Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

Category: preparations (page 1 of 2)

Strip Some Wallpaper, She Said

As several years’ worth of rain has fallen in the past week, we decided against knocking a hole in the front of the house today.

(Of course, it’s been sunny all day so we could have done the wall panel in the end.)

Instead, we fired up the wallpaper steam stripper, opened the windows in the Stone Room, and got stripping.

A Little Background

The Stone Room is the Victorian addition to the house. It’s a square, solid stone, two-storey structure stuck onto the left-hand side of the original house. It’s offset slightly too – it protrudes about four feet to the front of the house, presumably because of the shape of the banks behind the house. But who knows.

There used to be a window in the front until the 1950s (we think), then the previous owner filled it in. We haven’t decided whether or not to reinstate it yet, but we’ll definitely be rebuilding the in-fill because it looks a mess from the outside and we’d rather it blends in.

The Stone Room was our bedroom until a month or so ago, when we moved up into The Beautiful Attic. It’s going to become our huge, decadent bathroom.

There’s a small-ish window in the back, looking up the garden, and a tiny window in the side.

Small windows

We’re going to make the window on the left bigger

We have plans to make the back window much bigger and take it down to the floor so Vicky can lie in the bath and look up the garden.

Saturday Stripping

Before any of that happens, though, we need to strip the room back to its bones. We’ll need to replace the floor so it can take the weight of a bathtub (and, you know, people) and we’ll need to replace the ceiling because it’s a bit of a horror show.

Also, the roof leaks and the roof space is dark and full of terrors.

Awful mess

The Stone Room roof space is dark and full of terrors

We also wanted to investigate the impression on the far wall – you can see where there was once a fireplace. We’re not holding out much hope, but you never know… We’ll probably put one back when we start making the room beautiful.

Before beauty, though, comes The Great Horror.

We stripped all the structural anaglypta wallpaper off…

Stripper Joe

Stripper Joe

And we found some cool remnants of old pretty wallpaper:

Archaeological wallpaper

Archaeological wallpaper

That Escalated Fast…

And knocked some bloody great holes in the wall. Which was exciting.

Turns out there’s just random bricks shoved into the old fireplace, and we can still see the firebox and firebrick. Nothing pretty though.

A lot of plaster came off with the wallpaper, so we thought, “Sod it, let’s see what the stone walls are like.”

Turns out, the interior stone wall is in pretty good shape. It’ll need repointing and whatnot, but we may make it a feature stone wall and limewash it.

Big mess

Feature wall, yes?

The rest of the walls, we’ll repoint then insulate with cork boards (probably) and lime plaster. We may put some wood panelling up. No idea yet. Watch this space!

Creatures On The Ceiling

One thing we will miss about sleeping in that room is our Ceiling Creature Companions. When we had the timbers sandblasted, it created some interesting shapes on the plasterboard. Like this velociraptor:

The velociraptor

The velociraptor

And this kingfisher:

The Kingfisher

The Kingfisher

Anyway – having made a mahoosive mess, we’re done for the day. Tomorrow will be more of the same if the weather is wet, or we’ll knock a great big hole in the front of the house again.

Our Crumbling Sole Plate

So, of all the things you want to happen when you knock all the bricks out of one of your wall panels and open a gaping hole to the outside world, this isn’t one of them…

(Parental advisory: Joe swears)

The first course of our house is stone. The timber-frame part sits on top of that stone. Once upon a time, there was an oak sole plate sitting on top of the stone wall – a massive long piece of timber forming the bottom of the frame.

Then, someone put a concrete sill on top of that timber, fixing it to the wall. You can see it in the next photo – it was covered in lead flashing. There’s a red arrow pointing to it.

Crazy man in orange jumpsuit stares at wall

Joe peels back the lead flashing to reveal… CONCRETE DOOM

Unfortunately, concrete destroys timber. It literally dissolves it: it pulls water in, and holds it there, so the timber rots. And you end up with this:

Rotten timber

Rotted timber woe

The wood has crumbled to nothing next to the upright, which is pretty rotted too. Luckily, there’s still a little solid wood in there. The sole plate is dead though. We pulled it to shreds with our bare hands.

