Friday, 27 February 2009

the joys and sorrows of reconstruction

One of the duties of a new owner of any listed building is that before any reconstruction can begin, and in order to even ask for a planning permission, one has to get a thorough 'historic research' done on the fabric of the building and on its archive history. Which is great, I totally approve of the conservationist approach because I love and respect old buildings with a passion - although others here revile the conservationists for interfering.
Well, so we started - otherwise we'll have nowhere to live if we tally too much. So in I went with my architect friend who officially oversees the project, the project engineer who specialises in historic buildings, and my dear friend who owns the Museum of building crafts in Cesky Krumlov, and has years of local experience as Krumlov's top conservation consultant. Why am I giving you all their professional qualifications? Because the expedition to the house turned into a huge argument - each expert saw different priorities for conservation, each wants different things exposed and preserved, or indeed covered up and conserved. And in the middle of it is me (my partner is in England now) with my own imagination of which way to take the house. Everyone means well, but there is no single way! (and this is not all - the report and the project design have to then be submitted to the regional conservation body who might have yet another view...)
Well, like I said, the house dates back to Middle Ages. Since then its many generations of owners did what they deemed practical for the time the house was in their care. Sometimes it is quite easy to peel the layers back, but sometimes the successive re-builds result in such a puzzle that it is almost impossible to see how the original house might have been conceived, and indeed, it is hard to decide which of the historic re-builds to take as the bits that will be exposed. Should one force the mediaeval look back onto the house, or should one stick to the 19th century rebuild? This, too, is history after all. The only thing that we all agreed on is to get rid of anything that appeared since the 1970s which is all a very shoddy B&Q type do-it-yourself job.
My first hope when we bought the house was to recover and expose the renaissance ceiling. But the rooms below suggested that its original size would have stretched over some partitions so the whole disposition of the first floor didn't tally with the imagined size of the ceiling. 'Easy', I thought. 'We'll knock the new partitions down, and re-build the missing walls under it, the ceiling is worth bringing back to life'. I nursed this idea because Krumlov has many such ceilings that were discovered hidden under boards and reed-scree. The reason for this was that during Maria Therezia's time (mid 19thC) a decree was given to get rid of all wooden ceilings because they were fire hazard. So people hid them, rather than have the trouble of removing them. So I thought this would be another such re-discovered beauty.

Well, having had the first small glimpse of the existence of the ceiling on Saturday, I now spent the whole day with a builder in clouds of dust carefully removing lines of floor bricks and filler-rubble from the attic trying to trace the outline of the main ceiling and also looking in other places for signs of the disposition of smaller ceilings - to discover the original lay-out of the rooms below. Or so we thought.... as what we discovered was a total patchwork of perhaps three or four different re-build epochs: part of the posh ceiling, but much of it removed and replaced by half-timbers and weird layers of planks. Nothing made sense. Which is the point at which my three wise counselors started to tear their respective hair out. And my idea of getting rid of the 'modern' partitions underneath was also put to rest, as they turn out to be at least 150 years old. Well, whatever gets decided, it won't be easy!
I don't know what will be the result of all this.
I wonder what you think of all this, Thud....

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Lake house progress, and Septic tank drama

The Lake house is benefiting from the injection of means through the sale of the house in Krumlov (see blog below) - which is a great relief as we were really frustrated by the slow progress there. So now there's much fevered activity planning the next stages of the reconstruction, and builders have started getting the main living room and the future kitchen into shape - first having to demolish some recent partitions and then bringing the water, waste and heating pipes in. The 'sitting room' has beautiful wide floorboards, totally woodworm-ridden, but we aim to try and conserve them and then re-lay them (fingers crossed). The kitchen floor now has old concrete that will be ripped out and replaced by brick/old timber combination, laid into a bed of shingle and sand with 'breathing channels' around walls (no cellars here).

We had a small drama with the septic tank - having had it made to measure, it was sitting in its maker's yard as the ground at Lake house is frozen, so there was no point in taking it over there. Then a fevered phonecall from one of our buiders: 'quick, we must get the tank over NOW! The guy who made it died yesterday so we need to avoid having it locked in his yard until his estate is sorted out'! OK. So having got over the shock of the nice guy's sudden death, we phone the janitor of the area where the dead man's yard is, to let us come and collect the tank. 'Can't do that', is the answer. So what now??? I tell this story to another of my builders who puts on a 'knight on a white charge expression', picks up the phone and rings. 'We are coming tomorrow with a pick-up. It'll be around 8am so make sure you are having your breakfast then'. 'OK', says the janitor. What the eye doesn't see...' And so we went and stole our own property off another's property and now it sits at the Lake house. Such are ways you can do business simply, in this country :-) Thank goodness.
And good news - our builders managed to save the vaulted ceiling that looked like it'd have to be demolished. It is looking great now:

Meanwhile the small forest road that is our access there is a challenge nowadays, as it is a veritable skating rink, but once there, the place oozes its charm as always.

