After the building work

When I published my post on Surviving building work earlier today I was asked to provide some ‘after’ photographs of my house. At first I looked back through old photos that showed it as I like it to be. For example, this one makes the most of the fact that the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming. It was taken a couple of summers ago. Little has changed other than the weather.

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Today is a typically dull and damp winter’s day here in southern England. There are no flowers, few leaves and the ground around my house is muddy from the abuse my hens inflict.

Although my children no longer play in their sandpit the hens still enjoy scratching around in it. On a day like today they are not to be seen as they are confined to base until the saturated ground dries out.

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It is hard to believe that in a few months time this soggy area of garden will have returned to it’s more attractive, verdant state.

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For now though, our plot is untidy, scratched up and cratered where the hens have searched out the bugs that keep them happy and made the dust baths that help keep them clean. They love to be let loose in the undergrowth at the bottom of our sloping garden, to scratch amongst the overgrown ivy, cut timber and fallen leaves.

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However, let us get back to the building work that I posted about. This was facilitated by the provision of a single storey extension at the back of the house, shown here.

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Once the outer shell had been built, a number of internal walls were removed and my new kitchen created. I love my kitchen. Eight years after it was built I still would not change a thing about it.

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The idea behind this construction effort was to open up our family living space. We built two new rooms: a laundry room, shown here on the left; and a large family room to the right.

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The family room has lots of windows, including in the roof, and a door to the garden. We also opened up what had been the dining room (seen on the right of this photo) and it has recently been turned into a space for me to read and write in.

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So, there you have it, a short tour of ‘after’ the building work. It may have required six months of disruption but, as far as I am concerned, it was worth the challenge that it took to create.

If you are having building work done then I wish you well; it is not an easy time. Try to be gentle with yourself in other areas if you can and, when it is finished, give yourself space to enjoy what you have achieved. 

Surviving building work

My thoughts for this post were inspired by the ‘home odyssey’ experience being shared by one of my favourite bloggers, Black. Bunched. Mass. Mom.

I have lived in this house for twenty-one years. It was bought off plan, a few months after I got married. My husband and I watched it grow and moved in just before our first Christmas together as a married couple. I like the fact that nobody else has ever lived here; that it is ours and ours alone.

We have done a lot to it over the years. We added a conservatory, changed the doors and windows, improved the insulation, created a third floor by building rooms under the sloping roof, replaced the bathrooms. The garden has always been a work in progress. We tamed it, terraced it, turned it into a children’s playground and now allow the hens to ravage much of it.

Eight years ago we took on our most ambitious project to date; we decided to replace the kitchen.

I know that this is not uncommon. I know that some people change their kitchen with a regularity that amazes me. However, I am not a follower of fashion. The kitchen is very much the heart of our home and I wanted to create a space that met our needs and would last. This meant segueing the installation of the new kitchen with some serious building work, choosing a quality kitchen that I could love forever.

The building work was the first issue to hold up our plans. Neighbour intervention resulted in a need to undertake the structural changes in two phases. This meant that, from start to finish, the majority of the ground floor of our house was unavailable for living in for a full six months.

Think about that. Six months with no proper kitchen or living areas. We had our bedrooms and bathroom, although the utilities were cut off for days at a time during certain phases of the work. It was a challenging time for us all.

Before work could begin I had to clear the kitchen and dining room as they were to be completely gutted. I also had to clear much of the garage as it was to be the builders store and workroom. Our lounge was packed with our displaced possessions so was unusable for anything else.

For a while, what had been the dining room held a small table, chairs, microwave, kettle, fridge and a two ring stove. This was my temporary kitchen. There was no sink so no running water or drain. Water was collected as needed from elsewhere in the house and disposed of outside.

Near the end of the building work we moved into the entrance hall. With no space here for the table or chairs we would perch on the stairs to eat from plates balanced on our laps. We coped because we had to. We had, after all, brought this on ourselves.

The whole house was filled with builders dust as the walls and ceilings came down. By day there were men of all trades coming and going, lorries delivering heavy loads of materials or taking away skips filled with rubble and offcuts. There was noise and dust and mud as the conservatory came down and two new rooms were built in it’s place; as walls were removed and RSJs carefully manoeuvred to hold the rest of the house up. Never have I hoped so much that contractors knew what they were doing.

As the builders left the plumbers, electricians and plasterers arrived. Then there was a lull as work dried and settled before the carpenters could start on my kitchen.

