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

Sunday, April 17, 2005

interesting brick patterns

Every time I drive down this street I say I'm going to take a picture... at last yesterday I did. It's a street up near the garden centre in Kingsbury (northwest London) which is full of these rambling houses built I'm guessing around 1910-1920's in late Arts&Crafts style. I'm not a huge fan of the mock tudor beams, but I adore the way they've incorporated bricks. Rather than just plain brick walls, they've made patterns out of them by putting in different kinds of bricks, some on their side, etc. I've never seen any other houses like it, only in this particular road. It would be a little fiddly to do but very effective, I'm going to remember this as an idea for a feature wall perhaps at Amherst.

house near gardenshop with nice bricks
Originally uploaded by lynetter.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Vaulted pool at Gardens d'Alfabia in Mallorca

We went on holiday to the mountains in Mallorca a few months ago and while there visited some old Arabian-style gardens called Gardens d'Alfabia. They had this amazing vaulted cistern for storing water to irrigate the gardens... it sparked an idea. Perhaps at Amherst we could have a swimming pool like this. It'd be nice and cool in the heat and could be magical if we put shards of mirror and candles in the roof and walls.

074 Roofed Cistern Garden d'alfabia
Originally uploaded by lynetter.

introducing Toora

I haven't posted for over a week, things have been crazy at work and our focus this week has been on a different house. We have another old 1900's era house in a little town called Toora in Gippsland Victoria which we rent out. It is vacant now for a few weeks until the new tenants move in, so we're paying my Dad to do a little fixing-up... mainly painting and minor repairs. Not much, as we can't afford to do anything major, but it's a lovely house and deserves some attention. For a little effort it would really shine, I just wish I was able to be there to do it myself. Anyway, this week we have been picking paint colours, etc and Dad is down this weekend working on it.

We originally bought the Toora house as an investment back when the area was really cheap to buy in, with the idea that one day we might be able to buy some land around it and have our "farm dream" there. Unfortunately by the time the land adjoining the house came up for sale prices had skyrocketed so we couldn't afford it. It's a pity because it is a lovely area, and unlike Amherst it is one of the few parts of Australia with an English style climate in terms of getting lots of rain so would have been brilliant for gardening.

Anyway, now the plan is to hang onto it as an investment and perhaps one day use it as a holiday home. Toora is only about 15 minutes drive from some lovely beaches and only half an hour from Wilsons Promontory which is an amazing national park with forests, beaches... one of the the most spectacular places I've been. This site has some pictures if you're interested.

Since we bought it the big change has been the building of the Toora Windfarm, with these giant windmills. From what I read online, a lot of people were upset about them saying they spoiled the landscape, were loud, etc. So, when we were back in Australia last and went to visit, we weren't sure what to expect. But, they're beautiful! They're like giant modern art sculptures, just mesmerising to watch. We couldn't hear them at all, and our house is closer than most in the village. This is the view from our house:

Originally uploaded by lynetter.

solar powered wallpaper

Originally uploaded by lynetter.

I don't think this is in production yet, but I think it sounds amazing. From the description: "By embedding electroluminescent materials into the design pattern of the wall paper and incorporating a built-in light sensor, the wallpaper can respond to the lighting requirement of a room, acting as a decorative element when a room is naturally bright, and as a flat wallpaper light when the room requires more light. With power supplied from a solar charged battery, it can also be manually controlled to increase or decrease luminosity. Sustainable, efficient, functional, and technologically sexy." You can find out more about it from this site

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Dad's thoughts on the house plans

Below are Dad's thoughts about the house plans so far. Interestingly, like everyone we've shown it to, he much prefers plan A. Here's a picture of the plan A inside layout:

Originally uploaded by lynetter.

Extract from Dad's email - 8th April
I looked at all the options Eric made, and hands down his option A is best all round. You will accept that I am biased towards his first because it looks more in the country style of a large and functional house without any sense of ostentation. It also has the views concentrated towards the best directions. And the large open plan of the lounge, with the one little bedroom makes it emminently suitable for an area exclusive to you and Dave for most of the time, and suits for entertaining as well. Access walking is closer than in B, but will need cars under a carport.
Other parking easy to arrange further uphill.