The face of woe: holding the rotten sole plate

We both wore this face for a good hour

I sent a panicked text message to Ken, who is a conservation timber expert and master carpenter, and who will be doing all our oak work… but it was Saturday, so we really didn’t expect to hear from him, which is fair enough.

Every time a car went by, we got all excited in case it was Ken. We really, really wanted a grownup to tell us what to do next.

But in the absence of any grownups, we decided to take care of it. After all, we couldn’t really live with a 1.5m by 1m hole in the house for several days.

Ideally, we’d have waited and got Ken to replace the whole sole plate with a piece of timber the length of the wall, but that wasn’t an option. So we decided to do the best we could, fully expecting Ken would pull it out and do the job properly within the next few weeks.

We have loads of old oak lying around from when we ripped the attic floor out, and Joe found this piece, which we cut down to size. We cut a notch out to sit around the second upright:

New old oak

A likely-looking candidate

Then we cleared out all the old concrete and timber splinters and rot, and took the stone wall back to as clean as we could:

Sole-less

Sole-less

Loose stones on the top of the wall

Loose stones on the top of the wall

Those two stones up there are just sitting loose, so we took them out, cleaned them up, and then laid a bed of limecrete to sit them in. This was Vicky’s first ever go at building a stone wall. It’s only two stones, but it counts:

Lime bed for the stones

Lime bed for the stones

We bedded the two loose stones back in, then laid another thick bed of lime on top for the new-old timber to sit in. We squeezed plenty of it into the corners, too, because there wasn’t really any support in there before. Then we laid the new timber thusly:

New sole plate with batten frame, ready for corking

New sole plate with batten frame, ready for corking

We scrambled to get the cork panels in place as before, and frankly weren’t really sure whether we’d done the right thing.

Well, Ken popped by today (Sunday) and had a quick look – and said we’d done really well. Obviously he’d have taken the whole lot out at once and replaced a whole new piece, but he said what we’ve done is perfectly adequate. He’ll make us a fake peg to hide that wood screw, then put a new timber in for the rest of the wall length.

We might ask him just to do the entire length so it’s “proper”… we’ll see.

Either way, we’re pretty chuffed with ourselves. And now the temperature is up again, the lime should be fine.

All in all, an exciting weekend… so we celebrated with mountains of Mexican food and Black Panther at the cinema. Chin chin!

Whirlwind Dingle Update

Gosh. It’s suddenly November, and we seem to have not updated since… summer.

A lot has happened.

So, in brief…

The House Has Eyes

The windows are in. They may come out again, because I’m not entirely happy with how they’re fitting at the moment, and I’m certainly not chuffed with the expanding foam that’s in there. Evil stuff.

Painted in Celestial Blue from Little Greene Paint.

Painted in Celestial Blue from Little Greene Paint.

The plyboard is temporary, natch. And we really need to redo that ex-window in the stone part of the house, because it does not look good.

We’re now thinking we may go for oak for the rest of the windows, sell these ones, and replace them. Because obviously we’re not making this easy for ourselves…

Another Dingle Tragedy

Remember Nugget, our poory little rescue hen? She was sick, and we were giving her antibiotics every day. She was getting much better, much more lively, and was a clever little hen. Then a fox took her.

Vicky basically cried for a week.

Then there were four hens, who are all most fabulous: Granny Featherwax (the original and leader of the pack), Shirley (the other rescue hen), Big Betty (a Bluebell), and Mrs Pickles (a Cheshire blue, who Vicky trained to fly up onto your arm).

chicken sitting on my arm

Mrs Pickles has come home to roost

Floors…

We pulled up the scabby old carpet in the living room to find a roomful of quarry tiles. Sadly, they’re not all in beautiful condition, and there are two different types.

We’re probably going to put flagstones down in here.

Quarry tiles of variable quality

Quarry tiles of variable quality

The Garden…

We have been pretty busy in the garden, though. We got a good crop of vegetables, and more squash and pumpkin than any reasonable person could wish for.

