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

Sunday, July 24, 2005

our new perennial bed

As we've got an allotment now, we don't need to allow space in our back garden for vegetables. So, we converted last years tomato bed into a perennial border, with me attempting to put into practice some of what I learned from my research.

We planted this a fortnight ago so it's looking even better now as a lot of nasturtiums self-seeded themselves amidst it. This photo shows the view from the back door looking down the left side of the garden. The C's bed is in the middle. We keep them on bark chippings which, when mixed with their manure, turns into great compost.

london backyard in early july
Originally uploaded by lynetter.

This is a closeup of the new bed. If you click on it it'll bring up a bigger view with details of the plants we used.
new perennial bed

yesterday we made an alpine garden

I haven't been in the mood for blogging for a while, but thought I'd catch you up with the most recent project we finished yesterday. It's our first alpine garden. We figured it was good to start learning about these plants as they are so well-suited to Amherst conditions that we'll probably be growing quite a lot of them there. It turned out better than I expected!

Click on the photo for info about the plants used

new alpine bed
Originally uploaded by lynetter.

Friday, July 15, 2005

so, do renovations stop for Harry Potter?

So I'm curious... how many housebloggers will admit to downing tools this weekend to read the new Harry Potter? :-)

I openly admit to devouring all the books - I don't care they're for kids, they're pure escapism and fun - and deliberately kept this weekend clear so as to read read read the new one. We've had to order 2 copies of the book as neither Dave or I was prepared to wait for the other to finish before getting to read it. (We'll donate the extra copy to the local library when finished, as we did last time).

If past history is anything to go by, next week will see half the people on the tube reading it too, no matter how huge a tome it is. I loved the sight last time of pin-striped 40-somethings sitting with their Financial Times neatly folded on top of their briefcase, instead engrossed in Harry Potter!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

another floorplan... suggested by Dad

Dad has had a go at coming up with a layout for the old house floorplan with the idea of making it as low cost to build as possible. He has just the one version that could work as a cottage or B&B.

Here's his initial take on it, which is as he drew except I've added in furniture so I could better envisage the layout:
dads plan with furniture
(as before, click and then select different sizes in right menu to view it bigger)

I like the idea of having it so that it would be an easy conversion, but there's some things I don't like. For instance, I don't like the bathrooms, because they're internal they wouldn't get natural light unless you left the door open - and even then, not much. I know you can vent them etc but still, I just much prefer bathrooms that have windows.

I don't like how you can only access the toilet going via a bedroom. This is OK for when it's B&B but not so good for the cottage incarnation. There's no space for a washing machine either, although we could easily use one of the ensuites for that I guess.

I don't like how you're boxed in when you enter the house - the first thing you see is a wall! Similarly the lounge and kitchen feel smaller than in other layouts, I'm guessing because they're enclosed.

So, I had a go at tweaking Dad's plan - building on his wall placements but opening it up a little, without making (hopefully) any significant structural change. Here's the best I came up with:

dads plan tweaked

The differences are:

1) the bathrooms have got full glass french doors on them which you can open wide ... this would help to stop them feeling claustrophobic and bring in some natural light. The downside of this though is that it wouldn't feel as private as if it were a clearly distinct separate room.

2) by taking out some of the dividing walls between the lounge, hall and kitchen it makes it feel more open. It's still smaller though, I couldn't work out how to put two sofas in the lounge without it feeling cramped.

3) I've added in the verandah

Even with these changes though, we still prefer the previous floorplan version - although this is with no regard for costs(!) But I feel like this floorplan tweaking could go on forever. How do you know when you've got it right?


They look really cute. We have hordes of them at Amherst as they all live in the forest next door and come out at dawn & dusk, making their way along the valley floor, clearing paddock fences with a single bound.

But."At night during the summer, kangaroos graze on grass with sharp pointed leaves called spinifex, and low herbaceous plants. They like to eat large plants and will even devour cardboard"

Now, I knew they'd be a challenge but didn't realise the full extent.

