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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Curtains from Dad

While the weather is so hot (40 plus degrees) Dad has found it unbearable sleeping in his caravan so relocated to the lakehouse when he is up there.  To help keep the sun off during the day, he installed curtains as well as a roller-blind on the door.

I'm reserving judgment on the curtains stylistically until I see them in person.  Although I'd place bets the frilly lace will not remain for long!  I suspect the long calico will work OK, although it is different in style to the wooden shutters I had been set on.  But I'm grateful for Dad's thoughtfulness and appreciate he needed to get something installed quick.  And if the calico curtains aren't perfect long-term, I'll be able to find somewhere else they could go, and in the meantime they do the job.

What started as a shed is starting to get rather civilised!  :)

curtains in lakehouse - 1

curtains in lakehouse - 3

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The chair bath gets re-enamelled

I posted a few weeks ago about the 1930's chair bath we'd acquired.  It had been sandblasted back to a lovely matte finish, but one that was sadly appearing quite porous.  We researched to find a way to seal it so it could be used without fear of staining and the best option appeared to be to just get it re-enamelled.

I found a company nearby called Refinishing Touch who were able to help.  It turned out to be a more intensive job than I expected -- and more expensive -- but they did a brilliant job so it was well worth it.

First, they created a smooth surface by rubbing back and filling in all the little bumps.  The darker bits in this photo show it while it was drying:

bath is reenamelled - 2

Next came the spraying.  It was ventilated out the back door, with the room sealed off to try and stop the smell of the chemicals coming into the house.  This photo was taken through the window looking into the back room as it wasn't safe to go in while he was spraying without a mask:

bath is reenamelled - 3

It took the best part of a day to do the work, but the finished result is splendid -- all shiny looking like a normal bath finish.  I think it's going to work really well.

bath is reenamelled - 4

Water tanks in the dam

We'd always planned to have some potable water at the lake house (ie: not just from the muddy dam).  Dad's original idea was to run a pipe down from one of the tanks higher up the block, but then he worried the pressure would be too great to leave the line open all the time -- and too costly if the pipe burst and we lost a tank full of water.    So he moved on to plan B, which was to install a small tank standing in the water next to the lakehouse.

To save money Dad made use of tanks we already had on site.  For the stand he used an old metal header tank that came with the Rayburn all those years ago.  It had been damaged in the removal so wasn't suitable to install as a tank again, so this is a good way to recycle.  Then, he balanced a small tank he'd had beside the caravan on top.  It worked out to be the perfect height for the level of the pier.

water tank at the front of lakehouse

The plan is to extend the pier at the front so that goes around the tank, and then you will not see the underneath part.  Eventually we will put a small basin and maybe even one of those portable shower bags next to the tank, and wall it off somehow so it's not so obtrusive looking.  I did prefer the way the lakehouse looked originally from the entrance, without the tank, but I think with creativity we can find a way to make this look equally nice.  Of course, this means the lakehouse will eventually get spouting too, so it can keep the tank topped up :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

1930's cast iron Sitz 'chair' bath

Our bathroom is on its way to being truly vintage.  We have the 1890's toilet -- "The Climax Washdown Pedestal Closet" to give its full tremendous title.  Now added to the mix is a 1930's chair bath.

I first encountered this style of bath when I visited Ripponlea, an historic house in Melbourne, in 2010. They had a matching bathroom set that included both a normal bath with a shower contraption above it, and this other bath in the shape of a chair.  They also had a toilet with a high cistern tank, so even though ours is a few decades out, it's still in broad keeping.

ripponlea - 34 ripponlea - 35

I was immediately struck by how useful a chair bath kind of thing would be during times of drought.  There is nothing like soaking in a bathtub, but that's something that you can do only rarely when you have to watch every drop of water.  But a chair bath would, I presume, give you a bit of a similar feeling, and use only a fraction of the water.  So I had been looking out for one, but with little hope, when suddenly ...  I found an Ebay listing for a restored 1930s german spa bath leather lounge chair.