Throughout all of this I was keeping my little family fed and entertained. They had school, homework and extra curricula activities as always. They brought friends back on play dates who looked at our makeshift arrangements in wonder but made little comment. I suspect that they thought we simply lived in a very odd house.

The kitchen took six weeks to build after which we tackled the painting before having a new floor put down. By this time the children were off school for the summer. We had been through the freezing days in spring when the house had no heating, had grown used to collecting a basin of hot water from upstairs to carefully carry down for dish washing before disposing of the used water outside. When food was boiled in a saucepan the water was drained off in the garden before serving. I continued to cook fresh food for my family throughout.

We had six months of camping in our own home with minimal space and facilities. I know people who have done this for years, who have built their house on a bare plot or renovated old buildings whilst living in a caravan or just a few rooms. When necessary, it can be done. This does not make it any easier to bear.

When finally the paint was dry and the appliances had been connected I was able to move into my fabulous new kitchen. The downstairs of our home had been transformed, opened up providing light and space that flowed through our extended living areas and out into the newly landscaped garden. Eight years on and I still stand and look at it all with pleasure.

When the new furnishings were in place and my kitchen and family room functional my husband commenced his project, his reward for granting me the kitchen of my dreams. The lounge was to become a quality entertainment room. Although I was wary of his plans at first, as he had been mine, this room has also been appreciated by us all over the years.

The little room in which we camped out to cook and eat has recently been remodelled as my library and writing room. In creating this space it feels as though the last piece of the puzzle has been put in place. The house functions to meet each of our family needs, whether we choose to come together or desire privacy to pursue our individual interests.

Homes need constant maintenance and I will not stop organising the necessary minor upgrades and repairs. I cannot, however, envisage us taking on another major project. When I hear of others who are starting out on their home making quest I think back on those six months and feel sympathy for the disruption that they will face, the lack of understanding that most will offer. I also sincerely hope that, once all is done and dusted, they are as happy with their home as I am.

I sometimes suspect that my hermit inclinations are as much because I have everything that I could possibly want right here. With my little family around me I am content. It is a wonderful feeling.

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Home improvements

Back in April my elder son had an unfortunate incident with our bathroom door (With hindsight we could have avoided that). Today we had the door replaced. For just under six months the children have been using a bathroom that cannot be secured. It has had no handle and, therefore, no lock since my husband had to break into it with a sledgehammer. My children coped; their guests did not. When friends came round they would either go upstairs to use the guest shower room or downstairs to use the loo. They refused to make use of a bathroom that did not have a door that could be latched shut. I can’t say I blame them.

When I first met my husband he was nearing the end of a major bathroom renovation in his second house. He had removed a wall, blocked up a door and replaced all the sanitary ware. He had not yet fitted the new door. Bearing in mind that I did not  know him well at this stage, being expected to use a loo (the only one in the house) in a room with no door made me feel very uncomfortable. There are some bodily functions that I wish to remain private. Thankfully, he fitted the door fairly quickly; in those days he was much better at getting on with jobs that needed doing than he is now.

Waiting over six months to complete a task is not unusual for us. When I finally got round to repainting our bedroom, about seventeen years after we moved into the house, I could not find any curtain material that I liked to go with the new soft furnishings. Having gone through several winters with no curtains in this room, I finally decided this summer that I needed to get on and do something about it. I trawled the internet for fabric and sent off for swatches of material. The only sample that I liked came from a children’s range. Last week I decided that I needed to act and placed an order.

My daughter commented that, just as we are doing up her bedroom in a more adult style, I seem to be decorating my own room in a style more associated with children. I don’t really care. This winter I will have the added insulation of heavy curtains with thermal linings at the window. The fact that the fabric depicts a colourful map of the world with appropriate, cute animals on the countries (except for the North Pole which has both polar bears and penguins) is perfectly acceptable to me. The only downside is that the colour scheme, delightful though I find it, is not going to sit well with the other soft furnishings in the room. I now need to find appropriate bedding and do wonder how long that will take me.

The state of my bedroom has never seemed that important to me as I spend so little time there except to sleep. Now that the children are teenagers, getting their rooms the way they want them seems to matter more. Their rooms are their sanctuaries.

My daughter’s new bed arrived this morning so today I have been sorting out her decor. A few screws need to be drilled in a couple of the walls to complete the transformation. I will try very hard to persuade my husband to do this over the weekend as I am not competent with a drill.

