Working in the house and floating spiders

Have you ever met anyone who bought an old house to renovate? The thing all these people have in common is that they all tell you ‘Never buy an old house to renovate, ever!’. At the time I didn’t follow their advice, I thought I was tougher than them, I’d never get lost in arguments about light switch or doorknobs, I had pictured exactly in my mind how my house had to be.

Cà Rossa, at the time we bought the property

Cà Rossa, at the time we bought the property

Well I’ll tell you one thing: never buy an old house to renovate, ever!

It is a kind of nightmare, you spend loads of time for every single stupid thing in that house that needs to be done. Do you really think there’s only two or three items in electric switches’ world?! Do you have any clue on how many doorknobs you can have on a single door model?! Did you consider matching them with the shower handle too?! And after you kind of learn by heart every single item they have available, are you aware they have just changed their catalogue/availability (or worse: prices) just yesterday?

The little hamster who is in charge of running the principal wheel of my head’s engine is exhausted. I know sometimes it feels like stop running, put its little paws in its head and scream like Munch’s painting.

There has been one moment I though all the works we were doing in the house had actually made the house itself worse than before. A kind of Ground Zero, a tabula rasa. After that moment though things started to change or at least you finally realize they can’t get even worse, so you keep your temper and you go on.

Cà Rossa, hellraiser version

Cà Rossa, hellraiser version

The garden wasn't so bad though...

The garden wasn't so bad though...

Now we are kind of done. Almost there. Well, please, someone defines ‘almost’ to me.

It’s like when you transfer a big quantity of data from your computer to another, you know: the blue bar is almost full and the message below says ‘time remainig: less than one minute’. Almost done. Well I’ve spend the longest minutes of my life staring at that #@*∂## blue bar. So the cure I found for my nerve (and my poor hamster) is finding something else to do. Invest that endless ‘minute’ possibly doing something physically related.

That’s what I’m doing these days with the house. I decided I want the roof beams done. The previous owner tried to insulate the roof from below, so he covered the beams with a kind of yellow wool and then closed everything with plasterboards nailed to the beams. Rooms got shorter and ugly with all those plasterboards pending over your head. When I bought the house we realized the roof had some leaks (amongst other problems…). The rain soaked all those yellow wool (I don’t know the name of it, it’s a cheap insulation material I guess). Last winter I took everything away: insulation material, plasterboards, mice nests, some kind of bug extinct ages ago, and I discovered the wooden beams.

The guest room, upstairs. Picture's been taken last winter.

The guest room, upstairs. Picture's been taken last winter.

As you can imagine they had been seriously damaged and the woodworms did the rest. Woodworms that actually must have gone to extinction too, or maybe there was nothing left to gnaw.

I had the roof insulated again from above with thick material and stuff I don’t know how it’s called, the job has been done by a pro. After a whole warm season of aeration (that was just an excuse: I had things to do in the garden during the warm season…) I can now start with my intensive care program for wooden beams. First of all they had been treated with a jet of compressed air and fine sand, this process smoothen and cleans the wood. After that I brushed some anti termite, they may look extinct but you never know. Finally comes the funny part: painting the beams. I did some research and I learned that in the past, here in Venice, they use to paint all the wooden beams: often light blue or white. So I decided to do like history tells (which is actually the contrary of what fashion dictate nowadays).

I consulted a friend of mine, who is a professional decorator and he works mostly in old villas in Venice. He told me to mix soft wax and water based paint, you obtain a kind of thick soup, like mayo, and you brush it on the wood.

It looks like mayo but don't try it on your sandwich!

It looks like mayo but don't try it on your sandwich!

After a while you wipe with a cloth: the paint is absorbed by the softest part of the wood, while only the wax remain on the veins and polishes them. The effect is pretty good, very time-consuming but I like it. It even looks ‘vintage’ which is probably more fashionable than what I thought.

Close-up of a wooden beam after treatment

Close-up of a wooden beam after treatment

I started with the guest room, as I though this was the room I would have used less, so if the job was a flop I wouldn’t have done it in other rooms. You can see the final look of the room pictured below. Now I only bother on which shade of white I should use on the ceiling… oh ah! And then I have to pair that shade of white with a nice colour on the walls, which has to match with the curtains I suppose but probably the curtains would be chosen after the forniture… I even wonder about the lamps I’m supposed to use…

The wooden beams in the guest room

The wooden beams in the guest room

Oh! You might question about the floating spiders… Well it’s a terrific discover I’ve made last morning: this little gray spider floating on the water in the pool… I guess it’s a trick of nature, isn’t it? I swear it walked on water… Maybe it’s some kind of spider god or something.

The notorious floating spider

The notorious floating spider


16 thoughts on “Working in the house and floating spiders

  1. Hi Alberto,

    I haven’t bought a house that I could fix up like you have… But my parents have and it’s turned into a real nightmare… Soooooo, I do feel your pain even if I don’t have the first-hand experience. My mum is the ever-suffering partner of someone who took months and countless visits to different stores to choose bricks… oh yes, BRICKS. She should’ve known it was a bad idea since it took so long just for the first step.

    As for the spider… Well, they all float on water, for example if you ever have one in your bath and run the cold water they will float around on it – although it’s a bad idea as the water can drown them as they don’t breathe like you or I through our nose/mouth… There are also water spiders which can break the water surface tension and live/hunt in the water.

