Once more, with Feeling! Introducing House Elements, a turnkey business for sale

The village in Spring
I’ve been wanting to write this for ages, about a year actually, because a year ago a bit of me that had been off in a corner crying since Phil died stopped sobbing and trailing streamers of snot, pulled itself together as much as is ever going to be possible and thought “It doesn’t end here!” and started to imagine again.

I write (purple prose), I cook (will create a meal from nothing much), I show people Turkey (the real bit, not the boom boom, “hey lady you Pamela Anderson’s sister?” bit), but more than anything I build homes. I make the pictures in my head real by building them. From Pembrokeshire to the Mexican Caribbean to the valley of Kirazli I have taken seemingly unpromising bits of real estate and made them shine.

I love it, all of it, the dreaming in the beginning, the planning where you press though the fog to form the project, the dirt and the complicated juggling of the building of the thing and then the fact of the finished building when it is all over. I give birth to buildings where other women give birth to babies; it’s a very similar thing, apart from the weight, all the hard work makes me thinner!

Anyway, about a year ago that building things bit of me woke up and the old addictions started looking for a fix and we decided to look, casually, for a new project.

It all stemmed from the studio really, we started renting it out and people loved it. They loved that it had character, they loved that it accommodated couples who would have rattled around in bigger villas but didn’t want to stay in a bland hotel room and they loved that it was in a real, living and working village.

The reviews were good, the bookings started stacking up and it was obvious that there was a significant gap in the market here, for small character properties that weren’t hotels and weren’t resorts, that were home stays in Turkey, letting independent travelers see life here but still be really comfortable.

The beautiful foothills of the Menderes Massif in Autumn

We talked it over with guests who had become friends and checked that we weren’t being totally bonkers about our perception of the tourism business in Turkey and they contributed lots of great input and confirmed what we were thinking – for single travelers, women and couples who have grown out of backpacker lodges but who aren’t yet ready to totally trade their towel (Hitchhikers of the Galaxy geek reference) for an AI wristband and who want to relax somewhere authentic and real and never have someone try to flog them a carpet accommodation choices can be thin on the ground.

With all this in mind we decided to think seriously about a new project and we were actively looking for a property that would work in this sector of the market when I wrote this blog post back in March – Buying Village Houses

Old adobe brick in 50cm thick walls
We ended up finding a house we liked in that village I wrote about in the blog post. A cute little cottage on 800 square metres of land, small but with potential to grow and add further units on the land and we went down the buying road and agreed a price and we were on the way to the village to meet the mapping engineers and map the land when the owners pulled out.

It happens, it’s normal, it’s just part of the whole buying in a Turkish village thing, and you just grit your teeth a bit and go back to the beginning and start all over again. But as we were on our way to the village anyway we decided to carry on and look at one of the other buildings we had viewed there previously, it was a very large house, and we had loved it but decided it was too big for what we had in mind at the time.

Old walls and old fig tree
The building is sprawling; it’s on multiple levels, it has charming original features we can keep, it has a large private courtyard and beautiful mature fig tree. It’s position within the village gives access to extensive and stable infrastructure, it has good access, the boring necessity of brilliant road links and it’s right on the edge of the playground of the Aegean, perched between mountain and sea.

It’s a stone, old fired brick and adobe building – adobe is a wonderful material to build in and it ticks all the right boxes in my attitude to houses, it produces something that really belongs to its landscape, it’s traditional, it’s about as natural as it gets and it’s a fantastic natural insulator. A building like that takes me further down the road I have been traveling for the last decade or so, more sustainable, more in keeping, more natural every time.

So we viewed the house again, clambering all over it and getting happily dirty. The elderly owner gamely doddered from the tea shop and again hopefully offered up his much creased tapu and map. I photographed everything in sight from every angle, just in case, but I felt, with a heavy heart, that this was just too big a project. It was bigger than the last boutique tourism project we had built in Kirazli back in 2006, I could see it working as an off-plan project for someone wanting to relocate to Turkey but the world has changed between then and now and I didn’t know if people even considered that kind of thing now. Reluctantly, again, I said “No” to the property and we went home and the ancient owner went back to the tea shop.

