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Vineyards, birdsong and outdoor living. Life on the edge of the magnificent Parc Natural del Garraf seems like a distant dream from the busy city streets of Barcelona. But in 2013, the dream became a reality for Sylvain Deltor and Marta Rodziewicz, when they moved into a house that was built to their design in the peaceful village of Olivella.
The couple, who met in Bournemouth, England, moved to Barcelona in 2007 and lived on the 13th floor of an apartment block in Vall d’Hebron for five years. When they started looking for a bigger place to raise a family, they couldn’t find anything that ticked all the boxes in Barcelona. Outdoor living, plenty of light and the sweeping views they had become accustomed to were all on the wish list, and the housing stock available in the city simply didn’t fulfil the requirements. So, when the opportunity arose to buy a 700-square-metre plot of land in December 2010, they jumped at it. Not only was it good value, it also offered a green escape from the city—a move that the couple were willing to make.
Sitting on a hillside with stunning views across the landscape of the Penedès region, the family home is situated at the lower end of a steep, narrow site filled with pine trees. It is a one-storey construction that steps up in the middle to follow the topography of the site and accommodates three bedrooms. Simple, clean lines characterise the house design, which is based around the concept of light, open-plan living. Natural light was a fundamental element of the design—the bathrooms are skylit, the kitchen incorporates small square windows amidst the tiling—with the pièce de résistance being the glazed corner of the open-plan living and kitchen area, the couple’s favourite spot. “It may look like a playroom now,” laughed Marta as she gestured towards the baby paraphernalia belonging to Lena and Lou, the couple’s 16-month-old twin girls, “but from here you have the best views across the landscape and it is always light.”
From the kitchen, a glass wall creates an almost seamless link to the outdoor terrace decked out with a green astroturf carpet, where the young family spend much of their time, enjoying barbecues and visitors’ company. A swinging chair perched on the edge of the site provides the perfect lookout point and a quiet spot to soak up the rays with a book in hand.
But it doesn’t stop there. Sylvain and Marta have big plans for developing the land behind the house, including an infinity pool and outdoor kitchen area that will enjoy even better views. This area will be connected to the rooftop of the existing house by a little bridge to allow access to a large terrace area, which is currently inaccessible.
Sylvain and Marta plan to build two timber guest suites amidst the pine trees above their house. Model and design by CAVAA Arquitectes. www.cavaa.net
Further up the site, which fronts onto another street, the couple plan to build two small timber cabins to be used by their many visitors. They plan to also market these suites as bed and breakfast accommodation during the summer months, creating a source of income from their investment, as well as the opportunity to meet people of all nationalities and share their home with them.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though; building a house involves a steep learning curve. “They say that by the time you build your third house, you get it right! This is our first, and there are definitely things that we would have done differently,” acknowledged Sylvain. They would have, for example, considered the outdoor space more carefully. “We spend a lot of time outside on the terrace, so a bigger area would have been better. We just didn’t think of that.”
There is also a lot to be said for doing the research. The local council has recently tightened up planning restrictions in the area, and it would now be difficult to carry out a housing project similar to theirs. “We nearly bought a site that had no construction potential!” exclaimed Sylvain. “I think talking to the neighbours and getting any words of advice or information about local builders is also a good idea,” added Marta helpfully.
So, would they recommend the house building experience overall? “Yes, although it was a nightmare at times,” admitted Sylvain. “It is great to be able to choose everything to suit your taste, but you never really know how much it is going to cost and when it will end.” The construction phase of the project was scheduled to last eight months, but it actually took three years to complete, just in time for the arrival of the twins. “We were very unlucky because the builder went bankrupt in the middle of the project, which caused huge delays. During that time, we were living in a studio flat in the Raval—the two of us and our cat, Loco, in 27m2—and it was very difficult to monitor the project from a distance. Looking back we can laugh about it, but at the time it wasn’t very funny!”
The family spend a lot of time enjoying their outdoor space.
It may have taken a lot of time and effort to get there, but the family are now reaping the benefits—fresh air, beautiful views, affordable living, and a safe, green environment with good schools nearby. “We’re right on the edge of the national park and it’s so peaceful here. The girls can play outside all day if they like,” said Marta, contented. “This is paradise for us.” Even the daily commute isn’t a drag. “I go on my motorbike, and it’s a nice 45-minute drive into Barcelona,” explained Sylvain. “Marta works in Cerdanyola del Valles, so it is easy for her to get there on the motorway.”
Of course there are some downsides. “We miss having the opportunity to easily go out and meet up with friends in the city,” admitted Sylvain. “It just means that we, and our friends, have to make a bit more effort.” And with just 3,600 residents, Olivella is a quiet town. “There are some expats living nearby, but there are not many opportunities to meet people locally,” said Marta. “There was one bar, but it closed down back in May.”
That said, the couple have had a constant stream of visitors since they moved into the house—family, friends, couch-surfers—so they are never quite on their own. And they are known for their welcoming spirit. “People say we’re crazy for having so many people stay!” laughed Marta. “But we’ve always been like this. During our years living in Barcelona, we had more than 120 people couchsurf at our place. We’ve met so many people over the years by opening our doors.”
And as they enjoy a sundowner overlooking the vineyards of Penedès, with the girls playing happily outside, it seems that it has all been worth it.
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