More squash than you can shake a courgette at

More squash than you can shake a courgette at

Two of them became Hallowe’en pumpkins:

Meet Bob and RuPumpkin (we've been watching a lot of RuPaul's Drag Race)

Meet Bob and RuPumpkin (we’ve been watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race)

And we’ve started preparing the Chicken Palace and new mower shed. The idea is, where the compost heap is at the moment was a big patch of wasteland, really. 15 feet of brambles and nettles at the end of the orchard, next to the field.

So we’ve cleared that lot out, started levelling it, and acquired 60 paving slabs. Some of those paving slabs will go to form the floor of the new mower shed and chicken feed shed. The chicken house will be attached, and raised off the ground leaving a few feet for the hens to mooch around beneath, then there’ll be a big permanent run that’s totally fox-proof.

Watch this space.

But for now, here’s the progress (we put Vicky’s niece Ella to work):

Child labour. Cheap and cheerful!

Child labour. Cheap and cheerful!

But perhaps most excitingly in the garden, we now have a greenhouse! Joe’s sister offered hers up to the first taker — and never one to pass up a bargain, we snapped it up.

We took down the shaky little shed next to the vegetable beds and levelled the land:

Shed. Mostly held together by clematis.

Shed. Mostly held together by clematis.

Clear and level, on the hottest day of the summer.

Clear and level, on the hottest day of the summer.

Then we lumped thousands of paving slabs up the hill and Vicky became the most irritating fussy person in the world: they had to be millimetre perfect… after Joe had finished chilling, there was further levelling.

A job well jobbed.

A job well jobbed.

Then up went the greenhouse. Hurrah! And we only broke two panes of glass in the whole transportation and erection process.

#winning

Greenhouse is ready for action

Greenhouse is ready for action

Then we filled it with chilli plants:

The future of many trips to buy soured cream...

The future of many trips to buy soured cream…

Compositions in Fibonacci…

And finally, Joe and the chickens inadvertently arranged themselves into a Fibonacci sequence. And Joe learned that, when presented with peanut butter, chickens give zero flips about manners:

Fibonacci chickens

Fibonacci chickens

What’s Next?

Today, we’ve been pondering attic electrics, looking at the neighbour’s amazing timber-framed extension, and planning the bathroom.

Skellington Floors

It’s been a while, but things are moving on. Fish has created a skeleton floor with the new oak beams — which are gorgeous — and new oak joists.

We were going to go for cheaper softwood joists and cover them, but Fish managed to find some green oak that was pretty much the same price, so we’re dead chuffed. They look great.

Oak beams and joists and a temporary platform

New oak beams and joists in the skeleton floor

In the process, Fish created Mount Dustmore:

A pile of sawdust fenced in with an offcut

Mount Dustmore

There’s space for a final joist once the holes in the wall are fixed:

Gap between joist and wall

Room for a little one

So that’s where we are for now. We’ve still not decided on a final floor plan — we need the architect for that — but the windows are hopefully going into the front of the cottage before the end of May. I’ve got some paint test pots from Little Greene, so I’m pretty impatient…

We’ve got no floors and big ‘oles in the wall

Crivens. Well, quite a lot of destruction has happened over the past week. And quite a lot of discussion, as we realised we really ought to have put more thought into details like windows.

But let’s start at the beginning. Fun on the scaffolding, because obviously if we have scaffolding outside the house it becomes an aerial playground for Vicky (and her giant clown feet):

Pole move on scaffold

Bustin’ a move

Anyway — the scaffolding went up, and so did the acroprops in the living room. To stop the house falling down when they took the old, not-substantial-enough beams out from the attic floor.

Acroprops in the living room

Holding the house up

Then things escalated real fast and suddenly we had no ceiling in the wonky room. And decided that we were going to leave part of the upstairs double-height, where the stairs go up to the attic, because it looks amazing. Proper “wow”.

No ceiling double-height room

That escalated fast…

And the final Big Thing: we have two big ‘oles in the front of the cottage:

No more winking...

No more winking…

I’m a little sad because the house is no longer winking at us. But the good thing is: we’ll have loads of light in the wonky room. Until now, it’s been a great big room with two tiny little windows — basically a big dark cave. We’re having two big windows at the front, and we don’t know what’s going to happen with the back yet.

But that led to a discussion about windows.

