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There haven’t been any huge developments in the last couple of weeks, just a lot of mundane, background jobs like sanding, touching up, scraping etc. The biggest task is, ironically, the least photogenic. I’ve been varnishing the OSB walls. This took a while and involved sanding everything down and then applying two coats of varnish. Award yourself brownie points if you can tell which is before and which is after.

On a more visually interesting level, I sanded and primed the living room inset. This will eventually be shelved. I’m now mulling over ideas for what colour to paint it.

Good grief, it’s October already and there’s still loads to do. Of course all this was supposed to be done by now and I was aiming to be moved in and on to the second phase. Predictably everything takes longer and costs more than you expect so phase one (make the house livable) is very much still ongoing. Here’s what I’ve been up to recently.

Removed the wallpaper from the hall walls and round front door. I’m going to leave the wall in its raw state as it looks pretty interesting. I’m not sure yet what to do with the doorway.

Sanded the woodwork in both bedrooms and painted first primer coat thereby removing all traces of the weak-tea coloured paint that was there before. None of this is exactly pretty but it will become much more interesting in the near future.

There have also been some changes in the garden thanks to various plant themed birthday presents from friends and family. Thanks all.

Finally some rocks I dug out of the garden. There are quite a few of these around and in the other gardens, I think they may have been part of the original boundary wall. Most of the ones in the pic below were buried edge up as a divider. They are actually huge and could be used in all sorts of ways.

Friday 25th September, an important day as the joiners returned to finish off the fireplace. You may recall the last time we saw the fireplace it looked like this…

I didn’t have a specific plan for this area of the room as I wasn’t sure what would be left after the fireplace was removed. I confess I wasn’t expecting quite this level of devastation. Clearly a significant solution was required. Luckily, Mike, my chief contractor, was quick to offer an idea that fitted with the rest of the room and was very cost effective.

Essentially we would replicate the OSB theme from the kitchen but as a single panel across the wreckage of the fireplace and top it off with a rustic shelf.

I’m dead pleased with the result. Yes that it is a scaffolding board used as a shelf. It’s a nice touch that fits with the overall look and it was beautifully sanded by Craig. We even kept the metal corners.

You can also see skirting boards in the earlier pic. I wasn’t originally going to have any but the frankly amazing variations in the floor levels dictated that they were required just to make everything appear level. Craig also installed skirtings round the rest of the OSB walls.

I’m really pleased with the joinery work so far and this isn’t the end, Mike and his team will reappear soon for yet another intriguing development. More on that later…

I should stop calling these posts interludes as the garden is every bit as important as the rest of the project it’s just not quite the top priority just now. That said, plans for the garden are also ongoing and, though I may not start anything structural for a few months, I am developing ideas on what I want to do with it.

Having somewhere to sit is a key part of the garden for me so I’ve been browsing Gumtree for benches for a while now. Unfortunately they are fairly pricey even when used and the majority are really quite ugly, ranging from overly twee and ornate traditional furniture to ‘cooncil’ style utilitarian beasts to home made clunkers built from leftovers and bits of decking. You might think the latter would appeal to me, and they do, but only when done with some imagination and there seems to be very little of that around on my budget.

I was pleased, therefore, to come across this simple but quite elegant bench with some accompanying tables for £40.

I took a quick road trip up to the very pleasant, upmarket Dundee suburb of Broughty Ferry to collect them last Friday night and had them in situ on Saturday. I’ve been happily enjoying the late September sun ever since.

I also started moving in a few items from the old garden so it’s starting to feel like home.

And here’s Dill enjoying the garden…

After last week’s burst of activity, things have been a bit slower this week. Progress has been made and I’ll do a post on that soon but I wanted to share some pictures of a short but impressive day out I had last week.


Thursday was the kind of spectacular September day that’s too good to spend stripping wallpaper or painting. I decided to have a day off and took the dog on the 30 minute drive to Corbenic Poetry Path near Dunkeld.

Set in stunning Pethshire countryside, the path runs for about 3k through varying terrain including woodland, moor and riverside and it’s peppered with imaginative poetry and artwork. It’s a hugely enjoyable and uplifting walk and Corbenic joins my list of favourite outdoor destinations alongside Jupiter Artland and Little Sparta.

