Building a new home
Forward in all directions!
Plastering the main bedroom
Multicolour plasterboard (and removed chimney stack)
The living room goes grey
With all the decisions having been made & agreed upon at our on-site meeting work proceeded smoothly without needing any more input from me. For about a day and a half.
One of these was fairly trivial. Pete the site manager, who seemed like an old friend by this point, was moving on to oversee another project and in the transition my paint colour choices had been mislaid. As I couldn't remember the names of the two shades of off-white I'd chosen ('Pale Orchid'? 'Insipid Blush'?) I'd have to come down to the site to reselect them. Perhaps an option to be a little bolder than I'd been before?
When I got there I was presented with the same swatch as before - it seemed like there was only ever one copy of anything on the site - and my previous selections were still marked on it, although admittedly in a cryptic form that nobody could be expected to read. Given this fresh opportunity I ended up choosing the same ones again, and I still can't remember the names.
The other issue to be sorted out was the shower. Early on in the planning process I'd asked for a walk-in shower rather than a bathtub and I wanted to get a (fairly) powerful and easily controllable unit in there. I'd been told the default shower was a 'two tap' affair and I envisaged a simple pair of hot & cold taps and a return to the days of gingerly twiddling them while being alternately frozen & scalded. No, I wanted a decent power shower with a good thermostatic temperature control.
I'd assumed that this would be a simple case of choosing a shower unit from their plumbing supplier but, as usual, it wasn't quite as simple as that. There was a question about the water pressure in the mains supply - this hadn't been connected yet so there was no way of knowing whether it would be strong enough for a power shower. The supply to the other side of the site seemed good & strong (in architect Nigel's opinion) so I said I'd take the risk and would pay for any changes if it turned out to be too weak.
When I went to the plumbing supplier's website there were no shower units listed - they provided 'bathroom design solutions' and any details needed to be discussed with one of their salesmen. Rather than get into that again I did some general web searching and came up with a well-reviewed unit that had the digital controls I liked and was specifically designed for low pressure supplies. Looked like a winner.
Sadly not. Apparently this wouldn't work with the plumbing set-up in the unit. Sigh! I arranged to meet the plumber on-site, on the basis that this sort of face-to-face meeting had sorted things out easily & quickly last time.
And so it turned out. We met in one of the other units that was a bit further along than mine and I was able to see what the default shower actually looked like - the 'two taps' was actually separate temperature & pressure controls, just what I'd wanted in the first place. There was a large shower head but also a smaller one that could be hand held, useful for when you want a shower without washing your hair which as a cyclist is a common thing for me. We chatted about the screen and other fittings and before you knew it all was settled.
When I visited my unit there was quite a dramatic visual change. The plasterboard had been put up in most of the rooms but three different types had been used - a plain grey/beige for most of the walls but a rich pink for the insulating sheets on the upstairs ceilings and a pale blue for the soundproof ones on the walls adjoining my neighbouring unit. My rough grey building site had been transformed into a candy coloured dolls' house. It was the first real dash of colour in the building process and although it won't survive my sensible but bland decorative choices it gave me some inspiration for making bolder decisions in future. Although maybe not pink ceilings.
The offending chimney stack had been demolished (hooray!) but there will be another (thinner) one going up in its place to support the fake chimney on the roof. Sadly I wasn't able to think of something to do with this useless structure, what I might do is pop some soil & bulbs in it and see if I can get daffs to emerge from it. We'll see.
With three weeks to go the site is getting very busy, so much so that I now need to book an 'appointment' to visit & take my pictures. Every time I go down it looks very different as the units rapidly transform from 'building site' to 'new home' and the whole development starts to emerge from underneath the construction equipment & supplies. And there's work for me too - sorting out the final money transfers, starting to look at utilities, movers and ending my current tenancy. It's all getting very real.
As one door opens another closes
The writing's on the wall for my current tenancy
The kitchen arrives
Patio paved! The rest of the garden still needs a little work though
Returning home from a weekend trip I was greeted with a large 'To Let' sign above my front door, another reminder that time is passing and that the move is getting much, much closer. Eek! The thought of all the 'admin' that this will entail - closing & opening accounts with utility companies, changing address with all my existing cards, accounts, licences, etc. - is dismaying after having done it so many times in the past few years but hopefully I'll be staying at this one for a bit longer! One of the things I associate with moving is throwing away my old address labels, it would be a nice change to get through a batch and need to (gasp!) reorder some more.
With my current place going back onto the letting market there's been a steady stream of people coming to view it. This has all gone on while I'm away (which suits everyone involved) but I have had some nice feedback about how well maintained & tidy the place is, to the point where my landlady is looking at having the new tenants move in straight after me with no repair/clean-up gap. It's funny how I look around and see mess while others talk about the zen-like clarity of my living space, it's good to get some external calibration of my self-impressions. Feels like I've developed so many strategies to fight my innate slobbishness that they're actually working. Amazing!
Back on the site and the transformation continues. Upstairs the pastering is nearly complete and a couple of the rooms have been painted too - my sensible, bland choice of colour has turned out pretty good, a nice touch of warmth while still making the most of the available light. The reduced chimney stack in my office has opened up the available space and the internal window into the light well is surprisingly effective in brightening up the corner furthest from the French windows. The 'landing' at the top of the stairs is turning into a remarkably usable space - at first this looked like it would be little more than a corridor but the asymmetric walls and very high ceiling have given it a very open feel. Not sure what I'll do with it but one of the builders suggested putting a painting in there which sounds good (more on this below). We'll see.
The saga of the shower continues to rumble on - the tray at the bottom will now have a small step up from the floor, a few centimetres or so. Apparently it would have been possible to have it flush (no bathroom jokes please!) but when any work needed to be done (and the plumber stressed that these things always need work at some point) it would require the downstairs ceiling to be taken out. A small step seemed like a workable compromise at this point.
