Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Yank's House - List making

I am a great list maker. At every stage of the restoration of the Yank’s house I have made a list and ticked the jobs off one by one as they were complete.  Then I would set about writing up a new list. This gives me a lot of satisfaction. 

The restoration at the Yank’s house is now nearing the end so it is time for another list. I feel at this stage we have made the house safe for the future and we are at the ‘finishing off’ stage. We have decided to go to the top of the house and work our way down room by room. Each room will have its own list.

So we have started with the top floor bedroom. 

The List
  • The windows and window surrounds need to be painted – yet again
  • The walls need to be lime washed
  •  The ceilings need to be painted
  •  The window shutters need to be treated for woodworm, cracks filled and sanded, painted and rehung
  • Smoke damaged wall needs to be repointed and finished off in some way
  •  Something needs to be done about the missing fireplace
  •  Floors need to be sanded and finished
  •  Door needs to be treated for woodworm, cracks filled, sanded and painted. The door lock and knob needs repair or replacement.
First let me remind you what this room looked like at the start.

Lime washing the walls and painting the ceilings was straightforward enough. The place looked much brighter once this was done. We had one wall (chimney) that was very smoke damaged. We pointed the brick and stone on this wall but I was worried about plastering it as I felt the smoke stains would keep showing through. I read that painting the wall with cow manure was a good solution for this but decided not to try it. I didn’t think I had the stomach for the smell.

Once the wall was sealed and the smoke from the fire could no longer leak into the room, we decided to wood panel this wall. Pat studded it out and we use tongue and groove panelling. This also allowed us to introduce a colour because we could paint this wall then. We decided on a cornflower blue colour which I love.

We were missing a fireplace for this room. The old fireplace had a timber surround which was riddled with woodworm and turned to dust on removing it. We decided to copy this idea and build a new one. 

I search the internet for some nice tiles that I could use on the inset. I found what I was looking for at - Milagros is very good to deal with. I ordered over the internet and the tiles arrived very quickly.

We haven’t managed to wipe out all the items on this list yet but the room is starting to take shape. I am so pleased with the result that I have asked a friend to make me a patchwork quilt for this room in blues and reds. In my head I can see it all finished and dressed. I am also watching out on eBay for a nice old rug for the floor. Watch this space!    

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Yank’s House – A Grand Entrance

The day we first viewed the Yank’s house Pat opened the front door to discover a drop to the ground and some broken down wooden boards that appeared at one time to have been steps. 

This was an unusual arrangement for this type of house. One would expect stone steps up to the first floor front door – so it was a bit of a mystery. The wooden steps didn’t appear to be over a hundred years old but our investigation could not prove one way or another if there had ever been any other steps there. We found no foundation stones or rubble so we had nothing to go by.

Locals couldn’t really remember. We wondered if the steps had been sold when hard times hit or if the Yank had run out of money and never gotten round to putting in steps in the first place. I don’t suppose we will ever know. 

We cleared away the rotted wooden steps and later dug out the ground around the basement of the house for our French drains so in the end we had a drop of about 10 feet from the door step to the ground. We were faced with the dilemma of how best to construct the steps. I went around for months taking photos of steps and entrances into old houses. Mostly these are built of stone but our budget wasn’t going to stretch to this.  

In the end we decided we would build our steps with concrete blocks and we will finish them off with slate and lime plaster eventually.

Once the decision was made we marked out the shape and size we felt would give us a good balance with the house. Putting in too small a structure would make the entrance look skimpy – too big would swamp the front of the house. After we had decided on the size we put in our foundations.  We decided to build a freestanding structure. So our steps are not actually joined onto the original house. In years to come it will be easy to identify them as having been added on at a later stage. We then built the walls with concrete block shaping the individual steps with a brick arch underneath.

When the structure was built we were ready to make the steps. We could only make one step at a time. Pat would support the step with wooden casing - then we could make the face of the step with concrete, fill in the back with rubble and finish off the tread of the step with more concrete. This had to be left to set before we could move the casing and do the next step. When we got to the top we wanted a square platform at door level. This is the area over the brick arches. We had to lay steel to support this platform - case it out and fill the casing with cement. Because of the spread of this platform we were in no hurry to take down the casing. 

