Alas we did not meet our deadline for finishing the kitchen by Christmas, although it had actually arrived and the Ikea flat packs were all piled up like Christmas presents waiting to be un-wrapped. After a couple of weeks off over Christmas we were back to it in the New Year and raring to go. We opted for under counter drawers and 4 large wall cabinets over head. Having fitted better branded kitchens in the past, Ikea is now tried and tested as the best design for fitting yourself. We had a bit of a production line going and it all got assembled very quickly. All drawer and cupboard fronts are white and with all that natural light coming in we opted for white paint on walls and ceiling to really enhance the brightness of the space.
The worktops were sourced separately from an online company and we opted for beech. They are a bit of a faff to oil properly in advance of fitting but that is the key to keeping wooden worktops in good condition. They arrived on the back of a massive lorry in 4 metre lengths and are extremely heavy. Because of the narrow country lanes here we’ve had quite a lot of fun and games with delivery drivers and lorries. The closest this lorry could get was 20m from the front door and so we had to carry each one through the yard and round to the back door. There were 4 of them and did I mention they were really heavy?! We don’t actually have 16m of worktop but had ordered 7m extra to use as window sills. They look fantastic and it worked out a lot cheaper than buying the same quantity / quality of wood.
Kitchen taking shape
As a bit of extra functionality, very thin stainless steel sheets were ordered and fitted onto 2 sections of worktop. One section on the sink / dishwasher area so as to prevent water damage and the other was fitted onto a lowered section of kitchen unit which will be used for rolling out dough and pastry. It’s been really great to customise our kitchen in this way and has been the real benefit or doing it all ourselves. Come the end of January our kitchen was pretty much finished, bar a bit of tiling and window paint.
Among life’s many pleasures is the joy of music. We’ve always got the radio on or our tunes playing while we’re toiling away at Gwalia. Amy found amplifiers online and rigged up a 12V system to run speakers both in the bathroom and kitchen. The kitchen speakers are fairly standard but the bathroom ones are fitted into the ceiling. Both systems run off of our phones so we just plug our phones into the integrated amplifier doc and choose from digital radio or any of the 400ish albums stored on our phones.
To accompany the tunes of course you need a bit of lighting to set the right mood. In the bathroom there’s a light box down one side of the bath so you can set it to a serene blue light or go for the flashing disco option, depending on ones mood! Likewise in the kitchen where similar “stylish” lighting moods can be set. We’ve got under counter lighting, under plinth lighting and of course what kitchen would be complete without the disco shelf?
So far this has mostly been admired by our two small nephews who have been repeatedly pleading for very energetic discos in the kitchen but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until this catches on!
It’s taken all summer to strip down, rebuild and make the extension watertight but come the end of October we were insulated and ready for some slightly less heavy work. The plaster boarding happened fairly quickly but it was not without its challenges. We were boarding onto the stonewall of the original house which was neither flat nor straight. There is still a section which we’ll have to sort out at a later date or just cover over with kitchen cupboards!
Nonetheless we were ready to plaster and when I say we, once again Amy is trades woman extraordinaire. She had done a fair bit of jointing and patching work in the past but not skimming and so having watched what must be hours of You Tube videos she was ready to go. Amy started on the wall which would mostly be covered by kitchen units and tiles, just to get her eye in but there was no need – she was off. I think she would say that it’s pretty difficult and hard going on the arms but the end result was fantastic. It’s a very impressive skill. For the ceiling we employed a professional, simply because there are 3
velux windows to board around and we wanted to make sure the ceiling was really perfect. Nice smooth walls and ceilings, it’s starting to feel like a real house again and just a building site.
Amy plastering kitchen
New stud wall
Our new kitchen / diner will sit on top of what used to be the pantry, bathroom and a separate little loo for campers so we now need to incorporate a new and much smaller bathroom within the re-modelled space. This has proved a bit of a challenge because we want to maximise the kitchen space but still fit in a bath to make a decent family bathroom. The dimensions were drawn out on the floor and although it will be rather bijou it’s just doable. You don’t actually need that much space for a loo and so despite there being no natural light in there we’ll be finding some other ways to give it a bit of a wow factor.
