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

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Ebay win: Oak & Burr Elm Sideboard

Yay, we just won this on a second-chance offer as the guy who won originally wasn't able to fit it through his hallway.


I'm being really picky in bidding on furniture these days as we have several years yet before we'll be moving. But, Dave agrees, it's better to buy things now as we see them that we adore, so by the time we move we not only have spread the cost but have a house full of furniture we love. This kind of thing doesn't come up for sale very often & certainly not usually at prices I'm willing to pay so it's worth the hassle of storing & shipment.

This is the description from the ebay listing:
"ARTS AND CRAFTS OAK AND BURR ELM BUFFET SERVER, c1890. This has to be the ultimate in Arts and Crafts buffets. This wonderful piece of furniture would have cost an absolute fortune to make using the beautiful burr elm and the character pippy oak. This buffet has a shallow back panel with a stepped shelf, fitted with a deep drawer and pewter ring handles. The base comprises of 2 arched panelled doors with matching pewter ring handles on an open base with stretchers. The richness of the colour of this piece is magnificent.The length is 66ins x 66ins high x 26ins depth. The condition is wonderful and it is very sturdy and heavy"

Sunday, August 14, 2005

we've got the new houseplans

Two weeks ago Eric sent through a revised set of house plans. They're wonderful and we're feeling like we're almost there now, in terms of the concept.

Here's an overview showing how the new house relates to the old house and gardens:
overview of site

This is what the house looks like in terms of Elevations. One of my favourite things about this design is that it looks so different from each side. It makes me want to explore. I also love the sharp angles and the way they're mixed, but still in essence simple clean lines just as in old-fashioned homes. Yet there's some complexity too - e.g., the sunburst motif Dave loved from the houses in Tallinn has made it in! Click on any of them to bring up a bigger view.
north elevation west elevation
south elevation east elevation

We don't have the tower room from our wishlist - but when I saw these plans I realised we don't need one. Eric's encapsulated the spirit of the tower within other parts - the bedroom balcony, the bath in the bay window, etc. Even the romance of having somewhere secluded is captured - just via a sideways library extension rather than up.

After a fortnight of living with them there's only one thing so far that we'd like to tweak in terms of this outside appearance. We like but don't love the shape of the balcony railings. We think instead it would be better if it were rectangular and protruding out a little more, supported on stilts, to form a kind of canopy at ground level.

Here's the ground floor plan, click to see it bigger:
ground floor plan

We adore the library and lounge especially. We also love the way there's a lot of verandah & porch space (shaded in red), but it's all in different parts so each can have a different feel. I think my favourite feature, after the library, is how both the kitchen and lounge open onto the same little front verandah, which will have wonderful views. We also like how the laundry is next to the library - means there's plumbing in place if anyone ever had to convert the library to a bedroom, so you could put in an ensuite.

We're still trying to come to grips with the big area at the foot of the stairs. Eric wasn't sure what to call it - I don't like lobby as makes me think of bland hotel foyers; so instead I'm trying to think of it as being a "living hall" like at Standen. The more I think about it, the more it seems as if it could be very versatile - somewhere you could have clear for parties, movie screening, playing games. A place you could play around with the decor by season - and especially perfect for a giant Christmas tree. It could even double as a dining room for when we want to have more formal dinners. I envisage the small hallway at the entrance as really being a place to pass through and hang up hats & coats, etc, and then this "living hall" space as being where you'd pause and feel you'd properly got inside.

Given this potential use as a dining room, there's only one thing we'd like to change in this ground floor layout, and that is to somehow make it so that the entrance to the downstairs toilet doesn't open directly off the open area.
But, I'm worried that in attempting to change this it'll ruin the feel of the other parts which we love - so this is something we could easily let pass, in fact it's so minor a quibble we were debating whether to even mention it! After all, it's only going to be very occasional we use the space as a dining room, and we could always just send guests to the upstairs bathroom instead. Any ideas anyone?

Moving on to the upstairs, this is what the top floor looks like (click to make it bigger):
first floor plan

We love the master bedroom. I don't think I'd actually have two armchairs as sketched, but I like there being plenty of space so as to make it an option. We also love the area at the top of the stairs, especially the symmetry of the bookshelves.

But, there are some things we don't like and definitely need to change. The first is the bathroom. We don't like the toilet being in the bathroom - we much preferred the previous version where it was in a separate area just next door. Also, we want there to be a space for an armchair near the bath, which has also been lost. (I saw this in a magazine years ago and ever since have longed for one... you take a nice squishy armchair, put the cushions in waterproof bags and then fit soft terry-towelling covers. So, no need to worry about it getting wet and it's a comfortable place to sit and chat with whoever's in the bath - which is usually Dave!)

