Thursday, November 19, 2009

Some local 'charm'

There I was lamenting the sudden closure of the Sawrey Stores, a valiant village shop that for several years supplied us with milk, odds and ends on our way to and from the Shack.....
I admired the lady who ran it and advised all our guests to use the shop rather than the Hawkshead alternatives nearby.

And then I happened across her last blog entry, which offers no explanation for the closure but does include a rather sarcastic snipe at the Shack and ourselves!

"Funny how there was no mention of their plans to let it out, not sure what the council planners might think, especially as there is such a shortage of affordable housing in this area"

Sadly the blogger has disabled comments and so we're unable to respond directly to her, so I'll just put her right on a few things here instead:

In our first planning application we offered to restrict the occupancy to local-only, as we too have concerns about affordable housing and were prepared to put our money where our mouth was: the LDNPA rejected this restriction

Incredibly, some of the most vociferous local objections to our proposed plans for the Shack were that - I quote - "they plan to live in the house instead of it being used as a holiday let"!
These objections came from 'locals' who for some reason sought to maintain the very situation that has probably contributed to the closure of the Sawrey Stores - i.e. few permanent residents

We finally got the Shack's planning permission after 5 long hard and expensive years of battling - understandably some of our domestic circumstances shifted in the meantime and we in the end lived in the Shack for 6 months

We are now obliged to live in a nearby tied house linked to one of our jobs - this is a very common situation here in the Lakes. The Shack remains our only owned home and one that we use and cherish a great deal

I don't need to tell anyone reading this that starting a new-build in a recession means making a few harsh decisions about how to keep your head above water - renting the house out sometimes being one of them

We dedicated a sizable portion of the Shack's building budget to using local suppliers and companies (often at much greater expense than available alternatives) , and therefore feel that the project supported the local economy as much as possible
The shopkeeper's comments of course show how complex a rural, tourist-driven economy is, and also - sadly - that we make assumptions about our neighbours' circumstances based on presumed greed and dishonesty. This isn't unrelated - the seasonal 'boom and bust' of the tourism calendar means that quality, ethics and consistency are relegated in favour of whatever-it-takes-to-make-a-quick-buck (before my month of recovery in the Maldives) , and the sheer exhaustion of customer service at the cliff-face of visitors in their thousands takes its toll on people's faith in human nature.

We struggled a great deal with the principles of letting out the Shack and I used to think that in an ideal world of course we'd be rich enough to keep the place entirely for ourselves. But now, after 6 months of guests, I've now changed my position as I have been won over by the appreciation of our visitors. After the pain of the planning and build it's extremely gratifying to hear feedback on how the design of the house works for people, what makes it special and how the experience of staying at the Shack can be healing, cathartic, eye-opening.

Importantly for us, the Shack also works as an educational experience - few visitors have had the opportunity to stay in a self-build contemporary building or an eco-building in this country - and with the rise of Grand Designs et al there is a huge curiosity to experience this first hand and to take some of that experience onwards into one's own life.
It's very exciting to think that the Shack can inspire more great architecture, and that our hospitality is part of that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Media attention

In swift succession (ah, the rigour of journalism) we have featured in both Wallpaper* and the Guardian recently as one of "the best cabins in the world", the latter causing a temporary suspension of our website due to traffic volume!

Happy Campers

Well it's hat-eating time for me.
I would be the last person to expect that renting our hardwon self-build to complete strangers would be a rewarding and life-affirming experience - but I can say that it really is!
Guests we've had so far have been just unbelievably appreciative and have treated the house like royalty. It's fascinating to read the visitor's book - it seems most people arrive expecting to get out and about a lot, but then they are so relaxed by the house that they rarely manage to get onto a fell or into their cars until they reluctantly leave.
It's a tribute to Charlie the architect's skill in creating such an oasis - but also very amusing when I remember the screaming hab dabs (actually, what are they?) that both Adam and I let rip with at regular intervals during the build. What a contrast to the now Zen-like calm that pervades the place and makes it so unique.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Honey, I just cut the house open

Try as we might we couldn't get a soul locally to take on the install of our stove in our wooden house. Calls were not returned, even after visits to inspect the matter, heads were scratched etc etc. This is how it came to pass that, after very very detailed communications between architect and local building control officer, Adam had to do the job himself.
From his silence (DIY round here is usually wildly swear-y), I could tell that ( though we had concise instructions on how to do this) he was rather worried.

