Friday, 31 May 2013

The Completion of our House Purchase

Today, Friday 31st May, we completed the purchase of our new house. After collecting the keys from the agents, we opened up and entered under our own steam for the first time! We have visited several times while the previous owner was there and had become quite familiar with it, but using the key to let ourselves in, it has suddenly become real, and our own new home! Seeing it quite empty, one could appreciate the beautiful proportions of the rooms, and mentally fill it with our own things. My hubby said he thought it looked very bare, but I said it wouldn’t stay that way for long, with all the stuff we’ve got!

The house was built in 1925 and has many of its original features. The previous owner had half of the downstairs converted to a self-contained annexe, and this was one of the main attractions of the house for us, because this is where my mother will live, while we occupy the rest of the house. There is a small lean-to extension at the back containing a tiny utility room with no sink, and plumbing for a washing machine, a small back hall leading to the back door, and a toilet at the end, and the other side of the back hall, the annexe kitchen. This part of the house needs major remodelling to make it serviceable.

We are also having the kitchen redone, partially adapted for seated use so that I can cook again from my wheelchair – recently my hubby has been cooking our main meals, and because he is so busy, these have been mostly ready meals, but in our new kitchen I am looking forward to taking on this task again.

Upstairs there are two bathrooms, one with a separate loo, and this is going to be converted into a modern en-suite connecting with the master bedroom.

Also upstairs, one room is going to be converted into my new ARTHaven. As this is such an important project for me, I shall be doing separate posts about that.

The other major work required to be done is the complete replacement of the roof, which is in a bad state.

As I describe the house and share the photos I took today (the “Before” photos – watch this space for the “During” and “After” ones!), I shall endeavour not to sound like an estate agent conducting a viewing for clients!

Inside the front door is quite a large entrance lobby where we are going to put Mum’s pine dresser. There is a glass door leading into the main hall which is quite spacious.

01 Stairs and Front Door

There’s a massive cupboard under the stairs, and the previous owner has been kind enough to leave all the lovely shelving in there! Believe me, we shall need the storage space!

The sitting room has a bay window at the front of the house. The floor is almost exactly the same as our sitting room floor in our present house, only a shade lighter. You can see a lamp on the mantelpiece – today we brought over several, to put on time switches to make the house look occupied in the evenings, for security.

02 Sitting Room Bay Window

The fireplace is an original mahogany Art Deco one. While I adore most Art Deco, I have distinct reservations about this fireplace and had already decided it had to go, to be replaced by a modern one in a traditional style, but looking at it today with the room empty, I’m starting to have second thoughts. Our builder is all geared up to replace it for us, but we’ve got plenty of time to make up our minds.

03 Sitting Room Fireplace

The kitchen as it is currently. This will look quite different by the time we’ve finished with it!

04 Kitchen

The original units will go into the remodelled utility room and annexe kitchen. The next picture shows the door into the utility room.

05 Kitchen, Door to Utility Room

Out the back, in the utility room and beyond, it is incredibly cramped and unfit for purpose – our purpose, anyway!

06 Cramped Space at the Back

The utility room has plumbing for a washing machine but no sink.

07 Utility Room

The next picture was taken from the utility room doorway, looking across the back hall into the annexe kitchen.

08 Internal Window, Door into Annexe Kitchen

On the left is an internal glass window with sliding panels, and up on the wall is the fuse box and electricity meter. We are retaining this window (more later – one of Shoshi’s more brilliant ideas lol!). The door into the annexe kitchen is going to be blocked off.

The annexe kitchen:

09 Annexe Kitchen

You can see that there is an old porcelain sink in the corner, but it is very inaccessible and impractical. (Laid out on the work top are all the instructions for various things like the boiler etc., spare keys, and standing upright, a lovely little “Welcome to your New Home” card from the previous owner.)

10 Annexe Kitchen with Boiler and Tank

Facing towards the window, you can see how awkwardly placed the sink is, and how cramped everything is, and this is certainly not helped by the arrangement on the right hand side – enclosed in the cupboard beneath is the boiler, above which is the hot water tank. This is wasting a huge amount of space in an already tiny kitchen, and it is all going. We are having a new combination boiler the other side of that wall, which requires no tank, and with the door to the right of the existing boiler being blocked off, there can be units from the window to the opposite wall, and around the corner.

