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

Thursday, December 29, 2005

videos from our first visit to the farm

One of the reasons for my sporadic posting to this blog in recent months has been because I've been busy converting videos. I only have so much spare time and for various reasons, I've ended up with the task of digitising family home movies. Sometimes there's crossover though - recently I found some footage from the very first visit I made to Amherst, a few months after we'd bought it.

It would bore you stupid - not to mention make you seasick thanks to my wobbly camera technique - to watch the full thing. But I created a couple of compilations, complete with cheesy music, that will give you a flavour.

To begin, let me introduce our nearest town, Talbot, via a 1 minute drive through the main streets. I think sleepy would be the most appropriate adjective to describe it, but notice that there's some lovely old buildings and a thriving pub! Plus a great farmers market once a month. :-)

But the piece de resistance is the footage from my first visit to the farm. I went with my parents and filmed a huge amount so I could bring it back to London to show Dave. Unfortunately, the filming was incredibly wobbly but to help disguise it I sped it up to 4x speed, pausing every few seconds to let you catch your breath! I expect most people will only be interested in the first few minutes, arriving at the farm, driving up past the dam to the old house and then wandering around it. As you'll see it was extremely derelict when we found it, although that didn't stop my Dad setting up a makeshift camp in one room! The bulk of the film is walking around the land. I've deliberately kept it all in even though it gets a bit repetitive as it's a reminder of the distance... I still can't get over that it takes a good 10 minutes to walk across!

Feedback on new house plans (at last)

We got the most recent iteration of the plans for the new house from Eric back in August. Then life intervened and it hasn't been until yesterday that we had time (and the right frame of mind) to properly dissect them and discuss. Here, at last, are our thoughts on the final round of tweaks we want to make before progressing to the next stage of design.

Let's start with the ground floor.

Just to recap, this is what the plan from Eric looked like (click to make it larger):
ground floor plan

Overall we really like it, so rather than enumerate all the things we like, I'm just going to list the things we want to alter, room-by-room. To minimise the extent of the changes (so as not to affect the outside shape) we've tried wherever possible to keep within the existing dimensions. This house is already bigger in terms of floorspace than we'd first envisaged, so we didn't want to make it worse!

Entry hallway

We'd like to have a place to sit to take off dirty shoes, coats, etc. One idea to achieve this is to 'steal' some space from the lounge area, so there's a seating alcove on one side of the table in the hallway - ie:
changes to ground floor (entrance area)

This would give us a place to sit and help imbue an arts & crafts feel. I'd envisage the seat being a simple bench with a liftup lid for storing things, with a hat rack and shelves above. On the opposite wall I'd envisage there being coat racks.

Utility and Mudroom

We've always wanted to have a toilet downstairs so you don't have to go upstairs all the time. In Eric's plan, this was positioned off the central hall area, but we didn't like that for two reasons. First, it felt like it would be uncomfortable having the toilet so close by if we were using the central hall area for parties. Second, Dave was worried that it wasn't close enough to the outside, so he'd traipse mud through all the time. Which is a very good point, as that would drive me nuts!

So, we decided to move the toilet to the Utility and Mudroom area. This solves the problems, albeit sacrificing a sense of formality. It is also very practical in that part of our justification of having the "Library" wing is that we could convert it to a third bedroom if ever needed. If this happened, we'd want to put an ensuite in part of the mudroom area; so by putting a toilet and basin in we're already partway there.

We experimented with many alternatives for making this change. We wanted for the toilet and basin to be enclosed but not stupidly cramped. We also wanted the mudroom to still be a nice shape. This was the best layout we came up with:
changes to ground floor (mudroom area)

We could perhaps put a window in the wall above the WC sink looking onto the hallway. It could be obscured glass, or the type that's mirrored on one side and see-through from the other? Or, perhaps one of the stained glass panels? Either way, it would help make it feel less enclosed and let in some natural light.

The washing machine and dryer (on a shelf above) sit in the alcove between the outside wall and the back of the toilet. The laundry trough and bench tuck into the wall near the verandah door. There's still a nice big cupboard on the other side of the door for all my hobby and cleaning things. So, overall, the mudroom still has all the key things I wanted albeit a little more squeezed.

If ever we wanted to convert to an ensuite, we'd simply build a wall across from the verandah door to the toilet door. A shower could be put in the space where the cupboard is currently and voila, an ensuite. Hopefully we'll never need to do this but it's a useful option to have.


There's not much to say about the lounge. At one point we thought about changing the bay window to be more rectangular, but on experimenting we realised the curved layout looked a lot nicer. So, the only change we have to the lounge is to steal some space to allow for the alcove in the entrance hallway, as described above.

Central hallway

The only definite change we want to make is to remove the toilet and add an alcove for a bar. (See kitchen section for more details).

Overall, we like this space but are having trouble envisaging it. I'm guessing there will be space for big storage cupboards under the stairs (suitcases, Xmas decorations, etc), a bench perhaps, a grandfather clock in the centre, and so on, but I can't fully picture it in my mind. But, we're very happy with the concept of this space. It'll be wonderful for parties and entertaining, and even for everyday it'll be handy for working on hobbies where you need to spread out and want to leave it in situ for a few days, without it being in the way.

