Monday, 19 October 2015

Six months on - a time to reflect

Since we started this blog Dawn has been sharing some of our posts on a web forum that we’ve been members of since before we even met.

Many of our real-life friends are on there, as well as dozens of e-friends and many hundreds of assorted strangers from all walks of life, and we figured that some might be mildly interested in what’s going on at The Lodge, especially since they’re literally scattered across the four corners of the globe and we don’t see many of them all that often. It’s the modern way, innit.

The comments on that forum have given rise to light-hearted banter and some proper discussion, all of which is welcome, but one in particular has made me stop and reflect. Rather than type a reply over there that may be dismissed offhand or overlooked altogether I thought I’d hang this blog post on explaining why we’re doing things the way we are after six months of living and working here.
If you’ve Googled your way here and have no idea who we are, maybe it’ll give you a different perspective and put you off buying a period property altogether or maybe it’ll give you the push you need to put an offer in on your dream home. Either way, I apologise in advance.

The comment in question was based around our recent work to get rid of the Artex on the ceilings to help make the entire property breathe a little better:
“Eh? There's some odd information coming out about breathability with this build. I'm not convinced about some of it.”
This came from someone who has a wealth of experience working in the building trade, who had earlier asked why we didn’t leave the ceilings as they were and simply plasterboard over them. My reply joked that that’s what all the bodgers say. I even put a winking smiley on it ;)

The Lodge was tired and mistreated
when it became ours on April 17
But as tongue-in-cheek as my reply was, it’s his kind of thinking that has got The Lodge in the state it is today. It’s the willingness to chuck modern materials around for ease in previous decades that is seeing the building suffer the consequences now in 2015. And it’s that lack of knowledge on the importance of breathability everywhere in a period property that is forcing us to deal with crumbling bricks and dampness at almost every stage of this project.
We’ve written about it in this blog before, but if it wasn’t for the plaster, paints, bitumen, plastic and other impermeable materials there wouldn’t be anywhere near the amount of moisture, mould and general horribleness that we have been encountering since April 17 when we first opened the door.

The board-it-and-skim-it way of thinking may have been the cheapest and most immediately effective way of temporarily dealing with problems at the time but it didn’t look to the future and it totally disregarded those who would live here afterwards. Yes, those dirty bodges may have made the house more comfortable for the occupiers of the day but they did nothing useful for the fabric of the building or its longevity. And let’s not forget that The Lodge has been herein one form or anotherfor circa two centuries and will still be here when we’re all dead and gone, which means that the blinkered nature of previous repair work has to stop.

Dawn answered that post on the forum perfectly about the breathability of all the surfaces in the house so I won’t bother repeating it (we’ve said it all here many times before anyway), but there’s a wider point that has put me in my thoughtful mood.

It’s about respect.

Our friends Andy and Jodie, over on their blog about renovating an old stone cottage, wrote recently that they were the “current custodians” of the property and although I haven’t mentioned it to anyone I thought that that was a beautiful way to put it.
It was only said off-the-cuff and maybe they didn’t even ponder the truism of the term, but it was bang-on and made more of an impact upon me than I realised until tonight.

Dawn and I, as the first private owners of The Lodge in its entire history, are merely its custodians. And that’s a humbling thought you would never really have in a newer property.

We might be turning it into our home now and for the foreseeable future, but it’s not just ours full-stop. Research has told us that it was once home to the Taylors and the Scotts among others, and one day it’ll be home to other families who will never know about us (until they see our names scrawled in the mortar at the top of the new chimney stack). So it’s our duty to make that home right and as it was always intended to be back when it was built in Georgian times. It’s incumbent upon us to respect those who came before us and those who will be here in 2100, in 2200. It’s not just about us – it’s about so much more.

George III was probably on the throne when
The Lodge's first incarnation was built.
That's how old it is.
The Lodge was never designed to act like a plastic box, and it would be wholly wrong and disrespectful to attempt to turn it in to one (an impossible task anyway) just because it would be quick, easy and cheap. If we had wanted a building full of modern materials that didn’t work in sympathy with its environment we would have bought a soulless new-build and saved ourselves heaps of grief and a boat-load of cash.

I know that some people probably think we’re just making work for the sake of it, but we’re really not. For the most-part it might be fun but there has also been a lot of worry, many sleepless nights, much accidental blood-loss and a fair share of actual and metaphorical tears that I haven’t alluded to all that much, but it’s all for a purpose.
It’s all because that’s what The Lodge demands of its custodians in order to keep it true to its roots and preserve it for the future. This place has seen nine British monarchs and two world wars with the potential to see more of both, so who are we to stop that happening because of ignorance and a lack of respect for the building and its heritage.

So that’s why we’re not bodging and cutting corners. That’s why we’re trying to go ‘traditional’. That’s why breathability is such a big thing and that’s why we’re doing it the hard way.
And despite the stress, and despite the fact we're still living in a shed, that’s why we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anyway, enough of this romanticised nonsense and back to reality.
Dawn is out for the evening and I need to fend for myself. I have a lump of salmon in the fridge all ready to go and it has just occurred to me that I have absolutely no idea how to work the oven that we’ve had for six months.

Pot Noodle for one it is, then.