11 Annexe Kitchen - Door to be Blocked Off

Looking through this door which is going to be blocked off, you can see across the back hall into the utility room. The wall with the utility room door in it is going to come down, so that the utility room extends up to the annexe kitchen wall, and will have units across the blocked-off door. There is really no need for a separate hallway at the back; the back door can just as easily exit from the enlarged utility room. With the utility room being bigger we can have a sink, more storage space, and a place for feeding the kitties. (There is a cat flap in the back door.)

12 Back Hall from Back Door

The above picture shows the back hall as seen from the back door, with the door into the utility room on the left, the sliding internal window ahead with the fuse box above, and to the right, the existing entrance into the annexe kitchen. With that door blocked off, and the wall on the left removed, the utility room will be much more spacious and practical.

The next picture shows what is beyond the sliding glass window.

13 Annexe 'Study'

My original plan was to knock down the wall on the left and extend the utility room right up to the wall on the right with the shelves on it, but the builder said for the small amount of gain, it was not worth the expense, because the wall on the left is the original outside (load-bearing) wall of the house – everything to the left is the lean-to extension – and it would be prohibitively expensive to remove it as it would involve the insertion of RSJs to stop the upstairs collapsing! I agreed with this, and put my thinking cap on.

One of the drawbacks of this house is the absence of an airing cupboard. Many people feel they don’t need one these days, but I’ve always loved to have one, not just for airing clothes, but for drying art!! My plan for this small space (called the annexe study in the agents’ particulars) is to create an airing cupboard with slatted shelves at the further end, divided into two-thirds on the left (for the occupiers of the main part of the house), and one-third on the right (for the occupier of the annexe), with access to the smaller portion being from the standpoint of this photograph. Access to the larger portion will be from the utility room, through the sliding windows! We plan to have an electric airing cupboard heater installed underneath both sections, with a timer switch so that when we eventually get solar panels fitted, this can be heated during daylight hours only. The airing cupboard needs an independent source of heat because with the combination boiler there is no tank.

The airing cupboard would not extend the whole depth of the space, but would stop at the edge of the window. The rest of the space would be used for storage for the annexe. For some reason the door has been removed, and I propose asking the builder to replace this with the one he will be removing from the annexe kitchen.

14 Annexe Sitting Room

Going on beyond this space, we come into the annexe sitting room, with its two original tall storage cupboards. The window on the right is quite large. The builder is going to replace this with a smaller one, and put in a glass door to the right side, giving direct access to the outside. At present, the annexe occupier can only get into the back garden by coming through the door into the back hall, and leaving by the back door. With that door being blocked off, the annexe needs independent access, and this will be essential when the time comes for us to let the annexe after my mum dies. There is also access through into the hall of the main house, but there need to be two exits from the annexe in case of fire, and this seems the ideal solution. It will also be lovely for Mum to be able to potter out into her patio direct from her sitting room, or to sit by the open door if she wants. There is a wall sticking out at right angles outside and we are going to fix up her bird feeders there so she can enjoy watching them.

The next picture shows the doorway from the annexe sitting room into the bedroom. There is a step down, but there are grab rails on the doorway.

15 Annexe Bedroom from Sitting Room

On the right, off the bedroom, you can see the door into the en-suite bathroom.

This room was probably the original dining room of the main house before the annexe conversion; its bay window matches that of the main sitting room, either side of the front door. The en-suite bathroom does rather stick out into that space, but there is room in the alcove for Mum’s dressing table, and a wardrobe beyond.

16 Annexe Bedroom Window and Bathroom Entrance

The annexe en-suite bathroom:

17 Annexe Bathroom

This was another thing that attracted us about this house. So many granny flats only have a shower, and I am sure that my mum isn’t the only elderly lady who prefers a bath to a shower! There is a shower unit on the bath if she wants to use it, though.

