Monday, February 1, 2016

The Bar Itself

Sorry for the lack of updates on this blog for the past few months.  At the end of November, we finally dismissed the contractor due to excessive delays. Now that he's gone, the project is entirely in our hands, which is great news because in the last two months, we have completed more work then was done in the previous 6! We are extremely happy to be working on the project directly instead of waiting, but it applies some pressure... Now, there is now no one to blame if things go slow, we only need to push ourselves, and we are!

There's been an enormous amount of work done, but let me just focus on the Bar itself... The physical thing that you put your elbow on when ordering a drink.

Designing a bar has proven to be about as challenging as we expected. There are so many considerations. A good bar has a lot of essential ergonomics that most people never give a second thought too.  The height must be exactly right, the distance between the bar lip and supporting wall must feel comfortable, and give the right space for legs when sitting. A footrest is not an afterthought, there have actually been studies showing that people linger substantially longer if they have a place to rest a foot. Lighting has to be right.  Shelves have to grab attention and be functional.  Equipment must be placed logically for the best efficiency. Space is always at a premium and must be allocated intelligently.

We did a fair amount of research, and honestly, the more I read, the more scared I became.  There are so many considerations, and many of them can create a hard to solve disaster if not properly planned out. If you forget to leave enough space for the right size ice machine, business can suffer and fixing it is probably not going to be easy.

On top of that, we have almost zero experience in this part of the business.

As I mentioned in the last post, we found a really good local kitchen equipment company (Refrinovar).  They helped a lot, and were particularly patient with our lack of knowledge (and our week Portuguese language skills too).

Having the equipment sorted out, we got to get to the exciting stuff...  What the thing would actually look like:

 Early on we decided to do something in carved wood. At first we were really hoping to find an Art Deco or Art Nouveau design that we could try to copy, but it was a struggle.  Ultimately, our Architect, João came up with a geometric design with a subtle relief.

 It all came together over a several month period. We made several mock ups, and tried lots of different options. I'm not sure the result is want any of us had in mind when we started, but we are really happy with the way it came together.

 Most people will probably drink at the bar without noticing the detailed design, and that's fine. We wanted it to be nice, but not attract too much attention to itself.

Full credit goes to our fantastic carpenters for executing this. They have really done an outstanding job on everything we have asked them to do. If anyone is looking for a great carpenter in Portugal, I begin to say enough to recommend Carpintaria Parque! These guys are AMAZING. They did all the doors and windows on the property using the traditional custom techniques. They were able to do anything we asked, and always to an exceptional level of quality. Whenever we have had problems they were there in an instant and never complained even when the fix required tearing out a lot of work.

For the bar top, we originally wanted to use copper. We struggled to find a supplier who could install it in Portugal at a reasonable price. Ultimately, we decided to switch for brass because we found a brass foot rail and some nice lamps with brass fittings which can be attached directly to the bar.  Here's a few pictures of the final product:

 As you can probably see from these pictures, we are getting pretty close to complete.  There are still a lot of little details, but I think you can plan on spring this year.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Equiping the Kitchen and Bar

A friend who recently opened a restaurant here in Porto recommended Refrinovar to provide and install equipment. It was another lucky find. Although the kitchen is not yet complete, we can already see that they are doing top quality work. Commercial kitchen equipment is expensive stuff, and also critically important. It has to be built to last, stand up to constant hard use, and run reliably every day. We did some homework and planning, but the fact is we are novices. This is the first bar we are designing. Ricardo at Refrinovar helped a lot, he had great advice, and worked with us to solve problems of limited space.

The structure of the bar is in place also. This structure will be covered with some wood panels, and the top will be brass.  Having these elements in place goes a long way to making the space feel like a bar, but there's still a lot of work to do. Yesterday, I was in the space and the bar shelves were going up.  I didn't get any pictures, but they look great.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Final Constructon and Planning Decoration

There are still some loose ends to tie up on the construction project, but it is mostly complete.  In the past month, some really nice elements have come into place:

We spent a small fortune on the cast iron metalwork, and it was worth every cent. I was a little worried about these elements... It was hard to imagine what they would look like installed. We spent a lot of money, and I was scared that I would be disappointed, but it came out better then I could have hoped! Long time readers of this blog may remember when when we found the foundry that could cast these pieces (see here and here). They really did fantastic work, and it's also nice to have a local story to tell!

The flooring in the bar area is paved in traditional hydraulic tiles, locally produced using the traditional method. The checkered tiles are identical to the tiles that had been used in the kitchen of the original house. We had wanted to keep the old tiles, but it was not possible to pull them up without breaking them, and the floor had to be remade. Fortunately, there is a manufacturer that still produces them called Azulima.  They do fantastic work, but don't call them if you are on a tight schedule.

