12 February 2015

2nd Fix

With the floor installed and then protected with a floor covering re-cycled from another site,  it meant that 2nd fix could begin in earnest!  

2nd fix is when all the final finishes are installed, everything above the plaster layer; switches and light fittings, sanitary ware, flooring, paint, tiling etc. etc. It's busy, busy, busy and seems to go on forever!

The house was filled with trades - plumbers, electricians, tiler and kitchen fitter.  Andrew and Paul focused on making all the internal joinery. 


There is a lot of internal joinery as most walls are actually bookcases.

I had designed these door handles so we experimented with where to position them.

Interestingly rather than taking turns to be on site everyone seemed to prefer to be there while the other trades were there too.  There was a LOT of banter - all good, so good in fact neighbouring builders were known to pop-in for lunch.  Not sure how to feel about that, I'm choosing to believe it's because we've got such great group of people who are working hard in a really productive and creative atmosphere and who wouldn't want to be part of that group...!? 

The basin and sink are from Bathstore, the tap and waste from Crosswater.  For bathroom info see here

The elegant Bauhaus Edge Towel Rail in Anthracite.

Simpsons Frameless Ten Bath Screen and Crosswater Shower is installed. 

It goes without saying that it has not been all plain sailing.  But mostly it has been fine.  This has also meant that I have needed to get to site a lot more often as lots of decisions still have to made and things checked.  Mistakes have been made and most people are on day rates so ultimately those mistakes hit my pocket! It becomes a case of coming to terms to living with the mistakes, because to redo would cost too much and take too much time.  Must remember to channel Wabi-Sabi (the Japanese philosophy of embracing imperfection) and remember that everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes, including myself!  

The plant room comes to life!  Our gas boiler is installed.  As we have minimal space heating demands it doesn't make sense for us to go for a more eco alternative here as the payback would take exponentially longer for us.  Our largest demand will be hot water and the plan is to eventually install photovoltaic panels to address this demand.

We have a boiler!

Charlie, the plumber, was bemused by my excitement at unwrapping the taps - it was like Christmas!

This is the point in the project where it was always going to be an issue about being a mother to 3 young children and building a house at the same time.  Dimitri always said that he would go on site at this stage of the build to supervise however it rapidly became clear that interiors and detailing was just not something that he was confident with.  So we've done the best we can and hopefully the majority is good and we will soon not notice those small issues...! The problem is that I've very tuned into detail and notice things without even wanting to and so even though no one else notices I do and they BUG me everytime I see them!

Andrew created oak cases to house T5 light fittings, then we figured out how it would work, more on lighting here.

These T5s will be hidden by a false ceiling panel so the lights should just give a glow at the edges.

Just one foot in front of the other...

5 February 2015

Choosing the colours

In Stroud we are lucky to have Bailey Paints - a wonderful cornucopia of all things paint-related.  It was to them that I turned for everything to do with paint.  As I was quite overwhelmed about choosing colours I took advantage of their Colour Consultation Service.  Jane Peckitt, an experienced professional furniture painter and decorator, came for 2hr site visit and I couldn't have done it without her.

Little Greene's Colours of England & Colour Scales, and Grey Collection

Jane arrived into the chaos of the building site, with about 8 or 9 contractors also on site.  Her secret weapon was a file of nearly A4 size colour samples of the entire Little Greene colour library (for more info about why I chose Little Greene see here).  What a difference they made to job of looking at colours.  At that size it was so much easier to see what the colours looked like in situ and to see how they related to other colours.  

My tester pot samples

We started upstairs, peeled back the protective floor coverings and took a look at how different colours worked with the floor.  Jane listened carefully to what I what I wanted to achieve and used her amazing knowledge of colours to guide me through the options.  She was great at knowing which colours looked complementary together, moving expertly between different shades completely.  Jane was also able to flick quickly between the samples to lay her hands on samples that would offer me a brighter or more sombre option of any colour combo.  

We ended up choosing one of the colour scales from Little Greene's Grey Collection; flint, tusk and limestone.  These gave a lovely soft graduated background and then chose accent colours for my colour blocks.  I wanted to do something interesting with paint and between Pinterest and Remodelista I had been really inspired by painting just a block of colour which doesn't go up to the ceiling and also wraps around corners.  

