-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Thursday, January 27, 2005

another Russian trunk

Another one of very similar style came up for auction which we just couldn't resist. These will be used initially as (very fancy) tea-chests for sending things back to Australia, but ultimately as a side-table or trunk at the end of a bed. So it's like buying a piece of furniture as well. Here's the description:
"A beautiful example of mid C19th Russian painted chest. This piece dates from around 1850 and features the original paint with a particularly lovely design and glorious, rich colouring and cast iron banding. The paint design is featured on all four sides. There are cast iron handles at each end and the original cast iron escutcheon to the front although inside, the lock is missing. The top is slightly domed and here the paint has faded and worn slightly from years of use.
In good condition but it must be expected with a piece of this age that there are some scuffs, dents, bumps etc. The hinges have a certain amount of play in them but do work and a few pieces of the cast iron banding are missing but to no particularly adverse effect. Measurements: 25.25' (64cm) x 18.5' (47) x 14.5' (37)"
russian trunk2

Monday, January 24, 2005

Greene & Greene

Eric, our architect, recommended we take a look at Greene & Greene who were famous Arts and Crafts architects from California. I ordered some books which were really interesting... some parts of their work I just adore but others seem bizarrely 1960s-ish to me, which considering it was all built around the turn of the century just shows how long it took for their style to make its way to Australia!

The parts we loved were especially the verandahs and some of their finishes, e.g., the shingles on the house sidings. (Why do they never seem to build with shingles in Australia?) The way the houses flowed was brilliant too, they seemed like they'd be nice to live in. We also loved their stained glass and lanterns.

Here is a link to download some more pictures of things we like, taken from various books about Arts & Crafts style including the ones on Greene & Greene. additional pictures.pps

hobbit house

Dad is planning to build what he calls a "hobbit hole" over on the steep side of the hill, tucked away behind the olives. I've discovered that this is part of an historical architecture style that developed in the 1920's:

"Storybook style architecture: those charming, whimsical, often
one-of-a-kind structures which defy and transcend standard
architectural conventions to achieve something entirely new: a unique
blend of art and architecture, whimsy and practicality, fantasy and

LA times article from Jan 2005
Storybook architecture resources

Miniature cows

I've always wanted a pet cow but Dave had nearly talked me out of it because he said one cow would make too much milk for the two of us, and of course you can't just keep one cow you need at least two so they have a friend. Then I discoverd this.
All About The Kyrhet Australian Miniature Cattle Stud

Sunday, January 23, 2005

allotment update and some links

As part of practising for living at Amherst, where we'll be reliant on growing a lot of our own vegetables, we've got an allotment here in London. We got it mid-2004 and so far we have been just focused on clearing it since it was full of weeds! We also built a lovely shed and spent almost all weekends in Oct/Nov digging and spreading barrow-loads of manure onto beds, to let them rot down over winter. We are still only about 1/3 of the way through but we have enough to start with for our 1st year.

Today was the first day we went to the allotment for working in 2005. The previous owners had made a kind of seed/planting out bed thing out of wood with old windows for a cover. It was full of weeds and the glass all covered in algae. I cleared out all the weeds from it today, then Dave put bunny paper (=old newspaper from the bunnies toilets! v. smelly but v.good for compost) on top. Then he wheelbarrowed several loads of leaf mould compost and a load of sand to make a nice fine mix. He was told to do that by one of the old gardeners up there he met last year. It's so nice that the council provides all these materials for free, means I don't feel as annoyed at paying all that council tax as I used to!

