Building on Hydra...
About HydraA Walk on Hydra
A walker's account of a perfect day on the island...Hydra House Building
Theresa Verdi shares her experiences of building on the island...A House on Hydra
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It may sound odd, but building a house in Greece sort of crept up on me. I’d looked at the same plot of land a few years before and decided against it. But my circumstances changed and the idea of building my own house started insinuating itself into my mind. At the time I was already renting an apartment and spending a few months of every year on the island. I loved it there but the flat was really too small for two big people and only had a tiny balcony. My fantasy of living in Greece definitely involved a lot of outside living and I compromised because the flat, perched like a tree-house with fabulous views along the valley, was so delightful.
This was never a business venture. I plan to live in this house as long as my legs will carry me up the hill. And I built it to last. As most of Greece is an earthquake zone, I stood and watched the builders digging deep foundations in the footprint of the ruin that itself had been built straight onto the rock. I had considered and discarded the idea of buying an old property to convert. My house looks traditional but has practical but unobtrusive modern features. Electric underfloor heating is combined with a woodburning stove and an open fire for those surprisingly cold winter days. Because many of the building techniques have been unchanged for centuries; the planning laws are strict and trailing plants grow with remarkable speed as long as they’re watered, a new house in Greece can look ‘old’ very quickly. Interestingly I wouldn’t have dreamed of building that kind of house in England. They never look right. But the same rules don’t apply in Greece. Everything’s different there – including me. I knew the house with it’s 50 cm stone walls and hand-made wooden windows, built to a traditional plan, would fit in immediately. And I’ve been proved right. Looking at it from across the valley, it’s impossible to believe that it hasn’t been there forever.
There are no cars on Hydra and my house is completely inaccessible to the few vehicles that are allowed. So all the building materials; the long roof beams, the guttering and everything else had to be brought up by mules. There was already stone on the site and one of the nice features of the building was that rock dug out of the hillside was used for building, as was the soil which is used in the mortar mix. So my house is a reconstitution of what was already there.
I first looked at the plot in Easter 2006, bought the land that summer, building started in the Autumn and I was able to move in by Easter 2008. There are still some things to finish of course. Mainly cupboards and other woodwork. The carpenter’s assistant fell off his mule and was quite badly hurt and I wouldn’t dream of getting anyone else. But siga, siga (slowly, slowly) as they say in Greece. My beautiful house is nearing completion. On my last visit I planted the garden and it was a wonderful sight to see orange, lemon and olive trees being brought up the hill on mules.
I don’t think I will do it again – I don’t need to, but I have no regrets. I had a wonderful builder and other craftsmen and I was blessed with a neighbour who speaks perfect English who helped when my Greek wasn’t up to complicated transactions. My attitude was that it will take as long as it takes and I vowed not to get frustrated by the Byzantine bureaucracy which I still don’t completely understand. I employed a good, local, English-speaking lawyer and concentrated on the fun stuff; drawing plans; building models of the stairs; planning the garden. Now as I sit in a miserable English Autumn, I can’t wait to get back to enjoy it.