I have fallen in love with Little Greene's Juniper Ash, a gorgeous rich warm blue, which will be used upstairs and downstairs.  And for our bedroom I've chosen the beautiful Bone China Blue which manages to be both blue and grey and ever so calm and elegant. 

I felt really excited as I was delighted with the colours and my design rules (see here) were all being ticked!

22 January 2015

Still here

I'm still here and buried under a mountain of half-written posts! Once we moved in life got sooooooo busy, what with a half-finished not-quite-ready new home, new school, new location, new routines etc. etc.  So in the grand scheme of priorities blogging took the hit!

I also realised that I just needed to give myself a little bit of break and spend my very rare moments of spare time having a bit of a relax before I really did break.  

It was still full on with the build Sept-October, with the addition of living in the middle of it all.  November started easing off and we said goodbye to Andrew and Paul as they went to start a new project.  There was a paperwork frenzy in December and we finally got signed off the last week before everyone broke for the Festive season.  Christmas delightfully came and went along with birthday season in our home.  

So, batteries somewhat recharged I'm ready to get this whole experience recorded before I forget it all...

9 October 2014

Choosing paint

It was really important to us that the materials we use "inside the envelope" are as healthy and environmentally friendly as possible. This is always a difficult choice as there is always a axis with these things and everyone will take a different position as to what they feel is 'green'.  The paints are marketed variously as eco, natural, green, and organic each implying a different viewpoint and ethos and the trick is discovering what that means, what you think is important and which direction you are going to go in...!

About 10yrs ago we first used an eco paint which was made from milk proteins.   We bought powdered pigment and mixed the colours ourselves.  We were very proud of ourselves but we had to admit that the paint coverage was patchy and not terribly stable as it yellowed over a couple of years.  

I wanted to choose paints with low toxicity, and environmentally friendly production methods.  I also wanted a paint product that could stand up to the rigours of family life.  I spent a number of weeks thoroughly researching the UK market in eco-friendly paints. 

All the products within the 'eco' end of the market vary hugely regarding-
the pigments they use
the binders used such as milk, veg based (e.g. soya), clay, or mineral derived
the VOCs (volatile organic chemicals)
the production methods
the additives

It's a bit of a nightmare to suddenly have to become an expert in all these things just to choose paint. I looked on the internet and the results are pretty poor as there really aren't many reviews out there regarding paint!  Low VOC is the most obvious starting point, the big brands are now obliged by law to bring the VOC levels down but they still don't compare to a lot of the eco-brands I looked at which are virtually no VOC.  It seems that in the past 10 years the eco paints have all become better at coverage and less patchy. As each company has a different ethos it's easy to end up going around in circles as they all tell you what is great about their paints and what green credentials they can offer.

After chatting to retailers, and pretty much everyone else I could find, as well as browsing a number of forums (hooray for Mumsnet) I realised that for most people colour choice is normally the biggest factor in choosing a brand of paint.   Intially it appears that everyone has the same colours, but it's only when you decide that you want to use a specific colour, such as dark blue, that you realise that each company will only have one or two shades and actually you do have an opinion about which you prefer- it's all in the detail.  You also find out really quickly that everyone has about 50 shades of white (did you see what I did there?).  How on earth does one go about selecting the correct white?!?  Generally you get what you pay for as the more expensive paints use greater amounts of pigments which makes their colours more complex.

© Mark Scott Photography

After taking lots of advice and thoroughly interrogating the colour charts we decided to use Little Greene Paint.  I felt that Little Greene was a great match for us as they have been one of the leaders for developing paint with excellent environmental credentials in the UK.  Their paints have been awarded the European Environmental standard and Child Safety accreditation which I find very reassuring.  I was also really interested in their "intelligent finish" paints which are designed to be washable and stand up to more wear and tear as well as being matt and beautiful- perfect for my home which is filled with small people who couldn't care less about the paint.  Little Greene is not in the budget end of the marketplace but I feel it is worth the extra as you get fantastic paint quality, with excellent coverage and a really, really, really good colour range (they use loads of pigment and the colours have masses of depth).  Decision made - tick!  Next, to choose some colours...

