Building a new home
First steps into the new world
Ready for the unpacking
A room to sleep in but nothing to sleep on
First sighting of a washing machine
In the words of Jubal Early "Well, here I am". After a long and (winding road? strange trip? illustrious history?) I'd finally stepped into my new home with the intention of sleeping the night there. What might have been a powerfully emotive & personally significant moment was somewhat tarnished by the recent upheavals - I was more than a little apprehensive about what I'd find - but at least it had arrived. After three days of living out of a (very little) suitcase, now mostly filled with dirty laundry, I stepped over the threshold into a new life.
With the floor protectors removed the first impression was of light - the pale carpets squeezing every last drop of daylight into the rooms and the oak floor of the entryway & kitchen adding some colour to balance the muted walls. The sense of size was harder to grasp, the rooms seemed large but the piles of boxes & belongings filled them quite amply and, worryingly, extended into the entryway and the kitchen from the living room. Having packed everything down for moving I was all too aware that it would expand again when it was released from its boxes. Where would it all go?
At first it was just too daunting. The rooms & layout were so different from my previous place that I hadn't yet formed a mental picture of where everything would end up. There wasn't a hallway (or even coat hangers) where I could start with coats, shoes & outside stuff and although the kitchen had cupboards ready it was filled with boxes (and my mattress) so I couldn't get to them. The boxes had their contents written on top so it was an effort to find out what was in which, not just the physical exertion but finding somewhere to put the boxes that had to be moved to see the ones below. And none of the chairs were accessible or assembled so I didn't even have somewhere to collapse in confusion. I spent quite a while moving small objects back and forth before realising that I needed to make some sort of plan or the things (and me) would be in the same state at midnight.
So, time for a priority list. Having somewhere to sleep seemed pretty fundamental so rebuilding the bed felt like a good place to start, especially as the bedroom was totally empty (all my stuff had been stacked in the downstairs rooms) so there was no box rearranging involved. I got one of the builders to help me carry the heavy & awkward headboard & footboard (?) upstairs, located the bag of screws, bolts & fittings and started on reconstruction.
My bed has been through a couple of moves now so I'm fairly adept at taking it apart and putting it back together again. The frame was quickly assembled but as I stood back to bask in my (rarely exercised) male construction skills I realised that the room was actually quite a bit smaller than I'd imagined it. Oops! After rotating the bed to try out the only other possible configuration (which was a bit like doing a seventeen point turn in a country lane) it turned out to be no better so I had to repeat the elaborate manoeuvre to get it back again. There wasn't a great deal of clearance but I could get around it to the (as yet unbuilt) wardrobe and there was space for my bedside cabinet beside it so it would at the very least do for now. I wrestled the mattress up the staircase, found the box with the bed linen inside and soon had a usable sleeping area. This sounds like the faintest of praise but at this point I was in no condition to observe with anything but the most functional & pragmatic outlook.
The second entry on my list showed up my geek priorities - get the phone & broadband working. I perched a little table by the main BT socket and soon had it covered with wires & devices, all the little lights flashing in various colours & combinations. It wasn't quite as straightforward as I'd hoped and at one point I did have to resort to the tried & tested 'turn it off and turn it on again' but eventually I had phone, internet and wi-fi all running smoothly. The wi-fi was particularly important as I'd decided to finally embrace the 21st century and dispense with ethernet cables snaking around everywhere, a step that was encouraged by the strange placement of phone sockets in the house. If my laptop could back up wirelessly and I could stream iPlayer down to the TV then everything else should be fine.
Bathroom fitted out (mostly)
When I say 'phone' I'm only referring to the landline. Mobile reception proved to be as feeble as on previous visits and in most of the house No service was the best I could hope for. This was quite a drawback as although I don't get many calls on my moby I do use it a lot for text messages. After much experimenting I found I could get one bar (which seemed to be enough to let texts in) by propping the phone against the living room window or keeping it near the French windows in my office, which should keep me going for now. I investigated the app that my mobile provider had released for poor reception areas but it had very bad reviews and seemed to be aimed at outgoing rather than incoming calles & messages, not so great for my needs.
The last of my 'essential' tasks was somewhere to sit. I put the legs back on my small (but surprisingly heavy) dining table, liberated the chairs from the heaped up belongings and set them all up in a cleared space in the entryway. This was where I'd planned to have my breakfast / coffee / occasional work area but once they were in place I could see other options - the table would go nicely in the 'window end' of the living room and would even fit in the kitchen as a sort of breakfast bar. It felt like I was starting to respond to the actual shapes & sizes of the rooms rather than my abstract mental blueprints, an exciting development!
The sofa was another reassembly project but armed with my original IKEA instructions & tools it soon stood there proudly, although I belatedly realised I should have taken the opportunity to get the covers cleaned while I was between homes. Fired up with constructive zeal I cleared a space at the 'non-window end' of the living room and put together the TV / DVD / sound system assembly - not only could I sit down but I could unwind with a film too! Or at least (as it turned out) a nice wallow in Game Of Thrones.
The basics of living had been taken care of with two glaring exceptions - cooking & washing. Unpacking the crockery, cutlery, cookware & foodstuffs into a completely new layout of cupboards & drawers was too much to contemplate straight away, luckily I could survive on takeaways & the microwave for a few more days (although the coffee machine would be a little more urgent). The long-promised washing machine had finally arrived but stood outside its eventual home while the platform to raise it above the pipework was completed and a plumber summoned to set it up. I'd installed washing machines myself and had offered to do so here - there's little more than attaching two pipes and plugging it in nowadays - but I was told that it had to be done by a Qualified Technician, presumably for liability reasons. This was an inconvenience but I had enough clothes to last a while longer, in fact the space taken up by the machine would be more of a problem as I started to fit out the office.
Washing clothes could wait but washing me was a more immediate concern. The bathroom looked complete at first glance but as I looked closer this was patently not the case - the sealing around various joins was patchy or completely missing, there was a small pile of plumbing bits in the shower itself (that I fervently hoped hadn't been missed from the installation) and in general it felt unfinished, both in function and appearance. Most worrying was finding someone fitting the 'retaining rail' (to give some support to the shower screen) who, when questioned, admitted that he thought it was either the wrong item and/or was in the wrong place. We agreed to postpone the work until a definite answer could be found.
But the toilet & wash basin worked so I could get by with those for now (an expression that was seeing a lot of use). The radiators had a programming sequence that could have graced a 1970's VCR, bafflingly used the abbreviations 'L-V' for weekdays and 'S-D' for weekends (yes, I worked it out mes amis) and needed to be all individually programmed but they also had a manual mode that would provide heat on demand. While the bedroom warmed up I had a stand-up sponge bath, brushed my teeth and then collapsed onto my bed. I had arrived.
First steps in nest feathering
Living room starting to get organised
Kitchen getting usable
Office still in a formative state
Bedroom nicely cosy
Just about a week has passed since I moved in to the new house and some form of order is starting to emerge. Two of those days were spent away visiting old friends (the delayed moving date has pushed 'settling in time' way beyond the space I'd cleared in my calendar) but for the rest I've been unpacking, arranging & rearranging or flopping in exhaustion - although this has been more mental & emotional than physical. Despite having so much unfinished (or even undecided) the feeling of being at home is slowly growing.
(A technical note: my nifty wide-angle lens attachment doesn't fit on my new iPhone so the pictures are now hand-held panoramas - please excuse the occasional wavy line or strange perspective.)
Unpacking, or more specifically unboxing, was one of those processes that start out really, really difficult but get much easier as you work at it. For the first few I was rearranging boxes to make a space to unpack into, finding a (usually temporary) place to put the contents, breaking up the box and making a space to hold the growing pile of flattened cardboard, all the while trying to picture where things would finally end up. It didn't help that my wardrobe wasn't there yet or that I didn't have the cupboards that held a lot of my stuff in the old place. The giant storage area I'd added to the plans would end up holding most of it but this would be a sort of attic rather than the easily accessible storage I'd gotten used to.
Storage seems to have become a dirty word in modern housing - I'm actually better off than most of my neighbours in the development, and the other new flats I looked at while house hunting were similarly lacking in cupboard space. Do architects live a Zen-like existence, unburdened with the illusion of possessions on the material plane? I'm not much of a pack rat myself but I'm having to puzzle over where to store towels & bed linen, bags & suitcases, paperwork and the other bits & pieces that I need occasional access to but don't want on full-time display. And that's just stuff for general living, on top of that I have my hobbyist things - guitars & their associated gubbins, computer bits, dance stuff and so on. Adding new 'storage furniture' seems like the obvious solution but I like having a visually uncluttered space to live in - I'm OK with a couple of bookshelves & DVD racks but otherwise I like things away & out of sight. I suspect that as well as adding shelves to my 'attic' I'll be getting new cupboards built into some of the nooks & crannies of my strangely shaped rooms.