Dave's shed cum cookery, cum lab, cum study, cum computer room is well placed for the garden access and helps make it an integral part of the rest of the house so won't isolate him while giving him his space. You will understand that you will make your spaces too about the place, and of course there is overlapping. There needs to be machinery storage so keeping the views downhill predominantly will give a place to put these essential structures so they don't impinge on your daily awareness when musing from your house window in the morning or late evening. I have been up at 05:30 and watched manificent sunrises as the light came over the horizon and watched the roos slowly hopping away to where roos go to sleep during the heat of the day.The same at evening. The strength of your block is that it isn't going to be overbuilt so your view won't include house tops. Not overlooking Tex's place is also important.

Will go through and add my notes as I first went through the plan. Need to be able to read Eric's writing to study the details of internal areas.

1.I assume none of existing trees will be sacrificed in placing buildings.

2.Placing main house (option A) downhill of the old house is great:
*a. old house is a shield to uphill stuff.
*b. Lower on block means easier to hide things other side of dam wall , especially container and Tex's sheds.
*c. Two stories doesn't get up too high and look backwards too easily and over the hill edge to see my carport and tank for the hobbit hole. These need to be uphill of the hobbithole and are over against the back fence. Your main tank will be less noticable unless you go to look at it from a small window looking back.
*d. With main tank uphill to supply head pressure for water the secondfloor areas will be able to get pressure for en suites and flooding the gutter with water when a fire threatens. Your gravity system can be supplemented with regional pressure pumps, but in the main you need to avoid reliance on using power to move water for use, except that you need to move water uphill to the main storage tank. This could be under roof and extra roof space for machinery storage.

3.Carport for cars at uphill means walking down when carrying things, and possibly fewer steps. Assume I am referring to option A as I was very taken with this in it's rough outline.

4.Love the two fireplaces. Very livable area that, with options for party space and yet has nooks for separateness.

5. Appearance of house is very much in keeping with old house. Viewed from the road it will look very friendly, spacious, gracious, and not ostentatious. I have worked on houses with front that no one would think of entering, or make use of for daily living. Just for show.

6. Don't think option C idea of connecting old house to new a good one. Old is on wooden stumps, and unless you trouble to replace these( no need), they present a possible access for whiteant infiltration into the new house. With the best will in the world, you cannot avoid thinking about these little blitters when building. They can use a roof connection to span to another structure. I saw the damage they did at Bethany Guest House and warn you that if you ignore them , they will beat you in the end. There are many horror stories, and yet they are able to be bested with forethought.

That is all for now. Tell Eric that I am very pleased with Option A, and parts of the other options which I will comment on later. Of course, this is your house and my thoughts are only for sharing and considering, not necessarily accepting. Planning is so wonderful because the imagination can soar to great heights.
When I get time I will sketch up plans I have for the hobbithole. Not going to have sod on the roof any longer, but will have a nice look in keeping with the concept, but not having the weight of sod roof. May change my mind again before starting. Can't get height I need without going about 2 feet higher than surrounding slope so another type of roof looks likely, probably old tiles that are placed in the shape of the sod roof but steeper.

P.S. Was able to use the pump to move water from the dam. Will check with the pump people to make sure not going to damage the pump doing this. Water scarce now and so will have to move the stock tank over to connect it to the tree watering system and pump water up to this from dam. Will extend this line to pump to the olive tree site too. May connect olive tree tank to lower supply but don't want to get too fancy, as just a temporary measure. Will go up next weekend to do these and deliver another load to the container. Couldn't take but one of the large cupboards in the tool trailer. Will bring back the the tool trailer and take a lot of stuff of Gran's up to store there as it is better. These are the things you wanted to keep. Took all the bottling stuff.

Friday, April 08, 2005

some good things: candles and wormeries

I've just started browsing a UK blog called
Hippy Shopper and they have some really nice and unusual products... I think the name Hippy is a bit of a misnomer, actually most of their stuff is pretty modern, sleek with emphasis on design, with the environmentally friendliness of it just in the background.

I especially like these alternatives to candles, which give the same kind of light but with no risk of burning your house down. Sadly not yet available in the UK, grrrr, so I shall have to seek out a friendly US seller who ships internationally... maybe there's someone on Ebay already, I hope. You can get them from vessel

On the other extreme, maybe we should get a wormery to help in making compost. Two that sell in the UK are listed here.

model of downstairs plan A

model of downstairs plan A
Originally uploaded by lynetter.

