Our little piece of Alsóváros

Okay dear friends who really want to know, or are just super curious – I’m gonna share tons of house pics, floor plans and our renovation dreams in this post!

I first want to start with the history of our house. Szeged had a horrible flood in 1879, an event that forever changed our beloved city. Only 265 of 5723 houses remained standing or inhabitable, the entire city was rebuilt. Our neighborhood, Alsóváros was gone except for the ancient white Franciscan Alsóvárosi church. The homes that were rebuilt in the coming years around the turn of the Century were all basically of similar floorplan and design (cheaper and faster), and most included the ‘napsugaras’ on the street-facing triangle gable roof – an intricate sunshine motif pattern made of thin wood. Time, and especially Communist rule, saw many of the old homes fall into disrepair and be torn down to slowly make room for apartment homes or simply newer homes, as the neighborhood does still remain mostly residential, single-family homes. But there are many preserved, or many that have been added on to and renovated to work for a modern family. Besides knowing we wanted a home in the Alsóváros neighborhood within easy walking distance of the church and “Mátyás” square around it, our dream was also to find a traditional post-flood home, to either preserve it or renovate it.

The old homes all had just two or three full rooms, usually two rooms facing the street, with the kitchen and maybe one more room beyond. There would be three windows on the street, two for the larger ‘living/ sleeping room’, one for a smaller room, and then a long and narrow porch the same width as the smaller room, running back along the kitchen and possible extra room. There’s actually a great museum of a preserved home, just a few blocks from our house: http://www.napsugarashaz.hu/?page_id=2 – this link is all in Hungarian, but this page has some great pictures of the few rooms that make up the museum and are a wonderfully preserved example of how these homes were originally lived in. Here are a few more pictures of these homes well preserved, plus an idea of that outside porch.

We don’t know if our house ever had the napsugaras motif on it’s roof, not all of them did. But it is a traditional house built in the post-flood style, and one of our future plans is to have a wooden napsugaras by a local craftsman installed. And we know it had that distinctive floorplan they all used, with that porch running along under the roof and three large rooms, plus the small room in front of the porch. That porch would later be enclosed, but with a window left inside, a quirky feature we adore for it’s nod to the house’s history. We also know our house had an interesting history during the rough years of full communist rule prior to the failed revolution in 1956, after which some ‘freedoms’ were given back to the Hungarian people. But after WWII and up into the 1960’s or so, the house’s three main rooms were each home to one of three different families who all shared the space (and why the floors of each big room are done differently!). It’s not clear if the previous owner’s mother was part of one of those three families, or when (how) exactly after that time they became the sole owner. That mother passed it on to her daughter, who just sold it to us.

Our house, pics taken in July when we signed papers, and a couple weeks ago, when we took possession.

The mother and daughter each did some additions and changes, but thankfully mostly left the historical heart of the original home intact. That porch was enclosed, half becoming an entry-way, half becoming a small bathroom. The end room of the original big three rooms had a wall added along the far end to create a long, narrow pantry behind it and they built a kitchen along the same wall, with a back door through the pantry. They later added a two-story addition at the end of the house which was accessed through that back door – giving them a new living room and a 2nd slightly bigger bathroom on the ground floor, with a nice master suite upstairs, with a small half-bath, office space and big bedroom the full length of the addition.

Some shots of the old, original parts of our house, my favorite.

Most of our renovations will be in the new addition, making the space flow better and work better for us. They were living in the home as they did all these changes, and it seems, did most of the work themselves. They really liked building with bricks and tiles, loved checker-board tile patterns, and didn’t seem to know masking tape was invented. The original part of the house still has a basically historic heating system, with huge water pipes along the floors of each room, some along 2 or more of the walls, connecting the radiators. Water pipes along walls going to radiators is pretty common in Hungary, but they’re usually up high and come down to the radiators, plus for the past 50 years or so, have been much smaller pipes. The pipes in our house come out from the wall a good several inches, and they’re at the floor level, making furniture placement difficult. So we’re putting in a new heating (and cooling!) system and removing those pipes.

Building around the pipes was also the reason for a very awkward and unsafe step up, over the pipe, then two steps down to the ground level of the new addition. We want to smooth that transition and create just one step down, into the living room. We’ll also remove the wall (and narrow pantry) they added, opening that 3rd original room back to it’s full size. It will become our dining room and the room you see as you enter the house.

Another huge project will involve the very center of the house, where all the water pipes are and where they left an old existing furnace room that had been outside the original house and that they were still using and so built oddly around with their new addition. We are getting rid of the ancient (and dangerously scary!) wood fueled furnace, and want to make better use of this space in the very center of the house, incorporating it into the actual house (it currently only has an outside entry door, and no indoor access). This odd room is called ‘Kazan’ on the floorplan, and is behind the newer, slightly bigger bathroom. We want to both create a galley kitchen, moving the bathroom wall back enough for counters, and then using the Kazan space for a nice spacious bathroom.

I’m not a big cook or baker, we enjoy the gathering much more than the food preparation, and so we want a big dining room where others may have kept a large kitchen. And as we want to fix up the strange hallway connecting the old house to the addition, we also want to widen it and turn it into a galley kitchen, in between the dining room in the old house and the living room in the new addition. The rest of the original house we intend as our bedroom (the big, front room), Norbi’s office (small front room), and the middle room with the cool indoor window will be split into two rooms – my craft/creative space and then a much needed walk-in closet (closets just don’t exist much when buildings are brick). The upstairs space will be fully guest quarters, we’d like to enlarge the bathroom to a full bath, add another ceiling window for more light, and divide the big long room into two smaller guest rooms.

I’ve talked much about what we want to change, but oh, there is much we love about this house. We kept our search to a very limited radius around Mátyás square and the grand Alsóvárosi church. Norbi grew up not far away, our time in Szeged when our kids were little we lived in that childhood home, and then for our two years back in 2011-13 we also lived fairly close. While we love Szeged as a whole, this neighborhood, and this square, are especially beloved – and just an amazing location. Trams on either side of the neighborhood connect it easily with the rest of town without needing a car, plus it’s an easy ten minute walk into the center of town itself. We timed the walk, and it’s only five minutes from our door to Mátyás square (seven minutes to a favorite ice cream/ dessert bakery on the square!), ten minutes to the Szeged train station. Putting it an easy fifteen to twenty minute walk to the center of town. So we love the location.

The house itself has the character and charm we love, and besides the house, it’s a lot of 718 square meters ( 7728 square feet), giving us tons of potential and outdoor space. We plan on building a two car garage with a small guest house attached next year or so. And I get to garden again. One of our favorite aspects of our house in Colorado was our back patio and BBQing and eating outside. We didn’t buy a turn-key house, it was not immaculately cared for and needs a lot of work and just some TLC – but that also means we get to make it ours, and we’re super excited about that ability. I’m so ready to show you some “before/after” shots! But we’re also right back in that waiting game – though, this time, much more is happening. Still, waiting on the contractor, who is waiting on electricians. But I hope, going forward, I can just share some new pics of things done, and some of you may remember this post and grasp a bit more of what has been happening in our home.