Pages

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Citizen Me: The First Months

At first we stayed in our rented  house until we managed to get some sort of living accommodation ready for habitation. This would be an awesome task … Our goal was to be out of the house we were in and into the house we had just bought by September.

Our plan was to take the flat in the cellar and make it liveable for the family. This would require digging out the exterior of the building. The Man was to do all the work that he could possibly do himself. There were some structural changes, however, that would require a builder. The entire floor space needed to have a damp course, we hired a plasterer to do the living room and dining area and another man to artex that area. The bathroom and a kitchen  would  be installed by The Man.


The first job The Man tackled was to dig out the front and replace the window with French style doors. My 12 year old son was his only assistant. Once this was done giving us access from the front of the house, work could begin on what would become the kitchen.

The interior of the cellar was in a terrible state. It was full of junk and the detritus of a quickly put together flat by a rogue landlord. Added to the problems of making a place for ourselves, was the fact that the tenants we had had been badly treated by the man from whom we had bought the place. He was in every sense 'a nasty bit of work'. We were, however, fortunate that two old dears who shared the ground floor flat at the back of the house were very helpful and informative. They were also to become very helpful to me in the days and months to come! Then there was another, not so 'dear' old dear who was entirely suspicious on any and every landlord on the face of the earth and who complained and complained endlessly. But even she was no match for the young anarchist who disabled his meters and had free run of the electricity and gas! Becoming a landlord has a very steep learning curve, especially with the other tasks before us. As I write 'us' I am thinking that really it was almost all on The Man's plate.

Now then, here is an idea of some of the challenges before us in the interior of what would in time become our home ...

On the right is the room which would become the bathroom! When we first moved this room had a damp course that had just been put in, however, it was below the water table and a sump pump needed to be added. We were making do with a portable toilet. In order to keep our feet dry we planted bricks  -- as you might do flagstones in a footpath -- to the base of the 'convenience'. I am sure you can easily guess what The Man's least favourite job was... It was quite a problem figuring out what to do about the plumbing and for a while there was a question as to whether we could successfully access the sewer because of the depth of the cellar.

The room below had been a kitchen/living room. We decided that we would prefer to use this room as our bedroom even though there was the inconvenience of having the back door, which was also the one most often used. Eventually the apartment was expanded to include three bedrooms located on the first floor of the house and this early bedroom became a very large dining room.

Fortunately, the bedsit at the front of the house had become vacant and we were able to use this for a month or six weeks while The Man worked on getting the living room and kitchen ready to be used. In the beginning it was very difficult to get really started on our grand project because the house we were living in was several miles away. Since he was working full time for the RAF he had limited time to work on the house and when he got there his time would often be taken up with the needs of the tenants as well as finding that some tool or other he needed was back at the house 6 miles away!

Time to insert a very imprecise, but more or less accurate layout of the 'before' and 'after'.
On the left is the flat as we found it
On the right as it would become
The photo on the right is the hallway that would become the kitchen. The door at the back leads into the bathroom. We debated about the wisdom of taking out the staircase and losing access to the main house from inside the flat. We decided that eventually we would consider other possibilities for internal access and this staircase came out -- almost first thing.

I did not take many pictures of the living room 'before' but as you can see it was pretty grim! The electric fire was the main source of heat for longer than I would like to remember, but we would later find a more attractive position when the old fireplace was again exposed.

I cannot remember if these pictures were taken before or after the baby arrived on the 20th of May 1983. I know that despite unforeseen difficulties we did manage to move lock, stock and barrel into this house with three young children by September 1983.

In the next instalment: Have you ever considered what life would be like without drains? In my humble opinion and from my own personal experience, drains are the cornerstone of civilization!

21 comments:

  1. Sounds like you lot deserved the money you made from this house!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One thing is for sure, it's been worth it -- in the end!

      Delete
  2. Hello Katherine:
    This is indeed a story of triumph over disaster. You have obviously worked incredibly hard to make first a habitable space, second a house and finally a home for your family. And, all the time under less than ideal circumstances with your husband away from home and small children to deal with. You deserve all credit!

    When we lived in Herefordshire we did not have main drains, relying on a system of pumps, pits and soak-aways. We absolutely could not agree more that working drains do civilisation make!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It has made us both appreciate the things that make up our lives and to know the difference between what is absolutely necessary and what can wait.

      Delete
  3. I really give you credit for courage and fortitude, Katherine. I can't imagine living through such a project while parenting three small children!

    When we were growing up, we lived in a very makeshift house with cranky plumbing and there was a time when it was all so primitive that we used to joke that we were camping -- and called the place The Camp. After our parents died, my brother did an extensive remodel, brought the place up to code and still owns it as a rental. Right now, he is doing an extensive remodel of his own house -- with a small child and pregnant wife in residence -- and seems to be taking things in stride. They're living in the tiny guesthouse out back while the main house is gutted and redone. (The house was built in 1927 --positively ancient by L.A. standards -- and has never had any updating.)

    But your remodeling pictures take the prize absolutely -- and with tenants to deal with in the meantime! I'm in awe!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The tenants were in many ways the most difficult part of the problem. When they have problems or are the problem you are still dealing with people in their personal lives and balancing between their personal and our business was really hard.

      Delete
  4. I've heard it said and I believe it's true: You don't buy old houses, old houses buy YOU!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Crikey, Broad, we're going to have plenty to talk about. :-) Though our children were somewhat older, we still had 2 years of moving from room to room as our old farmhouse was renovated and rearranged around us as we could afford it. The thought of doing something even more radical and with a new baby to boot takes my breath away. Going by the plans it looks like you eventually ended up with a very attractive and spacious home.

    PS No mains drainage here even now. It's all septic tanks in these hills.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, but it was a long haul and a tough slog!

      Delete
  6. as a DIY virgin I take my hat ( my hard hat) off to you! x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We could have used a couple of hard hats!

      Delete
  7. Now, that's a lot of renovation, and back-breaking work for your husband and for you as well. Lots of patience and determination!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One thing is for sure -- once it got started we had to keep going!

      Delete
  8. And I used to think I was brave! Well done, to you all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Ignorance gets a lot of things done that would not otherwise!

      Delete
  9. What a wonderful project to take on! Full of hard work, imagination, creativity and skill mixed with a great deal of the unknown and even some crystal ball gazing. Bravo ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well it sure was a lot of hard work, but as for skill -- a lot needed to a acquired, that's for sure!

      Delete
  10. Dear Broad,
    I am interested in almost everything under the sun, but right up at the top of the list is how a house turned into a home--with floor plans and tools and needs. That's why I suppose I found this posting and its accompanying photographs and floor plan to be so intriguing and enticing.

    There's a wonderful book about the invention of all that goes into a house--and drain/sewage is discussed in one of them. The book is "At Home" by Bill Bryson. I think you would enjoy it.

    Peace.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wasn't aware of that book by Bryson, who is one of my favourites. Did you know that he is back living in England again?

      Delete

Receiving comments is a joy and I thank you all for taking the trouble and showing your interest. Makes me feel all gooey and stuff!