More research is called for, but so far have found one - pretty extreme - tip for dealing with them (via ABC Perth): "Take 6 eggs and one litre of water, Break the eggs into the water, mix it up, put in in a container ( with a lid) and leave it in a warm place (outside in the sun) to go off for a few days (about three will do). Mix this by now absolutely revolting mixture up with 25ml of white acrylic paint. Any colour will do really, the idea is that you can see where you have sprayed. The paint helps the mixture stick to the leaves. Spray it on your fruit trees or garden. It should deter herbivores which do not like protein". Uggh.

Another suggestion is to plant them near gum trees. According to this study, kangaroos don't like plants that contain quinine, like gum trees, as it gives them a stomach ache. They avoid these plants by smell, so if you plant gum trees near your more susceptible plants it might help to deter kangaroos.

I'm not sure how similar kangaroos are to rabbits and deer in their eating preferences, but just in case they're similar, here's a list of plants that the latter two don't like. (warning: it's a PDF). The general rules seem to be that they don't like plants with fragrant leaves, or that have sticky / rough / fuzzy textures. They also, unsurprisingly, don't like plants that have spines like cactii or holly.

Yet another smell deterrent tip comes from about halfway down this message board:
"Animals don't like the smell of fish fertiliser. Neither do i actually. So if you give the plants a weak weekly dose of fish fert, it may help. Add a cup of urine to the mix. A natural territorial marker. It can work for possums and sometimes kangaroos. (Unless there's a drought when they'll eat anything.)"

I guess we will just have to wait and see, and if all else fails be willing to invest in fencing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

floorplan rethink #2

We've got a totally different idea for the floorplan now. It isn't as economical as the first in that it would need some serious conversion to get from the cottage to the B&B layout. But, the cottage would be a whole lot nicer to live in. The previous one risked being a bit pokey.

This factors in the advice we got from Eric: "I have a real affinity to living areas on the sunny / view side as well as opening it up slightly. I believe that we want to keep the character of the old house, but wonder if we can do that while still opening it up a little. The separate rooms (ie for the dining and kitchen) make me a bit nervous"

Here's the new cottage floorplan layout. (To make it larger, click then select "see different sizes" in the right hand menu to view the original size)

old house floorplan2 - cottage

It has a bigger verandah (Dad suggested this would be good to help protect the weatherboards). Also, the bedroom and bathroom are a lot larger, and the lounge is now at the front of the house with the best view. The kitchen is still tiny but better than the first version because it's got more space by virtue of being merged with the dining room. What's been sacrificed is the study (now just tiny); the laundry (now literally just in a cupboard in the corner of the kitchen); and storage.

This would be the longer-term B&B version. The most change happens to the back left side of the house.
old house floorplan2 - longterm

The main changes are that all the bathrooms are bigger, and there is now a proper "kids room" (the former study) rather than just bunkbeds in a cupboard! Each room also has its own outside verandah area. The dining room is also bigger. What's been sacrificed is the lounge area - but I figure having the outside space makes up for that.

why the old house can't be the dream house

Greg from Petch House asked an interesting question: Why do we not just make the old house into our dream house?

In fact, this is where I started. Dave was more circumspect - more willing to countenance bulldozing and starting from scratch... which is what everyone suggested, but I refused to consider.

I've always loved old houses, especially wooden ones. I think you can sense when a house is a "good house" just by the feeling you get when you walk through it. This old house has that feeling for me, even though it's a wreck, so I thought it'd be a great "heart" to our dreamhouse if we restored it and built onto it.

But, the agreement Dave & I made was that we'd focus on the dream and not restrict it by insisting we had to incorporate the old house. If it did, great, if not, then we'd just build alongside.

When we got further in terms of working through all the details of the dream with Eric, it became clear we were going to have to make *so* many changes to the old house - making it much bigger, adding a second storey, adding chimneys, playing with the roofline, etc - that it risked swamping it and destroying the charm and character. It was also potentially quite limiting in terms of the design.

So, we've decided to build the dreamhouse from scratch, alongside the old house as if they were neighbouring houses in a village. (We have 30 acres so there's enough space). And separately, to restore the old house to be a cottage fitting to its era, retaining its "face" and keeping it as a distinct structure. This means we can be true-er to the old house's spirit, and it'll be a great guesthouse or something we can rent out if hard up for cash. Now that things have reversed and we're restoring the old house first, it'll also be a lovely place to live during the years we build the dreamhouse.

