House Tour: a 100-year old Spanish villa with sixteen-foot ceilings and a dumb waiter

I still squeeze myself daily, waking up in the beautiful villa we managed to rent for the next few years. I did a house tour on the blog last year of our first rental here in Valencia, a new built, not knowing that just six months later we’d be moving into something completely different. We are currently the caretakers – not just tenants, as I really feel privileged to hold the keys to this house – of a monumental villa from 1915, with 5 meter high ceilings, an abundance of original Spanish tiles and a view to die for. I am excited to show you around this amazing building.

The paella that changed our life

It was by accident we got it (or was it…? “…You manifested this place very well, Nien!” said my sister, who is a firm believer in creating your own reality). My husband and I had been looking around for a while, trying to find a more traditional house in the town centre, but they are hard to find on the rental market. The previous tenants of the villa, who we are friends with, invited us over for a paella one Sunday afternoon last summer. Having studied architecture history at uni, I had always been impressed by their house, one of the most characteristic mansions in the town we live in. I had just shown my husband around before dinner, pointing out all the incredible features, when back at the table our friends announced that they were moving out. I didn’t hesitate one second and blurted out: “Then we are moving in!”

Today I am showing you around a gorgeous 100-year old Spanish villa...with an abundance of original tiles, en rich history and chubby cherubs playing billiards lining the ceiling. Come on in, enjoy the tour!
This photo was taken 11 years ago, when the house had just been restored. Photo: SMBarcquitectura

An ideal summer house on the outskirts of Valencia

The changeover was quick, moving in hardly six weeks after we shared that paella. It was August, so it was a sweaty move. ‘Villa Maria’ however, was originally built on a hill, as a summer residence for a posh family from Valencia city back in the days, and its terrace enjoys a refreshing sea breeze. There is no air conditioning in the house, but when you open the tall windows, the wind just blows through and keeps it cool. We live here year-round though, and the winters are cold in this house with such high ceilings! I have now adapted the Spanish habit of throwing on my fleece bathrobe and cosy slippers as soon as I enter the house in the cooler months. Luckily winter doesn’t last long here.

The fact that it was built as a summer house for recreation and holidays is still visible in the decoration of the hallway. There is a decorative band at the top of the wall depicting many delightful chubby cherubs playing games. Chess, snooker, fencing, cards, dancing… If you didn’t look up, you’d miss it!

A fiesta of Spanish original tiles

The tiles are something else. In a way the combination of tiles is slightly hysterical and totally over the top, but what an abundance of pattern and colour! Every room has a different tile design and the living room even has very bold wall tiling. Most traditional Spanish townhouses in Valencia have incredibly wide hallways, all tiled in bold patterns, both floors and walls. Often they are even used as living spaces with seating. Bedrooms and bathrooms are situated on either side of the hall. It is peculiar to have such a lot of floor space dedicated to a hallway, but it sure gives a spacious feeling and these parts are the coolest areas in the house.

Spanish modernismo meets neo-baroque

It is interesting to see the mix of styles in the interior and exterior of this 1915 building. The beginning of the 20th century was after all a transitional period in architecture. The architect, or perhaps the family who had the house built, were clearly inspired by the most progressive style at the time: Spanish modernismo, similar to Art Nouveau in northern Europe around that time. A style recognisable by its floral details, decorative tiling and organic shapes. Barcelona architect Gaudí is by far the most famous ‘modernismo’ architect, whose style rubbed off on many Spanish contemporaries, albeit often in a less flamboyant, more toned-down version. Especially the living room tiles remind me of this style. For the outside of the building, the architect of Villa Maria seems to revert back to neo-baroque details, the going style during the late 19th century in Spain. The house, like some of its neighbouring properties, certainly looks like a delicious cream cake with curly icing on top. Lots of garlands and roses. Very kitsch, but very pretty.

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Restoring its character

The current Spanish owners bought the villa around 12 years ago and found it in desperate need of restoration. Cobwebs hanging from the tall ceilings, many rooms unused and just one old age descendant from the original family still living in it. The buyers hired an architect, selecting the firm on the basis of a good understanding of the building and importance of respecting its original details. They gave the house a facelift without losing its character. Installed a new kitchen and bathrooms, but most of the original aspects kept intact and restored. I think they did an excellent job.

An old chair we originally got reupholstered years ago in Scotland looks right at home in our hallway.

