Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Guys, Our Garden

Once upon a time in 2013 our driveway looked like this.

Then we knocked down the garage, built an extension, and the driveway looked like this.

Yup, just a big pile of hardcore and ancient, broken concrete slabs, greeting the us every time we left the house.  For months and months.  We knew what we wanted to do, we had the budget, but it was just a matter of biding our time until we could get scheduled!

It took a lot of hard work (but not by us) and tons of material.

We had a really great landscaper (Peter Williamson) come and and now our driveway looks like this

He also built a new fence, since we knocked down the garage and the boundary wall.

The back garden is looking a lot better as well.  Maybe last summer or so it looked like this.

Then we had the mad digger come in and take out all the crazy self-planting sycamore trees.

No, seriously, things had to get really messy before they could get better.

We had the professionals put in a level pad for a shed (to replace the demolished garage) and a trampoline.

And then I got busy building vegetable boxes, reseeding (and reseeding and reseeding) the grass.

As of this morning, this is where we are.   Look how the grass is growing!  It needs to be cut...again!

Peter put in some posts and pavers for a bin store, 

and Niall built it.

We painted it green.


The back of the house is still a work in progress.  But we've improved things!  In 2013 it looked like this.

And then it looked like this.  

We managed to squeeze in a table and chairs.

And then turned it into a building site.

And now we're here.

Maybe someday we'll paint it.  Or get it re-roughcaste.  But not right now.

There's a nice walkway (big enough to wheel the garbage bins) along the side of our house.  And notice all the pebbles?  That was something our architect specified to help with drainage.

Here's the paving on the side of the house going toward the street.

And here's how the walkway looks going back to the garden.  I built the gate out of left over wood from the timber cladding on the extension!

When we first bought the house, the back of the house was completely overgrown.

We had the vegetation cut back, clean-up the pavers, and were left with this.

Then we painted the fence and the coal shed door.

We dug out the massive tree trunk

And were left with a patio area crying out for some attention.

Peter came and did his magic

And the patio are is wider, smoother and ready for us to enjoy!

And the table.

There are still a few things that need to be done (like making the bomb shelter into a play fort and tarting up the front garden and retaining wall.)  But man we're close!

And, just because I had no idea how much work this garden update would be, or how much money it would end up costing, here's the run down:

Total are paved:  111 square meters
Approximate cost:  £7000 total, £62 per square meter
Cost of supplies:  £3,150
Spoil removal:  £600
32 man days, 256 hours

As a note, I completely underestimated how much time and effort would go into this project, but specifically just how hard it would be to plan and execute the calculation of slope and run and the design of pavers.  And I didn't do any of it!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Furnishing on a Budget

Yes.  So we spent a whole bunch of money getting a new room.  We set aside what I thought was a very generous amount for furnishing and landscaping.  But it turns out the landscaping is going to take the entire amount, and then some, so we are left with hardly anything to furnish the room.
There were a few things that I really wanted for the room:

1.  Corner (L shaped) sofa, long enough for two people to lay
2.  Wall mounted TV (size not very important, we are pretty pathetic when it comes to nice TV's)
3.  Storage for toys
4.  Extra seating
5.  Table(s)
6.  Rugs for two 'zones'...one for the sofa/TV area and one for the toy storage and extra seats

1.  The biggest factor, I felt, was the sofa.  For six weeks, Niall and I scoured the local haunts (mostly gumtree) for something that would work but wouldn't break the bank.  We set a budget of £200, which was too low, but what we felt we could afford.  I spent time at Ikea, looking at all the sofas, figuring out which could be switched, covers that could be used, etc.

Finally, when we were in Amsterdam, a sofa appeared.  I texted at the airport and picked it up that afternoon, not long after we got home.  It was over budget, but I haggled and we got it for just slightly over budget.  I had to move around some pieces and unpick and resew the cover, but we got a Karlstad sofa.  It's now discontinued in the UK, but it is in very good condition.

Total cost:  £223.50

2.  The TV we got by bartering.  We traded a pull-out sofa bed (that we're going to replace with a two seater Chesterfield in the front room.)  It was a pain drilling the holes for the wall mounted plate (plasterboard, battens, old exterior wall=150mm holes) but we got it mounted!  (Thanks, Niall)

Total cost:  Free!

