I’ve never been as grubby and whatever the opposite of house proud is (slovenly?) this week. The only relatively clean room in the house is my bedroom and I’m not sure it would pass the test if Aggie and Kim from “How clean is your house” turned up. It’s my own fault. I decided we would get all the mess out of the way in one swoop. So the kitchen has been ripped out and the floor dug up to accommodate a wet underfloor heating system. The plaster has been bashed (literally) off the walls in 3 rooms to replace the ineffective tanking system needed to damp proof my house. The naff pine skirting boards and window sills have been torn out in every room so they can be replaced with oak ones. The electrician has drilled channels in the stone walls all over the house so we can hide the cables the previous owners were too lazy and/or cheapskate to fit properly. Oh and I’ve been sanding the beams and lintels that we discovered when we removed the plaster. The result is a bombsite. And did I mention there is scaffolding in the back yard and debris all over the place because the elusive roofers finally turned up to re-render the leaking chimneys…….The upside is the house should be beautiful by Christmas even if I do look like a troll. Mr W found me covered from head to toe in brown dust last weekend after the first bout of sanding and promptly suggested a spa day for his birthday on 1st December. I think he’s worried that the ‘glamorous, groomed’ wife he used to have is slowly disappearing so he staged an intervention. I’m not going to argue, I’ll go anywhere clean and warm right now, especially if they serve food without the ‘ding’ of a microwave preceding it.
Not content with all the work going on at home I’m also getting stuck into the project for the clients I met with last week. They really liked the new layout I proposed for upstairs so I spent the day at their house yesterday to meet with builders and window and door specialists to validate my plans and get estimates for the work. We also brought in Hillarys to price for plantation shutters throughout which the homeowners want. Before I left we went through the mood boards I’d prepared for each of the bedrooms and bathrooms. I was a little nervous as I knew the look she wanted and I know I can deliver it but there’s always a little doubt at the back of your mind that maybe you’ve misunderstood the brief or that you’ve been too bold or creative with something. Thankfully they loved my ideas and we just needed to make a few tweaks to some of the furniture and fittings. We’ve also agreed on the overall budget so I can now put together a plan to allocate this as soon as I get all the quotes in from the builders etc. It’s going to be a great project as it covers the whole house and the homeowners have great taste and want to do the job properly. An interior designers dream!
Master bedroom and ensuite – New England with a touch of elegance
Guest bedroom which will also serve as the homeowners dressing room and a place for them to sit and enjoy the view from the floor to ceiling window at the rear of their property. The idea here was to bring the outside in using a botanical theme alongside the crisp white New England look
Glamorous second guest bedroom and the new juliette bathroom which will serve both guest bedrooms. The bathroom has a touch of Victorian styling complete with coal scuttle toilet roll caddy!
It’s going to be manic in the run up to Christmas to complete the work on my house but I’m really looking forward to some time off with Mr W to enjoy our newly decorated home, and being an old cottage it always looks so festive when its decorated for Christmas. I’ll just need to keep the painter loaded up with caffeine as I’d like him done before the 18th so I can get the decorations up before Mr W comes home for the holidays. We had a visitor this morning that reminded me I should probably start thinking about food too. One of the local farms breeds pheasants on his land so that he can host shoots and one is hiding out in our garden. I caught him in the chicken coop this morning tucking into their feed. Maybe I should let him and fatten him up for Christmas dinner. Or maybe I should just stick to interior design, I’ve got enough on without working out how to shoot, pluck and prepare a pheasant….
Until Holly Cottage all the interior design projects I had done were in properties that had all the necessary infrastructure and sources of power, heating or water you could access if you wanted a new socket or a new tap or appliance. Sometimes I changed layouts and moved walls but my focus was always the design. Holly Cottage is a different kettle of fish… In the last few months I feel like I’ve been serving as an apprentice builder, electrician, plumber and joiner, and I don’t just mean making cups of tea, although I’ve made plenty of them. I literally learn something new with every job that gets done in the house. If required I can now bore you senseless about tanking systems. I am becoming an expert in selecting the right wood for a job and how to achieve the right finish. I have expanded my knowledge of technology (smart appliances, bluetooth speakers and wireless heating control anyone?) I have even taught my plumber how to fit cast iron radiators correctly (brackets end inside the radiator not exposed at the front Darren 🙂 ). But I am still getting to grips with the electrical side of things. Today my lack of knowledge was exposed and nearly cost me dearly.