I thought you might be interested in the Paint companies which were also considered, we didn't choose them but they may work for you - 
Earthborne - lovely clay paint 
Auro - milk based paint
Farrow and Ball, Fired Earth, Pots of Paint, Nutshell Paints, Ecos

6 October 2014

Bathroom tiles - Sourcing

Early in the bathroom design process I had moaned about how cleaning the grout on bathroom tiles has to one of the most miserable domestic jobs, second only to cleaning the oven. I looked for ages for an alternative to a tiled wall.  

Charlie and I discussed a morrocan style of lime plaster called Tadelakt. Very elegant and calm looking.  You can go on courses to learn how to do it yourself. 

Tadelakt lime plaster ©MikeWye.co.uk

But in the end I conceded to a tiled wall. In the tidal wave of choices this was just an easier path to take. In order to minimise grout cleaning one should choose the very popular large format tiles.  But if I'm being really honest, and please don't get offended, I've seen too much of them in the last few years and I'm never one to do the easy thing.  So I hit pinterest to see what tiling alternative there were out there.

I have a deep love of geometric pattern (Sam my kitchen designer even says i am obsessed with straight lines- I like to think that is fascinated is a better term...).  Hexagons were a major contender, but not necessarily a cost-effective choice (have you seen the prices!).

I decided that a small rectangular tile (the ubiquitous metro) laid in a herringbone bond was what I wanted.  It met design criteria 1 & 2 (see here) as it used low cost materials creatively. It also allowed me to express my love of parquet flooring in another way. I busily set about researching plain white tiles and grey grout (to minimise staining and cleaning).  

However on my sister-in-law's recommendation (she had picked up some amazing bargains) we went to visit the Fired Earth Factory Shop in Adderbury the next time we were in Oxfordshire.  Behind the main shop they have a large storeroom area full of discounted products; tiles, brassware, sanitaryware, furniture etc.  Some of it is seconds, some ex-display and some used on photo shoots.

Amazingly we hit the jackpot!  There was a pile of boxes containing light grey rectangular tiles from their new Forecast range. Lovely glazed tiles from Spain which look handmade. It turned out that these were seconds as the colour tint didn't quite match.  They were perfect - a lovely grey colour which would work with the concrete floor and really textured and handmade looking so would offer texture and softness as a counterpoint to the clean lines in the rest of the bathroom.  Off I went to agree a price (less than half the retail price!) and reserved loads of boxes of the tiles.  The plan was then to go home and work out exactly how many tiles would be needed and then purchase the correct amount.  We had also put a reserve on a couple of Geberit Monolith cisterns they had in the warehouse, but needed to check for components.  The following week we confirmed how many boxes we wanted to buy and I arranged a date for collection a couple of weeks later.  

Fired Earth Forecast Cromarty tiles

When the day arrived, there was utter heartache when it appeared that they had inadvertantly sold my tiles to someone else (my advice now is to always get those tiles in your car as soon as possible). I would now have to go back to square one as the budget did not stretch to full price Fired Earth tiles, and that was so hard when I had already imagined how fab those tiles would have looked.  However after a couple of days nursing my heartache and convincing myself that the Gods had decided to show me that nothing should be that easy and I needed to work harder and be more creative...The very amazing Paul from F.E. called me to apologise and assure me that as it was their error, I would still be able to purchase the volume of tiles I needed at the price we had agreed.  HOORAY, HOORAY, HOORAY! Just another little emotional rollercoaster but with a happy ending. Is it all going to be like this?

16 September 2014

On Technology

Dimitri writes. This is not an article about the technology that will become part of the house. There is remarkably little of that in the sense of gadgetry and gizmos; of course, the materials involved are all technology of one sort or another, as are things like windows, doors, lighting and heating, but it's all fairly conventional stuff. The only thing in that department that stands out is the MVHR unit which ventilates the house while retaining the house's heat.

