THE FOLKS WHO WOULD LIVE ON THE HILL The story of the building of our home in southern Spain – in pictures.

We’re often asked by people we meet, and who are familiar with our life story, if we watch the TV show, Grand Designs (on the UK’s Channel 4). For the uninitiated, in 1993 Dido and I together with a small team of local builders and on a limited budget built a house on a rugged hilltop in the south of Spain. Grand Designs is a program which follows people – often young to middle aged couples (as we then were in 93) – as they undertake unusual and ambitious house-building projects similar to our own, with much of the drama emanating from all the trials and tribulations of the process. Invariably dreams turn into nightmares and then finally – though not always – the original dreams are more or less attained. And perhaps because there was so much pain, mental and physical, during our building experience my answer to the question is that I rarely watch the program. The few times I have it usually culminates in me experiencing a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when the subject suckers – I mean subject couples – go through their own darker moments and mini-disasters.

Nevertheless, at the risk of sounding clichéd, for us, as with most of the Grand Design people, it all worked out in the end and we now have an extraordinary house and home. The question of whether or not it was worth it, and if, given the choice we would do it all again is something of a moot point. Certainly, we wouldn’t do it the same way again. We wouldn’t restore an existing ruin and tie it into a new additional structure – a process that doubled both the time and cost of the project, and necessitated Dido and I becoming labourers on our own build to speed things up and to save costs. No, if we did it again, we’d do what the locals here do – bulldoze the site into a flat platform and build a completely new structure.

This is something of a second installment to an earlier post called Walking over Almonds (https://adamhalevi777.com/2014/10/26/walking-over-almonds-2/) and some of the background, including what the original semi-ruined cottage looked like can be found there. Suffice to say here that with one or two expedient modifications from the original plans the build took around six months, beginning in the summer of 1993, and used up every penny we had (although at least we didn’t go into debt). Our architect was the gifted – Bartlett trained – Seattle-based Mark Travers (who we paid with one of my huge oil canvases of the Atacama). Between the three of us (with some help from a structural engineer friend of Mark’s) we came up with a well-built house exactly suited to our needs and passions, and, for a contemporary Andalusian dwelling, unusually sympathetic to its immediate environment.

This is an unavoidably larger post than usual and the photos of the build, being from (crudely ) digitally converted old film, are not up to my usual standards. Regardless, I hope there is much of interest here, for those who know us as well as for those who do not, and perhaps even one or two useful pointers for those thinking of embarking upon a similar project…

1-oily-dog
Our hilltop property was only accessible by a goat track so the first thing we had to do was get a JCB to cut us a drive. For some reason, our beautiful Maremma Sheepdog Aura liked taking naps underneath it and getting covered in grease…
2-our-new-driveway
Said driveway…
3-first-bricks
The first priority was to build our main water tank. Until it was completed we had to schlep over to the local spring three or four times a day to provide the builders with water for cement etc. It took several weeks to finish…
4-tank-of-steel
The tank progressing. With all its steel it was the most expensive element of the build…
5-bye-bye-pig-stye
Here’s the JCB just about to demolish the old pigsty…
5-old-house-east-side
The water tank and bodega were excavated beneath the east side of the old cottage. They would eventually become the ground story of the east side addition, comprising our bedroom and library (I think that’s Dido getting lunch ready)…
6-watertank-nearing-completion
That’s me inspecting the completed water tank. With its 38,000 liter capacity (designed to capture rain water from the roof and terraces) its completion represented significant progress…
8-my-first-pick
It didn’t take long for us to realise that we would have to get involved physically in the building. This was my “first day” and I’m using a pickax to make a pipe channel for the 5,000 liter grey water tank…
10-cleaning-roof-tiles
Here’s Dido cleaning hundreds of roof tiles reclaimed from the old house…
11-cement-delivery
A cement delivery…
12-resurection
We had to remove the old wooden roof of the original cottage then rebuild the tops of half-meter thick walls. This entire process was hugely time consuming…
13-trussing-rods
Mark and his engineer buddy (who had also worked on the Seattle Space Needle) came up with this trussed roof solution for preserving the old walls and making sure they could tolerate the weight of the new steel and and concrete roof. The rods were meant to be temporary, but we liked them and kept them. Dido is standing in our front door…
14-siesta
Southern Spanish builders work long and hard, but their one hour lunch and snooze siesta is sacrosanct. Here you can see Aura getting more into the siesta spirit than Dido…
15-sheltered-lunch
Baldomero (our foreman), Paco and Pepe eating their lunch and taking shelter from a sharp north wind by one of Dido’s dry stone redoubts…
16-leveling-off
Two thirds of the house beginning to take shape – looking across the main room (the restored old cottage) towards the library and main bedroom…
17-library-construction
The library and rods…
18-dido-hall-window
A beer break – Dido up an almond tree, as usual…
19-reinforced-skirt
The skirt on the restored walls being prepared for the rods…
20-trussing-rods-set-in-and-vigas
The east addition roof taking shape…
21-form-work-old-spanish-style
All our form work was done the old way, with wooden struts…
22-studio-roof-screed
The north addition – now our lounge and guest room – was a victim of our financial “rationalization” – hence the more typical Spanish style single sloped roof…
23-roof-tiling
We loved seeing the tiles go over the screed – real progress at last (one in three tiles was from the original house). Incidentally, Dido was on hoist duty, and we later estimated that she winched up more than 2,500 buckets of cement and mortar all told during the roof construction…
24-roof-interior
The trussed roof allowed us to have very high ceilings without the need for supporting walls or pillars. This is the restored main room. The original cottage was a warren of four tiny rooms…
25-library-living
Fortunately the library was sufficiently finished for us to move into it by the autumn. The stove in the background (christened Dalek) was a reclaimed bbq and it doubled up as our oven…
26-library-shelves
These gesso’d book shelves looked great, but during the wet winter months they absorbed moisture like a bath sponge, ruining hundreds of our books into the bargain. You live and learn I guess…
27-main-room-floor
Aura loved lying on the cool sand, much to the annoyance of the builders trying to finish our floors…
28-kitchen-bar-construction
Our kitchen was constructed entirely from local materials including a fine wood-burning stove from Asturias, only cost us about £450 with labour!!
29-bar-building
We had to have a bar…
30-new-oven
Here’s the oven – does the best roast lamb (and cholent) ever…
31-cementing-over-the-bricks
Rendering the outside walls…
32-library-shaping
The restored south terrace redoubt wall and the new library…
33-new-with-old
The east addition nearing completion. Here one can see how the library and bedroom form an upper story above the bodega and water tank. The little window is our en-suite bathroom…
34-dining-section-and-bar-of-main-room
This is how the main room looks today…
34-library-with-new-shelves
And the library, now with wooden shelving…
35-south-outlook
The south terrace and garden a few years ago, with its summer shade…
36-december-2016
The house this December, gradually disappearing into the surrounding garden.
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4 thoughts on “THE FOLKS WHO WOULD LIVE ON THE HILL The story of the building of our home in southern Spain – in pictures.

  1. It looks beautiful. A friend who built his house in Ireland said “my daughters learned to lay brick at a very young age.” But it has to have been a very satisfying project for you both — when it was complete.

    Like

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