Downstairs progress was less dramatic but the final shape of the rooms was becoming much more apparent. Not so much in the kitchen, which was filled with flat-packed units awaiting assembly, but the living room was starting to feel long & spacious while the hall/study seemed to have exploded into a vast space. The very high ceiling (still a rich pink at this point) with its twin Velux windows flooded the room with light while the bare plasterboard walls seemed to stretch up & up & up. Obviously the lower part of the room will change as I add coat & shoe racks, probably some cupboard space, furniture etc. but the upper part will remain uncluttered. So what to do with it? My first thought was to find some low-growth, low-maintenance plants to hide the acres of plain wall and to provide an atrium-like atmosphere for the room, which is still something that sounds good to me. But as I stod there I was suddenly inspired by the idea of an indoor hammock, suspended above the table & chairs, where I could flop & read or nap when it was too cool to do so outside. Not sure about the practical (or safety) ramifications of this but it was nice to think about novel ways of using this novel space. Something to ponder.
The garden, although still being used primarily as a storage area & dump for building materials, is starting to see some changes too. With the French window frames now in place a paved area has been laid just outside and a low retaining wall built around the shrubs along the border with the neighbouring property. I'm not sure if I'm going to keep these - they're a strange group of very disparate plants - but it's nice that I'll have some greenery in place as I move in and can take any decisions on replacing them in my own time.
Chatting with the builders they thought the rest of the garden would be filled with gravel or chippings of some kind. This really doesn't appeal to me so I'm querying whether I can have the whole area paved - apart from the shrubby border of course. With a north-facing situation, hillside location and my notoriously defoliant gardening skills I think a low-maintenance approach would work best for me, we'll see what the options are.
While strolling around over the weekend I passed an exhibition of paintings by a local arts group and, as is often my wont, I popped in to have a look. Two of the works grabbed my attention - both semi-abstract woodland scenes - and as I pondered them I could visualise either of them in my new place, providing a dash of colour against my muted paint colours. After further pondering I was still unable to choose between the two so I decided to avoid the dilemma entirely and bought both of them.
It had been my intention for a long time to have more art (or even Art) in my living space but whenever I looked at stuff it always seemed not quite right, too expensive or (sadly) had already been sold. It was wonderfully refreshing to find something and just say yes to it without my usual internal cross-examination and cost/benefit analysis, I don't know if it's a change in me, a reflection of my new level of disposable income or what but it felt like this was a very real way of honouring my existential imperative to 'bring more beauty into the world'. When I returned to pick up the paintings later in the day (always good to keep sold paintings in an exhibition for as long as possible!) the artist was there and we both basked in our benevolence & mutual appreciation.
On my last visit to the site the manager had said that things would look very different when I came there again. How will things have moved on...?
Moving towards completion
The first appearance of my front door
Unpacked kitchen with natural light illumination
Bedroom with light tube (it will be enclosed!)
With most of the outside work done (with a couple of exceptions, which I'll get to) there's not so much immediately apparent difference when I've been visiting the site recently. The little inner courtyard is paved with the same yellowish stone as the surrounding walls, which are in turn showing their finished white framed, multi-paned windows. The security fencing, cement mixers & piles of building equipment have been spirited away as the work turns to completion & finishing off inside the units, giving the first real impression of the development's final appearance. For the first time I get an idea of how it will be to come home to the Lodge rather than to go out to see it.
Up the stairs to my unit and the feeling of completion ebbs away. The front wall is one of the last pieces of external construction to be done and it's still showing its grey underpinnings, quite a contrast with the pale stone and white facing around the rest of the development. This will be finished with the same white which might be a bit bright for such a large area, especially one I'll be passing every time I leave or return. The wall it abuts at the top of the stairway is nice old stone so maybe it will balance out. We'll see.
Completing the fascia is my door-sized window facing into the living room, the completed window into the hall/study and, finally making its appearance, my front door. The area outside has been waterproofed but the tiles have yet to be laid and the replacement rail remains unattached, both of which remain unknown elements for me. Considering this is the 'face' of my house it's a bit surprising that I have so little idea of what the final appearance will be, I imagine that there will be some fairly stringent limits on what can be done in order to preserve the overall look of the development but the flipside is that it's likely to be muted & understated rather than aggressively brash. Fingers crossed. I'm already looking at the high wall facing you as you come up the stairs and wondering what sort of greenery might soften it.
Inside and the transformation is more apparent. Nearly all of the plastering has been done and most of the rooms are painted, giving the whole place a much lighter feel. My conservative paint choices are, as I feared, on the bland side when covering big swathes of wall space but hopefully will make the most of my few windows (especially so downstairs) and provide a neutral backdrop for my bold Art & furniture statements. Or something like that. And, after all, it's relatively easy to repaint...
The kitchen was unpacked from last week's 'just delivered' state but hadn't yet been assembled or put into place. However there was one dramatic addition - the long-discussed 'light tube' was now installed and provided a surprisingly strong source of illumination even on a relatively dull day. It wasn't quite where I'd been expecting it to be (which has been true for quite a lot of things in this project) but it was still over the area I'd planned for food preparation so it should work out fine.
In the room above the tube itself was revealed, a much wider one than I'd imagined. Despite the temptation to keep it on display as a modernist installation I'm going with the architect's advice and having it boxed in. Yet another odd angle in a room that is proving itself strangely resistant to plain, flat walls - I can foresee some 'interesting' shelves & cupboards being nestled into some of the nooks & crannies to make use of the space and normalise the overall shape.
