16 June 2011

Do as I say, not as I do.

So we moved in on Friday 13th, a few days after I finished working on Grand Designs Live and a day before I began work on another major, public facing project.

As if moving isn’t stressful enough.

The move itself went very smoothly, thanks to my infinitely supportive husband and Brittannia Lanes – (plug alert!) - sponsor of the first leg of my nationwide design courses – so just as well eh?

In the elation of finally moving in we determined to overlook the fact the only mattress we have didn’t quite fit the Danish vintage bed I had bought for us, “Danish” and “vintage” being the telling words here.

A trip to Ikea later and we have a mattress that fits but have dumped the well-worn springs – well we know what those Scandinavians are like so well worn springs are not that surprising eh? – and Dave the carpenter is constructing a good solid mattress base base for me today, when my luxurious goose down “topper” should arrive. For a few hundred quid I will attempt to approximate the fit and pleasures of a £2,000+ bespoke equivalent. Wish me luck.

I will also, after a very sticky start having hired the cheapest curtain making company who have inevitably turned into the most expensive company as cheap companies always do (why oh why can't I follow my own advice???), have curtains in the bedroom – an especially critical factor on long summer nights.


Next in order of importance – though competing hard with the kitchen - is my studio, where I am still surrounded by boxes, and am gagging for the 24th when I have 5 of Ikea’s Billy bookcases being delivered. Finally I will be able to unpack my entire library of books and samples which have been bound by the shredded front pages of the St Kitts and Nevis Observer (“Carpenter dies falling out of Mango tree” “Island Runs Out of Tonic Water”) and desiccated cockroaches.

So to the Kitchen.

Right now we are charging between the kitchen and the utility room like a demented Hussein Bolt just to make the evening meal. Why? Because the sinks are not plumbed into the kitchen but we do have a working sink in the utility room. And why are the sinks not plumbed in? Because we do not have taps. And the reason we do not have taps is because they are the prototypes of the collection I have designed for Barber Wilson. However, having finally, and thrillingly successfully presented them to the lucky stockist this week they are now liberated to my home.

Nevertheless my joiner will not be on site until the week of the 27th, and he is fitting the sinks, so the taps will simply have to tease us until then.


The most important thing to remember is to not drain freshly boiled veg or pasta  into the holes where the sinks will go, partly because there are no sinks and partly because the counter top doesn’t like to get wet. Now an ordinary person might think this an eccentric choice for a kitchen countertop. I, on the other hand embrace the challenge. At least that’s what I’m telling my husband. It’s waxed concrete you see, the Russell Crowe of what he would call “bench tops”: seemingly roughty-toughty but really rather precious. And in my defence I chose it because I wanted a top that “resolved” (resolved is a design-y word by the way) into a barbecue outside. 

 We have 2 other key issues with the kitchen: the granite floor is now brown instead of grey, having not a) been sealed when laid or b) been covered when laid in the absence of sealing.

The second issue is a weird one and any thoughts gratefully received.

Our roof is flat, like the world once was. It is also now very black, thanks to the rubber EPDM, and highly insulated, as required by Building Control.

I have had low voltage recessed downlighters fitted, not my favourite fittings but sometimes needs must, and I always spec. the ones that are primed and so can be painted into the ceiling.

However, the transformers keep failing. It is probably because they are getting too hot, though is this because of the insulation or because of the black rubber roof? Or both?

We all know a ventilation gap should be created around transformers in an insulated environment. And let’s not forget that ours is a “cold roof”, and necessarily ventilated to avoid condensation.

I then discovered there are transformers specially designed to fit snuggly into insulation but while the manufacturer says there will be absolutely no fire risk a highly reputable retailer disagrees.

Now we’re talking fire things are getting a bit serious.

Lighting designer Neil Musson has suggested I put a flower-pot over the transformers as terracotta does not conduct heat. I like this idea but what’s the British Standard on this? Our dimmers are also buzzing. A fault of the transformers again apparently.