We'd lifted off the windows while working on the soil in the bed, so while Dave wheelbarrowed, I got to work with the Windex. Took 3/4 bottle plus a full roll of paper towels but I managed to get off about 98% of it. We haven't planted anything in it yet but are thinking of starting in the next few weeks. I'm looking online now to find some advice about what to plant first and good seed suppliers. I've found a couple of really good sites that thought I'd note down here for future reference:

Growing vegetables on a Leeds allotment This is a diary of some experienced allotment gardeners and has lots of good advice and links

HDRA what to do now This is organic gardening association site that has lots of factsheets, including a monthly guide of what to do in your vegetable garden

Organic catalogue This is linked to HDRA and where we have bought all our seeds from this year

Get Digging This is a UK supplier of unusual gardening tools, in particular the Azada which Dave had been searching for for ages (he had one in Australia but they don't sell them here)

Ebay win: railway luggage rack

We thought this would be nice as a towel rack in the bathroom. From the description: "This rack measures 730 x 320 and is made of Brass. originating from the railway with NSW written on the ends. This was used as a functional/decorative piece that will look great in the right setting. It nas been in storage for a while and needs a good clean". It's now at Dave's parents house awaiting the move to storage.
railway luggage rack

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

wonderful russian house

I can't stop thinking about the Russian wooden house in Archangel that I stumbled across when researching the chest. I really like itfor two reasons... first, because it feels like a rustic version of all those "icing cake" houses you see in places like Salzburg, you know, all painted in sugary colours. I've always loved those houses but I never even considered them as a possible influence for ours until seeing this picture as I'd thought it would be totally incongrous to have them in the Amherst setting. Seeing this picture makes me think that maybe I was wrong... Second reason is because it's so cute how it has the little third storey with the window, just seemed a fantastic idea for an attic area to let in light.

I've ordered a book that will hopefully have more of this kind of thing: "From the rustic simplicity of wooden cottages to the gaudy glitter of imperial palaces and estates, this intriguingly illustrated survey of Russian houses filters social
history through architecture. Timber cathedrals, manor houses (all nationalized after the 1917 revolution), Peter the Great's wartime cabin by the White Sea, eclectic villas of the 19th-century bourgeoisie and fisherfolks's clustered dwellings evoke a panorama of Russian life. The homes of famous people shown here duly reflect their
personalities. Words and photos invite us inside Lenin's monastic three-room apartment, the cozy corner flat of Dostoyevski's last years, painter Ilya Repi's hexagonal studio with skylights illuminating the interior, and dwellings of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gorky, Pasternak, Stanislavsky, Chekhov and Tchaikovsky

Sunday, January 16, 2005

update on the trees

Mum writes... "Jess and Tony went up this weekend just gone, with Paul and Denise, and had a nice time - all the watering done and think the lemon scented gums are in general doing magnificently. They think like us a couple of the fruit trees have gone,and that they are being got at by kangaroos. Loved the caravan. Had a nice day at the market too. Said some stalls were missing eg the olive man, but they got a box of tomatoes as the ones in our backyards will not ripen. The lady said cold nights will do that, as they ripen mostly at night"

Saturday, January 15, 2005

antique suitcase trunks and russian chests

Last weekend we met a friend at Camden market for lunch and stumbled across these amazing giant suitcases from the 1920-30's. One was metal, the rest are some kind of wood. They're really sturdy with locks and they have loads of worn old stickers from ships and hotels. Dave loved them too so we bought them all and are going to use them first to ship things back to Australia in, and then eventually they'll be used as tables, benches, chests for the end of beds, etc. They're fantastic and so big that we'll be able to fit the railings in from the oak staircase (see earlier post) which will solve one of our dilemmas in getting them home.

We've also come across some other amazing painted wooden chests on Ebay which we're going to use for the same purpose, although might keep them to use here first. We've bought one already and there's another great one coming up in a week. Here is a picture and description of the one we've bought already:

"Delightful pine trunk dating from around 1870 from the north-west of Russia. It features the original folk-art paintwork and cast-iron banding and is preserved in excellent condition. The paint is to all sides. A small part of the iron escutcheon is missing. There are wrought-iron handles. Measurements: 25" (63cm) x 17.5" (45) x 14" (36)"
russian trunk

The guy I got it from is a dealer who imports from North West Russia. He normally sells to trade only but thought he'd experiment with Ebay. I asked him to tell me more about their history and this is what he said - "In terms of the boxes: no you won't have seen anything like them before. Those such as yours are very rare, even in Russia. They come from the extreme north-west from a very small area only in Arkhangelsk (ie: Archangel in english) and are getting harder and harder to come by. As far as I know, I am the only direct importer to UK. They are actually painted in the way of Russian Icons, ie, onto gesso and usually by the same calibre of artist. I did see one featured in Country Living a few years ago (for £350 I should add!!)".

