30 November 2013

First snow

After a day of falling snow, the house is white and the valley quiet.


Staircase construction

Sandro welded the runners for the new staircase today. As with everything he does, they are fixed into the stone wall and very sturdy. He is welding in the library room upstairs on which he recently floated a smooth cement floor above the new voltini in the loungeroom. The Italian power system means that every time he welds, our lights flicker. He had intended doing a full day today but left before lunch because it had snowed for several hours and he was worried about getting out of the valley and over the hills to return home. Before he left, he re-installed the ladder for us to access the first floor...as well as a bannister to hold onto!

Above: the ladder staircase complete with bannister

Above: me about to demonstrate correct use of the ladder staircase


Staircase opening

When the builders arrived at 8am, it was minus 4 degrees. First, Sandro explained his concept for the stairs. They will be simple and rustic, just perfect for this house. The balustrade will be iron and the stairs will be 5cm thick rovere wood on which the finish has been baked much like ceramic firing. He will do all the shaping and welding here himself. The next day, he arrived with a truckload of steel including a very heavy duty i-beam and longer versions of the staircase samples he had showed us earlier. After spending the morning exposing and cleaning the new voltini, he installed the heavy i-beam to support the first floor, then demolished the ground floor brick wall and stairs. We now have a lovely sense of space in the lower floor...and a ladder for stairs (!?)

Above: the wooden tread and steel balustrade for the new stairs

Above: installing the heavy i-beam
Above: the brick wall gone

Above: the stairs going, going, gone


29 November 2013

Staircase voltini

When the builders arrived at 8am it was minus 5 degrees. First, Sandro laid planks of wood on the current stairs and set up struts on the first floor to support the voltini ceiling in the adjoining room. Then he demolished the present angled voltini over the stairs and the first floor brick wall before raising an i-beam to support both the edges of the voltini ceiling in the adjoining room and the new voltini that he will build over the stairs. Then he demolished the first floor brick wall before returning to sand, brick, gesso and cement the new voltini.

Above: our front door and stairs before work had started

Above: our front door and stairs after work had started
Above: lifting the i-beam for the new voltini above the stairs (taking it in via the roof)
Above: the view above the staircase after the old voltini had been removed showing the chasm into the roof cavity

Above: Cosimo in the adjoining room on the first floor sending buckets of sand up to Sandro in the roof for the new voltini

Above: the new voltini exposed!



With the lounge room finished, and temperatures below zero until lunchtime every day this week, the builders have been happy to start on the other internal job: the staircase. This job will remove some very unprofessional work that remains from previous owners. There is a low voltini above the stairs that was built at a 45 degree angle. It seems heavy above us as we climb the stairs and it is cracked. I have visions of it falling on our heads. The stairs themselves were put in about 50 years ago and are difficult to keep clean due to ugly edges into the rock. They also stop any light entering the dining room and cellar and halt any sense of space or flow in the house. We decided that an new atrium style voltini and an open wood staircase would solve all of these problems. I am about to upload several posts dedicated to this project...

28 November 2013


The builders having a morning break outside our bedroom door. This time it was coffee and pikelets. They had been working on the restoration of the newly exposed stone wall.



Just when we thought our brick cleaning days were over, the builder asked us for 150 more. This extra quantity was needed for the new voltini over the staircase. So that's how Stu and I found ourselves outside on a minus 3 degree morning with frozen fingers cleaning bricks. We achieved the target in just a few hours and then re-stacked the brick pile which looks a lot smaller now.

Early morning tasks

The temperature remains below zero until almost lunchtime. So, in the absence of all rooms except our kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, it becomes important to have inside activity. My current focus is on repairing Stu's jeans that took a bashing during the demolition. However, my sewing skills being what they are, this is proving challenging. The pocket that I went to great pains to unpick from the back of the jeans somehow twisted as I was sewing it back on over the knees. It now covers a part of the jeans that didn't need to be covered and misses the part that did!


26 November 2013

Closed doors mean cosy

Oh what joy it is to open and close a door! The old stone house has been soaking up the moisture from the valley while it has been vacant for the last two years. After almost two months of being lived in, our movement, our cooking and our fires have helped it to dry out again. This means that the internal doors are now fitting snugly into their frames and we can close the kitchen to optimise our kitchen fire, which also warms our bedroom above it. This is a good low cost heating solution for "between seasons". But now, with minus 5 degrees outside and the depths of winter threatening, we have turned on the heavy duty pellet fire.


