Wednesday, July 16, 2014

house of the tiling fun

When we moved into our current house in June 2010, it was with the knowledge that there would be a few things we'd want to change around the place. I think unless you're moving into some sort of pristine showhome or you're a gazillionaire and you've designed the place down to the last detail, from the cocktail bar and recreational ball pit in the conservatory to the cocktail bar and recreational studded sex harness in the bedroom, then it's likely that you'll at least want to apply a lick of paint here and there to freshen things up, even if you're not knocking walls down.

Our predecessors (the male half of whom - the previous occupant of my shed - is now sadly deceased) had been in the house for 30-odd years, and some of the decor was obviously of similar vintage. That weird shiny vinyl wallpaper with the swirly patters or the bumpy embossed stuff is all a bit 1970s - indeed so, I would argue, is the whole concept of wallpaper. So that had to go from a couple of places, as did the strange chain attachment hanging from the ceiling in the spare bedroom. Aha, you'll be saying, the recreational sex harness. Well, maybe, but the story we were told is that my male predecessor was a former amateur boxer and that it had at one time been the attachment for a punch bag. You may choose to believe that story or not as you wish.

Anyway, not to get ahead of myself, here's the order in which we tackled the various decoration & renovation tasks. Where there is a link on the room name/description this will take you to a photo gallery.

1) second downstairs reception room - this was the first priority as it was intended to be Hazel's client reception & album viewing area and would enable her to relinquish the separate office space she was renting for this purpose at vast expense. Bit of wallpaper stripping, a lick of paint and some new light fittings, nothing too major.

2) the master bedroom - second priority as my wife refused to allow me to erect my IKEA bookshelves until we'd painted the wall they were going to sit in front of. Wallpaper stripping and painting mainly - sounds simple but it's an absolutely gargantuan room with lots of fitted cupboards, so it was all a bit fiddly in places.

3) the spare bedroom - this room featured possibly the most bizarre decor in the whole house, as most of one wall had been given over to wall-to-ceiling cork tiles for who knows what purpose - thankfully my fears of finding my predecessor's mother-in-law walled up behind it proved groundless. Less thankfully they were an absolute bastard to remove and necessitated getting the wall where they'd been replastered afterwards. There was also some furniture which had been fitted flush with the wall and floor by removing the relevant sections of skirting board and carpet, thus also necessitating complete replacement of both. And then there was the recreational sex harness as mentioned above.

4) what is officially one of the two small bedrooms towards the back of the house, and had been my "office", but was then designated as Nia's room (or "the baby" as she was then, as she hadn't been born when we started) and so needed to be converted. The usual de-wallpapering (some particularly horrible grey swirly vinyl stuff) and painting, plus converting the cupboard containing the boiler and water tank into a storage cupboard for baby clothes via an ingenious removable shelving system of my own design.

5) The garden. The first of the really big tasks, and the one I'm retrospectively most proud of. The garden was in a bit of a state as my predecessor had planned to build a one-storey extension at the back of the house, and had done various ground clearance activities in preparation for this as well as building a low breeze-block wall with various wire wall ties protruding from it. The bits that weren't a horrible sharp concrete and wire-based death trap were a jungle of buddleja and various other invasive plants. The impetus for this was - again - having Nia and being aware that once she was properly mobile she'd need access to a garden that wasn't going to rip her face off as soon as she set foot in it. So what we did was:
  • tidy up the smashed concrete driveway by extending it to the back door and putting some nice neat brick edging on it
  • remove about a quarter of the decking area to increase the area available for putting a lawn on - on removing the decking boards it turned out that a lot of the superstructure was rotten anyway, so it would have had to go one way or the other. Under the decking was a 4-inch thick layer of concrete that I had to hire a breaker from the good people at HSS (which happened to be about 50 yards down the road) to smash up, and under that was a foot-high layer of loamy soil that probably hadn't seen air or daylight for about 30 years.
  • cover up the ugly breeze-block wall by facing it with some nice big railway sleepers that we got from the timber yard in Crumlin. We decided to extend the sleepers down the side wall to make a sort of long low bench when we discovered that the lawn level was in danger of being below the bottom of the wall, and that the wall didn't seem to be sitting on any meaningful foundations.
  • fill up the areas enclosed behind the railway sleepers to make some raised beds for planting vegetables in.
  • use the earth from under the decking to level the rest of the garden up in preparation for making a lawn.
  • dump 6 tons of topsoil onto this area and then lay some turf on top of that (in what turned out to be freezing temperatures and torrential rain)
  • put a child-proof fence around the edge of the decking area to avoid any plummeting incidents
  • extend the side wall upwards by about 3 feet by putting a fence on top of it
I'd never done any hard landscaping of this sort before so I was extremely grateful for the assistance of my ex-brother-in-law Ray, who'd offered us his expertise and assistance in "tidying up" the garden as a wedding present back in June 2011, without (I suspect) quite realising what he was getting himself into.

6) the downstairs bathroom. This is located in a little brick lean-to structure at the back of the house, the best theory for the original purpose of which that I've heard is that it was probably the coalshed. That would explain the obvious bricked-up door on the outside wall, and the fact that the current entrance door from the utility room appears to have been knocked through at a later date. Anyway, it's handy to have a downstairs bathroom, but this one was a bit delapidated and contained a rather manky shower cubicle as well as a ragged hole where our old boiler used to be (it's now been replaced by a much smaller one in a cupboard in the kitchen). I hadn't planned to segue straight from finishing the garden into starting the bathroom, but then the shower packed up necessitating a bit of emergency plumbing (basically cutting off and capping some pipes) and that seemed like a good moment to start a bit of general demolishment.

So what I did was:
  • rip out the shower cubicle and its floor tray
  • smash all the tiles off the wall and floor
  • brick up the hole in the wall where the outlet flue from the old boiler had been
  • get a man in to relocate some of the pipework, specifically the inlet pipes for the wash-basin and the shower, replace and skim the ceiling and install a new window to replace the old rotten one
  • attach battens to the external-facing walls and then plasterboard them (among other things allowing concealment of the inlet pipes)
  • do the same for the internal walls but by sticking the plasterboard directly to the walls
  • concrete in the shower waster pipe so as to allow a "wet-room"-style floor tiling arrangement (i.e. by building a slight slope into it)
  • build a brick plinth for the wash-basin to stand on
  • build a stud wall to enclose the future location of the "back-to-wall" toilet cistern
  • seal and waterproof plasterboard and floor in preparation for tiling
  • tile the floor (preserving the slope towards the shower drain but also ensuring that the door could still be closed and that there wasn't a step between utility room and bathroom for people to trip over)
  • install the toilet and cistern
  • tile the walls
  • build a cupboard where the old boiler used to be
  • install the washbasin
  • tidy up, make good, etc.
  • christen the toilet by having a big shit in it

So, in my mind at least, that concludes major DIY operations in and around the house for the foreseeable future. That doesn't mean that I can put my feet up completely, as there are numerous other bits of more mundane maintenance that need taking care of: some broken guttering needs replacing (which I'm going to get a man in for), the roof on the porch by the back door is somewhat leaky and rotten, I need to put some more shelves up in the shed, and the side wall could do with repointing. No rest for the wicked....

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