I’m a regular at local markets. Rooting through other people’s cast-offs is my idea of heaven. Not modern-day tat though – old stuff. Old furniture. Old paintings. Old garden tools. I’m into old beauties, be it a piece of furniture, a piece of art, or a renovated wine cellar.
In Zagreb recently, I was bemoaning the fact that our Airbnb flat in a lovely old building could have been anywhere in IKEA land. Completely fitted out in Skandi sameness, none of the original features was highlighted, nothing had been saved. I can only imagine the fabulous furniture that had been given away or sold to make room for modernity (or perhaps save them from wanton destruction by inconsiderate strangers). But then, while I love old, others love new. And each to their own.
Occasionally, very occasionally, someone with the taste and the wherewithal to restore and build on old features meets and marries an old building. Theirs is a match made in heaven. And while the local tradesmen might wonder at the madness of creating workarounds to ensure that the original whatever isn’t disturbed, the mastercraftsmen welcome the chance to practice their art and charge accordingly.
In Páty a while back, we had coffee in a lovely old wine cellar, appropriately named C’est la vie café. I was mega impressed and wondered what else could be done with these old places. Near Esztergom recently, I got to find out. I had a hard time imagining a cold dark place being an attractive living space except during the heat of the summer. But wow… wow… wow.
The original wine press is still there, proudly emblazoned with the date – 1817. More than 200 years of history in that piece of wood. Countless thousands of grapes pressed, countless thousands more litres of wine produced. The lads working on the renovation thought them mad. Keep that old thing? But why? They no doubt cursed them silently as they worked out a way to lift the press, tilt it, and then somehow tile beneath it.
The stove is a work of art. Built in situ by a local craftsman to spec, the man no doubt fell in love with this woman of the house, a woman who knows her own mind. This is the only heating system in the place and it heats everything beautifully. I’ll admit to being quite envious and had little trouble imagining myself baking bread in this oven. Even doing dishes while looking out on the view would be painless. The original cellar door leads into a fabulously cool spot – no need for refrigeration. Set into the hillside, the temperature is perfect for keeping everything cold – and the perfect place for cooling off in the summer. The new bathroom has been artfully built under the stairs to the loft. A brick wall and sliding wooden door on coasters add to the preservation feel. It’s small but roomy and has everything it needs. Upstairs, like the rest of the cellar, is furnished with old family furniture. The bed, I was told, was the one her mother was born in, the same one her grandparents died in. Yes, it’s a renovation job but everything about the place screams original. The view from upstairs is gobsmackingly gorgeous, one never to tire of.
Outside, two terraces offer varying degrees of shade. The fire pit that day was home to a 100-year-old copper cauldron rescued from a scrapyard. In it was the makings of a wild boar and venison stew. The wine we drank came from the cellar next door. The birsalma (quince) palinka was local, too. The cheese and pogácsa (savoury breads) were from the local village and the greens came from the kitchen garden. Every now and then someone gets it right. A seamless blending into the environment using what nature offers by way of sustenance. A model way to live. I came away with lots of new ideas for my next project, plus a few snippings of chocolate and apple mint that just might take in my garden. Ya never know.