Villa Renovation: Part 2

Villa Renovation: Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of our villa renovation. I hope I left part one on a satisfactory cliff hanger? If you haven’t read part one of our villa renovation then take a look. There was too much to cover is a single post, so I thought I’d break it down into a couple of chunks to make it easier. This post is all about smashing stuff up, showering outside and rat infested trucks. Let’s begin.

Villa renovation = mess…

After a couple of months of renovating, the villa was looking a complete mess. Outside the front door there were piles of rubble, smashed tiles and a huge antique fridge. I use the term ‘antique’ loosely. It was big and ugly and noisy; we couldn’t hear ourselves think. Actually, I just made that up. The real problem was that Mr SN couldn’t hear the tv.

Talking of the fridge, our builder took a shine to it and said it would be perfect for his father. It was one less problem for us to deal with, plus we love a good re-homing story. One wintery day, we loaded the appliance into the back of his truck and waved it off. We watched it bump down the track, catching a last glimpse before it disappeared around the corner.

Life continued as normal (minus the loud humming noise in the background) and after a busy day of demolishing things, we settled down in the evening to watch the ‘Great Greek Bake-Off’ – which is exactly the same as the British version, except we can’t understand what they are saying.

Anyway, a couple of days later we received the good news that our fridge had safely arrived in Albania. What! Albania? Yes, Albania. Our fridge had taken a coach, a ferry, and lastly a bus until it arrived at it’s final destination in Albania. The distance diminishes the green credentials of this story, but we do have the satisfaction that our fridge went to a good home. Whenever we see our builder, we affectionately enquire after it. The conversation goes a little like this: “How’s your wife, how are the children, how’s the fridge doing?”

Living in chaos…

With all the building work going on, we were constantly moving things from one room to another. Everything was covered in a layer of fine building dust, no matter how many times we seemed to clean it, and we couldn’t find anything. Dora-dog was struggling; she couldn’t even find her ball. Things had gotten bad.

I remember one afternoon very close to Christmas. Our kitchen and lounge looked just like the photo below (could be confused for a jumble sale) and to even get to the front door you had to wade through mounds of mess. We had spent the whole morning working, and had just cleared a tiny space to cook some eggs and make some toast. Is was chilly, so we sat there huddled in our muddy work clothes complete with wooly hats as we devoured our lunch and sipped our tea. Just at that moment, our lovely Greek neighbours called by to give us some yummy Christmas goodies.

They had never seen our house before. Why do people always arrive when the house looks like a tip? Why does no-one arrive when I’ve cleaned and tidied everywhere? We hurriedly apologised for the tremendous mess, gratefully received their lovely Christmas presents and warned them not to trip over the old toilet on the way out.

Living in chaos! Mr Sidestepping-Normal’s face says it all!

That time we ripped out the bathroom when our friend came to stay…

You know you’ve got a true friend when you land it on them during their stay, that the one and only bathroom will be completely ripped out. Moreover, they will have to shower in the garden and find a quiet corner of an olive grove when nature calls. It would have been easy to sell it in August, but it wasn’t August, it was January.

Showering outside!

Our friend was helping us with our villa renovation, when we informed him we were considering the complete removal of the bathroom. He has a truly adventurous and kind spirit, and as we expected, he agreed. I don’t think there is anyone else we would have considered trying this on!
We lured him here, made him as comfortable as we could (considering the construction mess everywhere) and within a few days, we demolished the bathroom!

“We lured him here, made him as comfortable as we could (considering the construction mess everywhere) and within a few days, we demolished the bathroom!”

When there was running hot water (from the solar panels on the roof) we stretched the shower out of the window and stood outside. When there wasn’t running hot water, we warmed the water on the log burner, transferred it into jugs, and had primitive showers – again, outside. I’ll explain why we don’t always have running hot water in a minute.