Eventually all the boxes were unpacked & broken down and my possessions were piled up in or near the rooms they'd (probably) end up in. This wasn't quite what you'd call 'moved in' but the difference in how I felt was enormous - there was a real sense of stability & relief as the deeper parts of me took in that I had a place of my own once again. Despite my peripatetic lifestyle over the past (far too many) years I don't cope well with not having a stable base and I suspect that my subconscious views packing cases with suspicion & alarm rather than excitement. The change from renting to owning hasn't filtered through yet - it will be interesting to see what that evokes.
The change from unpacking to (re)arranging was like night & day - the existential angst of the former turning to focussed excitement at the prospect of finding new ways to redistribute myself in this new setting. I tend to suffer from a conviction that there's an optimum distribution of objects in a room that will be 'right' - the most free space, the easiest access, the best movement flow - which can be useful in making me examine new permutations but can just as easily lead to frustration if I don't think I've found 'it' yet. With such a new space and with such potential for changes I'm trying to put this part of me aside and to look at what the completed rooms could be in themselves rather than as just containers for my existing possessions. With the prospect of living in the same house for many years I'm starting to think of getting furniture & fittings that are 'just right' rather than practical & adaptable for future settings, a big change for me. And it helps that having laid out what feels like a fortune for the house itself the prospect of spending more on these extras doesn't feel so bad, compared to the mortgage these are all 'rounding errors'. Possibly something I'll need to watch in future.
As I look back I realise that I've tended to think of myself as a tenant in virtually all the places I've lived, regardless of whether I've been an owner or renter. As such I've always held back from making any major changes or (in my eyes) bold choices, it's as if I'm just a custodian of the space and need to maintain it in a way that the next (proper?) owner can personalise it without too much trouble. Lots of good therapy material there. Having been so involved in the (re)design of my new place I'm starting to realise that it is actually mine and so long as I hold back from structurally undermining it I have the authority / permission to make it right for me, in any way that I choose. This isn't only a freedom, I feel an obligation to make something special out of this strange space, to be an example of what can be done through personal expression in what feels like an increasingly cookie-cutter world. As I've mentioned before my personal philosophy is that we're here to bring more beauty into the world, I now have a new canvas on which to live up to this.
An unlikely inspiration for this change of outlook, and one that predated the start of my house hunting, was a visit to César Manrique's house on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Not exactly a practical blueprint - it's built around five natural 'bubbles' in volcanic rock, not so easy to find in Wiltshire - but more of a declaration that so much more is possible than we might imagine. When I saw it I thought "This is how an artist should live" but this has slowly evolved into "This is how people should live", in places that delight & inspire. While living in the Findhorn Community I saw lots of examples of unconventional housing (as well as living in one for ten years) and although some of the designs fell outside my definition of 'beauty' it was fascinating to be surrounded by such shamelessly individual creations. I don't think this is limited to new builds, my old friends Dave & Tanya have bought a glorious Victorian Gothic folly that is splendidly eccentric. Perhaps my next life task is to come up with something interesting & individual in a more limited, urban setting? An inspiring challenge.
At the moment this remains a vision rather than a reality, although the seeds are beginning to sprout. In the meantime I'm trying out various furniture configurations, working out what will fit & what will do for now, and letting my imagination look ahead to what could be done. All the while adding to a saddeningly long snagging list which will need to be addressed before too long. But for now it's looking good.
Snags & ladders
With nearly all the building equipment gone the courtyard is showing its Olde Worlde charm again
Half-filled living room
Since moving in I've been building up my snagging list - a catalogue of the various problems, faults & unfinished jobs that need to be dealt with before the house can be described as 'finished'. This is really just a continuation of the process that's been going on throughout the development but with the prospect of the builders leaving it's taken on a bit more urgency and I find myself almost obsessively scanning for mistakes as I go from room to room. It's a sensitive balance to find, it's easy to start noticing every tiny imperfection (and sink into gloom at how much is wrong) but at the same time I don't want to gloss over things that really need to be done.
Luckily most of the things on my list are either cosmetic or easily remedied - missing or blown light bulbs, paint splashes, no dimmer switches, unfitted door stops and so on. Irritating but bearable if I know they're going to get fixed in the near future. However there are a couple of things that really need some attention:
The kitchen looks good and works well but is still awaiting some fairly major finishing off work. The splash guard along the edge of the worktop needs to be sealed off, especially around the curved wall where there are large gaps, but although this was promised over a week ago it's been postponed while they "Find something that matches". The worktop is standard oak butcher board so I'm a bit perplexed as to how this needs some specialist sealant to be sourced. The other big issue is around the end of the units, I'd asked for the gap to be left open so I could use it for trays or dishcloth hooks but instead it was sealed off with a piece of wood that doesn't match the units. I suspect that the space was too fiddly to get the flooring in tidily so it was easier to just block it off, presumably in the hope that I wouldn't notice? Hmmm.
The bathroom feels like it's missed out on the final day or so of finishing off. The main omission is the shower screen support - a bar that provides extra stability for the large glass screen. Having prevented the wrong part being attached in the wrong place a week ago nothing more has happened, apart from that part being taken away. But in some ways the general level of finishing is more of a concern - the sealing is poorly or partially done (completely missing in some places), the basin outflow pipe goes into an open hole filled with offcuts & rubble, the towel rail won't heat up (there are no instructions) and the walls & floor are splattered with paint, sealant and sawdust. The room is usable but I'm worried about water getting into the various unprotected areas and storing up problems for the future.
I'd been working on getting the heating set up - each of the radiators needs to be individually programmed using their teeny-tiny buttons - when I noticed that the window end of the living room was often quite a bit colder than the rest of the house. Not that surprising considering that it's the only single-glazed window (a requirement due to the Historical Significance of the building) but on closer examination a simpler reason was found - it wasn't being fully closed. I couldn't tell if it was just the flimsy catches or a misalignment of the hinges or frame but the end result was free air flow into the room. This also explained how I could clearly hear conversations in the courtyard below. With the weather getting colder and my curtains not arriving for at least a couple more weeks this has gone to the top of the urgency list!
I've been sending my regularly updated snagging list to the builders and the developer but although some of the items have been quickly sorted out I've had no written (or emailed) response directly, other than a general declaration that they will be 'looked at' at some unspecified point. I'm hoping that it's in everybody's interest to get these things sorted out across the whole development and I'm trying to keep reasonable about my own list so we don't end up arguing over (relatively) trivial issues for months. Fingers crossed.
On a more positive note it seems like the developer and I have patched up our differences after the spat of last week. After a (very deliberately non-confrontational) email where I listed the expenses I'd incurred due to the delayed moving-in date for his 'consideration' he replied straight away, agreeing to pay them with no further debate. And soon after that he wrote again saying he'd arranged with another company to get my garden finished off, something that I'd almost given up on after so many delays, postponements and conflicting updates. Although the emails were still on the 'polite' side it was good to be talking again.
Two people from the garden landscaping company duly arrived a few days later. Reassuringly confident & professional they said the job was straightforward and would cope easily with surface water and drainage isses. Sadly the old shrubs will not be saved but they do overshadow what is already a very sheltered space and have suffered somewhat during the building process. My neighbours on that side (a Buddhist centre) have a garden that's about a metre and a half higher than mine, maybe we can agree on a shorter living 'fence' on their side that would be more decorative and easier to maintain. And it will be nice to introduce myself to them.
High, natural light in the entryway & landing, halogens in the kitchen
Back inside my possessions are starting to gravitate towards their final places although the office and (to a lesser) extent the entryway are collecting the objects that don't yet have a clear destination. In the living room the TV has moved from one corner to the other and may yet move back, even though this requires unloading & restocking the DVD shelves. My heavy and now unwanted oak chest of drawers stands at the other end until I can sell or give it away - unfortunately Mark (one of my neighbours) had just bought one when I told him about mine, sigh! The bookcase in the entryway may well migrate to the living room (replacing the heavy oak unit, when it goes) and I'm considering a set of fitted cupboards to go where the bookcase currently stands for outdoor stuff, dining bits (placemats, etc.) and to provide some useful surfaces.
