Posts Tagged ‘Building projects’


It’s been three months since I last posted (apologies to my readers) but much has happened with the cottage!

We knew it would be a steep hill to climb but we’d no idea just quite how high!

As we started to peal the layers back and reveal the heart of the house it rapidly became clear we would have to make good the interior fabric of the building which meant removing pretty much most of the interior of the house and starting from scratch. It’s the only way I could be confident the house would be safe.

First job, we had to remove the fake cupboards and nasty melamine wardrobes which seemed to be everywhere so we could reveal the beautiful beams which are synonymous with buildings of the period.

 

 

The back and left side walls were hidden behind nasty melamine cupboards … now we can see them in all their glory.

Next the carpets all came out as they all had that musty smell followed rapidly by the bathroom suite. The floor was clearly sagging under the weight and I was convinced it would collapse and that wasn’t a risk I was prepared to take.

How to renovate a period cottage

The bathroom was where we made our first significant find … but more on that later.

First, I need to explain the basic structural makeup of the cottage.

The original part of the house is the oldest and was built around 1650. In the 70’s a rear extension was added across the back of all the cottages in our  row, which added a kitchen and a second bedroom. It’s clearly visible when you stand at the rear of the cottage and it’s the rear of the cottage I made my second discovery … unchartered loft space!

Anyone that has or is living in a small space will understand the significance of a loft … Storage!

So, first jobs was to cut a hatch in the ceiling in the back bedroom to gain access.

Have to say I was more than a little excited to see what was in the loft. But rather than any priceless paintings I did find what was the original roof at the rear of the house basically still intact. The tiles had been removed but the roof joists, what appeared to be roofing felt and timber batons, were all still in place. I can only think cost to remove was an issue or possibly the conservation officer insisted the original roof should stay.

Anyway, back to the bathroom. On closer inspection, the walls were all hardboard on a softwood frame which didn’t make for a great surface and looked terrible. So, we decided to strip them all out and replace with plasterboard.

 

Period cottage renovation

The cottage had pretty much been left for the last 3o years untouched …

It’s at this point we made our first nasty discovery!

How to renovate a period cottage

Grim discovery number 1 … 😦

 

One of the original rear support beams had rotted right through due I suspect to rain running down the original roof at the back of the house. ☹  We were going to have to do something about that and pretty fast given it was being held up by a few pieces of old 4″ by 2″!  Next time I’ll share with you how we went about fixing it which was easier that I first thought.

Having had one nasty surprise I thought it wise to strip the rest of the walls in case there were other nasty surprises lurking! .. and unfortunately I was to be proven right. This was just the start!

Next time we’ll share how we found out the floors were rotten … and how we discovered we had a man hole cover in the middle of the kichen!

Best wishes

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Please to report we completed on our purchase of our little renovation project on the 19th April!

I rushed home from work full of anticipation and tinged with just a little trepidation of what was ahead of us. As we’d seen the property before purchase there were no real surprises, other than we hadn’t seen the house without any of the previous owners things inside. Now we could view it in all its 16th century charm!


As I stepped into the cottage it looked a bit grim if I’m honest. 70’s built in wardrobes made from white Formica board everywhere, floors creaking and sloping in pretty much every direction. Signs of damp in the upstairs rooms … the only way I can describe this little house is it felt unloved.

A quick look in the loft reveals no party wall between our house and next door which I’m told is illegal and will need to be resolved asap.
The roof appears to sit on two enormous timber joists which were cut from old trees at the time the house was built … which probably dates the timbers to over 600 years old.

In the bathroom is a bluish green suite which I’m not sure I’ve seen before … and the floor underneath the bath is at least 3 inches lower than the rest of the floor. I suspect it has little in the way of support hence the floor has sagged over the years.

The hot water tank is brand new but it will be going as we’re replacing the entire system with a new combination boiler. Reason being we can free up the space for storage which is at a premium in such a tiny house.

 

The kitchen is … well … pretty basic. The units are left over from the 60’s and the floor is made up of hideous blue carpet tiles. Pulling one back reveals an old brown and white chequered lino tiled floor. I’d rather hoped we might some original flag stones, but appears to be solid concrete. Ah well … we can dream. The walls have a light blue tile which has seen better days .. and right slap bang in the middle is a 70’s open plan staircase.

Moving on to the living room it has a beautiful old fireplace which has been blocked off and a gas fire stood in front. Can’t wait to rip that out and see what hides behind.


Wow … clearly there is much to be done if this little cottage is to survive another 400 years.  But the good news is we have a plan and work has already started. We’re going to strip the house back to its bare bones and put it back together again hopefully creating a beautiful little period home.

Good news is we’ve already made a start and although progress is slow we’ve recorded everything in pictures and we’ve also recorded some video for a series we plan to put out on YouTube this summer.

In the next post we’ll share what we found as we started to reveal the framework of the property and more specifically a very nasty surprise in the bathroom. 😉

Oh and if you’d like to know more about any aspect of our little restoration send an email to ruralgardeners@gmail.com and we’ll be happy to share.

Back soon.

 

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It’s been a few weeks since we announced our little project and so much has happened in the last few weeks. But before we get to that here’s a little bit about the house itself.

The Cottage

The estate agent described it as a “charming Grade 2 listed cottage with many original features and offers a tremendous opportunity to create an individual charming character house” Well, in spite of what people say about estate agents … on this occasion they were pretty much spot on!

The cottage is in Old Amersham which if you don’t know is a lovely little market town in the heart of the Chiltern hills. Most of the local property is old and built using timber frame construction. On researching the property it looks like it was built around 1740 and is considered one of the older property’s in the area.

There is a lovely Market hall which apparently dates from 1682 and more recently is known for the Kings Arms pub which featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Kings Arms Amersham

So how did we find the house?

Well, it was a warm sunny Saturday morning in January and we were taking Angus on his regular morning walk to the local park when we spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign go up on this charming little cottage in the high street. We’d been looking for a small renovation project for a while. Nothing too ambitious, just enough for the two of us to get our teeth into.

So we took a closer look and found it was a typical mid terrace period property with a modest garden, at the end of which was a beautiful crystal clear river. Looking beyond the river was the local cricket field complete with local pub. Just heavenly.

As soon as we came back from walking Angus we rang the agent and set up a viewing the very next day. (You need to move fast round here if you want something)

The viewing went well but it was clear this lovely little house was going to be a challenge, not least as it had suffered from major water ingress at some point probably leaky roof which had left a nasty stain in most of the upstairs ceilings.  Aside from the challenges brought on from the age of the property it had an open plan staircase probably from the 70’s and a large inglenook fireplace (with bread oven apparently) which had been boarded up at some point and replaced with a gas fire.

70's staircase

The boiler was in need of urgent attention and the heating system needed replacing.

There was no time to lose! We had to put an offer in as houses in the high street rarely come up for sale… and almost never within our budget.

Monday morning came and I picked up the phone to the agent and put in an offer. After haggling for 10 minutes we settled on a price!

Job done … or so we thought.

We then found out the cottage is grade 2 listed and in a conservation area (basically means we can’t touch the outside without the consent of the local planners and the conservation officer)

Building Survey

We commissioned a structural survey report and much of what we feared came true. This is clearly going to be a slightly larger project than we first thought but we are determined to get this beautiful little house back to its former glory.

Exchanged Contracts

On Friday the 7th of April we exchanged contracts and we’re scheduled to complete on the 19th when we finally get to collect the keys. We are both soooooo excited about the project and can’t wait to share our progress with anyone that wants to listen. 🙂

As soon as we have the keys we’ll post another update around how we plan to approach the project.

Back soon.

Best wishes.

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Planning A New Herbaceous Border

There is something quintessentially English about the herbaceous border that can’t be matched in my view. If you’re lucky enough to have a herbaceous border of your own you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!

If you’re looking to create your own border then read on as we share our journey as we create a brand new border at Blackbirds.

Choosing a site
We  finally finished moving the polytunnel which has given us a much better outlook from the house and to be honest … it feels like it should have been there in the first place! As you can see from the photo below it’s left us with a fantastic space.

Planning our new herbaceous border

It’s approximately 26 feet by 16 feet which is simply crying out for a lovely mixed herbaceous flower border.

Planting a new border is great fun and I’ve been lucky enough to create two borders in the garden already. But there is something not quite right about them, so this time I’m going to do my research first before I attempt to plant anything.

After a brief consultation period with John (30 seconds from memory), I decided we’d use one-half for more fruit and veg and the other for the new herbaceous border. Should look amazing when it all comes together.

The new border will be on my neighbours side of the garden which is currently a large open space on which he stores a couple of caravans.

Planning our new herbaceous border

They’re not overly offensive, but I need to find a way to hide them without having to put up a massive fence. I’m not a fan of wooden fence panels and I prefer to use hedges if I can as it helps to bring in the wildlife.

I plan to grow a few evergreen shrubs at the back of the border to create a little more privacy and to provide a nice backdrop for the rest of the plants. We struggle to grow evergreens on our chalky soil so I’m going to need to be inventive when it comes to the planting. Probably sink a few large pots in the ground and backfill with ericaceous compost.

Designing the border
A couple of weeks ago we had a fabulous few days in Cornwall. We managed to grab the last of the late summer sunshine. Cornwall and St Ives, in particular, are simply gorgeous at this time of the year as most of the summer holiday makers have left.

While we were in the area we visited a fantastic garden at Lanhydrock House where I photographed this amazing border with a fabulous planting scheme. The colours are predominantly light shades of pink, purple and white with the odd rich orange crocosmia which make the border really pop!

Planning our new herbaceous border

What I noticed about it is firstly was the size. It just looks so impressive! Also, it’s planted with occasional evergreens which I think are for structure and to keep the border looking fresh in winter. (Herbaceous plants tend to die back in the winter and can look a little tired)

Fortunately for me those clever people at Lanhydrock left a few printed planting plans in a little cubby hole alongside the border to help visitors identify the plants. Just a brilliant idea … Each one numbered with the full name alongside.

We’re going to base our planting on the border at Lanhydrock House.

It is a simple basic oblong design that fits with my new space which will have a long path down the middle to add the sense of perspective. We’ll divide the area in half with one side for the border and the other for veggies. I’d like to incorporate a feature circle half way along to create a resting spot where we can simply sit on a summers evening with a glass of the fizzy stuff and watch the sun set as it drops below the tree line.

Planting A Willow Arch

We have some willow plants that were propagated from some plants I bought John for his birthday a few years back. I’ll use those to create a little willow arbour which will be trained up and over the circle to create some shade on those barmy summer days. For the moment, I’ve put my standard Bay in the middle as a focal point.

I wonder if I can find an old wrought iron seat to add a little style? …  I’m thinking an old bench like those wonderful old wrought iron benches we used to see at the local cricket field.

Constructing the border
When creating any new border I like to get the paths marked out first. Nothing fancy, just a modest gravel path edged with timber edges. All recycled of course!

All you need is a string line a tape measure, (to keep the width of the path consistent) and a few lengths of 3 x 1 timber. I’m using a few boards salvaged from a couple of old pallets.

The only snag with wood edging is it will rot after a few years … but all you do is replace them and recycle the old ones as compost. Alternatively if you can afford it then iron edging looks great and will last a lifetime but that’s not in my budget I’m afraid.

Timber path edging

I’ve made the path approx 900mm wide which is enough for two people to pass and plenty of room for a wheelbarrow. All I do is drive in a few 2 inch squared wooden pegs about 3-4 feet apart making sure they are on the border side using the string line to keep them nice and straight.

I leveled the edging as much as possible and nailed the edging to the posts. Try not to bury them too deep or the gravel on the path will simply disappear into the border which is really annoying! A minimum two inches above ground should do it.

As the length of the border is about 28 feet I thought it best to divide the other side (veggie side) in half with a couple of paths using exactly the same process with the tape measure and string. Just remember to step back and eye up the lines to ensure they are straight and square to the main path. Nothing worse than a wonky path!

I have some bricks left over from the house build which I plan to use to edge the circle and the natural material of the bricks should help soften the overall feel and at the same time provide a nice little feature.

Planning our new herbaceous border

I’ll need to buy some sharp sand and cement to finish the job.

Well, the new border is starting to take shape!  Next time I’ll share how I plan to approach the planting and make a start on selecting the plants.

Should be fun!

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Firstly apologies for not posting for a while. We lost our lovely dog Elsa to old age and just haven’t felt like doing much to be honest. Didn’t expect it to hit us quite as hard as as it has.

Elsa The Rottweiler

Rest in peace, my dear old friend.

Had a week off work last week which meant we were able to finish our latest building project, converting the original workshop into a home office. Last job was to bring the carpet guys in I have to say its looking great. So pleased we made the decision to create a separate office away from the house.

shed-conversion-4

The build was fairly straight forward and took around 15 days in total to complete. The old structure was fairly solid, but we did need to beef up the walls with extra studs to support the addition of the windows and moving the entrance.

shed-conversion-1

The cost of materials approximately £600 as we had to buy 6mm laminated glass for the new windows and glass panels for the door.

shed-conversion-2
The plasterer was £350 and the carpet came in at £360 including fitting. The total cost of the conversion approximately £1,500. More than we wanted to spend to be honest but we’ve managed to create a nice space that’s comfortable and secure and will make a great office to launch our new business .. more on that next time.

shed-conversion-3

If you’d like to know more about the conversion please feel free to drop us a note and we’ll be happy to share the details.We hope to post some plans as we’ve had so many requests. It’s just finding the time with so much going on.

Phew its soooo hot today … The temperature reached a crazy 29 degrees this afternoon and they say it’s going to head past 30 degrees tomorrow! Mad times indeed.

BTW … Cut our first cucumber today. 🙂  Delicious!

Hope you manage to stay cool in your garden this week wherever you are.

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Just a quick update on our shed/office conversion project.

The outside has been clad in new feather board. The old stuff had warped and wasn’t really up the task which was largely down to poor fixing by yours truly.

Window linings are in and the inside has been plastered. All it needs now is the glass to go in, door hanging and the floor down and finally decorating throughout.

I’ll post again when the jobs done. 🙂

Great view out to the climbing rose from the windows.

Great view out to the climbing rose from the windows.

Shed Office Conversion

Shed Office Conversion

Glad I got the professionals in for the plastering. Know your limits. 🙂

 

Shed Office Conversion

It’s going to need a small step.

 

Thank goodness we have a long weekend coming!  🙂

Thanks all.

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

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How to Convert a Shed to a Home Office

Ever longed to work from home and thought you might convert your trusty shed into an office?

If the answer is yes then you’re in very good company as at the last count over 3 million of us had the same idea and are now enjoying the benefits of working from home.

Did you know Roger Waters created the early demo tracks for the album  Dark Side of the Moon in his garden shed outside his Islington home! … and not a lot of people know that. 🙂

Of course working from home is not for everyone but if you are able to maybe spend a day or two working from the comfort and familiarity of the home the benefits to your health are significant.

Well, this year we’ve decided its time to get off the fence and we’re going for it!  I can’t tell you just how excited I am about what we have planned for the new office … so much so I just had to share it with you.

What are the options for a home office?
  • Invest in a ready made structure. (Expensive)
  • Spare room in the house. (Never quite the same as having your own kingdom)
  • Renovate an existing building. (Cheaper option … And you get to do some diy!)
We’ve opted for option 3 as we already have a sizeable timber structure which we built back in 2008 as a general store for our self build. Its large enough and pretty solid. With a little tweaking to the design it will make a great little office.

Rather than simply writing about the whys and wherefores of working from home we thought this project offered a great opportunity to look back at how the construction has stood up to the test of time and if there is anything we would have done differently so anyone building their own shed or outbuilding in the future could benefit from the insight.

Its a solid enough building made from quality pressure treated timber and has stood up well to everything we’ve chucked at it over the last few years.