Lake near the project
And then Nick started nagging me. He doesn’t nag much – apart from about things like dyson vacuum cleaners and garages and motorbikes – but this time he really nagged, he wanted this project, he thought it had legs, so to keep him quiet and because knowledge is never wasted, I did my homework.

I read the advance development plan for the area, I checked out the geology, I ran “what if’s” on spreadsheets and put myself under serious brain strain researching the history, methodology and recent breakthroughs in building in adobe. Every practical objection I could think of was overturned in the research.

Yet still I dithered, mainly I think because I was scared, not of the project, the more I learnt the more it made sense to me, but because people don’t seem to love property any more and I thought people would laugh at me if I said I was doing another off-plan (dirty word!) development and I’m more fragile than I used to be about stuff like that.

A month or so later, when we were out exploring the area we drove past the house and the huge original 16 foot front doors were off and I felt a stab of pain, someone must have bought it, it would be knocked down and some hideous concrete bunker built on the land.

Fifteen minutes up the road I made my mind up, I couldn’t let it go. We pulled over at the side of the road up above Aydin, parked up overlooking the sweep of hills down to the Menderes plain and we phoned the emlak who said the house hadn’t been sold. So we went back to the village and found the ancient owner in the tea shop and we went to his garden and negotiated over tea and fruit and we bought it. Just like that.

Draft floorplan of House Elements
Well not really just like that, it took six months between checking all the legal stuff, negotiating the new laws, wading through bureaucracy and the snail slow speed of communication with someone who is nearly 90 years old, only reads Arabic Turkish and who doesn’t own a mobile phone and is scared the foreigners are going to rip him off (novelty!).

But eventually it all got done and this week I became the official owner of yet another wreck and I’ve already had six months to draft out the plans and the costings and source the really innovative stuff this project needs.

It’s an October morning in Turkey, the sky is that beautiful rich saturated blue of Autumn, a few high clouds are floating overhead wondering if it’s worth clubbing together to try and generate a rain shower. It seems unlikely they will bother; the day is warm, the sunlight less harsh than high summer but it still heats the roses enough to make their scent waft across to where I am sitting with my back against an old brick column, with my sketchbook on my lap, looking at an overgrown courtyard, looking at old walls and weathered terracotta roofs, looking at a twisted fig tree, looking with my eyes half closed, dreaming the details into existence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s take it from the top and do it all again, once more, with feeling:-

House Elements Logo

We are proud to present House Elements, a natural adobe residence which will produce four rental apartments and a two bedroom owner’s house built around a courtyard pool and garden.

Combining ancient construction methods using stone, reclaimed fired brick, new adobe brick and lime mortar with modern reinforcing technology of epoxy soaked carbon fibre rods this super insulated property will give someone a turnkey business in Turkey working in a vibrant and growing sector of the tourism market.

If you want to move to Turkey and you’re too young to just sit in the sun and get wrinkly and you’re too sane to bung your cash in the bank and watch the interest rate go down and you’re passionate about showing people this great, big, amazing, infinitely varied, country then come talk to me, I think I have something for you!