After one of my living room rearrangements I stepped back and realised that I'd fitted everything into one half of the room, leaving the other end empty. Despite my liking of open plan rooms it seems that part of me still wants smaller, cosy spaces. I can see the living room developing a day end (by the window, for reading & socialising) and a night end (TV & hi-fi) which might work nicely.
Upstairs things are in a similar state. The bedroom is still awaiting the wardrobe being built in so the storage area is littered with piles of clothes as well as the stuff that is destined to end up there. Once that's done I'll probably get some shelves put up, maybe even (gasp!) do it myself. Someone's coming round from a bathroom fitting company to help me with mirrors, towel rings, etc. for the bathroom and toilet, I'll probably get a full-length mirror for the landing too and see about having a cupboard in the toilet (for the smallest room it's pretty spacious) for bathroom and first aid supplies.
The office is probably the most chaotic of the rooms - its very irregular shape doesn't fit any of my current furniture (although that should probably be the other way round) and there aren't the plentiful cupboards of my previous house. Consequently my desk & storage units are in 'OK for now' positions and a pile of boxes & crates lie along one of the walls. My desk is just a shade too wide to fit into one of the little corners (alongside the notorious chimney stack) but I think that if I can get one of the builders to saw 4cm off the side (and he seems adept with a circular saw) it would slot in neatly. A drastic solution but it feels like it would free up some space and give me a view outside while I work. There's an awkward space on the high wall that will probably have fitted cupboards in it, the higher ones will need a ladder to get to but I'll need one to change the lightbulbs anyway. I can even see a place where the proposed sofabed might go, although this will require a creative solution for the oddly placed phone (and broadband) socket. A work in progress but with some interesting options starting to appear.
Finding the fittings
A free weekend presented itself after my various trips & excursions and it felt like the time was right for an IKEA run. With most of my bits & pieces having found their places (although some of them were almost certainly temporary ones) the absences were making themselves apparent - bins, brushes & the like. I looked at getting a taxi (with a good sized boot) to take me there and bring me and my purchases home but it turned out much cheaper to hire a car for the day. The hire company based in Bath (my nearest branch) offered a station collection so I booked online and hopped on a train - I reckoned I could do the whole thing in the same day which would make it easy.
Sadly, as has often been my experience with car hire in the UK, it didn't turn out to be that easy. The 'station collection' didn't refer to picking the car up at the station (which I had assumed), it actually meant I was picked up and driven out to the car hire office, down a little side street on the fringes of Bath. Once I got there (and had waited an interminable time while the couple in front were laboriously processed) I was told that the Council Tax bill I'd brought with me - the only official document with my new address on it - was not a valid proof of identity. But then there was good news - my old address came up OK on their checking system so I could have the car anyway. It made no sense to me but I just smiled & nodded. Next problem was that the office would be closed that afternoon and the next day so they wouldn't be able to drive me back to the station, instead ten pounds was knocked off my bill to cover a taxi back into Bath. This wasn't as convenient as I'd hoped for but at this point (an hour after my originally booked time) I was happy to agree to anything if they'd just give me the car and let me go. Finally I was taken out to the car, we inspected it for marks (even though I'd taken the zero excess option and wouldn't pay for any damages anyway), I sat in and found I couldn't get it to start. Luckily I was rescued by the receptionist who explained that I needed to press the brake & clutch and push the 'Start' button, after which it thrummed into life. Sheepishly I drove out & away.
The least worst doormat in the shop
New wardrobe loaded with my meagre, er, wardrobe
It's been a while since I've driven a very new car and I was a bit caught out by the engine management system turning the engine off when I engaged the handbrake, something I habitually do at traffic lights. I guess the systems are now reliable enough to do this for economy reasons but I did feel a bit nervous the first few (dozen) times it happened, wondering if it would start up again. Which of course it did.
I took the opportunity of trying out the built-in satnav in my iPhone. The IKEA branch was in Bristol which, as a driver, I've always found both scary & confusing to try to navigate through - lanes merging & diverging with no warning, destinations suddenly vanishing from the signs, and always the constant pressure of too much traffic around you. I'm no country mouse - I lived & drove in London for a decade - but Bristol has always been somewhere I'd rather avoid if I could.
With the satnav it was a wholly different experience. Although the Apple voice tended to mangle road numbers - the A430 came out as 'affo thirty' - it gave clear instructions in good time and once I surrendered control to it I had a (fairly) relaxed drive, just taking things one junction at a time. Where I did miss a turning it quickly reorientated itself and carried on with no fuss. As an infrequent driver I was starting to doubt my urban driving skills but with the phone doing the navigation I found I could cope pretty well. A nice discovery.
IKEA turned out to be a great disappointment. For some reason I have an image of it as a magical cavern filled with wonderful (and reasonably priced) delights, always too many to be gathered in a single visit. This time around it felt like most things were not quite right in one way or another - wrong size, wrong colour, wrong fitting. A perfect example came with the doormats, they were the right size, texture & size but every one had a design printed on them when I was looking for a plain one. Sigh! I ended up with various bits & pieces (including the least worst doormat) but my shopping list was not as reduced as I'd hoped.
Once more my phone stepped into the breach when I was able to look up, locate and plan a route to the nearest Homebase where a few more items were found. Then it was back to Bradford to unload and back to Bath to return the car. The office was, as promised, unmanned but rather than calling for a taxi I walked back into town along the Avon, a gentle cool down after my day of driving.
My plan for the bedroom had included a fitted wardrobe but up to now this consisted of just a pair of doors that opened into the (relatively) cavernous storage area, as a consequence I was using the well-established 'on the floor' stacking system for my clothes. All this was about to change once I found that David, one of the singers in the band, was something of a furniture constructor - after a visit and a discussion he said he'd be happy to build the 'inside' for me and left with a series of cryptic symbols & measurements written on the end of a piece of wood.
A week later he was back with the finished construction which we somehow manoeuvred into place, finding out along the way that my bedroom door was considerably narrower than standard (but luckily just wide enough). After a period of heaving, thumping & muffled curses (the ceiling is very low in the storage area) all was complete and my new, expansive wardrobe stood ready to receive my clothes. These turned out to only need a very small fraction of the available space and I'm now considering keeping my bedlinen and/or towels in there too. A great success!
Coats off the floor, shoes to follow
While assembling the wardrobe David also drilled a few holes in my walls so I could put up some coat hooks and attach the doorbell, both recent acquisitions from my IKEA/Homebase run. While out in DIY land I'd pondered getting a new drill - there's a strange fascination for power tools in the male psyche - but had decided that the little amount of home improvement work I do didn't justify it and I'd be better off either finding a borrowable one from a neighbour or getting someone in when I needed work done. This fits in with my preference for high-quality, shared resources rather than everybody owning their own mediocre one, encourages community interaction, supports local tradesmen and lets me continue to hide my primitive DIY skills. So, a win all round!
Getting my coats hung up has brought downstairs almost to the point of looking tidy. The entryway still has shoes, scarves & hats on the floor (I need another set of coat hooks and a tolerable shoe rack) and the dining table has amassed a library of instruction sheets for the various appliances & devices along with a (thankfully small) collection of discards for the charity shop. There are also a couple of boxes that I'm storing for a Findhorn friend who's moving to a nearby town - it really is a small world! The only other transient object is the heavy oak chest of drawers which has been rendered surplus to requirements by the wardrobe and stands awaiting sale or gifting away. My collection of paintings & framed pictures are stacked under the stairs but these are waiting for some stability to establish itself before I start banging picture hooks into the walls - one of the few DIY tasks I feel competent to perform. As the chaos comes under control I find the house offering a comforting welcome rather than an implied thin-lipped rebuke at the tasks still waiting to be done, a very nice change.
There have been some weird things going on with the washing machine. The wash cycle runs OK but the integrated dryer has been very problematic - the 'time remaining' counter gets down to one minute but then stays there for ages (longer than an hour) while the cupboard it's in gets very, very warm and the clothes eventually emerge with a slightly toasted smell. Bizarrely the cistern in the toilet next to it also warms up which is quite comfy but very strange. At first I thought the problem was that there was nowhere for the heat to escape to (it's a small cupboard) and that the solution would be to add a vent out through the roof but further investigation revealed that the cistern warmed up even when the washing machine was not in use. This led to a final conclusion, confirmed when the plumber came to check it out, that the toilet & washing machine had been connected to the hot rather than cold water supply and the condenser in the dryer was vainly trying to extract moisture without a cold element to condense it on to. Apparently an easy mistake to make. The solution would be to swap the hot & cold feeds from the boiler and then re-swap the connections to the wash basins in the toilet and kitchen (the bathroom supply was a separate one that could be left as it was). This could all be done with easily accessible piping which was a relief, I was fearful of having large sections of the kitchen units dismantled to get at the pipework. So, a mystery solved and a straightforward fix, good news.