UPDATE: We'd also like to ensure there's a place for this sideboard somewhere in this central hallway. Perhaps it can go against the wall underneath the stairs?


Initially we loved the kitchen. But then, on reflection, we started to imagine what it might feel like to have to go into the pantry every time you wanted to open the fridge! Plus, it felt so big...

We've got some ideas to solve it though. First and foremost, the fridge. We want it to be fairly central and - now that we've decided to go with mains power as a backup - we'd like to have one of those large American style double door fridges (or at least plan in for the option!). We've found space for it in what was previously the downstairs WC. This also has the advantage of giving us a bit extra storage in the pantry, plus a roomy cupboard off the central hall which we could use as a built-in bar:
changes to ground floor (kitchen area)

We've also toyed with the idea of adding in some kind of island bench or butchers block on a trolley, perhaps even with a built in tub for washing vegetables (can easily empty the water into a bucket and toss onto the garden). This could live at the end of the table, perhaps, and be wheeled around as needed. Overall, we want to make the kitchen work areas feel a little smaller and closer together.

We also had the thought of making a kind of breakfast bar area, with two stools tucked under the bench, looking over the front window. I'm envisaging that the cupboards in this stretch could have glass doors, so it can act as a display area, and also to differentiate it from the "working" part of the kitchen. This could be where we store dinner sets and nice pots, etc - ie: things that you don't use everyday but that you'd use a lot more often if you had them easily to hand! Perhaps the corner could also function as a kind of kitchen "desk" area, like so many design books seem to recommend.

Screened porch

For everyday, we're more likely to have this set up as a kind of conservatory / informal lounge area than as a dining room, but that's just furniture. The only thing we want to change, as shown in the picture above, is to get rid of the cooking area. For outside cooking we'll use the BBQ so there's no need for this anymore. I can imagine myself filling this room with plants, to give it a feel of a real garden room.

Now moving on to the first floor. This is what it looks like overall in the plans at the moment (click to make it bigger):
first floor plan

Master bedroom

Overall we really like it so it's mostly just tweaks rather than anything major.

In terms of the balcony, at one point we wanted to make it more rectangular than curved. But now that we're keeping the curved bay downstairs we think it'd be better to leave it alone. We're not sure how big the balcony is. If it isn't already, we'd like it to have enough room for a few potplants, perhaps even a small chair (although the latter isn't that important).

We also thought it might be nice to add in another balcony area, a kind of narrow walkway above the middle verandah:
changes to first floor (balcony area)

There are already windows on both sides - one in the bedroom, one in the study. We would suggest leaving it as a window in the bedroom, but perhaps making the one in the study a glass door, or a sash window that slides open enough that you can easily climb through. Among other things, this balcony could have the telescope and serve as a kind of "tower room" in spirit. We'd like it to be wide enough to have a small chair - I'm envisaging it being about the width of a footpath.


Overall, we really like the way the room is shaped. It's got a nice feel, and would be fairly easy to split into two smaller bedrooms if it was ever needed. At the moment it's called a reading room but now we have the library this doesn't make sense, so we'd like to re-christen it as the Study. To reflect this, in the drawings we'd like to replace the double bed with a large desk, and perhaps also add some cupboards instead of only bookshelves (as we'll need somewhere to hide away all the computer stuff). Of course, it'll also still double as a guest bedroom, but we'll achieve that via having a sofa bed rather than a dedicated sleeping area.


Last of all, the upstairs bathroom. This is one of the most important rooms and the one we want to alter the most. There are two key things that are wrong about the current plan - the toilet needs to be in a separate room (I hate having it all in one), and there isn't space for an armchair. It sounds crazy I know but I've always wanted one... a comfy place to sit while chatting to whoever's in the bath, and also a place to put things, to sit while you're doing your hair, whatever. We struggled with this but finally came up with a layout that seemed to work, without taking up any more space:
changes to first floor (bathroom area)

The shower area has now moved to a smaller corner, and in practice would be open as a kind of wetroom rather than an enclosed cubicle. I'm envisaging that we might have glass bricks, or perhaps even some of the stained glass, as the partition between the shower and the toilet, so that light can still get into the WC area. Alternatively, perhaps there could be a skylight in the WC. There's a nice big basin with plenty of bench space beside it and a big mirror in the space where the toilet used to be. Importantly too, the symmetry of the upstairs landing is maintained, with the doors to the WC and the bathroom mirroring each other (and deliberately opening outwards to maximise the space in the rooms).

UPDATE: we now have another idea for the bathroom, inspired by Mum's comment, which I think I like better.
changes to first floor (bathroom area)V3

This layout has the advantage of a more spacious WC with it's own outside window and still gives us a nice shaped bathroom. The dotted line would be a solid wall but maybe made of glass bricks or (even better) stained glass panels?

The only downsides are small - we sacrifice part of the bedroom walk-in closet (but it's still pretty big) and have less bench space around the sink. As before, I'd envisage the shower area as being a wetroom alcove rather than a cubicle.

