Welcome to my blog, where a 30-something couple from the UK renovate and extend an old cottage, build some outbuildings, raise some hens and grow firewood trees and vegetables on our Acre in Hampshire. It's a bit like a smallholding but without too many animals, so we call it a homestead - living within our means, relying on ourselves and having a wonderful life!


Monday 4 April 2016

Workshop Progress

Here is a reminder as to how wonderful my wife is - six months pregnant, and up a scaffolding tower painting the workshop.

The painting is finally finished - which means it is time for the floor to go down! Nothing spectacular; this is a workshop after all - but we might as well make it look nice, right?

We chose a cheap laminate floor from B&Q - it has a surprisingly good finish and it textured, to allow a non-slip surface. The gold stuff is foil backed foam underlay.

I made a couple of thresholds from offcuts of oak work surface, which are thouroughly siliconed in and oiled to prevent any water ingress affecting the laminate, and to improve the air tightness of the room.

This was the first 'job' in the newly floored workshop - making MDF covers for the brickwork that the structure of the Barn sits on. The Laminate needs an expansion gap all round, so there was no easy way to edge the floor without covering the bricks. It looks much better for painted covers over the brick and simple skirting throughout.

We bought a new woodburner for the Workshop - nothing fancy, just a chinese steel stove from a local firm. It is much more in keeping than the vintage Jotul I bought initially. I'll need to install a hearth (just a 12mm tile, thanks to the design of the stove) and tile a section of the wall behind the stove to comply with Regs. I wanted a stove with a little pasty warming shelf, but Kristy was concerned that I wouldn't even need to leave the workshop for lunch, so that idea was scrapped!

Lastly, this morning I took delivery of a pair of roller cabinets for storage of general tools - the pretty ones will live out above benches, and the normal ones will live in these drawers. Despite the foul colour, these cabinets are very well regarded and were great value for money. I intend to build them into an MDF frame with a hefty work surface on the top, and a hidden bicycle work stand in one end - this will be my 'dirty bench' for fettling anything mechanical - bikes, chainsaws and the like.

Hopefully the stove flue will be delivered tomorrow - here's looking forward to a toasty warm weekend in the workshop!

Kitchen - finished!

Apologies for the absence; life is getting in the way, particularly with a baby ten weeks away!

Shall we catch up with the kitchen?

Even before the joinery was finished, we ordered the flooring. This was a bit of an indulgence - we bought Karndean flooring, which is a wonderful vinyl laminate product that is warm, very hard wearing and quiet under foot (and paw). It is expensive - over £50 per metre in store - but we managed to pay about 40% less online. This stuff is called LooseLay, which means that it has a non-slip backing and stays in place through friction alone. I was skeptical on first contact, but it works very well.

Here is a demo pack, played over the old laminate tile effect stuff;

This is the view looking the other way - you can see the open shelves I made from some off cuts of worktop.

The Karndean product needs to be carefully 'contained' by skirting and thresholds - this helps prevent any movement. This was the perfect opportunity to replace our stove hearth. Our old hearth was flush with the floor, and therefore not Building Regs compliant - the rules are designed to prevent a (flammable) rug being laid underneath the stove door, thus presenting a fire risk. We bought a simple slate square, custom cut to the space.

The black bit attached to the wall is the fresh air vent for the stove. We had a hole before, but this was drafty when the stove wasn't running - a simple blast gate (designed for wood dust extraction systems) was fitted, allowing fresh air to the stove when open.

Lastly, I refinished our dining room table. This previously belonged to my parents; I have eaten meals at this table for most of my life, so it has real sentimental value. The table had a lot of water damage - mostly from wet glasses leaving rings - and it needed a good sanding and re-sealing. You can see the difference a session with the sander made - the darker part is the old finish.

So that's it - the Kitchen is Finished! It was a real slog, and there are a few niggles left to sort out, but the difference it makes to the feel of our home is enormous. 

Monday 18 January 2016

Project Kitchen

This one has been a long time in the planning - and quite a long time in the doing!

Our cottage came with a serviceable kitchen when we arrived in 2013 - it was perfectly useable, and allowed us to concentrate on other projects, but we weren't happy with it as a long term proposition. Looking closer, the installation was a bit slap dash, which is always a warning signal that corners might have been cut elsewhere; I wasn't disappointed in this regard, and it transpired that every possible corner had been cut!