After a flurry of emails a meeting was arranged with the head of the building company and the developer's assistant to go through my (by now extensive) snagging list. As I was getting ready for them my newly fitted doorbell chimed, announcing the arrival of the electrician and, a few minutes later, the plumber (both of whom I knew from earlier visits to the site) to start on some of the outstanding work. When Joe & Terry arrived it felt like quite a crowd, especially as the plumber was hobbling around on crutches from a broken ankle (and proudly showing off photos of his scar & x-rays on his phone, a bit more detail than I was ready for). With copies of my list on Terry's clipboard we started going through the items room by room.
The process turned out to be far less confrontational that I'd feared. In most cases my 'snags' were readily accepted and we only needed a discussion if there was a choice of how they could be remedied. Joe switched easily between technical jargon and layman's English (mostly the latter for my benefit) and seemed genuinely interested in getting things fixed to my satisfaction so that we could agree on them and move on. He was also wonderfully unhurried, happy to go off on tangents as we talked about the general design and the feasibility of some of my ideas for future changes (yes, I'm already thinking of modifications, although just little ones for now). In less than an hour we'd gone through the whole list and Terry had drawn up a record of the agreed changes & fixes.
While this was going on the electrician had been beavering away around us and I soon had all of my lights working and dimmer switches where I wanted them - which in some cases meant replacing the bulbs with dimmable ones. These were usually LEDs which surprised me a bit, I still thought of them as relatively high-tech and hadn't realised how common they were becoming. Having control over the light levels made a huge difference to the rooms, I'm react badly to bright overhead lights which I often find harsh & oppressive so it was great to have gentler illumination available.
A slightly worrying discovery during the snagging inspection was what looked like a water stain on the living room ceiling that lined up with the edge of the shower in the room above. Joe & the plumber seemed unfazed by it though, suggesting that I outline it in faint pencil and see if it grew or darkened - if it got worse action would need to be taken but it could just turn out to be spillage from the installation, in which case it could be safely painted over. We'll see how it goes.
I'd offered to leave a set of keys with them while I was away (yes, I'm off travelling again) but they said they'd be happier if I was around when the work was being done so I could give my OK (or not) straight away and avoid another round of back and forth. This seems reasonable so with luck I should have a fully fitted home within a few days of getting back. Here's hoping.
One step forward, then a long pause.
After a week's (working) holiday in Morocco I returned for the Great Snagging Day where a crack team would zoom through the list and bring the house to a state of polished perfection. We'd tick everything off, make a few wry jokes and I would wave goodbye to the builders forever.
Living room continues to come together
It didn't quite go that way.
The builders normally got started at around eight in the morning so I made sure I was ready for them good and early. And waited. And waited. At nine I texted the developer's assistant (who'd been coordinating the snagging process) who said that people were on their way. At a bit before ten the plumber arrived and the work began.
As it turned out this was the one big item on the list that ended up being (more or less) fixed. The hot & cold supplies had been inadvertently reversed on their way to the washing machine & toilet but correcting this involved swapping them as they left the boiler and then reverse-correcting them so the kitchen sink taps stayed correct. It also meant emptying the huge boiler tank so an age was spent with taps running and hoses bleeding water into the shower. But eventually the system was dry and the changes were made - hopefully this would restore cold flushes to the loo and fix the problems with the dryer but until the boiler got up to temperature again I wouldn't be able to test it out.
(When the water finally heated up the toilet was flushing cold and the dryer seemed to be working OK but the basin in the toilet had its taps the wrong way round. Sigh! Another thing on the snagging list.)
During the plumbing work an interesting discovery was made - the pipes under the sink had been concealed behind a panel but the mains socket for the dishwasher had been fixed in front of it in a way that meant it couldn't be removed. The plumber took the socket off to make his repairs but when I asked that it be moved to a place that didn't block the panel I was told that only an electrician could make such a change. So, another thing to add to the list.
Liberated nook in the kitchen
The only other real 'fix' that was done was in the kitchen. When the units were fitted there was a gap between the last one and the curved wall that I was going to use for trays, tea towels or something like that, a little nook for odd-shaped items. But after the wood floor was laid I came home to find a wooden panel had been put across the gap in an almost-but-not-quite-matching colour, blocking off the recess completely. I'd added this to the snagging list and moved on to other things.
When the panel was removed it's purpose was revealed - the curved wall had made fitting the floor & skirting board a tricky operation and the resulting mess had been hidden away. After chatting with the builder I agreed that it was better to just tidy up what was there - put some beading over the edges, don't extend the wainscotting, fill in a couple of holes and touch up the paintwork. When I have something in there it'll hardly be apparent and I do like little niches for storing things away.
A couple of very minor other things were fixed but most of the snagging list remained and a week later there's still been very little progress, in fact the list has grown slightly as more problems have emerged. What's causing me more concern is that I've had virtually no response from the developer or builder, leaving me to wonder when I'll see more work being done. I had been joking about whether the house would be completed before Christmas, now that doesn't feel quite so funny anymore.
It's certainly the season for delays. My curtains have been held up for another week, the bathroom fittings have been put on hold until after Christmas and the garden decking won't be starting until the New Year. Sigh!
Having been surrounded by huge, plain walls of magnolia I've started taking action to bring some colour into the house. While in Morocco I bought a huge (3m x 2m) locally woven throw in yellows, golds & oranges and I've decided to hang it in the entranceway. Rather than mess around with ladders and my feeble DIY skills I've gone to the curtain people to get it professionally mounted and hung, this will cost four times as much as the throw itself did but should ensure that it's straight and stays up.
The perfect Crimble card
I'm not normally one to send Christmas cards but while I was in one of the local shops I found one which was an engraving of my street, showing the front of the Georgian Lodge in a festively snowy setting. This was too good to miss so I bought a bunch to send to friends & family, and with my Moroccan souk experience still fresh I uncharacteristically bartered the price down! When I went back to buy some more (he automatically gave me a discount - this is an interesting new skill!) I found that several of the other Lodge residents had been over to get their own ones, rapidly working through the shop's stock. The card is made by a local artist which is a nice added bonus.
After being away for I week I found I had renewed enthusiasm for organising & tidying and have spent some time reviewing where various things had ended up. The most serious case was the storage area off the bedroom (henceforth 'the attic' although hopefully not in a Dollhouse sense) where I'd stashed a whole bunch of stuff without worrying too much about it. An afternoon of lifting, dragging & minor head injuries (the ceiling in there is very low) resulted not only in a more easily accessible layout but also space to move in my old organiser unit with twenty low drawers, an aid to the over-fastidious categoriser that has been with me for decades now.
Another piece of refining came in the kitchen where I changed the heights of a couple of the shelves so I could reach them without a chair or excessive strain. Most modern cupboard units now seem to have adjustable shelving but it's surprising how often I just make do with them however they come. But this time I carefully unloaded all the crockery, repositioned the shelves and reorganised what went where, based on what had been awkward to get to over the past few weeks. I was hoping to do the same with a full-height cupboard but the little holes where the shelf fixings went were frustratingly not present where I wanted them, and in fact couldn't be made to line up with the two doors. I think I'll end up fixing the doors together to make one big one otherwise the discrepancy will slowly drive me mad.
The festive lights go up!
As the remaining few boxes & crates tidied away I'm beginning to get some ideas on how to continue with furnishing the house. In the office I plan to move my desk around to give me a bit of a view and to free up space in a different place - this will require sawing a strip off one side but I've decided it's better to make the furniture fit than put up with things as they are. Getting a tall, narrow chest of drawers for office stuff will give space for a sofa (-bed?) with a nice garden view, something that will make the room a lot less utilitarian. And the odd little recess on the tall side (about 2 feet by 18 inches) is crying out to have a series of shelves in to make use of it.
Downstairs I'm thinking of having a sideboard in the entryway, both for general storage and to provide some useful work surface area. I was astonished to find that sideboards still exist, they seem like objects from my (early) childhood but when I popped in to an Oak Furniture Clearance Warehouse! they had dozens of them on display. In some strange way having a sideboard in a maisonette makes me feel very much a child of the 50's. The warehouse also had some nice looking chests of drawers and everything was at Super! Reduced! Sale! Prices! so I might go back there and see if I can get them before Christmas. Although they'll almost certainly be delayed.