3.  Storage for toys was provided thanks to Ikea.  We actually bought something new.  Not second hand, not bargain corner.  Kallax was £75 plus the boxes, so it fit the budget.

Total cost:  £100

4.  Extra Seating:  We pulled in the rocking chair, which had been up in the office, downstairs.  Originally, we got a Parker Knowles chair from a neighbor's skip (dumpster.)  I stripped it, recovered it, we got a carpenter to make the rockers, and ta da!  We also put the 'throne' in here.

Total cost:  Free!

5.  Shelf/Thin Console Table

The extension is long but narrow.  (Just under 3 meters/ about 9 1/2 feet)  There isn't a room for a coffee table to the side of one part of the sofa.  But I know my husband and his love of tea.  And tea cups were sure to be perched on the sofa ledge, left on the floor, or put on the window sill.  So we needed something.

The builders left behind some wood, which I cut to size, sanded and oiled (boiled linseed.)  Then we bought some cheap table legs from Ikea.

And Niall has a place for his tea cups.

Total cost:  £15

6.  Rugs

I see so many rugs that I love.  But they're all in the US.  After serious (weeks long) internet and in store snooping, I've basically decided there aren't patterned rugs that both Niall and I like that are also in the UK (and don't cost four figures.)  The next idea was plain rugs.  I pulled down an Ikea rug we have from upstairs, but Niall gave it a pass.  

So I went to a local carpet store and they had a very nice piece of carpet that was an offcut and worked perfectly.  I cut one piece for the couch area and another for the chairs and boom.  We've used carpet offcuts before, and if there's problems with fraying then a bit of glue along the edges does the trick.

Total cost:  £50  

The landscaping should start sometime next month.  And we'll work on getting some more things on the walls and window coverings!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Oh, adding a whole new room meant so many electronics!  But once they were placed in the room, it meant we really started using the extension.

Except there were so many wires and cables!  (Do you see them hanging down from the TV?)  I knew what needed to be done.  (Drill holes, run the cables behind the plasterboard/dry wall.)  But I was really nervous, and I don't know why.  It took me me a few weeks to get everything together and get the gumption to do it.  And today was the day.

I moved the furniture.

And I had to get the courage to do it, but I finally drilled into the wall near the TV mount with the biggest tip spade drill bit we have.    And then I drilled another one near the outlet.  (I knew where the electrics ran and avoided them!)  I straightened a wire hanger and ran it between the holes.  Then I taped all the cables to the wire hanger and threaded the cables it between the holes.

The result was not very pretty.  And very dusty.

But I'd bought two of these, so it looks much cleaner now.  Also, one is hidden behind the TV and other behind the couch, so you can't see it anyway.

And now?  No more cables running up to the TV.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

When It Rains

As life happens, while the renovation was under way, a few minor issues popped up in the existing house.  They probably would have happened anyway, but there's nothing like building work to bring out the lurking problems!

Fallen Radiator

The radiator fell off the wall (again).  I drained and put it back once, and when it fell of a second time we called in a plumber to do it properly.

Dodgy Smoke Detectors

One morning (early) all the smoke detectors in the house started going off.  And they kept going.  I disconnected them.  I changed the batteries.  We had an electrician come look at them.  Supposedly it was fixed, but they kept all going off.  They're currently sitting disconnected (but with batteries), because when I plug them back in they keep going off.  This is one issue we don't yet have resolved, but have an electrician coming next week to run through the whole system.


Another morning (early), we heard a thump and then water started pouring through the ceiling.  The concealed cistern had come off the wall in the loft toilet and spilled to the floor below.  We turned off the electrics (water was pouring through a disconnected smoke alarm in the ceiling) and the water/stopcock.

We got a container to catch the water, the water eventually stopped and the damage was contained.  Thank goodness we were home!

I probably could have fixed it myself, but when it comes to plumbing we decided to get a professional in (at May Bank Holiday rates, natch.)  The cistern was reinstalled, supposedly more securely this time!  (Niall propped up the off cut of insulation as an added 'security' measure!)