Monday, 20 August 2007

I'm not sure what they are doing...

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.
Mine was.
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.

9 comments:

Exmoorjane said...

Oooh heck, Tattie....that puts mine into perspective. Your list sounds very familiar though... mine has many of the same ingredients. A bit scary though when you've come within a whisker of being buried alive in your own home.....
Very good luck with it all....you should write a column for Period Living!! I know just what you mean about the decorating bit though...people keep saying, 'Oh have you decided on your colours yet?' and 'are you going to have bare boards or what?' and I laugh bitterly....

Faith said...

Grief, what a lot of work. Hub1 and I renovated a listed buildng - our first home, but it was only 250 years old, and not as bad as yours. All the best of luck!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

All I can do is cringe and wish you all the luck in the world to see it through. A few years ago I would have loved every minute of it but now...10 years into the last doing up project that still is not complete I would rather stick pins in myself! Good luck with it all!

Suffolkmum said...

Oh God lots of salutary lessons there for us Suffolk dwellers in listed buildings! Gulp! Our house is a sort of rambling cottage, and we don't dare look too closely - luckily it didn't need a lot of renovating when we moved in, just a bit of updating, but the one before that - still gives me nightmares!

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Oh berlimmities - bucket loads of sympathy and empathy and loads of structural support. Been there - hated the way the bar steward builder smugly enjoyed the bad news . . . poke him in the eye if he gets too smug . . .

Pondside said...

Wow!! We got lots of empathy and sympathy when we renovated a 50 year old house - I don't know anyone on this continent who's got a 500 year old house!! Can you post pictures? I'd love to see what's happening.
Is your boy home now? You'll surely see a change in him, even after just 4 days!

bodran... said...

OH tattie i sympathise,,Your project sounds a dream, i always wanted a moat, but 19yrs doing up this little cottage as cured me of renovating fever...I hope your office is tidy xxo

Frog in the Field said...

This brings back memeries of no back door, roof or kitchen window for 8 months.
I came home one day to find the roof and wall gone from one side of the house. My dear husband explained that the chimney was so wobbly that he pushed it off the roof, then, the roof was moving, so he cut that off, then the wall was wobbling, so he pushed that over with his hands!
A week later he got his chainsaw out and cut the rest of the roof off and threw it into the garden!
Would you like to come and stay..we are very civilised and have a roof now!

elizabethm said...

Oh Tattie, ours in a 500 year old listed building too. We are doing as little as possible as the house if basically sound but the kitchen and bathroom were nightmares. And you haven't even blogged about the whole question of what you can and can't do! we are trying to sort out a battle between a decrepit utility room (18th C) and a 450 year old yew tree. looks like the answer will cost about £20,000. love it though but running out of money

Go on you know you want to...

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