21 April 2014

The superstructure continues

The steels arrived on site, the blocklayers returned and up we went to the top. 

Huge upstairs window (looking out at the thick fog - a bit of a theme currently)

The kitchen window

The main entrance

Andrew and Paul got going on the steico-joists. 'Steico' is basically two pieces of ply joined by a woodfibre panel which forms a I cross-section.  This is where our MMC (modern method of construction) becomes apparent.  The concrete blocks are the internal layer and will give us huge amounts of thermal mass (this means that the temperatures within the house should stay quite stable). The I-beams provided by the joists are fixed to the outside of the blocks and will support the exterior layers of insulation, membranes and external claddings, so they are doing a lot of structural work.  Andrew talks about how they are basically made from waste material...at least that does something to offset the concrete used.

The roof window spaces are also visible now and I am SO excited about them!  I love that we will able to look up and see the sky. We have one above the cloakroom, one over the larder and one over the upstairs loo.  We've just specified Roofmaker's Fixed flat rooflight, it's going to look spectacular.  They are super-insulated and look gorgeous, I can't wait to see them installed. Roofmaker have a huge facebook following (see here) and really good reviews so I'm confident we've make the right choice.


These Dodden boys are fast, when materials are on site they don't mess around, it's a quick build really.  Thank goodness we're moving forward again.  Once you enclose the spaces your eyes are drawn to the walls, and they are pretty perfect.  We've all been commenting on how good the blockwork is.  You could almost leave them bare as an internal finish, but our plaster layer is an airtightness barrier and therefore vital - thank goodness for that (we've been having a lot of 'industrial' design conversations but I think bare block is too much)!

I think it looks pretty cool right now! I like the fins.

If you haven't realised I normally blog about a week behind where we are.  However, at the moment I'm a few weeks behind, so I'm hoping to catch up soon.  

18 April 2014

Interiors and Design

About a month ago now (I'm so behind with my blogging!) I, with my two youngest, drove the 1.5hrs to Oxfordshire.  We emerged from the deep and thick fog of Gloucestershire into a glorious sunny spring day.  After months of anticipation and waiting, we started the internal design work.  The babes were happily deposited with their Grandmother, for a day in the garden (how handy that she lives in the same village as Charlie!(more).  


We had just a few hours to blast through a massive amount of design.  We did the 1st draft electrical layout and lighting design. We discussed the materials we would use for all the internal joinery and the palette in general.  We discussed the possible flooring choices for the upper floor.  We designed the staircase (which has become a library - it's gorgeous).  We did some playing with the kitchen design. We started on the bathroom designs. We talked about the sliding doors and how they will look and work.  

A day of lightening fast design choices left me feeling pretty punch drunk and exhausted but also very, very excited.  The living space that we will inhabit is really starting to come to life and become real, and that is an amazing thing! Of course, nothing is final yet and there are a million more design decisions to come. Once you have some concrete ideas to work on though, it is possible to think more carefully about how the spaces will be used, and work on refinements in the design. 

I have to say that I am growing in confidence about design as this process goes on.  It was fairly overwhelming to think about before- how do you begin?  With a blank slate there is a lot of pressure!  I wasn't sure that I knew what we wanted aesthetically, but I did know that we are strongly opinionated on a practical level of how design has to be useful not just beautiful.  However, I've discovered that I do know what I like, it's just that I might not know what is possible... 
Of course I have Charlie and everyone else at CLD to hold my hand and Charlie is very, very good at design - so I'm being mentored and guided in this process.

I can't explain my style in words, and Pinterest has been an amazing tool, I never fail to find inspiration. If you look at my boards there are a diverse range of styles but I've found that if I just pin what I like and find interesting, eventually a theme emerges which helps crystallize what I am most interested in.  On my flooring board I repeatedly 'pin' hexagon tiles, parquet flooring and pale wide wood floors, so that really helped me to clarify what I wanted. 

Follow future simple passive's board Flooring on Pinterest.