While reorganising the attic I found my Christmas lights and now that we're into December (my personal threshold for festive activities) I decided it was time to deck the halls with LED illuminations. My beautiful living room now has its first nails in the walls (and chips out of the plaster) but I figure it's a necessary transition into a proper, lived-in home. And I was able to put up one set by just weaving them through the bannisters. I really like the pearly, shadowless glow that fairy lights give and knowing me I'll leave them up until April or so.
With winter coming on it feels like everything is slowing down which is particularly frustrating as I'm eager to get my new nest feeling cosy and (as far as these things ever are) complete. The delays from the various fitters is disappointing if understandable but the silence from the developer & builders seems ominous. What will December bring?
And so I face the final curtain
After what feels like an age (seven weeks) my curtains were ready to be hung and as if to celebrate the occasion the fitter arrived nearly an hour earlier than planned. Possibly the first thing in this entire process that has come in ahead of schedule! He brought in his arsenal of tools and a small but sturdy stepladder and set to work, finishing it all within an hour. Amazing! Was this the precursor to a flurry of activity and completion before the holidays? We shall see.
Blind & curtain in the living room
New curtain in the office
Too much curtain in the entryway
Sadly my first impression of the new curtains was one of disappointment. The colours & pattering had obviously drifted in my memory over the intervening period since I chose them and didn't match up to the reality of the finished product. For the office I'd chosen a sheer that had a pale top, graduating to a grey/brown middle and an orangey bottom - the actual curtain seemed to have just three distinct bands with the bottom more red than orange. The living room blind was to have a pattered shading from purple through to orange but instead went from red to orange to purple to red. The downstairs sheers were more brown than the orange I was expecting and as a final touch the one in the entryway was much too long. I was not a happy bunny.
But over a couple of days I found myself warming to my new curtains. The office sheer has more detail in it than I'd taken in at first and the very different red makes a nice contrast to the downstairs colours - maybe something I can work with as I continue to decorate the room. The horizontal lines break up the huge expanse of the French windows and distract attention away from the high ceiling. And it's very different from anything I've had before, which feels like a very good thing.
The living room blind now works like a painting, especially with its 'framing' inside the thick walls - much more so than my original idea of a more linear dark-to-light graduated fill. Did my subconscious spot this from the outset? An intriguing thought. I've been promised a big pile of 'remnants' from the blind material (the pattern size was just out of step with the curtain size) and I may end up with matching cushion covers. Oh my God - what have I become?
The too-brown sheers have (amazingly) become much nicer - their translucency makes them brighter during the day and the artificial light makes them warmer in the evenings. The excessively long curtain was traced back to a typo in the measurements and it sounds like they can be removed, trimmed, re-hemmed and replaced before Christmas. Hooray!
The curtains have made a huge difference to the house, making it much cosier in the evenings as I shut away my neighbours. Even while open during the day they give an extra dash of colour to my overly bland walls and soften the edges of the windows. And they keep the heat in, more and more important as the winter starts to bite.
Enthused by my new curtains I returned to the oak furniture warehouse in Chippenham and bought a tall chest of drawers for the office and a long sideboard for the entryway, one that will stretch almost the full width of the room and (hopefully) provide both the storage and the surface area that I seem to be missing at present. The two sides of my buying personality were vividly illustrated by the process - I chose the chest of drawers within 30 seconds of walking in (it just looked right) and then took half an hour to decide between four different sideboards (and even then I think I'll replace the handles). The furniture will be delivered sometime next week.
My dear friend Saille stayed with me for a couple of nights and managed to sleep pretty well on my inflatable mattress, which is making me think again about getting a sofabed for the office. Now I'm leaning towards just having a plain sofa and keeping the blow-up bed for my occasional guests. In fact my latest plan is to move the two-seat sofa up from the living room and replace it with a three-seat version, this will give more room for visitors and provide a longer lounging space for reading & TV watching. A new armchair at that end of the room would free up my wood frame chair (and perhaps another) to make a daylit area by the window. Oh yes, the plans are brewing nicely.
While this has been going on there has been slow but visible progress on the snagging list. Several of the minor items have been finished off but unfortunately there has been no action on the larger issues, especially those that require additional expertise (plumbing & electrics). A worrying development came over the window 'furniture' (fittings), after agreeing that the ones originally fitted were poor and out of character for a 'Georgian' style the replacements turned out to be aluminium (rather than the promised brushed steel, to match the other fittings) and very sharp & modernist looking. When I said I didn't want them I was (essentially) told that these were the only options, when I pointed out that different ones had been agreed I just got silence in response. At this point I'm tempted to stick with the original ones just to get something finished but it feels wrong to let myself be steamrollered this way. On the other hand there's got to be more to life than arguing with builders.
Another cause for concern has appeared on the living room ceiling. A couple of weeks ago a damp stain started to appear there, following the line of the shower sill in the bathroom above. Over time it started to fade and was explained as just some seepage from the original plumbing work but it has started getting darker again, although not yet spreading. Ironically there's still a lot of finishing off work to be done in the bathroom, perhaps there will need to be some deeper repairs done first. Sigh!
I've now met & chatted to most of my neighbours - the flat below me is to be let but there are no tenants yet - but we seem to cross paths very erratically with our own different rhythms. In an effort to start up more regular communication I wrote an open letter to everyone giving a brief run down of my own snagging progress, raising some questions about shared issues (we might deck over the 'shared area' beside my garden) and generally encouraging people to call in & visit. In response I've had a lot more 'passing' conversations and a consensus seems to be growing that we should meet up en mass sometime after the holidays. I think we could build up a nice little community in the Lodge, just what I'd like.
Christmas at home
The year has been inexorably turning while I've been watching my new house transform from derelict to shell to building site to home and the holiday season is now upon me. The builders (and most of the neighbours) are away at their festivities and I have a period of calm to settle into whatever 'normal life' might be in this new setting. The snagging list remains, a little shorter but (fingers crossed) no longer accumulating new items, and there's more work deferred until the new year (the garden and my bathroom fittings) but overall there's a sense that completion might not be too far off.
New layout for the office
The Moroccan wall hanging installed
More Moroccan colour on the sofa
The past week has brought some new additions which have set me up nicely for the midwinter holidays. The first of these was the arrival of my new oak furniture, effortlessly delivered & positioned by two very polite and not especially burly young men - there's obviously a knack to shifting weighty wooden items that has so far eluded me. The sideboard tucked very tidily into the end of the entryway and although I had an immediate panic that it was too big & cramped the space I've gotten used to it and am now quite pleased with how it looks, to the point of not yet replacing the handles that I was unsure about in the showroom. I'm filling the drawers & cupboards with various items and am using one end as my drinks cabinet - when I realised I was keeping my beer in the sideboard (here) it felt like a nod to my East End roots. There was a small disappointment when I discovered that half of the shelf fittings were missing but a quick trip back to the showroom remedied this, and provided an opportunity to pick up some other (small) bits & pieces for the house.
Upstairs in the office the new tall chest of drawers fitted in beautifully and with some creative wiring I was able to hide the flashing lights of my router underneath it. Loading up some of the drawers from my old storage units revealed that two of them - an 'under desk' unit on castors and a small bedside cabinet - were now surplus to requirements and could join the large chest of drawers on my 'to be disposed of' list.
Another change had added to the new sense of space in the office. One of the recesses in the walls was just too narrow to fit the end of my desk in and I'd been asking one of the builders if he could cut away a strip from the desktop so it would fit. Despite agreeing to do this straight away he always seemed to be working on something else but finally, on his last day on site, he not only made the cut but finished it off nicely too. The trimmed desk now sits sideways on and allows me a view out through the French windows rather than the plain wall I was facing before. It also opens up the room which now feels light & spacious. There's more work to do in the office - a deeper recess will probably either become a small wardrobe or be equipped with shelves and I'm almost certainly going to move the sofa up here - but it's no longer feeling like a storage room.
A few days later I had a return visit from the interior decorators, although with a different fitter doing the work. The first job was to rehang my entryway curtain (which had been cut way too long) and fit the tie-backs but the main event was the hanging of a Moroccan throw on the entryway wall. I'd brought two of these throws in the souq at Taroudant, south Morocco during my dance workshop there a month ago and since getting back I'd made the radical decision to use the lighter one as a wall hanging. The entryway, with its high ceiling and Velux windows, seemed to have acres of magnolia walls and I was determined to add some warm colour to the otherwise bland space. There was a part of me that was convinced that this would be a ghastly mistake but my determination to make my home a vibrant and personal space overruled it and I paid for the work to be done up front, ironically this was about three times the price I'd paid for the throw itself.
