istriastill have to be delivered from Italy. (What a surprise!)

Things are just as quiet on Thursday. Still no Miro or Toni, and Sali too has disappeared. Today, only the painter is there, wielding a brush on the landing. It is all most frustrating: I can’t even get upstairs in the barn for a look around, as the stairs are blocked by a stepladder scaffold – someone’s working on the stairwell.

But I resolve not to fret, as clearly things have been happening. In the barn, the stairs are finished and Vlado has obviously been, as plumbing is now installed in the ground floor.


Activity again

Saturday morning and Kovaci is again a hive of activity, much to my relief. I arrive to find Toni fiddling with piping in the garden, the stonemason creating clouds of dust, and the carpenter putting shutters on the barn (which now has a new front door). The painter is still wandering around, brush in hand, and a new guy has turned up and started playing with the guttering. With so much going on, I don’t know where to look first!

Old tavele roof lining tiles, relaid as a floor in Kovaci, Istria‘At last’, I think, seeing Toni, ‘I can finally discuss floors,’ (my goal back on Monday morning) and drag him off around the house. My first concern is the house’s upstairs floorboards. I’d discussed them earlier with Miro in my broken Croatian. I want them finished like the beams, so you’ll see all the colours in the wood. I know they’ll be finished with ‘drvocid’, wood preservative, but what does that look like when it dries? “It’ll look great,” Toni reassures me. “First we’ll sand the floors, then the preservative will bring out the grain.”

Relieved, I move down to the ground floor. “What’ll the tavele look like?” I ask. “They’re untreated at the moment,” he says. “We’ll be finishing them with a couple of coats of varnish to waterproof them and bring out the texture.” For the sake of my sanity, I chose to believe him …

My next concern is the kitchen. The ground floor’s obviously nearly finished, so when will I be able to fit the kitchen? Knowing Miro, he’ll tell me on the day itself: I want to give the kitchen fitters at least a week’s warning so they can plan me in. At this point Miro arrives. Full of good humour, he jokes with the crew before breezing in to see me. “Everything should be finished in two weeks,” he says, “so long as those missing tiles turn up!”


Kitchen mix-up

“What’s the length of the tiling in the kitchen?” Early Monday afternoon, Toni calls with this strange question. As I think about it, I have a surge of excitement: have the tiles arrived? But no: Miro just needs to prepare the kitchen wall. Obviously this should have been done weeks ago when he was plastering but, because he isn’t organising the kitchen, it has somehow fallen off his radar.

Miro chipping off the plaster in Kovaci, IstriaPutting it bluntly, Miro’s not always good at playing with other children. Ask him to organise something and he’s great: he finds the specialist and dovetails their work into his schedule. Ask him to work with a supplier you’ve chosen and he’s not so accommodating. It’s one of his quirks. I knew this about him before we started, so tried to arrange as much as possible through Miro – keeping him happy, and reducing my hassle and heartache. But unfortunately this wasn’t working with the kitchen.

My initial plan was for Miro to build me a kitchen, but, as upper cupboards are required, a carpenter was needed and the cost was scary. Instead, I decided to have a kitchen supplied by Hiza, my preferred furniture shop. It’s a cheaper option and they can also arrange all the fixtures (cooker, sink, fridge etc.), which should have reduced my workload …

I’d explained all this to Miro weeks ago, when the decision was made. He’d arranged the necessary electrics, but somehow forgot the tiling. I hadn’t made an issue about it because I’d assumed Sali would prepare the surface when he started tiling. But my ignorance came back to bite me: a rough plaster surface is needed for the tiles and today Miro wants to know how big a band of painted plasterwork he needs to chip off.

Ground floor barn with concreted floor & support beams in Kovaci, IstriaIt’s one of the facts of life: when something starts going wrong, it just keeps on getting worse. We’d discussed the tiling last week and I’d given Miro a copy of the kitchen plan, so thought he knew where to put the tiles. Why, I now wonder, am I getting this call? Has he lost the plan? Fearing what can happen when builders are left to their own devices, I decide to get to Kovaci, fast. “I’ll be there in half an hour,” I say, grabbing another copy of the kitchen plan and heading out the door.

A closer look showed the problem isn’t with Miro, it’s with the plan. It simply isn’t clear from the given dimensions how long the kitchen bench will be. I can’t reach Teuta by phone to confirm things, so take a deep breath and guesstimate. “Make the tiles run to the window: it’s that length give or take,” I say. Better too short than too long and anyway, the window’s edge makes a natural break.

Amir cleaning the barn's door frame in Kovaci, Istria“How about in the barn?” asks Miro. I know it should be roughly 3 m, so have Miro run the tiles to a convenient point slightly beyond that. Crossing my fingers, I just hope I’ll be proved right. We’ll only find out when the kitchens are fitted (assuming the tiles ever turn up!).

Walking to the barn, we pass Amir. He’s started cleaning up the front wall, ready for re-pointing. After a quick inspection – I’m pleased to see the ground floor is now concreted and support prop beams have arrived – I leave a very tired looking Miro, chipping plaster from the kitchen wall and Amir chipping out old grouting.


Amir – all alone

Kovaci’s quiet when I arrive on Wednesday – where is everyone? Suppressing a quick urge to start panicking that I’ve been abandoned (always a danger with builders), I quickly look around and see things have clearly been happening. Both kitchen areas are plastered, ready for their tiles; Amir has finished cleaning up the front of the barn; and the guttering is up everywhere.

Outside, the final bits of piping have been installed and all the channels filled in.

In the house, the airco guys have been: the indoor units are installed and I’m very pleased with them. Set against the white walls, they’re totally unobtrusive: I almost don’t notice them – exactly what you want with airco in a period property.

Amir cleaning out the old grouting in Kovaci, IstriaUpstairs in the barn I finally find someone – Amir, cleaning old grouting from the stone walls. I don’t envy him, it looks a horrible job. The floor is littered with rubble, there’s dust everywhere … and he’s only just started!

Going into the other bedroom, I notice the tiny ventilation hole near the ceiling has been filled in. The stonework’s been matched so well, I only spot it because the grouting’s still wet. Once it’s dried you’ll never notice the repair. I say a silent thank-you to my builders for taking care with such details.

The site might look almost deserted and feel like barely-controlled chaos at time, but things are actually moving along nicely.


Tiling progress

Friday morning, I arrive to find Toni and Sali relaxing in the sun and only Amir working – the guy never seems to stop! He’s switched from cleaning the stonework inside the barn and started re-pointing outside.

Amir re-pointing in the sunshine in Kovaci, IstriaInside the house, I can see why Sali is taking a break. At last the missing tiles have arrived and he’s just finished tiling the kitchen. They look great! They’re nothing fancy, but go very well with the rustic look of the place. Initially, I’d wanted a mix of brightly coloured tiles in a random pattern, but P talked me out of it. “Are you going to stand over the tiler and tell him where to place each tile?” he asked. “If you don’t, you know you won’t be happy with the result.” I knew he was right, so I opted for a more neutral approach. They won’t form the bright feature I’d wanted, but the final result fits well and looks very classy.

Going upstairs, I find the family bathroom is largely finished – just the shower left to do – and work started in the ensuite bathroom. Sali clearly has earned his break!

With April behind us, surely so too are my tiling worries? Please? I’ll find out next week.


Also see

Restoration diary:



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