Jean Lane-Polyzoides describes the process of choosing a piece of land and following the building of
Sounds impossible, that's what we thought, but twelve years ago contractors did not exist on Paros and if you wanted a house you bought the land, drew up your plans, got yourself an architect and an engineer and then searched around for the best people to build it for you, and tried to make sure they used only top grade materials.
There is something very special about doing it this way, following every step, but if you are working twelve hours a day, six days a week in the UK, then the first thing you need are good friends! We were lucky to have Andreas who trained in the UK as an orthopaedic surgeon (and who initially introduced my husband to Paros) who dealt with all the paperwork involved in getting permission etc., and also our friend Babis who gave time every day for eight months to oversee the building and do the ordering for us. Without them, it probably would have been impossible.
But, I am going too fast. First we had to find some land...
For three years during our two week holiday in Paros we raced around from one possibility to another. The description always sounded just right, but the reality was usually different. It would be too far from the sea (after 35 years of working in the Midlands, my husband who was born in Alexandria yearned to wake up and see the sea below him) or the plot was too isolated. I recall one magnificent piece of land near Santa Maria, but at that time there was no possibility of mains water, nor of electricity, and with three teenage boys we needed somewhere near to the "action".
The one plot we nearly bought near Parasporos is now a luxury hotel, and sounded ideal when the German lady who owned it described it to us, but when we visited it on three separate occasions there was always such a violent wind that we were blown backwards and had visions of dining with candlelight on our veranda and the plates (and candles) being blown off the table!
Eventually we found our dream spot, through a patient my husband met whilst walking on Krios beach one sunset - whilst examining her knees he happened to ask if she knew of any land for sale in the area. "Of course", she replied, "this whole mountain behind you is for sale."
Excited, we went to see it the very next morning and - very important tip - never be put off by what looks like very rough and inhospitable terrain. Ours was virtually unclimbable and very hostile-looking, but once the diggers take over they can transform anything. Also, when you find your piece of land, do keep going back at different times of day to see where the sun rises and sets, and how the sea changes at different times as well as the way the wind can change within minutes. It's also important to go at night and see the stars and the moon - we never noticed these things in England but now watching the moon rise whilst having an evening glass of wine is a favourite occupation.
We found too that you need to sit on the ground for hours to decide in what direction the house should face for maximum protection from the sun and the wind, and so you get just the view that you want.
We took dozens of photographs and, armed with these and our memories, we went back to the UK and sat night after night with a blank piece of paper until we designed what we really wanted from our future home. Remember to be prepared for great flexibility with the people you will be working with. Our first meeting with the architect was at 10pm one wet and windy evening in Athens and lasted at least 3 hours with snacks and coffee - much nicer than a 30-minute slot between 9-5pm in the UK! But the most memorable appointment was with the engineer who met us at midnight when we got off the ferry and had a pizza with us whilst he was waiting for the next boat back to Athens at 2.30 in the morning!
So now we had the land, and we had decided on the size and basic design of the house - all we needed was the planning permission! This could take one thousand words alone, but suffice to say that our friend Andreas went on many trips to Naxos (where permission was granted in those days) armed with varying sizes of envelopes. Initially it was designated as only being agricultural land but eventually the authorities were persuaded otherwise (hooray for flexibility).
We later took a few days off and came to meet the men who would flatten the land - we spent every day with them, taking them spaghetti and casseroles at lunchtime, so that we could get exactly the position for the foundation that we wanted. They wanted us to keep the land at a much higher level but we knew that the northerly wind would come roaring down the mountain in the winter months and that the lower we went into the mountain with the high land behind us the better it would be. So - very important - stick to what you feel is instinctively best for you - these workers are so helpful and will always listen to what you want.
The other thing we learned early on in the building process is not to be afraid to change the plans if you see something that you feel you would prefer done differently. In that case, say so - you are going to live there! We changed doors to windows and then closed them completely and then opened one somewhere else, and my kitchen window overlooking the bay gradually became larger, although the builders insisted I should have more cupboard space. I knew that I had in front of me one of the most spectacular views anywhere and that I needed that big window to see from the port as far as Antiparos and even to the lighthouse and the boats rounding the headland. We even built and closed three different drives, finally ending up with one at the back of the house rather than at the front, which everyone tried to persuade us was the most convenient. How pleased we are now that we did this and so could avoid all the visitors coming up and parking in front of the house.
Our friend Babis was incredible, he kept us informed every week and was so descriptive of the construction and its minor problems, that we felt that we really were part of it. This was especially true when he would telephone early in the morning (there was a two hour time difference) before going to his meat business, to ask us whether we wanted white or pale grey marble for the sills, or did we want light switches with a light blue line around or a darker blue line and did we want white wooden poles for the curtains or natural wood. To decide on the colour of the shutters (we eventually stuck to natural wood, heavily varnished) took us a week of telephone calls, but with his advice and our instinct for what we wanted, it all worked perfectly, and the house was completed in a record time of eight months.
We bought furniture and, in fact, everything from England in one large container. This not only kept us busy during the building time, but was also very practical for us, as you did not have to bring extra monies into Greece (remember the pink slips - keep all of them to show how you paid for the house). There was so much stuff it took three days for the container people to pack it up but it meant that when we did get it here (and through Customs who only wanted to know if we had got any guns, whisky or cigarettes and were not at all interested in my inventory which had taken weeks to compile in great detail!) all we had to do was unpack and start living. Forward planning is definitely the essence here.
The last thing we dealt with - and maybe we should have done it first, but the land was so awful we could never envisage being at the planting stage - was to organise the trees and the vines and flowers. The olive trees went in first to provide a breaker and ensure they would produce fruit as soon as possible, followed by rose bushes, which have been the most wonderful addition to a garden we could ever imagine. We brought them with us one day on the ferry with Babis who knew a good nursery (although it seemed to take hours to even find it) and was one of the best things we did. They grew so fast and abundantly and we now have the most wonderful blooms from as early as mid April until November. Now we have some fruit trees and a wonderful vegetable patch and herb garden, but these came later when we settled here three years ago. This is something you can't organise from afar, not even by telephone!
This article was a runner-up for the Paros Life-DIKEMES competition in May and won Jean one year's free subscription to Paros Life.