To save space the stove is a Eurostove inset model, with its firebox in effect 'outside' the house in the storage recess under the big panoramic window. The twin falled flue therefore passes up through the cladding outside the window, upwards through the 'eaves' of the flat roof and out the top of the house (the flue isn't in in this pic). I have never seen any other stove installed this way, not had anyone else we spoke to about it! Hence Mr Building Control coming out to get his head round it and ours.

So effectively we had to cut out the SIPS panels under the window for the stove, loadbear onto temp. structures at either side, add an agroprop below the stove on the base of the building, and pray. I had a vision of the house turning 'V-shaped' and caving in, thankfully unfulfilled. Between the actual stove and the building (see diagram) there is a complex layering of things like vermiculite board, that I didnt know existed.

The stove sits on a bespoke cast concrete hearth made for us (and better still, delivered up the hill by hand) by the excellent Lancaster Cast Stone (also now doing a simple surround for us) (
And now, we have had the fire on, its gorgeous, and save for maybe adding a bit more chimney onto our roof for better draw, it all seems to have worked.

Bank Holiday pause for enjoyment

My sister and her family visit this weekend, the first in my family to see our endeavours since the site was a mouldy old log cabin on the hillside. It's given me an incentive to have a good clear up in the spring sunshine and even take a moment to enjoy the place. The light through the fresh leaves is astonishing, very Japanese, I could get quite emotional....

Over and out - I have to start grouting again.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pale green?

Here's an interesting feature on the slightly controversial green credentials of Corian, a material we've used in our kitchen here both as a surface and a splashback.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bedroom green roof install

Our bedroom - the smallest and least visible of the two green roofs on the site - is about 3.5 x 4.5 metres in size, and for this green roof we used 9 x 100litre bags of lightweight vermiculite mixed in situ (see pic!) with 8 x 35litre bags of sterilised loam topsoil. This gave us a soil depth of about 15cm.
This mix went on top of a large piece of woven membrane, in turn on top of a kind of black plastic eggbox in sheets which very simply lie on top of our butyl rubber flat roof.
I'm fascinated to see what the birds and wind bring in to this roof so I'll be not seeding it at all and monitoring what comes up - watch this space!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cue Mother Nature

Amazing weather this Easter means we've got on with the green roofs here. For urban folks these are a tiny oasis in the overheated city, a little postage stamp of biodiversity in the concrete. Here its more about having a nice feeling of nature growing on all sides of your house, any maybe even breaking up the ruthless lines of modernist architecture ....
If I was going to live here full time I'd be building a vegetable plot or a chicken run. Ok, or maybe a freerange guinea pig run. But at the mo we're installing two extensive green roofs on both storeys of the house, each about 15cm deep.
I decided -as I'm a big gardener - to leave the smaller roof (on the bedroom) to colonise naturally over time with windblown / animal-carried seed. The large one -visible from the bedroom - will need more 'real cultivation'.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fellow Love Shackers

Of course this is the REAL Love Shack but one of our summer guests just sent me this story of a couple who - like us - struggled to get their local Council to allow the naming of their house:

LONDON, April 5 (UPI) -- Artist Simon Cassini says he and his wife Sheba were allowed to officially name their London home Love Shack thanks to a backyard barbecue.
Cassini, 51, said while the Richmond Council had concerns the name Love Shack would mislead emergency workers, firefighters easily located their home while responding to a call of a possible backyard fire, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

"Richmond Council would not let us change the name of our house because in the event of an incident involving the emergency services, they would not know which house to go to," Cassini said.

Read the whole story here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Decking, decking everywhere

We don't like commercially available decking, easy and cheap though it may be.

At Lawson Park we designed and built a long boardwalk last summer, of this rough-planed '2 by 1' green larch and so far it's stayed reasonably unslippy and has aged gracefully. So we have decided to use it on the walkway and decks here too, brad-nailed with our lovely new nailgun and setting each bit about 3mm apart for drainage and to add grip. It's a slow process with a certain rustic-ness from the timber's variability - occasionally pieces are narrow or warped and you kind of get used to working around these defects.

Below this carpet of decking pictured is a simple grid of joists and bracing made of larch and recycled timbers, with larch uprights driven directly into the ground. This approach was also approved by the local Planners as it protects the roots of the trees on site, arguably more than a lawn or gravel area would.

The nature of the timber gives scope for all sorts of patterning and we have frequent discussions about whether to 'chevron' the wood, to line it up with the house etc etc. As you can see here we think we'll offset it at an angle, quite Japanese-y. I'm thinking of dropping the odd potted tree into the surface too - maybe an acer or similiar.

