Sunday, 13 November 2016

Corredera number 2 - renaissance of a house.

Fascinating things have been sleeping behind the front door of Corredera number 2

One of the things that most fascinate me about Vejer is the wonderful and sometimes mysterious old houses in the historic centre, many of which have stood empty for years. I can’t resist wondering what happened inside their thick walls, and what stories those walls would tell if they had voices. 

The most familiar view of the house: the corner of Calle Retiro and Calle Corredera
 The houses built by the wealthy in the nineteenth century had not changed much in plan or purpose from traditional dwellings like the Casa del Mayorazgo. The rooms were still arranged around a central patio which was left open to the sky, though this was sometimes smaller than in the older houses.The patio had an important function in allowing light into the rooms and creating an upward current for warm air in the summer. Storage and housing for animals, especially the ubiquitous mule, were provided on the ground floor, while the living accommodation was situated on the first and second floors in rooms lit by long, graceful windows. 

One of Vejer's restored houses
 As wealthy families declined and their large properties became old-fashioned and hard to maintain, some were left empty, growing less inhabitable every year. Local families were not always willing or able to take on he expense and responsibility of repairing and maintaining them, and some drifted into semi-dereliction. Complex inheritance laws don’t help the efficient transfer of property and for some, the bureaucratic mountain ahead of them was insurmountable.

Ingenious renovation - the old aljibe made into a pool.
 You can see plenty of these grand old properties on websites like Idealista, priced at up to and beyond a million euros. Some have been carefully maintained by their owners and are now as sturdy as when they were built, while others have been beautifully restored. Others still languish in a state of dilapidation, waiting for a loving owner to bring them back to their former beauty. The job of rescuing big old houses often falls to incomers from other parts of Europe, and this is where Alexander Netze and Bernadette Rutges, the new owners of Corredera number 2, enter the picture.

Alexander Netze and Bernadette Rutges enjoying their roof terrace
 I met Alexander and Bernadette, who recently moved to Vejer from their native Holland, when photographer Marcel Snyders, knowing my interest in old buildings, asked if I would like to meet the new owners of Corredera number 2 and have a look around the old house. I couldn’t have been more delighted. There’s been no activity in the house for as long as I’ve lived in Vejer, and I’ve often wondered what would finally become of it. Now at last it’s getting a makeover and a new lease of life. The couple are planning to convert part of the house into their own personal accommodation and the rest into a set of ensuite rooms to be offered as luxury bed and breakfasts. 

Many old houses have been beautifully kept
by their Spanish owners
 Corredera number 2 was built in 1860 and so predates most, though not all, of the buildings on the Corredera. It stands on the corner with Calle Retiro, the downward road once named ‘Calle la Cantara’ (Quarry Road), which led to the quarry it was named after. It’s possible that the house was built for the quarry owners, and it may at one time have had a garden which was subsequently built on. Local gossip claims that it once belonged to a member of the Domecq sherry-producing family. Whatever the truth of the matter, the house has not been lived in for many years, and has recently presented a sad spectacle with its closed, shuttered windows and dusty front door.

 Alexander and Bernadette met us on the street as we tried knocking on one of the three doors which give access to the house. We made our way in through what would have been the servants’ entrance. Because the house is built on two levels, the utility area, traditionally on the ground floor, is accessed from a lower door while the formal front door opens onto the Corredera and leads to the first floor. The lower floor consists of three stables, a grain store, a laundry room, still equipped with the typical ‘lebrija’ earthenware wash bowls, and other store rooms, most of them with traditional Tarifa flagstones on the floors. The aljibe, which collected water from the roof, is still in place. There is a coach house and a third exit onto Retiro, which was once used for horses and mules, and a tiny stable beside it which may have been the home of the family burro. These spaces are in the process of being converted into guest accommodation, and will eventually provide a characterful breakfast room and bar. 
The old floor tiles will remain

 It was hard to drag myself away from the mysteries of the lower floor but the upper rooms, with their arches, tiled floors and exposed beams were a revelation. One long, shuttered room followed another, and though some of the floors are in need of repair, Alexander and Bernadette are hoping to save the tiles, which are probably as old as the house itself. I could have stayed all morning, relishing the mellow light filtered through the old blinds, which the couple are determined to restore and re-use, but there was another floor, with more graceful and elegant rooms and then the big roof terrace, with its astonishing views. 

Two-storey frontage onto the Corredera
The size of the property isn't apparent until you turn onto Retiro.
The house is built into the hill, creating a third storey.
Plenty of work still to do, but these elegant arches and beautiful tiles will soon come into their own.
The cool green window blinds will be restored and re-used
We took advantage of the sunshine to linger and talk about their plans for the house, which represents for them a new and exciting phase of life. The couple, who have plenty of experience in restoring old houses in their native Holland, are determined to preserve its original character and conserve its original features, and have appointed a local building expert to supervise the work. Ugly modern windows around the patio stairs will be removed and replaced by a glass cover on the roof which can be opened in the summer. There will be six beautifully designed and furnished rooms for visitors, each one with its own bathroom and plenty of space to meet and socialise, as well as a shady sitting-out area on the terrace. 

One of the many large and beautiful rooms now undergoing restoration
Alexander and Bernadette aren't stressing yet about furniture and decorations. They know they want to conserve every feature of this historic house while at the same time creating a warm, modern and efficient interior. They're keeping the old doors, windows, even the window blinds. The fun comes later. They talk about their project with the enjoyment of people who know what they want and know how to go about achieving their aims. There's no doubt that their B&B will be a joyful and welcoming place.

Spectacular views from the roof terrace
 I would love to know more about the history of Corredera number 2, and when the new library has finally brought its local history section up from the Casa de la Cultura, I plan to find out more. Meanwhile, I’m hoping to visit the house again next year when the work is done, and to write another blog about the finished article, when the house will have been transformed into another beautiful building that all Vejer can be proud of. 

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