We don’t have much passing traffic, one car every few hours is about normal, but our neighbour always seemed to pass by at showering time. Just at that precise moment, as you’re stood there in your bikini, washing the shampoo out of your hair, whilst your husband holds the shower out of the window…that’s the moment they drive past. We always gave a cheery wave, and called out “kalispera” (good evening) because that’s the kind of neighbours we are. Hopefully they know we are good weird.

Removing the old truck…

When we bought the villa, it came with a free truck. We couldn’t believe it! However, our excitement was short lived. It was comparative to pulling a Christmas cracker. There’s a fleeting second of excitement before you realise that you have no use for another miniature pair of nail clippers. It was the same feeling when we acquired the truck. At first we planned on trying to get it up and running, but years of sitting there, not being used, had taken it’s toll. The brakes had seized, the engine had housed a family of rats (no longer in residence) and we didn’t have a key to attempt to start it.

We threw around a few ideas. Mr SN thought we should fill it with plants to create an unusual horticultural talking point. I envisaged it having a bed in the back and a canopy over the top. It could have been the perfect camping spot for friends when they came over to visit. In the end we opted for a nice man with a big truck to take it away. Problem sorted.

Transforming the faux wood wardrobes…

The wardrobes in both bedrooms were shiny-orange-fake-wood-effect, but they are SO practical. There’s so much space to store everything, so we decided to give them a bit of a face lift. We sanded down all of the surfaces and painted them up. I can’t wait to show you the results. We also added shelving in the alcoves next to the wardrobes for extra storage.

Adding a ramp for easy access into the workshop…

Mr SN wanted a ramp into his workshop so that he can store his little motorbike inside. We had gotten pretty good at demolishing things, it was about time we started to build things. We stowed away the sledge hammer and took a day off from smashing stuff up.

First we dug down to create foundations, and then we drilled reinforcing bars into the existing concrete to tie the old concrete and the new concrete together. If you don’t do this, then the concrete will never join properly, and you’ll end up with the new piece cracking away and dropping to a different level. Next, we cut a piece of reinforcing metal sheet (see metal grid in photo above) to fit the space. Having laid a layer of rubble (we had plenty of that) we then put the metal grid on top. Next came the concrete, which we mixed up in the cement mixer.


After a few loads of concrete, we tamped (building terminology…are you impressed?) the mixture into all of the creases and crevices…that bit doesn’t sound very builder-y. Do builders say creases and crevices? Anyway…Mr SN tenderly smoothed the surface and we stood back to admire the result. As we proudly inspected our handy work, suddenly, a torrent of water cascaded off the roof. In disbelief, we watched as our ramp slowly but steadily washed away.

The source of the water led us to our builder standing on the roof, holding a hose pipe. We frantically jumped up and down and shouted whilst mimicking the action of turning the tap off; He grinned back at us and gave us the thumbs up. “Te roof eees good, no? I think it no leaks.” It was true, the new roof was holding up well. We had no leaks, but we also had no ramp. I’ll leave out the details, but I’m sure you can imagine what happened next.* Then we repeated the above process again.

*Side note: Just to clarify that because we are English, we reacted as expected; we politely smiled and apologised. It’s the fail-safe reaction to all scenarios, regardless of whose fault it may be.

Notice the surrounding mess…

What do you think?

It’s at a slightly steeper angle than planned; Mr SN comes shooting down the ramp on his little motorbike! On the way in, he careers towards it, gets marooned half way up, and then uses some skilled manoeuvring combined with lots of revving to negotiate the ascent. It’s very technical. We love our homemade ramp because it’s got character and we made it with our own fair hands…twice.

Turning the former driveway into a vegetable patch…

Once the old truck had been removed, thus freeing up a parking space for a vehicle, we decided that the old driveway should be turned into a vegetable patch. I have longed for a space to grow vegetables for years; finally I could till the earth and cultivate the land.