We are very pleased with the finished job.  We intend to put a low wall along the edges and finish off the steps with slate – a job for the future I am afraid.

Finally – steps in place we needed to get a new/salvage front door. The old door was beyond repair.  We were back in our favorite salvage yard again. We found a door with some lovely stained glass. The size wasn’t perfect but we were able to cut it down to fit. It now takes pride of place at the top of our new steps. We love the way the light shines through the glass and the colours reflect on the lime wash plastered walls within. 

The Yank’s house is a handsome house but for whatever reason it didn’t have the entrance it deserved. Now with it's new steps and lovely newly painted front door in place it is getting there. I hope the Yank would be happy now if he could see these steps in place – maybe at last we are getting to finish a job he put on the long finger - 150 years ago.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Yank's House - In Love again

During the six months that Pat had been in trouble with his back we had left the house closed up and hadn’t even paid it a visit. To be honest I had stopped thinking about the Yank’s house completely. I had gone from dreaming about the house and letting it fill so much space in my head and in my heart to not thinking about it at all. Then when Pat was back working and feeling better he suggested we should go down to the house one Saturday. I didn’t want to go – to be honest I only went because Pat said he wouldn’t stay long.

Pat made up some lunch for us. Packed a few tools in the car when I wasn’t looking and we headed off. I guess in the back of my head I blamed the house for Pat’s back problems. When we got there and went into the house it was exactly how we had left it – like a faithful friend waiting for our return.  It is hard to explain the atmosphere in the house. From day one I have felt the house wrapped its arms around me and embrace me. Now I was feeling this embrace again.

Pat got the tools out and gradually we started doing a few small jobs around the place. That evening he had to come looking for me to see was I ready to go home. The day had passed so quickly. I was in love again!

Before the saga with the chimneys we had started the indoor plastering. I was able to help apply the scratch coat and Pat applied the finish coat. I had a go on a few smaller spaces but a full wall was a bit heavy going for me. This all came to a stop however once Pat hurt his back and afterwards we decided we needed help.

This is the chimney going up to the attic - an example of my efforts at plastering

 We lined up a man to come in to plaster the chimneys, inside walls and to do the ceilings for us. But the delay in sorting out the chimney had also delayed the plasterer from starting and by the time we were ready he had a regular job and didn’t have time to do the work for us. I was very disappointed. He did come one weekend and plastered the two chimneys but we had to look for someone else to finish the inside work.

The original ceilings had been lath and plaster. But these were beyond repair, suffering from nail fatigue and damaged from rain when the roof was off the house. We decided we could use plasterboard for the ceilings and finish them with a skim coat.  So we hired a plasterer to come in and do this part of the job for us. 

Small bedroom - top floor

 We were finding it hard to get someone who was willing to work with lime. Then our daughter’s boyfriend David offered to come and help over a few Saturdays. David had worked summers with a plasterer while he was going to college and we were delighted with the help. He had never used lime but Pat and I were there to show him how – between us we got the job finished eventually.

The Parlor in the Yank's house - lovely white walls
Once the walls were plastered I followed behind with the limewash and soon the whole place was bright and clean with lovely white walls. The different spaces were really starting to take on a very homely feel and we started to see the result of many years work. The Yank’s house was starting to look like a house again.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Yank's House -Trouble

The work was continuing at a slow pace. We spent all out Saturdays at the Yank’s house and most of our annual leave from our day jobs too. Sometimes it felt like we were getting nowhere other times we would get a job finished and it felt like a major step forward. But likewise there were times when something would happen that was definitely a major step backwards.

One such time was when I noticed damp patches on the floor in one of the top floor bedrooms. I showed it to Pat and we investigated different possibilities. The wet patches were close to the front outside wall. Not wanting to even consider that there could e anything wrong with our lovely new roof, Pat pointed some stones in the wall that had been disturbed. We hoped this was where the rain was getting in. However a few weeks later I noticed the floor was wet again.

