The Stairs

Mas Oms has three floors, with two full-flight staircases connecting them.  A third short staircase leads up to a landing and a bedroom between levels 2 and 3 (Euro 1 and 2).

The frame of the staircases is iron.  For about a year, I lived with the bare iron and provisional (that means temporary) steps I cut out of of MDF (medium-density fiberboard or “chipboard”) that was lying around the house.  They held up surprisingly well!

I sampled a few different metallic paint options and settled on “brown oxide” from Titan.  It has tiny bits of metal embedded in it!  The effect is rusted iron, but clean and pretty rusted iron that will not disintegrate on you.  Below you can see the painted stairs with or without MDF.


Now it’s time for the real treads.  I used the same material as the floorboards [oak recovered from huge wine barrels], but the treads are a whopping 6 cms thick.  All four sides are brushed for the rustic look.  Below is the raw material and the highly technical varnishing process, which was carried out in a clean-room under the highest standards of precision according to ISO 123.456.789.

Below are views of the long flights with the oak treads in place:


Close-up of the fancy hardware:


Below is the finished half-flight to the landing on floor 2.5.  The top 2 steps will remain as is, with brick treads and plaster risers and sides.  I see I need to touch up the paint a bit!


I scraped and cleaned and scrubbed and polished the brick landing at the top of the half-flight. This is the ONLY original flooring in the house that I have been able to preserve.  Before/during:


And after, below.  You can see the winter sun gently reflected in the new satin finish.  You can also see centuries of unidentifiable stains on the brickwork.  I call it “patina.”


And finally, I had Jesús fabricate one last tread for the transition from the living area into the master bedroom.  This step is adjacent to the top of the first flight of stairs.  I’m going to try to use recovered bricks as the risers (the vertical part under the step), but if I am not satisfied with the look, I will use remaining hardwood flooring.


Next week we will take a peek at the master bath!

Hardwood flooring

I chose reclaimed oak flooring for most of the main level.  The floorboards are 1.7 cms (3/4 inch) thick solid oak from old wine casks.  They have been flattened, tongue-and-grooved, and brushed on the obverse for a weathered look.  Sample here:

I signed the fabrication contract in January with Jesús, who together with his brother runs an operation that produces traditional Catalan terra cotta bricks and pavers, as well as flooring and furniture from recovered hardwood .  We agreed that the first delivery of 25 square meters would occur in mid-March, in order to facilitate kitchen installation in April.

I called Jesús the second week of March and learned that he had not started fabrication yet.  Apparently, he got sidetracked.  Jordi, Jordi and Jordi told me the this was in fact my fault because I had not called repeatedly in the interim to remind Jesús that I was expecting the material.  Because we had a contract.

Jesús got to work and delivered the first lot by the end of March.  Here is what that delivery looked like.


The planks are milled at varied widths from 5 cm to 17 cm, which complicates the installation.  Once you pick a width, you have to stay with that width for the whole row.  Organization is key–all the planks here are sorted according to width.

I spent two weeks getting to this point:


and I was out of time and out of material.  The kitchen needed to go in and I needed to wait for more boards.  Towards the end of the lot, you are left with odd sizes that cannot be matched together to make an entire row.

In May came the next delivery.  How much, Jesús?  “All of it.”  A hundred square meters of hardwood planks, which, once unpacked and sorted and hauled up stairs on a warm day, looked like this:


I stacked the planks in the master bedroom, with the idea that I would lay floor there last.  So I got to work on making more meters of finished house:

And trying to keep things clean and tidy.  When I finished the ballroom-sized common area, I got to work on the hallway, which leads from the common area to back bedrooms.

Little trick with the hallway.  The planks are visible from below, so you can see the black “x” marks that Jesús used to keep track of the “wrong side” of each plank.  I noticed this phenom when installation was over half done.  I had to pull all the planks up and shave them with my electric plane to get rid of the “x” marks.  (I LOVE my electric plane, btw.)