Like everyone else there are lots of things I admire and like but not all of them are going to make it into this house.  So I've realised that I am starting to create some rules.

1. Do I get excited about it...
I need to have a visceral reaction.  If it's just OK, then it's not the one!  It's so easy when, for example, you are in a lighting department to just find the one that you like best, or hate least, if you are me. But that's not good enough, the few choices I have made so far have taught me that when I see the right thing I know it - i get really excited.  I just have to be patient...

2. Creativity using low cost items
I, like everyone else, lust after those big ticket items.  For me it is the PH Artichoke pendant lamp in brushed copper, by Louis Poulsen (in fact Danish lighting design in general rings all my bells).  But at £6,500 it's not going to happen!  I want to try to use my (and everyone elses!) creativity and not cash to make a beautiful home. 

3. Limited palette of materials
After months of looking at Pinterest and subscribing to Remodelista (which is amazing), I've started to come to some understanding about "design", or at least design that I like (i don't claim to be an expert).  The most relevant at the moment is keeping your palette of colours and materials limited and repeated throughout. So we have decided on pale wood, concrete, brushed stainless steel and birch ply joinery - oooohhhh!

4. Be brave
I worry that the house will feel like someone else's, a bit too grown up, and a bit too safe and boring. So, I want to be playful and brave.  I think I would probably prefer regretting going a bit too far than not going far enough.

It's very easy to put pressure on yourself to get it right, after all it all costs money.  I've lost count of the number of people who have told me that we will make mistakes.  That's fine, but I'm going to do my damnedest to minimise those errors!  Does that make me a control freak?  According to Charlie, I've got control issues...I think I'm just thorough!

3 April 2014

Pausing & "The Window Order"

It's been a couple of weeks since you got a site update, and that's because things slowed down to snail's pace.  Once the blocklayers got to the upper floor window openings, work on site stopped until the steel lintels were delivered.  We have some massive window openings, which look amazing, and two corner windows.  They needed heavier duty lintels than the concrete ones used elsewhere.  

It ended up taking two weeks, during that time Andrew and Paul did pop up for a couple of days to put in the floor joists but other than that there was no site activity. Frustrating for everyone, especially after the speed of progress in the proceeding fortnight.  These waves of pace seems to be a theme which is not limited to just our build, but it takes some getting used too.  It's very easy to become accustomed to visible progress and forward movement.  You have to learn how to pace yourself emotionally and with corresponding energy levels to crest and fall like waves also.  But the room spaces are emerging and it looks and feels beautiful (the bathrooms feel small but I'm told that will change!).

During this break though we managed to finalise and sign off on the window order. Our windows are being supplied by Rationel. We have selected the very gorgeous AURAPLUS range. Beautiful, slim & elegant, argon filled triple-glazed windows.  They are also super efficient and will have a coating on the inside which means it lets more solar energy in than out.  Timber composite means they are aluminium clad on the exterior and timber inside which means a lot less maintainance - HOORAY to that!

Rationel have been fantastic and have agreed to make our huge picture window which will look out over the valley.  For a long time we kept looking at different ideas of how to break this large opening up into smaller units as it was too big for standard off-the-shelf sizes and nothing quite worked. It's going to be a big one measuring 3218 x 2233mm and weighing 369kg!  It's going to be breath-taking...

Joolz (from CLD) has been an absolute hero as she as meticulously detailed, checked and corrected the order - it has taken hours. The days leading up to the final deadline was a flurry of phonecalls and emails.  The order needed to be signed off, and in doing so you accept all responsibility for it being correct.  A very scary amount of money had to be transferred.  Lots of pressure.

