To be able to travel for an extended time in 2021 and grow my knowledge and skill base, I am spending time at workaways. If you don’t know what workaway is; it’s a website that offers the possibility for hosts and workawayers to connect. Hosts offer food and lodging in exchange for help. Besides this exchange of labour for free housing there is a more important goal, and that’s the exchange of language, culture and knowledge.

Below you’ll find the workaway experiences I’ve had, the skills I gained and the skills that I already have and was able to use.

OffSiteLAB (10/5/2021-31/5/2021)

This 300 year old house has been in restoration for the last 16 years after not being used for decades. Over time much has been improved but it’s not finished yet. Unfortunately I didn’t work too much on the house but did help a lot with improving the garden and help with making a plan for its future.

The design process ended up going completely different from what I’m used to. The host was very experienced with a design process, but it was very different from what I know. So in the beginning I ended up making her drawings that she didn’t find useful at all. What actually worked for her was sitting down and tackling one issue at a time. She needed very detailed answers to very specific questions. After our conversation I made her a drawing of all the trees in the garden and a final result drawing. I’m very glad that I could help her in the way she needed. Also I’m very happy how much new insight it gave me, it was a big lesson on letting go of my regular process.

Some of the smaller tasks that I worked on are; cutting wood to size for the indoor heating, replacing the construction for the grape vines and improving the improvised roof of the barn. Also I did some scanning and photoshopping work on archive materials of the host.

Olive Farm (2/3/2021-23/3/2021)

The farm was bought five years ago in total disrepair. Anything that could be used by someone else was stolen. The building wasn’t an actual house, but more like a shed. Over the years the house has been transformed into something liveable and most of the irrigation was reinstalled. When I arrived they were in the middle of planting. We planted very young olive trees in places where other trees had died or where there was enough space to add a tree.

For a few days I worked on a plan for the outdoor space around the house

A small portion of the farm didn’t have irrigation yet. So we laid out pipes and dug holes. Unfortunately the owner wasn’t allowing me to help more with this project. I would have loved to learn how to connect and instal everything. So I peeked over his shoulder as much as I could and learned a few things on the way, but I wasn’t able to get the hands-on experience.

I did work a lot on plastering the outdoor walls. I gained more experience on mixing sand cement and water. It was new for me to add material in between the rocks of the wall. I also covered any visible bricks with a layer of plaster. Since mostly the top half of the building had to be done, a lot of time went into moving a scaffold into the right position. With such an uneven terrain it was quite the exercise to get it in a safe and solid position.

Solaria (20/1/2021-28/2/2021)

Solaria, the big 17th century house in Cantabria is being restored for the last year and a half. When I started helping the apartment (a portion of the house that will be rented out in the future) was well on its way to being finished. But there was still a lot that had to be done. The cornerstones of the windows and doors had to be cleaned so all the paint and plaster was removed and the beautiful original sandstone blocks were visible. Then the broken away plaster needed a nice edge going from plaster to sandstone. This was a very meticulous job, but once I got the hang of it, it was very rewarding. Besides creating edges there were also bigger and smaller holes that needed to be filled.

With a fine plaster we covered all these patches. Because nothing was straight on these walls it was difficult to create a smooth result, but the result after a bit of sanding was stunning. With some layers of fixer and paint the walls really started to come together. Over time I became more and more handy working with the plastering materials. I’m now quite confident at adding a layer of plaster to a wall.

In a different room I learned to lay a real wood floor using a nail gun and a jigsaw. I never worked with a nail gun before, so it was a great experience to work with one now. Another day we went to the workshop of one of the brothers. There we worked with a big team to change rough wood planks to polished wood that can be layed in the apartment in the future.

Last thing I worked on was the design for the garden. We walked through the garden and talked about her wishes for how she would want to use it and things that were mandatory. I made a sketch we talked over and then made the final design drawings. The hardest part for me in making this design was the height differences in this garden. I never had to consider this in designs before. I’m really happy with the idea of the rainwater collection system I came up with. The roof of the house is very large and all the water that falls on it comes down through two drain pipes that end in the top of the garden. By creating two tiny rivers the water can run to the lowest part in the garden and be collected in a pond. The water can then be used to water the vegetable garden that is next to it. I’m proud of the result and happy that I could help the owner with a plan and new ideas.

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