Friday, 29 August 2008

No Corian, no happy

Not so much a before and after, as a before and during. This is the old kitchen, which is now a blank space, soon to become part of our spare room/home office. The build has been going on for two weeks now so I'll have some more photos over the weekend. We've managed to get an exemption from paying council tax until the build has finished, which is good news as money is virtually evaporating.

I got a quote for a Corian worktop which came in at £3,600 including VAT - but because we have to pay an extra £3,000 for the new structural beam we can't get Corian. I'm still waiting for another 3 quotes to come in, and it's been over a week now. Such a shame to skimp on the worktop as this is one thing that really would make the kitchen something special. And I can hear Sarah Beeny (from Property Ladder to non-UK readers) saying something to the effect of "If you can spend a bit extra on the counter top it will add value in the long run…" I know Sarah, I know…

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Week one completed

This photo shows the progress after two days of work. As you can see all the nasty laminate flooring has been removed, the old kitchen is gone and the outline showing where the new walls are going to be built are on the ground. I'm really impressed with how fast the place is taking shape.

Back to our dilemma about the support beam - it costs £300 to call out an engineer, so not an insignificant sum. His advice was to replace the entire beam with a new I shaped one, as the existing one was a less sturdy C shape. Our original plan RE attaching an extension onto the existing beam wouldn't have given a satisfactory result, from an engineering perspective. The cost of a new beam to run the entire length of the house and install it is in the region of £3,000. Which we hadn't budgeted for.

As previously mentioned, lighting was left off the works schedule so this needs to be paid for out of the contingency fund too. The old advice about doubling your budget is ringing loud in my ears.

The Ikea kitchen arrived, which is a minor miracle given that the truck couldn't get to the house so the poor driver had to carry all the cabinets down our very long drive. He also brought three lengths of counter top that Rob insisted we hadn't ordered. Upon reading our receipt it turns out the counter top was on the order form, even though we'd told the friendly Australian that we definitely didn't want a counter top... he was going from the 3D model we'd made on their website, where we'd put a counter top to show how the kitchen would look. It's the cheapest, nastiest laminate you can imagine so will get us a paltry £70 back when we return it. The question is how, as it won't fit it in our car.

Also, we seem to be missing an entire cabinet... the architects drawings were out by 8cm according to Teia, but an entire cabinet is a 60cm shortfall. I'm sure once all the bits are in place we'll be able to measure exactly what the difference is and sort it out. I'm curious to see who miscalculated the most!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Non supporting beam

Well there had to be some kind of drama so let's hope that this is it
and there won't be any more (ha!). Our builders pulled back some of the
ceiling and discovered a support beam which was running the length of
the house, instead of the width. When the end wall of our house gets
knocked out for the extension, the beam has nothing to grab onto and
therefore the weight of the two stories above it could quite feasibly
come crashing down. Our options according to Anthony-the-Architect are:

1. POST - Though is would mean breaking the existing slab (so it has a
footing) which we should try and avoid, also, it would
visually interrupt the stair
2. CANTILEVERED BRACKET - From the party wall (said bracket would need
to be a considerable size)
3. LENGTHEN STEEL BEAM - Weld new metal and reinforce with flitch plates
/ friction bolts if possible
4. STEEL HANGER - From above, which would require the lintel above to be
5. INFILL STAIR WALL - Stud wall, this was easy however reduces openness
of space from party-wall-to-party-wall TO party-wall-to-stair-wall

Rob is meeting a structural engineer at the site today to discuss our
options. Whatever the outcome, it will cost something and our already
meagre contingency fund is being chipped away...

Monday, 18 August 2008

Knocking out walls

Viola! One and a half days after the builders started work and look how much they've achieved: the entire ground floor has had all the internal walls demolished, the stairs have had a layer lifted off and the middle floor has had the old kitchen and flooring ripped out. The progress seems extraordinary as I thought a day and a half of work would mean that perhaps the water and electrics would've been switched off and that's about it. My experience with British builders has taught me not to expect a fast turnaround - in fact on our last renovation the builders would disappear for weeks at a time with no explanation. The crew on our current renovation consists of all New Zealanders. We met Teia with two of them at a local pub late on Saturday afternoon and they'd been in the UK for less than two weeks. I had to ask Teia if he was standing at Heathrow with a 'help wanted' sign, seems incredible that he's managed to find such hard working and competent tradespeople who are possibly still jetlagged. It might have taken six months to get this project underway but now that it's actually up and running I feel full of positivity… let's hope it lasts.