Lest you think the dreamhouse is a huge modern house... that's not it at all.

Most likely it's only going to have two bedrooms and be quite traditional in terms of the materials & styling. But, it'll include all those quirky things we've imagined. Like unusual seating nooks, a sweeping staircase, an entrance hall with room for a grandfather clock, a tower room, etc etc. (To read the full crazy list click here) and here)

If things go to plan, it won't even be a new house - it'll just be newly assembled. We're aiming for most of it to be made from salvaged materials - leftovers from demolition sites of old houses that Dad comes across; various architectural pieces that I find on Ebay, etc. The goal is to build something that has the soul of an old house, that feels like it could have been there for a century or more, but that fits our dream.

It's hugely ambitious and who knows if we'll ever fully get there. But, it's worth trying for and whatever happens it'll be an interesting experience!

Monday, July 11, 2005

seeking ideas for floorplan

Now we're beginning the repairs on the old house, we need to get the floorplan sorted. I have some ideas but would love to get your opinions and suggestions.

It's a bit complicated because we're designing it with two purposes in mind. It will start out as a self-contained cottage which - although small - will be comfortable for Dave & I, or anyone else to live in. Ultimately though, it will serve as an annex suitable for providing upmarket B&B accommodation.

We don't want to impinge on the design of the "dream house" which will be built on the other side of the cloister. We also want to minimise the cost, which means sticking to the current footprint of the house rather than extending it outwards or upwards. Here's the layout at the moment:
Old house - current
It is basically 3 rooms and a hallway. There used to be a lean-to extension at the back which housed the kitchen and bathroom but they weren't covered by the "new" roof and are beyond saving.

Dave and I played around with a few designs tonight. Here's what we've come up with so far. We're going to run them past Eric (our architect) too, just to make sure we haven't made any monstrous mistakes - but he's focusing on the "dream house" so I don't want to distract him! Any ideas and comments are welcome, please just add them below.

First, this would be the plan for it in the cottage mode (click and then select "original size" to get a bigger view). I've drawn in furniture to scale to give a rough idea of space:
Old house floorplan - cottage

Basically, it would have 1 bedroom with ensuite, study / guest bedroom alongside the laundry (reason for this will be clearer in next plan), cosy lounge, leading to dining area and small but functional galley style kitchen.

Second, this would be the conversion to make it suitable for upmarket B&B:
Old house floorplan - longterm
There's no change to the structural walls. The only changes are, the laundry converts to be the ensuite to what is now the second bedroom (formerly the study); the "linen cupboard" converts to a wardrobe; and the giant walk in wardrobe in the first bedroom converts to house built-in bunk beds, so that if we had anyone with kids staying there'd be somewhere for them to sleep. I've seen this "bed in a cupboard" trick done at a Californian B&B in Sonoma and it worked brilliantly. When you're using the bed you have the sliding door open; at other times you keep it shut and no-one's the wiser.

What do you think?

the devastation we're starting with

We're about to embark on doing up the old house at Amherst. Our original plan had been to keep it as a shed initially so we could focus first on building the new house on the other side of the "cloister garden" ( our new name for the secret garden courtyard which both houses will back onto).

Now (for reasons explained here) the plan is to first repair the old house so that it is liveable as a small cottage. Depending on how long it takes, we'll then either move back and live in it ourselves while we work on building the dream house next door(!) - or we'll rent it out for a few years while we continue to save here.

It's going to take a long time. To give you an idea of the task ahead, here's some pictures of the state it was in when we bought it, about 18 months ago. It had been sitting empty for nearly 20 years! In the few months after we bought it we did some minor fixing up (eg: covering the windows) so it didn't deteriorate further, but it is pretty much still as it looks in these photos. We bought the property for the land; the old house was just the cherry on top.

Let me start with the worst first. This is the inside of the house, the view from the front door:

Basically it's a shell. See all the old lathes everywhere... we're unfortunately going to be replacing them with plasterboard, but I'm going to salvage all the parts and use them to make wooden venetian blinds and plant trellises - so they'll still be part of the house, just a different part! The wood flooring looks awful but according to my Dad it will polish up beautifully.

