Beams, barn and continuing sunshine

Week ten of our restoration project in Istria

A lot of activity around beams this week: Miro finishes one set in the house and Amir lays floorboards on another in the barn. In glorious sunshine, a window appears in the barn and work starts on its roof. I choose a door, finally get to look out of the hay-loft window and almost meet the Italians.


Beam work

Monday morning once again saw Kovaci a hive of activity. After picking my way through criss-crossing trenches, I was delighted to find work had started in the barn. All the rubbish was cleared and Amir was laying the floorboards on the beams to create the first floor. 

Miro and Toni cutting a strip to cover a gap in Kovaci, IstriaInside the house, Miro and Toni were also working on beams – the ground-floor ceiling beams. Because the house originally had suspended ceilings, the beams weren’t designed to be seen. Roughly cut in places and often warped, they didn’t all lie flush against the floorboards above, creating unsightly gaps. The practical solution was to replace the suspended ceiling, but that would have removed a lot of the property’s character. The expensive solution would be to replace them with straighter-cut beams. Instead, Miro had a cunning fix, boxing over the gaps with thin strips of wood. Watching him work, I had my doubts. “Honest,” he said, “when it’s finished, it’ll look great.”

Because we’d removed all the interior walls downstairs, the main support beam was now noticeably bowing. “It needs reinforcing,” Miro said, “and we also need to put in a couple of pillars. Is that OK?” If he’d asked me a few weeks ago, before we’d decided to renovate the barn as well, this would have been terrible news – one of the pillars would have gone right through the middle of the dining table! Now, as it’ll just be a kitchen-diner and have a different layout, the addition of two pillars was no problem.

Taking a break, he walked with me over to the barn. “We’ll also need another couple of pillars in here,” he said. “While these beams are in great condition, they’re only made of pine, so aren’t as strong as the oak ones in the house.” Visions of a large, heavy holiday-maker crashing through the ceiling flashed through my mind and I hastily agreed to whatever he needed. “Just please, leave enough room for a sofa in front of the TV,” I pleaded.


Elusive Italians

“The Italians will be here on Wednesday,” Miro said, as I was leaving. “If you want to see them, I’ve heard they’ll be here about 12:00.”

Amir stripping old tiles off the barn in Kovaci, IstriaKeen to discover their plans for next door, I was at the house by 11:30, but still managed to miss them. The Italians had been here at 11:00, but only stayed 5 minutes. I guess I’d see them another time. “We spoke to them,” said Toni.  He hadn’t asked their plans, but did say they intended to plaster their side of the tall wall and, good news for us, they gave us permission to put protective tiles on top so water would drain onto both our land. That pretty much rules out them building up against it, as last week’s rumour’s suggested … even if they were allowed to … which they aren’t!


Master bedroom door issues

On a project like this, it’s rare not to wake up with a panic thought at least once a week and this morning’s was: ‘Bedroom door!’ The top floor of the house will be the master bedroom and, when I last saw it, it had no door. Originally, there was one at the bottom of the stairs up: now Miro had moved the stairs, the door had disappeared. ‘I just hope there’s still room for one,’ I thought, running upstairs to check.

For once, my panic was easily resolved. Miro had a selection of old doors stacked in the small bedroom, “Will any of these do?” he asked. We selected a door and then discussed which way it should open – the things one needs to think about! We’d both forgotten the door and light switches were already installed on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. If the door opened the way you would expect, it would block the switches: if it opened the other way, you’d need to walk round the door to go upstairs. Neither was ideal, but it was an easy decision – so now you’ll have to make sure the lights are switched on before opening the door. This is a typical example of the type of compromises you end up with … and I know I’ll be a lot more tolerant of such oddities in other houses from now on!

Bathroom wall opened up to move plumbing in Kovaci, IstriaThere’d also been a problem with the master bedroom’s bathroom door. A few weeks ago, Vlado (the plumber) had installed all the piping. Chatting with him while he worked, I noticed he’d installed the sink pipes closer to the door than I’d planned, to give more head-height. “You won’t be able to open the door now!” I said. “You will,” he reassured me. For once, it seems, I was proved right. Miro had also spotted the problem and Vlado had been back in to move the pipes. It’s another compromise solution: unless you’re a shorty, like me, you might now need to bend to use the sink, but at least you’ll now be able to open the door into the bathroom!

