This Old House

20140316-164606.jpgI’m feeling somewhat nervous.

Spring fever and the availability of Husband’s friend to do some plastering means that some home improvement has been undertaken. Possibly the biggest home improvement since we moved in 23 years ago. The artexed walls of the kitchen’s dining area have been plasterboarded over and plastered smooth. We are no longer in danger of becoming impaled on a wall that resembled the inedible Christmas cakes that my mum used to make. It’s Phase 1 in my kitchen improvement master plan.

This would normally be considered to be a Very Good Thing. The kitchen has needed updating since before we moved in, being, as it is, a serious demonstration in the failure of BIY (Bodge-It-Yourself). However, when Husband relocated to move in with me from just about an outskirt of London, aka Watford, I was given the offer of having a wedding or a kitchen. I went for the party. (Well, I couldn’t justify the purchase of Jimmy Choo shoes if I opted for the kitchen.) It’s taken nearly 10 years for him to agree that work can also be done on the kitchen.

The trouble is though that the house essentially rejects any attempt at improvement.

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, leave it as long as possible as you will only uncover a further catalogue of disasters,’ should be our household motto.

There was the time we redecorated the lounge. The nasty carpet was to go and replaced with wooden (ok, laminate) flooring. As we ripped up the carpet and underlay we discovered a gaping hole in the floorboards, two thin layers of material being all that prevented any of us from plummeting into the cellar.

Or the time I hung a new mirror in the smallest bathroom. That night the shelf of cookbooks in the kitchen, positioned directly underneath the wall with the new mirror, parted company with the wall.

The ceiling in the ensuite bathroom is missing a layer of plaster. This is because we identified a drip in the bathroom above. Brown liquid had started seeping through the ceiling, leaving marks on the ceiling and the shower curtain. My dad (our very own Mr BIY) identified the source: a minuscule leak from the pipes around the back of the sink. It had obviously been leaking for a while as the floorboards were sodden and the back of the vanity unit rotten with damp.

Somehow, replacing the floorboards loosened the ceiling plaster in the ensuite beneath. Dad sorted the bathroom floor and rebuilt a cabinet from scratch. Having cut a hole for the sink in a piece of very nice but reduced-to-clear worktop he dropped a spanner trying to disconnect the taps…and smashed a hole clean through the sink. Thereby followed an internet trawl for a new sink of similar dimensions (nothing in the house ever measures as ‘standard’)…which then needed new taps…which didn’t fit the existing pipe work. By the time he finished the job the staff at Wickes were greeting him by name. We decided to leave the ceiling in the other bathroom for fear of unleashing a further chain reaction of unfortunate events.

In theory we could have a nice house. On paper it sounds rather wonderful: a three-floor Victorian townhouse in a conservation area.

A few years ago I received a telephone from Livingetc. the magazine is decorating porn, full of stunning, make-you-weep-with-envy homes.

‘We’ve done some research and believe that your property may be suitable for feature in our magazine,’ the earnest-sounding man on the phone said.

Eventually I managed to stop laughing and squeaked out an ‘Oh, I really don’t think it is,’ before hanging up the phone.

Because, unfortunately, it doesn’t really translate off paper. The conservation restrictions make things difficult and expensive to replace. We’re neither rich, nor master craftsmen and so, instead of conserving where we live, the place is falling to bits.

But slowly, yet without incident (yet – touch wood!) the kitchen is taking shape. My dad has even managed to operate a circular saw in the garden this afternoon without losing any digits.

And there have been enquiries into replacing some of the sash windows this summer (although, predictably, we’ll have to have them made bespoke as not a single window measured to standard sizing, thus doubling the cost) and re-rendering the exterior.

But I can’t help but feel nervous. If the house refuses to allow us to repair a leaking pipe without a month’s worth of unexpected work and damage caused elsewhere, how is it going to react to some major changes?

My money’s on the roof caving in. I feel the need to check the smallest of small print of the house insurance policy.

I really really hope I’m wrong though. Who knows, maybe one day we will grace the pages of Livingetc. Although I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.


4 thoughts on “This Old House”

  1. I think our house is related to yours, too bad it is Edwardian and on the other side of the world- I think they converse telepathically to conspire against us! 21 years and the maintenance is neverending, plus, yes, replacing anything in a house in which nothing is standard-sized and there is no such thing as a “plum” anything costs a fortune…oh, and don’t forget the ability to make something brand-new, look old and worn within months of installation and then be on the verge of falling off the wall because of the tappy plaster…front veranda is being replaced as I write, because 104 year old timbers were being munched by white ants (termites); fed up but I love this old girl!

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