It took hours of work to remove the stones, level the area, lay the pathways and dig over the beds. Next we eagerly sowed seeds of many varieties and patiently waited. We lovingly put them out into the sun during the day, and took them in every evening to keep warm next to the log burner. I became obsessed with checking for signs of seedlings. Every morning, before I even put the kettle on, I would crouch down on all fours to inspect the seed trays. My face as close as possible, I’d scrutinise the compost looking for signs of seedlings. Any signs. Not much was happening.

“I became obsessed with checking for signs of seedlings. Every morning, before I even put the kettle on, I would crouch down on all fours to inspect the seed trays.”

The unidentified seed that I’d bought from the little shop in town was doing very well. The only problem was that I couldn’t remember what it was called, and I didn’t recognise it. The whole process was causing me a lot of anxiety and Mr SN was complaining that he NEVER wanted me to sow seeds again. I thought gardening was supposed to be relaxing?

After a few weeks, I had several empty seed trays, a few straggly seedlings and a healthy tray of plants that I couldn’t identify. It may seem obvious to you, but the cause of the problem was that it was January, who sows bloody seeds in January?

January here feels spring-like, but it’s still far too early to sow summer vegetable seeds. After inquiring up at the kafenion in the village, I was informed that after April 15th is the date to start sowing seeds. So, I waited a while.

Back to the villa renovation…

It’s difficult to mention everything included in our villa renovation because there were so many jobs. We removed a concrete patio, tore down a concrete bbq, installed gates, put in an exterior staircase, swapped doors and windows around, planted a garden, modernised the kitchen, painted old furniture, etc, etc, etc.

Installing log burners…

We don’t have central heating, and contrary to what people think, the sun doesn’t always shine in Greece. The villa already had an existing log-burner, but a substantial amount of the heat was lost up the chimney, plus it was located at one end of the room. In order to evenly distribute the heat and maximise the output, we relocated it within the room.

Additionally, we installed another log-burner in our bedroom. We don’t use the bedroom log-burner very often but when the temperature plummets* then needs must. It’s very cosy in the winter and on the odd day when it’s tipping it down with rain and we need a duvet day, we put the bedroom log-burner on.

*Side note: Temperature plummet = 14c degrees and below…don’t laugh. It feels very cold.

Utilising the log-burners…

We have become very efficient at utilising the heat from the log burner to cook the majority of our food. Also, we always have a kettle on the top heating water, which we use for cups of tea and such like. Towards the end of the evening, we fill up two thermos flasks with boiling water, and this is used the following morning for washing the dishes. When we don’t have running solar-powered hot water, then we try to refrain from unnecessarily putting the emersion heater on, especially when we have so much hot water being produced via the log-burner. We often shower using jugs of hot water heated from the fire, which we know probably sounds crazy! It’s strangely rewarding to create a fire and use it to cook, wash the dishes and wash ourselves. We are living in the 21st century with a dash of prehistoric practice.

So, that’s about it for part 2 of our villa renovation. The next instalment will be the finished results. It’s taken hours of work, lots of sandpaper and copious cups of tea. This is what we’ve learnt in a nutshell: 1) Take your time to make decisions, otherwise you make mistakes. 2) Making mistakes is part of the process and it’s the only way to learn. 3) Don’t buy seeds without finding out what they are called. Stay tuned for villa renovation part 3!

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2 thoughts on “Villa Renovation: Part 2

  1. Hi, I should first explain that you don’t know me! But I know Karen your mum, from knit & natter and am on chatting terms with your dad.
    Karen gave me your web address a few weeks ago, she’s super proud of you.
    I hope you don’t mind, but I love reading about your life in Crete and really admire your drive and determination, you seem like a great couple prepared to have a go at anything. Good luck with the future.

    1. Hello! Thank you so much for your lovely message – I just read it out-loud to Mr SN and it made us both smile. I’m so glad you enjoy reading about our adventures here in Crete, there will be plenty more to write about because we have just started the renovation of our stone cottage. All the best, Mrs Sidestepping-normal x

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