I haven't been able to find much more detail myself online about these boxes specifically but it certainly sounds legitimate when I researched the area and found it was famous for its use of wood. Here are some links:

This is about a book (sadly out of print) all about the architecture of amazing houses built all in wood there

This has pictures from a rural living museum near Arkhangelsk

Friday, January 07, 2005

Amherst township map from 1855

Here is a cool historical map of Amherst from the national library
Digital Collections - Maps - Victoria. Surveyor General's Office. Amherst township and suburban and country lands at Daisy Hill in the County of Talbot [cartographic material]
You can zoom in on the map but unfortunately not far enough to read the wording, although I don't think it goes as far out as our place looking at the roads (assuming they're the same of course)

talbot today and tomorrow

This is another web page for the Talbot community. Apparently the group "Talbot Today and Tomorrow" produce a newsletter, although unfortunately it's not online. Still, maybe in future it will be Home

Talbot Community Fireguard

Talbot has its own local fireguard group, part of the CFA I think. There's also one especially for Amherst coordinated by Junita Hayes 03 5463 2534... We should get in touch with them when we get a little further down the track Talbot Community Fireguard

Farrow & Ball fantastic paint

One last thing for today... I wonder if you can buy Farrow & Ball paint in Australia, or if not if there's something similar? We were introduced to it by a friend over here and couldn't believe the difference, now it is my first choice, except for places like the bathroom which need specialist paints, we have Farrow & Ball paint everywhere else that we've redecorated in London now. It's kind of chalkier than other paints, hard to describe and you might think it wouldn't really be noticeable vs modern paints but it is. I wonder if specialist environmentally-friendly paints are like this too? Welcome to Farrow & Ball

US furniture shops that deliver internationally

I'd hope we never ever have to use this but just in case, it's good to know that a few really nice US furniture and accessory shops now deliver internationally, or at least, are very happy to help you arrange it.
Room & Board
Crate and Barrell

Sadly though, some of my favourite places still don't do this... Restoration hardware and Pottery barn, get your act together!

choosing a wastewater treatment system

septic tank site This is a useful 8 page overview about selecting an onsite wastewater or septic system. Given that we're aiming to have toilets that don't use water, it's really only water from things like washing machines, kitchen sink and showers/baths that we need to worry about. I had originally been assuming that if we use "green" products in cleaning that it wouldn't require treatment before going onto the garden but it seems that may not be the case: "Graywater, sometimes mistakenly thought to be safe to discharge, is high in organic material, fecal bacteria, and nutrients. Wastewater from sources other than toilets (including laundry, bath, shower, and kitchen), called graywater, may contain pathogens, and thus is sewage that must be treated". Whatever system we choose though, I want the water to not be lost forever but to be cleaned so that it can be re-used on the garden (and not only on a particular part of the the garden)... hopefully Eric will be able to suggest an approach.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

the most detailed brief ever

According to Eric our architect, we take the prize for the most detailed collection of thoughts about what we want in our house that he's ever seen. I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad sign! But it's already been useful as in the process of writing it I discovered my taste wasn't exactly as I'd thought it was. For instance, at the beginning I'd thought it was probably 95% "heritage" with a few smatterings of modern-ness; but going through this process and especially picking out photos, I realised that a) the "heritage" bit is a lot more eclectic than I'd thought and b) there is a lot more about "modern" that I like.

