Stage 2

Hello again!

IMG_5458 - 2015-04-21 at 09-49-36

We are well rested after our holiday on the Cote d’Azur.

IMG_5489 - 2015-04-21 at 10-04-29My coffee and Tarte Tropezienne at Senequier.

IMG_5490 - 2015-04-21 at 10-22-36No sign of Brigitte Bardot though.

IMG_5509 - 2015-04-21 at 10-33-41The St Tropez market at Place des Lices.

IMG_5447 - 2015-04-21 at 09-47-16Traditional fishing boat.


Oliver, Ruby and Rose were expertly cat-sat by our house sitters J and M from Vancouver, Washington (Oliver came out of hiding eventually) – thanks guys!

On Friday I had a meeting with our builder and we are now ready to embark on Stage 2 of the renovation! The starting date is likely to be May 11 or 18.

$_57I purchased this stained glass lead light window on eBay for the coal store conversion. It doesn’t come with the wine bottle.

More to follow!

Build Day #3

Day three was very busy.

IMG_1771The plumbers were here and they set up the temporary water supply for the top floor. Here you can see it snaking from downstairs, through the future en suite and the up to the next floor. They also plumbed in our washing machine, which is now squished into our already tiny bathroom. The tumble dryer is now on the landing. At least it means we have totally uninterrupted laundry capabilities – much to Mark’s delight.

IMG_1739The plumbers also cut off the gas and the rest of the water, removed the boiler and began to demolish the bathroom and toilet.

IMG_1742Goodbye toilet!

IMG_1743Goodbye bathroom!

IMG_1734Our skip arrived today as well.

IMG_1744It wasn’t long before it was half full. Look, everything including the kitchen sink!

IMG_1741There were deliveries of bathroom supplies. More to come tomorrow.

IMG_1747The rickety wooden screen was demolished.

IMG_1751The structural engineer came to advise on the structural work. We need to work out a way to hold up the chimney at the back of the house once the servant’s toilet wall is removed. The entire chimney is propped up by the wall, these wooden beams and blocks of stone. The more major structural work will be in the kitchen.

IMG_1757The back wall was completely knocked through into the pantry.

IMG_1760It is the first time that the house has a view onto the back garden! It also reinforced how dismal the garden actually is at the moment. I like how the builders have set up an outdoor recreation space with their garden chairs. I forgot to take a close up of the bricks – they are stamped Whitwick Colliery, which was a colliery and brickworks to the northwest of Leicester.

IMG_1735At the same time new bricks were arriving!



Build Day #2, Wallpaper Day #6


IMG_1725 Day 2 of the build was all about preparing for the bricklayers who are coming tomorrow. JB showed me a new tool that allows him to cut bricks out of a wall without breaking them. That’s what has been done here – bricks can be re-used and the blocking up of this window will  be very neat.

IMG_1733They did the same thing with the door.

IMG_1732The servants no longer have a door on their toilet.

IMG_1730It might make a nice shed door so I think I’ll hold on to it. It would be nice to reuse as much as possible from the house.

IMG_1724The pantry has been demolished.

IMG_1727The outline of the french doors has been cut into the outer wall of the pantry.

IMG_1715It was a very noisy and dusty affair that made the entire house vibrate.

IMG_1718It was a clear sunny day. That’s the brick dust you can see wafting over the neighbouring houses. Sorry neighbours! Later I had a disturbing thought. That was the dust created outside when they cut through a doorway – imagine the dust inside when they cut through the new internal kitchen door!

IMG_1719Meanwhile I finished stripping the wallpaper in the future en suite.

IMG_1721Once again, large sections of the moss green were so stubborn I had to leave them. I’m glad I finished this room as tomorrow and Friday all of the bathroom items are being delivered and this is where I am going to store them.

Tomorrow will be busy. There will be several major deliveries, the bricklayers will be arriving, the plumber will be decommissioning the boiler and shutting off much of the water in the house, the structural engineer will be here, the water company will be testing our water quality (lead pipes are going regardless) and I’m having a chat with the producer of a television series about home renovating…


It Begins! (and Wallpaper Day #5)


The build began today! JB and his team arrived at 7:30 and got to work.


Oliver, Ruby and Rose had to spend most of the day in the top floor kitchen/lounge/dining room while the Great Wall was being constructed. See how stressed they look? Actually, later Oliver hid under the couch and Rose behind the TV but only for a little while when things got quite noisy, so we were glad of that.