So, this is going to extremes, but it's Dave's fault as he dared me. He said "No we're not building a scale model" in his best stern forbidding teacher voice. Which really annoys me when he tries to boss me round like that, so of course I did exactly the opposite. It's amazing what you can do with some random angle plates raided from the tool cupboard, paper and profuse amounts of sticky-tape!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Hobbit House at the IIsle of Wight

It seems like my Dad isn't the only person building a hobbit house. There is one being built near Ventnor on the Isle of Wight too! Hobbit House, bed and breakfast Isle of Wight

This place is also interesting because they run courses teaching countryside and woodland crafts. Could be quite fun plus we might learn some skills that would come in handy at Amherst.

Bizarrely, I know the Isle of Wight very well, as we go there about 4 times a year to visit a Great-aunt. It is a lovely place, but especially down the far end where she lives it is like going back to the 50's. It is storybook England, full of rolling green hills and thatched cottages, lots of wildlife, many woods still, but then also with lovely beaches. Far closer to what I imagine the Shire to be like.

I fixed the broken link

Sorry to anyone who tried to look at the architect plans via the link in my previous post... I messed up on the url to link to the slideshow. It's fixed now. I've also added a link to it in the Background bit on the right hand menu, to make it easier to find in future!

the 1st set of architect plans

The mail gods were kind to us... the first set of house plans which Eric prepared turned up yesterday. That's only about a week to get from Australia to London, which is pretty good. I'd thought we'd be lucky if they came before the weekend.

There are 3 options in total, each made up of several A3 pages. This made them a bit difficult to scan, but Dave painstakingly did it in sections and then pieced it all together into a slideshow. You can view them here.

Last night Dave and I spent several hours pouring over them. At this stage, the idea isn't to pick a particular plan, but rather to use them as a series of "what if's". We decided to do it by picking out all the things we liked and all the didn't like about each plan. Dave also went back to the original (incredibly detailed) brief we'd sent, just to remind himself of all the things we'd discussed.

Overall, we have a whole lot of comments on every plan, and some plans sparked ideas that weren't in any of them! Tonight, after we've had a night and a day to think them over, I'll try to write up our thoughts on each option. Right now, if you forced us to pick our favourite of the 3, we agreed it would be option A... but, there are lots of things about option B that we really like too, especially the outer appearance... what I call the "house's face"! In fact, option B is my favourite from the outside. Also, there are a lot of things about option A, as it stands, that we don't like. Anyway, no more commenting for now!.. I'll just finish with an extract from Eric's letter giving his explanation of each plan.

Eric says...

What to look for

"At this stage, I often like to look at very general aspects of the designs like the locations of certain rooms in relation to other rooms. Also, the general look and feel of the buldings. Note any specific features like storage or room sizes that work better than others.

Option A probably comes the closest to strictly answering the design brief. It has the main rooms discussed so far. I've added a walk through dining area because I reasoned that if 10-12 people are visiting for a big meal, it could be difficult to set up a table in a room normally used for something else (therefore losing the use of that room).

Option B would be my preferred direction for the house to take. I like that it is simple and ordered, but less rigid than option A. The form is asymmetrical and the internal spaces connect in more subtle ways than simply walls and doors.

Option C is the black sheep of these options. it is included as a contrast to the other two. Single storey and the courtyard configured differently. Spaces like the study and cooking/eating areas are quite different and shown for discussion purposes.

Siting. I've generally adopted the concept of the buildings being linked together by the private, inward looking garden space. I'll be interested in your thoughts about this"


"The goal of this early concept stage is to better understand the design problem. On the one hand, this includes understanding the site features which affect the design. On the other hand, a refined understanding of what we want out of the building. At the second design cycle, these can be put together into a good solid concept which suits both your brief and the site. Since I have been absorbed with these designs for the last few weeks, I naturally have some opinions about which options I think work the best, but also encourage you to form some independent opinions of your own."