Hoisting up your dinner

The whole villa consists of an upstairs and downstairs – very ‘Downtown Abbey’ – with the upstairs part originally meant for the rich family back in the days, and a downstairs part where the maids and cooks stayed. A reminder of this history is the ‘dumb waiter’ that can still be found in our living room: a cupboard with a pulley, from where they used to hoist their dinner up. It is unfortunately no longer in use! The house is again separated into two apartments at the moment, with the upper part rented out to us and the downstairs part only used by the owners when they come back from abroad every now and then. In the future, it may become used as one villa again.

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The dumb waiter in the corner of the room. And Buster, our 12-year old Scottish cat.

A lively plaza

The villa is situated on one of the old plazas of this town on the outskirts of Valencia, next to a 17th century ‘ermita’ or church. It is a lively square, with children playing, teenagers smooching, weddings held, religious processions taking place and there is the wonderful fresh organic market on Saturdays where we do our weekly vegetable shopping. I love living here, watching Spanish life happening right outside our front door.

beautiful spanish home interiors
beautiful spanish home interiors

Watching the sunrise

The back of the house is probably the best part of the property. A large terrace with a view onto both the sea and the mountains in the distance. I can just imagine the posh ladies in 1915 standing here in their long dresses and hats, overlooking the countryside while chatting in the breeze. Nowadays the surrounding countryside is nearly all built up with the ever-expanding towns and suburbs of Valencia, but it must have felt like you were far away from the city buzz 100 years ago. The view is still fantastic though and sometimes when I get woken up by our cat at 6am, I sit on the terrace, listen to the birds and watch the sunrise.

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Sun in the morning, shade and sea breeze in the afternoon. On a clear day you can see the sea in the distance. Photo: SMBarcquitectura
beautiful spanish home interiors

An eclectic mix of furniture

The only downside of the house is the fact that it is rented out semi-furnished. But hey, you can’t have it all. We just had to try and fit our own furniture around the pieces that came with the house. The interior is, therefore, a bit of an eclectic mix of their dark cabinets and tables, an old piano, and our own collection of mid-century vintage and Ikea pieces. Probably not my ideal decor, but really, who gives a hoot when you are living in a castle! The bold tiling in the living room also means it is tricky to hang your artworks and make it all look good.

I do love how our own large painting by a South American artist of a jazz band looks like it belongs in this house. I always found it looking slightly out of place in our Scottish home, it just lacked a more vibrant environment. What better house to be in than in a historic ‘summer residence’ with no doubt plenty of parties, now owned by a professional clarinet player (our landlord)?

beautiful spanish home interiors
beautiful spanish home interiors
There is a permanent display of hot wheel loops and train tracks in our house…
beautiful spanish home interiors
In progress last year…Hanging up artworks… ladders essential!

A grand Spanish dame

We don’t know how long we are going to rent this house for, as the owners are planning to move back in the future, but for now I am very grateful for the opportunity to be the resident of such an interesting and beautiful house. We would never be able to afford to buy anything like this, and we wouldn’t want to either (imagine the cost of maintenance!). It will also be quite hard in the future to find another house as great as this one – we are now spoilt forever. But what a treat and honour it is to share a few years of our life with Villa Maria, this grand Spanish dame with her rich history, beauty and charm. I wish she could tell us all her secrets. Soulful living in practice.

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Manifesting journal
A little corner from a journal I kept three years ago…manifestation in action.

Vintage furniture in a new built home: house tour

I decided to do a little house tour today, of our rental home in Spain. It is usually a mess, as anyone with young children knows it is an eternal war zone living with too many toys – and very small boys. I took these photos recently so we could advertise our house on a holiday home exchange website. (Whether you sell your home or otherwise promote your house, tidying up for the photos is a must!). Here is our eclectic mix of vintage furniture in a new home.

Boho decor in new house

It is in some ways funny to see our vintage furniture in a new home, as supposed to our old 1930s granite house in Scotland where we were before. Still, it was surprising how it somehow looks as if it belongs here. The white new built box we live in now provides a nice blank canvas to show off our vintage furniture and artworks.

The design of our rental house is almost modernist in a way, open plan, with a mezzanine opening to the next floor. Large windows. We love the style of architecture, although with two noisy boys you can imagine sound travels easily in such an open space! It is also quite a cold house in winter, with any heat going straight upstairs. Nevertheless, it is a great, spaceous home for us to live in right now.

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Midcentury sideboard in a new built home

We added a few pieces of furniture we didn’t have before, including the white lights above the dining table. We also added a vintage painted sideboard to our interior, which we bought from Back to Life Furniture in Aberdeenshire, just before we left last year. As we had a giant artic truck coming to move us to Spain, we decided to make use of it! I love the way Lynsey painted the drawers and outside of the midcentury piece white and adding with subtle stripes to the doors, changing the look completely.