To get a smooth transition where the planks change direction at the start of the hallway, I installed the common-room planks too long and then used a hand-held circular saw to cut the sides of all the planks in one go, while kneeling on the ledger that guided the cut.  I’m happy with the results.

At this point I pulled all of the remaining planks out of the bedroom and organized them in the common room.


You can see that there are a lot of short planks  And quite a few long ones too that overshot the distance between the runners.  I hate to waste material, so I decided to opt for a different install technique.  I started with shorter runners than normal (6 cm x 6cm) and added an intermediating layer of plywood.  I screwed the planks to the plywood instead of the runners, which allowed me to achieve a truly random plank layout and avoid cutting every plank strictly at 40/80/120 cms to meet the runners.  The result: less waste and no need to order more hardwood to finish the job.

Once summer was over and I had re-established my perfect solitude on a Catalan mountaintop, I was able to finish the parquet install.  The tricky final hurdle was a landing at the end of the hallway.  Behold an aluminum door leading to the Goatshed.  This is a provisional (that means temporary) door that is common at Spanish construction sites.


The bottom of the door is below the level of the new hardwood floor, so it had to go before I could finish the floor.  This had to happen when it was cool enough to close the windows (to avoid a dust cyclone) but warm enough to have a hole in the house.  First the demo, then the installation of the runners:

And finally the installation of new door.  Toni is coming in March to touch up the plaster.


Next time we’ll finish the stairs!

New kitchen!

I previously mentioned that the kitchen was scheduled for installation in April 2017.  In fact, the install slipped to May, but no one who has ever remodeled (or done anything in Spain) will be surprised by this.

My kitchen designer decreed that self-installation was not an option.  So for a change, I agreed to pay the price in Euros instead of tears, sweat and toil.

Before the kitchen installation could begin, however, I needed to lay the flooring.  More detail later about the hardwood flooring  that covers most of the main floor (Euro floor 1/ Anglophone floor 2).

I don’t like hardwood in the kitchen because of previous experiences with water damage.  Instead, I opted for porcelain tile (Roca) with a hardwood print.  First, I needed to raise the level of the kitchen floor by 8 cm to cover the mole-like trails of mortar that contain water pipes, electrical wires and the other instalaciones of the house.


First I built a wooden frame to divide the tiled area from the hardwood floored area, as well as the invisible under-cabinet and under-island areas.  Then I got to work mixing mortar in the one-legged cement mixer that the builders left in my courtyard for the better part of a year.


I mixed and I mixed.  And I hauled the mortar upstairs.  And I poured and screeded.


And I mixed and hauled and poured and screeded.


And more of same.


I ignored the advice of every Jordi, Jordi and Jordi, who insisted that I mortar and tile under the cabinets and instead installed water resistant fiberboard. to save on money and effort.


Over the mortar I poured a thin layer of self-leveling compound, which (strangely) does not actually level itself.  You have to spread it out with a trowel and even then the level of levelness is inferior to what this amateur can achieve with a screed.  The compound, however, does seal itself for a much more solid surface than can be achieved with the sand topping mortar.  This makes it much easier to slide a notched trowel over the surface when tiling with thinset mortar.


The tile instal was a bear.  I was convinced at the time that the difficulty lay in the unevenness of the floor.  However in a more recent bath install, I discovered that the tiles themselves are slightly bowed.  A bowed tile will never make a perfectly level floor, not matter how hard you try.  With lots and lots of effort, I think I achieved something pretty close to level.  I’m not sure whether to avoid this particular tile in the future or to avoid the 85 x 22.5 cm format entirely.


Once the tile was in, I began laying sleepers for the hardwood.  These are 3m x 8 cm x 6 cm softwood boards, tied to the mortar subfloor at both ends and the middle using screws and plastic anchors embedded in the mortar.   These “skis” have to be notched to clear all the tubes and mortar mole-trails.