Note also the addition of two extra little windows - one in the WC, and then a matching one over the sink to make it appear symmetrical from the outside. I think provided we made these a different shape to the other windows (eg: diamond, circular?) it wouldn't ruin the outside appearance of the run of windows... it'd just be like punctuation marks either side of the big bay over the bath.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

recent Ebay finds

In recent weeks we've made a couple of other Ebay finds, ultimately destined for Amherst, including a lovely piece of fretwork, a clawfoot bath and some more chairs.

First, this is the fretwork which is among the nicest patterns I've ever seen. If it fits it may well end up being used in the old house restoration. Best of all, it was already in Australia, only 15 minutes drive away from Mum's house!

fretwork for hallway

"This was part of an original 1890's house. This piece of hallway fretwork requires tlc to restor it back to its original beauty. Paint would need to be stripped. It measures 1400w and 900h. The bottom left hand section is missing and right hand bottom section needs repair where timber has clean tears".

Next, an unusual wooden chair with a fretwork back. We've put a cushion on the bottom and it is surprisingly very comfortable to sit on. I love the look of it too. It came from a small town in Scotland. We're probably going to keep this here for a while as it fits well in the conservatory, but ultimately I can imagine it looking wonderful on a verandah.

chair for conservatory

"A lovely old arts and crafts style nursing chair with pierced splat back and solid seat. it is probably constructed from oak. This chair probably dates to the first part of the 20th century. The chair measures 29" tall with a seat height of 9". The seat measures 20" across the front and 17" across the rear. It measures 18" front to back. The design of this chair is in the arts and crafts style being relatively simple in terms of decorative detail. The pierced splat back is of a flower design. The seat of this chair is solid wood and would haveprobably had a cushion at one time. The overall condition of this chair is good. It still remains stable and firm with only signs of wear consistent with its age. This remains a very stylish if understated chair".

Next, an original clawfoot bath which - best of all - is already in Melbourne. This came indirectly via Ebay - in the listing they'd said if it didn't sell they'd throw it out. I emailed and said that seemed a shame, that I'd save them the hassle and take it away for them, to stop it going to landfill. It didn't sell so that's what happened. It is apparently an original from the early 1900s, is in "good" condition and is 169cm long, 56cm high, 75cm wide.

antique clawfoot bath

This is the description from my Dad's email after he'd picked it up:
"It has been painted inside, and I believe it will strip down very well. It is actually in pretty good condition and will be easily brought to a usable condition without reenameling. It is an authentic clawfoot, and really quite wonderful. You will be proud of it. There are a few little rust spots, which are likely exaggerated because of sitting without being disturbed so long. I expect the spot size will reduce considerably once the cleaning begins. It is a great find, in the same league as the Rayburn when an "old" item is what you want, not a refurb or brand shiny new item is wanted. It will fit admirably in the old house loft bathroom, or you can save it for the new house".

Finally, a fantastic Lloyd Loom bedroom set in pristine condition and still with it's original paint. The lady we bought it from said it had been in her family since it was purchased and that she'd grown up with it always around.

lloyd loom bedroom set

"A pair of Lusty Lloyd Loom items originally purchased from Phillips of Northampton in the late 1950's. Both items have been well cared for in a non-smoking household and their present condition shows only minor wear, commensurate with their age. Both have original labels attached"

When we went to collect them she also threw in for virtually nothing (£5!) a blanket box which although it isn't officially part of the same set, is of similar enough colouring to pass for it. The blanket box is also in original condition and the only work needed is to replace the fabric at the top. It too has its original paint, which makes a difference on Lloyd Loom furniture as the more coats of paint, the less defined the weave. It's a wonderful size, just perfect for storage in our study here in London and it doubles as an extra seat too:

lloyd loom blanket box

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

we now have a thatched fence

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration... we have a garden edging made out of sticks that is about a foot high. This is what we did last weekend and it took nearly 8 hours(!)
side part of garden
our back yard

Doing this served several purposes.

First and foremost, it provided a way to use up all the branches and trimmings leftover from the "great cherry tree pruning" done at the start of November. We had this done professionally as the tree was so big and, perhaps stupidly in hindsight, I asked them to leave all the branches in a pile so I could use them in the garden. The tree is still huge and so I can't quite believe how much was left. The pile was fence high and engulfing an entire section of lawn! It couldn't remain so we had to get busy.

We invented this notion of fencing on the fly. We used some bits as pegs, to mark out an area for the sticks to go in. Then we put down some of the bigger branch cuttings to form the framework. Finally, we threaded through smaller twigs etc to create a kind of layered thatchy stick effect.

I'm really happy with how it turned out. Not only did it use up all the cuttings, it'll be great for insects, stop the C's from rampaging (hopefully) and it helps to make the back part of the garden have some more structure. It was looking particularly dreadful this year since the grass had turned into mud so there were no defining features. (I'm not panicking about the grass yet - we reseeded and top dressed and aerated but then it didn't get a chance to grow properly before it got suddenly cold so we're stuck with a mess for winter!) By having these little fences, not only are the garden bed shapes outlined, but it'll make it easier for Dave to mow without fear of destroying plants.

inspiration from Lyvden New Bield

A few weekends ago, when we drove up north to collect the armchairs, we stopped off en-route at Lyvden New Bield.