    • Liz you are so clever. I must assume spiders breathe through their 8 feet then, well I’m not envious about that! 🙂 I never tried the experiment in my bath anyway.

      Thank you for the support on the works, lucky me I didn’t have to choose any bricks!!!

    • Thanks Donna. I found the floating spider pretty cool too even though apparently it’s not big deal for them. I must spend more time watching fauna in my garden…

  2. What a lot of work and I assume you are out working at your job at the same time ! We have never tackled anything on that scale, full of admiration for you, do you garden when you want to relax or when you can’t take any more pressure from the house?

    • Well that’s a good question, considering that I work mondays to saturdays, I actually feel I can’t never relax: I garden when I can’t take any more pressure from the house and then I work in the house when I can’t take any more pressure from the garden. I’m really looking forward to finish the main works in the house before it’s open season for weeds again, so I will take some moments off and make a trip somewhere…

  3. Ciao Alberto, visto il mio inglese quasi inesistente,
    mi sono data a google traduttore e qualcosa ho capito.
    Ho capito che alla fine dei lavori avrai una tale soddisfazione nell’esserti ricostruito la tua
    casa che di colpo dimenticherai tutti i problemi e inconvenienti passati.
    Sai la differenza fra l’andare ad abitare in un posto tutto deciso da altri ed invece ritrovarti
    fra le tue scelte anche se indecise, dubbiose o inesperte?
    Non c’è paragone!

    • Ciao Loretta, vorrei avere il tempo di tenere il blog in entrambe le lingue, ma visto l’esiguo seguito che avevo in patria non faccio che rimandare la cosa.
      Mi fa piacere che tu sia riuscita a capire qualcosa lo stesso comunque! 🙂

      Ma sai che ti dico? Che nella casa che avevo prima ho trovato tutto fatto e mi sono divertito molto ad arredare e colorare, la casa l’ho scelta perchè già mi piacevano quei pavimenti, quelle rifiniture, ecc. Quando invece le devi scegliere, rimanendo in budget e coerente con le altre scelte diventa veramente come risolvere il cubo di Rubik! Alla fine sei così esausto ed esangue (anche nelle finanze) che non so se la soddisfazione vale la fatica!

  4. Oh, Alberto…I feel your pain! I have to admit, our house isn’t QUITE as much of a fixer-upper as yours…but it’s enough for us! There were definitely times we almost killed each other because of silly squabbles over (as you mentioned) things like doorknobs and handles. The great part (and it does get great) is when it’s FINALLY done (or close to done) and you get to stand back and really appreciate it. Amazingly, it doesn’t take long for you to look back and think…”Oh, it wasn’t so bad”…time does heal all wounds, I guess 🙂 BTW…love that treatment for the timbers…very chic! Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Scott! So you tell me ‘one day I’m going to look back and smile’, well I really hope so. You can white-wax the timbers of your new shed, huh? 🙂 How is that going? People is waiting for new updates!!!

  5. I know just what you mean about everything. Our house was supposed to be renovated but it had all been done badly so we have had to undo everything and start again – expensive way to do things. I like your beams, I think they are very fashionable done like that in England, I think you could ven add more colour if your like. I’m looking forward to the invite to stay in the spare room! Ha Ha!

    • You’ll be welcome anytime Christina, I mean it. Bring a brush from home when you come! 🙂
      I was pretty insecure about how many paint add, I didn’t want them too white but you’re right, I should add some more paint in the other rooms.
      We’ve been told of putting the house down and re-build it but I was rather stubborn about that, I didn’t want to. I like the feel of old houses and all the lives that passed by there…

  6. Hi Alberto
    I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this post! I for one am very pleased that you are saving the house. The beams are wonderful– what a fun discovery, and you saved them from the wet insulation. Now they are an exquisite addition to the upstairs! I was intrigued by the image that shows the end gables: it looks like two houses together…I hope you will talk about the room configuration some time. And the paint/wax recipe– it worked so well. I love old techniques like that.

    I have worked for so many years on our house, and I know how hard it is to put up with the destruction that comes before the reconstruction. I’m trying to recall — did you say the house is from the 1920’s? What I have found is, if you are true to much of the original design detail (removing the plaster-board and restoring the beams for example), these old details suddenly come together to create a whole effect that is just so wonderful and unique and truly evocative of the earlier period.

    Your response to Christina about the feel of old houses says it all. That romance and mystery is lost if the surfaces are completely buried in modern materials and design. You are doing the right thing. Tell the sweet hamster to relax.

    • Well I’m happy I’m apparently doing the right thing sometimes 🙂
      Yes, the house is from early 20’s, built with poor materials though, so a serious insulation was due to live in modern standards.
      The observation about the end gables is right, it’s one of the character of the entire house. I guess the house has been built in different tranches and moments (I can tell it by the materials they used). Probably the roof couldn’t be redone so they just attached another house to the previous. I love that south facade, it’s so ‘my house and only’. Then the rest is pretty dull, simple. Anyway I think I will write some more posts about the house as I’m spending a lot of time there working and I’d like to share the results.

      Is your house entirely build up with wood? I think they did it that way in US, huh? Like the second of the Three Little Pigs. Aren’t you afraid of the bad wolf? Or the woodworms? I’m kind of obsessed when I see a termite flying around…

  7. No bad wolves here. Well maybe in Washington DC, a few. Yes my house is wood. Fire is the biggest danger. We try to be careful. I look forward to following your house project too– so unique, lots of character. Like you Alberto! 🙂

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