Rob gets fired!

It might not be entirely accurate to say my architect and builder fired me.  From my month-old position as Wall Finisher in Chief.

It may be more accurate to say that a consensus was reached, wherein it was generally acknowledged, that it was ridiculous ever to have thought that I could finish the walls on my own.

The walls have to be finished before the polished concrete floor.  The finish of the polished concrete cannot withstand falling rocks and flinging of cementitious materials with wild abandon.  In order to have at least one livable square meter, I need the floor to be finished downstairs, with the radiant heating embedded therein.

At the pace I was moving, we were due to see downstairs wall completion by 2020.  So a decision was made.  I hung on to the 3-room family suite and gave over the rest of the downstairs square meterage to my crack team of paletas.  We went from sitzkreig to blitzkreig overnight.

Game room with the far wall rejuntat and the side walls ready for plaster.  Note the secret passage in the wall to the right. I’ll probably put a candle there, or something else as mind-blowingly original and amazing.
Tower bath ready for plaster and tile.


The hallway zone.  Esquerdejat finished–all the way up to the beams.  Rejuntat complete on the main façade–to be completed on the visible bare stones.

After a robust effort in July, the walls downstairs are nearly finished.  You can see two finishes here.

(1) Rejuntat refers to walls with attractive stones that have been re-grouted with tinted mortar intended to bring out the natural sand tones in the stone.  Note the flat-faced stones–these are ideal for rejuntat.  You don’t want sharp stones poking out at you.  Where possible, I “rejointed’ one wall in each room.  The bare stone is attractive, but it makes the room darker, and in the winter makes the room feel colder.  Certain local authorities (citation available upon request) are of the opinion that bare stone walls are a fad in Catalonia, even a “mania.”  With the practical disadvantages and the risk of changing trends, I decided to go easy on the bare stone.

(2) Esquerdejat refers to walls with a rough mortar coating, flung at the wall with a pointed offset trowel.  (Addressed at greater length in previous post below.)  These walls are ready to be plastered.  Plaster can be painted any color you like!  Fans of plaster say it imparts a “soft” and “warm” feel, because it follows the contour of the wall and is not perfectly flat or rigid or straight.  Eventually it will peel off the wall and create all manner of nuisance and dust, but that will not be my problem!

Pano of “olivo”, the west-facing bedroom downstairs.


Three shots showing progress in the family suite.

Upstairs is a different story.  The heating will be supplied by wall-mounted radiators  and the wood floor can wait.  Theoretically, I can go around finishing these walls at my own pace and put the floor in when I am finished.  Don’t tell!  But I have actually asked for a Blitzkreig bid on the upstairs as well.  Life is short and there is only one of me.

The builders are now on a two-week August vacation and I am joining them in spirit.  This week I am tinkering at Mas Oms, but next week I will go on an 8-day Pyrenean adventcha, hoping to find some cool weather and jaw-dropping views.

One last note–we have begun to move into the territory of buying pretty things to pimp my crib.  Yesterday I bought a pair of double doors, with integrated windows (porticones) for the passage between the game room and the summer wing.  Looking forward to more visits with Chevi and family and their impressive door and window workshop.  Still need a door for the monumental main entrance….

Phase 2 begins

All windows and doors have been fully framed out, and the order for the windows (with final measurements) is in!

Here you can see the completed west facade.  The window below is a new opening to a ground floor bedroom that previously had no natural light.  Framed out with original stone from the house. The two windows above have been raised to align them with the corner window (and the eye height of an average adult human).  We are fresh out of worked framing stones, so we bought these from a local source.

IMG_3875Compare the shot below, which shows one of the upper windows in its previous, broke-down state.

IMG_3790Below is the east facade, which has received comparatively little intervention.  The high window in the tower and the windows on the main floor, all framed simply with brick, were untouched, except for new brick sills that were necessary to accommodate the windows.  On the ground floor, to the left of the patio door, is a new window to the summer bathroom, framed with the same bought stones used for the west facade, above.

To the right of the patio door is a re-framed window for a ground floor bedroom.  We used rougher-hews stones for the frame, to match the frame around the patio door.  The lintel is salvaged oak.  I may try to cover the patio door’s steel I-beam with a similar piece of wood.

IMG_3884The view from inside the summer bath.  The brick false walls are designed to keep humidity out of the ground floor rooms.  Without this protection, I’d have peeling paint and plaster during rainy weather.

IMG_3876The kitchen and dining room windows from inside.

IMG_3871The framed out terrace door for main floor guest suite:

IMG_3868With all this progress, the builders have called on me to begin finishing the walls.  This is the beginning of Phase 2, the part where I actually do the work myself.

I took this work on because: (1) cosmetic wall work was the biggest expense in the builder’s quote; (2) I felt I could actually do it myself without much danger of the house falling down; and (3) the builders offered to give me some instruction.  So let me pass on what I’ve learned.

Most of the walls in the house are in the condition shown in the photo below.  Some rocks are visible, but most of the wall is covered in a rough, old mortar.  The mortar is crumbing and in many cases resembles loose sand.  It has to come off, because its poor condition would compromise anything applied over it (new mortar, plaster, etc).  Leaving as is would be a poor option because it is ugly and continuously drops sand and dust into the room.


Step one is repicar, which I’m calling “re-picking.”  I take my handy Bocshhammer and chip off the covering mortar, as well as an inch or so of the mortar between the stones.  Then I sweep out as much of the dust and debris as possible.  Then I haul it out of the room and deposit in a gigantic garbage pile.  This is hard, dusty, noisy work.  And I have many, many more days of it in store. . . .

Below you can see a photo of a downstairs bedroom fully re-picked.  I believe I will leave the stones visible on the large wall above the bricks.  The other walls will be mortared and plastered.

The next step is esquerdejar, which means filling in the cracks.  First you wet the wall with a hose to remove more loose debris and to help the mortar stick.  You make a huge batch of mortar (recipes available upon request), you put a gob of it on a pointed trowel and then you FLING it at the wall with a flick of the wrist in a strange and compound circular motion that I am far from mastering.

You fling and fling and fling.  Then scrape at the mortar with the side of the trowel in order to get it generally flat, but still rough on the surface.  The roughness is important because a rough surface takes the next coat more readily than a smooth surface.

Much of my flung mortar ends up on the ground.  The builders can fling a wheelbarrow full of mortar in no time flat with only a minimal amount hitting the ground.

Below, a wall that has been esquerdejat.  This is the boiler room, which we needed to hurry up and finish so that the systems team can begin to install equipment for water and heating.


The final step (or penultimate step, depending) is remolinar, or “swirling.”  You use a flat trowel to push more mortar on the esquerdejat.  You sweep upward, ending the stroke where your previous stroke began.  This is much easier than flinging.  The challenge here is to get the wall as flat and straight as possible.  If you will leave the mortar visible, you must “swirl” with a flat plastic trowel in order to push the sand in and leave the surface smooth.  If you will plaster over the mortar, you leave the surface a bit rough to help the plaster adhere.  This wall has been remolinat:


Only a few hundred square meters to go!