The lake is still covered in thick ice that is sheer pleasure to walk out to, and so each visit to see the progress and to plan the next steps is like a holiday outing :-)

Sunday, 22 February 2009


OK, I might as well come out with it. We have embarked on another big adventure, having sold our large and by now comfortable house on the hill over Krumlov to buy a smaller, dilapidated one on the river instead. Everyone thinks we are mad, or obsessed with renovations - which may well be true. Well, what are we losing? A house that was lovely, but too big for what we need, and expensive to run. And what are we gaining? Hopefully some means of doing up the Lake house properly, and a promise of a 'just right' town house in the most romantic street in Krumlov - even though it remains to be seen whether there be enough money to do both up 100%. But we'll see. Houses on this part of the river don't come up on the market as a rule, so the opportunity was too hard to resist.

The biggest challenge is the practical situation of having two houses under total reconstruction so we'll live in chaos for a while. Also, as the riverside house is classified as a National monument, there's much paperwork and dealing with conservation authorities - but I don't mind as my philosophy is to give the house what it needs, historically, so I am happy to cooperate with them. It just all takes time and effort.

Well, what can I say about the house itself? All the houses in this street (Parkan) date back to the Middle ages when the two parts of Krumlov were each surrounded by defence walls. People started to use them as handy support for dwellings, so the 'heart' of each of these houses is the old wall, some 2m thick. Over the centuries the houses have undergone many shape-changes, mainly to the upper floors. And so we have found, for example, an old (16C?) wooden carved ceiling, hidden between the 1st floor plaster and the attic floor - in a pretty poor state, alas (the photo is taken by camera suspended under the attic floor). The worst shape change happened during the last owners' residence, when they built seemingly illogical new partitions in the first floor, and (for example) put a wc INTO the old chimney! There'll be much that needs looking into, researching and restoring.

Here are a few photos to illustrate this adventure. The interior ones were taken yesterday, when we finally got the keys. And I shall keep you posted of the developments. Fingers crossed..... Meanwhile, here is the Summer view from the garden, which shows what has driven us to do this. Isn't it a view 'to die for'???

(apologies to the author of the aerial photo for having pinched it off the web - but then I hope he doesn't mind the extra publicity??)

Saturday, 21 February 2009

half term pleasures

The family are here again - so I am again indulging in giving the children the opportunities that our little Southern Bohemian paradise offers. So little Anna and I (and a couple more Krumlov Brits), led by Sarka from Stable Pohoda, went for a fabulous late-afternoon horse ride in the snowy landscape, a great excitement for Anna as we didn't get home till the dark, the horses picking their way through the deep snow underfoot. Moments to stick in the child's memory - the sharp frosty air, the glistening snow in the pinkish sunset, the showers of powdery snow from branches overhead when riding among trees. And the total silence save for the soft crunch of the horses' hooves.
And then the daily tuition at the Lipno ski school, delivering fantastic value: the instructors here are brilliant, speak fluent English and really know how to get the best out of the children - Anna is now confidently skiing any hill on offer, and her 6yr old brother surprised us yesterday by showing perfectly relaxed turns and bombing down the red run with such joy that I couldn't believe my eyes!
Oh - and one more thing - we grown ups took a day discovering another 'local' resort, Karlstift, just over the Austrian border. Small, but just great for a single day out - 2 reds, one black, and one blue. Challenging enough yet almost empty of people. Highly recommended for those visitors to Krumlov who find the Lipno resort a little too easy or busy.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Winter ride

I haven't been blogging for a while (will fill you in on what's been going on, soon) but for now I'd love to share with you a beautiful, if a bit intrepid, day trip in the snow. The weather wasn't all that good, bit of snowfall among the bits of sunshine - but hey, who minds. Starting in Krumlov at dawn, we rode 60 kms (that's the distance by road, I don't know how many overland, but quite enough!), getting soaked through, then spending a wonderful warm lunch at a pub, with garlic soup, and tea with rum. Dry again, we rode back through woods and over fields. What a balm for the soul. Come and join us sometime! :-)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Krumlov to Forest House - the journey

There isn't any building work going on at the Forest House as it is mid-Winter, but I'd like to share with you the journey from Krumlov to the house and back - with a few pictures taken along the journey. I find it an incredible journey whatever season. Even though it's only a 15 minute drive, the last quarter it's like entering a different world, every time.