Unfortunately we hit a snag almost immediately - the bar that would support the hanging was only half the required length. I'd resigned myself to not seeing it up until the new year but the shop found another set of poles (not the same colour but they'd be hidden behind the fabric anyway) and the fitter was back five minutes later, assembling his largest entending ladder to reach up to the designated spot. Half an hour later he called me down and the hanging was revealed in all its glory.
It has really transformed the room, not immediately in itself as it's quite high above eye level but in the wash of warm, orange light it reflects into the space. This is exactly what I was hoping for, the bland walls carrying the colours and subtly changing the atmosphere of each room, and it has encouraged me to continue with my search for bold & beautiful objects to infuse the house with colour.
My festive wreath
The second throw, with deeper reds & purples than the first, is also playing its part in this process by being draped over the sofa. Currently it's a bit annoying as it slips off the back after a few minutes of being sat on but I am investigating the Dark Arts of upholstery in an effort to solve this - twist pins, an item of soft furnishing technology that I was previously unaware of.
A seasonal element has been added to the house courtesy of my dear friend Linda who presented me with a lovely festive wreath to hang on the front door. This is one of the Christmas traditions that has never really appealed to me in the past but for some reason it now feels rather nice, a non-religious (or at least non-Christian) symbol celebrating midwinter itself and placed outside the house to share with those passing outside. In practice this isn't going to be many people - there are only two flats whose residents pass my front door - but the spirit of outreach is there.
My first Christmas here is being spent on my own, both through circumstance and as a conscious choice. Having decided to mould this house to suit me rather than as another temporary dwelling I find it a wonderfully satisfying space to be in, despite all the unfinished elements that my mind is so quick to seize on & plan around. It's both unashamedly mine and yet unlike anything I could have imagined a year ago, which feels just about perfect to me.
My longtime friend Saille has come down from Findhorn to spend the holidays with me (she's off with other friends for Christmas Day itself) so I won't be tempted to wallow in solitary contemplation - it's my intention to have a steady stream of frields & guests passing through. Before leaving she walked the Solstice Spiral and chose the Angel of Delight for me, an excellent companion for the year ahead.
A slow start to the new year
The holiday slowdown has flowed into a similarly slow New Year with very little progress on the house. Not quite slowed to a stop though and although there haven't been any dramatic changes the smaller ones have continued to make the house feel more comfortable and 'mine'.
New, neat TV set up
I treated myself to a few housey Christmas presents and have been pleasantly surprised by what a difference they've made, each in their own way. First off was a 'sound base' for the TV, a box that sits under the screen and provides better quality audio than the built-in speakers. Previously I'd set up my hi-fi system around the TV which gave wonderful sound but was a bit visually intrusive - not just the speakers either side of the screen but the big black amplifier underneath and the various wires connecting it all together.
The new box has enabled me to clear away most of this, there's now just one cable connecting it to the TV and with the amplifier & speakers gone the whole set up fits much more tidily into the corner. I'm now on the lookout for a smaller table to hold it all but in this I seem to be, once again, outside the mainstream where bigger & flashier seem to be the preferred choices. Sigh! Even on the current table the system is a much less imposing presence in the room and with the pale throw that I put over it when not in use it blends softly into the background. Which I like. The new system sounds just as good as the old one (at least to my ears) which has enabled me to move the hi-fi up into my office where I can enjoy much better quality (and louder) music while I work or am otherwise using a computer.
Under the desk in the office
In the office I've added a cable rack under the desk, a wire mesh tray to keep the multitude of wires off the floor and (somewhat) tidier. It's still a bit of a jungle under there - in my experience as soon as you organise cables to their exact lengths there's a need to move something, upsetting it all - but geting it off the carpet stops it becoming a dust trap that's very difficult to vacuum. While rewiring it all I moved the modem & wi-fi base station back to the desktop which has reduced the number of wires snaking around the skirting boards to one, the ludicrously placed phone socket requiring a long extension lead.
The office remains the least finished of all of the rooms but my vision for it is starting to come together. David, the friend who made my walk-in wardrobe, is building a smaller mini-wardrobe to fit into one of the niches and I've gone back to my idea of having a sofabed for visiting friends. With some more shelving I plan to get the stereo (and other bits & pieces) up onto the walls which should leave the room with a spacious feel while still containing all that I (and my guests) need.
The last Christmas present to myself was some sheer indulgence. Since moving away from Scotland I've discovered a taste for designer bedlinen - rich colours, artful designs and sumptuous fabrics (although almost exclusively in pure cotton). Over the past few years I've made a habit of looking for new duvet sets in the post-holiday sales (a thrifty outlook has been a trait I've brought with me from Scotland) and this year I found one with a delicate pattern on a rich, red to purple gradient background. This fits very well with the warm earth tones that are slowly colouring the house and my one remaining blue bedlinen set feels destined for the charity shop in the not too distant future.
Sadly one of my bold colour experiments has not worked out. The Moroccan throw that was on the sofa began to show serious signs of wear on the areas over seat cushions, it seems that it's not sturdy enough to be used this way. I'm not sure what I'll do with it now, it's too dark to be a wall hanging and with my overabundance of beautiful duvet covers there's no place for it on my bed. We'll see.
Downstairs I found myself ordering another curtain! The 'sheer' on the tall, thin window in the living room wasn't opaque enough to blank out the light that came on when someone used the outside stairs and this was becoming irritating when trying to watch the TV. After consulting with the interior designers who'd done my other curtains (I've become something of a regular at the showroom) it seemed that adding a lining wasn't going to be practical so I had a new curtain made up in the same material as the Roman blind on the large window. Maybe I'll swap the sheer back in summertime, we'll see.
The throw has gone but the cushions now match
I still had a lot of 'remnants' left over from making the blind so I ordered some throw cushions to be made up with that material. I've never really had much time for cushions ("parasites for furniture") but I wasn't likely to do anything else with the fabric so I thought I might as well try it. Despite myself I've been very pleased with the result, the three cushions come from different parts of the pattern so they look quite distinct but harmonise nicely. With the sofa reduced to beige blandness after the removal of the throw they provide some much needed colour.
The living room is the other space that still feels like it's 'in progress'. With the smaller TV setup I'm becoming unhappy with the DVD bookcases and the visual clutter of their contents, they're ostensively designed for deeper, taller books and take up more wall space and depth than they need to. I've yet to find nice looking storage for DVDs so I suspect I may have to have something made for me, probably some simple shelves & risers that will fit under the stairs. I still feel the urge to get a larger sofa and the idea of a richly coloured rug to liven up the space is becoming more appealing after the removal of the Moroccan throw.
While the 'TV area' of the living room has become nicely comfy the window end remains undefined. On one sunny afternoon I dragged a chair up there and found it a nice space to sit & read in, if a little chilly due to the single-glazed and (currently) imperfectly aligned window that must remain by order of the Heritage Enforcers. Hopefully this will be less of a drawback as summer draws on and the window fittings get fixed. A new chair, maybe the short sofa and a coffee table feel like the best fittings for this space, with a nicer bookcase moved midway down the room to act as a visual divider between the two ends. And then I can start putting some pictures up.
I finally took down my fairly lights and have been disappointed by their absence. They weren't practical - very ugly in the daytime - but their gentle, shadowless illumination was much nicer than the light from the downlighters. I'm hoping to find a way of having many tiny lights in the room that still look nice (or at least unobtrusive) when not in use but haven't found anything yet.
Bathroom with (nearly) all the trimmings
My bathroom fittings finally arrived but in a very disappointing way. Not in the actual items or the way they were put up, both of which were excellent, but in what turned out not to be there. As Simon, the fitter, brought in all the boxes it was immediately apparent that none of them were large enough to contain the full-length mirror that I'd ordered, when I pointed this out I was told that there hadn't been enough room in the van to fit it and a second mirror in and that they'd be done at a later date. Next up the towel rail wasn't there, this 'hadn't arrived yet' and would also be done later. Finally the laundry airer, which I'd had to order for them and then deliver myself, would require some extra work that couldn't be done during this visit, despite them having had it for several weeks.
I was assured that the missing mirrors would be done on the next working day but when I rang to find out when they'd be arriving I was told that one of them had been damaged and would need to be resilvered which would take a few more days. At this point I asked for the remaining work to be rescheduled so that it could all be done at once and have, to date, not heard back.