I have never encountered this issue before and I have a feeling the solution will be to change the lamp holders, the bit that holds the bulb, to be mains fed and so eliminate the transformers. We can then fit low energy bulbs, which will be a "good thing".

As I have said many times, often while trying not to scream and throw things, “every building is a prototype”.

Though this mantra has not helped much with a further two issues which one might describe as “fundamental”.

We have a private water source i.e. we have spring water which is fed to the house via a series of Victorian underground collecting tanks and some Heath Robinson plumbing, courtesy of the previous owners and, critically, original house-builders.

After 2 weeks of occupancy we ran out of water!!!!!!! This is because the water was low – thanks to the driest April on record blah blah blah and the fact the builders use a lot of water apparently – surely just making tea, right? This means the “syphon breaks” which means the pipe that sucks the water up stops sucking.

£1,000 later and Charlie the water-man arrived just this morning to relocate the pipe so it doesn’t have to suck quite as hard.

Husband says it would be cheaper and more satisfying to have a class A drug habit.

The other “fundamental” is the issue of a warranty for the roof. Any followers of my wee blog will know the problems I have been having with the new roof and its supplier, a company called Cardiff Single Ply run by a man called Les Rhodes and recommended by Alumasc.

Les’ contract says “6 weeks”, the reality is 9 months. Plus about £6k+ worth of damage, not to mention all the surrounding issues and delays to the programme, as a result of 1) him failing to protect the house properly after stripping the roof and 2) his merry men carelessly smashing through asbestos.

The latest is that Les owes Alumasc a lot of money and they will not issue our warranty until he pays up. Given that it is unlikely he will pay up we will never receive our warranty.

On the up side I have found Phil, hiding in a cable-infested corner of the local industrial estate, who is thankfully affordably re-wiring all my US-friendly lamps so they are once more UK-friendly, in addition to all the vintage lamps I have bought too.

We have also engaged Dean the blacksmith. Fresh from making a poker for my neighbour Kirsty he is making us a chic, clean-lined, bright copper fire hood accompanied by a fireguard featuring bright copper chainmail. Blacksmithery need not be all oldy-worldy and curly-wurly but stylish.

In the midst of all of this I have experienced the joys of a VAT inspection. While preparing for the visitation I discovered that because our house was empty for “2 or more years” any VAT charged on renovation works should be charged at 5% and not 20%, a well kept secret but absolutely true. See HMRC Notice 708, paragraph 8.

Well, here endeth the lastest chapter. Ideally we would have moved back in about 4 months but as my mother says, “do as I say, not as I do”.














10 May 2011

Character Building


For those of you who might have been following my renovation trials and tribulations you may remember at the beginning of this project my parquet floor was totally "REDACTED" by the roofers when they decided to cover the roof they had just stripped with the equivalent of a plastic shopping bag that may as well have been windswept into the vicinity of the exposed roof, rather than protecting properly, which they did after the floor got "REDACTED".

And then you may remember how so many people, after lots of sucking of teeth, said, "you may as well chuck it away and start again." Even the insurers!

But this girl doesn't give up that easy.

Enter Ian Trowsdale of Devon Wood Floors who, as you can see, has done an unbelievable job of sorting through the sections we managed to salvage from different parts of the house, re-laying them and then giving them a transformational polish.

Thank you Ian. You are a star. 

Of course Ian, being a professional, and floor layer to the "stars" - he has laid floors for, amongst others, Hugh Fearnley Spelling-Mistake and he would have laid a floor for Big Boobs but she apparently wanted him to pay her £10K a year for the privilege, which I have to say comes as no surprise. But I digress. Ian the professional questions my joy at what he sees as imperfections but I see this as character. And an excellent saving on my budget too.

26 April 2011

Trust me. I'm a designer.

Husband has just very sweetly said how impressed he is at how many things I can remember about this renovation we're doing. And as anyone knows who has worked on such a project it is like juggling a thousand balls. But with so many balls in motion the odd one can not exactly drop but just slip out of sequence. 