Final day of having joiners on site so this would be the exciting completion of nearly all the work for this phase.

Day two finished with the frame being constructed on the outside kitchen wall. This wall was a nightmare of different finishes (lining paper and painted plaster) and wildly varying levels (the bottom of the wall bulged by several centimeters). I might have considered leaving it raw if I could have achieved the look of this stripped area across the whole wall but it wasn’t feasible so it was more effective to cover the whole thing.

Once again OSB was the material of choice. The rest of the frame was constructed in minutes and the whole wall was faced within an hour. Both the joiner and I were well pleased with the result. We both reckon the kitchen now feels much bigger.

Next the loft wall was completed. It’s not pretty but they did a good job in a very awkward space and it is now safe.

The final part of this phase was to hide the two fireplaces in the bedrooms. The chimney had been removed from the house years ago so there was no value to having any real fires. The fireplace in the living room had been replaced by a giant monstrosity which we demolished on day 1 (more of the plan for that later), in the bedrooms the two cast iron fireplaces had been hidden behind ugly, ribbed hardboard in a delightful shade of salmon pink.

The fireplaces were just about the only original feature of the house worth keeping (and even they had been modified or were replacements as ghost shapes of much bigger fire surrounds were visible after the wallpaper was removed) and I would have been happy to use them if there had been some way of doing so. Removing them wasn’t an option due to time and budget (who knows what the patching and clean up job would have been like had they been taken out) so I decided to hide them with a couple more OSB utility walls.

The idea was to create a feature which would be both interesting and make it easier to add functional stuff like sockets, lights, shelves etc without having to negotiate with the variable quality plaster.

The fireplaces were boxed in and the walls constructed around them so they’re still intact if anyone should want to exhume them in the future. In the front bedroom the OSB box goes right to the ceiling, this will allow for maximum flexibility in adding interesting stuff for Katie.

In the other bedroom there were going to be complications due to the proximity to the coomb of the ceiling and also because there are some original cornices left in this room. The solution was to change the depth of the wall by boxing in the lower half then attaching a single sheet of OSB at the top (thanks Chris for the idea). This reduced the complexity of adjusting for the coomb and removed the requirement to cut a complicated shape to accommodate the cornice. It created a very useful mantle shelf in the middle and reduces the slight ‘tombstone’ effect of the OSB box.

Once again the joiner and I were very pleased with this, though I reckon the joiner was just grateful not have have to do all that scribing.

This completed all the work for the phase of the project. It was a very satisfying but hugely intense week. Keeping up with overseeing multiple workmen, making dozens of decisions and putting up with Radio 1 blaring out at deafening volume for 6-7 hours a day took its toll on me. The final job for me was to remove debris which had accumulated in the garden over the week. Thanks again to Chris for taking particular care over the breaking and clearing up of all the panes of old glass.

I hired a van so I could get rid of it then make a road trip to Ikea in Glasgow the next day for some vital fittings for the kitchen.

One final job which was not completed was the replacement for the living room fireplace. After the demolition, it was clear that a substantial solution would be required and that nothing original could be kept and the wall is so packed with rubble and other material that it will have to be held in with something. Thankfully Mike the contractor came up with an industrial styled solution (involving yet more OSB…) that will do the job. They’ll be back to finish that soon.

Day 2 continued at a similar pace to day 1 with the electrician returning to run cables through the new wall as the joiner started to fit the second side. I’m learning that getting what you want from trades on a project like this is a constant negotiation and a fight against established working habits. My OSB wall is designed to be functional – it has to bear the weight of shelves, units and kitchen utensils as well has as hosting cables for sockets, switches and other electrical services – but it’s also intended to be a feature. I chose OSB for it’s raw/industrial appearance and I also wanted it to be an architectural feature of the house.

There’s a lot wrong with a 100+ year old house and it’s not easy to achieve a modern look on the limited budget I have. The original design of the wall included gaps to allow light through along the top and insets (created by leaving out parts of one side of the wall) to act as display and utility shelves. I quickly learned that there are technical constraints (such as the need to run cables from the top and bottom of the wall) as well as construction practices (stud walls generally have uprights at 600mm intervals regardless of the overall dimensions) which dictate how a design can be achieved. There are also conceptual issues which could result in the tradesmen being reluctant to build a design.

