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Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The Ever Evolving Rustic Kitchen

The kitchen has been evolving and morphing over the years, it started nearly six years ago as an old but waterproof caravan awning between my camper van and Trev's little caravan. That's all we had when we arrived, no shower, no toilet, no washing machine..... ok it's not like we weren't both used to roughing it in the past, but the challenges of two wet and cold winters in the mountains made the arrival of the 'luxuries' feels just that, incredibly luxurious.

So this summer the addition of the new kitchen has felt like another 'luxury' to me, we now have space to be creative with our meals, spices and herbs on shelves and everything having it's own place..aaah, happiness. The new solar powered fridge/ freezer and gas cooker with double oven is also a great pleasure for me. I have realised that as a host to so many volunteers and guests the value of a good kitchen is immense, it is the Heart (h), it offers us all joy and gratitude around the dinner table. I find that the volunteers and guests have become more productive, enjoying the autonomy of a functional space, separate to all our personal living spaces.
The vegetable garden is placed close by so that the eventual plan is to have a Farm to Fork arrangement. The kitchen composting system in close union with the garden, a symbiotic relationship.  

This is our lovely new rustic kitchen 

Originally we had this simple caravan awning 'kitted out' with a work surface, some shelves, a sink and cooker. After that it became the volunteer's kitchen for a couple of years. It was cold and damp in the winter, but it did the job. 

I forgot to take photos of the building stage of the wooden frame, so now you see Trev making the fascia boards out of the 'Feileros', we got a large batch from the wood yard. They are the 'left overs' from the cutting of the square/ rectangular beams. We are also using salvaged double glazed windows that Trev's brother, Colin saves for us from his building jobs. 

The caravan has a had a paint job thanks to Claire Nichols, one of our volunteers.

Building the extension on the extension:) This is to protect the caravan from the elements but also to weather proof the kitchen. 

A great way for some of our volunteers to get some experience with woodwork. Thanks Simeon, Miles and Sam. 
Chrissy getting to work on the kitchen. Even though we had a small space to work with I wanted the space to feel contained and separate from the eating area. The 'bar area' works to do this. 

Chrissy has used some our pine for work top, the interesting colour of the grain has been created due to moisture in the wood.  

This panoramic shot shows the compactness of the kitchen. Also it shows the caravan sporting a funky paint job courtesy of Claire. 




Exciting for me to see the progress. The outer shelves will be used for easy access for  cups and plates. And I get to work on the sanding, which actually takes a lot of work, unfortunately I forgot to take photos of myself. 

The addition of the shelf above the bar was a great idea by Chrissy, my idea of adding some of our swirly natural chestnut I feel adds some rustic charm... it took lots of sanding to get the smoothness I wanted, I used Danish oil for the finish that gave a great effect and strengthen and nourishes the wood. The weather conditions in Portugal are challenging for wood ie, lots of moisture in the winter and lots of heat and dryness in the summer. This design works well when we have a party or for presenting the breakfast. 

Chrissy with Brent and Babette, two very capable volunteers from Belgian who turned up spontaneously and have ended up staying for months!

Carrying the heavy newly stripped beams to the kitchen in preparation for building the veranda.
Good woodwork experience for our French volunteers Felix and Basile, Chrissy enjoying teaching. 

Felix keeping focused

Starting to look like a veranda

The kitchen in action, it has become a great social space. It all started just before the weekend of my party in August last year, when I bravely (I felt) moved in, bringing everything up from the veranda kitchen that is outside Trev's caravan. It worked fantastically well for the party, a perfect kitchen warming.
It feels good to have a clearly defined eating and socialising area. The dome that we had originally built temporarily is still standing and used a lot for chilling out, social gatherings, and cosy winter evenings by the fire.
It feels like the people and our lives are shaping the way we create theses spaces, it is an organic process - we are inhabiting areas and they are growing into something. This is the way I imagine that villages and communities have been built throughout time. We plan now to cobble or tile the outside area, creating a functional outdoor space, we will integrate the existing outdoor fire area and also add a spring water font area. At present Babette, who is fast becoming our artist in residence is designing some ideas for a sculpture to honour the spring that gives us such beautiful fresh water.   

Maybe one day we will share lunch or a cup of tea around the table.
Blessings on the food, as we say here !  

Friday, 18 January 2019

The Round House Story


The story of the roundhouse really starts at the same time as the spontaneous, inspired (but also slightly crazy) decision to buy Quinta da Pomba, “ We can start a retreat centre here !” I say excitedly on walking around the land with Trev for the second time, the notion had just popped into my head, Trev said “yes I know how to make that happen, ” and I say “Ok then”. That was it really, the journey started there in the summer of 2013, myself and Trev had only met in May the same year.

Trev liked the idea of doing an eco construction, exploring different techniques to his previous building experience in Spain, and before that, in the UK. I was jumping in the deep end having no previous experience of building at all (although I had done a few eco contruction courses when working in the Steiner School). We received the planning permission for the straw bale round house in 2016 along with permisson to build another small strawbale house that is part of the long term plan. The original site that we had dreamed into was not actually where we were legally entitled to build, we had a very limited choice of sites due to various rules, which I won't go into now. Still we had always envisioned that it would be situated in the wooded area of the land and that is still the case.

