26 Apr 2014

We love Belgium!

We have been visiting Belgium for the last few years as Dimitri's sister and her family live here.  As we were there for a short break over the Easter holidays I decided I would snap a few of the houses in their village and immediate surrounds.  I think we can say that it was partly as a result of visiting Belgium that we were determined to build a house and one of a contemporary design. Prepare yourselves for a bit of a rant... 

They live in a village on the outskirts of Brussels, this is proper commuter belt and a very interesting comparison to what you might find in similar areas in the UK.  Having driven around Belgium, I would say that contemporary or modern architecture is just a normal part of life.  It's not something that they are culturally predisposed to be frightened of...
Houses are not necessarily copies of a copy of a copy of a house which was once nice (I'm quoting Mr Luxton out of context here!). 

These first few are examples of houses which I like a lot.  

This is my favourite house, impossible to photograph.  It has two obliquely angled wings and you can see through the house to the garden behind.

Elegant and understated.  

21 Apr 2014

The superstructure continues

The steels arrived on site, the blocklayers returned and up we went to the top. 

Huge upstairs window (looking out at the thick fog - a bit of a theme currently)

The kitchen window

The main entrance

Andrew and Paul got going on the steico-joists. 'Steico' is basically two pieces of ply joined by a woodfibre panel which forms a I cross-section.  This is where our MMC (modern method of construction) becomes apparent.  The concrete blocks are the internal layer and will give us huge amounts of thermal mass (this means that the temperatures within the house should stay quite stable). The I-beams provided by the joists are fixed to the outside of the blocks and will support the exterior layers of insulation, membranes and external claddings, so they are doing a lot of structural work.  Andrew talks about how they are basically made from waste material...at least that does something to offset the concrete used.

The roof window spaces are also visible now and I am SO excited about them!  I love that we will able to look up and see the sky. We have one above the cloakroom, one over the larder and one over the upstairs loo.  We've just specified Roofmaker's Fixed flat rooflight, it's going to look spectacular.  They are super-insulated and look gorgeous, I can't wait to see them installed. Roofmaker have a huge facebook following (see here) and really good reviews so I'm confident we've make the right choice.


These Dodden boys are fast, when materials are on site they don't mess around, it's a quick build really.  Thank goodness we're moving forward again.  Once you enclose the spaces your eyes are drawn to the walls, and they are pretty perfect.  We've all been commenting on how good the blockwork is.  You could almost leave them bare as an internal finish, but our plaster layer is an airtightness barrier and therefore vital - thank goodness for that (we've been having a lot of 'industrial' design conversations but I think bare block is too much)!

I think it looks pretty cool right now! I like the fins.

If you haven't realised I normally blog about a week behind where we are.  However, at the moment I'm a few weeks behind, so I'm hoping to catch up soon.  

18 Apr 2014

Interiors and Design

About a month ago now (I'm so behind with my blogging!) I, with my two youngest, drove the 1.5hrs to Oxfordshire.  We emerged from the deep and thick fog of Gloucestershire into a glorious sunny spring day.  After months of anticipation and waiting, we started the internal design work.  The babes were happily deposited with their Grandmother, for a day in the garden (how handy that she lives in the same village as Charlie!(more).  


We had just a few hours to blast through a massive amount of design.  We did the 1st draft electrical layout and lighting design. We discussed the materials we would use for all the internal joinery and the palette in general.  We discussed the possible flooring choices for the upper floor.  We designed the staircase (which has become a library - it's gorgeous).  We did some playing with the kitchen design. We started on the bathroom designs. We talked about the sliding doors and how they will look and work.  

A day of lightening fast design choices left me feeling pretty punch drunk and exhausted but also very, very excited.  The living space that we will inhabit is really starting to come to life and become real, and that is an amazing thing! Of course, nothing is final yet and there are a million more design decisions to come. Once you have some concrete ideas to work on though, it is possible to think more carefully about how the spaces will be used, and work on refinements in the design. 

I have to say that I am growing in confidence about design as this process goes on.  It was fairly overwhelming to think about before- how do you begin?  With a blank slate there is a lot of pressure!  I wasn't sure that I knew what we wanted aesthetically, but I did know that we are strongly opinionated on a practical level of how design has to be useful not just beautiful.  However, I've discovered that I do know what I like, it's just that I might not know what is possible... 
Of course I have Charlie and everyone else at CLD to hold my hand and Charlie is very, very good at design - so I'm being mentored and guided in this process.

I can't explain my style in words, and Pinterest has been an amazing tool, I never fail to find inspiration. If you look at my boards there are a diverse range of styles but I've found that if I just pin what I like and find interesting, eventually a theme emerges which helps crystallize what I am most interested in.  On my flooring board I repeatedly 'pin' hexagon tiles, parquet flooring and pale wide wood floors, so that really helped me to clarify what I wanted. 