Originally, we wanted cottage windows with 6 panels, but Fish reckoned that wouldn’t let enough light in. He suggested duplex bars to fake it. I turned my nose up, because I don’t like faking things… but when I had a look at a load of pictures, cottage windows with little panels fit our Dingle best. And you can’t really tell the fake bars are fake. So… that’s what we’re going for.

They’re going to be hardwood we can paint.

Now to find some monkeytail fasteners and stays…

Save

Enter the Artichoke

We finally admitted it: we have no clue what we’re doing. We can’t even decide where to put the stairs into the attic, and how to arrange the first floor.

So today, we invited an architect round to have a look.

I’m not sure how encouraging it is when you ask, “So, do you think we’re mad?”

And he just looks at you for a moment before replying, “I think you’re brave.”

He’s going to cost us a small fortune… but it’s going to be well worth it, because without expert help we won’t end up with the home we want, and it’ll probably cost us much more in mistakes in the long run.

We’ll be getting started with him in the summer. After we’ve sorted the oak beams and the new window.

We’re already really excited: there’s talk of a two-storey oak-frame extension on the back to house the new kitchen and possibly our main bedroom – positioned so we can look out up the garden.

There’s also talk of possibly pushing the banks back to give us more space behind the house. Which will be epic, and is an idea I’m coming around to.

Can’t wait to see what he comes up with…

Diggity

As the weather has been awful for the past couple of weekends, we thought it’d be the perfect time to get out into the garden. And we’ve accomplished quite a lot…

Not least, getting very muddy.

We also failed to buy a chainsaw on a stick. Instead, we bought a hedgetrimmer on a stick. So we need to get a small chainsaw attachment so we can prune the fruit trees.

The long-handled snips let us do some initial pruning, though, so we’ve made a start – and now the old apple tree by the mower shed has a lot less mistletoe on it, and we’ve identified the vertical branches and rubbing branches that must go.

But the main progress was Joe and his new machete: he’s cleared a whole load of brambles from the house-end of the bank, so we can see the whole hazel tree and conifer now. If we can do a couple of hours of that every weekend, we’ll manage to reclaim that bank fairly quickly. Apparently the way to go is wait for the bramble stumps to start sending out shoots, then just dab weed killer onto it for a targeted extermination.

Here’s what it looks like now:

Joe with machete clearing brambles by the hazel tree

We now have a hazel tree free of brambles, and a big scrubby space on the bank

The plan is to get the bank back to grass — or possibly wildflower meadow — and also plant snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodil bulbs so we have beautiful spring flowers.

While Joe was doing that, I was prepping the second raised bed (I did the first one last week). I covered the grass with a layer of cardboard — old cardboard boxes — that will mulch down. Then I gathered loads of wet, dead leaves from the Bridge of Significant Peril, and from the hedges and banks and around the fruit trees, and spread them on top of the cardboard.

There’s also newspaper, paper towel, straw, and chicken droppings spread all over the raised beds:

Railway sleeper raised beds filled with mulch

All ready for topsoil

I’ve just ordered two bulk bags of topsoil to be delivered on February 23 – and I’ve got some garlic on the way to go in asap.

We haven’t got a greenhouse or anywhere to propagate seeds at the moment, so I’m buying in young plants to plant out throughout the year. Easiest way to learn is by doing as I’m told, so I’m using Rocket Gardens on recommendation of a friend. I’m really excited about this.

Also, we’re planning a little fenced area for our allotment, which may help to keep the chickens and cats out…

Inside the House

Inside, we’ve not made huge progress — but the new oak beams are going in to reinforce the attic floor mid-March, same time as the new winking window at the front of the house.

We’re seeing an architect next week, who’s going to help us plan the whole project out — because we keep stalling and don’t know what’s going to work and what isn’t.

Watch this space…

Like Giant Drunken Jenga…

I love living here. The Sunday before last, we were in the pub having a pint, and I mentioned I was looking for railway sleepers to make raised vegetable beds. Farmer Leddy asked how many I wanted, and how long.

“Ooh, 16, about 2.4m long. Know anywhere?”

“Yep. I’ll ask.”

