There’s just so much you can do with 55m2 (not even 600-square-feet), when one-third of the space is taken up by a bathroom and terrace. When a double/full-size (“matrimonial”) bed occupies the majority of the bedroom level. When the only other floor (ground level) measures just about 10 X 15 (15m2 at most) … and comprises our entry and reception area, an office, kitchen, eating space, and living room. Quite the creative challenge to reclaim that three-story townhouse and return it to a home that’s functional, yet comfortable and cozy.
But such was our task when we purchased a little vacation bolt in one of the “pueblos blancos” dotting Andalucia (southern Spain) almost 15 years ago … sold it to a British chap when “la crisis” decreased its value by at least 50% … and then bought it back from him when he decided that he preferred life on the coast.
We purchased the property for €43,000 at the height of the property boom in 2006; when “la crisis” hit in 2008, we sold it (at a substantial loss) for €28,000; as the financial crisis continued to plague the international property sector — and the seller was eager to sell it and move, after listing it to no avail with local property agents — we repurchased it for €24,000.
Almost half the price we originally paid … and in far better shape, all things considered.
The town is Olvera, a hamlet with a population of about 10,000 (including a great assortment of expats from more than a dozen countries), with spectacular vistas and lots of steep streets. Most of these streets would be called “alleys” elsewhere; but many do allow for two-way traffic, as well as parking on one side of the street (which often rotates on a monthly basis). Trying to move vehicles through this obstacle course of pedestrians and pets competing with cars and trucks for limited space results in dings and scratches, bangs and bumps, which the natives affectionately refer to as “Olvera Kisses.” It also makes it difficult to transport, load, and unload both passengers and cargo – groceries, furniture, supplies – since, every time you stop, the street backs up and the horns start blaring. Redecorating can be trying when one needs to remove old stuff and bring in the new.
That’s what faced us as we made the six-hour drive from Portugal in a van loaded with two adult men, three pet dogs, and household items ranging from towels and linens to pots and pans … pet food, pet toys, and pet beds for three very spoiled Schnauzers … objets d’art, kitchen gadgets, tools, and other assorted essentials.
In the years since we’d sold the place, little had changed: most of the furniture, appliances, artwork, dishes and glasses that we’d originally put in place were still there – and then some – even if their current placement and arrangement didn’t agree with our personal tastes.
We emptied bureau drawers filled with odds and ends of papers and outdated manuals; we removed posters taped to the walls; we sorted through what had once been complete sets of dinnerware, flatware, and glasses; we moved furniture to discover hidden art treasures (along with other debris); we donated an oversize recliner chair to charity; we took out numerous bags of rubbish for pick up by the bin men, while a 10-year-old mattress slept on by who knows how many people went down to the dump.
Then the “real” work began: replacing old, single pane windows and doors with heavy metal frames that took up valuable space by opening in rather than sliding side-to-side on tracks with bonus fly screens; painting the concrete walls which had been damaged by replacing the windows and doors (as well as the toll taken by years of “damp” and mold that build up when fresh air doesn’t circulate in unventilated spaces during the wet weather); dealing with an obsolete, overflowing water tank on our roof and a fickle water heater on the terrace; rearranging the furniture to better suit its purposes; and shopping, shopping, and more shopping for all the stuff that we needed (and things that we didn’t need but wanted).
We made what had been ours (then) ours, again.
Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.