Despite the many interior jobs left to do we have taken advantage of any recent sunny day to get on with this external decking as when done, it will offer us a much-needed 'clean' and flat space on which to do everything from painting the odd bit of wood, brushing the cats, Tai Chi (when Nina's next here), or God forbid, relaxing......

Mmmmm - Corian

Regular readers will have endured our search for the perfect kitchen surface along with us, and the end result is shelling out a slightly embarrasing sum for this gorgeous Corian worktop in 'Bone'. It's looks a bit like that roll-out icing you can buy, and has the advantage of a seamless sunk-in sink and lovely details like this upstanding edge pictured - which we designed to join up with the cedar trim we're using throughout the house. It's very warm to touch and - Adam tells me - makes for a very nice wiping experience too.
(Actually I did wipe it - for the picture...)
PS The uncluttered but still cute hob kettle behind is called Nio, by designer Oliver Hemming

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stairs - are they rocket science?

I've mentioned the hell of our house's 3 staircases on this blog before....I know thats a lot of steps for a one bedroom house but if you want views you need to get up high! I lost count of the number of builder conversations about the steps, I nearly had to ban it at one stage from discussion and would have if it wasnt such a fundamental part of getting on with things (have you ever tried accessing 3 floors with no stairs? It's...interesting, and hard on the knees)

Basically 2 builders we were using disagreed on how to construct them and this is where the problems start. This set pictured are the main ones into the open plan living room, and were made mainly in a workshop, by laminating the oak floor tiles to treads and risers of the structure before joining them and positioning them in situ. The issues started with warping once brought in to the house, but with a lot of wood you can live with it, and when our backs were turned one day they seemed to go in ok.
Or so we thought.

We immediately noticed how cold the house was around the stair area, despite our builder reassuring us that they had insulated around them as they went. Some weeks later we started to notice worrying 'flex' and gaps and realised that the booked-in flooring contractor (who needed to floor up to the steps and do all the sanding / varnishing) was about to start and we had a big problem on our hands.
Aforementioned builder eventually told us he couldnt come back to examine the problems in time, so Adam opened them up at the weekend to find all this gubbins in the picture. Not only is there a laughably inept and wobbly triangular 'support' (thats where all the screws are hanging out) there was almost nothing actually holding the tread and riser together at the joint. No wonder it was flexing. Now I'm no builder but even I can see that this job is what my dad might call 'a bugger's muddle' - I can only guess the builders never imagined we'd go to the lengths of digging it all up and would settle for their effort.

After much swearing Adam spent a weekend reconstructing the innards but his neccessary butchery sadly had consequences as regards the finish of them and we will probably have to get them re-filled sanded and varnished in the near future.

Oh, and after that we poured over 100litres of vermiculite in, the whole area warmed up nicely.

So the moral of the story? Well, maybe build bungalows?

Our nicest neighbour

Yes I know this has absolutely sod all to do with house-building but this little guy (or lady?) gives us much more morning entertainment than James Naughtie ranting on the Today programme.
My brother suggested he may be a Planning Authority robot equipped with a spycam - and I thought I was paranoid.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I've got a sweat on

Even in February, when the sun shines on the shack, boy it gets warm.
Our oak flooring is nearly done as you can see from this picture - c/o Pro-fit, a local company.
Using a local?! I hear your shriek incredulously.
It's ok, he's a German expat.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Anyone who has built a house in the UK will know that the US style of 'customer-focused' service has not yet arrived / been imposed on the world of building and its close relations. At least not here. The client is in general the one apologising for stuff in they builder's way, not enough biscuits, the architect's drawing's lack of clarity and for pacing the site with a bin bag permanently attached to their hand gathering up the builders' discarded fag butts, Pot Noodles and - often - the instructions for the sliding door that have been trodden into the ground.

On a meticulous building like ours one spends much time getting people to correct errors they have made along the way. I've come to accept that rarely will things be right first time, so the stomach-sinking moment of calling a tradesperson to begin the re-appraisal of the job, is something I am trying to get used to. And yet I am time and time again floored by how reluctant tradespeople are to say 'Sorry' even for the most superficial customer relations reasons. In other words, saying sorry even if you think you're in the right, to make the other party feel better and hence treat you better in the long run. Is it that hard to?! Why are tradespeople exempt from this common courtesy?