If you didn't see it yet, it's here. If you think of anything else that might be a good idea to have, let me know via email or add a note(there's a little link at the bottom of every blog entry that lets you comment on it)

building it to last

This is an article about designing a kitchen, but the reason I'm blogging it is because of this paragraph: "Durable materials for the long haul -- Some building materials die ugly deaths. Plastic-laminate counters and vinyl floors, for example, don't look better with age. But some materials do, taking on a patina of use that charts the passage of time". This isn't something I'd thought of but of course it is a fundamental principle of what we want for Amherst
The Hardest-Working Room in the House

if building architects worked like software architects

I stumbled across this and it struck a chord given we've just finished writing the crazily long design brief ourselves. Quite amusing and the analogy applies more widely...I can think of a few clients at work who behave a bit like this. Courtesy of loosely coupled thinking:

Dear Mr. Architect,

Please design and build me a house. I am not quite sure of what I need, so you should use your discretion. My house should have somewhere between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such that the bedrooms can be easily added or deleted. When you bring the blueprints to me, I will make the final decision of what I want. Also, bring me the cost breakdown for each configuration so that I can arbitrarily pick one.

Keep in mind that the house I ultimately choose must cost less than the one I am currently living in. Make sure, however, that you correct all the deficiencies that exist in my current house (the floor of my kitchen vibrates when I walk across it, and the walls don't have nearly enough insulation in them).

As you design, also keep in mind that I want to keep yearly maintenance costs as low as possible. This should mean the incorporation of extra-cost features like aluminum, vinyl, or composite siding. (If you choose not to specify aluminum, be prepared to explain your decision in detail.)

Please take care that modern design practices and the latest materials are used in construction of the house, as I want it to be a showplace for the most up-to-date ideas and methods. Be alerted, however, that kitchen should be designed to accommodate, among other things, my 1952 Gibson refrigerator.

To insure that you are building the correct house for our entire family, make certain that you contact each of our children, and also our in-laws. My mother-in-law will have very strong feelings about how the house should be designed, since she visits us at least once a year. Make sure that you weigh all of these options carefully and come to the right decision. I, however, retain the right to overrule any choices that you make.

Please don't bother me with small details right now. Your job is to develop the overall plans for the house: get the big picture. At this time, for example, it is not appropriate to be choosing the color of the carpet.

However, keep in mind that my wife likes blue.

Also, do not worry at this time about acquiring the resources to build the house itself. Your first priority is to develop detailed plans and specifications. Once I approve these plans, however, I would expect the house to be under roof within 48 hours.

While you are designing this house specifically for me, keep in mind that sooner or later I will have to sell it to someone else. It therefore should have appeal to a wide variety of potential buyers. Please make sure before you finalize the plans that there is a consensus of the population in my area that they like the features this house has. I advise you to run up and look at my neighbor's house he constructed last year. We like it a great deal. It has many features that we would also like in our new home, particularly the 75-foot swimming pool. With careful engineering, I believe that you can design this into our new house without impacting the final cost.

Please prepare a complete set of blueprints. It is not necessary at this time to do the real design, since they will be used only for construction bids. Be advised, however, that you will be held accountable for any increase of construction costs as a result of later design changes.

You must be thrilled to be working on as an interesting project as this! To be able to use the latest techniques and materials and to be given such freedom in your designs is something that can't happen very often. Contact me as soon as possible with your complete ideas and plans.

PS: My wife has just told me that she disagrees with many of the instructions I've given you in this letter. As architect, it is your responsibility to resolve these differences. I have tried in the past and have been unable to accomplish this. If you can't handle this responsibility, I will have to find another architect.

PPS: Perhaps what I need is not a house at all, but a travel trailer. Please advise me as soon as possible if this is the case..

weather map

Dave has become transfixed by this map. Every time I use the computer after him I find it's one of the windows open. It shows the rainfall patterns across Victoria live... Talbot and Amherst aren't marked but Avoca and Maryborough are and it's kind of inbetween them. Sadly it's not raining at the moment though. We need lots of rain to fill up the tanks inbetween waterings 128km Melbourne Radar

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

da-da.. (drumroll)...

Stop press... I kept hearing about RSS feeds etc in the tech press and even though I knew roughly what they were, there's no substitute for experience. So I decided to add my own for this blog as a way to learn, and in case anyone reading out there is interested in getting alerted when I add things. Amazingly, it only took half an hour to do, such are the joys of blogger. Anyway, there's a button now on the right hand side of the screen underneath the "Archives". If you click you can subscribe via this cool service called Bloglines (which is free and easy to use).

