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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Logs, hidden water and tents

The latest in the series of random ideas that - if time and money were no object - we could explore.  Meaning that in reality we likely will not, but hey... it's still fun to jot them down :-)

Small sliced logs as wall decor
One of those ideas you have to see the picture to appreciate.  I love this concept, and we're going to have to cut up wood for firewood, don't see why they can't do some extra slices while they're at it.  :-)  In Martha's version it is birch wood, but I think it would be nice to do it with some native wood, there must be some that have a nice pattern

Chandelier inspired from nature
We saw this in person when in NYC in September at ABC Carpet & Home in Union Square.  I used to love window shopping there and was thrilled to find it still existed, nearly 2 decades later.  I loved this chandelier and came pretty close to wanting to buy it when Dave pointed out with a little ingenuity we could make our own version, and we'd have to rewire the damn thing anyway as US wiring is totally different to UK or Australia.  I still love it though. It's called "The Enchanted" and it comes from a company called Canopy Designs.

Disappearing swimming pools
Sadly they don't give any prices which usually means it is not something any mere mortal could afford.  But it's a cool concept nonetheless.

Safari cabin tents
I've always loved the safari tent cabins we've stayed in when in Africa.  I think they'd work just as well for temporary (but more comfy than usual) guest accommodation in Australia too.  Here's an Australian based company that makes various kinds: Ecostructures

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Lining the lake house ceiling

Dad is pressing on with work at the lake house, whenever he can find a spare couple of days.  Now we have a roof on both sides, and a start made on lining boards holding up the insulation too. I love the way it looks, it will be brilliantly airy and light feeling.

work continues on dam house roof lining - 11 work continues on dam house roof lining - 01

Email from Dad, Nov 13th:  (originally we'd planned to leave the lining boards as a job for us to do)
I want the best lining boards to go on the old house veranda... that means that I will possibly have to use several different types of boards to do the lakehouse. I have realised that if I don't do this task now I will have to provide another 4 rafters for the task of fixing the ends of the boards and that is pointless. So I will do that task now.

 Email from Dad, Nov 26th: 
I sorted the boards of several of the most promising board size with respect for quantity to complete the work with one type of board. This was worthwhile work as I needed to be sure before committing myself to a size. As it transpired I have a sizeable pile, I think I will get all the dado as well as the ceiling from it. There are very many boards which almost work-in but don't because of the ends being split or rotted. These will be cut to use for the dado up to 900mm. Above this dado will be plasterboard painted to provide the contrasting and set off the lining boards.  I didn't straighten the underside of the rafters as when I checked they were pretty good on this side at least.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hedging our bets with the old house

So we were all set with the plans for the old house - it was to be a lovely little guest cottage, and a place to live in temporarily while the new house was built.  As the move looms closer though, we're being more practical and hedging our bets.

We'll need to be *very* sure before selling up in London and building the new house, since it'll be unlikely we could recoup that investment should we ever need to sell.  So, we've decided to make sure the old house is renovated in a way that, if worst came to worst, we'll be happy to stay living in long-term.

Which really just comes down to a question of space.  The way we had it planned was perfect for a holiday rental, but for permanent living there just wasn't enough storage and the kitchen was too cramped.  So we're tweaking one last time (hopefully).   It'll add a little on to renovation costs but Dad doesn't think too much - and certainly it will be a hell of a lot cheaper to make the changes now than later.

Here's the latest planned layout:

revised old house plan

For comparison, here's what it used to be:
latest layout plan for old house

There are 3 main differences between the old and new versions.  First, we stretched it - buying us space for a walk-in robe in the bedroom, as well as a more spacious dining area.  Second, we added an extra small "L" shaped bit to the kitchen area, again just to buy some more cupboard space and help the kitchen feel not quite so open-plan.   Third, the entry to the laundry is now enclosed to give a small back entrance area - a place for coats and muddy boots.  We've also made some minor tweaks - eg: changing the position of the bay window to have the symmetry of windows at either end; changing the direction the back steps go out, etc.

When I look at it, it feels pretty minor - but that extra space is going to make all the difference between feeling cramped and feeling comfortable.

We also gave some thought to how we might incorporate some of the scavenged materials - there are quite a few that, on initial glance, seem like they could fit.  Here's the ideas:

revised old house layout with coding coding for scavenged finds

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Lake house update

Dad has been making steady progress.  I love seeing it coming together, it's looking even better than I imagined.

Here's the latest photos Dad send, showing the roof being added, on one side, and below are extracts from his emails explaining what he did.

lakehouse gets a (one-side) roof - 2 lakehouse gets a (one-side) roof - 5

lakehouse gets a (one-side) roof - 4  lakehouse gets a (one-side) roof - 3

From email 22 Sept

"I got the rafters into place the first day. I had to accommodate a small dip in the wall plates by cutting the rafters to suit each position so as to get a near perfect fit against the ridge. I am very pleased with the fit of the 14 sets of rafters.