Coming out of the house, I found the stonemason sat in the old water trough (without water!), chisel and hammer in hand, staring at a wall. He was poised to start opening a window in the barn. I wondered how long it would take him.

Stonemason sitting in water trough, looking at wall in Kovaci, IstriaWith the floorboards laid in the barn, Amir had shifted up onto the roof and was removing tiles. This time they weren’t being discarded into a tile mountain, but carefully stacked for later re-use. With its weathered, traditional terracotta tiles, the barn’s old roof had been an attractive feature, the look of which we wished to keep. So while modern tiles would be laid first to actually catch the rain, they would be capped by old tiles, creating the best of both worlds. It’ll look like an old roof, but will have the weather-proofing qualities of a modern roof.

It was a beautiful day, perfect roof stripping weather. In fact, re-roofing must have been contagious – Fiore had just finished re-roofing his house too!

The glorious sunshine made me think of outdoor life, but unfortunately I had no time to relax. So, instead of spending the afternoon in the garden, I spent it looking into garden furniture (I consoled myself that at least there was a garden theme). It comes to a frightening amount of money, when you need ten of everything!


Looking good

Pillars, supporting beams and singed woodwork in Kovaci, IstriaA lovely treat awaited me Friday morning: Toni and Miro had finally finished boxing-in the battered old beams. They’d added the reinforcement and support pillars, and singed everything with a blow-torch. Miro was right, it looked great! The pillars might be there by necessity, but they also made a lovely feature. As you can guess, I was very pleased with the result.

The carpenter had been and the downstairs toilet now had a door, while another was stacked in the attic for ensuite bathroom. As all the doors had to be made to measure, they were relatively expensive, so we asked for very plain ones … and they’ll definitely need a coat of paint.

Toni in hay loft window in Kovaci, IstriaLooking out of the landing window as I came downstairs, I checked on Amir’s progress over on the barn roof: he’d almost finished stripping off the old tiles.

As I walked out the house, Toni leaned out the upstairs’ barn window, calling me over. “Have you been up here yet?” he asked. I hadn’t and was dying to. As there hadn’t been a floor to stand on, my design had been based on estimates made quickly from a ladder and I was keen to see what it was really like. After climbing a wobbly ladder, I found a lovely open, airy space, with loads of head-height. The cross-beams were high enough to make an attractive feature, with no ducking involved, and the large hay-loft window was simply wonderful. The barn’s first floor wasn’t as good as I’d hoped … it was far, far better! Just a pity we had to break it up into rooms.

Upstairs in the barn with tile pil and window, in Kovaci, IstriaSitting in the middle of the floor was a pile of old tiles. “They’re very old and many are too fragile to use,” said Toni, passing me a crumbling tile, “so we won’t have enough for the whole roof.” We did though have enough to cover the side of the roof facing the house, which was all I was concerned about. As no-one would see it, the rest could be done with normal tiles.


A window appears!

Having watched the stonemason poised to start work on the barn’s first new window on Wednesday, I was disappointed on Friday to only see a gash in the wall. After two day’s work, I’d expected him to have got a lot further. It’s a slow process, it seems, excavating a window in an old stone wall … or maybe he’d been off elsewhere.

Barn with new window in Kovaci, IstriaNext morning though brought a big transformation – the hole was complete and the lintels already in place. There was still a lot of finishing to be done, but at first glance the window looked complete and it actually took me a second to register it was new. With its reclaimed, stone lintels, it looked as if it had always been there. Perfect!

Walking to the house, I popped my head into the šupa. It was progressing well: inside was plastered, electricity installed and flagstones grouted. It was just awaiting a few finishing touches – paint and tiles inside, and guttering outside.

Rehung old door to master bedroom in Kovaci, IstriaInside the house, I was delighted to see the old door Miro and I had chosen now hanging at the bottom of the stairs on the first floor, looking as if it had always been there, and the pipe-work for the airco boxed in.

All-in-all, it was a very satisfying week and, as it ended, I left Miro playing with skirting boards and Amir still working on the roof – surely he’ll finish it soon? Hopefully next week.


Also see

Restoration diary:



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