Joolz handled all the technical stuff of window sizes, opening directions, grooves for window boards, corner posts and cylinders. We had the decision of exterior & interior colours. For the exterior we've gone with Noir Sable as it has some texture and will look very sleek alongside the blue-grey slates. The inside colour was much more difficult.  Charlie suggested white or an off-white.  It was either going to be a near white, or a near black.  My friend, Marion, who has an incredible eye for detail, explained that a dark colour would frame the views whilst a white would allow the outside view to connect more with the interior. Darker colours would also make the window appear smaller, and Charlie advised that it can make interior colour choices more challenging.  Dimitri and I both leaned towards the stronger statement of the dark window frames - it felt like a bolder choice.  As upstairs is open plan with huge windows we didn't worry about a dark colour choice here but we wondered whether in the smaller rooms downstairs white would be a better choice. In the end we decided it would be too risky that we'd get some mix-up in the order - keep it simple, remember? So dark grey, RAL 7024, is what we've gone for. And with a delivery date of sometime during the last week of April we've only got 4 weeks until we see them!

24 March 2014

On Buying Stuff

Dimitri writes. One day, Tara and I are discussing toilets, browsing various bathroom-ware on the fondle-slab, and she starts describing how she likes the style of Geberit, and that they are meant to be a good make. Whilst I am no longer astonished when she comes out with opinions such as this (this is just one example from the back-catalogue), occasions like this remind me that her perception of the universe is subtly different to mine. She doesn't notice as my eyes widen in surprise.

A toilet. Don't know what type

It is not that her opinion of Geberit toilets is controversial - I've no idea - it's that she already has a well formed opinion on brands of toilet at all. When I use a toilet, I don't notice its logo. Unless it's particularly unusual, I don't notice the style, and even when its design does draw my attention, I still don't pay attention to the brand. I do notice when it doesn't work well, for instance, failing to flush easily, as is the case with one of my mother's toilets and the toilets at work, but even when this is the case, I still don't notice the make. Therefore, when Tara comes out with well formed opinions on mundane household goods, I can't help but wonder when and how she has developed this point of view. Has she spent time researching these things in the past? Surely not! Why would she? The only conclusion that I can draw is that she pays attention to these things; consciously or subconsciously, I do not know. In contrast, doubtless she thinks that I walk around with my eyes shut.

When she asks me what kind of toilets I prefer, when not giving my standard response of Japanese bum washing ones, I will shrug my shoulders and answer dunno. It takes me time to develop an opinion on these matters. When I decided that I needed a watch, I had no idea what I wanted and very little opinion on them. It took much browsing of shop displays before my taste in watches was slowly and painfully hewn from a slab of general indifference. I find that this is the case with many goods, and while I am prepared to put in the effort for some things (for it is an effort), for others, such as toilets, it's not something that I will look forward to doing of an evening, particularly if there is something more interesting to do such as watching a movie, cooking, cleaning, staring vacantly into space etc. It is from this personal dislike of shopping, or pre-shopping, that I arrogantly conclude that Tara must develop her tastes through general observation rather than researching each and every type of household (or non-household) item on which she has a stance, for she has such an extensive knowledge-base of brands and cornucopia of opinions that they couldn't possibly be the result of dedicated research. There simply isn't enough time. Or maybe she is just much quicker than me (which, in any case, is probably true.)

What this somewhat rambling post really says is that Tara is a good [ed. tara] discerning & discriminating consumer. A professional. (Indeed, friends of ours say that they don't bother researching items that they want to buy, knowing that they can more easily ask Tara instead.) And I am not. I am distinctly amateurish.

Next for bathroom sinks, shower trays, baths, kitchen sinks, door knobs, hinges, plug sockets, light switches...

20 March 2014

What fine walls!

The bricklayers (John, Nathan & Aaron) have been coursing away and the walls keep going up.  We have openings now for windows and doors.  The spaces are really starting to take shape.  It's so fast.  An amazing feeling of excitement!

