The Istrian furniture experience

Kovaci will be a holiday rental property. So as well as complete restoration, it also needs furnishing from top to bottom, and equipping with everything from light fittings and wardrobes to teaspoons and linen. In early February, while the builders continued working and P went to the UK, I started furniture shopping. Would I be able to find what I wanted within my tight budget?

 

Furnishing a rental house is very different to furnishing a home. Homes are usually furnished gradually, over time, with pieces added as and when you find the right one, or when they’re needed or can be afforded. Such a long-term approach is not possible when furnishing a rental property – you need everything, all at once.

2 chairs & a tableI had a very clear view of the type of furniture I was after – but whether I’d be able to get it was very much another matter. Kovaci is an old stone house and, while I wanted the furniture to look attractive and appropriate for a period property, it also needed to be rugged enough to withstand rental abuse and cheap enough to fit my budget. So no pressure then …

In the past, furniture choice in Istria has been very limited, designed mostly for modern, urban apartments with little suitable for old rural cottages. It’s been either cheap and tacky – I mean really tacky – or top-end and expensive (either designer Italian or dark and old-fashioned), with very little in the middle ground. But I was optimistic: I’d heard choice had improved over the last few years and was keen to see what was now available.

Internet shopping is far less developed in Croatia than in the EU and I wasn’t sure how I’d find navigating what little was available, so it was time to hit the shops. As much of it would need ordering and with delivery times of sometimes over a month, I also needed to get my skates on, or I’d be left with an empty house.

 

Let’s start at Rijeka’s Tower Centar

I’d been told the place to go for furniture was the Tower Centar, a large shopping centre on the outskirts of Rijeka which opened a couple of years ago. Having heard a lot of hype about it, I was keen to see what the fuss was about. Full of enthusiasm, I set off with Snježana for a girl’s day out.

White designer furniture in SemeraroUnfortunately, the Tower Centar is exactly what it’s billed as – a shopping centre. Not a bad size, I’ll grant you and definitely the largest I’ve seen in Istria. But more importantly, for my purposes, it only has one furniture shop (albeit a huge one) – Semeraro.

Italy’s upmarket answer to Ikea, Semeraro is full of wonderful, Italian designer furniture and stuff, with designer prices to match – whoever shops there has a much bigger budget than I! The Tower Centar had let me down.

 

What about Porec’s furniture boutiques?

Next day found me window-shopping much closer to home: I decided it was time to see what was on offer in Porec. Primarily a seaside resort, Porec has a permanent population of around 20,000, which swells to over ten times that in the summer. Thanks to tourism, it’s a relatively wealthy town and has various boutique furniture shops, full of lovely stuff. A quick walk round each showed me they were way, way outside my price league. (There are also a few ‘low-end’ shops, essentially the last vestiges of the old central shops of the communist era … but a quick look confirmed that, while their stuff was cheap, it was just too flimsy for a rental property.)

 

Maybe Pula’s chain stores can help?

It was time to lower my sights. On the outskirts of Pula is a string of DIY and furniture places: they should have something within my budget, surely?

Attractive bunk-bed in MimaFirst up was Pevec. Originally one of Croatia’s largest DIY shops, Pevec sells everything you need for a rental house – or used to. Recently, it has downscaled and is no longer the shopping emporium it used to be. It still had a selection of furniture, but nothing appealed – I really didn’t want a fuchsia sofa or ornately carved sideboard. What little I liked, was expensive: what I could afford, was flimsy and tasteless. Cross Pevec off the list.

Next up was Mima – part of a large chain. If I wasn’t starting to get desperate I probably wouldn’t have bothered visiting. I’d shopped there years before and been very unimpressed by their cheap, basic furniture. So I was delighted to see that things had dramatically improved – choice and quality had really gone up. But my joy rapidly dwindled when I saw that prices had soared too. My budget was looking woefully small.

 

Finally some success in JYSK …

Getting rather worried now, I called my friend Sally the next morning. “I’m getting a bit desperate,” I told her. “Everything’s so expensive or horribly tacky.”

Furniture on shelf at JYSK“Have you tried JYSK?” she asked (as well as also owning a rental business, Sally’s something of a shopaholic and always knows where to go for a bargain). “It opened about six months ago on the outskirts of Rovinj and it’s great.”

So off I went with Sally and one quick look was all I needed to know that she was right. Finally, Istria had a shop selling attractive, well-priced furniture! My excitement faded a little, however, on a closer inspection – while their stuff was generally good, their range wasn’t huge; some was also too flimsy for a rental house and some simply the wrong size. It was a good start, but the hunt wasn’t over yet. It was time to visit Hiža.

 

… and Hiža does the rest

Hiža is a small, family-owned business in Porec and I’d always known that at some point, my furniture hunt would end up there. Like most smaller, Croatian furniture places, it is primarily a catalogue shop and doesn’t carry much stock, which is why I hadn’t started there – if possible, I like to see and touch what I buy before I part with my cash. (I learned this the hard way: about six years ago, I bought expensive sofas from a catalogue – big mistake. While they looked great on the page, when we got them we found they just didn’t feel right. But it was too late and, to this day, they’re still in my living room and I sit on them every evening!)

Dealing with Teuta (Hiža’s owner) is a pleasure: she speaks fast, fluent English and well understands the requirements of rental properties – they’re one of the mainstays of her business. A morning spent going through her brochures and I’d filled in pretty much all the gaps in my furniture short-list.

Then I came to kitchens. Because of the unevenness of the walls (and because I thought it would save money), I was planning to have Miro build me a kitchen. However, I would still needed cupboard doors and upper cabinets, and was awaiting a price from his carpenter. As Hiža also sells kitchens and I was already there, I asked Teuta for a quote for the cabinets and doors, as a benchmark to judge the carpenter’s costs? When, that evening, I saw the price for Miro’s carpenter to build me a kitchen, I went straight back to Hiža the following morning, for the price of a fully fitted kitchen! I just hoped we could work around the uneven walls … (we did).

 

We have a solution

I told myself that, after my trip to Hiža, I should to continue to look, ‘just in case’ – but my heart wasn’t really in it. I’d found what I needed and everywhere else had pretty much the same stuff. The furniture options from JYSK and Hiža fitted together very well –  JYSK had great living room stuff, Hiža fantastic bedroom pieces and, best of all, it all fitted within my budget (just!)

While I was relieved to find what I needed at a price I could afford, I still felt a slight sense of disappointment with my Istrian furniture hunt, mainly to do with the small range to choose from. Having heard things had improved and knowing what’s available on-line in the rest of Europe, I’d hoped for a bigger choice of affordable furniture. Undoubtedly, quality has gone up, but of course so too have the prices – and there’s still woefully little in the mid-range. The kind of options available in the UK and the rest of the EU just aren’t there in Istria.

But more realistically, I had to remember that Istria is a quiet, rural backwater. Limited options meant making up my mind was very easy and, despite such limitations, I did find pieces I liked. And, in the end, within a week, I had managed to furnish Kovaci on my tight budget.

 

Feedback:

Thanks to Conor and Julie for their feedback. Conor recommends Valtrazza in Tar which has hardwood furniture from India. Julie recommends MD2000 in Rovinj: they also have a shop in Porec. Neither have a website.

 

Websites:

  • JYSK – www.jysk.hr.
  • Semeraro – www.Semeraro.it (it’s the Italian site, but it covers the same range and gives you a price idea, although prices are higher in kuna )
  • Mima – www. namjestaj-mima.hr
  • Pevec www.pevec.hr

 

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