Building a new home

Meeting the developer. Or not.

The front door

The living room / bedroom area

The garden and roof

My first attempt to meet with the developer didn't go well, on the fairly fundamental level of not managing to actually meet at all. I arrived at the site at the agreed time but ended up waiting outside while the estate agent and the site foreman rang around trying to find out who was expected to be where, both failing to get through to the developer himself. After half an hour or so it became clear that something had gone awry (both sides subsequently claimed that the fault was with the other) but as I was about to leave the foreman offered to show me round himself.

As we made our way around what was still basically an empty shell he pointed out what was going to be removed and described where the new parts would be going. Slowly the floor plans in the brochure transformed into three dimensions and I began to get a mental image of what they might become on my own human scale. It was an exciting & beguiling feeling, as I pictured the house and myself within it the sense of it being 'mine' (maybe even 'home') grew stronger and more compelling. However I kept being brought back to reality by the, er, reality of the situation, when my inner visualisation wavered and the physical walls, construction detritus and missing floors presented themselves in harsh starkness. My vision was of something wonderful but how closely would it correspond to what would actually emerge?

One of the more challenging mental constructions was to raise the roof, in a very literal sense. The existing one was apparently going to be taken off, the walls around it built up to a new level and a new one put on, giving an extra couple of metres of headroom for the upper storey. At the same time one of the existing external walls was to be knocked down and replaced further along to greatly extend one of the bedrooms - the one that wasn't there yet. I was getting a good feel for the lower storey's layout but the upstairs was still pretty abstract.

My companion was engagingly enthusiastic about the entire project, leading me around the unit while describing what was being done and, with much hand waving, what was yet to come. He showed me round one of the other flats that was further along the building process, still all plasterboard and dangly wires but enough to give me an idea of room sizes and ceiling heights, and finally insisted I join him atop a pile of discarded wood & insulation in what would be my garden and take in the view. And a splendid view it was - Bradford's varied but harmonious creamy stone houses rising up the steep rise to the Cotswold hills.

I don't think it was just the prospect of a nice, er, prospect that made my mind up but something had clicked inside. This wasn't just a place that would be nice to live in, this was somewhere I could make my home - a feeling I hadn't had for many, many years, perhaps not since my first flat back in my twenties. It wasn't just the prospect of sole ownership and freedom to make the place exactly the way I wanted, there was the sense of this being a good fit for me at this point in my life. Small enough to be cosy without being cramped, large enough to let me compartmentalise my work away from my leisure, conventional enough for easy maintenance, unusual enough to match my own quirky idiosyncrasies. A place that could be really me.

But the biggest bombshell came almost in passing - the foreman revealed that it would be possible to make changes to the plans before the real construction got started. There were a couple of things in the brochure plans that still needed clarifying but the biggest obvious 'problem' was the (by now inevitable) en-suite - might I be able to get rid of it? The idea that I could tailor the plans had never occurred to me and although I had an initial burst of 'what if I mess this up?' I quickly realised that I'd have professional help from the developers & builders and wouldn't be doing it on my own. The uncertainty of buying a place that didn't exist yet was suddenly offset by the freedom to sculpt my own image of a home. I wouldn't be starting from a blank slate but then again I'm generally happier working within a framework anyway, modifying something that's already there. This seemed to be the best of both worlds.

And so the decision was made. There were still questions to be answered and details to sort out but in my mind I'd gone from "Why?" to "Why not?". I said I was sold to the foreman who laughed & asked when he'd get his salesman's commission.

Knowing that I could make changes (although not yet how far ranging they could be) I needed something more than the small sketches in the brochure. The foreman led me back to the site office and dug out the cross-section plan for my unit which I duly photographed with my phone.

Next up would be a meeting with the developer but the agenda had widened from a simple walk-through to the prospect of changes & modifications, a lot to think about. I started scrutinising the plans and thinking about what exactly I wanted from a home.