Vibrant paintings in a Spanish home

We also brought quite a few large paintings and framed prints to Spain. The vibrant painting of the jazz band above the sideboard I always loved, but it never looked quite at home in Scotland. Just a bit flamboyant. It is by a South American painter called Yvonne Mora and it looks so much more at home in Spain! I am so glad we kept it. It means even more to me now I have found a new Spanish band in Valencia and continue to sing (in English though, my Spanish is not up to singing standard yet!).

The large green artwork behind the dining table is a 1966 original print by the late Aberdeen artist Pauline Jacobsen. I once bought it at auction for just £25… I instantly loved the midcentury feel of it and I am so glad we now own it. It is one of two…I wonder where its twin is…? Does anyone know?

No hallway? What about the shoes!

As with many Spanish houses, there is no vestibule or hallway. You open the front door and you’re straight in! This means tidying up is pretty vital in the entry area, with jackets, shoes, cycling helmets and school bags. I bought a coat stand and recently decided to move one of my vintage chests of drawers downstairs as well, to help keep most of the stray stuff out of sight. I think the vintage furniture in our new home goes quite well. The painting above it? Another wonderful Scottish artwork (by Ian W. Paterson) I found on one of my treasure hunts, at a book fair this time.

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boho decor in new house

A large sunny loft space

One of the perks of this new built house in the suburbs of Valencia is its large attic space. It has become a very versatile room, for the kids to play in as well as for guests to stay. Our cat also loves it up here. Peaceful! Sometimes – when I feel disciplined – I roll out my yoga mat once the kids are at school and before I start work. I open the door onto the roof terrace to let the sun in. Bliss. In summer it turns into an oven up here, but right now in winter it is pleasant and warm.

mustard yellow bedroom

Craving for colour

Living Spain has made me want to use more bold colours in my interior. I probably wouldn’t have chosen these bedroom curtains back in Scotland, but here they look fabulous in the bright sunlight. The vintage mustard yellow Welsh blanket is only used in the winter months, as it’s airconditioning on and thin sheets all summer! The artwork above the bed is a relief print by Scottish artist Francis Boag.

mustard yellow bedding

As we are renting this house, it is tricky to make it completely our own. I probably would change a few wall colours or be a bit more adventurous with putting up shelves and pictures, but I mainly used existing picture hooks. The walls are also different here than in the UK and much harder to drill into. Don’t want to make a mess of it! We did use some heavy duty Command strips to hang up white board and pictures on the tiled wall in the kitchen.

white kitchen cabinets

Rescue plants from Scotland

The terraces are filled with mediterranean plants. It even has two plants I once rescued from a dark old house in North-east Scotland, when I was on one of my vintage furniture buying trips. It turns out that they are a money plant and a rubber plant, both native here in Spain. They are literally growing arms and legs and obviously very happy to be in their natural habitat.

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A midcentury sideboard in a modern converted steading

Today I am visiting a midcentury sideboard in a modern converted steading. In this blog series I am tracking the beautiful vintage pieces that were once bought from my store Nina’s Apartment. I am looking them up them in their new homes. I rescued most of these pieces from house clearances or I bought them from older people who were downsizing and no longer had space for their beloved (now vintage) furniture.

the journey of a vintage sideboard

Whatever their story, they carry a lot of history. I am sure if the original owners saw their furniture getting a new lease of life, it would put a smile on their face. So who bought them, why and where are these pieces now? This time I am looking up a sleek teak sideboard, bought from a house clearance. Dusted off, polished up and giving some TLC. Currently taking pride of place in a gorgeous modern converted steading near Alford, Aberdeenshire.

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looking for stylish storage

New owners Erika and Derek came into Nina’s Apartment two years ago, looking for something that was stylish, of a mid-century modern design and with plenty of storage space. It also needed to be low enough to fit under the sky light windows. The sideboard didn’t change that much in use compared to its original purpose. It’s main function is the the family’s drinks cabinet. They did update the original door knobs and replaced them with dark grey marbled ones to add a bit of contrast.

modern converted steading


modern converted steading

Erika, who produces artwork at a design company and her husband Derek, who works in the oil industry, converted the old steading ten years ago. They live there with their two teenage daughters. They chose to have the living space upstairs and the bedrooms downstairs. This provided them with amazing views over the Aberdeenshire countryside and also makes the large open plan top floor very bright and sunny. Although according to Erika “the whole space gets pretty dark in winter on days when there is heavy snow and all windows are covered”!