When I moved into my first flat I found that the previous occupants had taken the curtain poles with them. Undaunted, I bought new curtain rails, borrowed a drill and set about attaching them. I had never used a drill before, neither had I seen one used; my father did not own such a device. He was once asked why he did not buy a drill and explained that if he did then he may be expected to use it.

I managed to get my curtain rails attached to the walls but they were not straight; I had no idea how one was supposed to achieve this. When I drilled holes for picture hooks I did not check the walls for electrical wires; I did not know that this may be an issue. Obviously I survived my attempt at DIY, but such tales persuaded my husband that I should never be trusted with power tools. Neither does he allow me to paint walls after seeing the results of my one attempt to do this in our home. Looking back, I should also have made a hash of ironing his work shirts when I first took on that job.

I am very pleased with the results of the work that we have been doing around our home in the past few weeks. The rooms that are being worked on are coming along nicely and it is pleasing to see them looking the way I envisaged. I have still got a lot of cleaning and sorting to do, but the results make the tasks worthwhile.

The only room that remains in a mess is my elder son’s; I suspect that we will have to work on that together if progress is to be made. I do wonder if I should try to persuade him to have it redecorated; the sail boats that I chose for him when he was two years old are very cute but rather faded. Thinking about it though, I may try to complete what I have taken on so far first. There is only so much upheaval I can cope with before it becomes more beneficial to relax and enjoy what we have achieved thus far.

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Tired but happy

For a few days at the end of last week and the beginning of this week I have had a carpenter in the house doing the structural work in my remodelled book room. I knew that he had done some good work for a few friends in the village and came recommended. He turned out to be a quiet, tidy and competent worker so no problem to have around. I still found that I couldn’t relax.

My days tend to vary depending on what I need to do that day and what I feel like doing when I wake up. I realise that I am incredibly lucky to have this flexibility. With someone around I started to fall into more of a routine. I would try to get out each day to walk or swim, but when I was at home I would shut myself away for much of the time he was around. A lot of dust was being generated by the work, which was a good enough excuse to limit my attempts at housework. I found myself spending even more time than usual on line.

And then this stage of the work was completed. I am delighted with the result, and suddenly find myself with a vast amount of tasks that need doing all at once. Not only does the entire house need to be cleared of a thick layer of dust, but all the displaced furniture needs to be sorted and moved. The bookshelves that had been in the room that is being worked on were to go in my elder son’s room; my daughter was to get his bookshelf along with their younger brother’s. We are redoing my daughter’s room so space needed to be made for her new bed by dismantling her old one and moving her desk. As each piece of furniture is moved, the dust and cobwebs that lurk behind need to be cleared and cleaned.

I spent yesterday afternoon cleaning the book room and moving furniture back into it. My children have instructed me to start calling this the library, which I find rather pretentious but will acquiesce as it is quite amusing given it’s size. It now contains two comfy armchairs with a cushioned footstool between them and two little tables at the side of each for my coffee or wine glass. The room also contains my desk and our piano, thus providing my perfect environment: books, writing, music. As no shelves have yet been fitted in the structure built to support them it does not yet actually contain any books. Hopefully this will be rectified later this week when the carpenter hopes to deliver the shelves he is currently making to fit.

I have been hassling my daughter to clear out her room so that I can get it sorted ready for the new bed to be delivered at the end of the week. Last night she completed this task so, today, I started to take things apart and move things around. The shifting and cleaning was hard work; no need to visit the gym today. In between pulling large items of furniture around and apart I was carrying armload after armload of books downstairs ready to be sorted and placed on our new shelves when they are delivered. I nearly ran out of rags wiping down walls and skirting boards that had been unseen for years.

Having got my daughter’s room looking pleasingly clean and tidy I moved into my elder son’s room. All I needed to do here was move one tall bookshelf out and two in; these were very heavy to shift. He will need to sort through his own things before the room can be properly cleaned. It would be nice to think that he will do this quickly but we shall see.

My younger son’s room did not take long to sort out as it is small and never seems to get into the same mess as his brother’s, probably because he spends so much of his time on his computer. I was able to move everything out, clean and replace in just over an hour. By then though, I was feeling the effects of my busy day.