Then one very wet day, I was sitting having my lunch in this top floor room. During a heavy shower I felt drops hit me on the head. I looked up and noticed the water dripping from a joist in the roof. We still had no ceilings at this stage which was a blessing. Climbing up to investigate we could feel the damp running along the joist, but it was difficult to establish where the water was getting in. The amount was very little but this was irrelevant — all water leaks are bad news. 

The new roof from the inside - up
Water has the habit of traveling and often the problem is in a completely different place to where the water presents itself. In the end we discovered it was getting in around a chimney. This was a disaster. We would have to strip slates off the roof around the base of the chimney. We were devastated. We had no scaffolding and no real safe way of working on the roof. But apart from this a job we felt we had completed two years earlier was now giving us such grief again.

By now the crazy building boom was cooling down and we were able for small money to hire enough scaffolding to put up a tower and get back on the roof.  Also the man we got the scaffolding from seemed in no hurry to get it back. Just as well because it was a full year later before we were happy we had the problem solved.

We really hoped we could fix the problem without it turning into a major job. Pat tried everything, he re-leaded the chimneys and he re-pointed them with cement and sand. He spent days sitting on the roof — battling with his fear of heights and fast running out of options. But nothing worked.

Then out of the blue Pat was struck down with severe back pain. We couldn’t pin-point how he had hurt himself. No one thing or time came to mind but whatever the cause Pat was a full six months out of action. He was unable to work and needed several spinal injections and months of rest before he started to recover. A leaky roof was the least of our problems.

The third anniversary of our purchase of the Yank’s house coincided with Pats recovery and return to work. It was also the start of our fourth summer working on the project. Maybe it was all that time lying on his back — all the time he had to think. Whatever the reason Pat decided that the chimney had to come down and be rebuilt. He also decided the other chimney needed a new cap at the very least. Up to this we had tried to do the majority of the work ourselves — only getting help in for job we just couldn’t do. But this was an eye opener and Pat admitted that we needed help.

As we were now planning to ask someone to get up on the roof to build a new chimney we needed more than just a tower of scaffolding and a roof ladder. No one would get up there unless it was safe so we had to arrange for proper scaffolding to be erected and for both chimneys to be scaffolded out. We were not able to do this work ourselves so we asked the chap that we had hired the tower from if he would do it for us.

He said he would — but for him this was a small job and it took him most of the summer to get around to doing it. I find it so frustrating waiting for people and not being able to do anything about the delay. This is the hardest part of getting anyone in to work on the house. They are always coming next week. But next week runs into months. I would much prefer someone to tell me it will be a month rather than to make promises they cannot keep. But I have realised this is how things work in the building trade. 

It was a high climb to get up to the chimneys
When we eventually got the scaffolding up it was a great job. It was very high and we had to get used to the climb again. But now Pat and I could get up on the roof to take down the chimney. I felt very safe working off the scaffolding. Once we started knocking the chimney I had to admit it was little wonder the water was getting in. The chimney was very brittle. It didn’t take much effort to knock it down.
On the roof - taking down the chimney

We also took the capping of the second chimney. While this chimney was not leaking the top plaster was cracked and we felt it would be better to finish both chimneys the same. We had our new chimney built and both chimneys capped. We also took this opportunity to drop a flexi flue down the chimney for a multi-fuel stove.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Yank's House - The Kitchen

Most of us have a select few people in our lives that we truly call friends – people that we can talk to about anything and trust with our deepest secrets. In my case I am lucky to have any left. I never stopped talking about the house from the time we bought it. It took over my life like a drug addiction and my friends had to put up with a bombardment of photos through their e-mail and Facebook and constant updates every time we met. I have to say they were great. They made all the right noises while listening to my stories and always listened for an appropriate period of time so I was able to off load when I needed to.

One such friend that deserves special mention is Geraldine. We have worked together for a long time. For many years we were slimming friends, joining several slimming clubs, a real sign of close friendship in my books. However when I became obsessed with the Yank’s house Geraldine won her battle with weight and I put mine on the long finger. 

