Tiling troubles

Week thirteen of our restoration project in Istria

Unnoticed by me, unwell in bed, the rain finally arrives for Easter. Despite cold, miserable weather, work progresses in Kovaci: Miro has lots of questions, the barn gains windows, I continue to worry about paint …and then there’s the tiles.

Stacks of tavele tiles from roof lining waiting to go on the floor, Kovaci, IstriaI probably ought to have stayed in bed on Tuesday morning – I certainly still felt awful – but work was progressing at Kovaci and I hadn’t visited for five days. It would be just my luck if, in my absence, Miro decided to paint everything bright blue and concrete over the garden! Obviously, I knew that wouldn’t happen (would it?) and that they could cope without me but, with P’s assistance, I decided it was best to go check. I’m glad I did, because Miro had a whole load of questions.


Too many questions

We arrived to a sea of pipes – the drainage was going in and Miro was having a panic about rainwater. It’s a big issue in Kaštelir. The village is built on a hillside with insufficient drainage, so whenever it rains, torrents flood downhill, gouging ditches across gardens and flooding buildings. It seemed Fiore was deeply concerned about this and was insisting we double the drainage capacity from his land onto ours. “Was this OK?” asked Miro. I had no idea. I thought a single pipe would have been more than sufficient – this was the Med after all, not the Tropics – but decided there was no harm. It was also better to play safe: I’d feel a complete fool if one pipe didn’t turn out to be enough. And I thought, Fiore lives here, so he ought to know what conditions could be like: so double pipes it was.

Sali (tiler) & Miro discuss the work in-hand in Kovaci, IstriaAll this water talk had made Miro extremely nervous about flooding and he was anxious to show me his other drainage suggestions for the barn and šupa. I quickly approved everything. He’d obviously thought hard about the problem – it hadn’t even occurred to me!

Next, he wanted to know if we were happy with the pattern for the tavele tiling in the house. I’d told Miran I wanted them laid in a herring-bone pattern, but the message obviously hadn’t arrived. The tiler was laying them in parallel lines and, as the concrete had set, he couldn’t move them. Why then, I wondered, had Miro asked, as nothing could be done at this stage. But I wasn’t too worried – they looked great!

Then, Miro dragged us off to the barn to discuss kitchen and bathroom tiling … and I folded. My brain simply stopped working and I ended sitting on a stone, staring blankly, while P stepped in to the rescue. Looking worriedly at me, Miro quickly agreed decisions could wait and P took me home. As we left, Miro said he’d go find out what had happened with the tiles for the house, which he needed next week. Ordered weeks ago, they should have been long-since delivered, but of course were still missing (so much for a two-week delivery time).


Ready for action – sort of

Ladder within stairs in Kovaci, IstriaBy Thursday I was feeling somewhat better – almost a going concern. Miro had been in touch, saying he’d picked up the tiles so, as I was still not feeling safe to drive, P took me up to brief the tiler. When we got there, not only was the tiler missing, so were half the tiles! Apparently, they were still in Italy, but, Miro assured me, they’d be there on Saturday, along with the tiler. Greatly doubting that (they still had to go through Croatian Customs after all), I said, “I’ll be back.”

Finding half the tiles missing was a disappointment – why had I made the effort to go check them! – I was nevertheless glad to get back on-site: a lot had been happening. All the large pipes had been buried and the trench back-filled with sand, so moving around outside was now a lot easier. In the house, Jori, the painter, had been steadily working his way around and everything was looking very white. One more coat to go, then he was onto the doors, with their brown colour (I still have my doubts …).

Supa's wood door in Kovaci, IstriaBut the biggest change was in the barn. Having finished his woodwork in the house, Miro had started building the barn’s staircase – a major improvement over the wobbly ladder. The carpenter was back on-site, installing windows, while Boban soldiered on upstairs with the plasterboarding.

The carpenter had also fitted out the šupa and the solid, wood-look doors were amazing: they really looked just like wood, but without the hassle of painting – fantastic  :).

I might not have done what I’d gone to Kovaci to do – talk tiles – but visiting the site had given me a shot of energy. It was wonderful seeing things shaping up so well!


Furniture interlude

Next morning, most of the furniture turned up. This wasn’t a colossal mistake (I hope), it was meant to come: I’d taken advantage of some special offers and the latest they could deliver was today.