On the other side of the room the reduced chimney stack is now completed and the resulting freed up space has made the room feel much more usable. The plan to box off the space to the side has somehow been lost (another flat wall defeated!) but it's not a big space and I'm sure it can be just another opportunity to be creative. It's still hard to envisage where a double bed would sit in the room but a sofabed should be easy enough to cope with. And as an office it should be perfect. The frame for the internal window is now in place and it feels like it will be a really nice addition, an unexpected portal both into another part of the house and to views of the outside.
The fake chimney
The slimmed-down chimney stack now has the non-working, ersatz, 'only there because the planning department demanded it' chimney pot on top. Sigh! For something that's caused so much grief it's a weirdly pointless piece of decoration - invisible from the street and (in my opinion) quite jarring with the overall look of the new roof. Ironically it looks plain & functional despite actually being totally non-functional. For me it sums up a lot of what's wrong with 'heritage' planning control - it's there to provide a fake copy of an idea rather than to preserve an existing structure or functional process. It's a newly constructed thing on a newly constructed roof that falsely mimics something that is no longer required. I've no objection to restrictions on changes to our shared environment - after all that's one of the reasons I love living in Bradford - but this felt like a step too far from real life into dogma.
The garden area looked completely different from my last visit, mostly down to the site office being taken down and all the surplus building materials removed. My request to have it paved over had been turned down, apparently there were big issues involving drainage (it is on the side of a hill after all) and it was necessary to have a porous surface to allow excess water to seep away. Interestingly this was also the reason I'd not been able to keep some of the beautiful old stone walls in the house, they needed to be very seriously rendered and waterproofed as they were essentially dug into the hillside itself. We talked about other options and it seems like decking, for all its terrible associations, might be the best way forward for me. But this remains an ongoing process.
With just two weeks before completion it feels like the building side is coming along well, although maybe a bit tight against the deadline. In the meantime I need to start arranging money, services and other 'admin' tasks. Sigh!
Taking care of business
After the panic & stress of the exchange of contracts where I felt myself caught between the relentless demands of the developer and the glacial inertia of the investment company I was determined to get all the money transfer details sorted out well in advance this time. The wonderful Nadine at my financial advisers helped sort out the correct form and patiently guided me through where to sign it, although once again we had to deal with printing out emailed documents, signing them and scanning them back in again - no digital signatures in the fiscal world. There was even talk of faxing stuff to the company - I didn't realise that faxes still existed! What next, a telegram? But eventually everything got sorted and I should have the money well before the completion date.
The perennial scaffolding & rubbish bags
View from the other side of the Avon
Next up was the question of getting the money into the right place. The mortgage was all sorted out but I had to organise the rest of the purchase price - this needed to be assembled from my investments and savings accounts, moved into my current account and then finally transferred to the solicitors' bank. I'd managed to send the deposit using online banking but he remaining amount would be three times the maximum that could be transferred in one go so I needed to do it in person at a bank.
Bradford is not well equipped for banking. There's one remaining bank in the town but although it's part of the same organisation as mine (I'm Bank of Scotland, it's Lloyds) it doesn't seem to be possible to do anything with my account from there. Having a Scottish bank has been mostly fine despite living in the south of England - the online system works really well and their phone support has been good too - but anything that requires a physical presence (most commonly dealing with cheques) means finding a branch of the Halifax. Luckily there are lots of these. My nearest (or at least most convenient) one is in Bath so I gathered all my numbers & details and headed off to see what was possible.
The news from the bank was good. Yes, I could do the transfer from the branch, there would (of course) be a banking charge but it didn't seem too excessive. I'd need to bring passport & driving licence to prove my identity (how long before it's retina scans & DNA tests I wonder?) but it could be done while I was there without further checks or authentication steps. They even suggested which days would be best to come in on to avoid queues, very helpful. It seemed like the money side of things could run quite smoothly this time.
Walking past the house a few days later I realised that I'd become so used to seeing bags full of rubble outside and scaffolding either stacked or assembled in the gateway that I now mentally edited them out of my view. As I took a longer look I also realised that the 'Georgian Lodge' wording on the front of the house had been removed, although you could still make out where the letters had stood from their pale outlines. A quick look through my photo archive showed that they'd been gone for a long, long time and yet in my mind they were still there. A black mark against my observational skills.
A routine phone call from my solicitor brought another unexpected surprise. We'd been working through the various things that needed sorting out before the completion date - money, paperwork, fees, etc - but in this call she told me that the developer was now talking about moving the completion from the 30th of September, which had been stated in the exchange, to 'mid October'. This was, to put it mildly, a shock. I'd been in fairly regular contact with the developer, architect & builders and they'd all been very confident about the 30th, it was clear that there was still a lot to do but it seemed to be well in hand. I'd arranged to leave my tenancy and move in to the new place in the middle of October and this had been given the OK by the builders, it would allow them a couple of weeks of 'snagging' (making sure everything was finished off & working properly) and a bit of leeway in case the completion was a day or two late. Now it felt like my safety margin was gone and I'd be biting my fingernails waiting to see if the completion would come before I needed to vacate my current place. Eek!
My frantic emails asking for some clarification have, to date, failed to produce any response from the developer but the architect has replied, saying that the house will 'almost certainly' be ready before my deadline - which is not as reassuring as it could be. I'm hoping that this is just a case of the builders erring on the side of caution rather than a new problem on the site, at my next visit I'll try to find out a bit more about what's actually going on. Once again my simple house purchase has gone off in an unexpected direction, just when I thought it was all sorted out.
And to underline that I've just had another email from the architect asking me to choose which doors I'd like between the kitchen and the hall/study. Naturally my choices are spread between several pages on the builders supplier's website with no indication of which might require extra payment from me. Sigh! It's easy to feel ground down by all this extra work & choice but I'm trying to appreciate that this is an opportunity to tailor the house more closely to my needs & desires. It might seem like an endless series of chores but I'm really fine-tuning my future home. And that's a really good thing!
