First Week of Renovations

It has been a pretty huge week for our house in Szeged. Last weekend we got all the paperwork, time-line, prices, etc.. and on Monday agreed to move forward with our found contractor. And wow, he dove into it immediately. Demolition began on Wednesday and it was rather shocking to see the pictures and realize how fast things were going to be happening – shocking and thrilling.

We can admit that some of that shock is from having watched Hungarian construction outside our downtown windows for over seven years, on top of many friends’ experiences that are usually more frustrated than impressed. So far, we are only impressed with Balász. Besides his speed, knowledge and know-how, he’s also been exceptionally helpful and patient as we made some changes to the agreed-upon floorplan.

We knew the center of the home, the space holding the plumbing, needed major changes and shifting, but it was hard to know how best to re-work it. Some of our talk with Balász before Christmas is what finally gave us the courage to make a bolder change than we’d initially been planning, as he talked of how when you buy a house you buy the location and the outside four walls, the rest can all be changed. We’d thought we’d been bold already, removing some walls. Still the plan to squish a galley kitchen into an existing hallway space, and keeping three bathrooms when we don’t need them – none of that sat well and as demo began in earnest we knew we needed a better plan.

Norbi is in Szeged today, at the house with Balász going over so much, and we’ll need an architect involved before another doorway is opened up in the old, original part of the house, but we’re both more excited than we’ve been so far for the new plan. It’ll give us a real little kitchen, not huge, but more a separate space than the galley kitchen layout. And we’ll still have an amazing bathroom, long and narrow, at the side of the house with two big windows. The laundry will get moved opposite the U-shaped kitchen, in a wall of storage and laundry space under the stairs.

While the demolition has been moving forward at top speed in Szeged, we’ve been busy this week finalizing our tile and bathroom fixture selections. I’ve had a dream kitchen picked out from Ikea for many, many years – we’ve often talked of re-doing our existing kitchen here in Budapest. But we’ve loved the bathroom here, so I’ve not done more than glance at bathroom remodel possibilities. Coming up with two full bathrooms felt daunting at first, fun, but challenging. And we also realized quickly that my tastes are much more traditional and retro than the modern styles that are more common here. Tile preferences especially are vastly different. There have been some frustrations and stress this week over tiles mostly, tiles and bathroom furniture.

But we’re mostly decided on the biggest choices, and feel confident we can order the tile by Monday. We can’t wait any longer, as the orders can take 2-3 weeks to arrive – and Balász is actually moving so quickly he’ll need them here ASAP. Our big bathroom will be both the main bathroom on the ground level of the house, plus our master bathroom. The only negative I’ve ever felt over our beloved existing bathroom is only having one sink, and so double sink vanities was my only big ‘must have’ item. Bathrooms (and kitchens too) in Hungary don’t have the cabinets and furniture as built-in as in the US, it’s much more free-standing, sometimes attached to walls, but mostly not as permanently connected to the space. It’s also, evidently, not as common to have a double sink. After much searching we’re finally happy with the plan to use two of the same single sink units, one on each side of a window and with a low cabinet between them.

I was also relieved to finally, finally locate the one tile I’ve been certain of since this all began – the small white hexagon ‘penny’ tiles seen in bathrooms from the turn of the century through the 1930’s or so. I realize it may not have been in bathrooms in rural Hungary at the time, but to me it speaks loudly of the era our home was built in and I’m beyond thrilled it does exist here still. We’ll be doing the walls half-way up with white subway tiles, also a bit of a challenge to locate. Popular or at least more common here are much, much larger tiles. Bathrooms here are also most commonly fully tiled, floor to ceiling, so only going a meter or so up in most of the space will be breaking with the Hungarian norm. While we do want to honor and respect the Hungarian-ness of our house, we also want to mesh that with our tastes and preferences, especially inside. The last bit we need to decide in the bathrooms will be some accent tiles, maybe a thin strip towards the top and some tub/shower cubbies in an aqua blue or sea foam green (or both?) for my ocean-colors theme.

Some of my inspiration:

The kitchen details are a bit less concrete. I found this floor tile that I love, and I know the cabinets from Ikea. We’re searching for some retro-inspired appliances. And I need to decide on the backsplash tiles. We’ll be going to another tile store on Monday. And I think I’ll do a blog post just about the kitchen. This week has been most focused on the floorplan of the whole house, and the bathrooms. And I’m so thrilled with all that has already happened, the big decisions we made and the direction of where this is all going! Still so in love with our house, even in this messy state!

Our house as of today: