When the weather snapped cold on site, Bruce (my builder, who along with his wife Kathy are building their house on the adjacent plot) took the opportunity to dig out the foundations for the front retaining walls, while the plastering was finished off inside. As the foundations for the walls adjoin the road, there was no need to order a concrete pump and the single lorry load was simply poured into the trenches. The next day, work started on the blockwork and then moved on to the face stonework.
The Staircase Arrives
After designing and purchasing my staircase online from Stairbox, I received a telephone call from the Stairbox delivery driver asking for directions and, sure enough, when I arrived home, there it all was, stacked in the lounge. To me it looked an absolute nightmare of complexity, but Bruce, along with his sons Ollie and Ed, made sense of it all and got on with its assembly.
Having the staircase in seemed to unify the house. Not having to climb a ladder and, with my knees, think carefully about how to get down again, was marvellous. And Harvey the dog, far from having to wait patiently at the bottom while we tramped about upstairs, was able to join us. His first sight from the patio windows in the top lounge, across to the field on the other side of the lane with its grazing horses, was, to him, a revelation. I have no doubt that spot will become one of his look-out posts.
The staircase features winders so that it turns through 180° from the bottom to the top. We also specified two extra treads to minimise the depth of the other treads, which is something Linda and I thought would be a good idea to future-proof our ‘forever’ house and make the first floor available to us for as long as possible.
The other advantage of having the staircase in is that Andy, who worked on our previous two homes, was able to start decorating. Any colour you like as long as it’s white is our motto for wall colours, and within a few days the house had concertinaed once again, and rooms that had looked gloomy or small now looked more spacious.
Getting the Fireplace In
I’d had an idea in my head for the fireplace for some time. My wife Linda had been a bit sceptical, even though I’d attempted to draw it out on paper, and Bruce was unable to hide his reservations.
I don’t want a formal fireplace. The fire was to sit in a corner of the room, which puts it, the bow window and the wall-mounted television in roughly the same focal plane. I am also a firm believer that a corner fire throws all of its warmth into the room, with no cold spots. On top of that, with a woodburning stove, it seems to me that the heat should be able to radiate and convect into the room from all sides. So my idea was for the hearth to be a semi-circle, raised up from the floor and edged with soldier bricks.
The hearth was then paved with green sandstone, purchased from the Home of Stone in the nearby town but actually imported from India. (It never ceases to amaze me that importing stone can prove cheaper than using very similar looking stone from our local quarry.) Behind, and against the wall, two arcs of standing stone create the fireplace as if it’s a quarter segment of a hemisphere with the woodburning stove freestanding within it.
I like it and, now it’s built, so does Linda. Even Bruce likes it now it’s finished. More importantly, Harvey’s given it his seal of approval, taking up station on it. Although when it’s actually lit, he won’t be able to stay long.
Laying the Floor Tiles
Bruce and I went to Critchcraft in Chepstow to pick up the floor tiles for our kitchens. Jeremy, the owner who helped us put them on the pick-up, asked us if we also wanted adhesive, but we said we’d get that from a builders’ merchant. He just raised his eyebrows and we thought no more of it.
So as the kitchen units were due to arrive, the tiles were laid in the kitchen. I arrived the following morning to find Bruce and Ollie having a worried conversation. Ollie was worried that the adhesive didn’t appear to have gone off. He picked up a lump of it and crumbled it in his hand. It reverted to dust. Furthermore, when he lifted the tiles, they simply came away. There was no suction, no adhesion.
Frantic telephone calls to the builders’ merchant and via them to the manufacturers, elicited nothing except the response that we must have done something wrong or that the temperature was too low. Bruce was adamant: they’d sealed the floor properly and mixed the adhesive properly. The temperature in the house, although cold outside, was 11° and, even overnight, wouldn’t have gone below 5° — well within the parameters laid out on the packaging. The manufacturers said they’d run tests on the batch. The builders’ merchant, bless them, said that whatever happened they’d see I didn’t lose out.
But could we risk it? Bruce and I have direct experience of floor tiles failing to adhere and, on each occasion, we’ve got nowhere as the big companies seem to close ranks. “Get them up and clean them off,” Bruce told Ollie. We then went back to Chepstow to see Jeremy. An hour later, we were back on site with the fresh adhesive from Critchcraft. It’s not worth the risk of having kitchen units assembled on top of tiles which move or have to be replaced.
I also got a call from the LPG supplier to say that the LPG tank would be arriving. I asked if Bruce’s would be on the same lorry as we’d ordered them at the same time, but no, we were told that his would be a couple of weeks later. To us that seems logistically daft. It also means that our plan, to dig out the holes for the sewage treatment plants and to use the spoil to backfill around the LPG tanks at the front, backfired.
Mine duly arrived. The engineer came first to lay the pipe around the house to a position close to where the boiler will go and then the lorry arrived and craned the tank into the prepared hole at the front, where it will sit until Bruce’s tank arrives.