This is what it looks like from the outside. It has a lovely shiny "new" roof (ie: 20 years old but still in tip-top condition) and similarly "new" foundations. All is structurally sound and because it's so dry there is very little rot in the timbers, which I find amazing considering it's just been left to fend for itself.
We don't know a lot about the house's history, but the planning officer told us it had been moved from Williamstown, a suburb of Melbourne by the sea, and it certainly fits the style of the old houses round there.

Now, just the fact that it has a solid roof and foundations isn't enough to justify doing it up... for me, the real reason is the detailing, which you can see a glimpse of in the next photos. It still has all its original outside trim! Including the wood cut to look like bricks on the front. We'll have to do a lot of repairs but after having seen the transformations done by other housebloggers, I'm confident it can be resurrected.
45347824633_0_ALB 70347824633_0_ALB

Sunday, July 10, 2005

we're starting

My Dad is a builder - he specialises in carpentry but can pretty much turn his hand to anything construction-related. In recent years though he's worked most of his time at other jobs. However, he's still a registered builder, and discovered last week that to keep his license he needs to have an active project underway. Hence, Dad has asked if he could work on repairing the old house at Amherst, and we've agreed.

We were always intending to involve Dad, but the plan had been to wait till we were living there so we could help and do a lot of it ourselves. Not just to cut down on the costs, but also for the emotional aspect of wanting to be involved. We were also thinking that repairing the old house would be a second phase project rather than the very first thing we do!

Progress will be gradual, at this stage it looks like Dad will spend around 1 weekend a month there. But it means that we'll be able to move faster on protecting the house from deteriorating further. And it's nice to be starting!

London bombs

So it has been an eventful few days. We always knew London was a terrorist target and were expecting something bad would happen, someday, but it was still a huge shock when it did. Especially as it happened at tube stations that I use... I was really lucky and running late for work so didn't get caught up in it, but it's just terrible.

Now everyone is shaken up, giving suspicious looks to anyone who carries a big bag onto the tube(!), but there's nothing you can do except go about life as normal... to do anything else means "they've" won. I tell myself the chances of getting blown up in a terrorist attack are less than the chances of getting killed in a car accident, but it still gives you a funny feeling to think about.

I didn't feel like posting or thinking about the house over the past few days so excuse my silence. We went to my Aunt's for the weekend on the Isle of Wight, just to get out of London. We got back this afternoon and got an email from my Dad to discover - unexpectedly - that we're embarking on a whole new phase of work at Amherst. The "old house" is being repaired! It's the reverse of the order we were planning to do things in, but hey you have to roll with the punches... more in the next post.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Naming the house

Just read a post at Steve&Julie's houseblog about naming houses which reminded me of the discussions Dave and I have had about naming Amherst.

Our initial idea was to name it after a place in Sussex or Kent, because they're my favourite parts of the UK. Also, it's a really odd feeling, but everytime I've visited I feel "at home" there, as if I belong - far more than I've felt in any other place. I don't think it's because of genes or anything like that since my family all came from "oop north" originally, Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire. Perhaps it's just the landscape, where everything is so gently curved with rolling hills, because it's been in cultivation for so many centuries. Whatever it is it's a magical place for me. (And had we 10 million pounds to spare we might even be doing the "Amherst thing" there... but that's never going to happen and besides, it will be nice to return to Australia one day).

Anyway, that was the initial idea but I'm starting to change my mind. We've poured over maps of the region trying out names but none seem to work. I think it's because the landscape at Amherst is just so different; the juxtaposition of the image in my head when I hear the Sussex name and the reality of Amherst just doesn't jibe.

We also thought about Cricklewood, because we do have wood (or rather, forest) on 2 sides at Amherst, and Cricklewood is the suburb of London where we live now. Plus I like the name. I checked out the list of historical Australian house names on Steve&Julie's site and spotted a Willesden, which is the suburb next door to us in London, so by calling it Cricklewood we'd be following in tradition too, kind of.