This isn’t quite what happened here but the joiner was reluctant to implement my ‘gappy’ design which he thought was nuts. After some polite diplomacy and a bit of compromise, we agreed a solution and the wall was completed. You can see the asymmetrical gaps in the pictures. There are further developments to come which will happen at the decoration stage of the project. I realise now that the success of even a straightforward project (as I thought this was…) relies as much on the co-operation of the tradesmen as much as their skill.

The next job was installing a fireproof wall in the loft. For reasons unknown, the loft had never been separated from one of the other houses in the terrace and so was effectively shared, as was the risk of fire, so it’s a critical, though not very interesting, job.

The wall will be completed tomorrow along with the final jobs, featuring yet more OSB, stay tuned!

One of the things I haven’t mentioned much on here is the amount of research and planning that’s going on in the background. In week one I mentioned visits from electricians and joiners. While the electrical work has gone well the joinery has taken a lot longer to get going. From the beginning I’ve been planning some major changes which depended on taking down and installing new walls and facings. It’s taken nearly three months and two joiners but we finally got started on the work today.

There’s a lot to be done:

  • demolition of the old partition wall and removal of the glass door
  • removal of the remaining kitchen unit
  • demolition of the fireplace
  • construction of a new partition wall in kitchen
  • re-facing of the other kitchen wall
  • construction of two feature walls in the bedrooms
  • construction of a fire safety wall in the loft

A reminder of the old kitchen partition wall…

And the demolition…

Followed by some construction

The new wall is built from OSB which has the advantage of being cheap, looking good and not requiring a lot of finishing. I really like the texture and colour of OSB, possibly something to do with growing up in a converted farmhouse where we had loads of it. It’s not typically used for domestic work but there’s a growing trend for it’s use in interiors and it seems to lend itself to imaginative applications. What you see here is more or less the finished surface though there will be quite a few more developments in the structure and function of the wall.

And so to the fireplace. This has been a thorny issue since the start. There was no way I could keep something as big and ugly as this but taking it out was bound to leave a huge hole and a mess requiring a creative solution. Just how much of a mess and a solution couldn’t be predicted until the demolition was done.

Before…

And the demolition…

As you can see, the results are pretty horrific. Mercifully, Mike (doing the demolition here) came up with a creative and cost effective solution which we’ve added to the schedule. Day one complete. More exciting developments tomorrow…

I haven’t mentioned the back bedroom very much as it’s basically being used as a storeroom for bits of kitchen equipment. Now that a visit from the joiners is a likely prospect, it occurred to me that I needed to start getting this room in shape in readiness.

The room is a similar size as the the front bedroom but has a giant built-in wardrobe and has lost an area in the corner due to the addition of the mad wetroom.

It needs basically the same work as the other bedroom except that the original coving is intact and I don’t feel the need to remove the woodchip wallpaper from the ceiling. Otherwise it’s wallpaper stripping, patching and repainting again.

As with the other rooms, there’s a fair bit of damage to the plaster and yet more patching and caulking will be required. One of the intriguing surprises in here was the remnants of a silver coated square stuck to the wall over the fireplace. I have no idea what it was for but it took nearly an hour of steaming and scraping to remove. Only one wall needs to be finished ahead of the arrival of the joiners so I’ve given it a first coat, the improvement is gratifying.

I also found a few more plasterer’s scribbles under the wallpaper. Comments please on what this might be…

Continuing my quick roundup. There’s been good progress in the front bedroom after the final removal of the wallpaper. I started painting the undercoat but was still concerned about the amount of uneven and damaged plaster – there isn’t a room in the house with undamaged plaster, I suppose that’s what you get with 100+ year old houses, but I really wish someone had taken a bit more care when fixing things rather than just bodging and covering up the problems. I then discovered Filler Paint (thanks Anne!) which creates a kind of adhesive coating which fills in cracks. It isn’t perfect – nothing but a full re-skim could cover some of these problems – but it does have a stabilising effect on the walls. This stuff is specifically for ceilings but all the walls could do with a bit of help so I’ve started using it everywhere as a first coat. The upstairs bedroom is now starting to look habitable though there’s still quite a bit of filling and further coats to go.