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Bricks and Mortar - a year on

Bricks and Mortar - a year on

This morning, we woke up to see that Facebook had reminded us that it was a year ago when we bought our little corner of Andalucia. We’re not sure whether that seems like an age ago, or only yesterday, and so much has happened in the interim period.

We had, rather optimistically, hoped to be spending this Christmas in our new home, but we write this latest post sitting in our rented house, in front of the log-burner trying to keep warm and dreaming of the day when we can finally move into our own property. March is the date we now have in mind, and as we have started to invite villagers to the house-warming, we have an additional incentive to crack the whip.

We had a visit from friends today; friends who came to see the house shortly after we had bought it, and before we had started the work. It was very interesting, therefore, to gauge their reaction as they tried to remember what had been in situ originally and how much had changed. For us, we are now getting used to the configuration of rooms, and can visualise far more clearly how the various spaces will be used. All the interior walls are now, more or less, complete. The roofing tiles are stacked ready to be fitted, and the electrician and plumber have been on site to get an idea of where cabling and piping will need to go. We have been told, by the architects, that from this week we will see rapid change. That, of course, will be curtailed slightly by Christmas, but when could Christmas possibly dampen enthusiasm for anything?

We have ordered the kitchen, we are choosing the details for rooms and are off tomorrow to look at old timber beams to install in the main living room. The floor ties have been chosen - traditional terracotta tiling for the old part of the house, and huge porcelain tiles that resemble polished concrete for the new areas.  We will also be finalising our selection of the industrial-style black aluminium doors for the kitchen and studio. Our carpenter has been given the go-ahead, so the windows and interior doors will shortly be created.

There are, still, some hurdles….sewage pipes that arrived on site some months ago remain in the garden as a reminder that the studio is far from complete. In fact, apart from the recently concreted roof, the poor little studio has been a little overlooked, and we are very much looking forward to its taking centre stage before long.

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It has been an interesting week or so, as we have had some rather lovely weather and, as a way of bonding with the site, Andrew has started to attack the rubbish that has accumulated in the garden. Old roof beams were stacked along one wall, branches from trees were piled high, and we have a mountain of excavated rock waiting to be used. So, armed with saws and secateurs, much of the garden rubbish has been cleared to open up the space so we can see what we have to deal with. As a result, we can start to visualise where we might reinstate trees, create a fruit and vegetable garden and level areas for outside seating and dining.

Our weekly site meetings with the architects and builders are animated affairs during which we achieve a great deal - discussions on wall finishes, location of wash basins, lighting, how to juxtapose existing old features with unashamedly new arrivals.

And in that period between being handed the keys to our new purchase (December 2017) and handing over our antique front door to the carpenter for some TLC (last week) we have, in no particular order, had the Christmas of 2017/18, moved from one village to our new, much-loved village, got married, launched a new business, taken Flamenco lessons, visited many new parts of Andalucia, formed new friendships, worked on various work-related projects and really put down roots. From a distance we have seen the frustrating ongoing wrangling associated with Brexit, been visited by friends and family, faced challenges and, alongside so many high points, dealt with one or two low points.

As I was driving home from one of my teaching jobs the other evening, I had the opportunity to think a little about the ‘low points’ and when I put them in perspective it dawned on me just how happy I am to be living here. We both agree that it must be almost impossible to live a life without challenges, but how much these challenges are offset by life-enhancing experiences determines how satisfied you are with life. Andrew returned from his morning run the other day, as the early morning chill was being overtaken by the winter warmth of the growing day, and came into the house declaring how much he loved this place - the village, the surrounding countryside, Granada province as a whole and life here in general. It is so often the simple things that make life so pleasurable, and there is no doubt that, here, it is easy to remind yourself that joy comes from simple things.

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Anyway, enough of such introspection!

Our tips for a happy build!

1.  Employ an architect/architects who is/are in tune with your own expectations. It is a partnership, and you will spend a lot of time working together, so it is important that the architects understand what you want to achieve. Be prepared to make compromises and it does make sense to have your architects manage the project and budgets as well. We would not have had a non-Spanish architect either, and it has been a hugely rewarding collaborative process.

2. Despite having an architect/project manager, don’t be afraid of going out and sourcing your own suppliers. We have always been determined to use local contractors where we can, and the architects typically like to work with contractors with whom they have worked before. Chatting to our local friends, we have found a great carpenter whose quality of work is extremely high for a very competitive price. The fact that he and his father have been carpenters for the nearby Duke of Wellington’s estate for the past 40 years had very little influence on our decision-making process!

3.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that IKEA is the least expensive option for kitchens and lighting; it’s not. We have probably saved the best part of 5,000 Euros going to a local kitchen company to have a kitchen designed and installed.

4. Bespoke, up-cycled and trendy furniture can be expensive, wherever you live, and in Granada there are one or two lovely warehouse suppliers of the most glorious stuff from doors, tables and old windows through to ancient marble columns. It can also be tempting to buy up Moroccan bits and bobs, as the Moorish influence plays a large part in house design hereabouts, but think about looking further afield for inspiration and supply - India, for example, or Morocco itself - as both can be much cheaper, even after shipping costs.

5. Work with the Spanish, and find local craftspeople. Despite the slight occasional hiccup, we cannot find fault with their work ethic, the quality of the work, their commitment and their honesty. Each contractor seems genuinely enthusiastic to be working on the project, and will contribute to our discussions.

6. Be around! Obviously, for many people who may decide to buy a second home here in Spain, it is not always possible to be here every day of the build, but I am not sure we could have coped with being absent. We visit the site every day, and every day there are changes. For us, it has been essential to be here so we can make decisions as and when required and not be in a position where these decisions have had to be made in our absence. It has also been vital for us to feel ownership of the project. It is our home and as such we want to make sure we get everything we want and how we want it.

Has it been stressful so far? There have been one or two moments, but not as many as there could have been. We have now got to that stage where we are excited by every change as we can see all the details starting to appear. As these little layers are added, the character of the house is emerging, like a new and burgeoning relationship.

Just another of our dreams being realised and it is fascinating looking back at that little video on Facebook from a year ago as we recorded our new acquisition and comparing that to what we have achieved since then.

VIdeo of the house before renovation work started
Casa Moclin during renovation December 2018
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