Monday, February 25, 2013

Sotto Le Stelle 06 - Stone Works

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy.

Since our visit last weekend the builder has been working hard implementing a number of the decisions...

Expanding the niche at the top of the stairs
Expanding the niche

The niche at the top of the entrance stairs is being expanded down to floor level to provide storage probably for coats. Every cc of storage space is vital is this apartment.

Dividing wall removal 1/2
Removing the dividing wall

The big decision was to remove the dividing wall between the two rooms. This is possible because it is not structural. The dismantling is being done carefully because we expect to recycle a number of the stones for blocking up a doorway and possible works on the roof. Already you can see how spectacular the vaulted ceiling will be. The dividing line will need to be sand-blasted to bring it up to the same colour as the rest.

Re-framing the well head niche
Re-framing the well head niche

The right hand edge of the well head was lower quality tufa - a soft porous rock - now replaced with better quality stone at Saverio's suggestion. We will retain the pulley wheel as a feature, possibly with a miniature bucket for a bit of whimsy. The well shaft itself will be blocked off; the cistern below is no longer in use and has been opened up as a garage underneath the building.

Terrace - Lighting wiring
Terrace - Lighting wiring

There will be lighting and a power socket or two round the edge of the roof terrace for the balmy Italian summer evenings on the roof.

Terrace - chimneys
Terrace - chimneys

The stainless steel exhaust chimney from the "fornello pronto" on the ground floor has been lowered and is being encased in stone. All the neighbours' chimneys will be aesthetically improved with a stone casing.

Terrace - roof access, boiler niche
Terrace - roof access, boiler niche

The central heating boiler will be housed in a newly-created external niche, mainly, it would appear, on safety grounds. That also has the advantage of not taking up internal space. We are not having a solar panel and hot water tank on the roof. It would appear that the design of modern boilers means that it doesn't make economic nor environmental sense.

Only four weeks till our next visit when we choose the kitchen fittings. I am expecting to see big changes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sotto Le Stelle 05 - Structural Decisions

A weekend for big decisions on Sotto le Stelle so the builder can crack on with the works.

One can have loads of alternative plans but there is nothing like being in the physical space to make the decisions firm. Saverio, the builder, needed to know where to put the wiring and plumbing so we had to decide the basic layout. The key decisions made were:
  • the heating will be underfloor
  • the kitchen area will be a linear range, not peninsular, not U-shaped
  • the kitchen units will be (left to right): fridge, dishwasher, sink, cooker, hob
  • the bathroom will be (clockwise), handbasin, shower head, shower entrance, loo
  • the stairwell ceiling lump under the sink will be boxed over not lowered
  • the washing machine will go at the top of the stairs to the roof
  • we will not have alternative washing machine plumbing laid in to the chimney niche
  • there will be no solar panel nor hot water tank on the roof
  • locations of power sockets and TV ariel socket decide
  • the door straight ahead at the top of the entrance stairs will be blocked off
  • and the big one - the dividing wall is to go, apart from a small stub by the kitchen range

Mary explains the plan to Chris and John

Our neighbours are part of the planning committee. We have consulted with our friends to gather as many ideas as possible.

Kitchen Wall (street to the left)

The niche on the left wall might be used for storage. Fridge at the left hand end then the dishwasher. The sink will be centred in the big niche, which used to be a door through to next door. The oven will be in front of the well opening, then the hob with extractor fan above.

Stairs from street, stairs to roof, bathroom

Most vertical walls will be re-plastered. After some discussion we took Saverio's advice and decided to leave the stonework of this wall exposed to make a feature of it. The bathroom arch will need to be partially narrowed to provide privacy for the loo just on the inside to the right and to accommodate the door which will open outwards.

The former loo and street-side Juliet balcony

The niche to the left is, in fact, a fireplace with chimney above. A previous owner had built a small cupboard to contain the WC and the tiniest handbasin ever. We toyed with fitting the washing machine there but decided storage space was more valuable and are putting the washing machine at the top of the roof stairs.

Doorway at the top of the entrance stairs

At the top of the street stairs there are two doors: one straight ahead into the long room (bedroom / living room), one to the left into the square room (kitchen / dining room). One option considered was cutting a step into the double height threshold as it is too high for a single step. It would lead straight into the bedroom area. We are keeping our options open on how to separate bedroom from living area. However space is very tight and so the best plan is to block the door up and gain some floor space round the bed. Access will be via the other rooms.

Living room end of the long room (valley to the right)

The sofa bed will go against the end wall. The dividing wall to the left will go - apart from a low wall that will form the end of the kitchen units and mark a boundary between the two halves of what will now be a large open plan space. The result will be a spectacular full view of the complete ceiling arch.

Bedroom end of the long room

The niche on the left was filled in and plastered over. The works revealed it and opened it up - space is at a premium and every cubic centimetre is to be recovered. The blocked up doorway straight in front will become clothes storage space. The far right doorway will be blocked up. The wall between the pillar and the nearer door will go.