I've also managed to get the archives into the much more user-friendly format of a clickable menu, and added a whole bunch of links to other people crazy enough to be building or renovating houses and blogging about the experience

Monday, January 03, 2005

at last! the house design brief is done

Yay yay yay!!!! I have *at last* finished our brief for the architect on what we want in a house. I started working on it when we got back from Australia in November, doing an hour or so a night, and then pulled it all together over the Christmas break. I reckon I spent about 4 solid days on it this period alone. It was a marathon effort not just to get done, but also because before I could get it done we had to get our own thoughts in order. Or, I should say, I had to do it and then convince Dave to read it and tell me anything he disagreed with or wanted to add. He made a couple of comments and I know he's looked through it as I sat with him and checked he looked at each page, so I can't do anything more than that. I hope that he really does like it and agree because otherwise we'll be misdirecting... but I think he does.

As part of the process I read lots of books, scanned lots of photos (Dave did the scanning but I picked what to scan), wrote half a notebook full of scribbled ideas, and went through all the videos I'd archived of interesting ideas from the past 3 years of TV design programmes. It's now all come together in 107 pages of text and photos which you can view below:

Brief for House Design

I'm sure it'll evolve as we get new ideas and things but this is the foundation anyway. Yay yay yay!!!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Caravan at Amherst and update on trees

Email from Mum - 1st Jan

During the week, when Dad was at Amherst (I think it was Christmas night or maybe Boxing Day), he saw a caravan and annex for sale in the Talbot general store (read milkbar with a limited range of other stuff) window. 20ft it said for $2200. As the little 10 and 12 footers are now selling for $5000 secondhand, he was interested to say the least. Rang the guy.. went and saw it and gave a deposit, paid it off and got it Friday. the guy towed it up with his four wheel drive and installed it. For $2200 plus $100 for other bits and pieces they put in nad the towing etc etc it was dirt cheap. I saw it yesterday - it is round where the hobbit hole will be, so out of sight fromt he house. the van is all clean, and the lady who used to own it left in a set of cutlery, a dinner set, a doona, cover, two pillows and some pillowcases. It has a new electric wall panel heather, a gas stove with four burners and oven (which has not been used for a while, not this last set of owners) and a frig almost the size of yours. there are assorted shelves and hooks and towelk rails and mirrors on wall and a tv bracket on wall that can be seen from the main bedroom or swivelled through to the kitchen area. The van has served three families to live in whilst they built their homes.. walk in the door, slightly on left is the bunks with small cupboard like a bedside talbe at end and wadrobe at foot, then turn right a little and you are int he kitchen dinetter area, and keep going and you come to a double bed with robes and tiny bedside table. all walled off from each other, and there are curtains to hand=g to make it oprivate if you wish. good curtains on widows all mathcing - windows are louvre sorts, with fly screens - open them and there was a lovely cross breeze. good views.. and the annex is up. they put shade cloth over it too so the van stays cooler, no sun on it, and under those trees - it is where Dad had tried to dig out for the hobbit hole with a far too small machine. the bit he did is JUST the right size for the van and annex, JUST. I was tired, so lay on the double bed and read and snoozed whilst Dad watered the olive trees and the few others he had not watered earlier in the week. then I drove home whilst he slept. This morning we will go to visit Gran.

Dad says you have lost both apricots and a chestnut, and one olive has been eaten to a tiny stalk, but has put out a new leaf and has others forming, so he sealed the wire up again and watered it. The gums are looking really healthy and bushing out, as well as growing taller. But they look established now. all comment on them, how healthy they are. Olives too - the fruit trees though are still I think settling in. We will have to water more often than three weekly - so it will be two weekly, with Jess and Tony doing the next water. Dad has been up there enough on other missions so far that they have not had to go up more than that once when it was the market so was dual purpose trip. We went too that time.

There has been a little rain here and there - one deluge which helped though it was so heavy the water just could not get into the tanks fast enough, so we only got a small part of what fell. We got up there in the morning after it bucketed down up there and the gums were sitting in water filled holes! but generally there has been some rain between each trip, and it has almost replaced the water from the last watering session in the tanks each time.