This is a National Trust property that I've wanted to visit ever since seeing it on an episode of 'Hidden Gardens'. It consists of a very atmospheric ruin over 400 years old - except it's not a ruin, it just was never finished! It's designed full of Catholic symbolism in the measurements, carvings, etc. Quite extraordinary.
Lyvden New Bield

There is also an Elizabethan garden, one of the oldest gardens in England. It has huge spiral mounds, laid out in a grid and surrounded by rectangular waterways to make a sort of moat.
Lyvden New Bield garden Lyvden New Bield garden

These mounds are seriously big! They were built from scratch using the earth from digging the moat. To give you an idea of their scale, this is me standing halfway up one.
Lyvden New Bield garden

Overall, the garden had an interesting feel to it - unnatural and yet organic combined. In an odd way, it reminded me a bit of Casa Battlo, the wonderfully unusual apartment designed by Gaudi in Barcelona. (by the way, the photos don't do Casa Battlo justice... I hated it in photographs but standing in it I fell in love)

I was curious to see this garden in person because it's a very different sort of garden to the most. It uses earth shapes as much as plants for effect. The only other garden I've heard of like it, which we're going to attempt to visit in May (on the one day each year it's open to the public) is the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. I'm intrigued by the idea of creating giant sculptures out of earth; it might be interesting to experiment with something like this at Amherst.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

the next shipload is ready

This weekend we are packing. The conservatory has gotten way too full and we need it cleared so we can set up the Xmas tree! So, we're sending another batch of furniture, books, china, etc back to Australia to go into storage there.

We've been planning it for a while, ever since we got the sideboard and teddybear chair. But, while Dave was arranging it, I took the opportunity to gather a few more things too - basically I was on the look out for anything I really liked that I could pick up very cheaply on Ebay!

So, also going are two armchairs which we got for £10 each:
From the description: "This is a pair of great 'his and hers' late
Victorian / Edwardian / Arts and crafts easy chairs. They are in good
sound condition, have been in regular use. Covered in what can only
be described as a yucky brown fabric. Would look fabulous recovered
or loose covers made"

and from the same seller a side table which has in-built angled magazine racks:
"this is a reproduction ornate and unusual
mahogany sofa end / sofa back table. It is a magazine rack,
the top is great for a lamp or display. It has been in storage
and gained a few tiny marks, is perfectly usable. It measures
36" wide x 16" deep x 34" high"

In reality, this isn't as nice as I'd hoped, because I don't like the colour of the wood. But we only paid £6 for it and it'll come up wonderfully painted another colour, say a deep blue to go in a sunroom or something. It doesn't work as a replica period piece, but shabby chic style it'll be perfect!

We also picked up some amazing old carved pillars, which we're planning to use as decoration either side of a window or doorway:
From the listing:
"a pair of beautifully carved arts and crafts pillars, lovely colour,
probably originally on a piece of furniture, not sure. Two on the
sides have cut outs in them, one side plain and one side beautifully
carved with ivy leaves and stems. Just a small amount of old worm and
the bottom edges have some damage. Not sure how they could be used
but they are such nice pieces they deserve a new life.
Measurements are 41.5" long and 2.25" square"

Friday, December 02, 2005

now it's a 2 storey bathroom

Dad came up with an interesting idea for the bathroom in the old cottage. I still find it a little hard to imagine, so am looking forward to seeing the drawings, but I think it will be really good.

Just to recap, this is where things stood, as of end-October, for the old cottage floorplan. Note the bathroom on the right hand side with the bay window:
Existing house plan - cottage (revised Aug)

Then on Nov 10th we got an email from Dad:
"I want you to consider if you would allow me to build the bathroom
below with a baywindow, but rectangular bay as you described, and along
one wall below create wooden steps winding around to a lofe that rests
on the built-in robes below, with an all glass roof above. Bathroom
below has the vanity set in the bay, the toilet (one of the toilets),
and the shower with surround of some description. If you have seen
the colourbond lined bathrooms with stain-wooden trim and plaster,
painted above the dado line, you would know the look I would like to
create, using a small ripple colourbond. The high ceiling space lends
itself well to this creation. I have the glass for the roofspace I

After discussing with Dave, I replied saying, basically, to go ahead!
"We haven't seen the colourbond lined bathrooms you talk about, but
from your description I imagine it could look really nice... not too
modern, still heritage, but interesting. I can imagine perhaps using
a section of colourbond for a showerscreen too... Assuming that the
bath is in a loft space on top of the wardrobe (in the other room)
that you access via steps... the more I think about it, the more I
can see this could be lovely. The only thing is I think it would be
safest to have some space around it to stand, dry off, etc before you
went down the steps. Otherwise I can imagine it might be quite
slippery & dangerous climbing down as you'll be pretty high up if
it's on top of the BIR's. I love the idea of it having a glass roof
over, it'll create a similar effect to what I was envisioning with
having the bath in the bay window".