In the lower area (and on the mezinine level) the floor is made from reclaimed french oak:

We also got the kitchen equipment delivered. Most of this stuff will be virtually invisible to the clients, but having it designed right will insure that the we can serve at a high level of quality and efficiency. I hope we got it right, it's our first time designing a bar/kitchen.

Outside, the garden is done (at least the construction phase). To those who were wondering about the peppers, that's them in pots (we put them in the ground today).

So what's left to be done? Quite a lot! We just finalized the design of the bar which will be wood with a copper top. Most of the furniture has been sorted out, but we are still sourcing a few things. Painting and decoration will also take some time. We are working to get the utilities connected so we can test the oven and finalize the menu. Then we have to stock, hire staff and work out operating procedures.

It's going to take a few months (at least) and we will be very busy, but at least now our dependence on the fantastically slow contractor is coming to a close.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

More Progress

There has been some progress in the last month, and it's getting exciting for us because it's quite obvious that we are close to the end. The form of the building is complete, and now it is the final elements coming into place. It is easy now to stand inside the bar and feel what it will be like when it is finished.

In front, the picture is nearly complete.  The doors and windows have been painted, and the tiles are complete.  There are some telephone wires, but we are working with Portugal Telecom to remove them.

Inside, it is nice to see the oven in it's final position:

The ceiling in the main space has been applied, and it is an element that we were really eager to see. Early on we thought it would be nice to have an old style tin ceiling. It's not traditional in Portugal, but it is common early 20th century saloons in the United States, and we thought it might fit in with the age of the building. It was a little expensive, and very hard to source in Europe (ultimately, we brought it from the US) but it was worth the trouble. It looks great, and I think it will have a big impact:

The bathrooms for the bar are built into the garden, and will have a patio space on top. We are using 'pavement lights' to allow some natural light into the space which is mostly underground:

Monday, June 8, 2015

Some more progress, but still not there

Things are slowly moving.  Not fast enough for us, and we are doing what we can to get it going at a proper pace. It's been a little while since I last updated the blog with building progress, and a fare amount has happened since then.

The crane moved:

I was so happy when it came, but since it means we are getting to the final works, I was also happy to see it go. They were also nice to help us demolish a bit of wall the fun way:

The outer skin is coming on the house too.  Tiles in front, and slate scales in back:

The white doors in the picture above are only painted with a primer coat, the final color will be a deep oxblood red.

Back at home, the chilies are making great progress. We should have the firsJalapeños next week, with the other varieties soon to follow.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A big day at the foundary

For those of you following this blog from the beginning, you may remember a post about the foundary.  We contracted them to do the stairs, railings, and a metal catwalk which will together will make one of the central features of TerraPlana.

Yesterday, we went out to the foundry to watch while they poured some of our pieces.

That's our walkway heated to 1500°! We got to watch the whole process from start to finish.

First, they start with a mold:

On the mold, they pack some special sticky sand supper tight so that the sand remembers the molds shape, producing a negative of the same mold:

Then they spray it with something and light it on fire. Probably this is done to burn off impurities.  Then again, maybe it's just to look cool and play with fire, either way, it worked:

After that, they cover it with a block of sand that contains some holes to pour in the metal. All the time that this is going on, they are cooking scrap metal in a huge furnace:

They told us that the metal melts at around 1200° but to make sure it is liquid enough, they continue heating it to about 1500°. When it's hot enough, they tip the furnace into a cistern, and then pour it into the mold:

Once it cools, they shake off the sand and lift out the final piece:

And that's how a pile of scrap metal becomes a walkway in a bar. Of course, it was incredibly cool to watch this process first hand. We can't wait to see the ironwork installed in the bar, but I will never forget seeing it in liquid form!  Thanks to everyone at CIF!

And now, for some videos:

Friday, May 1, 2015

More Time Lapse

I really wish we had a completed bar instead of a ever longer video, but here it is anyway:

This week, the crane was dismounted and removed. That is good news because there's a lot of work to be done in the garden and the crane had been obstructing progress there. Some of the work in the garden is demolition and while they were dismounting the crane, they gave us a little help with one of the walls:

The work on the house can now mostly be categorized as 'finishing'.  The main items left are painting, tiling and installing fixtures. It won't be done this month, but it's nice to feel that we are starting down the final stretch.

Meanwhile back at the farm, the peppers are coming along nicely.  It's been a little cold out the last few days, but they are ready to go outside as soon as the normal April weather returns.  I got 6 varieties going. Sadly, that does not include the Habaneros or Penis Peppers.  I'm still trying to germinate a few seeds, but it's probably time to give up hope.