I knew appliances used different amounts of electricity, and I was aware that using adapters to run multiple appliances from a single socket could overload the socket, but I had no idea how much power individual appliances actually use. I’ve been kitchen-less since November 6th so have a makeshift kitchen in my utility room. I have the microwave, toaster and kettle plugged into a 4 way bar adapter that plugs into a 2 way adapter in the wall that my washer/dryer also plugs into. Barry the electrician wandered into the utility room when I was making him (another) cuppa and immediately gave me a lesson in electrical safety. I now know that the maximum load for a plug socket is 3000 watts (13 Amps). You would think that the biggest appliance would use the most power, but apparently not. A washing machine uses 2250 watts (10 Amps), but a kettle uses 3000 watts (13 Amps). So after my lesson I now know that I can only use one appliance at a time in my makeshift kitchen or I may need a new house if this one burns to the ground.
But this was two weeks ago. Until today I had assumed that all appliances could just run from any socket. Turns out not. I learnt today that some appliances need more than 3000 watts. My new SMEG cooker for example…..and when this is the case you often need a dedicated circuit, which is a feed directly from the mains. I only found this out because Barry happened to ask me (over a cuppa) if I was getting a new cooker. The good news is that we can install a new dedicated circuit. The bad news is that we need to run a cable about 25 metres across the house, cut through the new ceiling boards we installed last month and drill through 2 stone walls each roughly 50cm thick. So thats Barry’s job for Friday. I think he’s bringing 2 of his lads. I might need to go and buy more mugs as there’s only 4 in my makeshift kitchen and the plasterers are also here on Friday…..
If you’re concerned about overloading your sockets at home there is a handy calculator on the website below. You don’t need to know how much power each of your appliance uses you just select the type of appliances you have plugged in and it works it out for you.
Today I am on a high which I desperately needed after the last 10 days. Scratchy (the cat) was diagnosed as having kidney disease when I got back from Kenya and it broke my heart watching him deteriorate. He was eating almost nothing and getting weaker and weaker. He perked up for a few hours when Mr W came home last Thursday and spent the evening purring on his lap, but it was short-lived, and on Saturday we had to take him to the vet for the final time. We buried him in his favourite spot in the garden, under a tree where he used to watch the birds and reminisce about a time when he could chase and catch them. He was the friendliest cat in the world and my buddy for almost 17 years. I miss him terribly.
So I needed today. It started this morning with a trip to my step-daughters to drop off some of the new furniture etc for her conservatory which I have redesigned and am decorating as a Christmas present. The coffee shop theme has really come together with a dark wood floor and matching furniture, and soft furnishings made from recycled coffee sacks. As a surprise I designed some ‘selfie’ coasters using photos I downloaded from her Facebook page, with matching placemats showing photos of her and her boyfriend. I used Snapfish to create them, and in black and white they look very cool. If the boyfriend doesn’t last at least she can still use the coasters! I would have liked to wait until I had everything so I could install it all and dress the room but car space wouldn’t allow it. The high came when she sent me a text when she got home from work saying how much she loves everything and can’t wait to see it finished.
Some of the ‘selfies’
The second high came this afternoon when I met with a new client to discuss re-decorating her whole house. She has just returned to the UK with her husband after a 4 year stint in Australia on business. The house had needed updating before they left but as they didn’t know if they would return there was little point. The house has been occupied while they were away but poorly maintained so they are both desperate to gut it and give it a facelift. As I walked through the house with her discussing what she didn’t like (everything) and the additions she would like (lots) I realised this is my calling. I know that with the right builder I can improve the layout and give her a lot more storage space – what every girl wants right? I also know just the look she wants and how to create it without clearing out her bank account. The project management will be key though. With so much to do we have to prioritise, not just for implementation but also for budget purposes. They need to replace most if not all of the windows so I’ve suggested we price this first, to figure out how much of their budget will be left to replace the kitchen and bathrooms and redecorate. I’ve also agreed to draw up plans for a new layout upstairs, and for the installation of a downstairs loo and utility room at the end of the kitchen so that we can validate these plans with a local builder and price these changes. Starting with upstairs means she can get her clothes out of storage, and if we’re going to have builders traipsing in and out its better to do this before we redecorate downstairs. Once the upstairs is done they’ll have somewhere clean to retreat to when the work starts downstairs. Planning and budgeting were a daily part of my old life so all of this is right up my street. There are also plenty of opportunities to be creative. I am so excited.