There obviously wasn’t anywhere to put it yet in Kovaci, so I had it delivered to us at home – but where to put it? As we didn’t have anyone in the Little House, we decided it could go there and ferried it down from the van by wheel-barrow – load after load of flat-pack boxes. When the house was ready, Miro agreed to take it up to Kovaci and we (P and I) would have a marathon assembly session.

Well, that was the plan anyway. Guests were due in the Little House in the second week of May (three weeks away), which was when Miro said the house should be ready, so the timing was going to be tight. Now we’d added the barn into the project, I wondered if this would still work out. I waved good-bye to the cheerful and helpful van driver, hoping I’d made the right decision and wouldn’t end up with homeless furniture!


Tiles, take two

On Saturday morning, I returned to Kovaci to finally discuss tiling. As I got ready, I realised I’d made a bit of a screw-up (understatement). While I had a copy of the order, Miro didn’t – so how did he know if he’d collected the right tiles, or if they were all there?

Ladders & mess, upstairs in Kovaci barn, IstriaPraying the tile shop hadn’t made a mistake, I took the order with me, to check things for myself. Stupidly, I also only had a vague recollection of what I’d ordered and the invoice didn’t help. With hindsight, I realised I should have made my own notes of which tiles I’d chosen and how many boxes of each that would be, but, as I never found out, I didn’t. (The initial order note had been a scribbled piece of paper by a sales guy who didn’t speak much English. His boss, who gave me the invoice a few days later, spoke no English and I’d left feeling I’d achieved something simply by concluding the transaction!)

Today I paid the price for not speaking Croatian or taking the time to try and unravel the details. I had hoped it would become clearer when I put tiles and invoice together. It didn’t. A quick visual check confirmed the tiles seemed to be the right ones – big relief. But had we got the right quantity? The tile boxes were stacked in the šupa. If I wanted to check properly, I’d need to unstack them all but, as they weighed a ton, I quickly decided that wasn’t an option. Instead, I took a deep breath and decided to have Sign builders are around - beer bottles in window at Kovaci, Istriafaith in my supplier. Crossing my fingers, I just hoped we could sort out any mistakes, if and when they appeared. Then, having given myself a good kicking for being so stupid, I swore I wouldn’t make a goof like that again (‘till the next time).

While I flapped around with paper and boxes, Miro looked on somewhat bemused. ‘What’s she worrying about?’ he seemed to be thinking. Hoping his faith was not misplaced, I went through the tiles with him, explaining where everything should go (as I’d suspected, the promised tiler still wasn’t around).


Meanwhile …

Almost finished stairs in Kovaci barn, IstriaFeeling dissatisfied, but wanting to forget about tiles for now, I went to see what else had been happening and was delighted to see Miro had finished the barn’s stairs … almost. The top step was still missing, but luckily I was paying attention, so didn’t put my foot through the gap! Upstairs, Boban was still plasterboarding, but promised to be finished next week.

Outside, the carpenter was putting up shutters on the house. Being plastic, I’d assumed they’d come pre-fabricated from a factory. Instead, like wooden shutters, they were made by hand and needed a lot of individual crafting on site.

Painted woodwork in Kovaci, IstriaInside the house, the tavele were now all laid in the ground-floor and looked magnificent. The painter had finished wall painting and moved onto the doors: the bright, reddish-brown colour gave me quite a shock, until I realised it was just the primer coat. ‘I just hope the top coat looks better,’ I mused, with fingers crossed yet again.


Yet more tiles

Having completed my look around, I couldn’t escape tiles forever. While the builders finished  for the week, I went back to the tile shop to buy tiles for the barn, praying for some inspiration. None came and nothing had changed (unsurprisingly), so after a quick double check, for the bathroom I simply repeated the same choice I’d made for the house .

But I couldn’t do that with the kitchen. The tiles I’d chosen for the house go against a white wall and are a very similar colour to the stone walls. When I put them against the stone of the barn, they almost blended in – but not enough to stop them clashing and looking odd. I needed a contrast and at last, inspiration arrived: the tiles jumped out at me in the shop. ‘These,’ I thought, ‘will look great!’ And they didn’t cost the earth either. ‘Am I  finally getting to grips with tiling?’ I wondered, as I bought what I fervently hoped was my last tile for a long time. I’d find out next week, when the tiles started going up.


Also see

Restoration diary:




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