I am not quite sure what my builders are doing; I know what I asked them to do and I am pretty sure they are doing it but HOW they are doing it is beyond me.
Financial constraints being what they are there is only so much that we as the owners/clients can afford. There is no point in me gazing rapturously at Homes & Gardens, House Beautiful, Period Home or dare I say it Country Living - what has to be sorted out is as far removed from those glossy pages as I am from being the next Kinsella.
The priority list was drawn up: Roof, Render, Chimney, Windows, Doors, interior walls, electrics and plumbing. Not a colour swatch in site, not even flooring! As with any old building – and this one is pushing 500 years - the deeper you delve the more there is to do.
It should be easy to see what there is to do but render has a habit of covering up all sorts of sins: dry rot; death watch beetle, wood worm, the fact that the sole plate has completely disintegrated and how no one, least of all my builder, could believe the house has managed to stand up for this length of time!
The first thing Geoff, the wood stroking hippy builder, did on arrival was to immediately slap in four acro-props across the big room underneath the main beam. He then showed me why. There was no tennon attaching the beam to the main frame of the house and someone in the last 20 years had removed a support on the other side.
I had always laughed about secretly and not so secretly wanting the house to fall down. Geoff showed me how very close we had come. Chopping off the render he revealed the extent to which the house was coming apart. A salutatory lesson for any listed building owner.
Concrete render had led to rising damp and dry rot through the whole sole plate upon which the main frame rests; botched building work had seen the removal of a floor integral to keeping the house from falling down, a lopsided roof with more weight on one side than the other caused more pressure on the sole plate leading to a buckled brick plinth and a rotation on various nodal points. It was no wonder acro-props installed!
“Do you think your husband should move from his room now?”
Blanching at all this information I agreed. The only thing separating Dear Charlie from annihilation had been a rather long and rusty nail and a great deal of cobwebs.
As building work progressed Geoff had revealed to me – with somewhat macabre delight – all the botched jobs, mind-boggling ineptitude of previous incumbents. Suffice to say I blame it on the Georgians.
Many houses in Suffolk have what I call a T-shaped floor plan. The original timber framed building at right angles to the Queen Anne/Georgian/Victorian frontage not many properties have been Georgianified.
This has meant that a Medieval/Tudor L-shaped building has undergone radical surgery to fit the 1830s ideal. Gone are the frumpy and possibly nay bulky oriel windows to south and east and gone are the tapering doors, intricate ceiling carvings and probably ancient mullions. To be replaced with nebulous regularity – albeit glazed.
In order to reach this ideal the frame was forced to fit. So we have windows placed in front of mainframe beams making it impossible to open them let alone look out of them but when has fashion ever played second fiddle to practicality.
What does this leave us with in the C21st century? An extreme muddle. Planning - or listed building regulations - mean that we have to have a slight psychotic renovation. Therefore we add wood - huge great beams - to rectify all the Georgian muddle, yet we have to add windows a la Georgian and put them in front of huge great studs. So externally we remain the Georgian ideal and internally - well we muddle through…So Back to Geoff and what he is doing – I haven’t the foggiest but at least Dear Charlie won’t find himself covered in rubble.