Even though I have been distracted by ghostly things of late, the building work continues. The builders have now finished the voltini and spent most of yesterday creating our very grand fireplace! The fireplace was already there but ugly ("brutto"). The builders very professionally cemented, plastered and painted it for us. It looks really beautiful. With the lounge room now finished, we just have to wait for the damp cement smell to go. To help the drying out process, we have turned the radiator on in that room and it already feels cosy.




Yet more disturbing

During breakfast this morning, the metal cooking implements that hang on the kitchen wall tinkled...all by themselves...


Even more disturbing

I was sitting in the kitchen after dinner last night. Since it was cold, Stu offered to go out to close the gates for the night. A few minutes later there was a knock on the window. I looked around and found a ghost standing there (or a person covered in a white sheet anyway...). Mmm. Sometimes you just don't know who to trust...

25 November 2013


It is with much excitement and a little trepidation that I announce the presence of a ghost in our house. Apparently, spirits get active if the house they float around in (?) is changed. And this house is definitely in the process of change. We have experienced two strange episodes in the last few days. Last night, we had been in bed for about 15 minutes when the de-humidifier suddenly turned itself on. At lunch today, we were in the kitchen when we heard a repetitive banging behind the house. We investigated both occurrences but they simply couldn't be explained. Mmm. What now? I guess we hope it's a friendly ghost...?


We have had a very consistent and chilly 4 degrees every day for the last week. Time to turn on our heating. So we ignited the system at 3pm and were very pleased to see that it only took 1.5 bags of pellets and 3 hours to get the water for the radiator system from 4 degrees to 60 degrees and the inside room temperature at 20.5 degrees!



24 November 2013

Building the voltini Part 4

The voltini job has taken a very fast 4 days. The builder started on Wednesday and we were surprised when he said "see you tomorrow" as he departed on Friday. When he arrived on Saturday, he very proudly announced that he would be removing the support structure for the voltini that day. He was all smiles and I realised that this must be a highlight for him in terms of building projects. He spent the morning pouring cement lightened with polystyrene balls on top of the gesso. To do this, they transported the cement via a wheelbarrow from a cement mixer near the driveway to a lifting mechanism that they had rigged up on the terrazza. On their return from lunch they sought me out, faces grinning broadly. I can't remember what Italian words he used, but they were clearly along the lines of "all will be revealed"! I watched them as they loosened the struts, then hit the planks with a shovel to loosen the sand before pulling the planks off. And there was the first view of our voltini! After all of the support structure was dismantled they cleaned the sand where it had stuck to the gesso and departed, leaving me with a room full of fallen sand and a mouth agape at our wonderfully authentic old ceiling.

Above: the lifting mechanism for the cement

Above: the cement layer

Above: removing the support structure

Above: The Reveal

Above: during cleaning

Above: after cleaning


Building the voltini Part 3

Another early day. As the builder drove through our gates, we were exposed us as true renovation frauds, drinking tea and eating toast in the kitchen with a warm fire on our backs. This time, the truck contained a load of gesso (to cement the bricks) and polystyrene balls (used in the cement that will be poured on top of the gesso). The builder then continued work from the previous day, sanding and bricking the voltini. After lunch he had finished the design and was able to start pouring gesso over the top of them. You could almost see the very white and very liquid gesso making its way down between each brick to hold them together. Once this was done, he poured a thicker form of the gesso over the top for strength. It was an incredibly physical 10 hour day for these artisans and I have no idea how they get up each morning to return to the job. The main builder told me that both his grandfather and father built voltini but now it is rare to find a young Italian with the skills.

Above: the various stages...the first voltini covered in gesso (stage 3)...two voltini covered in bricks (stage 2)...two voltini covered in sand (stage 1)

Above: Cosimo mixing copious amounts of gesso

Above: Sandro pouring liquid gesso onto the bricks

Above: Cosimo with yet another bucket of thick gesso for Sandro to trowel onto the liquid gesso


Building the voltini Part 2

Another early day and two more truckloads of building materials including sand. The builder, who I now appreciate is a true artisan, placed struts and wooden planks under the steel i-beams, then emptied buckets of sand onto the planks which was tightly packed down before being smoothed and shaped into a curve using a wooden mould. He then gave each brick a thorough inspection to decide which surface to reveal in the voltini and placed the brick preferred surface down on the sand in a traditional pattern. There was a last minute panic when he called for "rotto" (broken) bricks that he could cut for the edges. Stu and I ran around finding broken bricks and cleaning them for him.

Above: the struts and wooden planks on which the sand and bricks will be placed for the first voltini

Above: the smoothing and shaping of sand in readiness for the bricks

Above: the first bricks are placed on the sand for the first voltini and the artisan works into the evening smoothing and shaping the sand for the second voltini