Intrigued, I had a look and yes!  It was indeed one of these kind of baths, that had been restored and fitted with a (removable) leather cushion.  Here it is now, as well as a photo of what it was like when they found it:

chair bath - 2 chair bath - 3

It is hugely heavy, made of cast iron, takes two strong people to lift.  It's been sandblasted back to get rid of the staining, and right now has a lovely chalky white finish.  But we are going to have to put a sealant on the surface I fear, to make it like a normal bath, as I worry it might get easily stained otherwise.  

From the Ebay description:

If you are looking for something unique then chairs do not come much harder to find than this stunning example. Dated pre war and made by the German manufacturer Ahlmann. Fully sand blasted to remove all corrosion then the base has been painted gloss black to contrast with the matt white porcelain. A new tan leather cushion provides a comfortable and stylish look.

Since becoming the proud owner of this chair bath I've done a little digging to try and find out more about them.  Especially... why???!!!   Given that one was installed in a bathroom in Ripponlea that also had a normal bath, what on earth was the point of it?  

I found the answer in FAQ #6 at a brilliant website aptly titled Vintage Plumbing

The Sitz bath, or a Seat bath was made in the shape of a chair with a raised back, lowered and rounded bottom, and sides to rest the arms on. The operating hardware was standing valve and drain hardware roughly half the size of the set that would mount on a normal bathtub. These fixtures came in enamelled cast iron with claw legs or pedestal as well as solid porcelain with base moulded on or on individual pedestal like "legs". They were roughly 2.5 feet x 2.5 feet square and maybe 18" tall in back. Elaborate models had hardware on both sides that operated not only the fill spout and drain mechanism but also a "wave" feature up high on the back and even a douche feature that shot a geyser up from the drain fitting! ....

To best understand the purpose of this fixture, one has to understand the American culture regarding bathing 90-120 years ago. Bathing was widely feared as unhealthful or else felt to be unnecessary so many people didn't. ... Yet, water was and still is believed to have restorative and recuperative powers (and) hot water might reduce hemorrhoids ... So, for upper class or wealthy people who lived in finer homes in urban areas and who bathed more routinely than rural folks, specialty plumbing fixtures were available to be used for unusual bathing purposes.... Sitz baths were not all that uncommon in better homes and mansions. People could rest their posterior sections in about 8" of water through the use of this chair shaped and sized bathtub. Water could then work its magic. 

Indeed, if you search for Sitz bath today, you find it is still a recommended treatment for some medical conditions -- although sadly it nowadays takes the form of a plastic contraption you buy from a chemist and fit over your toilet!  Still.  I am happy that we are able to provide a home for this now-rare item.  I'm planning to situate it in the open shower area, and have the shower head on a pulley so we can just fill it from that whenever we want to use, rather than faffing about getting it its own plumbing.  And, if I change the cushion cover so it's waterproof, the rest of the time it can be a cool bathroom chair :) 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

idea for pier handrail

We still have work to do on the pier. One of the things that Dad insists is needed is some sort of handhold, on one side anyway.  We're still toying with exactly what form it will take as we don't want it to be obtrusive.  Here's one idea, that I saw at Burgh Island on our recent visit.  I like it as it seems suitably nautical without being overly fancy:

mermaid pool on burgh island - 4

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Climax Washdown Pedestal Closet

I've always admired the old porcelain ornately patterned Victorian-era toilets, the kind you see occasionally in fancy old hotels.  I'd have happily settled for a repro but even that I couldn't find. So I was left to watch Ebay and pray.  Some came up over the years but they ended up being way too expensive.  Then, finally, earlier this year there was one that -- because it has a (tiny) chip, and wasn't sold by an antique dealer -- was within reach, in both location and price.

I thus present to you "The Climax Washdown Pedestal Closet" (!!) that will one day, hopefully, be our toilet. :-)

victorian toilet - 1

victorian toilet - 3 victorian toilet - 4

I've done a little research on it since it arrived.  First, I got hold of a book entitled "Ceramic Water Closets" from which I learned: 

In 1884 Frederick Humperson introduced the wash-down WC, considered to be the first of its type.  D.T. Bostel of Brighton also claimed a similar invention in 1889.  Both firms had cooperated with sanitary potters and no doubt all parties contributed to the washdown closet's development.  Wash-down closers were an evolutionary development of earlier cottage pan and trap arrangements, but in one piece with the water seal raised to within the bowl.  Successful operation of wash-down WC's depends on the force of flushing water to drive soil from the bowl.  Early wash-downs were made with full-front pedestals, but later models were modified into the easier to make cut-away styling.  Since 1890 the wash-down flushing principle has been adopted as the prototype for most WC development.  