We decided not to go for the clich├ęd self build tech such as 
intelligent lighting and sound systems. We don't want to have to resort to an instruction manual to turn on a light, and technology changes so fast that anything built-in is bound to become obsolete within a few years. We could have introduced a spider's web of cabling all converging on a server room where we keep our media, but what will our media server be in ten years? A phone? The web?

Rather than bang on about what we're not using, I'll get on to the primary purpose of this article - describing the technology that has helped in the process of the build.  

During the early days of the build, we quickly discovered that email was not working for sharing documents. This is, I think, because it's not possible to tell someone where a document is - just that you sent it to them a few days/weeks ago, which leads to that person searching through their emails, which may or may not be well filed.  You can't be sure who has received a document; furthermore, it's no good clogging up people's inboxes with documents rather than messages. One more thing: as my family will confirm, I have a thing about large files being sent over email. It is a bad idea. Email was not designed for it, it's inefficient, it slows down email servers and clogs up client program's such as Outlook and Apple Mail while they download the files whether the user is interested in the file or not, and it's generally a bad way of sharing a document over the internet, when that is the primary purpose of websites, which brings me on to...

Dropbox (other file sharing systems are available!). With this system, you install Dropbox on your computer and it creates a folder which it automatically synchronises to the web. You can invite others to have access to that folder, and once they accept and install the program on their own machine, they will see the same folder on their computer. Any changes made to any files within the folder on either machine will be synchronised to the other machine automatically. Dropbox apps also exist for mobile devices. So, when CLD create a new folder and within it place a new plan for the ground floor, Tara, myself and Andrew immediately have access to the file as if it was saved on our machines. When I talked Andrew through Dropbox over the phone for the first time, I swear I heard him dribbling with delight. It has a couple of other useful features, in that you can view old versions of the files if you need to, and you can share files or folders for viewing only, which has proved useful with our structural warranty provider, and would have been useful with our building society if their IT policies weren't so old fashioned and draconian.

We tinkered with a web based project management tool called Trello. This was designed for software development using Agile methodology, but since proved useful in all sorts of spheres.  It allows you to list a bunch of things to do, and with each one you can specify how long you expect it to take, who is responsible for it, and any other notes or documents. We didn't persist with it, primarily because we couldn't expect Andrew or CLD to use it. It's something we may have used had we been fully project managing the build ourselves.

Video calling has proved moderately useful, but we've not used it quite as much as we could have.  This is mostly due to contractors not being familiar with the tool, and often not bothering to check things with us before they go ahead and just do it the way that suits them(!). Photo messaging has been used a lot more.  It was certainly useful getting broadband on site early on as we've been able to access dropbox/emails/websites in situ.  

A version of the kids' bedroom, modelled in Sketchup

Towards the end of the build, I was trying to work out how we could fit the kids' furniture into their room, when I remembered being amazed seeing how easily Charlie 4 (Charlie from Sustainable Kitchens) changed the height in the design of our kitchen extractor housing. The software he used was Sketchup.  After installing and watching a couple of the tutorials, and ignoring Tara's heckles of "just cut out some pieces of paper", I quickly modelled their room and proudly showed Tara the different ways in which it could be arranged. We were both converted, and we've since used it to design the office and the boot room, and would certainly and done more with it if we'd tried earlier.

28 August 2014

Sneaky Peak

We are preparing to leave our current home and shed all the superfluous stuff we have accumulated over the last 3.5yrs.  I love the feeling of relief and lightness I get when I drop off huge bags to the charity shop or recycling.  We have no choice as our new house is smaller than our current one.  We've also had to shed a lot of furniture as it won't fit/isn't needed.  But I am not sad about this, in fact I'm really looking forward to having fewer things and keeping on top of it all, more space often just means more dumping and clutter...

At the same time work is non-stop at the house as we try to get as much done before we move in.  We are moving before it is ready or finished, a couple more weeks would have made things a lot easier for the work schedule.  But needs must.  We promised we would leave our current house by the end of the summer and the children are starting at their new school.  Enough already.

As I really can't prioritise the blog at this critical time, I thought I'd share a few photos to preview everything that I will detail soon.  It has been very exciting to finally get to this moment... I can't believe that we are actually going to be living there.