With the completion date approaching (although with rather more uncertainty than I was expecting) and my money juggling coming together it struck me that I still haven't been presented with the final price tag. I'd already agreed the list price when I made my offer and this was confirmed with the exchange of contracts so that was all set but along the way I'd ended up making a lot of changes to the original plans. Most of these weren't going to have any impact on the price - it made no odds to the builders if I asked for a wall to be put up in a different place, they weren't being 'moved' as such - but there were a couple of additions and deletions that would have a measurable impact. On the debit side I'd asked for an extra (fireproof) internal window to allow light into the stairwell and had decided to add a dishwasher in the kitchen but in my credit I'd gotten rid of the bathtub when I removed the en-suite. I'd had no feedback about my carpet and (wooden) flooring choices or about wanting decking in the garden. In theory a 'final reckoning' was being prepared but it would be good to get an idea of what this would be before I assembled the final payment.
There were more questions about the completion date moving. In theory the original date, shown on the exchanged contracts, was a binding agreement and the developer would be liable for any extra expenses caused by not meeting it. And if the completion date slipped I wouldn't need to pay the money until the new date, ironic as I'd gotten the finances organised well in advance. I didn't want to cause any extra problems but it seemed important to be clear about my rights and to not just roll over and accept everything that was presented to me.
As we approach the denouement the plot continues to thicken. What shall the next flurry of emails & calls reveal? Stay tuned!
The hanging garden decisions of Bradford-on-Avon
The garden remains in a formative state
(Almost) the last windows going in
The kitchen is coming along nicely
View down the stairwell and the landing of a million angles
While I was waiting for clarification about the completion date and money matters another issue had come to the fore - the garden. Way, way back at the start of the process (and we're talking six months ago by now) on one of my walks around the site I'd said that a paved garden would suit me and hadn't really thought about it since then. The space is North-facing in the side of a hill with walls on three sides (and a fence to go up on the fourth) so it's not well placed for horticultural exuberance, on top of which I'm not the most assiduous gardener in the world, so I thought a solid 'floor' with some hardy plants in pots would be the best plan. I'd have a bed on one side with the existing shrubs in it but otherwise it would be a room without a ceiling.
Or so I thought. The area just outside the French windows had been paved and I was asking how the rest of the area would be terraced - there's currently quite a slope to it - when word came back that paving was not an option. Apparently there needed to be enough drainage to ensure that water wouldn't pour against (and into!) the house on its way downhill and an impermeable surface wouldn't allow this to happen. This seemed reasonable to me so I suggested leaving the surface as it was (maybe with a topping of gravel or something) and putting decking over it.
This seemed to be a workable solution but the emailed answer went on to say that if there was decking it would have to slope slightly, either away from the house or towards the communal area to the side, which had already been covered with a layer of chippings. I puzzled over this - if the decking could steer excess water away by being given a slight gradient then why couldn't the same be done with paving stones? I'd be happy with another bed at the other end from the house (where I could plant things to climb up the wall) that would provide a soakaway for this surplus water as needed. When I suggested this as a solution I got a tentative OK in reply, so we seem to be back where we started. I can appreciate that at this stage of the project there's pressure to get things sorted out with the easiest & quickest solution but it was a bit frustrating to have to go round the houses over this. Sigh!
Although I've had no official word on completion I did get some scuttlebutt when I went down to the site for my weekly visit. Word among the builders was that they were hoping for everything to be finished just one week after the provisional completion date, which would give me a week and a half of leeway before I need to be out of my rental home. Not much of a margin but with luck it should be just enough. I confirmed my time off work and started organising movers.
Progress on the house was immediately apparent. The front wall is now faced and the tiles are in place outside - fairly anonymous & functional but I can live with that. The windows were going in and for the first time it really looked like a house rather than a building site - the dangly wires that are currently a feature throughout were evident but they looked like finishing touches rather than major undertakings.
Inside the changes were almost as dramatic. The kitchen had been partly assembled & installed and as I arrived one of the worktops was being finished off - a large slab of butchers block with holes for sink & hob to fit in. The light tube was working really well and considering that there's no windows at all in there it felt like a nice space to be in. I can see I'll need something to stand on to reach the higher cupboards but maybe that will be an encouragement for me to not overload on kitchen gadgets. There's room on the opposite wall for some extra storage space if I need it (without infringing on my nice curved wall) but I'll see how I get on first.
The living room and stairwell are now painted and are much lighter as a result. I was worried that the living room, with just one window at the end, might end up being a bit gloomy at the other end but like the kitchen it looks like it might be fine. The fusebox remains a mass of wires but it should be less intrusive when it's been boxed in. I'm still a little bemused by having the electrics in the living room but it seems like that's a decision that's long past reviewing.
Upstairs things have moved on too. The bathroom is painted, tiled and is the only room so far with it's flooring in place. The shower is in place as is the toilet but no basin yet. I'll need to sort out a cabinet & mirror once I'm in but that shouldn't be too much trouble - there's already a ledge for my various bits & bobs.
The main bedroom now has it's internal wall behind which will be my wardrobe and the 'attic' storage area. It will be an odd wardrobe at about five feet high but unless I rediscover my penchant for log dresses (and let's not go there) it should suit me fine. Without my changes to the plans there would have been hardly any space for clothes and I wonder how it would have functioned as a bedroom. The twin Veluxes provide vast amounts of daylight but these are matched by the six sets of wires for electric lamps, seem like a lot to me but it's easier to take them out than put more in.
The landing remains a strange space - bigger than I anticipated and filled with odd, almost cubist planes determined by the underlying structure. It will be interesting to see how this turns out when all the doors are in place but it's not just the connecting corridor that it seemed from the original plans.
The toilet seems like it's missed out on all this work and remains a dark cupboard with nothing in it, not even the eponymous toilet. I'm wondering if it would be good to add a skylight to it, not a full Velux but something like the light tube in the kitchen. Something to discuss with Nigel the architect.