 Overnight I was worrying how I might manage to do the roof battens and sheets as I do not have materials for making pipe scaffolding to that height that can be easily put there as all my long pipes are involved with the scaffold for the old house. I woke up with the answer, as is often the way.

I had ordered material that would be used for the second half of the veranda at the front of the old house, but had to use the rafter materials for the lakehouse. As you can see in the photos I managed to create a high perch using the long battens with enough remaining for the lakehouse. I didn't have enough to be sure until I am finished with the fitting of battens on the lakehouse to use any for handrails, but will use some if possible.

I placed the scaffold to trim the rafter tails, fit the fascia, fit the battens, and then the sheets. I had to space the rafters at 450mm centres because we are lining the underside with lining boards for the high ceiling. Normal spacing for this kind of roof is closer to 1mtr. As the roof grows in timber members so the weight increases. Consequently, I have installed very sturdy bracing against wind and weight as I am building the roof. This bracing had to replace bracing made earlier but which was in the way of current works.

The triple grips to anchor the rafters at the plate were put on prior to making hoop iron strap bracing to make it all more rigid. I have to put sarking on top of the battens before the sheets. I have placed the battens to suit the secondhand sheets holes from previous fitting"

From email 25 Oct

"I got the first half of the roof sheeting done last visit. The breeze was at times difficult, and at the end of the second day the drill fell into the water. I had to stop work until it could be checked for safety...     I was obliged to make a ridge hook ladder from one of my old tressles made of pipe. It worked a treat, but it is quite strenuous to my feet to remain standing on such a gradient for any length of time.

I will have to assign the ladder to be used for the loft access because it must remain for use when getting on the roof to do any maintenance. Are you still keen to have the rusty iron atop the roof to render it old looking? I have to proceed with this stage if that is the case before I remove access scaffolding. Once I put the weatherboards on the gable ends it will be neccessary to access the roof from the aluminium ladder founded in the dam bed beside the pier.

 I have to get some suitable material to make the ornamental barges also. Do you have any special pattern for the ornamentation in mind, or should I try to copy that in the photo of the old boathouse you sent me? The tooling of the boards is to be done prior to fastening them after cutting to size from the stock board. I can do a small range of router tooling for the edges, and can use a jigsaw for the shaping of the board. Ideally I will get some secondhand cedar from the demolition yard. Using cedar will mean it will endure"

(NB: We've decided not to worry about the rusty iron on top because it looks so splendid as is, so that'll be a good time saver.  In terms of the ornamental barges, I'm still trying to figure that out - am not exactly sure what they are yet :-)   It may be we delay that until later, but tbd)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Inspiration from India

We recently spent a week in India on a whirlwind trip...  the so-called Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur.  I *really* did not like the cities - Delhi in particular - but it was worth it to see the architecture at the historic sites.

The whole trip was planned to see the Taj Mahal, to finally tick it off my "must-see" list.  I'd fully expected to be disappointed, but even with high expectations, it was stunning.  Then there were all these other places, like Agra Fort and Qutb Minar that I'd never known about that were awe-inspiring too.

Anyway, as was usual, I was always looking out for ideas for Amherst:

Flower decorations on wall
These were at the Red Fort in Delhi.  They were carved into the stone but I'm wondering *if* you got the right mould, whether you could do something similar, pressed into adobe. I liked the fact that they had detail but it wasn't ornate everywhere, just very simple and true to life shapes.

Red Fort in Delhi - 09

Single tiles as decoration
This is from a big arched gateway at Humayuns Tomb, also in Delhi.  There was just a single panel like this at the top of each side.  I'm not sure if originally there was decoration all over, but seeing it like this made me think that a way to stretch out our antique tile collection could be to place them in a similar way, set above doors either side of the wall.

Humayans tomb in Delhi - 16

Flying staircase
This is from Fatehpur Sikri.  I loved the shape it made next to the wall.  Obviously would only work for narrow staircases and probably violate all kinds of health and safety rules... but I still like the look of it.

Fatehpur Sikri - 22

Interestingly shaped pools and drains
This is from Agra Fort.  Lovely shape for an ornamental pond.  I don't have the slightest idea how you'd build it though if you didn't have a team of free stonemasons on hand.  Perhaps make a mold in concrete and pour it in?  It'd be a right pain though, so suspect this one will stay on the drawing board.