Geraldine and her husband Dave bought a house in need of love and attention around the same time we did so we had endless discussions over salads, low fat lunches and skinny latt├ęs. Her house was to have a major overhaul including an extension that would double it in size and make for comfortable modern family living. Geraldine’s house boasted a lovely hand-made wooden kitchen, complete with butlers sink. I had expressed an interested in it as soon as she had told me of her plans to extend. It would be ideal for our kitchen in the Yank’s house if she was replacing it.

On one of our weekly salad binges she mentioned that the diggers were in and her foundations were being dug out. ‘What about my kitchen?’ I asked. She had forgotten, but the kitchen was still there. She would have to run it past Dave when she got home. Later I got a text saying if we wanted the kitchen to call and take it away. It was ours. We met Dave at the house to see what was involved in removing it and Pat made arrangements to take it away the following week. I was so excited. I felt like a small child, Christmas morning, after discovering Santa had come. The kitchen was exactly the look I wanted for the house and would save us a small fortune.

The evening we went to collect the kitchen, Geraldine’s house was full of men. Work was progressing very fast. The builders had ripped out the kitchen and moved some of it to an out-house but the sink unit, with granite top and butlers sink was heavy so they had abandoned it in the middle of the floor. They were knocking the ceilings and floors from upstairs down on top of it and several walls had also vanished into dust and rubble around it.  We were just in time. It took several men to move it from the building onto our trailer. We had to do two trips in all but later that evening I had a kitchen stacked high in the middle of my front room.

It took me a few weeks to make a start but gradually I moved the kitchen one piece at a time into my own kitchen where I wash and sanded each piece down. My plan was to paint the kitchen. The granite worktop was marked with lime from a dripping tap. I used white vinegar to remove this. I am a great believer in the use of vinegar for cleaning and for lime stains I don’t think there is anything better. I picked the colour cooking apple green from the Farrow and Ball catalogue for the kitchen cupboards. I had seen a photo in a magazine where a kitchen had been painted this colour and I liked it.

I have tried many different methods of painting furniture over the years and I now prefer to paint with mat emulsion paint. This is the type of paint recommended for painting internal walls. I cleaned all the timber down with white spirits before I started. Then I gave the kitchen 3 coats of paint letting the paint dry well between each application. I then finished off each piece with two coats of acrylic mat varnish.

I didn’t have a lot of pieces to paint. There was the sink unit and a wall unit, same size which hang one over the other. Two separate wall units had hung either side of Geraldine’s Aga cooker. There was one floor unit and some pieces that had housed a small fridge. 

Kitchen in place in Yank's House
Ready for tea-time
I decided to join the two wall cupboards to make one double unit and to extend the one floor cupboard we had using the extra bits from the fridge unit. Pat and I used these pieces to add two shelves. We ordered a piece of black granite for the work surface. 
At first I planned to hang the wall cupboard over the floor cupboard, but later I decided the floor cupboard would make a nice island unit. I had a photo from a magazine of a cupboard with a painting of a jug of flowers on the door I had kept it because I liked it. One afternoon I decided I’d have a go doing something similar on the door of the island unit. It turned out great. I painted it using acrylic paints and varnish over the picture to seal and protect it. 

Island Unit
While I worked on the kitchen and afterwards while I waiting for the Yank’s house to be ready, the cupboards took up the dining area of my kitchen. A small inconvenience, but every day I admired how well they all looked and how pleased I was with my hard work.  

Then the day came to move the kitchen to the Yank’s House. Again we needed help to move the sink unit with the granite top as it was very heavy. But we got it in place and plumbed in. For the first time ever there was running water in the Yank’s house. We hung one of the wall units over the sink unit. It looked great.

We had one more double door wall unit but no floor unit to go under it so I asked Jason back (our stone/brick mason) to build walls with reclaimed bricks so I could have a worktop and shelves under it. I am still waiting on the shelves and worktop but I will organize to get them soon.

The kitchen looks great now. And last summer we had our first visitors for lunch at the Yank’s house. It was a lovely occasion.

Friend for lunch at Yank's House