For more about House Elements please see it’s own website here:- House Elements

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14 Responses to Once more, with Feeling! Introducing House Elements, a turnkey business for sale

  1. deniz says:

    Loved your artcile and share your passion for preserving/bettering characteristic old homes.. But I wanted to ask you the oddest question- how can I find the 90 yr old man who reads Ottoman? They are so hard to find and it is so so imp to me with my web-site and mounds of family documents. As it has become evident that Arabic people can’t read old Ottoman… We tried that, only professors at a few university can. My grandparents used to be able to, but they passed away quite a while ago. I know the Aydın road and area very well as we have traditionally been the Bey of the Aydın Beyliği and have the farm and the house there- name of a village would help me immensely.. is it past germencik? or before the tunnel ? I seriously have noo interest in any morer real estate- am trying to deal with the ones I inherited last week, as all are such unique buildings, we are at a loss as to what to do with them. So I am certainly not interested in approaching this ” dede” for any other reason than his knowledge of Ottoman script…
    BTW- would love to have you over for dinner in a couple of weeks at the Kuladası house ( unusual but we were the first to build a stone house and live in 3 dönüm and people are after it and hound us like crazy and the expenses are immense- my personal desire is to keep the stone house and the pool that my father built and knowck down the new satellite homes and rent to the same profile of visitor which you describe in your article.. Would very much enjoy a general chat and perhaps some exchange of ideas. Best , x Deniz (541 775 17 95)

    • Karen says:

      Hi, I don’t know if the old man will be able to help you, his health is very poor and we were really worried he wouldn’t survive until the actual tapu transfer, he is very weak and he has good days and bad days. When we did all the pre-sale contracts everything had to be read to him as he didn’t read normal Turkish and we only found out last week that it is because he can only real Ottoman Turkish when he tried to sign his name in Ottoman. We’ll meet up and see if we can find a way for you to speak to him, he doesn’t have a phone and you have to go and find him but his daughters are really friendly and we get on well with them. K xxx

  2. Annie Taylor says:

    Oh Karen, this is so exciting! No wonder you’ve had to take up diving if you’ve had all this bubbling around. Two big project, two huge contrasts. I absolutely agree with you about adobe being a wonderful material. All our stuff is stored in an adobe barn in the north of Spain and when we visit it, or take anything away with us, it’s as fresh and clean as the day we packed it. No humidity, no smell. The barn is never too cold, never too hot.
    This sounds a perfect project – I look forward to seeing it develop further.
    Good luck – though of course, it’s not luck, is it!
    Axxx

    • Karen says:

      The more I learn about adobe the more I like it, particularly now there are some breakthroughs to make it more structurally stable during earthquakes. As a home to live in it provides a really healthy space, really different to most Turkish houses which are full of plastic paint, and I like the concept that the house really is part of the land. It’s interesting that you have your stuff stored in an adobe barn, must be well over a year now that it’s been there, if you left stuff in a normal house here it would be green in weeks, my poor friend came back from a visit to the states for a holiday and her bathroom ceiling was black, so many of the properties here are damp and don’t breath, adobe breathes and now we’ve found a supplier of hydraulic lime (feel free to yawn!) we can make proper lime render, it’s only taken me six year to find that supplier.

      Will keep you posted on progress but we won’t start actual work on this until we know who will eventually live in it and that’s where the luck comes in, I need luck for the right person to see this project at the right time!

      K xxx

  3. Margaret Glenn says:

    Loved this article, your enthusiasm had me exhausted. lol Cannot wait to see the finished product, sounds wonderful. x

    • Karen says:

      lol you know me, I am exhausting, I can bore people rigid with my enthusiasm! Honestly though I feel really passionate about this project, probably because it took so long for me to agree to buy it and also because it’s so different to what most of my friends think of as typically Turkey but is so familiar to me and my Turkey. I really believe in it as a viable tourism business and I’m really tough to convince :-) Thanks for liking the idea K xxx

  4. Wonderful post Karen! Wish you all the best in your building endeavors! Love having the big fig tree next to the old stone house. I have this area of Turkey on my future travel list so hopefully we will be able to be one of your guests someday!

    • Karen says:

      I love that fig tree, I’m going to try hard to preserve it, we’ve also got some amazing mature grapevines that I am loathe to dispose of – If anyone can give a home to some gnarly old vines let me know – and a beautiful pomegranite tree and a rambling red rose with a heavenly scent that I am definately keeping if I have to set a guard on it, the old owner picked one of the roses and gave it to me the day we bought the place, it was such a lovely courtly gesture.