~ Fast forward to Monday morning ~

A tractor pulls up outside with a farmer hanging off it waving manically…

“I’ll be along in about an hour with those sleepers, alright?”

“Erm… Okay! Brilliant!”

A couple of hours later, and these are in our backyard:

All ready to move up the hill...

All ready to move up the hill…

Not too filthy, and all ready to move up the hill. Except they’re about 100kg each. Joe and I moved two of ’em, then decided it was a bit lairy. Slippery hill and potential broken legs and all that. It would have been okay if it was just moving them around on the flat.

So, last Saturday night, we were in the pub. Again. Three drunken farmer lads.

“We’ve got these sleepers…”

“Aye…”

“There’s plenty beer in it for you if you fancy helping us move ’em tomorrow please…”

“Tomorrow? Ha! Tomorrow is for WIMPS. We are men. We shall move them NOW.”

Joe goes off with three drunken farmer boys, and I wake up to this. If I hadn’t had an awful gin hangover, I would have laughed more loudly. As it was, I chuckled to myself quietly, then went back to feeling sorry for myself…

It's like a giant had enough and threw his toys out of the wheelbarrow...

It’s like a giant had enough and threw his toys out of the wheelbarrow…

So later on that day, when the woe had receded, Joe and I and my Dad created two raised bed masterpieces:

Not too shabby...

Not too shabby…

I’m going to line them with polythene so we don’t produce poisonous carrots and whatnot, then dig out all the grass and weeds, and fill ’em with topsoil and chicken poo.

I’m also going to create a border around them, either of gravel or wood chippings, so the grass doesn’t get all mashed up and muddy.

Next spring, we’ll be producing all manner of delicious goodies.

We Have No Walls Upstairs

It’s been all go here at The Dingle over the past couple of weeks. We’ve finished installing the eco-friendly insulating boards in the attic

~ (and, by the way, the professional lime plasterer who came around to give us a quote today said, “Who did this? It’s absolutely excellent. Some of the best I’ve seen.” *proud*) ~

and got Fish our joiner around to make a decision about the floor.

We didn’t so much get on with the floor as rip out everything on the first floor. From this, with the not-original dodgy stud wall:

Before, with the dodgy stud wall...

Before, with the dodgy stud wall…

To this. A big mess:

Just a wide open space...

Just a wide open space…

Now we’ve got all that space, we’ve got more options. So, here’s what we’re definitely going to do before we move up into the attic:

  • Take out the two beams supporting the attic floor. They were never meant to support a “proper” room, and according to the buildings guy who came round with Fish, were probably wall timbers supporting struts for lath and plaster before they became our ceiling.
  • Install two 8in x 8in oak beams to support the floor.
  • Knock out the “winking” panel so we can install said beams, and put in a new oak-frame window at the same time.
  • Maybe install new oak floor joists – the buildings guy said it’s not essential, but if it were his house he would do it. So we’re going to get a quote and see how much it’d add to the bill. We’d like to do it proper-like.
  • Move the stairs. The new hand-made oak stairs were going to go in the same place as the old ones, but it makes more sense now we’ve opened up the space to have them go up from the corner, more or less where the downstairs stairs come up.

So that’s all structural stuff we’ve to do, to make the building sound. All good, and it means we get a window into the Wonky Room so we’ll have more light.

Fish suggested we could put the bathroom into the Stone Room, which has given us something else to consider… It’d be an amazing huge bathroom, and I could  put a roll-top bath right in the middle, as well as a big walk-in shower…

We really need to sit down with pen and paper and decide on the layout upstairs – and how it’s going to relate to downstairs when we build the new kitchen at the back.

Anyway. In the meantime, we’ve discovered some treasures:

Old papers lining the plasterboard between the ceiling joists – from 1949 and 1950

Old papers lining the plasterboard between the ceiling joists – from 1949 and 1950

I’m going to save a couple of these panels, the ones in best condition, and varnish them and turn them into a little treasure. Same with some of the crazy wallpaper we’ve lost with the stud walls. I’d like to keep a little reminder of what was here before us.

And a rats’ nest:

Thankfully they moved out...