I'm not too worried, I know eventually we'll come upon a name and it will just seem right, and then we'll know. We had the same problem naming a dog once. Dave got this puppy and we just couldn't work out what to call her. We'd tried about 3 different names, and she didn't respond to any of them so after a few weeks we decided to let her choose. Dave had some friends round, drinking beer, as you do on a hot summer Saturday afternoon... the puppy was sitting on the lawn looking at them. They just started shouting out names to see which she'd respond to. Went through all the usual kind of dog names to no avail so then just started shouting out random things... well, someone called out "Fishtank" and she instantly stood up, her ears pricked up and tail wagging! That was it. From then on she was known as Fishtank!!!! It was quite amusing too when you were at the park with her, watching the look on other people's faces as you shouted out her name and she came running. Ah, poor Fishtank, rest in peace. (She died a few years ago but she was a lovely lovely dog)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

and some planes came flying by...

A really cool thing just happened which I wanted to share, even though it's nothing to do with Amherst. A whole lot of planes in formation just flew past my office window churning out coloured smoke in red, white & blue (UK flag colours) as a celebration for London having won the Olympics! It happened only a few minutes after the news was announced so they must have been in the air, waiting.

I like it when unexpected things like this happen, it brightens up the day. The last time something like this happened was for the Queen Mum's funeral when some old Lancaster Bombers and Spitfires did a big fly-by in honour. I found out later it was the first time they'd flown low over London since the Blitz and the Lancaster was the last of it's kind in flying condition, so quite poignant. They did several laps and on one they flew low between my building and next door so I got a really close, almost eye-level view and could hear the distinctive roar brrmmmm-ing sound of the motor... it was oddly familiar, I guess from watching old movies!

Anyway, there'll be a lot of celebration in London today I think... mostly for the fact of won the Olympics, but also because it's the best revenge possible against Chirac for his recent uncalled-for and just plain wrong rudeness and insults.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

getting hit by the gardening bug

Just stumbled across this description which I just had to laugh at because she could have been describing me!:
"When you start watching gardening programmes (especially the relatively staid Gardener's World), you know that you're getting older. I don't even have a garden (just a rather small balcony), but I hit 30 and found myself starting to take an unhealthy interest in garden centres and not changing channels when the gardening programmes came on. It's a mystery, but as far as I can tell, it's an inevitable part of the aging process. Like wanting to wear slippers, and thinking the music's too loud, the gardening gene gets activated at a certain age and there's nothing you can do about it... Be on your guard - the gardening gene can strike unexpectedly at any moment. One minute you’ll be thinking about going to the pub with your mates, and the next you’ll find yourself looking at an azalea and wondering if you can take a cutting".

Drawers in Stairs

I'm way behind on my blog reading and only just found this thanks to House in progress ... putting drawers in each tread of the stair, what a fantastic idea.

I'm collecting fabric

I don't think I've mentioned this on the blog yet, but Mum said she'd like to see pictures... so figured I may as well blog them and she can look here! Collecting fabric is only something I've been doing occasionally, but it got a real boost when I went to Liberty's sale during the week. For those who don't know, Liberty's is my favourite store in London.

Sidenote: For those who remember this post, I confess I took a peek at their Arts&Crafts exhibition while I was there. Luckily all the things I'd picked out from the catalogue were sold so I didn't have to fight the temptation to splurge! What was left was 30% off, but frankly, 30% off £3000 for an armchair still leaves it far out of reach.

Back to the fabric... I'm really fussy about fabric patterns. So, given that we're going to eventually have to fit out the Amherst house with curtains, cushions, upholstered chairs, etc I figured I may as well start collecting fabric that I like as I can't rely on being able to always find it (or afford it). I'm being good and only buying remnants in practical lengths (at least 2-3m) and only when they're cheap.

Designers Guild are one of my favourite designers for bedlinen and they also do fabric collections. They're one of the few fabric makers that I almost always can find something I like from. Liberty have a mini-Designer's Guild shop in their fabric department and they had a load of remnants on sale, almost all from the "China Rose" pattern. Here are pictures of some of the fabric that I bought:

Designer's Guild - China Rose "Leilani" pink
I have around 12m of this now, in varying lengths. It cost me just under £60 for the entire lot, ie: around £5 per metre. Considering the full retail price of this is upwards of £30 per metre that's not bad! All are 1.37m wide and then I have sections which are 2.8m, 2.4m, 2.3m, 2.1m, 1.6m and 1.2m. This should be enough to make several sets of blinds or even a set of long hanging curtains if I get creative on joining two pieces together. Any leftover pieces will be great for cushions or even the backs of chairs, like in this picture which shows the same fabric as mine just in the blue colourway instead of pink. Besides giving an idea of how it might work in a room, this shows the scale of the pattern... the flowers are giant! It is a heavyweight cotton so you can use it for all kinds of upholstery.