Today, for example, I realised my error in forgetting (may as well fess up!) to give my electrical plan to my joiner and as a result I have had to come up with another solution to fitting a double socket to the island unit. In the end no one will know but me, but it goes to show how you need to think on your feet if you forget to think at your drawing board.

I also realised that 5 pendants in the dining room might be over-egging the situation so have reduced to three (only 2 of 5 below).


Dining room in progress: terracotta tiles down, blue ceiling in.

But equally my fondness for occasional episodes of moody gloom, at least in my own homes, might get the better of me in the bathrooms. So it's back to Mr Resistor and the Davey Lighting catalogue. Loving something like this below. And IP (ingress protection) rated too - so while designed for outside perfect for bathrooms too.


Kitchen taking shape though.



Island unit in and wall run also. Nathan from Fluid Stone, who's making the concrete worktop for the wall run with cantilevered barbecue the external side of the nib wall, seems confident of my templating skills. Yikes!

Snaps, combined with the fact that this is only the start, make kitchen look very cuisine ordinaire but gold mirror faced and angled wall cabinets plus bespoke larder unit and restored mid century Scandi table, chairs and light fittings inherited with house should be er....distinctive.

IMG00804-20110426-1220 IMG00814-20110426-1223

Shower rooms are almost done (yes, those are gold taps - my own new range, The Cuprum Collection for Barber Wilsons, to be fitted to Master bathroom and kitchen) - just need those lights. And teak boxes fitted (for toiletries): tiled recess a result of tiler enthusiasm! Tiling excellent by the way - thanks Ian and NJ Whittaker! Note my "random brick" tiling format: patent pending.


And Ali and Dave were working today on the framework for the marble counter top in the master bath.

Finally my studio is fully glazed, we just have some finishing off to do outside - after a degree of "debate" between our roofer (yes, he turned up for a couple of days) and the glazier over detailing, and another example of how people in glass houses really shouldn't throw stones (not the glazier by the way)!


We also saw the bath for the Master Bathroom in William Garvey's workshop - and it looks absolutely stunning. Sorry - forgot to take pic. So nice to be working with them again after doing an amazing kitchen for a client made by Bill Garvey and his team some years ago. Amazing coincidence I'm now locating my studio and showroom just down the road from his. I'm not stalking you Bill. 

And below a very bad snap of the dressing room, with James Emerson's fabulous wardrobes. On seeing such smoothness I think we'll retain the look and fit push catches instead of handles.



And Bruce the painter is doing very well with my 50+ colour (Dulux of course!) paint schedule, though apparently the boys are not sure about the paprika in the study. In my experience this is usually a good sign.


Trust me. I'm a designer.

07 April 2011

Friday 13th

Just back from a trip out of the UK for a couple of weeks. Must admit house still looks sad - driveway a slick of mud and detritus all around while brave daffodils and primroses pushing on through, fingers in ears, pretending it's not happening - but decorating (oops! have chosen over 50 Dulux colours - hope my discount comes good) has started and tiling started yesterday. The tiler seems to have got his head around my "random brick" concept: this always get's them and then they realise this is less arduous than conventions.

Struggling to find an "insulated venting kit" for the Smeg extractor due to it extracting through a cold roof. Smeg have no idea what I'm talking about. Surely someone in the history of Smeg has had a cold flat roof through which they have vented one of their extractors?

And - sit down everyone - roof is still unfinished. 

Move in day - Friday 13th May!

16 March 2011

With the arrival of spring come the Lesser Spotted Roofers.....


Through the tentative gleam of spring sunshine we spotted not one but 2 roofers, hopping about on the roof. Joy! There is hope, maybe. Well the truth is 2 arrived first thing on the morning of March 7th with 2 further promised. However the 2 promised "ran out of petrol" and did not arrive until the afternoon, a couple of hours after the first 2 had scarpered. I guess that's to be expected. The clue is in the name.

Any road up, the roof is almost water tight, 6 months after the 6 week programme started and we may even be able to start dry lining the North "wing". Please God!

Progress being made elsewhere as Dave and Ali courageously wrestle with the scaffolding tower..