My office (bedroom 2 on the plans) has been transformed with the cutting away of half the chimney stack, the internal window and the painting. The French doors are in place and the large window above them remains the only external window still unfitted. The irregular walls (even more so with the light tube now boxed in the corner) remain a challenge but it feels like there's enough floor space to arrange things in a way that works.
With just a week to go (possibly) there's a strange tension between seeing how much remains to be done and yet how much has been achieved since my last visit. While down on the site I heard that another resident was moving in over the weekend so there's obviously progress being made, will I be living there myself in a couple of weeks? An exciting if slightly scary thought!
The end is in sight - maybe
Eek! The knobs! Kitchen mostly finished.
Bathroom well on its way with another blobby light fitting.
The fence is up but questions remain about the garden.
Not much to see in the toilet & laundry cupboard.
Still no word on the completion date (or any contact at all from the developer) which is starting to tell on my nerves. Everyone I speak to - builders, estate agent, friends - seem confident that it will all work out in time but this sort of 'right up to the deadline' situation is not something that I cope well with. Still, I have to be out of my current home in a couple of weeks so something will have to have resolved by then.
Arriving at the site for my weekly visit I was struck by the overall look of the development. There's still lots of work going on but it feels much more like 'finishing' jobs than serious structural stuff, at least on the outside. The entranceway is being tidied up, the area for the bins finished off, the empty window spaces from last week are filled and the courtyard looks more like a residential space than a secondhand building supplies depot.
The front of my place now has its restored railings and is now essentially complete. The light fittings were a bit of a shock - large blobs either side of the window and, bizarrely, situated at eye level. I'd have thought that having something higher up that was directed downwards or lower down to provide less intrusive illumination would have been better options but at this point I'll be happy to have something that's done. And they are, to my eyes, rather ugly. Sadly this design features at other places around the house. Sigh!
Going inside I was immediately faced with a scaffolding structure in the 'study area' and greetings from the men up on it who were painting the ceiling & upper walls. It seems like after having my mind blown by the high ceiling it's been concealed with one thing or another ever since, I imagine I'll be gobsmacked by it again the next time it's revealed in its glory. I've started pondering practical considerations for this first room from the outside - coat hangers, shoe racks & so on - but I'm determined to do something special with the max headroom it pro-pro-provides.
From there it's into the kitchen. Mostly finished (apart from the floor) and looking rather nice, although with a couple of surprises. The first one was the knobs - I'd chosen these from a catalogue and had obviously not registered the dimensions, they were much bigger than I'd thought and looked a bit silly to me. Oh well, I'll give them a try to start with and if they drive me mad they'll be very easy to replace.
The other surprise was the draining board, or the absence of one. I'd made a point of asking about this as it hadn't shown up on the computer mock-up but had been assured that there would be an integral one as part of the sink assembly. Looks like that got lost along the way. This is much more annoying than weird decisions made without consulting me, I tend to take it personally and think that I've been humoured by being asked but my answers are just ignored. I'm sure I can find a way to work around this but it does grate. I've reported it to the developer and am awaiting his response, as with all my other questions. Sigh!
The living room keeps growing as the walls are painted, the downlighters are fitted and the building supplies & appliances and moved out. The mass of wires around the fusebox have been tidied up but the promised box around it has not yet been built. It's not quite the worst possible place to have it but they have had a good attempt. I can see that the space under the stairs is going to be another challenge for my creativity.
Upstairs the changes are less dramatic but there's still a sense of progress. The window at the top of the stairwell is in place which should let natural light flow down from the high Velux in the landing. Nearly all the painting is done and the rooms feel light & airy - especially so as they have no furniture in them yet. In theory it's a different paint colour from downstairs but to be honest I haven't really noticed the difference yet.
The bathroom is now almost finished. Sadly it features another blobby light fitting which has been inexplicably positioned in a very odd place - not really centred or aligned with anything else, very near to the shower assembly and close to where the bathroom cabinet will be put. Sigh! Again! It's strange how often workmen (and this is by no means limited to this project) seem to do their piece of work with such tight focus that they don't even notice how it fits into the bigger picture, or rather how it doesn't. Weirdly I'm seeing exactly the same thing with the software engineers (computer programmers) at the company I've been seconded to, each one blithely doing their own thing with (seemingly) no thought of how it will all fit together. Is this a curse of the modern world, each of us a specialist with no connection to the sum of our parts? A sad thought.
My bedroom now has its wall separating it from the 'attic' storage space and what will be the 'fitted wardrobe'. This space is nicely large, with a window it would make a low-ceilinged guest bedroom (nearly) and it should give me more than enough spare storage space (famous last words). The toilet is finished apart from the small matter of the toilet itself and any plumbing connections but I am assured that this is all to plan and will be done shortly. The final window (above the French windows) is now in place and the light tube is boxed in, leaving my office almost complete.
Outside the garden remains just the same as last time but a fence has now been erected between it and the comunal space at the back of the development. There's also another couple of the blobby lights, alas. Looking at the raw earth I realised that there's quite a slope raising away from the house which might not fit with my plan to have a paved area sloping (slightly) away to drain towards the far wall, especially as the fence is following this existing gradient. My latest idea is to have the paved area but with a raised bed at the end to make up the height difference and some way of letting surface water drain away. I'll see what the builders, architect & developer say. It would be nice to get this sorted out before I move in but that's seeming less & less likely as time goes on. Still, I shall be positive.
With no more than two weeks remaining here and assurances that I'll be in before then it's time to start on the process & paperwork of moving. Hopefully, after seven moves in the past eight years, this will be last one for a while.