Thankfully they moved out…

Okay, so perhaps that’s not a treasure. And thankfully it’s an old abandoned nest. No rats here. But you can see the horizontal slots in the ceiling beam, which are odd – hence the idea they were once wall supports. And the beam itself isn’t sturdy enough, really, to support a floor. It’s like a trampoline up there…

There's a bit of a bend on this one...

There’s a bit of a bend on this one…

We’re leaving this timber in place. Partly because it’s so wonky I don’t know how we’d replace it. It’s aces. But mostly because when you jump up and down on it, it barely moves. We’re going to replace those supports with something beautiful though.

We had a quote today from a lime plastering expert, and it looks like we can get the attic plastered before Christmas which will be brilliant.

He’s solved the freezing wall problem – there’s some insulating lime plaster that gives you a “pillow” effect, so we can expose the timbers but still keep some of the chill off the wall. Looks like we’re looking at about £50 a square metre, which seems pretty standard from what I can find out.

Exciting stuff :)

The Attic is a Squirrel-Free Zone

So, yesterday was a super-productive day here at The Dingle. First thing, we utterly failed to go to parkrun. In our defence, it was raining…

But we did go to Kent’s in Hereford because Ronnie the builder from the pub told us it was the place to go for soffits.

So off we went.

Having no idea about these things, I figured we’d probably be shelling out a couple of hundred quid and it’d be a bit of a ballache fitting the things, because of drilling holes and putting vents in and that.

But on arrival, the helpful young man pointed out soffits with vents already within them – and we got 15 metres of the stuff, cut up small enough to fit in our car, plus a box of pins to fix them.

They’re not going to be visible at all, so we didn’t have to worry about what they looked like. And they’re not really true soffits anyway, they’re simply there to ensure no critters get into the cavity behind the rafters and set up shop there.

After a sustaining meal of boiled eggs and soldiers and a cuppa, we dragged everything up into the attic and got started.

There was a hazelnut in the middle of the floor. Like some kind of dire warning from the squirrel posse that this was their territory. Not to be deterred, though, we pressed on. Keeping a weather eye out for terrorist squirrels…

First job: removing all the bricks loosely fixed to the top of the dwarf wall. The previous owner had put them up there to make it less draughty – here’s what they looked like before we removed them:

Under the eaves with bricks...

Under the eaves with bricks…

And without. This is the front of the house:

Draughty...

Draughty…

And the back of the house. As you can see, there is no soffit here. We got a good view of the chickens bockling around in the courtyard…

Looks like there is actually a soffit on the front of the house

Looks like there is actually a soffit on the front of the house

Fitting the soffits was actually really simple, and only took us a couple of hours. We got a system going: Joe would measure all the distances between the rafters. I’d saw the soffit into the right lengths. Joe would nail them onto the timber.

Here’s the result – front of the house:

Tidy.

Tidy.

And the back of the house. Much less draughty:

Dusty.

Dusty.

A job well done. Not authentic, perhaps… but we’re beginning to realise that if we do everything exactly as it “should” be done, we’ll need a bottomless pit of money. So we’re concentrating on doing the best for the house – making sure it can breathe, making it as authentic as possible – but not bankrupting ourselves or driving ourselves crazy in the process.

We do have to chip out all the concrete that’s in contact with the timbers, though, because it rots the wood. Not breathable, see.

So that’ll be a fun job over the next few weekends.

We’re pleased with our progress today. Tomorrow (Sunday) we’ll be starting to fit the breathable, eco-friendly, insulated plasterboard.

Jobs still to do before the floor goes down:

  • Fit the plasterboard
  • Decide on lighting and wiring
  • Decide on plumbing locations for the shower room
  • Chip out concrete adjacent to timbers
  • Plaster the ceiling and walls
  • Paint the gable end wall for a textured look – or do we lime plaster it? Yet to be decided
  • Probably a bunch of other stuff we’ll discover later on…

Perhaps the most difficult job today was cleaning up afterwards. Up until now, the attic had been strewn with rubble, piles of dust and sand, old nails and tacks, and tools scattered everywhere. Now, the tools are neatly packed away, all the crap is gone, and the place is swept and tidy. Still very dusty, but it’ll stay that way for weeks, I’m sure…

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