This is the adjoining door between the annexe sitting room and the hall of the main house. It is rather a curious arrangement with a double door, maybe for sound-proofing purposes?

18 Door between Annexe and Main House

Back into the main house now, and time to go upstairs.

19 Staircase

Most of the interior decorating is fine, but this large floral wallpaper is not to our taste, so it’s got to go. I am planning on a pale neutral shade – magnolia, perhaps? We have some nice pictures we’d like to hang. In about ten days, an engineer is coming out from one of the stairlift companies to give me an estimate for having one fitted. It’s a straight staircase so it shouldn’t be a problem, but the adjoining door to the annexe is right at the bottom, and we may have to have a retracting track at the bottom, for when the stairlift is not in use.

This is the room we have chosen to be the master bedroom. It has lovely mirrored sliding doors with lots of hanging and storage space, and the shallower-depth central part will be ideal for books and ornaments. This is obviously across the original chimney-breast.

20 Master Bedroom Mirrored Wardrobe

The mirrored doors make the room look even bigger! This room overlooks the garden at the back (more or less south facing).

In the next picture, you can see the door onto the landing on the right. The washbasin is going, and in the wall, the builders will make the new doorway into the en-suite bathroom.

21 Master Bedroom Washbasin

The spare bedroom (the original master) is at the front of the house, and has access onto the balcony.

22 Spare Bedroom

The two doors onto the balconies are extremely clever – turn the handle one way, and the door hinges from the bottom inwards, like a large window, allowing fresh air to circulate. Turn the handle the other way and the side hinges engage, turning it into a conventional door! At first I thought it was broken!

Also at the back of the house overlooking the garden, is this lovely room – the previous owner used it as her study, and my hubby is going to do the same. There will be plenty of room for all his books and things.

23 Study

As I said before, I am not going to show you my new ARThaven this time – that deserves a whole series of posts of its own, to show its development from bare room to fully-fitted studio!

I will close with a few shots of the outside. There are two small patios; this one is for the main house, accessed via the back door. The window you can see is the kitchen, and the door at the side is lockable, and leads to the front of the house. This gives level access from the front, if I am coming or going using my wheelchair, and avoiding the front steps.

24 Main House Patio

The other patio is for the annexe (which will be accessed directly through the new door):

25 Annexe Patio

There is a little rockery on the left, and this extends to a low wall further round on the right, which is topped by a grassy bank with the main garden above; Mum will be able to put pots on the wall, and we noticed that the bank is planted with ferns and lots of primroses! It will be lovely in the early spring.

Moving on further around, almost to the main house patio, there are steps leading up to the main garden, and a path giving access to the garage, which opens onto the other road at the back. I shall be keeping my mobility scooter in the garage so I can get out easily. Beyond these steps, to the right, are two small outhouses, one for garden tools, and the other (with a power supply) for a small chest freezer.

26 Steps to Upper Garden

I will be posting more photos as the building work begins, so that you can see the transformation of our new house! We have been told the work will take at least 8 weeks so we don’t anticipate the final move taking place before August, but in the meantime we will be taking stuff over in advance, so that the final move won’t be too traumatic, hopefully! Watch this space!

My 60th Birthday

Yesterday (30th May) was my 60th birthday. Yes, I know, I can scarcely believe it… I don’t FEEL 60, and 60 isn’t a number I would choose to associate with myself lol! Still, it can’t be denied, and I have to live with it as best as I can! Everyone says I don’t look it, so that’s some consolation, I suppose.

We had a lovely day. My hubby and I drove to Dorset to visit my sister and her husband, and also to see Mum who is staying with them until our new house is ready to move into. The weather was generally nice apart from a gloomy patch in the middle of the day, but we did manage to see my sister’s new place at its best. They moved fairly recently and had a great deal of building work done, and it is absolutely gorgeous – it’s right out in the country, an old farmhouse, and they are very thrilled with the new kitchen and bathrooms, and a large room which had originally been for animals, with a high roof, now converted into a studio where they host regular art classes.

My sister had prepared a beautiful meal for us with some canapes and champagne to start, and then fresh cold salmon with lots of delicious salads, followed by my first taste of strawberries and cream of the year, and some gooey choccie pudding.