On Nov 12th Dad replied:
"will sketch the loft bath, which will have a rather large area of
decking and have hand rails all the way up the stairs and around the
landing. The deck will grand a portion of the bathroom below with a 7'
ceiling bulkhead, but the atrium of the stairs will afford a complet use
of the overhead glass roof. I have a 1200x1200 piece of table glass 1/2"
thick that will be the edge of the shower base with two walls of
colourbond for the other. In the areas not affected by wet, the cladding
below the daddo trim will be selected old palings, with plaster painted
wall above the daddo trim. Will look great if you like the heritage
look. Tiles over the handbasin in the bay window of course, and
tiles on the floor. Or slate. You can input that as I don't have
anything except some cream sandstone tiles that I could use, but which
could clash with the overall look. Will photo these and let you

So, that's where it's at, to date. We're now waiting on the drawings to get a proper idea of what it will look like.

trees are still struggling on, but lost some

Let me start with the bad news... Dad says at least a dozen of the lemon gum trees are dead, like this one:
dead tree (Sept 2005)

Dad thinks this wasn't due to the frost because it isn't tip damage but the entire tree. He says it was due to "wet feet" - in other words, in one of the driest parts of Victoria my trees drowned! His theory is that because we'd planted them in a little 'hollow' to help in catching water during the dry season, when it bucketed down in huge storms in winter the holes filled and the water didn't seep away fast enough.

Even more bad news, many of the other trees which hadn't drowned were being choked by grasses, like this one:
tree overgrown with grass (Sept 2005)

... but fortunately, upon weeding, there was still a surviving tree inside:
surviving tree

It took Dad ages to do. He had to cut access slits in the protector wires for each tree in order to be able to reach inside. He then weeded each and put down the cut grass as mulch, then sewed the slits back up. All up it took around 15-20 minutes per tree!!! Dad has worked so hard on this, I wish we could have helped. We owe him big time.

After he was finally done, you can see that the driveway is starting to take shape, they are definitely little bushes now. It will be worth it in the end, I just hope we don't lose any more... and next year, they will hopefully be big enough to stand taller of the grasses.
view of driveway with trees (Sept 2005)

plumbing and septic saga (part 1)

As part of the submission to get planning & building permits for the old house, we need to include information about the kind of septic system we will be using and water supply arrangements.

The general consensus is that it makes most sense to plan for systems to support both the old & new house. Even though it will cost us more in the short term, it'll save money in the long run.

For water supply, we're planning to put in some big water tanks up on the hill to enable us to get sufficient pressure from gravity feeding. They'll be filled by collecting water from the roof of buildings into the small storage tanks (the ones we've already bought several of) and pumping up.

We haven't decided on precisely which septic system to go for yet as it will depend on pricing, but provided it is suitable for our soil and not outrageously more expensive I'm strongly in favour of an aerated-type system rather than the traditional septic tank. This way, we'll get to recycle more of the water.

This was all too boring to blog as it happened, but I wanted to keep a record of it. So, this is a compilation of all the plumbing and septic related discussion that happened in November:

From Dad's email (Nov 11th):
"We have to have a plumber submit a plan for septic system. I
managed to get a Maryborough plumber to see the place while I was
up there. There was a list provided by the council surveyor of plumbers
who are able to do the work in the area, and I called 6 before I got
onto the chap who was willing to come see the place and discuss with me
the placement of the required service. The plumber must submit the
plans for the septic before a permit to build can be approved. Also a
plumber must do all the plumbing work.

I discussed placement of the header tank for the water supply to obtain
pressure to service the system. We will be placing the tank in the
passage above ceiling in the roof space. That position will afford
adequate pressure for hot water to the laundry and ensuite. It will
be less obvious than on the roof of a veranda. It will be well
protected against water damage should a leak occur. The old tank
will be tested and if it is still good and can be used we will place
it there. Otherwise we must get another. The plumber mentioned
also that we need to have a tank higher up the hill or on a tank
stand that will give adequate water pressure for the house.

There is a minimum supply of water required for the permit to be
granted. We require 20000 litres ready to supply for fire fighting,
and a minimum of 5000 litres of potable. We have when full 13,638
litres as they sit now, but we need greater pressure for the house
and future house.

I propose we place a 5000 gal, that is 22,730 litre, tall profile
tank as far up the top of the hill as possible. That is just where
the peak of the roadway to the hobbithouse passes by the fenceline.
Since we must not build on the fenceline I propose we bring in to
the inside of the roadway and plant more trees or such to obscure
it. The most efficient size tank that can be bought is the 5000
gal for cost/capacity/placement. I will obtain a price for you
before doing anything. That way we have to pump the water up to
the top tank periodically. The new house should be served thus
for the firefighting capacity with this tank so placed. I prefer
to not be relying on electricity to fight a fire. The dam is too
distant for the firefightting, except as a supplement supply.
We could meet minimum firefighting needs with the pump we have
if the dam were closer to the house. But precious moments are
lost while setting up a system, and the gravity system is
always at the ready."