Follow future simple passive's board Flooring on Pinterest.

Like everyone else there are lots of things I admire and like but not all of them are going to make it into this house.  So I've realised that I am starting to create some rules.

1. Do I get excited about it...
I need to have a visceral reaction.  If it's just OK, then it's not the one!  It's so easy when, for example, you are in a lighting department to just find the one that you like best, or hate least, if you are me. But that's not good enough, the few choices I have made so far have taught me that when I see the right thing I know it - i get really excited.  I just have to be patient...

2. Creativity using low cost items
I, like everyone else, lust after those big ticket items.  For me it is the PH Artichoke pendant lamp in brushed copper, by Louis Poulsen (in fact Danish lighting design in general rings all my bells).  But at £6,500 it's not going to happen!  I want to try to use my (and everyone elses!) creativity and not cash to make a beautiful home. 

3. Limited palette of materials
After months of looking at Pinterest and subscribing to Remodelista (which is amazing), I've started to come to some understanding about "design", or at least design that I like (i don't claim to be an expert).  The most relevant at the moment is keeping your palette of colours and materials limited and repeated throughout. So we have decided on pale wood, concrete, brushed stainless steel and birch ply joinery - oooohhhh!

4. Be brave
I worry that the house will feel like someone else's, a bit too grown up, and a bit too safe and boring. So, I want to be playful and brave.  I think I would probably prefer regretting going a bit too far than not going far enough.

It's very easy to put pressure on yourself to get it right, after all it all costs money.  I've lost count of the number of people who have told me that we will make mistakes.  That's fine, but I'm going to do my damnedest to minimise those errors!  Does that make me a control freak?  According to Charlie, I've got control issues...I think I'm just thorough!

3 Apr 2014

Pausing & "The Window Order"

It's been a couple of weeks since you got a site update, and that's because things slowed down to snail's pace.  Once the blocklayers got to the upper floor window openings, work on site stopped until the steel lintels were delivered.  We have some massive window openings, which look amazing, and two corner windows.  They needed heavier duty lintels than the concrete ones used elsewhere.  

It ended up taking two weeks, during that time Andrew and Paul did pop up for a couple of days to put in the floor joists but other than that there was no site activity. Frustrating for everyone, especially after the speed of progress in the proceeding fortnight.  These waves of pace seems to be a theme which is not limited to just our build, but it takes some getting used too.  It's very easy to become accustomed to visible progress and forward movement.  You have to learn how to pace yourself emotionally and with corresponding energy levels to crest and fall like waves also.  But the room spaces are emerging and it looks and feels beautiful (the bathrooms feel small but I'm told that will change!).

During this break though we managed to finalise and sign off on the window order. Our windows are being supplied by Rationel. We have selected the very gorgeous AURAPLUS range. Beautiful, slim & elegant, argon filled triple-glazed windows.  They are also super efficient and will have a coating on the inside which means it lets more solar energy in than out.  Timber composite means they are aluminium clad on the exterior and timber inside which means a lot less maintainance - HOORAY to that!

Rationel have been fantastic and have agreed to make our huge picture window which will look out over the valley.  For a long time we kept looking at different ideas of how to break this large opening up into smaller units as it was too big for standard off-the-shelf sizes and nothing quite worked. It's going to be a big one measuring 3218 x 2233mm and weighing 369kg!  It's going to be breath-taking...

Joolz (from CLD) has been an absolute hero as she as meticulously detailed, checked and corrected the order - it has taken hours. The days leading up to the final deadline was a flurry of phonecalls and emails.  The order needed to be signed off, and in doing so you accept all responsibility for it being correct.  A very scary amount of money had to be transferred.  Lots of pressure.

Joolz handled all the technical stuff of window sizes, opening directions, grooves for window boards, corner posts and cylinders. We had the decision of exterior & interior colours. For the exterior we've gone with Noir Sable as it has some texture and will look very sleek alongside the blue-grey slates. The inside colour was much more difficult.  Charlie suggested white or an off-white.  It was either going to be a near white, or a near black.  My friend, Marion, who has an incredible eye for detail, explained that a dark colour would frame the views whilst a white would allow the outside view to connect more with the interior. Darker colours would also make the window appear smaller, and Charlie advised that it can make interior colour choices more challenging.  Dimitri and I both leaned towards the stronger statement of the dark window frames - it felt like a bolder choice.  As upstairs is open plan with huge windows we didn't worry about a dark colour choice here but we wondered whether in the smaller rooms downstairs white would be a better choice. In the end we decided it would be too risky that we'd get some mix-up in the order - keep it simple, remember? So dark grey, RAL 7024, is what we've gone for. And with a delivery date of sometime during the last week of April we've only got 4 weeks until we see them!