It must be page one in almost every other profession's "Guide To Getting On With People You Work For' and yet I have never ever heard it from anyone that's worked on the site regardless of how often they have delayed the job, got it wrong, misjudged something, not turned up or damaged something on site. Is it a guy thing or a coincidence that the profession is male -dominated?
If you've hired female builders please let me know otherwise!?

Take for example our order to have a simple coir doormat fitted on site recently by one of Kendal's leading carpet retailers. The guys come and go, we look at their endeavours and find 3 out of 4 badly hacked edges and even a slither of mat stuffed under the door frame to try and make up for the all-round undersizing of the piece. The bill arrives - £133. Adam calls them to tell them that the job isn't good enough and is met with the all too familiar terse local response "Well, OUR people were satisfied with the job..."
Well, that's the matter settled then is it?
Here's how to do it: "Oh, I am really sorry to hear that and apologise if the work is not to your satisfaction - how can we help put it right?"

What's really perplexing is that 9 times out of 10 the person does return to remedy the problem and not always because we won' t pay them until they do. They usually look at the work, sigh deeply and acknowledge the cock-up.

The peculiar dynamic of these meetings is such that one can't tell if they literally couldn't see what a bad job they'd done before (bad) or if they left the job knowing it wasn't going to wash with the client and didn't care (worse).
Probably they just hoped to get away with it. And now they haven't.
And it's you, the client, who should be sorry, ok?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Flattery will get you anywhere

Sometimes building can really get you down, as the guy on last night's Grand Design's more than illustrated. But then he was clearly nuts, trying to build what was really a folly and getting into a Planning nightmare that I sincerely empathised with (one day I will write our saga)....
When you spend your waking hours persuading locals (tradespeople, Planners, neighbours) of the sincerity of your ambitions - and usually failing - its SO nice to get feedback from perfect strangers on how much they love the Love Shack.
I had some the other day from The Modern House a company which to call an 'estate agent' is like calling The Love Shack , erm...just that, a shack.
Thanks guys.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

News in brief

Since moving in to the house for some reason I haven't felt much like blogging, and Lord knows it isn't that there's nothing to say. Since the world's longest festive holiday we have had exactly 8 hrs of builder time - that's in over a month - for reasons unclear. Could be that we've stopped paying bills until the work is "finished to our satisfaction" as those bills say at the bottom ;-)
However Adam and I in typical style have responded by cursing our tradesmen on one hand and flailing around with rollers and tools whenever we can, on the other. Some DIY has been more successful than others...
- Last weekend Adam and me hired some tools and clad the entry porch in crisp larch, very nice from the house to see it
- We still await various bits of cedar interior trims mysteriously languishing in someone's barn - rumour has it they arrive Sunday
- A nice tiler, the first in the Yellow Pages - is underway already in the bathroom
- The woodburner install now needs a prop under the cantilever - I'm told it won't show - as it's so heavy (I keep asking why the engineers forgot this, its one of those things you lose energy pursuing). I now accept that the stove will probably cost more than the kitchen in the end...
- Speaking of kitchens, the Corian saga goes full circle and we're back with the real thing cos its the only thing they can actually do the sexy moulded sink in
-I have ordered a disgustingly expensive sofa which takes 10 weeks to come, at least the cats might be out of here in time not to ruin it
- And finally I have updated the budget, though in the present climate it all seems dangerously like Monopoly

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Filthy lucre

Anyone who knows us will guess that it is with very mixed feelings that we let out the Shack this year for holidays. But a self-build without a mortgage is not at all easy, and needs must.
has been born and awaits bookings.
I confess I have rather enjoyed doing the website, which has included looking at a lot of other cottages' websites and recoiling in horror at "luxury kitchens" of wall to wall 1986 MFI units, maroon carpets and orange pine bedsteads. Not being someone who self-caters much, I hadn't realised how bad it had got out there. My family had a holiday home on Arran for decades and it resolutely stuck at its very basic slash eccentric end - a 60's homemade kitchen, a baby grand piano and a lot of unmatching porcelain.

Monday, January 5, 2009

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, January 4, 2009

Sunday night at the shack

The move was of course unspeakably hellish - it's one thing carrying all your building materials up a steep hill manually but when it comes to one's worldly possessions you really do start to question whether you need more than two mugs and a toothbrush. I even began to wonder if the cats could be shackled to small paniers to move their cat litter and food bowls uphill. The worse thing was having to move the 6 ringbound folders of Shack admin up the hill, as we can't risk storing it when there's all the VAT return to do and bills to organise.....
Anyhow, very unfinished but very cosy, here is Adam relaxing for once waiting for the builders to return this week. We hope / dread.