....as the roof light to my studio develops (yes, that red dot up there on the roof is a roofer - shhhhh - you might frighten him away!).


One of the shower rooms is plastered......

 A big hole gets dug - as on all the best building sites - ready for the concrete foundation to our - say it quietly - new oil tank. I wonder whether we'll be able to convert to biodiesel? We did consider a biomass boiler but while these might be environmentally sustainable they are simply not financially sustainable, unless you a) live in a huge house or b) have a large family - neither of which, arguably, is environmentally sustainable in and of itself, no? 

Then there are the things that remind you of the pleasures of a building, like this window from the lower ground floor study, giving a worms eye view of the grass outside........

....and this one in the dining room. Poor Design Windows' (www.designwindows.co.uk - glaziers to the Royal Household no less) subbies took 4 attempts to get the glass just right so enjoy!


26 February 2011

The Renovation Diet

Up until this past week I was beginning to be reminded just how bad building work is for the figure, especially in the winter.

Cold weather justifies an almost daily bacon sandwich and the mild but chronic stress/excitement of witnessing the house you bought for hundreds of thousands of your own pounds being destroyed while spending hundreds of thousands of even more pounds putting it back together demands an additional and plentiful supply of cakes and biscuits, at least in my case.


But then last week happened. And I lost five pounds. Why? Because it was the very worst week, and I can only write about it now because the sun is shining and I've had some sleep. 

First, my elusive roofers were on site on the Monday. Good news. In fact, fantastic news. Then I discovered that the temporary roof protection they had installed had failed once more and we have lost even more original parquet flooring. They have since re-covered the unfinished roof and there has been no further water ingress, which shows they can do the job properly but it's always after the damage has been done.

Then they caused really serious damage. So serious that the programme has been set back by at least a further two weeks, on top of the delays caused by asbestos, snow and the roofers not being on site when they said they would be. So really, really bad news.

At the same time I was trying to negotiate on the growing number of variation costs that are coming in, to not only fail, but also managing to upset my main contractors with my ruffty-tuffty big city ways, which is also really bad news as I really think they are great. N J Whittaker (see Nick, I do mention you, and I do mean it) are not only the most professional firm I have ever worked with, but very supportive in liaising with sub-contractors and just a really nice bunch of people, as most people are in Devon.

Then in the midst of all of this, while on site trying to deal with everyone and everything, with my wire haired fox terrier Larry on site inspecting his garden and wondering when he would get it back, poor little Larry, a stately 13 years old (91 in human years), who is also "partially sighted", fell about 7ft off our terrace, which I witnessed out of the corner of my eye.

I rushed to him in his almost normal looking lying-on-tummy landing position and lifted him to make him stand but he just kept leaning over to the right and falling over. I then saw a little bloody gash on his head. Mildly hysterical and furious with myself for being so irresponsible I gathered him up and rushed him to the vet's, almost crashing with one of my builder's vans on the way.

Once at the vet Larry was checked over for broken bones - none found thank God - but also immediately hospitalised and I was told I would be called in a couple of hours with an update on his condition.

With things kicking off on site it was probably just as well I had to return to try and sort things out. Which I did.

But reader, for the first time ever, I'm afraid I did the very worst thing a girl can do on a building site. I cried. Kev, the roofer, even felt compelled to put his arm around me. Given the rarity of his appearance I should have grabbed that arm and handcuffed him to me until the job is complete.


Now it's Saturday. Larry is completely and utterly back to rather odiferous, cantankerous and hirsute normality (note the bald patch on his right leg where the drip went in, and the cardboard boxes we are living with); Nick and I are friends again, I hope; I've chiselled away at the budget to try and cope with the variations, which to be frank is a daily task really; and I've reprogrammed works so that we can move forward.

However,  that plan is entirely dependent on the roofers. If they do not appear on the 7th March and work for the rest of that week and ultimately complete the job then we are well and truly stuffed. We will have a half finished roof and therefore an unprotected house. We can't move forward on the main contract either because you can not start dry lining and plastering until the building is water-tight. And our moving in date will be but a mirage.