I find myself bemused (when not actually annoyed or exasperated) by the way so many people & organisations in the building trade (in the widest sense) work this way - not just the blithe assumption that any deadline can be arbitrarily extended or ignored but the waste in sending people to do part of a job knowing that they'll need to return to finish it, the lack of concern with mistakes & miscalculations and the arrogance in not bothering to inform, let alone consult with, the poor customer who's paying for it all. At times it seems like a conspiracy of ineptitude, all the companies appear equally bad and there's a resignation that things will always be this way, which is not just sad but hard to explain in the context of a competitive capitalist system. Why aren't the professional, efficient workers rising above the dross? For now, I can't explain it.
There's been no work done on my snagging list since before Christmas. I had one message saying that the head of the building company wanted to arrange a meeting with me to discuss it, when I replied saying that most of the items dated from our last discussion there was no response, not even an offer to schedule another talk. I suspect that an organised approach from all the residents will be the only way any progress will be made.
But to end on a positive note, a 'late Christmas' of mulled wine & minced pies was held by Hans & Jaq - with so many people away over the holidays there had been no opportunity for a get-together of all the residents. Nearly everybody was there and it was really nice to meet up with the neighbours en masse rather than in passing across the courtyard. A good amount of time was spent comparing horror stories about our experiences with the developer and the builders but we also managed to get to know each other a bit better and exchange histories & stories. There's a remarkable spread of ages with every decade from 20's to 70's represented and overall it feels like a very nice group of people, a cosy little community.
Snags & sofas
As February passed there was less and less contact from the builders about the snagging list, let alone any work being done. I regularly emailed a copy of the list to the developer and builder with any new discoveries added to it but all I got back (after repeated request) were acknowledgements that it had arrived and, occasionally, vague assurances that things would be looked at. This was a bit demoralising but perversely spurred me to be more insistent about getting even the smallest issues dealt with.
New mini-wardrobe in my office, currently holding the ironing.
In the meantime there was progress in other areas. David returned with the mini-wardrobe for the office that tucked nicely into its little recess and provided a hanging rail and shelves for overnight visitors. It's a bit small for a long-term inhabitant but I'm determined to set the house up for my requirements rather than some theoretical owner in the future, and for now it's an office and guest room rather than a fully-fledged bedroom.
David & I discussed having a door on the new wardrobe but I thought it would add to the visual clutter and decided instead to have a curtain that drew across it. The walls either side of the wardrobe didn't line up so the curtain could pull over to one side and give unobstructed access, which would make the most of the small size. I considered getting a curtain to match the sheer across the French windows but I wanted something more opaque to 'close off' the wardrobe contents, on top of which having everything matching was a bit too homogenous, even for me.
Lara, the designer who'd helped me with all my other curtains, was coming round to check on them - a few small adjustments were required after they'd settled in - so I asked for her opinion. She suggested a 'curtain door' - fitting the fabric to a hinged rod that could be opened & closed without needing to pull the material along it. This seemed a much simpler idea so she took the measurements and I went along to the showroom to borrow a book of fabrics, from which I chose something textured that (more or less) matched the wall colours - I wanted this to blend in rather than stand out.
Mirrors finally arrive.
A few days later my bathroom fitter was back with my mirrors - a full-length one for the landing (the only space upstairs where there was room to stand back from it) and a smaller one to go above the washbasin in the toilet. These were fitted quickly & efficiently but once again things weren't quite 'finished' - both mirrors were left with writing scrawled across them that took quite a lot of scrubbing (by me) to remove and the mounting of my drying rack was postponed (again) as the other fitter, needed to get up to my very high ceiling, was off sick. Sigh! Still, progress was being made.
...at least in some areas. My garden work was rescheduled, in stages, back into early March. Quite a change from the 'before Christmas' that I'd been originally promised.
Suddenly, out of the blue and with no warning, there were builders back on site! Coming home after work I was accosted by Angelo, someone I'd met working on the development months ago, who brandished a copy of my most recent snagging list and assured me we'd be ticking the items off as they were finished. Next day, true to his word, I had people in the house working on various bits & pieces and visible progress was being made! When nobody turned up the following day I began to suspect that this was another flash in the pan, all promise without anything to back it up, but they were back again soon after and actually getting things finished off.
At first there was a bit of residual irritation that these jobs, most of which were done in less than an hour (often spectacularly less) had been left hanging for months. But as the professional, competent & friendly workmen (not ones I'd seen working on the site before, which was interesting) got to work and things started getting ticked off the list this was replaced with a real sense of near delight - it was as if the weight of holding all these failings was being eased and I could start to appreciate my new home without all the other stuff getting in the way. It wasn't perfect (the developer had noticeably stopped using 'luxury' in his description of the place) but I wasn't needing to put up with shortcomings while I waited for the builder to fix them.
On top of the general snags & fixes some interesting things emerged during the work. The tiles & flashing around my fake chimney had been placed the wrong way round and were channeling rainwater into the chimney stack rather than away from it, leading to damp stains on the office ceiling. The long lost stabiliser pole for the shower screen suddenly reemerged and the 'impossible to match' lock on the French windows was somehow located & fitted. My long-promised pole for opening the Velux windows was finally delivered, four months late. And then there was the painting...
When I was asked to choose my paint colours I'd gone for two shades of posh magnolia, one for upstairs, one for downstairs. As the painter doing the snagging work started to touch up the refilled cracks and missed spots it was apparent that the colours really didn't match and, after some experimentation, it turned out that the 'upstairs' paint had been used for downstairs and vice-versa. As I'd lived with this reversed colour scheme for four months without noticing I accepted that this was fine as it was. However as the upstairs painting dried it became clear that it didn't quite match the existing colour. We've agreed to give it a while to see if the colour changes over time but the painter thought it was unlikely (the new shade is lighter) and with there being patches in all the upstairs rooms it looks like the entire upper storey will need to be redone. We'll see how that goes down.
Just call me 'two sofas'. Living room still a work in progress.
While the snagging work was going on I found another problem. Looking under the sink for a new kitchen roll I discovered the paper was absolutely sodden, as was another pair of rolls next to it. After some rooting around I found the water supply to the dishwasher wasn't fully tightened and was slowly dripping, as it must have been doing for months. It was simple enough to fix (even for me) and it seemed that most of the water had been captured by the paper rolls - after clearing the shelf out there didn't seem to be residual dampness underneath - but it was another case of 'if this is broken what else might be?'.
The snagging work conveniently overlapped with my being at home for most of the week - I'd lost track of my work holiday time and found that I had four days remaining that had to be taken by the end of February or lost. I'd planned to go on a city break somewhere but a residual sniffly cold made that less appealing, instead I decided to use some of the time to carry on with my fitting out of the house.
Two of the rooms still had big question marks hanging over them. The living room was now a cosy space at one end but the other was essentially unused - maybe this would change as spring & summer made the window end more attractive but I wanted something with more than a seasonal appeal. The office was functional but after having a friend stay for a few days it seemed that the inflatable mattress wasn't perfect as guest accommodation and I was leaning back towards having a sofabed instead. After taking some measurements I took at trip to IKEA to look for inspiration.
The incredible meandering drainpipe.
Results there were mixed, as with most of my other recent IKEA experiences. I plumped for a 3-seat sofa for the living room that would fit 'under the stairs' (partly) and would give me a more comfortable reclining space for reading, I toyed with the bright red cover but in the end decided it wasn't quite right and went for a neutral beige that matched my existing 2-seat. No such luck with the sofabeds, they were either uncomfortable (as sofas), the wrong size or just expanded to a set of foam blocks on the floor, no better than the inflatable mattress.
When the sofa arrived (in one huge, heavy box) I put it together and spent some time rearranging the living room to see what the different permutations felt like. There's still a way to go with it - I'd like to get the DVDs stored less obtrusively, maybe on a high shelf over the long sofa, and maybe move the books out into the entryway - but the new layout is clear & spacious and the small sofa by the window is a nice place to sit. A new rug is next on the wish list, something with some rich colour for the TV end so I can move the current pale one back towards the window.
The office remains somewhat sparse but I've bought a wooly mattress cover which should make the inflatable a bit more comfortable (and warmer - my guest said that was the main problem with it). Some shelves are needed which would get the hi-fi off the floor and leave space for a sofa or some other seating. Once the garden is done and the weather improves I can see myself spending more time in the office and making it funky rather than purely functional.
The laundry dryer in place at last.