In other news, we went to Ikea on Friday night and bought the base units and doors of our new kitchen. Unfortunately the moulded acrylic counter top (Ikea's answer to Corian) was going to cost nearly £5,000 to manufacture and install. Our counter top budget is more like £1,500. The kitchen sales guy was a really helpful Australian chap but he said there was no such thing as a corner pull-out option so we begrudgingly purchased the wire shelving option. We have this in our current kitchen and it's not very sturdy - if the weight on one side is too much the whole thing sheers off the pole holding it upright. When we got home and inspected the brand new Ikea catalogue (which I'd gotten from work a few days before it hit the public) we noticed that a brand new kitchen feature is the... pull-out shelving option for corner units. So in what will be the first of many visits to Ikea we'll have to return the wire shelves and order up the replacements…

Friday, 15 August 2008

Houston: we have lift off!


It's been six months and four days since we got the keys to our house and guess what? The work has FINALLY STARTED! I would say that this was the happiest day of the last few years but actually, that was probably when I got measured for a bra post baby number two to be told I was a 32DD. (Subsequently shrank to a 32D, but after being what I thought was a 34B for 10+ years, you can imagine I was over the moon...)

Last night we met with Anthony (Architect) and Teia (Builder) in Old Street - where there's an invasion of architectural offices - and discussed the schedule and timings. For some unfathomable reason quite obvious things such as "lighting" were left off the schedule and will now have to come out of the contingency fund. It didn't take that long to sort out everything, and in the end a contract was signed and the builders promptly showed up this morning to begin demolition.

Rob popped over to pay them the first instalment and was surprised/delighted that the old kitchen had already been ripped out. We're off to Ikea tonight to order up the kitchen. Photo at top shows a glossy white kitchen with dark counter top, I like this because it reminds me of Pierre Koenig, my architecture hero...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Six months of an empty house


This is a holiday home in New Zealand which I was quite taken with. The iconic fireplace is a favourite of mine, but Rob said we can't have one in our house because of cost/space/eco concerns. Oh well.

Two days from now we should be having our meeting with the architect and the builder to sign off on the budget, agree a contract and a schedule of work. The builder reckons he can start on Friday. The work will probably start without a signed contract in that case as it'll take some time to write it up. I just watched "Don't Blame the Builder" on
Channel 4 tonight. In it, a couple clashed with a sedate builder and a mediator was called in. The wife of the couple was a very angry Spanish woman, and she had every right to be angry (the builders were constantly late/absent), but instead of talking to them in a civilised way she wound them up by shrieking so much that they refused to finish the job.

Eventually, the mediator brought in a specialist barrister who decided that the builder had to honour a contract which stipulated penalities for running nine weeks over the agreed schedule. The couple got off lightly by having to pay about a third of the final bill (being the sum they owed less the penalties). The work was finished to everyone's satisfaction and they all learnt something: The builder swore he'd never do a job when someone was living in the house, and the woman said she'd hire a builder only with a comprehensive contract.

I learnt that you have to allow builders extra time to get the job done properly and also they won't work if there's no financial incentive or if you shout at them. Useful.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Trying to chill out

Oh wow, it's already the second week of August so our house has been sitting empty for six months. Ouch. Tip for newbies: if you are engaging an architect and don’t already have a builder lined up, move into your property or rent it out on a short term basis. Also, try not to do this during a "credit crunch" as interest rates are bound to lurch skyward. We've just had a weekend camping at The Big Chill music festival in Herefordshire, I was careful about removing the rubbish from our tent as it's possible we'll end up living in it if the build takes much longer to get started. After the Big Chill we spent a few hours wandering around Eastnor Castle in Ledbury. The Hervey-Bathurst family has spent many years and hundreds of thousands of pounds knocking it into shape, so I felt quite humbled when comparing the scale of this project against our own. If you're ever in the area, make time to go.

We're meeting the architect and the builder later next week to discuss the final quote (already more than what was originally discussed) and decide on the game plan. I guess then we'll be in a position to sit back and watch the work get underway. I think I've been saying this for quite some time, so I won't mind if you cackle loudly at my optimism in the face of terminal slowness. The good news is we got our keys back from the dodgy builder and will be settling up his invoice this week. Rob suggested we pay the original amount we agreed to pay, plus half the difference as a gesture of goodwill (what goodwill?!) as they didn't let us know that the Bill of Quantites would cost so much more, or that it would be so late, or that it would be so useless.

Also, as a result of our door manufacturers hiking their price by £1,600 I've emailed three new companies to see what they'd charge. I'll post the results in due course.