Strawbale House

This blog is intended to chart our progress through the self-build process, from half-hearted plot-hunting through to completion of the build. The twist is that we're building the house from timber and straw (hence the blog title).

Click on the image at the end of each post to see that day's photos.

Monday, 11 February 2008

February 11th - Living in the dream

We’re in! After a few last very long days, which went unblogged due to time-pressures, we flitted (to use the borders vernacular) on Saturday 9th. We’d booked a Luton van, and the wonderful Jack turned up by bus the previous evening, hot-foot – or probably cold-foot – from a skiing jaunt in the highlands. Helped by him, the children (hmm!), Melvin, who rolled up in trendy clothes, freshly scrubbed and bowed down by the weight of a huge bouquet of flowers in a blatant and alarming pitch for Anna’s affection and Rachel we made the move in two van-loads. Yet again we were blessed with gorgeous warm sunny weather, which always seems to happen, even though our last four moves have all been between October and February.
We’re now settling in very nicely, and are finding the house incredibly easy to live in. It’s everything I wanted, and so much more. The big open-plan living / cooking / dining area is wonderful, and with the furniture in is very, very easy on the eye. The bedrooms are a little smaller than we’re used to, and one or two bits of furniture will have to be sacrificed. These rooms were deliberately kept to a modest size, as one of the core-principles I had in my head when drawing up the floor-plans was to try to keep some kind of relationship between the proportions of a room and the amount of waking time spent there. For that reason, a large upstairs living space, away from the hubbub of downstairs, was always on the wish-list. This lounge is currently full of boxes, which will be unpacked gradually over the next couple of weeks as bookshelves are made, clothes-storage solutions are worked out and wardrobe-rails hung. The snug is also out of action at the moment, littered as it is with tools and materials from the build that haven’t yet found a home out in the shed. One of Jack’s main achievements this weekend was to reorganize the shed, restacking the stockpile of firewood and sorting out the rest of the junk in there. This has already enabled me to store the solar-panel equipment out there, and today it should be joined by the bulk of the gubbins from the snug and my two big saws, which are for now doing battle with the elements on the verandah.
Yesterday Anna and Ellie were in Edinburgh, and Jack, Rachel and I took the boys up the hills. The little ones were very excited to walk through the cloud and emerge in the warm sunshine above. Hamish made it all the way to the top of Hownam Law with J&R, and the boys made it about half-way. The pictures below were mostly taken on the walk. Pictures of the house will follow once the remaining boxes downstairs are unpacked.
I phoned Mal yesterday morning and thanked him for making it all happen. I feel incredibly fortunate that all the necessary pieces fell into place at just the right time. We had the funds through the sale of our house in the village; the perfect plot fell in our laps (albeit at a cost of £125,000!) and – most importantly – we had Mal’s renowned expertise, Aussie can-do attitude, dynamism and disregard for bureaucracy on hand for a year. Without all that it would never have got out of the ground. I’d blithely assumed that I’d be able to carry it off mainly solo, with a little advice along the way. In the event, Mal’s experience and know-how was absolutely indispensable, and on this occasion rescued me from my own arrogance. He’ll probably never realize how much the whole project has meant to me. It’s something I conceived during a ten-day walk through Tasmania (funnily enough) in 1994. It has turned out even better that my paltry imagine could allow, and I’ll be eternally grateful. Cheers, mate!
And Melvin too, who started the job as clueless as I was back I June and learned the ropes as we went along, just as I did. It’s a journey that I’ve found almost wholly enjoyable and immensely fulfilling (with one or two notable exceptions), and I hope that Melvin has been similarly enriched. He’s certainly picked up some very useful new skills, and absorbs information and concepts amazing quickly. He looks a lot fitter and trimmer around the middle, and under Mal's careful guidance learned how to get out of bed in the morning and tackle a day's honest toil. His physical strength, his engineer’s analytical brain and his irrepressible good humour have been enormous assets.
Several other pals have involved themselves: Dave, who was here laying blocks in soupy mud and pouring rain for the first two days; Jack who hammered heroically for a summer fortnight despite being left-handed, my band of straw-baling volunteers who worked like Trojans through a hot September weekend; Lucky Phil who helped with the sheeting for a few days in the Autumn and my running buddy JD, who was the only volunteer to serve a second stint, right at the death when I was fitting out the utility room. Most of those involved in the build were fed and watered at some point by Anna's mum, who turned up from time-to-time laden with splendid picnics, and who did a huge amount of sweeping, wiping and general clearing behind the scenes.
Deliberately, and not solely for financial reasons, I have employed the bare minimum of tradesmen. Rob beautified it all with paint, Stevie and Rab the tapers smoothed out the wrinkles (well – most of them) and Jim installed and commissioned the boiler, and didn’t laugh openly at my plumbing. Big thanks to them, too.
And, of course, Anna, who has looked after the kids and coped with my daily absence with scarcely a murmur of complaint, and who had the recklessness and courage to plough our life-savings into my harebrained scheme. Ta, chuck!
We're not quite finished, of course, and I doubt whether we ever will be. The project took on a momentum all of its own, and looking back through the photos and the blog, it's remarkable to see how much work was packed into seven months. We've taken up residence a year ahead of schedule and more-or-less within budget. The first of these is largely down to Mal. The second is a complete mystery, as each stage seemed to devour at least twice the materials originally allowed for. Perhaps when I sit down and do the figures in a few weeks I'll discover a black hole somewhere. For the moment I'm content to sit and radiate in the glow of satisfaction, watching the slopes of Hownam Law turn red and gold in the evening sun, and to wait for the days to warm with the Spring, when I shall put down my saw, pick up a tinnie and sit on the verandah, listening to the gurgle of the stream, the mastication of the horse and the happy sound of the boys playing with the owls and the mice in the pile of surplus strawbales...
Hownam Law 100208


Gemma said...

Congratualtions and welcome home!

What am I supposed to read before bed every night now, I ask you? I am lookin forward to seeing more pictures of the house furnished, and to come up for some rumoured housewarming/Anna's birthday. No, I hadn't forgotten.

We have a housewarming pressie. Well, a Christmas present that was too bulky to post. I won't tell you what it is, but leave yourselves one doormat short, ok?

What a fantastic achievement and of course the blog is a superb record of it.

Well done yousens!

Gemma and co

Mark Taviner said...

Hey Damon, good to hear you guys are finally in. Can you take a picture of the family in front of the house as there are no updated pictures of the outside at all!

Give our love to Anna and the kids, Mark & Ruth