Speaking of the weather, the incessant rain had highlighted the fact that the guttering in the courtyard was woefully inadequate. The main downpipe would overflow at anything stronger than a light shower and splash water over the gateway & one of the external staircases, the backed-up rainwater would then spill out of the gutters and cascade down directly in front of somebody's front door. In what seemed to me to be a bizarre solution a new downpipe was constructed that wormed its way down, weaving around the existing walls & tiles and actually crossing over another gutter on its path. I asked if a larger downpipe might have been a simpler solution but was told that this was impossible due to 'heritage' restrictions. So now we have my fake chimney and Bradford's most convoluted drainpipe to 'preserve' something that was never there to start with. Hmmm.
After weeks of waiting my laundry dryer was finally installed in the bathroom. The high, sloping ceiling had proved more of a challenge than I'd anticipated but after some creative carpentry the pulley-driven rack was in place and ready for its first load.
After such a long period of inactivity, accentuated by my very quiet work schedule since the Christmas holidays, it's been quite exciting to see things moving forward again. The snagging list is down to a third of its previous size and the new living room layout feels much more comfortable and spacious, which is odd considering there's now more furniture in there. Maybe this is the start of Spring energy after the Winter slowdown? Certainly I feel more positive & energised than I have for a while and much happier in the house. Good times ahead!
Edging towards completion
There's been a week of activity & progress on the house since my last post and with it has come a real sense that I might soon be living in a place that is finished, at least in the sense of physical building work. Amazing! Not only that but a whole new aspect of the house has been revealed, but we'll get to that in time.
My desk setup in the office.
The first change was one of my own devising, a very late Christmas present to myself. Last year I'd been seconded to an important client at my work and as the project was considered 'business critical' I'd been offered a large bonus on completion. The money had finally come through and I'd decided to treat myself to a new laptop with a nice big monitor to plug it in to. The screen was very satisfying on two counts, firstly it was very high quality which made it nice to use - as someone who spends a lot of time at the computer I've found it's worth paying extra on the 'interface' items like monitor, keyboard & trackpad (and desk & chair!). Secondly it functioned as a 'hub' - there's just two connections to the laptop (power & monitor connector) while all the extra cables (network, USB, audio, etc.) remain plugged into the screen so that when I take the laptop with me there's not a mass of plugs to take out. This means I can tidy most of the cables away which gives me a nice, clean & tidy desk space to work on. The laptop can drive both monitors so I have a wide virtual 'desktop' when I'm working on my own stuff but can use them separately when I have my work laptop at home too.
A further improvement in the office came when I bought a wi-fi extension unit so I could stream music from the computer to the hi-fi on the other side of the room. This, along with the improved speakers in the new monitor (another nice feature, it has a camera for skype calls too), meant I could get rid of the external speakers that I used to have and not need to use an old iPod to get music to the hi-fi. I really like adding one new thing to replace several old ones, for the reduction in clutter on all sorts of levels.
The office is now very nicely set up for working and getting better as a guest room but it's still a bit sparse for anything else. I plan to get the hi-fi up onto a shelf, add other shelving and put in a sofa or some other comfy seating. With the garden just outside this feels like I room I'll be spending more time in during the warmer months and it would be nice to make it cosy.
One side of the flood prevention system.
The builders continued their work although with a definite tapering off through the week - on Friday there were none to be found. The biggest success in my house was getting the painting done - the mismatched colour was tracked down to using the wrong finish and the replacement paint blended in invisibly. They promised to leave the left over paint so I could do my own touching up in future (or at least get someone to do it for me) but this has gone the way of the last lot, hopefully I'll at least be able to get the correct description should I need to get some more. But, credit where it's due, the paintwork now looks good. There was an odd situation where it was discovered that the bannister rail hadn't been painted on the wall side, Angelo pressed me to accept it as it was because it was out of sight and despite my not agreeing to this it's been left unpainted. It remains on the snagging list.
After rejecting the various window locks that were suggested I ended up buying some myself which were then fitted by the builders. There are times when it doesn't feel like the builders have worked on residential properties before, which is strange. Things like having the fuse box in the middle of the living room, non-matching handles & fittings, radiators with bright, blinking lights on them and so on. It would be fascinating to know what deals & arrangements were made around the development but I suspect I (& the other residents) never will.
Outside of the house we now have a flood prevention system - two sturdy slots either side of the gateway into which metal 'boards' can be, er, slotted to keep the rising Avon at bay, similar to ones fitted in other buildings in low-lying Bradford. The river's not renown for flash floods so we should be able to erect our defences in good time, assuming they've not been lost in the far corners of the bin area by then. Time to elect our own Flood Control Officer maybe?
I've hit an unexpected setback in my plan to add some extra units in the kitchen. Having decided to not use the development builders (for reasons that should be obvious to readers of this blog) I set out to find someone else to do the work. My first step was to return to the company who did the initial kitchen layout but I didn't get any replies to my emails, either from the designer or the general enquiries address. Next step was to use the kitchen company's 'find a local builder' website but once again there was no response to my enquiries. The new units need to match the existing ones so I'm stuck with the suppliers of that range but it seems like despite waving my wallet around nobody wants to do the work. The building trade remains a mystery to me.
New splashback in place.
One thing I was able to get done in the kitchen was to add a splashback behind the hob. After going through a huge number of choices & options I decided on a glass plate with a grey backing which was a surprise to me - I was intending to have something with some colour but none of the ones I tried really looked right. The grey fitted very harmoniously with the units and the glass gave some interesting soft depth in its reflections.
I went to a local kitchen design company (actually in Bradford, about two minutes walk away) who provided a wonderful contrast to my headaches with the builders. They were engaging, came up with all sorts of ideas & options, kept me in touch with every step of the process, and even waved at me when I walked past the shop. Suffice to say I know who I'll be using (& recommending) in future!
While all of this was going on work finally began on my garden, something that had been promised for 'before Christmas'. After lots of discussion with the developer, the builders and, eventually, the landscape gardening company who the work was subcontracted out to, I'd gone for decking over the whole area. There were lots of reasons for going this way but among the main ones were the poor location - north facing, overshadowed on all sides, very damp, rubble-filled soil - and my feeble gardening skills. Plants in pots were more my style.
The final design had two levels to fit over the incline of the underlying surface, this was made up of all sorts of residual detritus and was deemed to be too much work to level off. An unexpected benefit would be an improved view over the town from the raised section at the far end. There would need to be steps between the levels but we'd decide on them as the work progressed.
As with so many projects not much seemed to be happening at first and then suddenly it was proceeding in leaps & bounds. There was lots of banging & sawing as the underlying supports were put in place and a framework appeared over the rough ground, then as the actual decking began to be sized up some questions came up. I'd decided to get rid of the old shrubs that had been lining the garden but at some point during the building process a small retaining wall had been put up around the base of the one nearest the house, a substantial enough structure that removing it would be hard work and decking over it would be impractical. After several days of headscratching and mentally trying out various solutions I decided to keep it as a small area for planting - a real garden! - although the shrub was still to be removed.
The completed decking with the unplanned growing corner.
The view over Bradford and the modernist face of the house.
Getting rid of the shrubs would make the division between my garden and my neighbour's - a Buddhist centre - very open. On their side the ground was about a metre and a half higher than mine and I thought that a line of smaller shrubs in their garden would be more decorative & easier to maintain. There didn't seem to be anyone in when I went round to talk about it so I wrote them a letter suggesting the smaller plants and offering to contribute to their purchase and do some of the gardening work. So far I've had no reply and have never found anyone in when I popped round but hopefully this could be the start of a connection with them.
The work proceeded quickly & smoothly and by the end of the week it was all done. And what a transformation! I'd gotten used to the patch of bare, rough earth out the back and had stopped noticing it, now I had a big open space and walls no longer hidden behind shrubbery and old building rubbish. The walls were the biggest revelation, uneven and higgledy-piggledy in their construction, obviously changed & patched up at different times and in different styles, ivy-clad at the top and sprouting small clumps of greenery here & there - they were wonderful! The yellow wood of the decking toned in wonderfully and the offset layout of the steps made the most of the available space. It wasn't all good news - the removed shrubs revealed piles of old building materials in the next garden - but this was far outweighed by my wonderful new space.
Going to the far end revealed more surprises. The elevated position opened up views across the town, especially of the scenic rows of houses climbing up the hill to the Cotswolds, and promised a sheltered spot to enjoy warmer days. But the house itself provided the biggest shock - the sweet, olde-world charm of the courtyard gave no warning of the stark, modernist triangle that the south face of the house presented to the world. With its circular blobby lights and ruler-straight lines it's very bold but the aggressive contrast with the surrounding architecture doesn't feel right to me, in a different context I'd probably love it but here it's out of place. I'm not sure what I can do about it but it needs to be softened & harmonised in some way.