I still have the study to sort and the rest of the house to clear of dust. I dislike having jobs hanging over me but realise that there is only so much that can be achieved in one day. When I was younger I would just go at a list of tasks until they were complete, sometimes working into the night. These days my mind is willing but my body cannot cope. I need to prioritise and delegate; the latter is no bad thing.

I can understand that the children do not relish the task of sorting and tidying their rooms, but they do like the finished result. If I can get them to act before things get too out of hand then the results are more likely to be pleasing for all. They know where they have put their belongings so can find them again; I can get in to clean without having to step over random piles of stuff.

I am writing this from my desk in my (a’hem) library. I am going to enjoy having this space. I suspect that it will take me some time to get the books in place once the shelves are in, but what a fabulous room it will be. I must make sure not to become too antisocial. Perhaps I should allow a family member to sit on that second armchair rather than the pleasing collection of old teddy bears who already look so at home.

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Possessions

A number of years ago we had the roof of our house converted into rooms leaving just the space above one bedroom for the water tank and miscellaneous storage. By the time the Christmas boxes and suitcases have been squeezed into this small area there is little room for much else. We have to be quite ruthless about what we keep that is not required regularly.

A water leak, now dealt with, caused some damage to a few pictures I had stored here recently. These needed to be disposed of so, last weekend, I decided to go through the accumulated boxes and clear out anything else that I felt we could part with. I find clear outs therapeutic. I am not a big hoarder but, over time, things do tend to be put away just in case they may one day be used again. They rarely are.

Unlike many people, we put our cars in our garage so have limited space for other things here. We have a shed for our bikes and a second shed for chicken feed, a few garden chairs and outdoor toys. As all require regular access they have to be carefully managed to prevent them being overrun with what is, essentially, junk.

Having gone through all of these spaces I now have a very full bin and a sizeable pile of items that need to be driven to the local dump. We still have far too much ‘stuff’ sitting around, but much of it is treasured by the children so will be held onto for the time being. It would be too much of a wrench for them to be made to get rid of the papier-mache and clay creatures they lovingly created, or the many DT projects of which they are proud.

As a teenager my bedroom evolved into something of a shrine to my memories of travel and romantic attachments. When I moved out of my parent’s home to start work in England I unceremoniously dumped most of the items that I had gathered over the years. In my mind I was starting afresh and wanted to put all of these things behind me. I think that my mother was more upset than me as she watched the cards and tokens of affection that had adorned my shelves and walls for so many years being consigned to the bin.

Although I like my home to be clean and comfortable I do not like clutter. I have photographs of my family on display but no longer hang pictures on the walls. The ornaments that remain generally have some sentimental value having been gifts from loved ones. I try to keep my home in good condition but will not fuss if marks or stains are left on furnishings in the course of using them. I prefer a relaxed and happy environment to a pristine one.

As I have got older I have found that my attitude to my possessions has changed. I no longer feel a need to put on a show or to try to impress. I like order and to know where I can find things, but beyond this I aspire only to comfort and reasonable hygiene. I have never felt the need to follow fashion and can live with a chosen decor for many years before tiring of it.

None of this means that I do not value the things that I have, but more that my priorities have changed. My reasons for holding on to possessions tend to be practical (they are in regular use) or emotional (they make me feel good). I hope that I will always be able to keep my books and teddy bears, however much space they take up or dust they gather.

I think it is important not to place too much value on material things. Perhaps this is just easy for me to say from my privileged perspective; I am well aware that I have all I need and more. I can get quite frustrated when my children seem to want so much; I need to remember that they have still to build their nests, that they are just beginning to create their own spaces.

My big clear out has inspired me to continue to sort through the things that we are using less than we once did. Our large collection of CDs could be put away as they are only used regularly in one car now so do not need to be kept beside our in house music player.

Sometimes my tidy ups unearth items that intrigue my children. I have held on to my original Sony Walkman only because it amuses one of my sons by it’s bulk and ability to play only a single cassette tape when the memory card on his phone can hold his entire music collection. Likewise my other son wishes to retain the first laptop my husband bought, which still works but has such limited memory and processor power that it cannot handle most modern software. These museum pieces entertain them, especially as we remember them as being so innovative.

The things that we have, that we choose to surround ourselves with, can say much about the people that we are. I wonder what others make of me from the way I have organised my home; what impression is given of the sort of person that I am. It is my sanctuary and my safe space; I am happiest when I am here. Would I even want to know what others may think that it tells them about me?

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