IMG_1636This is the top floor landing before the Great Wall.

IMG_1657And here it is after the Great Wall was erected. The Great Wall is designed to keep the cats safely inside the top floor flat out of the way of the builders. The wall will also prevent most dust and some of the noise traveling up to this inhabited floor.

IMG_1672When finally released, the trio were quick to inspect the workmanship: it met with their satisfaction.The door has been recycled from downstairs – for 110 years it was the door to the larder/pantry and now here it is three floors up!

IMG_1661The view from the other side of the Great Wall.

IMG_1638For much of the day Ruby observed from her vantage point.

IMG_1640She watched as three truckloads of junk from the breakfast room were removed. All those weekends of lifting carpets, pulling down curtains, demolishing shelves and so on were cleared away in a couple of hours.

IMG_1688Meanwhile, serious work was going on downstairs. Internal doors and architraves were being removed.

IMG_1655External doors and windows were being demolished.

IMG_1689Servants bells were set aside for safe keeping.

IMG_1691Breakfast room (original kitchen) cleared, door and window removed. Much plaster brought down. This is the future kitchen. Can you believe we were once considering replacing this original quarry tile floor? Granted it’s a bit dusty but it will restore beautifully.

IMG_1700The boiler and chimney breast are still be removed. The structural engineer is coming on Thursday to advise.

IMG_1699In the old kitchen, even older scullery, future meals room, the window and door were removed as were most of the cabinets and shelves. Looking at the wall we can see various colour schemes from over the years. The lower rectangle shows a wall of two tones (yellowish browns, though they may have been lighter originally) with a red dividing stripe. I have seen this before in National Trust properties and am fairly confident this was the original colour. At some point the walls were painted that dark navy blue. It is the same colour I have found traces of in the hallways and stairs and I think this was probably a 1950s or 60s scheme. It would have been very dark.

IMG_1709Looking back through towards the future kitchen.

IMG_1706The larder/pantry was stripped of it quarry tiles for re-use. A pair of double doors will go through the end wall through to the garden.

IMG_1683Outside the cavities were boarded up ready for the bricklayers who are coming on Thursday.

IMG_1678New kitchen window to go in here, doorway on left to be bricked up.


More refuse leaving.

IMG_1693On some of the newly exposed bricks were Edwardian builder’s notes written in pencil.

IMG_1641While all of this was going on, I continued to strip wallpaper in the bedroom. Before.



IMG_1675The original moss green on the walls goes quite well with the hearth tiles.

IMG_1642I also made a start on the future en suite. I didn’t need the steamer for what you see here as it just peeled straight off the plaster – the moss green as well! There are about four layers of paper and a few layers of paint as well.

IMG_1648The pale green paint covers a dark green  1960s or 70s pattern featuring squiggles and circles. Under that is a pearlescent coral coloured paper.


Between the two are a few traces of a floral paper.

IMG_1652Some more fragments.

I think that’s all for today!




Contract Signed!

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 09.10.40JB came over yesterday with the contracts and we have signed them! Well, I have signed them and Mark needs to add his signature before next week.

I should be excited but I’m ill at the moment so I’ll get excited later. I guess I am also feeling a bit exhausted having gotten us to this point, what with the ‘architect experience’ wasting us a good few months and a fair bit of money. I know that people complain about all the mess that builders make and how they couldn’t wait for them to leave but we are just so glad that there will finally be some work beginning that we don’t care what sort of mess they make, or if they arrive at 5am or if they have blaring radios. Remind me I said that if I ever complain.

We are also realising the delay has been a blessing in disguise: there was no way we would have got through the winter without the heating; we have had a chance to refine our plans and really get to know the house; the cats have become accustomed to their new territory without hindrance; and Mark has settled in at work without having to come home to a building site.

We are, however looking forward to a few things. A dishwasher. The ability to bring something to the boil on a stove top. Not living in two rooms with three moulting cats. Being able to fully extend the reach of the vacuum cleaner without bashing into a piece of furniture. Replacing the “old lady curtains”, as Mark calls them. Having a shower in something larger than a phone box cubicle. Getting the rest of our possessions out of storage. Unpacking. Not living out of a suitcase and cardboard wardrobes.