Preparing for the great leap forward
The first room in all its glory
Living room with fusebox and intercom phone
The office with its solitary light fitting
With under two weeks to go before I need to have moved (if you see what I mean) I'm suddenly aware of how many things need to be arranged in the intervening period. Eek! Not least of these is someone to do the moving - I'd been given a recommendation by Hans & Jack (the people who're already living in the Georgian Lodge) but they hadn't replied and I'd let it slip from my mind. Well, onto the phone to local(-ish) removal firms on Monday. I could probably do it myself with a one-day van hire if it came to it but once you've had an efficient team breeze through your home and wrap & carry everything it's very tempting to go for it again.
One thing I've learned from my multitude of moves in recent years is that it's better to get rid of stuff before you have to shift it - surprising how often things get unpacked straight into the recycling pile. And so I made a start on a thorough & unsentimental clear out of my accumulated detritus with a clean sweep through my office, bedroom & laundry room. Surprisingly little came out of my wardrobe, I think I'm getting pretty good at jettisoning old clothes although it was a wrench to throw out one of my Mother's hand-knitted jumpers (sorry Vi! I still have another three!). There were a couple of sets of bedlinen that dated from many years back and some old towels that were there 'just in case'. A load of old paperwork was torn up and dumped, mostly financial stuff that predated paperless transactions, most of which was even more obsolete as the accounts had been liquidated to provide the deposit for my new house. Several binliner-laden trips were made to the charity shop, recycling bins and general rubbish.
I finally decided to wholeheartedly embrace the digital music world and get rid of my remaining CDs. Most of my disks had gone long before but I still had a not-inconsiderable pile of 'special' ones - rarities, friends' records, folk dance source material and other odds & sods. Most went to the local charity shop (which might raise a few eyebrows) but I've kept a few which I'll offer to friends. Time to sort out some proper off-site storage for my backups now that all I have are raw 1s & 0s.
A burst of October sunlight had tempted me out for a walk and as I passed the site I met the site manager who was in (on a Sunday!) with a couple of workers. Seeing as it was open I popped in for another look around.
I had post! My first letter at the new address was from the bank supplying my mortgage, congratulating me that everything was in place and welcoming me to fifteen years of fiscal servitude (although they didn't put it that way). Sigh! It's bad enough that I can't get a completion date from the developer but it's adding insult that I've started on my mortgage already. Oh well, in fifteen years I doubt I'll notice.
A beautiful sight awaited me as I entered the house - the absence of scaffolding in entryway room (I still haven't come up with a good name for it). With the pale walls & white ceiling it shone in its spacious glory, filled with light from windows high above. The vast expanse of plain wall space facing the front is begging for something to make use of it, an Artistic Statement of some kind to declare the identity of the house and welcome visitors. I have a Japanese banner of the Seven Gods of Fortune which I've hung at the entrance to several of my homes over the years but at 3' x 1' it's not quite up to the task here. We'll see.
Way up high was a smoke detector and a light fitting on a short length of cable. I really hope the former is mains powered and the latter doesn't blow very often as it looks like I'll need crampons and a grappling hook to get up there. Ironically the internal window to my office is right beside them but it doesn't open. Sigh!
In the living room there was another surprise - the intercom phone for visitors from the street had been placed slap bang in the middle of the wall, close to the equally weirdly placed fusebox. What were they thinking? I've written to the architect, pleading with him to have it moved to near the front door where every other such unit I've seen has been placed. Grrr!
As I looked around I was struck by some very strange decisions about the light fittings. The bedroom had six downlighters (and three direction lights in the storage area) while the office, nominally bedroom 2, had a single, short cabled light fitting set way up high with no others at all. The bathroom's single (blobby) light was a low energy unit that seemed a bit feeble and was placed in an odd position. The landing had another of the high, short cabled fittings and a single directional light placed exactly where a picture or set of shelves would go nicely. None of my requested dimmer switches had been installed and as far as I could see there weren't linked switches at top & bottom of the staircase. The switch for the kitchen lights was placed outside the room itself, just where the doors would open and make it impossible to get to.
Another disappointing discovery came on the landing. Two cupboards had been placed one above the other - the top one to contain the boiler, the lower one I was planning to use as an airing cupboard and bedlinen store. However the lower cupboard was now full of pipes, plumbing devices and controls and it looked like it wouldn't be usable as a storage space. To my untrained eye it looked like the boiler could have been raised a couple of feet (there's lots of extra headroom at this side of the house), the controls & fittings could have gone underneath and the lower cupboard left as storage. Maybe there were good technical reasons for doing things this way but it was frustrating to only find out these things once it was too late to change them.
It was a bit sad to enter the house with eyes sparkling with delight and to end up scanning every nook & cranny for defects and poor design decisions but I guess that's somewhat inevitable when coming towards the completion of what will almost certainly be the biggest purchase I'll ever make - I want to get my money's worth! My challenge for now is to remember that delight and to notice the good things (of which there are many) at least as much as the bad. I shall email Nigel the architect with my observations & questions and try (again!) to contact the developer and we'll see what ensues.
Standing on the verge of getting it on?
The way in is not the big white door
Completed front with blobby lights
The garden side windows, with more blobs
With just a week & a half before having to leave my rental tenancy the idea of making a Plan B was starting to impinge on my awareness. The site manager had assured me that at least part of the house would be complete by then and I'd be able to store my stuff there and Hans & Jack had said that the Swan in town has good rooms but in my heart I was determined that my next move would be to the Georgian Lodge. Was this steely determination & positive thinking or just denial?