The Round House for me is the hub or the heart of the retreat centre, it will be where we come together, whether it is for a workshop of yoga, dance, music, art or a shamanic ceremony. I hope it will be a place of celebration as well as opportunity for the local community to come together to discuss ideas, hear a talk or a watch a film together. Already we had my 50th birthday celebration in August which was great fun, the guests really 'inhabited' the areas, creating a sense of cohesion between our different zones such as the communal kitchen, dome, round house, camping grounds, the bathroom and the new swimming lake !


 Last summer we had a big push on the construction so it's time to now offer you a photo diary of the construction so far:  

Trev and Benny building the foundation wall

The foundation wall with the slots for the floor joists


Stripping the newly cut beams in preparation for the build.

The front loader on the tractor is useful for moving the beams 

Trevor's balancing technique, applying his usual 'health and safety' approach.

Making the reciprocal frame roof as a test run to see how it will work when up on the supporting timber frame.

Using scaffold jacks to hold up the roof, (Builders bum by Chrissy in the time honoured fashion :))




Isaac with a ratchet strap around the frame.

Happy helpers, Lise and Isaac.


Cross beams being put in place on the upright beams.

Wood Henge !
The finished henge, getting ready for the roof.

The wood store. We used Douglas Fir from a local wood yard in the Serra da Estrela mountains where it grows majestically, and our own Nautical Pine. Once stripped of it's bark it's attractive silky surface can become 'mouldy' with the damp and the rain, so protection is important especially in the winter months.

The first of the roof beams being put into place.

The 'Charlie Pole' keeps the structure of the reciprocal frame supported. When the frame is finally completed the pole is taken away and the moment of truth happens when the frame reciprocates itself ! A nervous moment that fortunately was a great success. 

Chrissy sensibly attired and very helpful in the construction process
Trev shaping the beams with the chainsaw


Looking good, the final poles being added. Thank you to Matt our neighbour for the help. 


Another angle

Charlie Pole removed - a very pleasing effect.
Adding the horizontal beams to add strength to the structure.

The 'A' shaped poles also added for strength and to support the boards that will be added next. 

Isaac 'monkeying' around, getting to those challenging high places.





Plywood boards have been added and now the team is putting on the waterproof membrane.

The team up on the roof - Trevor, Sam, Simeon and Miles.

The start of the tiling with our reclaimed Moorish tiles.

Sam Bunney soaking the tiles and lifting them up to Trev on the roof. 

Simeon and Miles being given the job of organising and putting the joists in place.

Half way there, not as easy as it looks to get a level as the joists were cut in our local saw mill from our timber, which means that the measurements aren't always exact.
Nice job guys ! 

Trev has done a very nice job of the roof, he has created it in 14 segments, using limecrete to create the vertical ridges dividing the segments.

Chrissy and Ange laying the plywood floor. The intention is to eventually have a wooden floor on top of the plywood. We also added a layer of rock wall insulation underneath to ensure that the house is cosy in the winter months.

The finished floor and a low straw bale wall in preparation for my 50th birthday party ! 





The party preparation helpers, without these guys it would have felt very overwhelming getting everything in order for the weekend party and all guests.

Rootical Sound system aka Jason and Gavin came all the way from Ireland to make the party sound amazing. 

Setting up all the professional equipment, I was also lucky to have some great musicians with their gear to add to the mix. 

One of the stacks of speakers placed outside the space - no need to fill the dance space.

Ru, a talented singer songwriter and Alex, our lovely Venezuelan volunteer chilling. 

Mike and Jasper, fabulous father and son musicians really helped to get the party flowing.

Back to Work ! Trev with 'The Persuader'.

Myself (Jasmine) and Trev teamed up on the straw bale wall construction. We had to cut and shape some of the bales as the spaces between the beams were not exact. We made bale nails with the branches from the Broom bush. 
Walls starting to look like walls.

Our new team cleaning up the abundant left over straw. Liam from Australia and Eli from Barcelona were very enthusiastic and helpful.



A convenient and faster way to prepare the cob. The cob is made from clay, sand and straw using a rotavator on the back of the tractor. Often this is a much more time consuming process using large amounts of barefooted volunteers stomping rhythmically - often with music. It sounds nice but practically it's a lot longer process and there's a lot more mouths to feed.

Filling cob between the bales.

Eli banging nails into the beams to create a surface for the tricky areas, so that the cob can adhere to the beams. 

Lovely Clara from Brazil getting stuck into the cob. By the end she was quite the expert.

All those fingers at work. 

The straw bale wall reminds me of a furry animal especially after Trev has 'shaved' it with the strimmer.

Adding the 'slip' coat, which is a clay and water mix, this helps the cob to adhere better to the straw.
(a rare picture of me - I do actually work, but I'm always behind the camera) 




The cement mixer was used to create the Slip.

Cob balls are made and slapped onto the slip coated straw.

The house looking great with it's new cob coat. 


Supporting brackets were added by Chrissy after contemplation from Trev that the structure required more support to keep the upright beams at 90 degrees. The straw had to be cut to access the beams.

Leoni and Trev filling the spaces above the door on the inside. 

Poppy getting into the spirit of things :)


Starting the cob layer on the inside, special thanks to Leoni and Corri from Germany, who made a nice job of the wave shape that we decided to incorporate. A decision made after we had cut the shape out for the brackets. We have two windows spaces at the back to create ventilation and light, we created them high up so that there is privacy and more wall space for yoga.

A view looking to the front door and windows.


The windows arrive with the fitters. We ordered these hard wood double glazed windows and doors, our biggest expense in the build. 

An exciting moment - seeing the windows being fitted.