modern converted steading


a quality vintage sideboard

The sideboard Erika and Derek bought is a 1960s design by A Younger Ltd. This English company was a high quality furniture manufacturer that led style and contemporary taste in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Younger furniture was low volume, well made and aimed at the top end of the market. It was also among the first firms to make Scandinavian style furniture in the fifties. Finally it was one of the first manufacturers to abandon the style in search of something more original in the late sixties (more info on Retrowow).

modern scandinavian style decor

The design of the sideboard goes very well with the rest of the modern converted steading. The space is decorated in a kind of Scandinavian style and fairly monochrome colour scheme. It is nice to see how the owners have creatively combined vintage, high end design and high street furniture. The black and white rug was bought from La Redoute, the large grey corner sofa sofa is by SITS. I love the Ikea kitchen cabinets that, placed upside down and beside each other, were transformed into a full length TV and media unit. Talk about thinking outside the box!

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They found the vintage green kitchen table locally, as well as the old chest underneath it. The wall paper on the central staircase adds a nice bit of pattern to the bright room and is from Scion.

modern steading conversion


from neglected to adored

A lot of vintage pieces came into my shop in a very unloved, neglected state. I just love seeing them come to life again in their new environment. I know it sounds like I am talking about the adoption process of an abandoned kitten, but I think this was one lucky sideboard to find such a fitting, stylish and sunny home. This modern converted steading with its beautiful interior, light and open plan living is just perfect. And I can’t help but feeling slightly envious.

modern steading conversion scotland

vintage furniture in modern home

Vintage revisited: midcentury sideboard in a monochrome converted steading

In this blog series I am tracking the beautiful vintage pieces that were once bought from Nina’s Apartment, looking them up them in their new homes. Most of these pieces were rescued from house clearances or bought from older people downsizing and no longer having space for their beloved (now vintage) furniture. Whatever their story, they carry a lot of history and I am sure if the original owners saw their furniture getting a new lease of life, it would put a smile on their face. So who bought them, why and where are these pieces now? This time I am looking up a sleek teak sideboard, bought from a house clearance – then dusted off, polished up and giving some TLC – and now taking pride of place in a gorgeous converted steading near Alford, Aberdeenshire.

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New owners Erika and Derek came into Nina’s Apartment two years ago, looking for something that was stylish, of a mid-century modern design and with plenty of storage space. It also needed to be low enough to fit under the sky light windows. The use of the sideboard didn’t change that much compared to what it was originally used for: it’s main function is now as the family’s drinks cabinet. They did update the original door knobs and replaced them with dark grey marbled ones to add a bit of contrast.

alfordblog

Erika, who produces artwork at a design company and her husband Derek, who works in the oil industry, converted the old steading ten years ago and live there with their two teenage daughters. They chose to have the living space upstairs and the bedrooms downstairs. This provided them with amazing views over the Aberdeenshire countryside and also makes the large open plan top floor very bright and sunny. Although according to Erika “the whole space gets pretty dark in winter on days when there is heavy snow and all windows are covered”!

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The sideboard Erika and Derek bought is a 1960s design by A Younger Ltd. This English company was a high quality furniture manufacturer that led style and contemporary taste in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Younger furniture was low volume, well made and aimed at the top end of the market and amongst the first firms to make Scandinavian style furniture in the fifties. It was also one of the first manufacturers to abandon the style in search of something more original in the late sixties (more info on Retrowow).

The design of the sideboard goes very well with the rest of the house, which is decorated in a modern, kind of Scandinavian style and fairly monochrome colour scheme. It’s nice to see how the owners have creatively combined vintage, high end design and high street furniture. The black and white rug was bought from La Redoute, the large grey corner sofa sofa is by SITS. I love the Ikea kitchen cabinets that, placed upside down and beside each other, were transformed into a full length TV and media unit. Talk about thinking outside the box!

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The green kitchen table is a vintage piece found locally, as well as the old chest underneath it. The wall paper on the central staircase adds a nice bit of pattern to the bright room and is from Scion.

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Knowing the often unloved state vintage pieces were in when I first got them in the shop, I just love seeing them come to life again in their new environment. I know it sounds like I am talking about the adoption process of an abandoned kitten, but I think this was one lucky sideboard to find such a fitting, stylish and sunny home. And I can’t help but feeling slightly envious.

