“Right,” said Fred, “Have to take the wall down,
That there wall is gonna have to go.”
— Right Said Fred by Ted Dicks and Myles Rudge,
recorded Bernard Cribbins
And we have tried to fix it.
Move the kitchen
We started by deciding – for reasons that fortunately now escape me – that the kitchen should be turned into a bedroom, and to make the ugly room in the centre of the house into a kitchen. Then we decided the wall between the dining room and the ugly room should come down. Then we weren’t sure, so we asked everyone who visited what they thought. We invited people we hardly knew to stay for the weekend, and interrogated them: “What would you do if it were your house?”
Part of the challenge is the slope. The ground drops away from the front to the back, and is about 2m lower at the back. When I stand in garden by the conservatory, the conservatory floor is above my head; the space under the conservatory is wasted. Maybe we could use it for storage, and demolish the almost-fallen-down shed in the garden?
How many bedrooms do we want? Well, there’s the two of us, generally on speaking terms and sharing a room; there’s Lucy, who would want her own room. We need a guest room, and an office at home. Or do we need two guest rooms? We definitely need a bigger lounge. The one we have isn’t big enough to swing a cat (not that cats figure in our plans).
We had architects round, but they were disappointing. “What do you want to do with the property?” they’d ask. “Make it nicer,” we’d reply, “A dream house. It’s a fabulous location and we to make the house fabulous.” But the architects we met only wanted to draw our ideas, and seemed incapable of generating their own.
One architect was an improvement on the others. We had him draw some plans up, and for a while it looked promising. Move a wall here, make a door there, put an en suite bathroom behind that. Then we realised there were a few practical issues; for a start, no room for a boiler. By the time we’d changed the design around a few times, it looked awful. And we had a bill. We paid, and gave up that idea.
Nick Groom was a breath of fresh air. He listened to what we had to say, let us witter on, asked a few questions, and then said he had an idea. “Cut the house off here,” he said, pointing at the rear 1/3rd, “And make it two stories from here to the back.”
That opened up a new world. Now we could balance the number of bedrooms we wanted and the size of lounge we wanted with the space available. More plans drawn, and costings worked out. In the end, though, there were a few issues:
We would need to have steps inside up to the rear part of the house. Not ideal, and not future-proof if mobility becomes an issue.
- Doubts were expressed by some people (who know) as to whether we’d be able to adequately damp-proof the new back part of the house.
- We were told (many times) that such major work will undoubtedly uncover unexpected issues, and that we should budget an extra 25% to deal with them.
- It didn’t fix all problems; for example, the steps to bedroom and bathroom, and the flat roof.
That was the word that kept cropping up. If we were spending, say, £10,000 to dramatically improve the house, we could accept some compromise. But the number after the £ sign kept getting bigger with every iteration, and the compromises somehow became less acceptable. If we spend over £100,000 improving the house, how happy will we feel about the things we couldn’t fix? We didn’t want to get into an “if only we had…” conversation a few years down the line.
Short Term Fix
So we did nothing. That, too, was a compromise, but at least it didn’t cost us anything (nor did it fix anything). We were a bit battle-weary: we’d talked to a lot of people; we’d had architects and designers round; we’d spent a bit on designs and plans. Nobody seemed to get what we really wanted, or maybe we just wanted the impossible.
So we took a break from trying to fix the house. Friends and relatives still asked, “What’s happening about your house?”, but we fudged the answers and, gradually, they stopped asking.
But we weren’t happy.