Our toilet has a full front (ie: it goes sort of straight down rather than tucking in with a curve like modern toilets), so that suggests it must be one of the earlier ones.  Cool!  There's something nice about it being a true ancestor to modern toilets.  :)

I also hunted online to see if I could find its manufacturer.  The only people I found still making this model style (albeit not fancily patterned) were Thomas Crapper & Co.  I emailed them to ask if this was one of theirs and they very kindly wrote back, not just with information about it but also some installation tips and warnings:  

That is an attractive loo, but I regret that I do not know who produced it. In the 19th century there were dozens of companies producing hundreds of different loo pans, so I do not know them all!   However I have looked it up and I see that 'Climax' was a W.C. trade name for Messrs. Smeaton & Sons of London, registered 1889.

Note that it is made for a high-level cistern (about six feet from the floor).  A low-level version will give you a very poor flush.  I note too that the loo is rather crazed... Bear in mind that this indicates that the loo has become porous.  You may find that the floor under the pan will become damp if you install it.  However if fitted in, say, a downstairs cloakroom which is well-ventilated, it may be all right.

With that warning in mind, we are testing its water-tightness at the moment, having stood it in an old oven tray and poured a jug of water in.  So far, so good... it is holding water no problem.  There is lots of crazing at the top but not much down below where the water sits in the pan, and none seems to have seeped out yet.  I'll give it a week.  In worst case, if it does leak I'll move onto plan B which is to put some sort of glue or epoxy over it in the part where the water is sitting.  It's such a nice loo that it's worth some effort saving.  

By the way, the porcelain edge isn't as uncomfortable to sit on as it might appear.  However, it is definitely cold, so my plan is to install one of the old fashioned style wooden seats over it, affixed via shelf brackets.  Although we will likely have to make such a seat ourselves, since to buy new is, sadly, a bit expensive.  If anyone can make one though, my Dad can. :)

Sadly, I fear this is the end of the trail in terms of finding about the supplier.  I had a hunt for "Smeaton & Sons" in London online and unearthed a reference to them being involved in improving public lavatories in Billingsgate Market in 1961.  Armed with the address from that of 40-43 Chancery Lane, I then unearthed two mentions of them (here and here) in the 1966 London Gazette relating to the company being wound up.  

Saturday, September 08, 2012

we (halfway) have a proper pier!

We've had a functional pier for a year now, made out of old wire fence panels, salvaged from the Toora house.  But while perfectly serviceable, it lacked a certain charm up close.  So when he needs a break from the heavy digging work, Dad has been using up the leftover decking wood, from his own verandah in Melbourne, as well as the offcuts from the 'lake house' floor, to give it a proper pier finish.  
Here's a few photos of it in progress: 

lakehouse - pier - 2

lakehouse - pier - 4

lakehouse - pier - 3

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A fence from Parnu, Estonia

In mid-August I went on a week's road trip across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  It was great, although I wish we'd had more time, since there were some great things that were off the beaten path that we weren't able to see.

However, one night we stopped in Parnu, a beach resort town in Estonia, about halfway between Riga and Tallinn.  While wandering there I saw this fence:

Estonia - Parnu - 27

While it's not the lovely brick walled garden fence of my dreams, it doesn't look half bad.  And it would be a hell of a lot cheaper and faster to erect than brick.  So perhaps we could compromise... put fence like this between most of the pillars, with solid brick walls in just a few sections.  That way we'd still have area to grow fruit against the walls, but without it completely breaking the bank, which a fully enclosed bricked walled garden will sadly do.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

dad donates a chair and dressing table

Dad is a master at scavenging useful objects from the roadside.  His latest find is a lovely Lloyd Loom style chair (in fact it could even be Lloyd Loom -- I can't tell without seeing if it has a label).  It needs painting, of course, but that's easy, and it will be perfect to go at a dressing table.

closeup of chair

Speaking of which, Dad has also donated a dressing table top to go in the Lakehouse.  Here's his description, and below a photo.  I think, with a little restoration and creativity regarding finding it a proper base, it'll come up well.  I like the shape and it looks perfect paired with the old washbasin.  