I screwed the oak flooring to the sleepers until I was clear of the kitchen area.  I had some problems with the supply of the hardwood (more on that and the hardwood itself in the next post) and as a result I had to stop midrow in the area you see above right.

Words to the wise: (1) Never stop midrow in a flooring install.  Boots and other forms of footwear will destroy your product.  Care will not be exercised by third parties.  (2) Never, EVER, let a Catalan builder into your house until you have two coats of varnish on your flooring.

Once the flooring was installed, magical kitchen-building elves appeared and created what I believe is not too shabby a kitchen!


For the kitchen design, I chose two relatively new materials.  The cabinet doors are opaque tempered glass mounted on an aluminum frame.  The frame concept allows you to use thin and/or fragile materials that have not been previously considered adequate for cabinetry.  The color is piombo, or “lead”, which is a gray with a greenish tint.

For the countertop I chose Neolith, a large-format porcelain that is marketed as granite 2.0.  All the hardness and beauty of granite with the added benefits of heat resistance and 0% porosity for complete stain avoidance.  I wanted to go for a color that contrasted more with the cabinet doors.  There were some striking dark tones and some industrial looks that I muchly preferred.  But dark colors are often seen as risky in a kitchen, and not everyone loves the industrial look.  My Council of Advisors steered me toward a more neutral gray, a “safer” choice that was sure not to offend la señora María.

The appliances are Miele, with a gas range, double European-sized (60 cm wide) fridge and freezer combos (built in), electric oven, microwave and dishwasher (built in).  The range hood is recirculating, thus avoiding a 3 meter steel tube in the middle of the kitchen.

The kitchen is FULLY AVAILABLE for the use of my visitors.  I eat relatively modest portions and I don’t skimp on compliments…

Getting back on that horse

I have been a terrible blogger.  My apologies!!  I’ve been working so hard I just have not been keeping up the blog.  But 2018 is a new year and I’m going to catch up with a series of blog posts showing work to date.

First, a look at the finished downstairs, which is now fully habitable.  In fact, I actually live here.  (For those of you who visited in 2017, these photos will be old news.)

Here’s my current bedroom:

Here’s a photo of the adjoining bedroom, which has better lighting, but no Catalan vaulted ceiling:


No one sleeps there currently.  I just made the bed up for the photo.  My bedroom and this bedroom share a bathroom (the first one I built and so far my favorite):


They also share a hallway with a charming Catalan vault, anda living room with a large glass door.   The door leads out to a terrace that is still to be tiled.  Pastor sleeps on the doggie bed when he is en residence.  Nero still won’t come inside.

Across the hall is a small bedroom with its own bathroom and a small walk-in closet.  I have slept here on and off depending on visitor configuration.

Rounding out the downstairs, we have the “game room” and the “tower bath.”  Though people have slept here when space was tight, the game room is not a bedroom: it has no door at the hallway entrance and serves as a passageway between the main hallway and the summer terraces.  As such, it is more conducive to public use.  Please imagine a billiards table in the center.  You’ll have to imagine it, because I’m not going to buy one.


The tower bath (above, in pano) sits at the base of the masia’s defensive tower.  (It’s not a castle!) The pedestal sink is provisional, which means temporary.  When I have extra time on my hands, I will install a custom double sink using a long stone feeding trough original to the house.

The last room downstairs is the boiler room, which is where in the winter I convert staggering quantities of propane into barely livable temperatures.


Below is a diagram for you spatial-reasoning types.  It’s in Catalan!


Bany is bathroom.  Habitació is bedroom.  Estar is living room/lounge.  Pas is small hallway and distribuidor is main hallway.  Rebedor is the foyer, with the main door to the courtyard.  Instal.lacions is the boiler room and caldera is boiler.  F is window, P is doorway, and B is patio door.

Everything to the right of this excerpt is courtyard and summer terraces.  Everything to the left is Goatshed and storage, areas which will not be further reformed.


Next post, we’ll take a look at what is happening upstairs!