Let there be lights! And paving! But no kitchen …

Week twenty of our restoration project in Istria

We’re oh so nearly there. The house is finished and this week, the barn receives its finishing touches and the remaining furniture is due. With Miro racing through the paving outside, I feel confident we’ll have everything ready for the season – until the phone goes …


Honorary builder for a day

Today’s the day the lights go up and I have to be on site to brief the electricians. So of course, it’s also the day when P has to go to Zagreb. As we’ve only one car, this… “Won’t be a problem,” says Toni. “I’ll pick you up and you can spend the day with us.” 

Taking a break - Miro's dog, Siska & her cardboard kennel in Kovaci, IstriaSo, just after P drove off to his business meeting in the big city, I climb into Toni’s truck and we head off to Kovaci. Knowing I’ll have time on my hands, I’ve decided to get on with some cleaning and none too soon. The sofas arrived last Friday and the kitchens are due tomorrow, along with most of the bedroom furniture later this week. Luckily (I’d like to say it was good planning, but luck has played a large part in it), most of the interior work will be finished before it all arrives, but it’s going to be tight.

Arriving, I find I’m not the only visitor on site: Siska, Miro’s feisty little dog, is also here. She’s normally at home, but with everyone in the family out, she too is an honorary builder for the day (and is ruling the roost).

Miro and his magnificent downpipe pillar in Kovaci, IstriaBefore the electricians arrive, I run round putting the different light fittings beneath where they’ll go. The house looks the same as ever, but there’s been real progress in the barn. The side of the stairs and door have now been ‘aged’, and look fantastic: I now really wish I’d done all the doors like this, rather than painting them, but it’s too late. The bathroom’s also finished and Miro’s hidden the downpipe (wrapped in insulation to muffle noise!) in a pillar. It might be practical, but built from tavele and pieces of paving, it also looks magnificent and is a wonderful feature in the room. I’m thrilled with it!

The paving starts today. So while I brief the electricians, and start sweeping and washing bedroom floors, Miro and Amir start the mammoth laying process outside.  

At 10:30 am, as an honorary builder, I’m invited to marenda with Miro and the rest of his crew. We go to what looks like a works canteen, built into a workshop on a nearby industrial estate. It’s a little early for me for lunch, so have the smallest thing I can find – delicious bean soup, while Miro and Toni polish off huge platefuls. Even though they talk non-stop they still manage to finish everything before me. (My lunch was a bit of a contrast to P’s, who later that day has octopus carpaccio, followed by sole in lemon sauce and blackcurrant sorbet, in a top-end restaurant in Zagreb’s stylish old quarter!)

Coming back from marenda, I notice the bars for the hay-loft window have arrived. Like the bars for the master bedroom, they’ll cover the whole window – not at all what I had in mind! I just wanted a simple bar at 80 cm (a legal requirement for renting to tourists). While I accepted the fait-accompli in the house, I’ve time to rectify this set and have a long debate with Miro about how and where to cut. It’s such a lovely piece of ironwork, it feels a crime to chop it up, but it really is too big.


Furniture hold-up

Back at my cleaning (back breaking and arms aching by now), Teuta from Hiža calls – and it’s unexpected bad news. With the kitchens due in tomorrow, I’d been expecting her to phone to set up times. Instead, she’s calling to say everything has been delayed due to a PDV (VAT) screw up! Not what I was expecting.

Miro & Amir paving in Kovaci, IstriaWhile she’s been running Hiža for many years, Teuta has only just taken over ownership of the company from her father, who has now ‘officially’ retired. It appears her accountant messed up the transfer papers and Hiža hasn’t been re-entered in the PDV  system. The first she knew about this was last week, when business customers tried claiming back PDV due to them. The long and short of it is, the Tax Office has frozen her inventory and called an audit. Both our kitchens and a lot of our furniture are now being held. She hopes it’ll all be sorted this week, so the delay will be minimal. I hope she’s right – but I have my doubts: this is the Tax Office we’re talking about. I suspect the delay might be weeks (I just pray I’m proved wrong).

It’s always the unexpected which blind-sides you. In a project like this, I knew we might get some delays and I’ve worked hard with Miro to limit them. Knowing furniture takes ages to be delivered, I’d ordered everything in good time from a supplier I’ve used many times, so I never foresaw this happening! (Blind-sided is right! My focus is on the financial aspects and I had carefully budgeted this project before we started, complete with contingencies for overruns. But as well as impounding furniture, the Tax Office also froze our entire first quarter PDV claim – not just the part covering Hiža’s bills – which means the project is now short thousands of Euros. Suddenly, I have to address – urgently – a serious cash-flow problem! This type of thing is what makes running a business in Croatia such fun … – P.)

Putting up the chandelier in Kovaci, IstriaVery concerned with the latest development, I resume my cleaning – there’s little else I can do. By the end of the day, I’ve taken off bucket-loads of grime, but have very little improvement to show for it. The floors still look very drab; I’m totally knackered and rather despondent about the furniture hold-up. On the up-side, the lights are all up and look magnificent, especially the chandelier!


Snag list time

Next morning, feeling more positive, I’m determined not to let a minor delay knock me back. With the house ‘finished’, I decide it’s time to generate a snag list – all those little things the builders’ have missed or need to redo. I’m hopeless at this. Having worked so closely with them on the project and wanting everything to be perfect, I simply don’t see what needs to be fixed. P’s got a much more critical eye, so I draft him in and we go round together. Reassuringly, when we go over everything with Toni, we find most of our list is already on his!

Outside, Miro and Amir work steadily on the paving. They’ve now finished the terrace between the houses, along with an attractive step into the barn, and are well into the grouting.


Shiny floors

I’ve been musing about the drabness of the wood floors. Miro said they’d be fine with a clean, but after Monday’s efforts, I’m unconvinced. “What do you think?” I ask Toni, Wednesday morning. “How about some varnish, it’ll add protection as well as shine?” he suggests.

Toni varnishing a test corner in Kovaci, IstriaWhile I’m still thinking about this, he grabs a pot and tries it out in a corner. The improvement’s dramatic: the varnish brings out the texture of the wood beautifully. But will it look as good when it’s dried? I’ll check tomorrow and if it looks even half as good as it does now, he can finish the whole floor … and I’ll probably have to anyway as, by now, Toni’s enthusiastically varnished patches all over the place, to show me the effect.

As I leave, for a trip into Porec for some shopping (mirrors and bedspreads), I pass Miro and Amir: their paving now stretches half way down the path.

Amir & Miro paving with T-shirts on their heads in Kovaci, IstriaThursday: the varnished floor still looks magnificent and Miro’s paving has reached the pool terrace. I give Toni the go-ahead to varnish all the floors and stairs. He’s also been busy staining floorboards upstairs in the barn and I’m dying to see what it looks like … but can’t. “It’s still wet,” he says. “You can see it when it’s dried.” I guess I’ll need patience – not something I’m known for!

That night it rained! We’ve had so little rain this year, it was a rather momentous occurrence. It also means Kovaci is deserted when I visit the following morning – you can’t grout paving in the rain and, with the weather unstable, Toni tells me they’ve finished for the week. Amazing as it sounds, this is only the second rain delay we’ve had in a project which started back in early January!

With no-one on site, it also means the barn’s locked – I’ll just have to wait to next week to see that newly stained floor.


Also see

Restoration diary:


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