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Vintage revisited: journey of a sideboard

One of the great things about buying and selling vintage is knowing where it came from and seeing it off to a new home. Often I buy from older people who need to downsize and it is lovely to hear the history of the dining table they had so many Christmas dinners at, the china cabinet that always took pride in their living room or the sixties sideboard they bought for their wedding. Some people are happy to get rid of things, but more often than not you spot a bit of sentiment in the seller’s face as you lift the piece into the back of the car and drive off. Knowing that their beloved piece will be given a new home makes things easier, for sure. I thought it would be nice to share some of these stories and see the old pieces in their new setting. In this new blog series I am revisiting the vintage pieces that left my shop over the years and find out where they ended up.

First up is a sleek mid-century sideboard, now living in a converted steading in rural Aberdeenshire. I found her in a beautiful artist’s home, surrounded by other vintage pieces, colourful rugs, ceramics, books and artworks.

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New owner Kate bought the sideboard from Nina’s Apartment three years ago after spotting it on the facebook page. She was looking for plenty of storage for her craft supplies and in particular her sewing stash. The sideboard was the perfect low shape for the location she had in mind: the upstairs landing which doubles up as office, library and cosy TV nook.

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“The beauty of these vintage pieces is that the functionality of them can change with the years” says Kate. “The top drawer of a sideboard was normally used for cutlery back in the days, but it actually makes a great drawer for sewing supplies like thread, scissors and haberdashery. The cupboards have plenty of space for fabrics too.”

Kate and her husband are clearly big fans of the mid-century and Scandinavian style which is visible throughout the house. Downstairs a vintage blond wood Ercol suite and matching tables take pride of place in the wonderfully bright sitting room looking out onto the garden. The chair, footstool and day bed were reupholstered in the mustard yellow velvet curtains from Kate’s family home, providing just enough fabric to cover all the seats. Artworks, old rugs and house plants add to the eclectic, colourful mix.

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Mid century ceramics can also be found dotted around the house as well as glassware. “Some of the things I have had for years”, Kate says,”Some were inherited and other things I picked up from shops over the years. If it has a great shape and design it doesn’t matter where it is from, I just add it to the collection.”

The sideboard has certainly landed itself in the perfect environment. To imagine so many of its contemporaries ended up on bonfires is incredible. This one is definitely enjoying a fantastic second life.

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House tour: a small converted farmhouse in the Netherlands

On my travels through the Netherlands this month I popped into my friend Frederiek’s house in the tiny village of Huizinge, north Groningen, who lives there with her partner Wimer and their three-year old son Teun. Huizinge is a beautiful characterful village surrounded by endless flat green fields and far horizons. Frederiek and Wimer recently bought one of the old houses and brought it right up to date with a gorgeous interior full of vintage finds, contemporary art, minimalist touches and plenty of house plants.

Although the house inside doesn’t look anything like it originally was, Frederiek and Wimer didn’t have to do a lot of structural work to the building themselves when they bought it. “We bought the house casco (Dutch for a ‘shell’ building ed.), so it was mainly the inside that still needed to be finished. That way we were able to make the interior just the way we wanted which was great because we were looking for a blank canvas to work with”, Frederiek says. As a result the house is now much more suitable for modern living. The small rooms in the front of the house were originally living room and storage but are now the two bedrooms and the old animal barn got converted into a spacious and very bright kitchen-dining room.

Frederiek (here pictured with my husband)

The couple, who both work in the creative sector, have a keen eye for finding design on a shoestring budget and were lucky enough to salvage the large globe lights from a building in Groningen that was about to be demolished. Other vintage finds are the mid century dining chairs, sofa and armchair and the beautiful old tall glazed cabinet that came out of a cafe. Teun’s nursery is an eclectic collection of heirloom furniture from Frederiek’s family.



Despite the huge transformation there are still many original features which give the house a lot of character, such as the old barn windows, wooden doors and beams, now all painted in a fresh duck egg blue and warm greys. The seamless minimalist grey Egaline floor was poured throughout the house and forms a nice contrast. This type of floor is normally only used as under flooring but when mixed slightly different and coated it works well as a finished product too. Oh, and it is highly practical – what else would you expect from the Dutch?

A glass fronted extension looking out onto the garden and adjoining fields forms their bright ‘sitting room with a view’ including a wood burning stove, wall to wall book shelves and plenty of space for little Teun to play.

Their drive to make the house their own doesn’t stop here though. Having only moved in last December the energetic couple is already working on their next design project: the garden studio / guestroom. No doubt this will look just as stunning as the rest. I can’t wait to see it!