For my birthday my dear hubby gave me an exquisite little tiny gold pendant in the shape of a picnic hamper.

It opens, and inside is a tiny mouse eating a cupcake! He spent a lot of time choosing it.

He also gave me one of the most beautiful cards I’ve ever received from him – very Great Gatsby! So glamorous, with lots of gold and bling and glitter on it. Here’s the outside:

and inside:

Isn’t it just gorgeous? I shall keep it forever! His message read “Always 30”!!! (I wish the photo did it justice – you can’t see any of the shimmer on it!)

I thought that was it, but when we sat down later for a cup of tea, suddenly a birthday cake appeared! My hubby had had it made for me, and I had absolutely no idea – he’d managed to smuggle it up in the car without me noticing. Knowing how I love sunflowers (I have painted them all around our kitchen), he requested sunflowers, and also the cake maker had created two little grey cats!

Isn’t that fun? My dear hubby always knows exactly what I like, and I am so thrilled with this beautiful cake! Here’s a picture my hubby took of me, enjoying the surprise:

and here I am, admiring it:

Not only was the decoration beautiful (made of soft icing) but the cake inside was delicious, a light Victoria sponge with jam filling. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep the sunflowers and kitties but we shall see!

While we were there, my sister showed me an exquisite little silver box her hubby had given her – we both love ducks and this was a particularly charming representation:

I love the concentric rings representing the ripples, and I’ve always loved watching dabbling ducks! She said “Open it!”

I’m afraid it’s a bit difficult to see, as it was very shiny and reflective and hard to photograph, but on the inside of the lid, you see the underside of the “water” and what the ducks would look like from beneath! It is really hilarious – the little duck tummies and paddling webbed feet, and the head of the dabbling one! The feet and beaks are silver-gilt. It’s an exquisite little piece, very quirky and humorous and just the sort of thing I love. Apparently it was made by a silversmith in London who has now gone out of business, which is a real shame. Such a little treasure! It measures about 3 inches across.

As we drove over in the morning, we had a phone call from the solicitor to say that contracts had been exchanged on our purchase at long last! Shortly after this, the agent phoned to say the same. This was such great news after all we’ve been through over the past months – there were times when I wondered whether it would ever happen. Completion is today!

This news was the best we could have received and an extra bonus birthday present for me. It did mean, however, that I had to closet myself away in my sister’s study after lunch, trying to sort out the buildings insurance, but that is now all done so I don’t need to lose any more sleep on that score.

From now on, as long as my energy holds out, I should be more active on my blog, as I go over to the house on a regular basis, taking photos of the work in progress. The builders start early next week.

Monday, 27 May 2013

New Youtube Video–3-D Silver Butterflies

Remember this?

I did a post on how I made this, over a year ago, and since I hadn’t uploaded anything to my Youtube channel for a while, I thought I would make a video slideshow of the project from the many photos I took during its construction.

Using Pinnacle Studio 12, with the addition of panning and zooming, titles and background music, it is soon easy to forget that this consists only of still photos.

Not having access to my creative world at the moment pending our house move, I thought I might make some more of these video slideshows of different projects which were never filmed while I was making them.

This particular project was made into a special birthday card. I would not normally do this, because stick a folding back onto a project and a greeting inside, and it immediately becomes ephemeral in the eyes of most people, and after the event it is celebrating, often reaches the same destination as the products of a famous card retailer – the bin! (This is one reason why I don’t concentrate my efforts on card making, and prefer to make something more permanent.)

This was a fun project to do, and I hope in future to explore further this whole area of light and shade, and reflectivity.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Romania–Buildings Pt 2: Interiors

This time I thought I’d show you what the interiors of Romanian buildings are like. As far as domestic buildings are concerned, most modern Romanians like the same furnishings and fittings that we in the West enjoy, and modern houses and apartments may not look that different, although many people like to celebrate their cultural heritage and have traditional Romanian decorations. They have beautiful folk-art plates hanging on the walls, always decorated with a “scarf” – a piece of Romanian woven textile – I’d not come across this custom before and it looks very pretty.

