If you watch Grand Designs, you’ll be familiar with the very last segment, where Kevin McCloud turns up to view the masterpiece finished house, fully landscaped, furnished, styled and primped to perfection. The camera sweeps around to take in every angle, and Kevin marvels at all the beautifully finished details. Every inch is…. you know… finished.
We moved into our house after an incredibly stressful few months last year, with a newborn baby, and a 3 year old who REALLY needed his own room, and some space to play. As soon as the house was habitable, we were in. Bits are completely finished, but there is still a fair amount to get done before I’d be happy to showcase it to the world, or at least my corner of the internet. However, it’s been a long time since we moved in and I did promise to put up a few images of our new pad.
Before I blog those though, I just wanted to recap the journey we took to get here, to put things into perspective, and to make me feel better about the whole thing (!) On a good day, if someone asks me ‘was it worth it?’ I say “yes, absolutely.” On other days though, I’m not that sure.
Four years ago last month, we received the exciting news in the post that our big project had been approved by the planning department. I was 9 months pregnant and so excited.
We went ahead and started work on the foundations, confident that our application for finance with the bank would be approved – after all, we both had good jobs, and we really weren’t asking for that much.
Four weeks later we were pretty upset to hear we’d been declined by the bank. We were told that in the current economic climate, all lenders were clamping down on anything ‘risky’, like self builders. From there, it has been an uphill struggle to pay for materials, to pay for our day to day living costs, to manage family life as well as the build, and to remain sane throughout. The house build took over everything. I worked to pay for things, and because I had to look after baby Elmer too I mostly worked at night, until I was too exhausted to look at a screen anymore. On bad weather days when it was impossible for Steven to build, we stayed in our damp barn, me trying to work, Steven trying to look after Elmer in the same tiny space. On nice days Steven was always building, so I took Elmer out by myself, wanting us to be together as a family, but always desperately wanting the house to be finished too.
Already feeling the pressure of this project we’d taken on, each stage of the build that brought a new challenge, or a new problem, or a need to spend more money was very hard..
Everything took longer than it should have, sometimes a job that we thought would take two weeks stretched into two or even three months. Often because Steven was on his own most of the time and an inexperienced house builder, sometimes because of the weather, or a production delay, but mostly because this was a bespoke house, and everything was a little bit different, and a little bit tricky.
Living onsite meant that every day, rain or shine, the build was there to look at.. not quite finished yet. I remember pacing with Elmer (who never slept) in my arms, and stopping to stare out at the house, thinking that if only it were finished, everything would be so much better (he’d probably sleep, or at least if he didn’t sleep I would have a lovely house to pace in instead).
Steven talks about the stamina needed to get up every single day for 3 years and work alone on a build that everyone is waiting for you to finish. Having to learn things from scratch, going back home every night to an expectant wife, who is pinning all her hopes on you to get this thing FINISHED. We argued a fair amount.
We relied on charity – from friends and family. Borrowed money, borrowed tools, help lifting things that Steven couldn’t lift alone. We were lucky, but relying on friends also means waiting – until something is available, until the weekend, or until next month sometimes because people are busy, and things aren’t always there when you need them. But then now and again something big would happen quickly and we’d feel positive again. The roof! The straw arriving! The papered walls! This is Elmer’s room early last year, and the open front of the house:
Here is the house just over a year ago, when I was heavily pregnant, and expecting my parents to come and stay in the ‘guestroom’.
And here is a shot from a few months after we moved in:
I chose that shot not because it’s tidy (!) or because I’m showing you anything finished, but because that’s why we put up with all the stress and the hard work. To have somewhere for our boys that is safe and a pleasure to to live in.
Its hard to put into words how different my life is now. It’s been almost a year since we moved in, and yet every SINGLE time I walk into my bathroom I feel like I’m in a luxury hotel, and that this really can’t be my house. There is a flushing toilet, and a mirror, and drawers where I keep all our nice little things.
I get a feeling of joy every day when I see the trees swaying through the bedroom windows, the sun lighting up patches of floor, my kitchen after I’ve cleaned it (I still walk a few steps away just so I can turn and see how it looks from a distance). I schedule my work around the boys, and I only work two evenings a week. The other evenings I SIT DOWN. I watch television. I read books. In the day Elmer can build his train tracks, and Milo can scoot around the floor because it is clean, and new, and spacious. I don’t need to peel needy little fingers off my legs because I’m trying to get ‘just one more’ bit of work done before dinner. I’m like a new person. Every day I stop, and look at my home, and smile.
I’ve got another blog coming up very soon with some images from Elmer’s finished room, and I’ll be blogging other bits of the house regularly after that.