Last fall, I wrote about our from-the-bottom-and-up Andalucían home restoration project, describing it as a new edition of the Extreme Home Makeover TV programs. Though I am yet to take the show on the air, since our casita is completed, (though I am designing a glass and metal sofa table for it as we speak) I was ready for another design project. I would not call it extreme by any means. However, I have had the pleasure of giving an Andalucian holiday rental cottage a much welcome facelift.
So without further ado, here is my latest SNOBB décor challenge:
Located just outside Ronda in El Llano de la Cruz (or the Flats of the Cross), Estate Finca Maridadi consists of three neighbouring holiday rental homes: the stately five bedroom main house Finca Maridadi and two adjoining ranch style cottages, Los Olivos and La Cancela. All houses are surrounded by olive groves and flowering fields and have lovely views and green lawns contrasted by aqua marine pools that seem tempting even in the dead of winter. Other than a rare train zipping by, the only sound that possibly could disturb this rural heaven is twittering birds and buzzing bees. I can certainly second the accolades of a visiting Washington Post reporter and understand why guests come back to the premises year after year. So, why change anything, you might ask?
While the main house is brimming with antiques and art, combining an English country home style with a touch of Andalucían Casa y Campo, the medium-sized cottage that I had been asked to revive was in need of some TLC (Tender Loving Care for those who aren’t familiar with the abbreviation). My first impression upon entering Los Olivos was that of a middle child (believe me, I am one…) who is left inheriting the garbs of an older sibling. Through the years the cottage seemed to have been filled with too many not-sure-what-to-do-with furniture and art pieces from other homes. This hectic eclectic-ness can be charming, but lacked an overall feel. There were lovely oil paintings hidden in the bedrooms and many furniture pieces that could be kept, just placed differently or covered with new cloth or a fresh coat of paint. These facts likely go unnoticed on visitors, who are too busy diving into the pool, mixing drinks and BBQing between walks about Ronda or day trips to Sevilla. But for a Scandinavian SNOBB and decorator like myself, my fingers were simply itching to begin the transformation.
Starting with the kitchen, the original plan was to get new appliances and paint the old cupboards, while leaving the overall structure. As soon as I walked into the room, I knew that this would not only look piecemeal, but also be an unwise investment. Though built of solid wood, the old kitchen cabinets were tired at best. They were the old-school type where one literally had to crawl into the lower cupboards to get anything out, while most of the overhead cabinets were unreachable without a ladder. In my estimation therefore more than half the storage was inaccessible. In addition, the boxed-in fridge and other dividers took up unnecessary space. It was time to apply some tough love. The tiled wall with a protruding floral number midway up the backsplash had to go, I insisted, as did the ever so speckled brown countertop, the far too small kitchen sink, the greasy inefficient fan, and while we were at it, all the upper cabinetry. Or such were my rather blunt suggestions. Thankfully, Patti, the delightful UK owner was open to new ideas and not afraid of changes.
I suggested we paint ceiling and walls throughout the cottage white. The Terra Cotta floors were already a strong statement and needed a less busy surrounding to be appreciated. With white walls as a neutral slate, we kept the floors ‘as is’, just giving them an acid cleaning and a unifying treatment with matte aceite de mora oil.
The key objective was also to give the cottage more light and sunshine, which is after all why most of us love this part of the world. The white walls throughout helped, as did loosing the rather dated floral salon curtains and replacing them with white aluminium shutters. These would be kept open most of the time, but when closed they would offer better security and insolation to the elements, be it temperature, precipitation, light or sound. We also swapped the integrated ceiling lights throughout with new focusable units and LED bulbs that are use a fraction of the power and last for years.
The diving wall between the kitchen and the salon had a small opening covered with an iron rail near the ceiling. I suggested we loose the bars and expand the opening horizontally to allow more light and air between the rooms. I would also have blown off the rather clunky, top-heavy built-in shelf on the dividing wall, but for now pots of ornamental grass and two original oils from Provence did the trick.
The kitchen cabinetry was replaced with modern IKEA cabinetry and topped with a subtle, yet rich piece of Brazilian granite from a local supplier. Instead of upper cabinets, we installed an open shelf above the counter and a glass cabinet opposite with integrated lighting, which give ample storage. In addition to the new ceiling lights, we added three glass pendent lamps both as direct work light and for mood lighting. Patti had brought some lovely botanical prints from the UK, which we framed in whitewashed oak. We kept the old kitchen table, to which I stained three stools to match, so the guests now have a lovely nook to enjoy their morning coffee while answering their emails or reading the paper.
The salon with its yellowed walls and crimson coloured sofas also needed a complete revamp. White walls, recovered light grey sofas and new LED lighting helped give it a fresh new feel. As in the kitchen, framed botanical prints were grouped tightly on the fireplace wall, eight on either side.
Original Provence paintings were swapped from the bedrooms. I particularly like the lady in plum over the secretaire desk that we pillaged from another room. I found a matching taupe chair in the main house, and it worked so well that I will have to buy another one for the stately Finca. To distract from the old heater, we brought in a live palm in a white planter. The central kilim carpet was swapped with one in the main house to keep the overall cool tone, which surely will be most appreciated by guests in the heat of summer.
The neutral palate also brings ones attention to the lovely garden and the pool outside. Talking of the outside, the bullfighting poster and a 3D plastic map, both of which I immediately felt would have to go, were given a new lease on life at the end of the pool. Now visitors interested in hiking the local mountains or watching corridas de toros can study the art while doing their late afternoon laps.
The bedrooms were recently painted and did not need much help, other than some swapping of art. There are still a few bits and bobs I need to whitewash or chalk paint and distress. A decorator’s work is never done, but I hope future guests of Los Olivos will enjoy lounging in their refreshed Andalucian country holiday home.
For more information on staying at Los Olivos: www.finca-maridadi.com