Funky shapes hiding electrics
The stud wall was erected and has been packed with some (hopefully!) decent sound insulation. The added complication with putting up the wall is that this is where the fuse box / consumer unit needs to live. It will be embedded into this wall and be accessed through one of the kitchen cupboards. It’s also meant that Amy needed to get a bit creative with that section of wall in the bathroom . A rather funky shaped wall has appeared above the sink so as to hide all the cables and pipes. The sink itself was upcycled from the outside loo, it’s a beautiful (and extremely heavy) old Belfast sink which has provided the inspiration for the décor.
Now, the other challenge in the bathroom is fitting in the bath. Quite a lot of research went into bath sizes and designs and we had actually ordered a square bath but that fell through so we were down to just a couple of choices. Either go with an expensive square bath which would fit in nicely but not allow you to lie down in it or…go with what I call the “James Bond” option. This involves a bath which is too long to fit into our bathroom. Basically (I still don’t know how she persuaded me), Amy cut a section out of the bathroom wall in which the end of the bath now sits. It doesn’t look any different from the kitchen side because when you have a bath it means your feet will be sitting in one of the kitchen cupboards. Brilliant or crazy…you decide.
James Bond bath
Along with house renovations and developing a new business, it’s hard to forget that we live on a working small-holding. There are some inevitable parts of farming which one doesn’t tend to think about whilst perusing the meat isles in Tesco’s. You purchase your nicely packaged bits of meat and the hardest part is coming up with something tasty to do with it. There is however an awful lot of work which goes in to getting that piece of meat into your fridge and I now have a much greater appreciation for that process. I’ll spare you the gory details but let’s just say 6 out of 12 of our new batch of chickens were cockerels and alas surplus to requirements.
Tasty as our free range, organic chickens are I had my eye on another type of bird for the dinner table. There are a few pheasants roaming around these parts and so I started doing a bit of target practice using Harry’s air rifle and a few old tin cans. I was getting pretty good at hitting my target when one lunch time I seized my opportunity.
We hung it for 3 days in the shed and rather than plucking and gutting as we did with the chickens, removed the leg and breast meat all ready for Amy’s Casserole dish. I’d never shot anything before and didn’t find the whole process particularly enjoyable but there is something rather satisfying in catching your own dinner.
Light and bright
Natural light is the main feature of the new rooms we’re creating and so we really want to maximise the light spaces. We ordered some custom French doors which will open out onto the stream next to the greenhouse garden. These align with the 2 roof lights so as to flood the previously dark living room space with light.
As for the windows these are all being made from scratch. Having routed out several metres of wood herself, Amy has meticulously fitted each piece in place . Our local glazing company made our super-eco glass units to order and again Amy is fitting these herself with such perfectionism you can forget it’s all a DIY project.
The chunky wooden frames really set off the large windows which span the full width of the gable end at one side, a really funky-shaped window at the opposite gable follows the pitch of the roof line and the third spans a couple of metres along what will be the kitchen worktop area. It’s been and incredible amount of work but the total cost for glazing, including the doors, has come in under £1000 because Amy has done it all herself.
A sink with a view
As part of the demolition we had to strip back the interior to the bare concrete walls and so earlier work required a complete framing of all internal walls. Building control specified the insulation levels required for the floor, walls and roof and so whilst Amy’s been getting to grips with the finer points of joinery work, I’ve been cracking on with insulating…and dear God there’s a lot to be getting on with. 25mm will sit on top of the existing concrete floor, 100mm in the walls and a whopping 150mm in the ceiling. It’s an old house but we are determined to be cosy.
Lots of insulation
It’s a bit like getting your sea legs when you climb on to the roof every morning. Ok so it’s not quite 3 metres high but that can be a bit alarming when you’re used to having your feet firmly on the ground. With most of the rafters on, me back to full capacity and Amy managing her sciatica we could move on to completing the roof structure. It all followed fairly quickly once we got going again. The strapping and waterproof membrane went on in a couple of days and meant that for the first time in a couple of months we weren’t getting rained on.
Dee wielding hammer!
Velux windows were always part of plan as these would to help draw more light into the darker part of the house however, the pitch of the roof is only 15 degrees which meant we were restricted in what roofing material we could use. Having investigated a few options we settled on lightweight steel tiles which were easy to install and look like slate so it’s in keeping with the rest of the house. Luckily a good dry spell allowed us to get the whole roof covered and 3 small velux windows fitted in just a few days.
Amy getting the Velux in
It certainly improved the old hammering technique although there were several bashed thumb and sweary word incidents along the way. No pain no gain though, it was worth it to be water tight.