I bought an antique cedar dresser from the woman who sold you the panelling.  It turned out that the whole of the bottom part was totally ruined and not salvageable.  So I took that away and made another base for the top and put it onto a table top for Jenny and Paul.  But they didn't want it anymore so I got it back.  I was storing it in my garage with the prospect of using it as a vanity in my bathroom here in Ringwood, but decided it would be much better in the Lakehouse if you like it.  The carving is by hand, and the whole will come up very nice with restoration.  

lakehouse - inside - 4

Friday, August 24, 2012

foundation digging

Dave had a fleeting trip to Australia in early August and managed to get a few hectic days working with Dad up at Amherst.  It turned out to be a frustrating time because the work they were doing -- on the foundations of the old house -- was tedious and slow.  There are apparently about 60 stumps needed for the extension area and they have to be in very precise positions.  The ground was hard and if you hit a rock, well, you just had to find a way through.  The little tractor wasn't strong enough to do it on its own so they had to experiment with jerry-rigging weights to it, in order to get more downward pressure.  And even then, did a lot by hand.  Anyway, progress was made, but just nowhere near as much as they'd hoped.

Here's some photos:

old house - foundation work - 7

old house - foundation work - 4

old house - foundation work - 2

Here's an extract from Dad's email about it, after a subsequent trip: 

I am focussing on the old house ...   I will be working this week on getting the stump-holes completed.  I am hopeful a new approach of using progressively larger augers until the size needed is achieved will mean I won't  have to do so much manual digging to get the holes right for the stumps.  I was able to do the holes at the front of the house with just the large auger so was surprised with all the trouble we have at the rear of the house.  The weighting basket arrangement for the auger is working well, but with one less rock than we had before.  Getting our approach right for digging holes on the block is valuable lessons learned.  Dave and I struggled with the manual digging this trip, and with a better approach to digging holes may avoid another such crisis when time is precious. 

I cannot wait until the foundations are done and Dad can get onto the proper building. But that's nothing compared to Dad, I think all this digging work is intensely hard and frustrating for him; he much prefers carpentry.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rain rain rain

So work continues but oh so slowly.  In winter there's less daylight, it's cold and it's pot luck whether the weather is nice or not.  For an area that's meant to be dry, it does seem to rain a lot at the wrong times.  Still I will never begrudge the rain there, even though it does slow things down.  

Dad's report from last week's trip:

I had dreadful weather this visit.  On Sunday and Monday it was very cold but not raining, just overcast.  But the clouds bucketed down on Tues and a bit on Weds.  I was able to complete the enclosure of the octagon room by working until 9pm on Sun, using light and generator, and again working from 0430 to 9pm on Mon.  Little did I know that the heavy rain was to come on Tues, but needless to say I was relieved I had made the octagon room serviceable. 

(The 'Octagon room' is a small enclosure Dad has built near his campsite surrounding the fire, so there is somewhere warm to be when it's cold)

I moved a tankful of water to the 5000 gal tank so we could continue to collect water this winter.  When I go back I will move more water. I moved materials stored in the Lakehouse out to the embankment.  I had put the decking into the Lakehouse the previous visit because the rains had filled the dam and where the decking was lying was underwater.  But now all is tidy in the Lakehouse and materials stored properly under covers on the embankment ready to resume the building of the pier.  I moved the planks to cover as well since they were left on the outriggers at the side of the Lakehouse and were exposed to serious weather.  I am gradually removing all the building waste material from the embankment as well.  I have taken three pots of firewood to the octagon room and sorted these according to type of wood for either kindling, small wood, or large wood pieces.  I did these jobs when it was raining because I could not use the generator.  

Some good news though:  

When I got home I found the permit for the amendment to plans for the old house waiting.  I can now seriously begin work on the extension. 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Revised plans for the old house

Late last year we decided to hedge our bets.  Making the old house bigger shouldn't cost a lot extra, but brings a lot more flexibility for staying in it long-term, should the 'dream house' build get postponed.

