Monday, 3 August 2015

Retrospective: The transformation of the living room

Given that our house renovation was such a long term, if not "life" project, this blog has been necessarily well spread out over the past few years, so I thought it would be worth doing a few recap posts to show how we progressed through each room. For new visitors, I hope it gives a flavour of what had to be done, and the effort we put into transforming this old house into our home.

We signed for the house in late 2010, but our own works didn't commence till April 2011, and planning permission didn't come through till May that year, as we wanted to make some changes to the structure, as well as change of use of some of the spaces.

The room that we started on was the living room, made up of a living room and a tiny dining room at the back. Here's how it was when we first viewed the house in Summer 2010.

The living room prior to purchase, Summer 2010.
After we signed, the previous owners cleared the place out, which included having to chainsaw the sofa to get it down the stairs, as it's pretty tight! So we were left with the four walls.

The first job was to start ripping stuff out. This was quite a bit more work than one might think, taking out the partition wall, ripping off the insulated plasterboard that covered some of the walls, knocking off the layers of old paint and original plaster on the others.
Some of the original stenciled patterns on the old plaster
The ceiling was completely plastered and the big oak beam crossing the room was sheathed in layers of white paint. Our first unhappy surprise was that one of the cross beam hidden by the partition wall was broken, held up by a post that formed part of the wall.

We had some nice surprises, though, discovering that two walls were made of limestone blocks, which we thought we could leave exposed as a feature wall. It needed a little imagination, though, as they were pretty grubby-looking when they were uncovered.

The whole house needed new windows, lots of them, and they had to be wooden framed, as the house is a protected structure. There were looooong delays with the window company, but finally, just before Christmas 2011, our lovely new windows were installed.

We swapped out the broken beam and took down the old plaster ceiling, exposing the 9 metre long oak beams that were hidden for probably a couple of centuries.

The old clay plaster ceiling, held together with paint

And then we sandblasted the limestone wall that would remain exposed, as well as the ceiling beams and repointed the limestone wall, a task I would be doomed to repeat in other locations over the next few years.

All the other external walls of the living were to be insulated from the inside, as the original architectural features like the half timbered wall to the south and the sandstone window frames of the gable wall, had to remain visible on the outside. The inside faces of these walls were, however, pretty uneven, not to mention far from vertical, so some evening out had to happen to give a good surface for insulating, with no air gaps. This was to be my first time plastering. I cheated somewhat by using a beading system, securing plastering beading to the wall, then flinging mud at the walls to build up layers as a keyed surface.

Then using a long float, it was easy to get a good, even final surface. Of course, this was just a base coat that would be later covered by insulation, so I wasn't worrying too much about a perfect finish, which was just as well.

On the brickwork, gable wall, we used 10cm styrofoam stuck to the wall as insulation, while on the half-timbered wall we used wood fibre insulation board, to the same insulation rating. More expensive, but breathable, so better for the timber.

October 2012. Getting the insulation up.

The it was time to start on the floor. we lifted the old, warped floorboards, discovering plenty of mice skeletons in the process, but no gold. Once the heating pipes were laid by Firma Bakan, I made a start on the floor under-construction. As the original beams were so uneven, it was quite a lot of work to set this up, with wedges, shims and anything to hand to build up an even, level framework.

In the meantime, the wall heating was also getting installed. Led by Sace Bakan, I was taught how to install the heating, from sticking the sheets to the insulation, to installing the loops of pipes that would carry the warm water through the walls, and finally anchoring the everything to the underlying solid wall with dowels, so the whole lot would stay there.

We had one last surprise in the living room, when we realised the solid oak base plate beams under the wall separating it from the stairwell was completely rotten. Again with the help of Sace and family (this time as a friend and not a contractor), within a week we had the wall out, a new poured concrete lintel on top of the cellar wall underneath, a new baseplate, and the beams re-supported by new posts.
Wall removed, and the big beam supported.
A short cut to the cellar.
New base plate and post in place.
The rotten beam.
After that, it just remained to build up the wall framework, with the door moved slightly to the left, so we could make it higher, and closer to the kitchen.

Attention had to be turned to the ceilings at this stage. We wanted to reinstate a clay plaster ceiling, but leave the beams - over which I had spent many, many hours cleaning - exposed. To provide a good foundation, we used a galvanised metal mesh nailed and screwed to the beams and underlying batons. The beams were wrapped in plastic, and the clay plaster applied. The plaster used was actually course-grained, normally used for base coats, but we liked the slightly more textured finis it gave once rubbed down with a sponge float. At the same time, the walls with the eating elements got plastered over using a standard lime-cement plaster.

With that done, and OSB sheets down as an underfloor, this really made the room feel like a proper room, and not just a building site!

Underfloor down and clay plaster ceiling finished
With the self-made windowsills fitted and the walls treated to a coat of fine plaster (later sanded), it was definitely looking homely.

A coat of paint on the walls, special old-white silicate paint on the clay ceiling, and a dose of oil to refresh the beams, all that was left was the flooring. We got a great price on solid oak boards, tongued and grooved, which we secured to the underfloor with thousands of screws (did not improve my tennis elbow), and we had a finished room!

December 2014. Not long now!
And so we finally moved in mid-February 2015. More or less 4 years after first taking a crowbar to the living room walls. It has finally become a home, though we're still growing into the space and "personalising" with decoration, pictures on the wall and furniture (so we can unpack the remaining boxes!). Not to mention the fact we still don't have internal doors yet, but all in its own good time.

Of course, all of the tasks described above were not done one after another. There was plenty of the same thing going on in all the other rooms, hence how long the project took over all. But more of that in the next retrospective post.

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