Designers Guild - China Rose "Collerette" - blue
I have only one section of this, sized 3m x 1.37. I got it because I thought it might be cute for a blind in the laundry or somewhere similar, it's just so cheery with the daisies and an unusual mix of colours. It's also heavyweight but a mix of cotton and linen.

Designers Guild - China Rose "Verbena" - orange/red
I have 2.4m, 1.9m, 1.3m and 0.9m lengths of this, all 1.37m wide. It is linen and only medium-weight but still fine for cushion covers. I got it because with the sunny colours I could see it might work well as covers for seat cushions on benches or outdoor chairs. Suitably reinforced with a heavy calico on the back, it could also be great for old-fashioned style deckchairs.

Fifth Avenue designs for Covington - "Wild Orchid"
I have 3m of this by 1.4m wide. It was a mad Ebay purchase but I bought it because it was one of the few "chintz" fabrics that I like. Often chintz is just a bit too sugary for me, but it seemed in keeping with the period of our house that we have at least a few hints of it! I wouldn't want this everywhere, but I thought it could be really effective as cushions, in a room with cream furnishings. Which we will most likely have as two of the armchairs and one of the sofa's we have in London are upholstered in wonderful soft cord cream and we'll definitely bring them back with us. (The cream upholstery is more practical than you'd think as we chose custom-fitted but removeable covers so you can just throw them in the washing machine!)

Ebay win: arts&crafts dining chairs

Today we went to pick up some chairs that I won during the week on Ebay. Here's some pictures and the description from the auction listing:


"Set of four good quality arts and crafts oak dining chairs, circa 1900. They are 43" tall (backs are 25" high from top of seat), 17 and a half inches at widest point. Tall straight backs with central roundal and shaped top finials. All chairs have joined oak stretchers and front rail and kick-out feet. The chairs have drop-in seats covered in Liberty arts & crafts material, over horsehair filling and webbing. Each seat is stamped with its own letter to correspond with the letters on the chairs. The chairs are in excellent condition"

I nearly didn't bid on them as figured they'd go for a lot more than I was prepared to pay. I usually low-ball my bids on this sort of thing because I have to factor in how much it'll cost to (eventually) ship them to Australia. But, Auctionsniper is amazingly helpful especially when you're up against clueless bidders. (It also has the advantage of letting you change your mind and not bid up till the last seconds! - very good at repairing the damage from "impulse shopping"!)

Anyway, I've had too much luck getting bargains on Ebay to feel good about paying top dollar now except for something that is perfect and I can't imagine ever coming up for sale again! There's only been a couple of those things and I always bid if I can because I felt so bad after the one I let slip away.... it was several years ago, Ebay was just getting going in the UK, and a huge stained glass ceiling came up for auction. In the end it sold for £1000 - a lot of money but given its size, perfect condition and uniqueness, well worth it, and I've been regretting not bidding for it ever since. It'd cost at least 10 times that to have a replica made nowadays. It was pre-Amherst; I talked myself out of it as we'd just finished building our conservatory here in London so I didn't have anywhere I could use it.

Anyway, back to the chairs. These weren't in my "perfect" category because there's plenty of this kind of thing around still if you're prepared to pay. But they're lovely and they'll definitely be handy. You can always use extra chairs and these ones will be great for displaying in a hall, spare in the study, etc and then using when we have a full house for a dinner party. The only downside is that they're not as comfortable as I'd have liked, but fine for occasional use and they'll look wonderful the rest of the time.

Friday, July 01, 2005

MIT Weblog Survey

MIT are conducting a survey about blogs, to understand more about who's blogging and why. I was sent the link by a friend and have filled it out, it only took 10 minutes. Thought I'd post it here in case anyone else wanted to take part. At the end you can see how your results compare to the rest of the "blogging universe" that took part.