We finally got the revised plans back from the draftsman and I'm really happy with them.   Here's the floorplan now: 


The key changes are:
  • Addition of walk-in wardrobe and small corridor (with storage) between the master bedroom and the bathroom.  
  • Extra room for the kitchen, with the addition of a jutting out "L" section.  This means we no longer have to stress about squeezing the dining table into the kitchen.  
  • Repositioning of the stained glass bay window.
It's mostly straightforward, except the bathroom.  I wanted a luxurious bathroom with lots of space, so Dad suggested adding a loft area for the bath, accessed via a spiral staircase.  He also came up with the idea of having a glass roof for part of it, so it has the feel of a conservatory.  Having the light coming in should mean we can grow tropical plants that it would otherwise be too dark for.  I also like how there's a big high ceiling above the shower... I think I am going to experiment with having the shower head up high so it feels like a rainshower...  
bathroom plan

Finally, here's what it looks like from each angle.  Although it's not on the same scale as the 'dream house', it does have a very different look from each side, which I really like: 

South elevation: 

This shows the original front door side.  The master bedroom is on the left, and I'm hoping we can keep a section of the verandah without a balcony, so you can sit on the edge and dangle your feet over.  :-)  We'll likely also have a canopy shade over the big bedroom window too -- but that's a finishing touch we can add later.

East elevation:

This shows the side that faces down to the dam.  There's the long verandah with the double doors that leads into the dining area, and the kitchen window on the right.

North elevation:

This shows the technical 'back' of the house.  The laundry is on the right and deliberately is accessed via the covered porch, so it can also function as a kind of mudroom.

West elevation: 
Finally, this shows most private side of the house -- the one that faces uphill.  There's a small door from the master bedroom to step outside, and there's a small balcony that adjoins the upstairs bathroom area.  I don't expect we'll use the balcony area a lot for sitting in since I don't know if it's going to have a nice view -- unless we get lucky and can see over the hilltop.  But it should work out OK as a place for plants, or (if I flyscreened it in) as an occasional sleeping area for hot summer nights.  Or perhaps even a place for the telescope?  This side will look more symmetrical in reality than the sketch shows, because the drawing had to get squished on the far left to fit on the page.  

Saturday, June 30, 2012

a long overdue update

Sorry for the radio silence.  Things have been progressing the past few months, albeit like molasses.

Dad has almost got the lakehouse finished -- apart from the painting that is, which I asked him to leave for me to do.  The only thing still outstanding is to finish the pier.  I am desperate to see photos, but I think Dad is waiting until it's completely finished before unveiling it :-)

In his spare time, Dad has also been working on what he calls the "octagon room" at his campsite.  This is sort of like a mini enclosed gazebo area, so that when Dave comes for his next winter working trip they have somewhere properly warm to sit.

He's also apparently cleared lots of stuff out from the old house so there's space to work inside when the weather is bad.  On the next trip, he and Dave are hoping to get the stumps for the extension poured as well as begin with the window restoration.

Speaking of the old house, we also *finally* got the revised plans for the old house renovation from the draftsman.  In late 2011, you might remember we decided to hedge our bets and make the "old house" a little bigger and more suitable for longer-term living.  The revised plans are now with the council so fingers crossed all will be smooth sailing.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

lakehouse is almost done, but not quite

We finished up getting about 95% of the way there with the lakehouse.  Which isn't bad going considering we lost Dave from the team after his accident.

If you take a photo from the right angle, it looks quite complete... (except we eventually do need to get some trees planted to shield the next door neighbors shed and house roof - they weren't there when we started)
lakehouse progress - 70

But from other angles, it's clear there's a ways to go lakehouse progress - 87

There are a few little bits and pieces left to do inside but nothing major.  The bulk of the work is outside - painting and some carpentry.  Dad has since got all the important stuff done so it's watertight and secure, but the painting I fear will need to wait for my next visit!  

Saturday, April 14, 2012


So I love the vibe inside the lakehouse, and the verandah is great... but the most wonderful thing of all is the view.   It is the most perfect spot to sit and relax with a glass of wine, the fire going, and just look out.  These are just a few of the sunsets we got to see ...  

sunset from lakehouse veranda - 1 sunset from lakehouse veranda - 2 sunset from lakehouse veranda - 3

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The verandah is amazing

So far I've not really talked much about the verandah of the lakehouse.  This was an impromptu idea of Dad's but a brilliant one.

lakehouse progress - 75

Rather than having it be the full height, he put in a lowered roof so there's a small loft above it.  That's great on the inside as it's extra storage - or even a sleeping area.  But it's also a bonus for the verandah as it gives it a far cosier feel.

There are glass panels either side of the verandah so that effectively it's closed in on 3 sides.  I must admit, I was horrified when I first heard about that - but it turned out Dad was right.  They are hardly noticeable, and it really helps cut down the wind.  He was also right about the balustrade - I'd been convinced I wanted it open so I could sit and dangle my feet off the edge; but it's such a small area that you really do feel safer having it.  Plus it turned out to be a great footrest :-)

The verandah floor is currently just stacked brick, although eventually I'll put tiles.  The roof is lined with an old metal fencing sheet which I painted sky blue.  Dad put that in so it was fire-resistant, so we could use the chiminea there, which is just lovely to sit around.

lakehouse progress - 55 lakehouse furnishing - 02

We still have a bit of work left to do on it - the floor needs laying properly, the architraving needs doing on the outside, and of course it all needs a proper paint job.  But we got close enough this trip for me to see how wonderful it will be.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

We finally moved in... (well temporarily)

OK, it's not 100% complete yet on the outside, but we got it to the stage that it was close enough.  I couldn't wait any longer to move in.  :-)  

lakehouse furnishing - 05 lakehouse furnishing - 01
lakehouse furnishing - 06 lakehouse furnishing - 04

It was furnished with a combination of things that I got out of storage.  The bed is a blowup one, believe it or not, but very very comfortable.  Some old chairs and tables that I cleaned up, along with some nice linen and paper window blinds and the odd book and nick-nack and suddenly it starts to feel very comfortable.  Still very shabby of course, as befits what is basically a glorified shed - but I love it.

The amazing thing about sleeping there is that it is so peaceful, the only thing that wakes you in the morning is the sun creeping in and the sound of the birds.  It's lovely.

Of course, we were only there a few days when it was time to leave, so everything got packed up so Dad can use it for his own stuff.  But I prefer to remember it like this.  :-)

Working on the lakehouse

We recently spent over 2 weeks at Amherst as part of our long-awaited holiday.  Originally the plan had been for the lakehouse to be ready for us to move into - but despite Dad's valiant efforts, that was still a long way off.  This is what it looked like when we arrived:

lakehouse progress - 01 lakehouse progress - 03

Yes, charming and visible potential, and some lovely windows and a ceiling... but no walls.  :-)   Thankfully we had backup accommodation - huge thanks to Tiff and Cal, Renee and Dave - or else I would have been a very unhappy camper!

The first day and a half we made great progress, with Dave putting on plasterboard.  Dad had cleverly rigged up electricity through the generator and so we had lighting, letting us keep working late into the evening.

lakehouse progress - 12 lakehouse progress - 13
lakehouse progress - 18 lakehouse progress - 16

Then disaster struck... Dave fell off a ladder.  He was really lucky - the only thing hurt was his ankle, in what turned out to be a severe sprain - but it could have SO much worse.  So we spent a day getting acquainted with Maryborough Hospital.

From then on Dave was out of action pretty much, so Dad switched his focus to help me work on the interior.  While I worked on the undercoats on the wall, Dad gave the ceiling a good wash.  He'd used old lining boards for it which looked amazing - but they were FILTHY.  Once scrubbed up though the end effect though was worth the effort - I adore them.  :-)

lakehouse progress - 20 lakehouse progress - 21

The next urgent task was to get the end somewhat sealed.  I'd bought some old stained glass windows that were still in frames, so Dad put them in... then did a quick patch job with old plasterboard, until he could get to the weatherboarding.  The architraving was made by Dad on-site hewn from some old weatherboards he saved from a skip.

lakehouse progress - 28 lakehouse progress - 40
lakehouse progress - 34 lakehouse progress - 38

And so it went on.  I painted and painted, while Dad did carpentry, and even Dave helped where he could - washing the floor which by then was filthy with plaster dust...

lakehouse progress - 43 lakehouse progress - 45
lakehouse progress - 44

Until at last... it was ready.