This picture was taken inside the cabin where we stayed in Horea.

We stayed in several apartments in city blocks during our tour. During the communist era, Ceausescu had a policy of population distribution, moving large numbers into the cities and housing them in pretty awful tower blocks, all heated with communal hot water pipes that ran over the streets between the blocks. They had grim concrete staircases and were generally pretty horrible. Since the collapse of the regime, modern heating and other facilities have been introduced, and while a lot of the common areas (staircases and halls) are still pretty frightful (although unlike in the west, they do not smell, and there is no graffiti), most people have now replaced their front doors and you get a patchwork of different designs – in the same way that the gates in Maramures compete against each other for OTT-ness, in a smaller way, these front doors also compete for individuality! As my hubby was always saying, once you cross the threshold, in almost every case you enter a little palace! These small apartments are beautifully kept and decorated, with flowers everywhere, and plants on the balconies – many people continue to grow their own vegetables in containers, and several families we visited had cats. One apartment where we stayed, it was quite obvious that the parents had vacated their bedroom for us, and they had a pull-out sofa bed in the sitting room, and when we tried to insist that we sleep on that, they would have none of it. They plied us with kindness in every way. This particular family had visited us in the UK – he was a hospital consultant, living in a 2-bedroomed apartment in a tower block with his wife and little girl, on a miserable salary compared with his peers in the West. My hubby arranged for him to visit our local hospitals, and the staff were only too happy to show him around and invited him to attend operations. He went home having learnt so much, and was so impressed with everyone’s kindness, and how blessed we are here with so much modern equipment. The whole experience of getting to know this family was most humbling.

Here’s the interior of a house in the Sibiu Village Museum which I mentioned before.

This shows some traditional wooden furniture and a very simple country interior.

Here’s another interior from the Sibiu Village Museum, showing a bedroom with a simple wooden bed, a woven textile adorning the walls, some interesting portraits and a glorious painted chest. Ages ago I bought a plain flat-pack chest from Ikea which has remained in its box ever since, and when we move, I am hoping to paint it and assemble it – I may do something in this style…

These are, of course, museum houses, and I’m not sure how many houses that are actually lived in are still in this style, but much of the country remains very rural and traditional, so it is quite likely.

I suppose the majority of buildings we actually went inside in the course of our travels were churches. This is the inside of the little Lutheran church in Cisnadie, the charming faded little German-speaking town we visited. These are the choir stalls, with beautifully painted panels.

This is the simple iconostasis in a tiny Romanian Orthodox church in the Sibiu Village Museum, transported from Salaj County. You can see the use of draped woven textiles again.

Here is the painted ceiling of the same church, together with a painted wooden chandelier.

These are typical interiors that you find in the wooden churches of Transylvania. In complete contrast, here is the high altar in the Franciscan church in Cluj, which is presumably Roman Catholic, as far as I remember. I know where my own personal tastes lie, at any rate!

This painted interior and iconostasis in the Orthodox church in Baia Mare is typical of the more urban churches.

I promised I would show you some more pictures of the interior of the synagogue in Baia Mare. This is the painted ceiling, embellished with innumerable gold stars around a Magen David, with the Torah tablets painted at the further end of the ceiling, above the window. You can see the women’s gallery on the left.

This is the bimah, where the Torah scrolls are read. You can see the Magen David and Menorah decorations painted on the pillars.

Here, our lovely old guide has opened the Ark and my hubby is looking at the Torah scrolls inside.

I found the synagogue to be the most poignant and moving place to visit, redolent of its more vigorous and lively past before the Holocaust bore away most of its community. I always remember seeing Rabbi Lionel Blue on a television programme, travelling around Eastern Europe, and coming to a building which acted as a repository for rescued Torah scrolls, each one representing a community completely exterminated, and he turned to the camera and asked them to stop filming – he said, “I can’t stay in here…” and could speak no more.

I hope this has given you a taste of the very varied interiors we encountered on our travels. Next time I shall be showing some photos of how the buildings were constructed – something I found absolutely fascinating.

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