We don't seem to have any pics of the old kitchen - here is a glimpse of it through brick dust. This is the view from the breakfast room.

As ever, I made a plan. Sketchup to the rescue again! For orientation, the builder in the pic above is standing by the wood-coloured bit at the bottom centre of the plan.

The kitchen has four doors in a room measuring about 4m x 3m - to accommodate everything would be a challenge. The doors are into the utility room, the larder, the large opening into the breakfast room and the door into the planned orangery which we will build this year. We toyed with the idea of an island, but the room simply isn't big enough. The solution we arrived at was to split the kitchen into four. The 'spit' (not quite an island - get it?) is bottom right which is a set of 800mm pan drawers, plus a cupboard for the microwave and pull out bin. The dishwasher / sink / dog food cupboard / fridge freezer is top right. Top left is more pan drawers (notice a theme?) with large wall cupboards above, and bottom left is the cooker and (yup) more pan drawers. We would also fit an extractor hood, which would be a real novelty for us!

Why so many pan drawers? One of my pet peeves is having to kneel down and move a large pile of kitchen things to get at other things behind, and you inevitably lose things in the darkest depths of cupboards. With drawers, the whole lot is easy to see and easy to access.

Let's get building then! I cheated a bit, and popped the Spit in last year or the year before - it gave us loads of storage that the old kitchen lacked. Again, no decent pics - this is the view into the breakfast room.

I started with the sink / dishwasher / fridge corner. Fairly straightforward, except I had to run new water lines, a new drain and extend the ring main to provide two new sockets and power for the appliances. I also had to cut down the fridge housing and the sink base unit as I hadn't checked the dimensions properly before ordering! The light switch also needed moving to the other side of the door. The new units almost match my Festool boxes...

The pan drawers corner and wall units were quite easy - I had to cut both wall units to fit around a water pipe and the consumer unit, and I spent most of a day recessing the main house water supply into a wall to hide it. Again, an extended ring main gave two new sockets plus a hard wired set of under counter LED lights.

Now it was time for the disaster corner! The old under sink cupboard had always been a bit cold and draughty - I had assumed there was an old pipe hole through the inner brick wall into the cavity. I hadn't anticipated that most of the wall would be crumbling brickwork that had never been repaired properly - the old cupboard was effectively exposed to outside air. A previous renovation had seen plastic sheet attached to the brickwork to stop damp - the house has no foundation and no effective damp proof course. However, the plastic sheet was fitted so poorly that large gaps were left, creating mouldy plasterboard and an actual breeze in the kitchen.

About a week was taken up with putting all this right - new chemical damp proofing, new plastic sheeting and a lot of expanding foam sealed gaps where there shouldn't be gaps. Everything is now damp proof and finished properly - even the walls behind the cabinets are sanded and painted. Nothing screams 'bodge' louder than unfinished walls behind cupboards; I know that I'm the only person who knows it is done well, but as the saying goes - if it's not done right, it's done wrong.

Again, more wiring - two new sockets, a spur for the extractor and new cooker wiring (using 6mm cable, and not 2.5mm that was in place before). I also built a new stud wall on the left to create a smaller recess for fitted shelves - the existing brickwork will be demolished when we have built the orangery to make a cupboard.

New plasterboard up. This window will go eventually, to make a doorway into the orangery.

There are still a few jobs to do - fit the units around the cooker and make some floating shelves, fit all the plinths, trim around the wall cupboards, finish filling and painting etc. The new floor is going to be very exciting - we have tolerated old lino and bare chipboard for two and a half years - but finally the end is in sight! A new hearth for the woodburner and new skirting will complete the job - finally!

Thursday 31 December 2015

2015; A Year in Review

Sometimes it is easy to forget how much you have achieved. Renovating a house is no different - things get crossed off lists, new lists get written and you can feel like no progress is being made.

To counter this - and give a good morale boost - here is a picture diary of the highlights of 2015.