I’m probably making it sound worse than it actually is. In fact we keep saying that once the house is finished we won’t know ourselves. We’ll hardly ever see each other and the cats won’t know where to settle as they’ll have too many choices. We haven’t even started and we’re already thinking about downsizing!


March Update #2

In my last update I told you how JB the builder was revising his quote based on my new design. The good news was that the cost came in significantly cheaper. The bad news was that it was still over budget. I sat down with him for a second time and continued to rip things out of the specification until we got to the right number. It meant that we have decided to do the renovation in two stages, leaving for later the utility room and downstairs toilet. JB had an inspired idea though – if we moved the boiler from downstairs to the airing cupboard in the bathroom we would have room for a small “utility closet” under the stairs! It also means that the boiler will be much closer to the hot water tank, which is a good thing.

We are still to-ing and fro-ing with the quote as both the plumber and electrician are revising their figures. I also had a visit from a structural engineer who will do the calculations for the structural work and give us a more accurate figure for that. JB is currently on holiday overseas but we will meet up again when he gets back the week after next. We are still aiming for a start date of April 7. I hope to have all the wallpaper stripped before they begin, so I’d better get to work!


March Update

I need to be careful what I write publicly but let’s just say that we have parted ways with our architect (whose name I have edited out of past posts – luckily I only ever used their first name).

As the first couple of tenders for the work came in from the builders it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to do everything that we had wanted to do, let alone the extras that we had been encouraged to add. I was so glad I had already bought my lovely light fittings but there was the real prospect that there would be no electrical wires installed to turn them on!

Within two days (and over two sleepless nights – sending emails to myself at 1, 2 and 3am so I didn’t forget my latest thoughts) I had completely and radically revised the project, discussed it with my preferred builder and come to an understanding with him. Final costings are happening this week and work will begin in April! I always had several back-up plans if our first ideas weren’t feasible, it’s just that if we had better advice we would have instigated them sooner.

Ironically the builder I selected was JB, the very first builder I ever contacted when we were considering buying the house in June last year! Even at the time I found his phone conversation very helpful, so I am glad that things have come full circle and he is going to be working on the project.

My design is actually quite inspired, if I say so myself, and it saves tens of thousands of pounds! If you want something done, best to do it yourself! Part of it comes from having lived in the house for almost six months, so ideas keep forming and circulating.  If we still can’t manage with a builder overseeing the project then the next step is for me to put on the hard hat and project manage it myself, but I don’t think I have the experience to do that. Maybe next time!

JB is confident we can do the revised project on our budget but I don’t want to speak too soon as the final figures won’t be in for a few more days yet. However, with the days getting longer, the sun coming out and the daffodils and crocuses bursting through the ground declaring that spring is here, it feels that our long winter on the top floor may soon be coming to an end!

Well, well, well

We passed a renovation milestone today – the first builder made a site visit in order to tender for the work! I liked JB and he spent two hours here discussing the house and the project with me. He was very observant and conscious of the need to work around us: containing the cats, the fact that we are living in the house and that our possessions are spread throughout. He also thought we should salvage and sell the Edwardian handmade terracotta quarry tiles in the kitchen and breakfast room as he had just bought hundreds of them for another project at £2 each!  We probably have eight hundred of them downstairs and instead of ignoring the fact that they weren’t on our ‘salvage list’, technically meaning they would be his to dispose of, he suggested we reclaim them.

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JB’s observant nature continued outside and he was keen to see what was under this slab. He asked if he could go and get his crowbar. I was as curious as he to see what was there.

2014-02-04 15.50.26It was a well! Well, technically it’s called a cistern, as a well accesses groundwater.  The cistern is a beehive-shaped underground tank built of brick and lined with cement and was designed to collect and store rainwater from the roof of the house. This would then be used for tasks such as the laundry because the rain water was much softer compared to hard, high mineral content groundwater. The water would usually be accessed by a hand-operated pump but ours has long since gone.

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JB did some measurements. The cistern is about six feet deep and four feet wide and had about five feet of water in it. It’s a lovely feature but unfortunately sits right on the edge of where our new foundations need to be built (just by that row of bricks to the left of JB). Our architect wants to keep the tank as the water can be used for the garden but I am in favour of the lowest cost option, which may be to fill it in with concrete. Given the rain we get here, combined with our aversion to gardening, I think we would hardly ever use the water stored here! We shall wait and see.