Agra Fort - 45

But this is much simpler... who said drain catchment thingies needed to be boring looking?  This catches the water from the pipes from the roof, as a kind of mini pond, and then there appeared to be a place for water to drain out under the little central round bit.

Agra Fort - 43

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hobbit houses in Wales

My Dad for a long time has wanted to build a kind of hobbit house as a hobby project, on the far side of our hill.  So when I spotted this article with pictures of a similar kind of hobbit house in Wales I just had to share.  He loves it, apparently this is exactly the kind of thing he was thinking of.  I don't know when or even if it will get done, but wouldn't it be cool?  :-)

You can find out more about it at the guy's own site: SimonDale.net, including lots of photos of which the below are just a sample.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lake house gets beginnings of a roof

The exciting news is, we have the outlines of a roof!  There was a little to and fro'ing at one stage, Dad was considering a shortcut of making a much lower roof using some old bullnose sheets we have lying around... but on consideration we stuck to our guns and decided to stick to the original plan of having a nicely pitched roof.  I'm so glad, I love the shape it's turning out to be.

dam house work in progress - 13

dam house work in progress - 01 CROPPED

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Great Pillars of Amherst

Pete had a chance to do some more work on the brick columns for the garden.  Or as Michael (who helps with the mowing) christened them, "the great pillars".  I agree, they do look a little ridiculous out on their own in the middle of a field, but just you wait till they're joined up :-)

brick pillars for walled garden - 4 CROPPED

Saturday, August 13, 2011

yet more holes... awaiting stumps

Besides getting the windows in for the "lake house", Dad also made progress on the front verandah.  He's dug the holes for the stumps, so next trip hopefully they'll be able to get put in.  Once the stumps are in, the rest seems to happen relatively quickly - or at least more visibly.  :)

holes for front verandah stumps

the lakehouse starts to take shape

Progress at Amherst is always sporadic, but we're on a bit of a roll at the moment.

My brother Pete saw a lot of old cedar windows being thrown away from the building site he was working on, so rescued them from the skip for Dad to collect.  They're in great condition - I can't believe people throw away stuff like this!

Anyway, rather than hassle finding a place to store them, Dad decided instead to use them right away in building the "lake house", aka the fancy shed being built on stilts in the middle of the dam.  

He moved the scaffolding from the house down to the dam and set up little plank walkways so he can move around the outside.  Dad seems to be making up the design as he goes, and there's a lot more windows in than previously envisioned, but that's OK.  It'll end up I suspect feeling more like a sunroom than a boathouse, but it still suits the setting so I'm not fussed, and I am just grateful to have progress!

beginning the lakehouse proper 009   beginning the lakehouse proper 011

beginning the lakehouse proper 010

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mowing update

I can't get over how fast this year is going.  It seems like only a few weeks ago that we had the mowing done but it was actually 4 months!

Michael kindly sent some photos so we could see the finished job.  The orchard looks same as last time except that the trees are in their winter / no leaves coat.

orchard after mowing - 2 orchard after mowing - 1

This time he also mowed up in the olive grove, and that's looking a little more exciting - the olives are looking like proper bushes now, giving me hope they might one day appear tree-like.  His main focus was clearing around the fenceline I think, which Dave had run out of time to do last trip.

olive grove after mowing - 6 olive grove after mowing - 5

Next trip I want to get some more plants in around here to take advantage of it being fenced...  I was thinking of Agaves, but not sure they will be practical around the olives, so perhaps will need to look for some other succulents that are hardy enough to grow with zero support.  Hmmm.  

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Cotton trees and vanilla beans

We recently went to Mauritius and while there I came across two fascinating plants that I would love to try and grow one day.  Both were at an old colonial house that is now a restaurant and sugar mill making its own rum, called St Aubin.

The first plant was cotton.  I'd seen cotton before in Mississippi, but it was a shrub, waist high, with little wads of cotton you picked about the size of cotton balls.  Well, it turns out that if you leave it long enough, cotton plants grow into beautiful trees.

This tree at St Aubin is over 100 years old - but it is beautiful, with a bottle shape and canopy with enormous seed pods and bright pink flowers that reminded me of magnolias

st aubin - 07 - cotton tree  st aubin - 08 - cotton tree
st aubin - 10 - cotton tree  st aubin - 09 - cotton treezoom

Being realistic I know that I am never going to have a tree like this at Amherst.  Not just time is against me, so are the winter frosts.  Still, according to this really helpful blogpost, you can grow them OK as shrubs in Sydney... and I reckon if I got creative wrapping with fleece I could probably help the shrubs survive at least a couple of winters with hope of them getting at least a bit tree like?  Hmmm...  