This is my first experience working with an architect but so far, I am very happy. I would have struggled to get anywhere near to what Eric has done in translating my ideas of rooms and sense of what a space should "feel" like, into practical layouts. If anyone's looking for an architect I whole-heartedly recommend him. Even though he lives in a country town in Australia at the moment, as demonstrated by my experiences he isn't put off by the idea of working with someone on the other side of the world! He's from Oregon originally too, which is one of the things I liked... it means he knows a lot about older styles of building in America (many of which are influences for me), which your typical Australian architect probably wouldn't. So if anyone reading this is thinking about getting some architect input, especially if you're interested in sustainable, energy-efficient building, he might be your answer. Best of all, he charges a flat rate for the first two design cycles, which I found very reassuring compared to other architects where the prices felt open-ended.

Monday, April 04, 2005

plants for the secret garden: part 1

OK, this is the last post for the night, then I think I have caught up except for the Vacola bottles... but that story is too good to rush!

Last week, Prue asked me for my ideal list of plants for the "secret garden", so she could think about the layout - most importantly, the kind of protection it would need from the elements and sizing.

Here's the list I sent her. I know it will change, and suspect some things are just total wishful thinking, but figured I may as well start with it all.

* Ferns
* Hydrangeas, underplanted with sweet woodruff
* Rodgeresia
* Japanese anenomes
* Helleborus
* Ligularia but only the kinds with tall flower spikes (e.g.,
Ligularia przewalskii), not Ligularia dentata that has flowers I think
look like weeds
* Great plants that have catkins in winter like wintersweet,
witchhazel (especially twisted branches)
* A plant whose name escapes me but it dies back to nothing in winter and then in spring resurfaces, growing foliage that looks a bit like a large maidenhair fern, with flowers on tall stems that are quite small but kind of droopy, look like little fronds of torn material. It was
really popular here last year and I've grown fond of it, we have quite
a few in our front garden in pale pinks and whites [UPDATE: I later remembered this is a variant of Dicentra]
* Clematis x lots
* Scabiosa (pincushion plant)
* Bulbs like crocus, bluebells, snowdrops, snakeshead frittilias - ie:
the more delicate woodland ones, not just blowsy daffodils!
* Moss - not sure if it's something you plant or a fungus that just
happens, but I love moss. We have whole patches of it in our lawn now that Dave is very protective of!
* And totally off the scale... gunnera manicuta if it's possible (aka
giant rhubarb, the kind that's big enough to walk under in summer but
that dies back to ground level in winter)
* Maybe even a camellia with pale colour / white flowers?

more on Geoffrey Jellicoe

I just found this site which gives a good background of him and even has some pictures. I am quite intrigued by Shute... here is a picture of one of the water courses, I like the combination of informal and formal.

series of ponds (shute)

update on the trees

The trees we planted on our visit back last October are surviving, mostly, but with no thanks to the local fauna! I think the fruit trees were the worst hit... they were the biggest so easier to reach over the wire. It was Dave's birthday on Saturday and for his birthday present his Mum & Dad are going to plant a few replacement fruit trees for the few that have died. We've not done too badly though (she says, hastily touching the wooden top of the table) considering they've been for over 5 weeks without rain and watering only every 2 weeks. Just have to hope that the gum trees don't succumb to frost when winter comes, can't be too far off it now there.

Extracts from Mum's email - 24th March 2005
"Up there 1 or 1.15pm. Dad set to showing me the container (very good) and starting to work on the trees, for winter. I went off to visit as pre-arranged a lady on the genie email lists who lives in Carisbrook just the other side of Maryborough. I got back about 5 (having gone to butcher in Carisbrook, he is famous, and the bank and bakery in Maryborough) to water the olive trees and found Dad was only half way along them fixing the enclosures and had done nothing else. Almost all of them have been pruned by eager rabbits possums kangaroos sheep - one or several or all of them. The wire was up six inches from ground in some cases, floppy in others, not joined at the seams in some, bent and bashed, posts bent / knocked over.. so Dad was repairing them and wiring them down and.. he stopped that and went to do some gum trees (ditto for their cages) to let me water. The olives were very thirsty.. and some have the water run off straight away as they were not planted in a little ditch it seems. I ended up putting about 4 taps on on each line and letting them go for ages, very slowly. They got a good drink each I think. We left at 6.30 and had tea at Talbot hotel. Dad thinks - I agree - that as there is no green anywhere apart from the trees where we water, and no rain not a drop even for about 6 weeks up there, that the creatures want something juicy and green and so work harder to reach your trees. Still, all the olive trees are OK and those that have been well pruned are all shooting new growth. The gums look fine as you drive along too but I did not get a closeup look"

more snippets on the hobbit hole

just wanted to jot this down for future posterity... I love all Dad's dreamings about the "hobbit hole"! (This is his name for the rammed earth /stone holiday cottage he's building on the steep hill at the far corner of our property)