If you’ve read our original series of posts on the build you’ll be familiar with the construction. Timber frame made almost entirely from pressure treated softwood. We based it on a workshop Tommy Walsh built on TV a few years ago.

The interior walls are clad with OSB board which is ok but I prefer a clean uninterrupted surface so have decided to line with plasterboard and get a plasterer to plaster the walls. Only you know how much insulation you’ve stuffed in the walls or how well the building was constructed … but the finish on the walls will be seen by everyone so it needs to be right hence employing a plasterer.

Plasterboard on OSB

The workshop was clad in OSB … simply screw 12mm plasterboard to the walls to make a perfect surface to plaster.

If there is one thing we’ve learned after many years of DIY is know your limits.

Don’t be afraid to get the professionals in when you know its beyond you.

We’re going to need power and heat if its to function as a warm cosy space.

We already have an approved electricity supply which used to service the workshop. I’ve had it safety checked by Tom (my son the electrician at ENL Electrical Services Ltd) and we have plenty of power for a computer, printer, kettle and few other home comforts.

I’d like to power it with Solar but budget is tight so for now I’m going to have to stick with the grid.

Four inches of insulation in the walls and ceilings should keep it nice and snug!

Insulate your shed

For the cold days heating will come from a modest electric wall heater.

We’ve moved the entrance to south facing to capture the morning sun.

Home Office

The side facing the lawn will now have two glass panels which has meant a bit of a restructuring but as the stud walls were fixed using screws so simple enough to sort.

How to Convert a Shed to a Home Office

If you’re one of the 50,000 or so readers that read our series on How to build your own workshop we’ve noticed a couple of things we’d change about the original build.

Keeping The Roof Water Tight
When we took a closer look at the roof we noticed it had been leaking which was as a result of the roofing felt starting to perish. On closer examination I had to replace a couple of sheets of plywood where the damp had penetrated the layers of ply. Definitely worth checking once a year.

But hey it didn’t take a lot of effort to fix. Simply removed the screws swapped the ply for new replaced with new felt.

One of our readers sent in a great tip for anyone thinking of felting a roof.

Paint the roof timbers with bitumen before laying the roofing felt. That way if the roof leaks it won’t damage the wood. Excellent idea!

Flooring
The floor is a basic slab of concrete which would be fine for the new office but I’m worried about the floor being cold so I’ve decided to lay some standard chip board floor on a layer of thin super efficient insulation. It means I’ll lose 15-20 millimetres of off the floor to ceiling but still leaves minimum 2.2 ceiling height which is recommended.

Doors and windows
John made the doors on the original workshop which were fine for a workshop but will not work for the new shoffice. So we’ve invested in a ready made frame and a hemlock door which will be fitted with all the usual security considerations. As you can see the door has been moved which to be honest has greatly improved the overall aspect of the building. The original window will stay where it is and a couple of extra laminated glass panels have been added to take advantage of the view across the garden and to the fields beyond.

Cladding the exterior
We’re replacing the feather board as it’s not as good as it was and has warped in places. Im pretty sure this is down to the the fixing. I read somewhere at the time you should nail feather board an inch from the thin end of the board. Well that’s crap idea in my opinion. Always nail through the thickest part of the board and ensure at least an inch of overlap over the next board. If you can afford it use cedar boards as they will weather to a beautiful silver colour and they will last a lot longer.

Feather edge cladding

The old feather edge has started to warp … just make sure you fix it through the thickest part of the board.

So to summarise here are the key learnings from the original build:

1. Pay a little extra and use treated (tantalised) timber and the structure will last a lot longer.

2. Ensure feather board is fixed firmly and treat once a year with a good quality wood preservative.

3. Inspect the roofing felt at least once a year.

4. Concrete floors are fine but add a layer of chipboard or something similar to improve insulation.

5. Don’t scrimp on insulation as it really does make a difference on those cold winter days.

We’re planning on finishing the bulk of the construction work this weekend so will post an update next week … so if you’d like a gentle reminder when the next instalment is posted simply register for our newsletter here and we’ll drop you a note.

Thanks!

Best wishes

rural-gardeners

 

 

… still living the dream.

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