Mr Roofer has said he will be there, though he hasn't responded to any of my e mails this week. The frustrating thing is I do believe he is a real craftsman  - he does beautiful lead work and he really knows his onions. When he's been around he's been great with coming up with clever design solutions and I can see why Alumasc recommended him but I suspect, like many guys in this game, they take too much on on the one hand and on the other, don't realise how important it is to communicate openly with clients and be honest about their situation so everyone knows where they stand. Roofing is particularly perilous because it is so much at the mercy of weather conditions.

I might want to lose weight but please not this way!

16 February 2011

time waits for no man except, it seems, my roofers

A six week job approaches its sixth month.

Most recent "activity" consisted of being promised site attendance last week only to have a single person on site Thursday and Friday. 

This week the most imaginative excuse for breaking the "promise" to attend first thing Monday I have heard for sometime, consisting of a fan belt, the Welsh mountains and lack of mobile signal.

A "promise" to attend at 8 sharp Tuesday translated into showing up sometime after 8.30 after an essential Macdonald's breakfast had been consumed, this communicated to me with perfect nonchalance.

As a result works to the interior are being seriously held up now - our main contractor quite rightly not wanting to install new ceilings while the roof is incomplete and after the considerable and considerably expensive damage caused by extraordinarily inadequate protection at the beginning of this project.

What is absolutely breathtaking is when I imagine myself behaving like this with my own clients. And I simply can not imagine it. This complete lack of respect for others and pride in ones professionalism is unfathomable.

And it is a shame because, it seems at least, the quality of craftsmanship is good. If only the quality of customer service could match up.




07 February 2011

Where the "Cygnet Period" meets the Bronze Age

IMG00446-20110128-1315 There comes a time in every project - usually around the middle - that you could call the "Cygnet Period", where the house you spent thousands on and then spent thousands more ripping apart looks utterly forlorn, broken and caked in mud and, moreover, where very little appears to be happening.

Mute Cygnet 2 

But in fact a whole lot is going on unseen, probably more than at any other time in the project - where you are leading the team through the travails of unforeseen challenges, where you are scrutinising every unforeseen cost - adding here, taking there. Where you are desperately trying to make sure everyone and everything is turning up on time. And trying to make sure people tell you when they need things by, rather than letting you guess.

But what appears above the surface is not the mythic, pristine and graceful swan, furiously paddling beneath, but a rather shabby looking cygnet, albeit a cygnet that will, though you can barely believe it, turn into that fabulous swan.

Hence my recent lack of posts noted by a surprising number of you.

And what have I been doing?

Well I discovered that the wonderful people at Barber Wilson are pulling out all the stops to supply me with my own range of new brassware to install into our "master bathroom", I have confirmed all my other sanitary and brassware orders with the friendly folks, Steve and Claire, at Honiton Tile and Bathroom and those incredibly efficient boys at The Showroom (my order an entirely chrome/brushed steel/nickel-free zone), I located the rather amazing Feature Radiators who are making me a "landscape" towel rail in a sprayed coloured finish at the excellent price of £300, I've booked in my SEC boys for yet more asbestos removal, we've had our drains relined and the septic tank emptied by the impressive Drainology, I found an amazing company called Rocco Stone in Cheshire who are supplying me with great big 900 x 600 slabs of flamed granite for my kitchen floor and outdoor paving at a jolly good price (which is just as well as I had not planned an entirely new kitchen floor). I've also found a beautiful terracotta tile to go into the dining room from, and I love the name, Floors of Stone. I've had to sit down when I got my quote from Mr Resistor. I've been trying to grasp the finer points of carpentry as we attempt to fit a perfectly straight fascia board to the perimeter of a very wobbly roof. And I've been working/procrastinating/deliberating on my joinery drawings, of which there are quite a few, the kitchen proving to be a special challenge for some reason. 