Nov 12... extracts from my reply:
"I was a little confused about where you were talking about
putting the giant 5000gln tank... you talked about a roadway to
the hobbit house but there isn't one (or there isn't meant to
be one)... But then I realised you must be talking about the
dirt track that runs through the forest along the fenceline at
the back of our place? I'm still not entirely sure when you
meant exactly but where we'd been thinking the giant tank would
go is behind the old/new house, up the hill as far back as it
can go near the fenceline... but NOT crossing over to the other
hill where the olives are planted & where the gum trees have
started to come in from the forest & where you were thinking of
building your cottage initially. We want to keep all that area
looking natural as we have plans for it as part of the garden".

Nov 12... extracts from Dad followup mail:
"Sewage can wait a bit I think, but still need to hear from
plumber after his talks with the health and sanitation person
about whether we ought to provide for the new house when doing
the system now. That will be a bigger system of course, but
may be cheaper than doing two systems. But it may be better
to have two systems. If costs are right, will go with the system
for new house as that will not be emptying towards the dam. I
think the place for the septic is in the courtyard, if access
by truck is possible into this inner sanctum. I haven't an
idea how large this will be and where the plantings will be,
and so maybe having the sewage elsewhere, say to the back of
the house, is the best plan....

I read of your thoughts of having the large tank behind the house.
If you do that you must go to the concept of using a pressure pump
system rather than a gravity fed system for your water supply. This
way supposes a consistent access to electricity, and so supposes
going on with the other power supply options. I have a suggestion:
Place a 5000 gal tank up on the highest place we can get it. Plant
things to hide it. If when all things are in place for the new
house and new power supply, simply move it somewhere else. A
gravity system is really the only practical system at present.
The woodstove has to be a gravity system to work properly".

On Nov 13 I replied:
"We don't mean to put the tank behind the house close to it,
but instead far up, way near the back fence. This is still going
to be quite high. We don't want it to be on the hill near the
olive trees. If at the fenceline behind the house still isn't
high enough for gravity feed, can't we put it on a tank stand?
For the big tank I would rather put it in it's ultimate place
rather than somewhere that we'll want to move it from. Because
what will end up happening is that it'll be too much hassle to
move so I'll be stuck with it.

In terms of the sewage treatment approach & position, I want to
consult Eric about that as well as Prue. It can't go in the
courtyard area because that will be all dug out to replace the
soil for planting etc. It also shouldn't go next to the old
house in the part that will be next to the kitchen for the new
house, because the plan is for that to be a herb garden area.
Probably it could go out the front of the old house (not sure
how close that is to the gas line though) or down the slope to
the side a bit further towards the dam... but if you can wait a
little while before deciding precisely where it will be then I
can doublecheck with Prue. But first, I want to check with Eric
about the kind of sewage treatment he suggests".

I then got in touch with Eric in case he had any other suggestions about placement of the tanks and choice of septic system type. Here are extracts from his reply...(Nov 14):

"The planning permit will often contain a condition about water
supply for fire fighting. The dam may be enough. In any case, I
always like to put CFA outlets (to connect to fire hoses) on all
water tanks just in case. They add a little cost to a tank (about
$100) but it's a good idea. 5000 gallon tanks aren't that big.
About 4-4.5m in diameter. I'd probably suggest a couple of them.
You will have plenty of roof area to catch water. We used to have
two 5000 gallon tanks plus the dam for some items and never had
any problems. Larger, site built tanks are another option, but
they require a larger flat spot. I'm not sure about the relative cost.

The septic system will need a separate permit where the type of
system will be nominated. Standard septic systems are the cheapest.
There are other options as well which I described in the Design
Brief. Approved systems are shown on the EPA website.
The shire may also require a Land Capability Assessment which is
a report analysing the site, and recommending a system design. If
you need one, the same person can often do a soil test for the
building at the same time. I often use Provincial Soil Services
in Ballarat for that kind of thing"

We looked at the site Eric recommended and freaked out at how many options there were. So then Dave spoke to Eric to get more clarification. This is from a Nov 17 email written to update Dad about Eric's comments, as relayed to me by Dave:

"Eric too thinks it will probably make the most sense to plan
for the one big septic system now to suit the needs of the new house
as well as the old house. This is particularly the case if we want
to go with an alternative to the standard septic system which is what
we are strongly leaning towards. The two broad approaches are either
to shove it all in a tank, or something (that the name escapes me but
it's something to do with aeration) where you have an area that it
goes to and is treated underground naturally... there are lots of
different variants on second type as it's still relatively new-ish.
At the website he lists above there's a link to see all the EPA
approved systems.

The reason we are interested in the second alternative is that they
are much better in terms of recycling water and we need all the water
we can get, frankly, for the garden. They are a bit more expensive
but he did a project recently where he was surprised how little
extra cost it was... basically, it cost only $1000 more to get the
alternative system than a traditional septic tank. $1000 is not a
lot to pay for extra water over the course of years. Our situation
might be different but I would like to consider an alternative
approach not just assume we go with the standard septic tank of old.