When you’re a child adults always ask you what you want to be when you grow up. I find myself doing this with my friends children. When I was a child I could never answer this question, as I just didn’t know. Now I can, I guess this means I need to grow up…. 🙂
I had another reminder tonight of how different my life now is. Normally on Saturday night I’m draining a bottle of NZSB, tonight I was draining my stream. The stream runs down the front garden and into a pipe under the road. I installed it 3 years ago to divert the water from the fields behind which had been turning the front garden into a swamp. Everything usually works but autumn leaves had blocked the pipe and the heavy rain tonight had turned the lane into a lake. So I had no choice but to get a torch and a spade, stick my wellies on and get out there to clear it. It might sound like a nightmare but I actually like dealing with this kind of stuff, it’s very grounding.
Before the flood alert I was doing a little recycling with some coffee sacks I bought online from a small chain of coffee shops in Lancashire. There are plenty of companies now selling these sacks online but I like to support small local businesses when I can. I’m working on project to redecorate a conservatory in the style of a coffee shop. I’ve bought the coffee sacks to upholster the bench seat I’m having made but using them for light shades will bring the room together. Needcraft is an online store which sells these really simple lampshade making kits at a very reasonable price. They’re so cheap and easy to use its a no-brainier really if you want to cover your own shades. I’m pretty pleased with the way they look, and can’t wait to see them in the finished room
So jobs done, time now for a little indulgence. No Mr W so X Factor, curry out of the freezer and a little NZSB, we’ll it is Saturday night……
In my old life at 5pm on a Friday you would usually find me in a city wine bar with a nice glass of NZSB (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) blowing off steam with Mr W and/or work colleagues. This Friday night I was cleaning chicken poop off the floor of the chicken coop. A task made harder by the fact the ladies wanted to go to bed as it was getting dark so lots of clucking and chickens underfoot. Oh how my life has changed….I still say for the better though. A few days before we were due to fly back from Kenya I realised that I was looking forward to getting home. In my old life I can’t remember feeling anything other than dread as the end of a holiday drew near. I used to spend my holidays ignoring the blackberry and forcibly blocking out any thoughts of work until I was physically home, otherwise I just couldn’t relax. It just reinforced my view that I made the right decision leaving work and moving to Cumbria. I’ve never been happier.
Since I moved here Mr W has started to imagine himself as a country gent, with a small holding and a few more animals. To try and make this a reality I approached the owner of the empty field opposite my house with an offer to buy it, and I can safely say that won’t be happening any time soon. I think I’ve found the man the words cantankerous, obnoxious and rude were invented for. Old me would have shared this thought with him. New me just left with a smile and “you know where I am if you change your mind!” Ah well, less poop to clean and it will save having to find someone to donkey/pig/sheep/goat sit next time I need a city fix.
So it’s full steam ahead with the house renovation/redecoration again. If you’re ever starting an interior design project and can’t decide whether or not to pay for project management my advice would be unless you’re unemployed get a project manager. Contractors are notorious for taking on too many projects and juggling to try and keep everyone happy. If you’re not constantly checking in nothing gets done, or worse they make ‘executive decisions’ in your absence which you either have to live with or pay to fix. I take two weeks off and the roofers didn’t turn up to re-render the leaking chimneys, the landscaper didn’t come and level the ground for the new shed and the electrician didn’t fit the meter box. I get back make a few calls and they’re on site, except for the roofers. You can actually google ‘the top 5 most elusive mammals on the planet’, roofers should be on this list between badgers and ocelots. What amuses me is that in my old life I was surrounded by men and paid to boss them about. These days I’m still surrounded by men, and still bossing them about, only difference is now I’m paying them to let me.
So there’s still a steady stream of re-wiring, plastering and joinery work going on in most rooms but we’ve now started the big job – the kitchen. The old kitchen was ok, but now I have the space and the cash I want my dream kitchen, starting with underfloor heating which is why I’m currently living with a makeshift kitchen in my utility room and no heating and hot water. I’ve told Mr W to stay in London for 2 weeks – no need for us both to be cold and grubby.
Before: the old kitchen
Current state of affairs…..
Despite comments in earlier posts about my dislike of roughing it I’ll manage. I have wood burning stoves, thick duvets and I can shower at the leisure centre. I am a bit worried about Scratchy the cat though. He stopped eating while I was away and the vet has confirmed it’s his kidneys. We’re just trying to figure out whether it’s a treatable infection or permanent damage. I’m a little distraught as he’s almost 18 and my companion. The house will be very empty without him if this is the end of the road.