He writes:
"I have bought the two tanks for the hobbithole, and by the time you come again it will be a pretty comfortable abode for short stays. Making a shower room is one of the plans, using the old firestove of Mum's for heating water and warmth. This will later be used as a sauna. There will be a baker's oven in the hobbithole to heat it and to cook on and to heat water. But that is a long way off".

I've bought him a digital camera as a present so now it will be a lot easier for him to take photos. I feel like I haven't seen anything of what's been happening there for ages!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

we bought a shipping container

I had a bad patch with work recently (in that there was too much of it!) and fell behind posting... I just realised I hadn't mentioned the recent big purchase of the shipping container yet, so here goes..

It was something we'd been toying with for a while, but Dad resurrected the idea. One of the problems we have is that because we don't live in Australia, we don't have anywhere other than our parents houses to store things. That's OK provided there's not too much stuff, but it just seems to be ballooning now we know we'll be moving back there at some point. Like with the Vacola bottles (that's for the next post).

Anyway, in Australia you can buy second-hand old steel freight containers for a few thousand dollars, which effectively can function as an instant - and very very secure - shed. Dad found one for sale at a place near Geelong which seemed perfect for what we needed so he bought it on our behalf on impulse. It was delivered a fortnight ago and put between the driveway and the dam, near the entrance. You can just see the top of it over the dam wall from the house. Obviously it doesn't look that pretty but we can disguise it eventually with planting; or even build a mock shed around it if need be!

Here's the description of it in Dad's words...

Extract from email from Dad - Mar 6, 2005

"I had not intended to do more than sus (the container) out and make a decision after comparing Melbourne and Geelong based firms. One of the difficulties when buying something in an "as is" state, is there are various conditions you can find containers in, some of which render them to a short life in the open unless roofed. All the firms suggest coming out to look at the item before buying. I looked as 20 footers, 40 footers, and a cutdown version only 10 foot. His were in good condition, and then he said he had one he could sell more cheaply. I had looked at the 40 footer, and found out that whereas the cost of a container 20 foot is 2100 plus delivery of 328 from his farm, the cost of the 40 footer was only 2300, but delivery was more expensive due to the more difficult offloading technique. I said I wanted one only a bit bigger than 20 foot because spouting and pipes come stocklength at exactly 6 m and the inside of a 20 footer is only 5.8 m. He then showed me a one-off container that had been bought by him from a plumber... He offered the container for 1600 and it contains lovely shelving, has an extension of 18 inches at one end, is wired for powerpoint, and has two vents in it for air circulation, which are covered with very heavy mesh. It also had brackets for blocking the doors closed with a large steel "I" beam, but he didn't have the beam formerly used. I arranged for him to fit his self-designed covered security locking system so the paddlock is protected from bolt cutters or sawing off, or barring off. I also arranged for him to make another beam to block the doors with a further level of security".

Saturday, April 02, 2005

geoffrey jellicoe

At the moment I'm just about to start reading a book called Gardens of the Mind about Geoffrey Jellicoe. There was a BBC series recently that looked at how gardens had changed through the decades. Each episode they made a "typical" garden from the period using traditional techniques (e.g., in one of the early ones, I think Victorian? they buried a truckload of rotting fish as fertiliser!) Anyway, the 1970's episode mostly focused on concrete, BBQ's, pergolas, etc but then it had this short interlude about Jellicoe's designs which apparently were in the grand scale of historical gardens but with the added twist that they were designed to fit with Jungian philosophy! Also, not just designing in terms of the visual aspect of the garden (light, plants, texture, etc) but also auditory... the sound that tinkling
water makes, the rustle of leaves, etc.

Now, I don't know how successful he was in practical terms as I've never been to any of his gardens, but the concept is intriguing. I can't work out yet if it's just a pretentious way of dressing up commonsense, but for now I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.. :-) The garden of his they focused on in the BBC show was at a place called Shute in Wiltshire but it seems to be privately owned so hard to get to see.