Window in the valley wall

This provides some much needed natural light in the darkest corner of the room which will be the bedroom end of the long room.

Damaged corbel

I had spotted the damaged corbel which we guess was hacked off to allow tall wardrobes to be positioned against the wall. It clearly offended Saverio's sense of rightness and was already on his list to repair.


We were surprised to see so much scaffolding at the front when we arrived. Turned out the neighbour saw our works and commissioned Saverio to sand blast and re-surface his adjoining frontage at the same time - while the scaffolding and the equipment was all there.

None of these chimneys belong to us apart the the stubby one bottom right. Saverio, bless him, has persuaded the neighbours below and next door to re-vamp their stacks so that we will see stone rather than asbestos, concrete and stainless steel - a far more aesthetically pleasing outlook. Methinks there was possibly some quality negotiating done here involving scaffolding and chimneys.

It is good to have made some basic decisions after so much soul searching. Next month's visit will involve more deciding - probably mostly to do with kitchen units and appliances.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Peaches and Blue Third Anniversary

It was on Valentine's Day 2010 that we formally adopted Peaches and Blues from Cats Protection. How appropriate as we love them to bits.

First ever sight of Blue and Peaches

We went down to the Cats Protection National Cat Centre to look at a cute kitten and came away with two mature persians.

Blue relaxing in the Garden

They soon settled in and adopted a classic feline lifestyle with plenty of snoozing and general lying about.

Peaches relaxing in the laundry basket

We bought them warm, cozy baskets which they, of course, ignored and preferred to sleep anywhere else: on the back of the sofa, the piano stool, on our bed, on the stairs...

Peaches being a Health and Safety hazard on the stairs

Blue provides me with regular amusement just by being herself and by being extra cute.

Blue being cute in the bath

Both cats regularly sleep on the breakfast room chairs hence this, one of my favourite photos:

Peaches wondering where supper is

Mary's excellent photo and current wallpaper:

Jungle cat

A selection of the best photos:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cleaning the Wandle February 2013

Three months since the last community clean up but I had excuses: cataract op, South African visitor, visiting MIL in Scotland. At least I have broken my duck early for 2013 so let's see how many I can make this year.

A bit chilly but I had taken the precaution of wearing my walking long johns and extra thick socks. This month it was a revisit to the Kimber Road stretch - previous visits here include January 2012 and August 2009 plus, quite possibly, others I have missed.

Kimber Road bridge with post office trolley

Despite previous clean ups there was still plenty of junk to be hauled out of the river. As before in this stretch there was a reasonable haul of shopping trolleys.

Hauling a shopping trolley out of the river.

The river was flowing fast and deep in places and it was getting chillier and chillier. I not not unhappy when they called an early finish at 3:30. There were plenty of volunteers helping load the rubbish onto the lorry so I left them to it and went home for a soak in the bath to warm up.

A full set of photos on Flickr:

More about The Wandle Trust.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Sotto Le Stelle 04 - Sand blasting

The latest batch of photos from Pietro show all manner of progress. The stonework is being sandblasted inside and out and is coming up very sparkly white and new looking.

Sandblasted ceiling star

The plaster removal had revealed a blocked up alcove. Given as how storage space is at a premium it was a no-brainer to have that opened up again.

New alcove uncovered

A key long-term maintenance task was to have the roof repointed to prevent any further water ingress. There was some evidence in the stained ceiling plaster. This should sort that out.

Roof terrace repointed

I wasn't expecting to have the roof stonework sand blasted. The interior yes, the facades maybe but this wasn't on my list. It does all look very wonderful but after a few years I am sure the weather will tone it down a bit.

Roof access sand blasted

Less exciting but still as essential is getting the plumbing up to standard while the floors are up and the place is still a building site.

Plumbed upgraded

So much to see since our last visit when we bought the place. It was bare of furniture and still very much as seen. Next trip it will look very different. That is when we finalise the big decisions about where to put bathroom, kitchen and bedroom.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Cirque du Soleil - Kooza

Royal Albert Hall, London. Saturday 19-January-13

Our friend Ros was not able to use her tickets so we bought them off her and had an early birthday outing for Mary. Most of the reviews out there summed up our experience pretty much - spectacular acts, especially the Wheel of Death, great live band, too much clowns.

What was more interesting for me was which acts we found hard to watch. The trio of bendy Asian women appeared to have spines made of rubber and watching them made me feel distinctly queasy. Conversely Mary couldn't bear to watch anything with the risk of a fall - the high-wire act, the trapeze artiste and the Wheel of Death.

I thought the teeterboard act was impressive, especially doing multiple back-flips on a mono stilt, but the wheel of death was universally singled out, quite rightly, as the massively impressive act of the show. To quote The Telegraph review "You watch with your heart in your mouth because there isn’t a safety wire in sight and the act sets the whole house on a roar of delicious excitement and dread. At moments like this it is easy to forgive Cirque du Soleil its cheesier excesses."