For instance, these are some pictures of lovely garden beds looking
all lush & well watered even though the surrounding areas are very
dry. This is all due to the subsurface irrigation from the effluent
& it improves the soil too. You can't grow food on it but it'd be
great for lawn or a 'bog garden' or whatever.

photos of septic system garden beds(nb: both pictures come from the pdf "guidelines for aerated onsite wastewater treatment available here)

Have you heard of these systems before? Do you think the plumber
in Maryborough knows about them? I'd assume he must as they're not
brand new but I don't really know how it works... perhaps for some
you have to work directly with the system manufacturer to get one of
their approved people to install it. I don't want to create hassle
for you but as part of the purpose is to have a lovely garden there,
this seems like a very good option to explore & I'm strongly in
favour of anything that is better for the environment. "

On Nov 17th Dad replied, with regards to the question of the water tank placement:
"We can overcome this problem by placing a platform over the
5000gal tank to support a 300 gallon tank like I put at Dawn's place.
The large tank will add to the stability in the high winds of a tower
high enough to give pressure to the secondfloor of the new structure.
For the old house, we can get by with putting the 5000 gal there and
connecting it for the firefighting requirement, as it is sufficiently
high for a singlestorey building, even with the tank of the hotwater
service in the roofspace. So if you are planning to not have any
visible tanks on the hill, so be it. You could place a low profile
tank "over" the hill for a short way and still achieve a substantial
elevation advantage for water above the new house, yet not have a
tower to look at".

... and then my reply, agreeing..
"That sounds like a good arrangement. I can imagine ultimately
perhaps using the platform as a bit of a lookout... and maybe if we
extended it out in front to create a sort of verandah effect underneath
the 5000gal tank it would be useful as a makeshift barn. Anyway, we
don't need to decide on any of that now, the beauty of the plan is
that we put just the 5000gal one there for now as that on it's own is
enough for the old house".

planning permit saga (part 1)

In order to start work properly on the old house (so Dad can get his building insurance, etc) we need to get permits in order. We need both a planning permit which will cover the whole site, generally, and a building permit to cover the repairs to the old house.

This is the saga so far:

Nov 4, email from Dad:
"I have talked to the local draftsman that I will be using for the
old place. He is in Great Ryrie Street and a nice fellow. I got a list
of measurements required of him for doing the drawings. Costs is ballpark
figure $900 to $1000, without seeing the place. He suggested that if an
existing drawing of the building was to be had from the council offices
that could save time. I must provide as well as various measurement,
photos from all sides, copy of title, location of building on land, and
the owners name, and details of address of the proposed work".

Nov 9, extracts from Dad's email:
"I have an appt with the building surveyor in Maryborough tomorrow
at 1100.... A planning permit is needed for the old house as the original
one has expired long ago. That won't take a long time the surveyor said,
but is needed... I will try to call Eric soon and see if he is ready for
planning permit only, not building permit as we cannot begin the new
building yet. But there may be difficulties if down the track the plans
he is making for the old building fitting in with the courtyard entity
of the new and this not being acceptable to the council."

Nov 11, extracts from Dad's email:
"I have very good news. There was a permit back in 1985 for restoring
the house. I looked at photos and a lot of stuff on the old house where
it was in Williamstown. It was to have been placed 20 metres from the
top fence with the lounge facing down hill. I have the plans drawn at
the time for me to use to show the draftsman here before he starts his
plans. The building surveyor will have copies of everything left in the
file made and post them to me, but gave me the copies of the plans and
an aerial photo of the house as it sits on the block which shows clearly
the dam, the forest around and present position of the house. ... We
need to supply a copy of the plans Eric has that will show clearly what
is intended for the overall in the future. This is because we are
required to obtain a fresh planning permit as well as a building

Nov 12, more news from Dad:
"I have met with the draftsman just to show him what I had obtained
from the council. I will put measurements to the plans of the old house
and give that to him for drawing the building plans. He will consult
with an associate to sortout the 5-star energy rating design features
required now for passing a planning permit under the Brack's government's
new rules. Having perimeter verandas is one, and reducing glare to
windows. Using less window area but enough for light is another. The
high ceiling is a big bonus I think. I have to study the material
sent some time ago by the building control commission that I gave only
a quick look at when I got it. Insulation of walls and floor and
ceiling is another. Solar supplement for heating hot water, and use of
combustion stove for cooking, heating, and hotwater heating another.
Careful use of water and storage in tanks may not help as it is not
serviced by community water. We will plumb the two toilet cisterns
from the olive tree tank so potable water isn't being used for that
purpose. The septic system will also be helpful in dispersing water
back to pasture.... Am sending in post several contracts. One is for
the new house when you get to getting a permit for that. The
specification will apply to both, and the renovations one or the cost
plus one is for now. Read them over an see which one you want to apply
to this project... Will also include drawing of the old house with new
dimensions... I will take tidied up dimensions on a copy of old plans
to Alan (draftsman) on Weds...I have to pay fees for permit first. I
think he said about $6-700 depending on contract value, plus fees for
planning permit and sewage permit.