At each stage the sense of space changes like elastic.  Sometimes OK, sometimes too small, interestingly never too large...does that say something about me?  The kid's room feels spacious, it will be two single rooms eventually but at the moment they love sharing and so in the first instance we will leave it as one large room.  I was afraid it be cramped for 3, but I think it's going to be good.  The two double bedrooms feel a little smaller than I thought - in my head they obviously got larger and larger. But they both have huge windows on two sides so there won't be any feelings of tightness when finished.  I need to draw the outline of our kingsize bed on the ground because, at the moment, it scarily feels like that will fill the whole room.

The bathroom windows are enormous, but as these rooms are in the back of the house they will need all the light they can get.  I don't think it's possible to say "hey, this room has got too much light!".  I know I shouldn't be surprised by any of this, it has all been there in the plans.  I thought I had got pretty good at looking at plans and visualising but i'm reminded that i'm only a beginner at all this.

Look no hole any longer! 

There are loads of other things that have been going on about interiors, and my head is spinning.  I will do some posts about all these things but at the moment I can barely find the time to just organise them in my head, never mind write about them.  Starting to feel a little overwhelmed - but that is the adventure, no one said it was going to be easy! 

13 March 2014

Up we go...

We are now officially out of the ground!!! Hip, Hip, Hooray!

The stepoc, special shuttering concrete blocks, was delivered to site for the back wall of the house which will sit into the cut. Andrew and Paul are now experts with the old Stepoc and it was faster to erect and I'm sure they won't mind me saying a lot more
evenly laid than the retaining walls. This stepoc is the smaller block size which means that the corners knit together and so we have less concern about blowouts when the concrete is poured.

After a lot of thinking, reading and looking at the concrete floor we've decided to just cover it with a layer of sand to protect it.  It takes a month to fully cure so if we cover it up with boarding we could get permanent markings from the uneven drying and the condensation build-up on the underside.  The floor may end up being even more Wabi-sabi than before.  Wabi-sabi is a japanese philosophy where you embrace imperfection - I'm totally up for that in all areas of my life.  I'm even going to say in a totally poncey way that maybe the floor will just be a physical manifestation of the story of it's creation and journey...yeah!

Once that rear retaining wall was built and the concrete poured, our bricklayers arrived to take over.  In just two days it looked like this...

We have walls and the beginnings of rooms.  Things have shrunk and I'm getting a little worried about how small some of the rooms are feeling, particularly the family bathroom.  But hey, I just have to have a good talk to myself.  We always knew that we weren't building on a palatial scale, this would be a decently sized but modest family home.  I'm forever reflecting on how my role as a mother seems to consist, in no small part, of cleaning, moving, tidying and knowing the exact location of everyone else's STUFF! Less stuff, better life!  Dimitri and I travelled the world with a backpack for two years and we promised when we returned that we would have less, but invest in things that were better.  The arrival of children has meant though that our possessions exponentially increase year by year.  Enough! Having smaller spaces will force us to keep on top of all the stuff and have less. I can sense my mother smirking in the background - 'We'll see dear'.

With the rear retaining wall completed, Liquatek returned to do the final part of their waterproofing.  Installing the John Newton Geodrain.  Basically it is moulded layer of plastic which has a textile layer bonded on top.  So when water comes along through the ground it passes into the cavity between the textile and the plastic and runs down into the land drain at the bottom. Simple, clever and costs over £5000 (that will have got my Dad going, he's a builder...).  It's a lot of money, but it has to be done and the warranty people, mortgage people and everyone else insist on it and it has be done by the people who can guarantee it.  Good business to get into i would say...

The mortgage company finally released some funds so we can proceed full speed ahead (until we rapidly use up those funds and have to go through this process all over again)!  It is a really opaque process.  The surveyors inspected and signed certificates to confirm the work that had been completed and we submitted copies of all the invoices we have paid to date to the mortgage company, in order for them to assess the current value.  They calculate the current value and then can authorise funds to a maximium of 75% to be made available.  The figure they have chosen as the current value seems quite arbitary to us.  It is not what we have spent, but a lower figure.  We asked for clarification of how they came to their valuation figure i.e. what adds value, but got no satisfactory response.  There is no transparency as they don't have to explain anything to us. But a better understanding of this process would help us to understand and manage the cashflow. This is very old school man! I think we are just supposed to be grateful that they have deigned to lend us any money.  But look, we're cracking along now and that's what matters!