In my desperation to try and resolve the situation (or at least the legal aspect of it) I emailed my solicitor to contact the developer's solicitor to see if they could get a response of some kind. This seemed like something of a long shot, my experience of solicitors (both mine, theirs and in previous legal doings) is that they operate in an alternate reality where time moves in ways unknown to the rest of us - answers & actions drift freely, unconnected to their causes while bills arrive before they have been sent. How do they do this? And get away with it? During my simple (in my eyes) conveyancing I had been in contact with two different solicitors and three different assistants/PAs/secretaries, instructions for completing the forms I'd been sent were wrong or incomplete and when I had called to ask questions directly I was given vague answers in pidgin legalese. The individual people were generally friendly & helpful but the organisational infrastructure felt like something out of Dickens, it was easy to imagine them scratching on parchment with quills. Or using faxes.
I also tried calling in at the estate agents to see if they could reach the elusive developer - they were working for him after all. No joy there either - first one promised me an answer by the end of the day and then rang the next day to say he'd not gotten anywhere, then another said he'd definitely get me something but rang back later to report that he'd left messages but hadn't heard back. Sigh!
Passing the site later that day I saw three people fiddling around with keys at the main door. It turned out that this was Maggie, another of my future neighbours, who was showing her unit to a couple of friends. I introduced myself and explained that their key wouldn't open the impressive front door (which leads to architect Nigel's new office) and they'd need to go via the rather less impressive temporary door off to one side. Once inside we were joined by Jack who was returning home and another round of introductions followed. Maggie has one of the ground floor units - the one with the old style 'shop window' facing the courtyard - and will be moving in a day after my 'last chance' date. She had actually completed her purchase (hence her key) which showed it could be done!
Finally a response popped into my inbox but, sadly for me, it was from Nigel who had previously made it clear that he wasn't dealing with any of the financial or legal stuff. There was one piece of good news - he would see if the intercom could be moved - and although the rest was mostly explanations about why things had been done a certain way it was good to actually be in communication again. It was a shame that some of the decisions were now irrevocable but I felt I could live with them.
Next came a reply from the kitchen supplier. The missing draining board should have been routed (drilled) directly into the worktop and he would arrange for it to be done by the fitter 'before I moved in'. Not sure what date he was working to but it was good to hear that it would be done. He also confirmed that I could get extra units & arrange to have them fitted through his company, in case my minimalist kitchen intention falls foul of my weakness for culinary devices.
And then, as I was almost giving up hope, an email arrived from Jeremy (the developer). It was in his usual brief & brusque style and didn't make any reference to most of my outstanding questions but it did have the one thing I was becoming desperate for - he said that Chris, the site manager, was confident that the house would be finished by the coming Friday and that we could complete in the following week. Yay! I quickly replied saying that Monday or Tuesday would be good for me, which gave me time to get to the bank at the end of this week to arrange the money transfer. Could it really be coming together in the nick of time?
With the prospect of an actual completion date I felt a great weight lifting from my shoulders, although this was immediately replaced with another weight as I realised that there were zillions of things still waiting to be organised for the move itself. Sigh! I'm coming round to the idea of moving most of the stuff myself (I've taken a week off work for the transition) with just a Man & a Van to do a trip or two with the heavier items. I've not done anything about curtains & blinds and there's the broadband to be switched to the new address & landline. But all in all this new weight feels a lot more manageable than the old one.
A different kind of tension
Floor going down
'Attic' & 'wardrobe' doors from the bedroom
Office, with all the windows
With the (planned) moving date now less than a week away the pressure is really starting to get to me. Moving home usually features high in those 'most stressful things in your life' lists but after so many new places in recent years I thought I'd become used to it and could just breeze into another new place. Apparently not. As the completion creeps closer I find myself getting obsessive about building & decorating details and letting this anxiety spill over into other areas of my life.
My increasing concern about house issues is understandable - up to now most of the decisions were on a broad scale (where to have walls, windows, etc.) and there was always lots of time to review & reconsider. Now I'm seeing the place as my potential home - one that I'm paying what seems like an enormous amount for - and I want to get everything sorted out the way I want it while the calendar pages keep (symbolically) blowing away. I'm happy (mostly) with how the structure has turned out but a badly placed light switch now has an equivalent emotional weight and eats away at me, especially when it feels like it was done thoughtlessly and a quick call would have allowed me to position it perfectly.
This frustration led to a tense situation with Nigel, the architect. We've had a lot of interaction over the length of the project (as I've made all my changes) and have generally gotten on very well but with the developer becoming more and more difficult to contact I've been directing most of my correspondence via Nigel. This came to a head when I wrote about my frustrations with some of the decisions that had been made without consulting me and the lack of response to my questions about dates & financial stuff - he replied somewhat curtly, pointing out that I had no direct professional relationship with him and technically I (and, tellingly, the other buyers) shouldn't be contacting him directly. It was courteously done - he replied to me without CCing to the developer, developer's assistant & site manager who had been included in my email - but it was a clear indication that I was starting to overstep the mark.
I quickly apologised - regardless of my justifications I'd started wording my emails in a very confrontational & aggressive style and on rereading some of them I could see how emotionally laden they'd become. This also gave me pause for thought on how I was letting the process get on top of me and was starting to see fault and blame in everyone else. There were certainly things that needed to be sorted out but making this into a fight was only going to make them defensive and me unhappy.
It was clear that this was affecting me in other situations too. People at work had started pointing out that I was becoming less cooperative in my interactions with the client and I'd noticed at band rehearsals that I was getting tetchy & withdrawn, playing the bare minimum and not really engaging with the songs. On top of all this I was eating less well (more processed food & comfort goodies), spending more time in front of the TV, and often feeling headachey & generally not great. The house project was taking over and I was neglecting myself. Not good.
So, how to ease the stress? I'd had a removal man recommended to me but he hadn't responded to my texts and as time was getting short I'd been thinking of just hiring a man (or two) with a van to do the moving. On reflection I decided that it would be much easier to pay the extra and get a removal company to come in and do everything, I could afford it and it would certainly ease the pressure on me. So I started googling for removal firms in the area.
