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No Joke: The House has Shrunk
Never expected this...
If you have been with us since we bought a building in VRSA you may recall that after purchasing the building we thought it may have shrunk. Of course, it had not, it just somehow seemed smaller. But now, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the house has shrunk.
The Wall is not Straight
Perhaps I should have realized during my prior builder/architect meeting that the house was going to get smaller. I mean they did have nearly 2.5” of insulation and 4+” thick bricks lining many of the walls. Somehow it didn’t dawn on me that their plan was to cover every wall in the house with that brick.
And I wasn’t that concerned when José commented that the wall that ran along the right side of the house was not straight. Having renovated a few homes we know that you can’t expect the walls to be straight and square, particularly in a building that is over 100 years old. Not to worry…he would fix it.
But as the brick went up…it became increasingly obvious…the house was shrinking.
During one of my near-daily visits1, I noticed something. They were covering the wonky right wall with brick…ensuring it was straight and square. In doing so, a 4” gap between the original wall and the new wall appeared. I immediately sent the photo above to Ana and gave her a call. I feared our open-plan kitchen/dining room was going to end up smaller than we had planned. She called José and relayed our concern.
The next day I met with José and his bricklayers and we agreed on a plan. We would stop the wall there and jog back toward the original wall with thinner 2” bricks. These would also be used on the walls of the kitchen. We had planned to run a wall of cabinets along the wall and they would “hide the jog”.
Fortunately, we had planned to change the ceiling height between the living room (right above) and the kitchen. With the beam as a guide, we could make it look like we planned it all along.
For some reason, it never occurred to me that they would also line all the walls in the courtyard and on the rooftop deck as well. I mean we didn’t need insulation there…what was the point? When I asked, the bricklayer above responded, “We want your house to stand even if your neighbor’s falls.” Bem pensado. Obrigada!
Holes in the Brick
After covering every surface and building every interior room and closet with brick the next step is to knock holes in them. A meeting was called with our builder, architect, and electrician. This was a very important meeting because we were going to decide exactly where every electrical outlet and switch was going to be installed. We would also agree on the exact location of sinks, toilets, shower fixtures, and the like2. Fortunately, months earlier I had pulled out my trusty graph paper and scoped this all out. We were also fortunate to have Ana’s input. Who knew there were fog-free bathroom mirrors as long as you remembered to put an electrical outlet in the wall behind them? Clearly, I have led a very sheltered life.
One final note: Oddly enough, when we took the measurements before going to shop for furniture the room sizes were fairly close to the original plan Ana had submitted to the city. Unlike us, she had done this before. I guess she knew the house was going to shrink.
Next Week: will Portuguese ARM’s cause a housing crisis and is this city about to boom?
I can’t imagine renovating a property from afar. Some readers have commented we are either brave or crazy. Renovating a property without being able to check on it at least one time a week…that’s crazy!
The night before this meeting I woke up in a cold sweat. Shower niches (for shampoo bottles and the like) are not commonplace in Portugal. Instead, while showering one has to bend down and pick up these items from the floor, or risk hitting one’s funny bone on a glass shelf that has been attached to the wall. That morning I quickly emailed José that shower niches were an absolute necessity. During our meeting, they used spray paint to mark these as well.