      You are more than welcome any time to any home we have, we’d love to see you and show you our bit of Turkey.

      K xxxx

  5. BacktoBodrum says:

    Hi Karen – I wish you could set up a business where you would sell me some of your energy! After building just one house 20 years ago and renovating another this year, I don’t have the get-up-an-go to even think about starting a new project. What’s your secret?

    • Karen says:

      I am the laziest person on the planet, just ask Nick! I have the secret to constructive laziness, my brain doesn’t sweat much and so I get it to do all the work, often whilst I am doing something else, like watching Doctor Who :-) Thinking is easy, put enough thought in and a plan develops along with contingencies and then you just follow the plan. It sounds stupid but building never stresses me, I get more stressed not building, for some reason building appeals to my logical processes.

      This build is actually really exciting because I got to learn a load of new stuff over the summer to do with adobe and there were all these new breakthroughs in the building methods and also the difference in the availability of specific materials between my last project and this one is amazing. Turkey is coming on in leaps and bounds. I did think I would have to bring a container in from the UK with certain stuff I really wanted (insulation! architectural antiques) but it now looks like I can get everything here so that immediately invigorates me.

      I’m getting boring now aren’t I (sigh)

      K xxxx

  6. Perpetua says:

    This sounds so exciting, Karen, and your enthusiasm just leaps off the screen. No wonder you haven’t had much time to blog. :-) Good luck with the project and the sale. It really deserves to succeed.

    • Karen says:

      Oh thank you, I do hope we find the right person for it or I sell this house and then I’ll do it for myself, either way I hope it gets to live. K xxxx

  7. Christine says:

    Having read your blog regularly for ages, and often wanted to comment but didn’t, this time I really must do so. How exciting, fascinating and brave to take on this project in the land of ‘beton’ (sigh). Adobe, hydraulic lime, natural paint… boring? Far from it, at least for me. So glad that natural materials are getting available in Turkey. I am especially interested in your project as I’ve been there myself – completely restored a very old stone house in the mountains in France. No concrete. Lime mortar, hemp and wool insulation. The house breathes and everybody says they feel instantly at ease when they come in.
    I admire your cool head when making decisions. I tend to follow my heart and trust my instinct. When you first described this house in an earlier post, I was sad to hear that you turned it down. Now things are as they should be. You have saved this house from a horrible fate! The old owner giving you a rose – lovely gesture and surely some kind of silent blessing.
    Looked at the dedicated website you created for the project. Love your description of the spaces – so easy to imagine walking around. You have the gift of evocative prose!
    I will be following developments avidly – would love to know every detail (vicarious restoration pleasure…)
    So once again, congratulations and very best wishes for the new house.

    • Karen says:

      Oh thanks for commenting, it’s nice to hear from you. When I first came here I built a house in the “normal” Turkish way and I was really unsatisfied with it, it felt like style over substance and I hated the beton with a passion, I really hated that every time a door needed to be fitted or tiles laid yet another bloody layer of beton was added, I found that really irritating, I like to get a level right the first time not correct every error with concrete! Things have moved on massively since then, stuff is more readily available but it isn’t in regular usage…at home in the UK I can go online, order a couple of tonnes of lime mortar and have it delivered to the door, five years ago here if I wanted lime mortar I had to dig a pit and make it myself six months before I needed it, now I can make it myself quicker with real hydraulic lime and that’s a massive step forward. Slowly slowly things are changing here and I’d really like to make adobe more widespread as a material in new buildings particularly as half the houses in this country were/are made of it and it is now possible to reinforce it safely for use in an earthquake zone.

      Thanks for reading and liking the new site and I am in the middle of writing a pretty tedious article on adobe and it’s use in an earthquake zone so there will be a fair bit of detail in that for those who aren’t put to sleep by restoration minutae! :-)

      K xxxx

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