What is exciting is my bronze windows have started to go in and they look amazing (though my rubbish picture plus the mud doesn't really do them justice). All they need is the bronze window handles which I had to buy specially from Allgood. Unfortunately no such solution for the handles to the sliding doors and we have had to go with hideous roundy ones, one of two options from the manufacturer. I actually preferred the alternative but husband doesn't want to be flipping the flipping handle all the time though he says the one he preferred make the doors look like something out of a call centre - fear he has a point but I have searched high and low. Maybe we can customise??

And my luscious outdoor lights from Engineering With Light are due to arrive tomorrow.

So, I guess I had better get on with those drawings......

14 January 2011


So to site with my hamster face and slightly out of it thanks to pain killers (have just had a wisdom tooth out). It turns out that going to site slightly high on painkillers was a good thing as:

athe lovely terrazzo floor that I was hoping to retain as my new kitchen floor is not salvageable which means I need to buy an additional 25 sq m of flooring 

 b) more asbestos has been found at the top of the two windows in the dining room we are removing to create one big picture window

c) it has only just been brought to my attention that we need some structural work, and so also more bloody asbestos removal, in the old greenhouse to allow for replacement of the roof light in what will be my studio 

d) my lovely collection of brassware that I am designing for Barber Wilson may not be ready in time for installation into my home after all which means I have to research alternatives and the plumber is on site next week to commence first fix not knowing what the spec. is

e) the roofer was only on site Monday of this week, so we have lost four more days and approach month 5 of our 6 week roofing programme

f) the bronze door furniture I want is about £1,500 over my budget of £1,500. I blame the Chinese.

Oh God!

On the bright side the kitchen floor replacement presents a number of benefits, not least the opportunity to finish the kitchen and the adjacent terrace in the same material. 

Er....and that's about it.

Time for a well-earned Friday night cocktail...with some more pain killers.

07 January 2011

Naomi and Roof


The snow has melted and now it's just wet.

Works to the roof continue. We are now in month four of a 6 week programme. Any more delays and everything will be delayed which will be jolly annoying, not to mention expensive.

SEC, the asbestos people, whom I simply cannot recommend highly enough - expert, reassuring, helpful and affordable (www.secasbestos.com) - were back on site this week and just as well as tearing down the final section of existing wall we found some more of the grey stuff.

Let's hope this is the last bit.


The drains have, unsurprisingly, presented issues too. The sixties has a lot to answer for. In very many ways. While Fanny and Johnny thought it the height of sophistication to splash the food colouring all over, the building industry thought it was equally cool to use loads of groovy new materials like asbestos insulation board and pitch fibre drains......which quickly collapse - so all our drains need to be sleeved with fibreglass. There's a bit of sucking in of teeth in certain quarters as to whether this will really work but Drainology are giving us a 15 year guarantee so buttocks clenched, quite literally.

The order for the windows and glass doors is confirmed. And after lots of fannying around I found some bronze window handles at Allgoods that will match the bronze frames as, weirdly, these only come with ironmongery in black, white or silver. Yuk! Why, after all these years, is there so much rubbish design/design thinking around still?

Door furniture is next and again it must be bronze please. No white metal thank you. Though am discovering this costs a small fortune. Why must I always be so ahead of the curve? A cross I have to bear.

The electrics plan has reached Revision D because I've had to strip out costs, dropping fittings in some areas and redesigning in others.


And then there's "The Paradox of Choice" or "category overload". Looking for downlighters I get the same feeling I get in Waitrose sometimes: it's all just too much choice. Hyperventilating with panic, I often end up running out with all the usual stuff (pasta, sausages, salad) and then, while flipping through Waitrose Weekend afterwards, feel ludicrously depressed for not being sufficiently interesting and adventurous to discover Heston's Ponzu Salad Dressing, or Nettle Cordial or all those other amazing things that if you're an interesting, adventurous person no doubt you're guzzling down this very minute.

Time to sit quietly in a dark room...in Mr Resistor's dark room so I can make a choice based on  the evidence in front of me instead of a list of mathematical equations (www.mr-resistor.co.uk).