Just occasionally, perhaps only once every four or five years, I come across a house in Spain that is truly extraordinary – somewhere that really does have the ‘Wow!’ factor. Frankly, this is rare in Spain as many Spanish properties lack personality and this applies even to expensive villas on exclusive estates. The latter can appear wonderful but often boast little more than anaemic luxury.
Build: 500 m2
Reception Rooms: 4
Kitchen (x 2!)
3 bedrooms (with capacity for many more)
Courtyard (with Jacuzzi)
Price 449,000 Euros
However, this is far from the case with regard to the home in Spain of some American friends of mine (Chuck and Christina) which must stand as the most perfect restoration of a house in Spain that I have seen. Indeed, so wonderful is it that I am astonished that it has not yet been featured in some magazine dedicated to the ideal home in Spain.
Oddly enough, I have a connection with this house because it is close to my beloved Gandia (in Valencia Province) and I sold it to the present owners as a complete wreck back in 2005. At that time, the house had not been lived in for many years and was almost completely derelict. This was despite the fact that, at some stage, the house had been owned by one of the most important and wealthy families in the village concerned.
Frankly, when my friends bought the house, I thought that they were mad! But then I had not appreciated that they relished a challenge, were restoration purists – and knew exactly what they were doing!
‘It was crying out to be restored,’ says Christina, ‘and was one of the only houses in Spain that we had seen that had the potential to be truly wonderful. Many original Art Déco features still remained and the house had sufficient scale to allow us a really impressive ‘canvas’ upon which to do justice to the Art Déco movement’.
Certainly, the house has ‘scale’. At approximately 500 m2 + it is enormous! Built sometime in the early 1920s the house was originally split into two parts: one part (on two floors) was the living area of the owners and the other part (on three floors) was where the family servants, their carriage, animals and foodstuffs were kept.
One of the first things Chuck and Christina did was to create an independent apartment in the servants’ part of the house. This allowed them habitable space in which to live whilst the detailed restoration of the property was undertaken.
‘You have to appreciate how very slow a restoration project proceeds,’ says Chuck. ‘It is completely different from renovation or new work. Preserving very old and fragile original features is delicate work that absorbs time and money like no other form of construction. It is also work that requires a high level of planning and attention to detail’.
Certainly, the lengths Chuck and Christina went to in restoring their Art Déco house in Valencia are evident wherever you look. One example is the wooden handrail to the magnificent staircase leading to the first floor of the original owners’ part of the house. This was missing and had to be completely re-made.
‘Just look at the three turnings on the handrail,’ Chuck urges. ‘These superb, descending, 48 degree turns were individually carved by a Romanian craftsman from cubes of oak. Each turning took a day to form.’
Meanwhile, preserving the original ceiling moldings meant that enormous care had to be taken when threading new electrical cables to ceiling roses or installing new pipe work to the bathrooms. Old woodwork was equally problematic, as it had to be refurbished so that doors and windows closed properly and functioned as well as new. Re-using original tiles, needless to say, presented their own problems with each one having to be separately cleaned (sides, back and front) before being carefully re-laid.
‘Of course, the aim in restoring a home is to make it habitable to modern standards,’ points out Christina, ‘whilst carefully preserving and restoring its original character. So, what we have done is not just restore our house but also to fully modernise it behind what you can see – with completely new pipe work, drainage, electrical and communication systems.’
Certainly, the house is now a fully functioning, luxurious modern home – as well as being a purist’s temple to the stunning Art Déco movement. Indeed, the property has everything that you could possibly want in terms of (luxurious!) accommodation.
In fact, the main part of the house has 4 reception rooms (a parlour, office, dining room and games room) and a wonderful, bespoke kitchen. It also has 3 impressive bathrooms (and a cloakroom) together with three large double bedrooms, one of which is in the huge master bedroom suite – which benefits from two walk-in wardrobes.
Of course, there is also further accommodation within the independent apartment on the 1st floor of the old servant’s part of the house. Here there is another bedroom, bathroom and a complete kitchen!
A piéce de resistance within the house is a vast room on the 3rd floor of the old servants’ area of the property, above the independent apartment. Currently, it is a fully equipped personal gym but it is also ideal as a solarium, particularly as it has a large terrace and magnificent views across to the dramatic La Safor mountains with castle ruins on the closest peak.
Finally, and very importantly, the house has a wonderful (and large) courtyard. This is delightful, has a secluded Jacuzzi and covered seating area making it ideal for enjoying Spain’s seductive al fresco life…
Chuck and Christina are justifiably proud of their beautiful Art Déco house in Spain and will undoubtedly be sad to leave it and their lifetime’s collection of original Art Déco furniture and fittings – as they are due now to return to their native US to be closer to their grandchildren. However, what lessons do they have for anyone who intends to restore a property in Spain?
‘Well, be prepared for problems finding the right craftsmen,’ warns Chuck. ‘The whole restoration took us over two years and in that time we went through a host of workmen of all nationalities before we found craftsmen with the skill and attention to detail we wanted. Part of the problem, of course, is that many renovation ‘experts’ simply don’t ‘do’ restoration and have no ‘feel’ for the detailed, careful work involved’.
Christina echoes Chuck but also says that you need endless patience and determination to find the right materials and fittings to maintain the purity of restoration of a house in Spain
‘We spent ages looking for the right tiles, the correct metalwork, moldings or timber work for each area,’ Christina emphasizes. ‘I think we must have been to every derribo (salvage yard) and rastro (second hand market) in Valencia Province. This was fun but it takes a lot of time and can be incredibly frustrating when you find the perfect fitting – but there are only three and you need four or where something is just not quite the right design or dimension!’
So, unless you are really dedicated you may be better off buying a house in Spain that someone has already restored – if you can find somewhere suitable. Certainly, in my experience (and I have seen thousands of properties in Spain) this is no easy task and true restorations to the uncompromising quality of this breathtaking house are almost unknown.
Of course, you can always buy the house! It is just about to come onto the market and will, I am certain, be absolutely unique and the one-off opportunity of a lifetime to own a really special home in Spain.
If you want more information – then do drop me a line.