In the spare room / study we don't like the position of the bed - because it looks too much like one! We preferred the previous version which had it tucked under the eaves as a kind of built-in almost, so that it could masquerade as a big comfy sofa with lots of cushions. Also, now that we have the library downstairs, this room will become more of a study & office. This is where the computer and all it's 'glorious attachments' will live; where we'll file away all our paperwork. The library can then just be dedicated to books.

Here's a snippet from the previous version showing the upstairs toilet and alcove bed, to show you what I mean. (As with all the photos, click to enlarge):
changes to study

Overall though, we love it! I imagine walking through and it just feels right. There's enough outdoor spaces for those hot Australian summers, but also enough indoor space too for the very cold Amherst winters. I'm sure there'll be more tweaks as we go along, but we're almost there.

A big test is coming next week - Dave is back in Australia for a few weeks, and he's going to peg this design out on-site. So, he can really get a sense of the spaces and views. I can't wait to see the pictures.

concept of a "living hall"

We first heard about this on our visit to Standen, and it's turned out to have particular relevance to our own house design (more on that in the next post). So, I thought I'd expand here about what it is.

In doing this, I'm going to cheat and quote from a wonderful book called "The Arts & Crafts Home" by Wendy Hitchmough. I've had this for several years now as a book to dip into, but had never actually read it properly until we visited Standen, which is one of the houses it focuses on.

Here's two pictures, taken from either end...
st8 015living hall at Standen

... and here's how it's described:

"Beyond the entrance porch, Webb provided a substantial
hall, panelled and furnished as a living room with a wide
fireplace around which the family and its friends could gather
for afternoon tea and musical recitals. The ‘living hall’ was
an Arts and Crafts invention, popularised by Webb and founded
on a romantic notion of the mediaeval hall in which a larger
social family would congregate to eat, drink and sleep.

In smaller Arts and Crafts cottages and bungalows almost the
entire ground floor was planned as a multi-purpose ‘living hall’
in a practical determination to sweep away the conventional
warren of tiny rooms. In larger houses like Standen, however,
the hall was a subtle subversion of Victorian values. The
traditional masculine and feminine spaces of billiard room
and drawing room both opened directly onto the hall at Standen
and by providing a neutral third reception room at a time when
attitudes to chaperoning and appropriate behaviour for young
women were in a state of flux, Webb undermined the moral zeal
of earlier Victorian country houses.


When Webb visited the Beales in January 1898 he found 11 people
gathered around the fireplace there for tea and, as a consequence
of its success, the hall was made larger and lighter. The
panelling was repainted in white and Webb extended the room
northwards... The combination of the hall and drawing room gave
Standen, and other country houses of its type, the advantages of
a suite of rooms for entertaining, which previously only much
larger country houses had enjoyed. In winter, when the large
windows that characterised the light and airy drawing room made
it difficult to keep warm, the room could be left unheated
and unused".

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A tour of Standen

A few weekends ago we visited Standen, an amazing Arts & Crafts era country house designed by Philip Webb in Sussex, England and now run by the National Trust.


It’s a wonderful place with the kind of proportions and detailing that just feel right to be in. In decoration it’s also the closest I’ve come across so far to the styling I’d like at Amherst. Some of my favourite parts were the built-in's, the panelled walls and alcoves - but most of all, the "living hall" - kind of like a big room with fireplace etc that functions both to join various rooms together as a hall would, but also works as a proper room.

I've put together a photo-set at Flickr with all the pictures we took, plus a bunch of others scanned in from various books (because they didn't like you taking pictures inside - although we managed to sneak a few!) To help it make more sense, I've attempted to code roughly where each picture is taken from on the floorplans & garden map.

It's very cold at Amherst

From Mum's email:
"It has been below zero since 8pm on the 9th Aug at Lookout Hill, which is near Ballarat and Talbot, sort of. It is always colder than Ballarat. Below zero all day yesterday takes some beating ... At 1.30 pm today it reached a high of 0.7C"

We're very worried about the lemon gum trees - the ones we planted to line the driveway. We were told they were quite susceptible to frost when young so had been praying for mild winters; instead it's been the coldest winter for 50 years.

Update: We've since found out that the gum trees survived! The shelters that we built to protect them from kangaroos and the hot sun seem to have helped stop frost too. Especially the shadecloth on the top, I think. Apparently, only around 2-3 of the smallest trees were hit hard by the frost - these were a few months younger than the others as Dave's parents had planted them as replacements for ones which hadn't thrived from the first planting. But, even these appear to be making a comeback... so, fingers crossed, they'll all make it.