The first one was a bit of a shock - they wanted a full list of all my stuff (at least the furniture & larger items) and came back with a quote of £1,000! This was way more than I was expecting and posed an interesting question about how much I was actually willing to pay to make my life easier. Luckily the next (more local) company were not only more flexible & easy going but said they could do it for less than half the price. This would still be double what two men and a van would cost but it meant that I wouldn't need to do all the packing up - my subconscious seemed to think this was an acceptable exchange as I felt myself relax at the news.
Back at the site things were progressing nicely. The wood floor was going down in the entryway & kitchen which was providing some warm colour against the off-white of the walls. Virtually all of the wall painting was complete, the woodwork was vanishing under layers of white and the radiators were in place (and working). The toilet and laundry cupboard were still empty and the carpets hadn't arrived but overall it felt like the end was in sight.
But my new found contentment was swiftly shattered. Although things were coming along well it was clear that the house wouldn't be ready (or even liveable) by my moving date. The builders said they would have at least one room that would be in a state that I could store my belongings in but it would be a good few days more before the the place would be anything approaching completion. Eek! I'd arranged the end of my rental tenancy, removals, phone disconnection and time off from work around the moving day and there were only days to go before then. What would I do?
The end of the world as we know it
Living room nearly done
Finishing the skirting in the office
Crisis! With just three days before I was due to move I had to come up with a Plan B. Would I rise to the challenge or crumple under the pressure? Time for some quick improvisation & action.
First thing was to find somewhere to live. When I was organising the end of my rental tenancy the letting agent had revealed that the following tenants wouldn't be moving in until the end of the month so the house would be unoccupied for a couple of weeks. Could I extend my stay? There was no-one at home when I rang my landlady so I sent her texts & emails asking if it would be possible for me to stay on and pleading for a quick reply.
Next was to get a more reliable date for completion & moving. I emailed the developer & architect and - miracle of miracles! - Jeremy replied and we arranged a meeting for the next day to sort out the remaining issues and to come up with a timescale.
Finally I needed to reschedule the move, or at least to postpone it until I had a new date. This turned out to be the easiest of the three, the removal company were totally relaxed about it and just asked me to let them know when I had a new day. I started to think that this catastrophe might be survivable after all.
The next day bought more good news. My landlady replied saying that she was happy for me to stay on and the letting agent called to say that so long as I was out by the 29th I could not only stay as long as I needed but didn't need to confirm my leaving date straight away, giving me time to work things out with the builders.
And so to my meeting with Jeremy, the developer. I was fairly apprehensive about this as there were a bunch of things to be sorted out, time was tight and although my Plan B was coming into effect very gracefully I didn't want to just end up in another state of uncertainty. Hanging over all this was the final payment, at some point this huge amount of money (at least from my perspective) would be handed over in exchange for the house. How 'complete' did it need to be before I should do this? Was it OK for me to delay the payment until I was happy and would there be consequences arising from this? Having had the original completion date deferred, something that I thought would have had dire consequences, I was beginning to realise that house buying was more flexible than the strict legal process that I had imagined.
To my great relief the meeting went really well, just as it had on previous occasions when we'd met face to face. In contrast to the vague & evasive answers I'd gotten used to in our email & text conversations Jeremy was sympathetic to my concerns and quick to suggest solutions, even when these seemed to be weighted towards my benefit. It felt like we were striving for a win-win solution rather than fighting over the scraps and as he came up with generous proposals I found myself responding with compromise rather than confrontation. I was still standing my ground but on reflection some of the decisions seemed less life & death than I'd been painting them, which gave pause for thought about some of my other interactions. But I'll get back to that at a later point.
First on the agenda was what to do with the garden. We surveyed the sloped bank of raw earth and discussed the options - architect Nigel had said that paving was not possible, I said I'd be OK with decking, we agreed on that. After weeks of increasingly impassioned emails the whole thing was sorted in about a minute and a half.
Landing, with furtive decorator
Most of the other issues were dealt with almost as quickly. There were some disappointments on my side - the fusebox and intercom would have to stay where they were and the wood floor would be beaded (the edges concealed under a wooden strip) rather than extending under the skirting boards - but in response Jeremy waived the extra costs from my dishwasher and internal fireproof window at the top of the staircase. A few questions remained about light switches and fittings but these were minor problems and I was happy to leave these to be resolved later.
The one remaining sticking point was the big one - when would we formally complete the purchase and when would I finally move in? With the knowledge that I had somewhere to live for a while longer I suggested moving in two weeks time, effectively ten days later than the current completion date, and making the final payment once the house was properly finished. This would allow some time for snagging so I could pop in, check how things were looking & working (do a washing machine load, run the dishie, see if making toast triggered the smoke alarm, try the switches, etc. etc.) and let any tidying up work be done without having to live in the middle of it. I had a trip planned for the weekend directly before to visit friends which felt like a good point of transition - get away, come back, move and then spend the week settling in to my new abode.
I could tell that Jeremy would prefer the purchase to go through sooner (hardly a surprise) but he seemed OK with this, possibly as he'd been stressing that he expected things to be finished off by the current completion date. It's my intention to hold back the payment until the house is essentially done but to not be picky about it if it's a case of little bits of finishing off or touching up remaining. I'll be back down the site on Friday, the completion date, and if it's all looking done then I'll give the word to my solicitors. If not, it'll hopefully be sometime in the next week.
What this has done is given me a bit more time to organise the work that remains in my jurisdiction. The bedroom needs a 'fitted' wardrobe built into the storage space, curtains or blinds need to be found for the few vertical windows and I'm taking the opportunity to move to a wireless backup system for my computers. There's still lots to do but it's starting to feel like there could be time to get it all done - which wasn't how I was feeling a week before. In an increasingly dark & dreary October the sun was starting to shine on my plans again.