  1. Very eloquently put. And thanks for all the blog posts, by the way - I've been following it with interest and enjoyment, since we are also in the position of having bought an old former gate lodge (two years ago, but progress has been painfully slow until recently).

    If we had to nominate the best few hundred Euros ever spent, it would have to be the consultation fee to the architect who begged us to hold off implementing the surveying engineer's report - all cement floors and dry-lining, which would have caused untold additional damage. With proper advice from the architect about letting the stone walls breathe and laying a limecrete rather than cement floor, our old stone treasure is being saved from falling into the condition that you are currently remedying. More work, but it's worth it, and has really increased our sense of connexion with the house and the building traditions within which it was constructed.

    Best of luck in the rest of your restoration work; I don't know whether to commiserate with or envy you over living in the shed, though, as I'm not sure whether it is better or worse than living in a caravan while the work goes on!


  2. Thanks for the kind words, RH. It's nice to finally find out that a real person (other than friends and family under duress) is deliberately choosing to read this drivel. I often feel like I should be more informative but, because I actually know very little about very little, I've got no option but to type nonsense - so thank you for subjecting yourself to it voluntarily.

    You are hereby forbidden for being envious about us living in a shed. As I type it's quarter to eight in the evening and I've been lying in bed (IN bed, not ON bed) since about half six to get away from the cold and rain. I'm surrounded by wobbly half-done Kingspan walls, piled-up furniture that has nowhere else to live and a cat who keeps headbutting the door to get out only to come back 10 minutes later and headbutt the door to get in. It's not so bad now, but it's a different story at 5am. A couple of weeks ago he caught the thumb-twist lock thing outside and actually locked us in at midnight.
    I'd rather be in a B&B.

    Anyway, when we had the choice about our temporary accommodation we decided that although a caravan would be ideal we'd have no use for it afterwards so we'd have to go to the trouble of selling it again, probably at a loss. With a big shed we could keep it and turn it in to a workshop, so at least it would still be useful later on.

    It's nice to see that you're of a similar mind as us in terms of the appropriateness of the work that needs to be done. I feel like we're in a worryingly-small minority. I'm looking forward to reading through your blog - I had a very quick skim a few minutes ago and had to chuckle to myself when I saw the tyrannosaurus-rex picture and 'unable to connect to internet'. He's an old friend of ours, especially here in the shed where the connection is utterly crap at best.
    As for blogs, take a gander at our friends' which is linked in the above post. There's lots of useful stuff in there, and they've done the whole limecrete thing too. We've got one concrete floor in the Dining Room that we haven't even looked at yet (it's currently a storage room) but because we suspect there's probably a river running underneath it (or at least a spring) we're trying to put it off as long as possible.

    Anyway, enough from me. Thanks for your comment and enjoy your continued renovation work. I'll start looking at your blog properly shortly.

  3. Fair enough, Muz - I withdraw any tendency to envy. Your lot is definitely worse than ours, from the sound of it. One day, it will all be good anecdote material! Thanks for the link to your friend's blog - it looks as though they've gone over some of the same ground as us, only with a lot more knowledge. As for our caravan, it will probably end up as guest accommodation for the hardier people of our acquaintance. Now off to drain the water from the pasta ...

  4. I've just brought a ~100 yr old semi and find this blog very interesting.
    Its got lath and plaster ceilings with artex over it, some are damaged, and frankly I'm not sure what to do, all the plasterers want to board it and gypsum skim it or rip it down.
    Ditto the walls, they have (I think) lime plaster which has been skimmed in the past (its pink or yellow). Tempted to go back to brick and get it lime plastered.
    Anyway, my question (!), if your lath and plaster ceilings are beyond salvage will you replace / repair the laths and get them replastered with lime plaster?
    I assume all your wall plastering will be lime?

  5. Hi James.

    My bet is that any regular plasterer you find will recommend boarding, skimming or ripping it all down in order to start again with modern materials (gypsum). It is, after all, what they know and it's their livelihood... and they want your cash. Lime plastering is a completely different kettle of frogs and is done by fewer specialists for more money but, as I've explained all over the place in this blog, is much better for the building.
    What you do with your ceilings really depends on what you feel about the house and its heritage, I suppose. But I've discovered that limed ceilings are much stronger than you'd think - it might look bad but is the damage repairable?
    Personally I would repair what I can (I uploaded a blog post a day or two ago about doing just that which you may find useful - but if everything had to come down then we would have to bite the bullet and get it re-done in lime. We wouldn't even entertain the thought of gypsum. We'd likely end up re-lathing it all ourselves with salvaged laths from the original ceiling and new ones (have a look at which is where I think Dawn ordered them from) but we'd have to get someone in to finish off. I plan to do a lime plastering course next year to save money in the long-run but we'll see how it goes.

    As for your walls, if the top surface below the wallpaper or whatever is pink, then it's probably gypsum and your walls won't be breathing. Before you lop the lot off see if you can flake the skim off and see what's behind it. If the next layer is white(ish) and crumbles to powder (it may even have horse hair in it) then it's lime. And then it all depends on what condition it's in, really. Some of the lime might just fall away but other areas might be stable. Keeping as much of the stable stuff in place will spare you a bit of cash when it comes to getting re-done, obviously.

    Best of luck, mate!


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