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.