8 March 2014

Finishing the slab

What a week!
(Settle down and get comfortable, this is a long one)

In order to minimise costs the design is that the foundation slab is going to be our finished floor - polished concrete.  How marvellous and clever we all thought we were...

The underfloor heating went in.  Charlie (so now we have Charlie, Charles & Charlie on the team) and the guys from Cotswold Green Energy took a day to get all the piping laid. The underfloor heating pipes were tied to the mesh.  Each room has a separate loop so if we were so inclined we can control each room individually.

They had to know where all the walls were going to be so the layout was marked.  This was really cool for me as it was the first time I could really get a sense of the dimensions of the rooms -I'm very happy with it all!

Mesh, mesh and more mesh was laid.

And then - the concrete was poured!

We were under a huge time pressure.  In order to get a polished floor we needed to powerfloat the concrete as it cures.  And we've discovered that this is not as straightforward as it sounds...!

To give us the best chance of getting the job done properly we decided to pour on the day where the best weather for weeks had been predicted.  Of course, everyone else had been waiting for a break in the weather too so our preferred suppliers were fully booked. However, Andrew (what a hero!) doggedly persevered and succeeded with finding an alternative supplier and concrete pump.

We ordered the concrete for 8am sharp, of course the first concrete lorry arrived 1.5hrs late! They poured about a 1/3 of the slab. Then there was a 40min wait before the second lorry appeared.

The pouring was really efficient.  We had two experienced concrete layers and finishers from GAR Contractors present to help Andrew and Paul, and they all made it look easy.  

Andrew was busy checking levels as the concrete was laid.

Bit of vibration to smooth and settle. And some hand-finishing to smooth the edges.

Then it was a waiting game...

Apparently concrete curing is a "black art".  No one can predict when it will set, even the most experienced professionals.  I was told again and again that no one knew when it would begin to cure - it could be 3hrs or 12hrs.  There are apparently far too many variables.  My scientific mind found this very hard to deal with - 'What do you mean you don't know!!!'.

The concern was that I really didn't want to disturb and upset our neighbours.  Powerfloating has to be done as it cures, you can't wait until the next day, it's too late.  The powerfloating machines, I was assured, were the quietest machines in the process, just a low hum. In addition the powerfloating is not continuous.  The machines pass over the surface which can take 20-60mins, only every couple of hours.

We kept our fingers crossed that it would cure during acceptable site working hours (8am-6pm).  We had done everything within our power to maximise the chances that there would be the minimum of disturbance.

I went home and waited for updates.  At 6pm I was called to say that the concrete had only just started to set at 3pm, so as they had only managed one pass they were going to stay on site as late as they could.

We dispatched emails to neighbours explaining and apologising for the situation.  We had one friendly response from the nearest neighbour who told us it was barely noticeable.  In the end the guys left the site around midnight.  They did the final pass using the machines about 10:30pm when another neighbour came to complain and asked them to stop.  After this they did any further finishing by hand.

They weren't able to get to achieve the finish we had asked for, this would have required another couple of passes.  However there is no way that I would have felt comfortable with them working any later.  So it is what it is...

It is shiny due to the rain!

Dimitri was on site a couple of days later, to meet the surveyor acting for the mortgage company (yes we are STILL waiting for a stage payment release) so managed to drop off a bottle of wine to all of those disturbed and also had a friendly chat with the neighbour who had come on site to complain.  All neighbourly relations are thankfully still intact.  

The slab is smooth and flat in general.  Where the concrete was poured first, you can see the markings of the powerfloater but you can't feel anything.  Where the pour was later, you can see and feel the ridges, not hugely by any means, but enough to wonder whether we have a finished floor finish yet.