After getting Dad's emails I'd also got in touch with Eric just to doublecheck the approach and make sure we weren't going to inadvertantly create problems in future.

Nov 14, Eric's reply about planning permit:
"Some shires are fussier than others about how much information
they want with planning permits. I would expect that the main reason
for needing one for this project is for the septic system. However,
they still often want detail about the actual building design. Things
like overall plan dimensions, heights, external materials and colours.
It's worth checking with the shire before putting it all together,
though. For this planning permit, perhaps both buildings could be shown,
but the new house, sheds etc could be indicated with outlines and
labelled "detail to be supplied" or something like that"

Nov 28, email from Dad: "I just posted by express post the permit applications for your signature... I have started the 2 yr building permit for 25 March 2006 to 25 March 2008.

Dec 1st, email from Dad:
"Alan the draftsman has made a start, and aims to have plans ready
for you to look over before Christmas, but will do a first draft for
you to look over before proceeding to final draft"

doors doors doors

The past few weeks Dad has been clearing through years (perhaps even decades) of "salvaged" building materials as he gets near finishing up renovations to his own house. We are to be the lucky beneficiaries of things he doesn't need, such as doors:

Dad says: "I am close to completing my need of old door use, and will take my stock to Amherst for various needs. I collect doors from hardrubbish for use in such ways, as doors are expensive, and a small stock can often sort out door needs if available to access before building the frame. Then you build the frame to suit the door chosen from your stockpile. I have panel doors for wardrobes, external doors, flywire doors, and a few louvre doors. Things like pantries and drying rooms are especially suited because a louvre door actually "creates" ventilation naturally"

Knowing the scale of my Dad's typical stockpiles, I suspect we won't have to buy a single door provided we're creative!

great scavenging finds

I can't take the credit for any of this as it is all thanks to my Dad. He is truly the king of scavengers! Over the course of the past two months he has managed to get hold of some great fittings to be used in the renovations of the cottage. Here's just a few:

An amazing mantlepiece that Dad found by the side of the road, which we will use in the loungeroom:
mantlepiece for cottage

There is also a small wooden fire that he got from somewhere, I'm not sure where. It is very nice looking although I'm not sure yet whether the style of it will work with the mantlepiece. We might use it temporarily and then move it to somewhere else later if it doesn't suit:
old fire stove

Dad also collected from the roadside, in his words, "a very good shower base, white, a good hand basin, two good toilet pans, and some cisterns, though I will probably get new cisterns". No pictures of those yet, but I can show you a bath:


Dad got this from one of the places he works, who were getting rid of it as part of their renovations. In his words "it is in very good order and suitable to be either free standing or to sit up against walls in a corner. It is white and castiron. I got it for $20 and think it a very good thing for the Amherst bathroom. The price new would be about $500-$700. But it is second hand so not worth so much. But a good thing I think. You could buy some nice tiles with the savings. I propose to mount it end on to the wall or free standing altogether with a surround of something to form a hob all around".

We have lights and fans too. I'm not sure where they came from but Dad says "I have two ceiling fans with oysterstyle lights central to the fan. These are in good order and will be for the bedrooms. They can be run cheaply by solar if you don't get power soon, or by inverters using deepcycle 12 volt batteries which are charged by the car when travelling whereever." Pictures to come...

our temporary verandah

The old house now has a front verandah! It is only temporary but it's a start. Dad built it as a place for the dogs to stay when he's up there, while also giving some protection to the decorative features on the front until he can repair them.

In Dad's words: "I've built a great compound for them from the access scaffold. Scaffold must remain where it is for the duration of the project. Will use other scaffold to gain access to other parts of the building. Spent two days to build it, but it is roofed and walled, with windows and ventilation. The planks are protected from deteriation and yet safe for dogs to use. Can also store other planks on top of them so as to not suffer from termite damage or rot. Much of the timber stored on the ground last christmas has white ant infiltration. Not much damage yet, but given another few months and there would have been"

Here are some pictures:
temporary front verandah (Sept 2005)

side view of temporary verandah (Sept 2005)

the silence is broken!

I've been dreadful recently about posting to this blog. Over a month! That's my worst yet I think and I don't have any good excuse except that I got out of the habit. As per usual, it took the arrival of some new photos from my Dad to get me inspired to catch up.

Not too much has happened at the London-end in the past month besides a few more Ebay purchases, but there's been loads done by Dad. He's met with various people from the council with regards to getting planning & building permits, found a plumber to work with, saved the trees, had a brainwave about the bathroom layout, and got started with a draftsman to draw up plans for the old house! More on each of these in the following posts...

(nb: in case you're wondering, we're still working closely with Eric our architect. But, as the old house layout is relatively straightforward we all agreed it made sense to save our money to spend with Eric on the new house planning. So, Dad found a draftsman local to where he lives in Melbourne who's able to do the old house drawings a lot more cheaply than Eric would have had to charge).