My little sister got engaged to a wonderful chap from Suffolk (her boyfriend, before you ask. Not just any chap from Suffolk)

We had the main delivery of Oak for building our barn;

I bought a tractor - the culmination of years of dreaming of such a machine. The inaugural job - moving a load of logs down to the house;

I spend a good deal of time machining oak beams - this is the chain mortiser in action;

It wasn't long before the structure of the Barn started taking shape;

Kristy and I announced our Wedding - the publication of the date gave me a very firm deadline for finishing the Barn, as we planned to hold the reception in it.

I hired a forklift to help lift the beams for the barn - progress was very swift during this stage!

I roped all comers into helping - here, my sister Hannah (whose hand you saw earlier) drives a peg into the sole plate;

I sold my old tractor - the John Deere was a faithful servant, but struggled with the long grass in the Paddock and wasn't nearly as versatile as the newer Kubota;

Work on the Barn continued - my Father was a huge help screwing the battens in place;

Our neighbours adopted three orphaned lambs - they were sweet little creatures, despite all catching bloat;

Lots of pizzas were consumed, cooked in the new wood fired pizza oven;

Work on the Barn continued - the cedar shingles were the worst bit of the build, owing the inclement weather and the significant discomfort of spending a week kneeling on a sloped surface;

I bought a sports car! Quite an impulse purchase, but we had a few outings in mind for it (my stag party, our honeymoon, numerous day trips, a backup wedding car etc) and it was an itch I wanted to scratch. Here is the Two Litre Two Seater!

We laid a terrace - again, a lot of hard graft in the summer heat, but it saved about £4,000 in labour and the results are fabulous.

I raced through the cladding on the Barn - the wedding was looming and the temptation was to get it done as quickly as possible, but my OCD kicked in and all the holes were measured, pre-drilled, countersunk and screwed - unlike the professional job in progress up the road where they used a nail gun...

The weekend before the Wedding we had the builders in! Just a small wall around the perimeter of the oak Orangery extension - we were worried about wedding guests falling into the cavity around the foundation - but the lads did a great job.

I shot down to Devon for my Stag Party - five chaps, three sports cars, a lovely overnight pub, an hour exploring a ruined gunpowder factory, tea and ice creams. Perfect!

The Barn was finished at the eleventh hour - it was a great feeling!

The wedding was a wonderful success - we have thousands of pictures but this is one of my favourites, taken as we arrived home for the reception;

We had three mini-moons (a short honeymoon, I'm told); number one was a stay in a shepherd's hut in the South Downs.

I cut my finger pretty seriously on my table saw, which prompted 1) a visit to hospital 2) the sale of said table saw and 3) the start of a love affair with Festool products. Every cloud!

We visited my Sister and future Brother-in-Law at their recently renovated house in Woodbridge, Suffolk. It is a wonderful wooded acre, and I got to play in a telehandler...

The insulation was delivered for the Barn - I couldn't wait to get the place habitable, and another job for the Kubota;

In readiness for a visit from close family friends, I knocked up a swing from an offset of oak - I've since replaced the ropes with something more fitting. Space for two little bottoms, or one larger one.

The second of our mini-moons was in a gorgeous cottage just outside Hay-on-Wye.

One of the highlights of the trip was a morning paddling down the Wye in a Canadian Canoe - one of the most peaceful mornings I can remember.

Back home and back to the Barn - this was an 'in progress' pic of scoring the barn doors to give the impression of a panelled door, without the disadvantages of swelling and poor fitting of a 'real' door exposed to the elements.

The painted doors in place look great, and means I can leave tools in the Barn overnight.

When the weather finally turned, attention shifted to replacing our kitchen - this job is still ongoing...

We saw some extraordinary sunrises from our bedroom window;

Wonderfully exciting news - the Acre in Hampshire clan is growing! This will be our first little nipper, which makes it all the more tremendous...

In late December, it was time for my Father and I (and everyone else, of course...!) to get tarted up for Hannah and James' wedding;

Despite the rain, bride and groom (and Pilot the cocker) were marvellous and we all had a splendid day. Not as much fun as our wedding though...!

Christmas was a quiet affair, with the newlyweds in Argentina on honeymoon and Mrs White under the weather and off her food thanks to the Bump. I still got some building in, having a crack at my first set of stairs;

So there we are; 2015 consisted of building a Barn and two weddings - 2016 will consist of finishing the house renovations, the arrival of the Bump, and building of the Orangery. 2016 will be great!