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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”.















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Unsure about upturned clay pots?? Surely not! Okay you could also see www.envirograf.com/acrobat/032.pdf for a similar product which meets building regs. (but the clay pot works too). Transformers have a thermal cut out which switches them off if they get too hot and back on as they cool. If you did go for direct feed lamps without transformers the problem would be eliminated but you should still create air space around the lamps. The link above shows products called fire hoods which sounds scary but simply cover the lamp body. It is important to make sure they are fitted correctly in order that they stand away from the fitting. So much easier to use a pot! Your house is looking fantastic Naomi despite the trials - hang in there and keep enjoying the view. Neil Musson.

Just looking at the point on the transformers under flower pots. I would always recommend a fire hood. This allows air movement around the transformer but also contains the fire if the unimaginable fire should start.

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