Finally I have emerged from the dust and mayhem of our kitchen extension to resume my blog. The last seven months were more disruptive than I’d anticipated, and with two of us living and working in a building site, with no hot water or heating for the most part, it was difficult to keep juggling, so I gave the blog a short rest. Now we are out the other side, so I thought it was time that I posted an update about what’s been happening. I warn you, it’s going to be a long one!
When we first bought our house just over four years ago, there was not much to choose from. The town we wanted to live in is small, and there are very few affordable period properties available. This one ticked a few of the boxes, with its quirky character, original floorboards and fireplaces, and we thought, rather naively in retrospect, that we could ‘easily’ turn it into the home we really wanted. Well, we have sort of done that now, but it was so much harder than we envisaged. Brexit and Covid have both had a huge effect on the construction industry, and those two factors, plus the war in the Ukraine, have made materials more expensive, and labour harder to find. Plus, we genuinely underestimated the complexity of the task.
It took a long time to find a builder who was willing to take on our project. We probably saw 11 or 12 different ones. Many were put off by the fact that there is a long drop between our house and our neighbours’, which would entail digging deeper than average foundations. Then there is the tricky access to the house, as we back on to a narrow lane, plus the fact that we are on a very small plot, so there is not much room for a skip or storage. One builder said he could do it, but he really didn’t want to, at least three took away our plans, never to be heard from again, despite calls and emails. Another one shouted at me on the phone when I rang to double check his verbal quote. “Weren’t you listening to me…I have already told you that information….” So rude (and he’s supposedly top of the recommended Which? traders list for our area!). We got someone on board in 2020, but he got cold feet. With all our garden plants and half of our possessions in a storage unit, two weeks before the start date, he announced that he couldn’t find a ground worker and he was pulling out.
We found Jarek, aka JKMax in the summer of 2021, and he started work here on March 10 2022.
First came the demolition. Jarek and his helper Piotrek had to knock down the old outhouse and the linking corridor which had been built in the 1990s. It was hard, noisy work and the skips came and went, and came and went, on repeat. Our boiler was knocked out straight away, as it was sited in the first room to be demolished. With it went our hot water, and we started our daily visits to the local swimming pool for hot showers. It’s only a ten minute walk, so it wasn’t as bad as we thought. I discovered early morning and late evening swimming sessions, and I really got to like them, and the small community of regulars who turn up. I got fitter in the process, too!
Digging the foundations
Next came the foundations, and oh my goodness, this was an epic. The design of the foundations by the structural engineer was not correct, perhaps he did not know what lay under our house, which turned out to be an old clay pit. Endless revisions had to be made, and the digger went deeper and deeper and deeper. It took about five weeks to complete this part of the build, which was frustrating for everyone. It was no fault of the builder, he was just constantly problem solving. In the end, I think our foundations are almost 2m deep.
down, down deeper and down…
I had hoped we might find some buried treasure, but there wasn’t even that. Just a lot of grey, sticky clay and messy rubble….
Finally, things started to move. The breeze blocks went up, and some of our reclaimed bricks for the outer walls. That was an exciting and also nerve wracking day, as we’d bought 1000 bricks from a salvage yard, not knowing quite how they’d fit with our existing walls. It’s hard to envisage how they’ll match (and actually as it turned out, the yard delivered a different batch of bricks to the ones we’d chosen). There were lots of small setbacks like this one (and in the great scheme of things, they are not very important, but it just feels like a big deal at the time). We have had an extension built before, in our previous home, but this one felt harder at every stage. I’m not sure why. Maybe during the last one I was too busy looking after my young family and I just didn’t have time to dwell on every detail.
Inside the extension, things were happening, too. Our long narrow kitchen had previously been a very dark and uninviting space. The far end, which got no natural light, was where our dining table had been situated. It was always a bit cold, and dingy. No one wanted to linger there. Occasionally we would find a slug slithering across the floor. We had decided to divide the darkest end of the room into a small bathroom, with shower, and a separate utility room.