It has been some time since the last blog entry, I don’t really know where the time has gone exactly but several things have happened. Firstly, we’ve had quite a lot of holidays, that is to say several trips away for long weekends camping and visiting friends and family around the UK. It’s been a pretty long and hot summer and we’ve been making the most of having the freedom to take off whenever we want – hurrah! Secondly, some of the holidaying was due in part to some fairly nasty injuries incurred during the demolition phase. Amy has sciatica triggered by 2 days of heavy lifting whilst dismantling a chimney stack. She was doing this by herself because I had torn a muscle in my side which made any form of lifting a big no-no. Both injured and unable to get on with things we decided there was nothing else for it but to relax and work on the tans.
Things did not completely grind to a halt however as we had some invaluable help from our brother in law Chris who, despite whiling away the hours in the world of Procurement, is extremely handy at mega DIY projects. A couple of weekends graft from him really pushed things on and got us to a stage where we could start assembling the roof.
Chris grafting away
Amy is basically Project Managing the whole thing and there’s a lot of research going into materials, design and process and although things feel very slow at times it’s all an amazing learning experience. There have been times when we wondered if it would have been quicker and easier just to tear the whole lot down and start again however, from a building control perspective that would have meant going right back to the original foundations which would have been very costly. And so now we begin the rebuild. New walls, roof, windows and doors all required and that’s before we even start to think about the new kitchen, bathroom and all the nice homely stuff.
Following on from all the cool things we could do with strawberries, jam was one of the obvious options which would store well and draw out the fun. Armed with some of my mother’s advice, Amy’s mother’s advice and a recipe off the BBC website I set sail on my maiden voyage of jam-making. I prepared thoroughly. Strawbs ready, sugar weighed, saucers in the freezer and jam jars sterilizing in the oven. Recipe / mother’s emails on the side and I was ready to go. It all started quite well and the house quickly filled with the lush sickly sweet smell so reminiscent of my youth. Livy appeared early on to check I was ok and passed on her words of advice “think about the science”. Now, as you may know, my life skills lie neither in cooking nor science and so alas things quickly deteriorated.
In my defence, the test to tell if jam has reached it’s setting point is very subjective. Put a dollop of said jam on a cold saucer, poke your finger in and if the skin wrinkles it’s set, if it’s liquid you need to keep boiling. Now, that all sounds very simple but with such treasured ingredients I really didn’t want to produce a runny jam. I mean, I’d never live it down. And so I kept boiling…and kept boiling…and then it started to turn a funny dark blood red colour and that lovely sweet smell was replaced by something else. In short, as my father would say, I burnt the arse out of it.
Livy had to come and rescue me and it was all very, very embarrassing . At one point there was a discussion as whether we should just boil it a bit more, pour it in a baking tray and slice it up to make strawberry toffee. Runny jam would have been better however as it is, I have a “very concentrated” batch of jam. Still edible although definitely not as my mother used to make, barely jam at all really. Caustic soda and a lot of elbow grease was required to restore the pan and I was quite frankly, mortified. 2 days later though I was back on the horse, albeit under strict supervision. Black currant this time, much easier.
Aaaaannnnd now…it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…heeeeeerrreee’s “Strawberry Season”!
There have been rumours that it was coming, stories (oh the stories!) about the great strawberry years! Finally the season is upon us. To be honest I thought it was all part of a great rouse to lure me to mid-wales but I can confirm that the tales are true. There are bowls and bowls of strawberries and they just keep coming!
The summer strawberry mountain
To avoid A) eating strawberries for breakfast lunch and dinner and B) freezing them for later, which just makes them lose their delicious flavour; we have embarked on a “how many cool things can you do with strawberries?” mission.
• Cool thing #1 – Just add cream , obviously
• Cool thing #2 – Strawberry Liqueur – vodka, sugar, water and a shed-load of strawberries – leave for 6 weeks and enjoy in a cocktail of your choice
• Cool thing #3 – Strawberry Jam – savour the taste of summer even in deepest darkest winter
• Cool thing #4 – Strawberry Coulis – posh sauce – stores well, tastes awesome, especially when drizzled over other lovely stuff
• Cool thing #5 – Strawberry Compote – posh desert
We’re still waiting to indulge in the delights of the Strawberry liqueur but early indications are very promising, so in the meantime we’ve been indulging in all other forms of delicious strawberries. Most of these involve some sort of cream accompaniment which, whilst truly yumtastic, has been the cause of a few missed dinners this month due to mid afternoon over-indulgence .