The second plant was vanilla which to my amazement looked really similar to a french bean, in the sense of it growing like a vine.  I think this would be great for growing in a light bathroom where you could ensure it'd stay warm.  There's no need to worry about bees not being able to get in, since they're hard to pollinate naturally anyway - but there's a way to manually do it by removing a membrane and folding the top of the plant flower over.  Orchids Australia put a bit of a dampener on the concept but I still reckon its worth a try.

st aubin - 03 - vanilla

Sunday, April 24, 2011

We have wildlife (not all welcome)

So Dave saw a snake when he was clearing the long grass in the olive grove. We knew they were around but I wish they would just stay hidden. It ran away from him into the forest so at least it wasn't mean.

On the plus side though, in the olive grove he also saw a stumpy tailed lizard. These are cute in a monster-ish sort of way. They are harmless but they have a bad temper and if you come near them they will stick their tongue out and hiss. Like in this photo. Unfortunately they are also stupid and so unlike snakes that run away, these guys just stay fixed in position meaning you have to be ultra-careful when mowing.

More interestingly in the dam we have yabbies (a kind of freshwater crayfish). As I will never be able to get rid of them, I am now thinking I may adopt them as a kind of low maintenance pet.

a friendly yabbie - 1

Dave has a yabbie net - he throws it in with bait to catch them so he can see how big they are. He swears he lets them go... and indeed in this case I have proof that at least one escaped the pot. I never knew yabbies swam backwards before!

The olives are thriving

Dave spent the last day at Amherst clearing his beloved olive grove. He moved away all the bits of wire and mowed it, and it looks amazing.

olive grove - 9

Some of the trees are nearly as tall as Dave. Even better, some have actual olives on them!

olive grove - 4

olive grove - 2

Behind the olives, there are a couple of peppercorn trees that Dave planted on his last visit. They're doing really well too, they'd nearly doubled in size. They're meant to be pretty fast growing so with like by the time we move there they'll look like actual trees.

olive grove - 7

Step 4: building the columns

Once the foundations were sorted, the most exciting part (for me anyway) began - building the columns.

The brick delivery guy kindly used his forklift to scatter the pallets around the paddock, so they'd be near where Pete would need them.

Then Pete began work. First he used the mixer to make mortar by mixing cement, sand and water.

working on the garden wall - 11

Then he started laying, using the Daniel Robertson bricks on the outside and the cheaper (less nice looking) bricks on the middle. Each row needed leveling, then more mortar and repeat.

building the columns - 02 building the columns - 04

After a few rows - apparently called 'courses' - he built a frame to serve as a guide to the level. Then he just continued straight on up.

building the columns - 11

To make it easier to join up the middle bits, he left holes on the side parts. And at the top he did a nice pattern which is modeled on the shape of our chimney in London. For the time being, the top is filled in with cement, but left flat so ultimately we can perhaps put a planter or something on top.

building the columns - 07 building the columns - 09

In the end Peter managed to get 4 columns built in the time they had. Each column is around 2.1-2.2m tall (Dave can't remember exactly). But you can get a good sense of the scale in this pic with Pete atop. :-)

building the columns - 16

Originally I had planned on having columns every 3-4m, but on site Dave revised that to every 5m. I've been worried about this, right up till today when I finally had the brainwave to go and measure at the walled garden in the park - and found they were even further apart! (more like 5.5-6m). So now I am much relieved. :-)

They decided to do large columns (3 x 3 bricks) on the corners and for the gateposts at either end, with smaller columns (2 x 2 bricks) in between. This is the rough plan they sketched up:

the latest vegie garden plan

We've got a long way to go obviously, but at least from here on progress will be visible!

Step 3: pouring the concrete

Once the steel was in position, the next step was to fill the trenches in with concrete.

The area was way too vast to attempt to do by hand, so we ended up getting readymixed concrete trucked in from Eureka Concrete. Who clearly are great suppliers, not only because they were friendly and reliable, but because they have trucks that look like Tonka toys :-)

Each truck contained 5 cubic metres worth of concrete, and we needed 7m for the short sides and 10m for the long side. We poured a side a day, so each day we had two trucks turn up.

The concrete came out of a big funnel which had a lever so you could direct it. To get it to spread and settle in properly you poked it with a shovel. Then finally to smooth it out you use a little spreader thing, as if you were icing a cake.

concrete in the trenches - 04 concrete in the trenches - 09

The final complication was that our ground was on a slight slope - but the concrete had to be level in order for the brick columns to be built upon. So every so often the guys had to put in little steps in the concrete - this too had to be worked out in advance.

concrete in the trenches - 06

Overall, it took about 20-30 minutes to pour each side, then another 30 mins to do the smoothing. The concrete was hard enough to walk on within a few hours, but to be safe we didn't start building columns on it until the next day after it had been poured.