Monday, 22 October 2012

The Big Reveal - our new Garage/Annexe

A landmark has been reached. We at last have a secure building with all windows and doors fitted that we can lock and that from the outside looks beautiful (just don't look through the windows). A lot of work still to do on the inside but at least we have something pleasant to look at now. In the end we went for Farrow and Ball French Grey on the woodwork - seems to be the middle class historic home owners' colour of choice. And what with the shoddy work done on the porch screed, Simon did the rendering on the half timbered pads and made it look totally in keeping with the pads on the house. The garage doors and ironmongery from Gatewrights are also looking great. Cracking on with the inside now and sheltering from this horrible winter weather.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The staircase saga continues…

The good news is that another tradesman has packed up and left. The bad news is that we are left with stud work, roof and staircase unfinished and unacceptable due to sheer incompetence.

Let me go back a few months. At our initial meeting, the carpenter we decided to use, let's call him Matt (because that's his name) showed us a whole portfolio of staircases he had hand made. He also said he had built rooves and done lots of other various carpentry projects, but in the end it was the staircases we were sold on because nobody else we met claimed they could build one.

Matt started on our roof, didn't do a particularly good job but we let the niggling mistakes go because we needed him for the staircase.

He started building the staircase finally two weeks ago - Mark 1 had to be taken down and the materials binned because the angle was too shallow which meant the balustrading would end up across a doorway. He started building Mark 2 a week ago - over the weekend we were looking at the staircase in conjunction with the stud walling Matt had put up and realised that the string would end up buried in a plaster wall because it was beside and not in front of the stud walling. Obviously unacceptable.

When Simon pointed out this error to Matt and told him it was unacceptable and would need to be corrected, he told Simon that we would need to pay him for an extra day to correct this mistake, even though it was all his own doing. A heated discussion ensued and Matt walked off site as "he didn't want to be spoken to like that". Lucky I wasn't there or he would have been spoken to entirely differently (Simon is the calm one…)

We have come to the sad conclusion that you can't trust anyone to do a good job. Assume the worst and you might be pleasantly surprised. In the meantime Simon is sharpening his saw ready for the weekend.

I have spent all of my spare time this week painting our three sets of double garage doors (don't point out the runs, please!) We found a really great company to make these - they were delivered in two and a half weeks from date of order and the quality is great. Mind you with all the painting, we haven't had time to fit them yet. Don't want to be too optimistic! Knowing our luck they won't fit.

Scaffolding comes down tomorrow. Yippee!

Monday, 1 October 2012

The bottomless bank account is being bled dry

Another week, another large dent in the bank account.

Why is it that nobody on site can ever think more than an hour ahead?

Recent examples:

To set the scene, this is 5pm on a Thursday.
Brickie: We are going to need more black header bricks.
Me: When will you run out?
Brickie: Tomorrow.

Now to give you some background, for all of our brickwork we are using black header bricks and red stretcher bricks done in a Flemish bond style to match the main house. The header bricks are not stock items in any builders yard and are available for sale from Ibstock via Jewsons who charge for every delivery from the Ibstock factory and from  whom you must buy whole packs. Costly for being 50 bricks short. Luckily they are arriving today and the job has not been delayed. But why is it that it is impossible to get advance notification of any shortfalls or requirements, or costings without asking for them half a dozen times. Builders seem to expect materials to appear by magic by 8am the following day.

Last week our carpenter, who apparently specialises in staircases, was halfway through ours when my husband pointed out that it wouldn’t work (the balustrading came halfway across a doorway and the treads were massive). In short the whole thing is now only good for firewood and he has started the staircase again. A lesson in why not to pay date rates for any job (we have learnt that lesson in the past and aren’t) and also in why to get builders to buy their own materials (they then would be more careful about wasting them). That’s £100 that I may as well have burnt.

Talking of money to burn, we love Farrow and Ball paint and if you have used it you will know that is great quality and beautiful colours, but I was shocked to pay almost £50 for a 2.5L pot of exterior eggshell.  Why is paint so expensive?

Yet I'm making do with grey underwear with holes in it and worn out winter boots. No expense spared on the precious house, but the owner can go sing for it. Does anyone else understand this twisted logic?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Any light at the end of the tunnel? Not this week...

Monday morning and again we are extremely tired, trying to fit a semi-normal family life for our two boys around a massive building project (or two).

The latest is that all of the windows and doors have now been delivered for our garage/annexe, and the carpenter has finished the fascias, soffits and bargeboards. The whole lot now needs painting with wood preserver, then undercoat, then our chosen paint colour. Days if not weeks ahead with paint brush in hand and hair constantly streaked with white paint at school drop off and pick up (I'm used to the strange looks, luckily). So far they all fit (the windows that is) which is a first for us...

Of course they also need fitting so another of yesterday's danger filled activities was helping to lift, carry to the upper storey and hold windows in place whilst Simon planed, adjusted and fixed them in. No fingers lost to date!

The highlight of yesterday has to be going up the ladder to get onto the scaffolding, paint brush in hand and knocking my head on a scaffolding pole, nearly falling off the ladder and then having blood streaming out of my head. Oh, I'm so over this home improvement lark at the moment...

Anyway, I carried on with another round of wood preserver and still managed to serve up a passable dinner only 40 minutes late.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The ramblings of a Victorian house owner

According to the very interesting RIBA exhibition, 'A Place to Call Home: Where we live and why', guest curated by Sarah Beeny, which charts the story of the design and appeal of everyday homes in the UK, Victorian housing comprises around 15% of the UK housing stock, around 3.6 million houses. My view is that if done well, renovating a Victorian property can make you money as well as giving you a beautiful place to live.

I'm a great fan of Victorian architecture - Victorian houses feel solid, well made. Which is why my husband and I have fairly recently acquired a large renovation project which we are in the midst of. It's all Flemish bond, black and red bricks, ornate chimneys and leaded windows. A feast for the eyes and a drain for the bank account! This blog is my intermittent diary of the highs and lows of owning and improving a Victorian house.

Just to set the scene, I live with my husband and two boys in Bedfordshire. We bought this house in 2010 - a Victorian detached house in a large plot on the edge of a market town. We have now acquired all of our planning permission and building regulations approvals for a large garage with annexe above which is separate from the main house, as we both work from home and need office space, and a large two story extension on the house comprising a master bedroom suite and reception room below.

When we first moved to the house we made the urgent improvements immediately such as installation of central heating, rewiring, stripping out aged stinking carpets and decorating and recarpeting the existing 4 bedrooms. Since then work on the house has slowed down to a near snails pace as we undertake the more onerous and time consuming tasks - renovating a bay window, hand sanding a staircase for example. But we are now fully in the throws of stage one of the major building project - managing the various trades on the garage/annexe. This has been exciting in terms of speed and stressful in terms of the number of issues that have come to light including an incompetent architect whose building did not actually work; continuous rain whilst groundworks were going on; timescales slipping; but the worst has been the discovery of two wells in our garden in the location of the planned foundations for the extension. It cost us more than £7000 to accommodate these structural threats to the new building. We had to fill the wells with shingle and put concrete caps on top as well as inserting steel beams underground to span over one and underpin the house on one corner to counteract any movement close to the other. The icing on the cake must surely have been when our buildings insurance was cancelled due to the insurance company (Direct Line) saying they didn't insure underpinned properties even though this was not done due to subsidence in our case. After much to-ing and fro-ing over the course of a week, they went back on this and did reinsure us, but there is nothing like having a property worth well over half a million that you have been told is uninsurable to give you sleepless nights.

More later...