Shortly after this photo was taken, we moved the microwave on to the landing, and put a picnic table in the living room. Washing up was in the bath with a kettle from now on…it made me quite glad that I was having to leave the wreckage of the house to get a shower. We took to spending the weekends with my parents in their cottage. In return for some cooking and gardening, they gave us a bed and it worked really well.
The new rooms gradually took shape.
Another red letter day was the pouring of the concrete floor.
My little garden really was no more. It had disappeared under the building supplies. I had moved out all my best plants, apart from three small trees, including my bay and olive, which had to stay as they were too heavy to move. I would go and water and feed them after the builders had finished for the day, hoping that I could keep the trees going….
Building site bbq
As the weather warmed up, we grew tired of sitting inside with a microwaved Aldi ready meal on our laps, so we took to making rather forlorn barbecues, using the scaffold planks as a makeshift table, and sitting by the bins to munch on salmon and salad washed down with a strong gin. On one occasion, when Jarek stayed late working on the roof, Perry was cooking sausages just below him! Next summer, hopefully things will be a lot different.
Meanwhile, we were ready for the bifold doors to go in. And I was definitely ready to see the back of that white plastic upvc!
Finally our kitchen (from Howdens) was fitted by the brilliant Tony, and our boiler was moved and reconnected by Sven. The plasterers had done an amazing job on the walls. The surfaces were so smooth, like marble. We had opted to do the decorating to save money, so on the hottest weekend of the year, we got stuck in, fuelled by ice lollies and Virgin Radio. Enormous tubs of Dulux Timeless White were bought and applied with rollers, diluted with water for the first coat, and then when it was all dry, a second one on the top of that.
Just about seven months after the project had started, we had a lighter, brighter kitchen, lovely glass doors, and two new rooms. Jarek worked so hard, often single handedly. We were amazed at his many skills. And he turned up. Pretty much every day, and if he didn’t, he usually let us know.
Now we are sorting out the garden, importing all the plants which had been staying with my parents, and currently we are about to instal a new shed. A path, a new raised bed and fence will follow when we can afford it. Building costs are rising all the time, so there has been some unexpected expenditure along the way. We really love the new patio, which uses sandstone edged with bricks saved from the old outhouse. The patio is 3m wide, and there’s room for a table and chairs, a couple of my trees, which did survive their adventure, and lots of plants in containers.
Inside, I cannot get enough of the peace and calm. We bought a new green velvet sofa. It’s a Made sofa, but a second, so it had a few scuffs, but we love it. Here I am collapsing on it after a long painting & decorating session! The gallery wall has changed already….and I am sure it will again, as I love to reshuffle my paintings.
I chose the pink star tiles (below) from Ca Pietra before we even had a builder confirmed, and I love them. We kept our old range cooker to save money, and we also retained the existing under stairs cupboards, painting them white and giving them new handles. The shelf above the range is from Ikea.
I still have a few things to do in the bathroom, a cupboard and a shelf to put up, and the stool to sand. But really, now it is just about enjoying the house, and inviting people over again.
I am so glad we have done this. Would I do it again? No! Never. But hopefully we can now just enjoy a lighter, brighter home, a safe port in life’s stormy waters.
A dresser found on eBay just fits this recessed space. I bought the green majolica plates recently at a local auction. There is still some decluttering and selling of previous possessions to be done, although I’ll never be a minimalist as I cannot resist a bit of vintage kitchenalia. Thank goodness for Facebook Marketplace, though. I can buy and sell on there very easily.
I’ll finish with a shot of my favourite spot. The breakfast bar. A bit of a cliche, maybe, but it’s a lovely perch. I sit here with my coffee and a magazine or my laptop (on one of two cheap stools from B&M Stores, my budget had run dry by this point!). The sun streams in, or the rain patters down on the roof lights, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief.