Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I think we're alone now

Not exactly 'It's a wrap', but a lot of progress in the last few days means we have a functioning kitchen and bathroom (ok, I had to drive to a layby to meet the big yellow Ikea van that was refusing to come down the road to us with the oven). I was so excited to have a bathroom door I had a dance around to the sounds of Lakeland Radio, a guilty pleasure originating in weeks spent with builders in da house.
No tradesmen seem to work until Jan. 5th now, so it's slow DIY till then...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back by popular demand

This is our builder Guy McCollough again - his back anyhow - installing the minute kitchen that has obsessed us for months.
The recipe is:
Ikea cabinets
Spenny solid surface worktop in the New Year
Groovy round Baumatic hob
No visible clutter AT ALL (bets taken now on how likely I can be to keep to that)

Nighty night

The water-tightness of the shack has been tested to the limit in weather of the last few weeks, and recently our first builder Marcel had to return to look at a leak in the roof...
I slithered out onto the mud to take this picture of Adam taking a break the other night.

The exterior of the house has sadly looked the same for months due to all the intricate progress beingon the inside, but I still find it thrilling to see it lit up at night, and realise that we have created this!

As (un)happy as a sanding girl

Our flooring is rather more of a challenge that we anticipated. Lovely as it is, I was in this position for about 22 hours this weekend and that was just the bedroom. The hired belt sander has to sand out the tape that holds the 'mini-parquet' - like oak strips together, plus any imperfections in the level etc, which being a real wood floor, there are a few. Only then can you fine-sand and start the 3 coats of acrylic-based varnish off.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I name this house

I thought that renaming our house officially to The Love Shack would be fairly simple, but it turns out you need to have it approved by the Council before the Royal Mail say yes too and they might deliver the odd letter.
When everyone agrees it means your address is 'official' and you can get your stationery printed.
The origins of The Love Shack as a name are lost in the mists of my memory, but it quickly stuck and even found its way onto the Council's documents, to my amusement. It's written all over the building's components too.

The shack's current name is "Argent Close", which as someone in the Council's Building Control said last week, sounds like a whole row of houses in a mining town, rather than a tiny log cabin in a wood.

Apparently the whole point of the Council's Naming & Numbering Dept. is to clarify things like that. No-one there mentioned - at first - concepts like 'appropriate' - a word much favoured by the Lake District Planning Authority and used fast and loose in any context which requires them to quash stuff they don't like.

So after a pregnant pause from them I received a message back:

"We would like to receive your second choice of house name."
Me - "Why, is there a problem with 'The Love Shack'?"
"We would like to receive your second choice of house name."
Me - "Yes, but why?"
" Something that reflects the local area is usually good. We will then check that there is no duplication before going ahead."
(Duplication, of The Love Shack?!) I then -to them at least - begged that the quirkiness of the house deserved a quirky name. And that it was Christmas.
Privately I raged against the local Taste Police, irate that even the name of your own property was controlled by the Council, was there no end to their attempts to derail us?! Would it have to be called "Fluttering Leaves" or "The Cabin"?!

Then this morning came a quiet email from the Council in my Inbox,
"I have a note on my desk stating that your house name has been accepted".
Not exactly a warm reception but a small triumph for freedom! And no, we're not big fans of the B52s actually.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Local colour

We're lucky to be able to use local timber from the nearby Graythwaite Estate for much of the Love Shack, and now we can also use local-ish paint.
One of the UK's leading eco-paint manufacturers is in Lancashire, Ecos and we used them first when we painted Adam's mum's floor in a delicious yellow floor paint they do. For the Love Shack we are just using their whites so far, and they go on like a dream. My one small gripe is that emulsion only comes in 5 litre pots and we'll have a lot to spare.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The stairs, a financial hernia

The fandango of the 2 staircases in the shack has been elaborate to say the least. It ended with both parties of builders blaming the other for devising the slightly arse-wise solution we actually used. Mind you, now they're in its a nice change from bodily lobbing your way up the change in levels as there was nothing between them. They actually look really good, which is what matters, but when you pay your builders by the hour (as we do) this isn't just an irritation, it's a financial hernia.

The main challenge was that our chosen flooring is like tiny parquet, supplied in small bound 'tiles'. One the tread and riser these have to meet edge to edge, so they were kind of laminated onto the step bits before bevelling and fitting. Of course the joint was very vulnerable as the oak was so thin at that edge, not to mention the inevitable warping of the treads and the occasional human error.
We're using commercial oak flooring usually deployed for heavy duty use in airports and the like - we were able to buy a small quantity because it's also what we're using at Lawson Park, the hillfarm being refurbished by Grizedale Arts, where Adam works. It's supplied by a really helpful small company called Rutherfords Real Wood.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas time, drains and mastic

I'd be lying if I said this was getting any easier, though what do I expect with only 8 working days until we try to move in?
On the plus side the clear, cold weather is merciful compared with the site chaos that comes with rain. Especially when it freezes the ground so hard I don't have to dig trenches for a day or two.
Today I personally moved 450 kg of gravel up the steep hill to line the drainage trench with and then the same again of tiles. I may not be able to walk tomorrow.
And there was noone there to take a photo of me in this heroic endeavour.
When it came to the 150kg stove (more on that later) I gave in and asked Mike and Mark to assist. I then wrestled with the serpent-like 25m flexible drainage pipe until it lay in the first part of the trench. (FYI the drainage solution was spec'ed by a nice guy called Nick from Elemental Solutions a company specialising in 'eco' drainage in tricky places, it's simply a 'leaky' pipe in gravel in a trench attached to the septic tank)
Following that everything else seemed dead easy.

Other progress has included the finishing of the windows with a brown mastic, I don't pretend to know exactly how important this step was. The company doing it have been a bit of a nightmare. Not having encountered the strict contemporary aesthetic of the shack's windows before, here were many sharp intakes of breath and suggestions of champfered oack beading. For a while we had a memo from the architect on the wall saying "Do NOT let the windows people tell you how they will do it".

And skimming, looking lovely and turning the rather chaotic interior into loveliness.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Finding a bearable electric heater

I have neglected the blog-friendly listings of recommended sources we've used this far, so here's a shocker - I found an electric panel heater (no gas in these parts and what with the price of oil....) that actually looks ok and is made by Dimplex! I know, weren't they one of those dull British companies making dull, poorly-designed things? Not any more....
It's a white, glass-fronted and nearly square, and half the price of the stone radiators we were going to get. Whilst we will rely mainly on the inset woodburner for heat, it's realistic to have a back up for when you get in on a cold night or run out of logs. (That can happen, even with your own woodland, especially when it's got a Tree Preservation Order).

See more about the Dimplex range here.

View from the bed

Not at all bad, huh?

Adam moves into the drainage trench

After the septic tank burial Adam now turns his attention to the 12m+ of drainage trench. Luckily its much shallower than the septic tank, being a simple perforated pipe in gravel.
Bizarrely all the old shack had attached to its loo was a rough old soakaway, barely buried. And for 40 odd years it seems to have worked, we expected to uncover something very grisly in the recent excavations but so far so good.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Glazed Expression

We've waited rather to long for this moment, having got our glazed doors in months ago. Finally the windows-that-don't-open ("glazed units") have gone in and very lovely they are too.
Now we're on the final furlong, I've never seen so many people on site and a nice vibe too.

The Bigger Picture

Note how uncannily similiar to the architects' impression (website header pic) this current site view is...

Sinking the Good Ship Septic Tank

With a very slightly loose interpretation of the neccessary health and safety regs, the septic tank finally got installed today by Adam, Guy and his guys. These pictures don't show that it took 2 goes - and that's not an easy thing to lever out of the hole without someone risking being buried alive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No machines allowed on our Tree Protection Site, so spades-are-us....

The Good Ship Septic Tank

Building regs prevent you from fitting a septic tank commensurate with the size of your (in our case, tiny) house. The minimum size you can get is frankly massive, about two thirds of the size of the Shack's actual bedroom.
This one - an 'Acorn' - is kind of lozenge shaped, saving our protected tree roots from excessive digging to bury it.
Try telling Adam - who has done the lion's share of the digging - that what he's done is not 'excessive'!

Monday, November 3, 2008

One of the reasons I hit the glass ceiling in Girl Guides (never ascending through promotion beyond patrol second-in-command) was that I refused to go to camp, on account of my horror of the hand-dug latrines.
What irony that here I am three decades on hand-digging an almighty hole for our septic tank to go into.
Only a metre to go.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All roads (nearly) lead to Ikea

We've been through the wars planning the shack's tiny kitchen area.
As enthusiastic cooks we want it to be a hell of a lot more functional than most 'holiday home' type kitchens and as it's open-plan its needs to look fantastic too. We have done millions of sketches, so has the architect and in the end we have decided to combine off the peg units with bespoke doors made in our own cedar.

Last weekend we made not one but two attempts to reach Ikea in Warrington (why else would you go there) to see the holy grail - the acrylic 'Personlig' worksurface with moulded sink. Gosh. This is after going to the Glasgow branch where they could sell it to us but, no, they didn't have one for us to see. Adam survived by eating his own body weight in meatballs and by the promise of soft-shut drawer fittings.

So, this stuff is the Ikea version of luxury Corian and LG Hi-Macs, two gorgeous but superleague priced (even via MFI) surfaces. We did go down that path for a while, and even designed it with both MFI and a luxury kitchen shop-that-will-remain-nameless in Kendal. The former was helpful but still exorbitant (the surface was going to cost 10 times the price of the cupboards) and the latter couldnt even be arsed quoting. Ikea has a tiny range of colours in comparison and one sink size unlike other suppliers.

Anyhow, on both days last weekend we were fought back by floods on the M6 and instead went to staunch the flood threatening the shack itself, still windowless. This was done with no tools to speak of and a tiny washing up sponge.

So this afternoon we make what we hope will be our last trip to Ikea's kitchen department

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New guy on the block

Guy and his team are our new builders on site, Guy having built his own house in Ulverston and having an active interest in new / eco-ish design. They've made a great job of this wood-clad 'fascia' on the front elevation, trouble is we interpreted the drawings slightly wrong and it's not quite at the level with the window anticipated.
But on the plus side it's probably something only an architect would notice :-(

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pregnant pause

This week there are many kind of invisible but important things happening on site - windows being measured, bathrooms being delivered, lighting plans being discussed. The sunny weather has meant that our builder come farmer Gareth has been on the silage more than the building!
Meanwhile Adam and I progress with the porch, which is fast becoming a work of art. The steps - though of (deliberately) rough timber (a local larch) took us 3 goes to get right - unbelievably. This had a lot to do with every bit of that lovely local timber being a slightly different profile and a lot to do with my inaccurate tape-measuring.
Now we are roofing it and doing 'noggins' which are the 'fill-in' bits between the uprights and roof beams. I'm trying to forget how much this finish reminds me of my school gym, a site of many humiliations as bad as getting the steps wrong twice.
Ultimately a lot of the porch will be clad over the sterling board, to match the house.

In the bottom picture those of you who haven't been on site can just see the rear wall of the old 1960's 'shack' - we have kept its floor and back wall as they're useful for working on and propping stuff against.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Now that's what I call an imposing entrance

Between showers

When the house gets going the blog gets quiet!
I'm not on site as much as poor Adam, whose doing this week on his own mostly having -ahem- let our main builder go home a little early.
So where are we now?
As you can see in the pix, the SIPs carcass is now covered in a grey fabric membrane (very 80's) which is part of the waterproofing, and blimey do we need it with this insane weather.
The timber porch (seen here from above) and walkway have been very demanding but are really stunning. The porch especially is a surprising and truly inspired element - with shades of our architect Sutherland Hussey's celebrated Tiree ferry shelter. It's very tall and imposing, with a door inset. Once through this you are very much in the 'compound' and you then ascend 14 shallow steps to the house - the line of the stairway apparently took donkeys years to get right in the design... You see, the ground is uneven and steep and the house is uphill - easy huh - you just build steps right?
Kind of - but to get them to run in a steady angle uphill (esp. when your engineer has set the house level too high) is not so easy. But it's been worth it - it's an amazing entrance.

One unexpected thing is the degree of 'out' of the SIPS carcass, which makes the (local larch) cladding very tricky and slow - it's an inch out in places instead of the 'tolerance' of 1cm, meaning the battening needs to be individually measured and fitted beneath. Other ongoing probs include sourcing a 360cm long window for the main room and the little matter of having no mortgage yet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lakeland scaffolding

Slightly last minute we found we did need scaffolding after all and it was Lakeland Scaffolding from Egremont that found the site and carried everything they needed up there. Did a great job for a very reasonable price, if you need scaffolding get these guys. www.lakelandscaffolding.co.uk

5 years and 5 days to get here....

And finally we're on site!!!!
(I think in this instance 4 exclamation marks are entirely justified)
In just 5 working days Adam and the Polish guys from SIPS carried - yes, carried - all this up a very very steep and muddy hill and put it together into a shape that closely resembles a house.

What's in a name?

Our casually coined name for Argent Close - the Love Shack - has definately stuck.
For several years I was under the impression that it was a private joke only used by us and our architect, Adam's brother. Then at a Planning meeting I noticed that our officer had some plans under her arm, with the typed heading 'The Love Shack, Cunsey'. She remained as humourless as ever nevertheless.
And now every component of the building has the moniker emblazoned in marker pen for future archaelogists to find and ponder.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Shack Shopping List

SIPS Industries bring our prefab panels on site today!
Meanwhile here is the current shopping list:

30 metres of hosepipe
16m of scaffolding
4 burly lads who don't give a toss for Health & Safety
Cordless telephone (landline in tomorrow)

Some not available at Jewsons sadly.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Steely gaze

Here's the steel, on site on time and looking great c/o PPS of Ulverston.
There have had to be a few alterations en route, seem to be due to errors in engineering which arose from a few people making a few executive decisions en route and not managing to tell anyone else :-)
Of course as a mere layman it's hard to be confident enough to check with people when you notice something is not quite what you expected - in this case the 'base level' of the house was set too high (which is not insignificant on a sloping site), and this has meant redesigning the staircase up to the building and the porch at its foot.
Which in turn has meant our architect taking the drawings on his fishing holiday in Scotland. Sorry Charlie.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Foundations & steel are in

...apparently, not that I have had time to see them.
Various problems of course, all attributed to engineer making some bizarre executive design decisions. And not telling anyone. Until lots of other stuff didn't fit.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Blast from the past

Recently found this visual of our first design for the site, the one that was rejected and also failed at Appeal - mainly due to its conventional foundations.
Actually I'm now pleased to say I prefer the current design!

Rather underwhelming

This little concrete-filled pipe is one of the dozen mini-piles that will hold up the shack. I confess I was expecting to be more impressed, as I can get quite excited about the engineering side of the project...

Due to the site's (IMHO excessive) woodland tree preservation order, we were never going to be allowed regular foundations, so this technique was employed instead.

Each pile is 'drilled' down into the ground until it gets 'tight' (sadly I missed watching this bit) - in this case around 4 metres - and then a small amount of concrete is infilled. The top of each pile is capped at the precise right level in the next stage, and a kind of 'foot' joins it to the steel frame what will support the house.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Do not pass 'go'

Despite our foundations being built, our house is staring into the throat of a serious threat: Our mortgage company - the to-date very helpful Ecology Building Society - have got very uptight (as is their right in the present 'crunch' I guess) about parking and access issues at our site. This is long after they already lent us the money to buy it in the first place.

I'll spare you the details but there's a whole load of stuff around our neighbours' land adjacent to our site (close to or converging on an area historically used as parking for our site) and the fact noone seems to own the access track to our site (its ONLY access). I thought the fact noone owned the ruddy track was a good thing but now it seems we need to actively prove that noone could ever even claim to own it. Also I had a certain belief in the 'searches' you pay your solicitor to do when you buy a property - if something really threatening about the access to the site had been turned up, wouldn't we have heard?
In my lighter moments I can enjoy the fact that the 'green' mortgage lender the Ecology is so obsessed with the provision of car parking at the site.

Our neighbours - incredibly - got planning permission to put a gate up over the access track to our site. Though this has as yet not materialised, the Planners seemed to have no qualms about permitting development on land not owned by the applicant. This gives great scope to us all - I may apply for permission for a gate just in front of theirs.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Blast from the past

We recently got a lovely letter from the lady we bought the shack from back in 2003.
She is so positive about our plans - as she has been since she accepted our bid for the place even though it wasn't the highest. It's such a contrast to local responses which have been overwhelmingly negative. One complaint at our planning appeal even cited the fact that we might dare to live in the house (as opposed to use it as a 2nd home like most neghbours)- as a reason to refuse planning!
Beverley (the vendor) also included in her letter a 'round robin' update she had circulated to the many friends who had enjoyed the shack in the 60's and 70's - telling them about our plans - "A bathroom suite - we'd have died for the opportunity!!"

Many mini piles

The foundations of our shack were a big problem in our first (unsuccessful) planning app to build here. The tree protection order slapped on the site immediately after we proposed a new house means that usual dug foundations won't do.
This is where Mini Piling comes in - a fantastic technique whereby slender metal rods with concrete are drilled into your ground (stopping when you get to that really chewy bit) in a matrix which can support your steel frame and house.

The very helpful Anvil made us the best offer for the work and completed our 13 piles this week, the first step in the build. Adam met them on site and reports that - as ever-their staff made a right fuss about climbing the site's slope with their kit (which - incredibly - was a handheld drill) despite them being several decades younger than him.

Before the build ends I'd really love it if one of our contractors came on site and instead said "Gosh what an attractive and challenging elevated site you have found here"....

Friday, February 22, 2008

Get the supplies in

Unlike every woman on Grand Designs I actually find all the catalogue browsing, mood-boarding and sample collecting for the house really tedious. So it's nice when a supplier is really helpful and friendly. So here are a few such suppliers:
Proctor, who we're speaking to about their Royale Cladding, a timber cladding thats treated on both sides in the factory, for better longevity.

North West Heating, the only heating specialist who could explain to me what's possible just with electricity, without being a patronising ba****d

Rutherford Real Wood, a small firm in the Borders supplying fantastic hardwood flooring

Rules & Regs

Certain areas of the build have had to be redesigned lately due to new building control regs on disability access, apparently. Especially the loo. It seems that regardless of the house not being accessible to wheelchair users, the bathroom has to accommodate a wheelchair user...
Am I missing something?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Still standing

After 2 days there's still quite a bit of shack left on site....Built before the invention of No Nails, the DIY builder who was first on site certainly didnt take any risks. We found the structure to be rather better made than we anticipated. Sledge hammers made little impact, a screw driver was needed to meticulously work on the thousands of joints, and I'm still not sure how to get the Ye Olde toilet out without a serious biohazard on the hillside.
Answers on a postcard please.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Trippy 3D visualisation

My favourite so far. Might landscape the garden like that after all.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What was there before?

The Flowers, a shopkeeping family from Blackpool, built a holiday home on the site in the mid-60's. It was from them we bought the property in 2003, and it was a time capsule of old magazines, whiskey and 70's duvet covers. Beverley Flowers even gave me the house's visitors book which is a sentimental read - all pub meals for £1 and birdspotting from the world before Carribbean holidays for all.
Over the years a few friends have stayed there, and in fact film-maker Steven Sheil made a short horror film there in 2006 - you can read his very entertaining blog on the experience here.

With just a tiny bit of sadness, the log cabin will be removed next week to make way for the new house.

The Basics

To outline the basics of the build is probably worthwhile:
Our site has a Woodland Tree Protection Order on it, meaning they (the Planners) would rather you built a hoverhouse - if anything at all - on site. What this translates as is that your house must accommodate the existing trees and not harm their roots.
So our foundations are not dug - they're 12 mini-piles, fantastically small (10cm diameter) 'rods' driven into the ground on top of which a galvanised steel frame sits. Such small piles can be driven by one man and a small manual machine!

The Shack basic footprint is just 10m x 5m, with a small second floor bedroom and a 'basement' entry porch.
After a bit of deliberation our green conscience has meant that we have chosen to use prefab SIPS panels for the Shack. These are Structural Insulated Panels - sandwiches of inner and outer wall filled with insulated foam, that you clip into place on top of a steel frame - they're fairly common in the US and have many advantages over traditional timber frame builds. You even do the floor and ceiling with them. The downside of our tricky woodland site is that all materials have to be manually carried onto site, so the panels may need to be smaller than they could be, ergo a risk of losing some of their impeccable insulation characterstics in the joins. Its also probably more expensive to build with them for now.
Still, the plus side is a very fast build, a greener build by far and a home that will cost nearly nothing to heat.
We're working with the enthusiastic Charles at Sips Industries in Fife - http://www.sipsindustries.com/ - though he threatens to blow apart the carbon footprint of the build by threatening to do site visits in his helicopter !

There are big southfacing windows, an environmentally sensitive waste / drainage system and a green roof which will be colonised by mosses and ferns. Outer cladding will be wood, as will much of the interior.

The Grand Designs question

Usually when you tell someone that you're building a new house, the first thing people ask is "Isn't Grand Designs going to cover it?"
To set the matter straight here, yes the show was interested, but when it came down to it the Love Shack is too quick a build to sustain a one hour programme - the researchers quite rightly pointed out that there would be no point in returning after 6 months to shoot progress - it will be all built by then!

Welcome to the Love Shack

The picture at the header of this blog is an artists' impression of what we're aiming for at Argent Close (aka the Love Shack), a steep, wooded site overlooking Lake Windermere in Cumbria which currently houses a tiny and decrepit log cabin.
You - dear reader - step in some way down the line on this project:
We bought the present log cabin in September 2003 and so it's nearly five years since I convinced Adam "It'll be fun to try and do a contemporary house in the Lake District National Park!"
Well, so far its mostly been expensive (consultants), a little dull (choosing a bathroom suite) and very very frustrating ('The Story of the Lost Planning Appeal' follows some time). But there have also been great moments, like when dozens of supportive enthusiasts turned up on site for Architecture Week, urging us on to fruition with the project.