Archives for category: Building

In November we sold our house.  Had we known just how slowly our new house was going to progress, perhaps we’d have waited a few more months but it’s a difficult call to make and in most ways, it’s a great relief to know that the deal is done.  We’re particularly happy about the fact that a lovely young family have bought it and we’re sure they’re going to enjoy being here just as much as have.

Board outside our house.

Board outside our house.

The slightly unexpected thing is that the buyers want to move in at the beginning of February and we didn’t feel we could keep them waiting until April so a compromise was reached for the beginning of March.  And that is just around the corner.  With our Parkhurst completion date moving further and further away and no really sensible communication from the contractor on the subject, this has complicated things quite a bit.

Most of our possessions (those that survive the ‘downsizing’) will have to go into storage – as will we.  At this stage we plan to spend some time in our Cape Town holiday house, but managing what has become quite a problematic build, will be challenging from there and will require lots of trips back to Johannesburg.  And the 3 resident cats, which include two who arrived from London with our daughter in November, will have to spend at least a month in a “kitty hotel.”  None of this was anticipated.

Cape Town house.

Cape Town house.

So packing has begun in earnest.  How do animals just know that boxes mean bad news?

Daisy and Monty show their disapproval.

Daisy and Monty show their disapproval.

Izzie is determined not to be left behind.

Izzie is determined not to be left behind.

So things at home are quite upside down at the moment and the situation was not helped by an attempted break-in last Monday in the middle of the day.  There was a short period of about 20 minutes when there was nobody actually in the house and during that time, somebody managed to get through the pedestrian gate, down the driveway and onto the patio where they attempted to force a locked French door.  They must have been disturbed as they didn’t get very far and it was only because of two garden gates left open that we first suspected anything at all before finding evidence on the door in question.

There is a perception that having a ‘Sold’ sign outside one’s home is an invitation to burglars.  I have never taken this seriously but now I’m not so sure.  Maybe there’s a sense that things will be disorganised and that people will be caught unaware? So we’re being extra vigilant now.

Packing up a home where one has lived for over 20 years takes time.  All sorts of unexpected bits and pieces, long-forgotten, emerge from the back of cupboards and demand attention.  Particularly things that belonged to parents and grand-parents. Aiming, as I am, for an uncluttered home, much thought has to go into the destiny or next life-phase of some of these possessions and it is this that takes up so much time.  I’m often tempted to simply box up everything and deal with it at the other end and I suspect that as the time draws nearer, that is exactly what will happen, but right now I’m still trying to be sensible.

Funnily enough, despite many dire predictions, emotionally I feel absolutely ready for this move.  Over the Xmas holidays, with only two of us in the house, it was abundantly clear that we are taking up too much space,  much of which we hardly ever use.  I’m looking forward to having cleaner, clearer, nearer boundaries.

And although I’m told that I’ll be away from Johannesburg at the worst possible time as far as the building is concerned, at this stage I’m really looking forward to the complete change of scenery and pace that some time in the Cape will offer.

The most difficult thing for me, apart from the interminably slow progress of the new house, is going to be retiring our housemaid and gardener, both of whom have worked for us for over 30 years and both of whom are going somewhat reluctantly.  Caroline will be going home to a house we bought for her many years ago and where several of her family members live.  Just beyond Pretoria, it is not too far away and I have no doubt we’ll have many visits.  I’m not particularly concerned about her future.  Joseph, on the other hand, is not well enough to return to his home country of Zimbabwe and at the moment it seems he will have to live with two of his sons in a township east of Johannesburg.  He’s always had a rather fractious relationship with these young men and I hope all will work out and that they will take care of him and get him to his out-patient appointments when necessary.  His departure from here is not going to be easy.

For so many African people, their lives are intricately bound up with the lives of their employers, especially when they have been with one family for so long.  Now I feel as though I’m dismantling those lives day by day and more than anything else, this is what I find unsettling. I think the temporary move to Cape Town might be good for all of us.

Looking forward to Time-Out in Cape Town.

Looking forward to Time-Out in Cape Town.

 

Spires in the small town of Wellington, viewed across vineyards.

Spires in the small town of Wellington, viewed across vineyards.

Last Monday, the 27th of October, I took a break from flying around Parkhurst on my broomstick and went wandering around the vineyards of Wellington in the Western Cape instead.  Along with a group of 10 friends, we did, not for the first time, the Wellington Wine Walk (wwwwinewalk.co.za) which involves three full days of walking and three nights staying at different wine farms.

Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces

This time we walked 16kilometres on the first day and 12 on day two and three.  The walking is punctuated with several stops on different estates, tasting wines, having lunch and generally getting some idea of life down in that part of the world.

Lunch stop

Lunch stop

It could not be more different from life in Johannesburg and it offered a complete break from all things building-related.

Far From the Madding Crowds.

Far From the Madding Crowds.

A day or two before I left for the Cape, I popped in at the house to check on progress following my previous  not-too-happy visit and found quite a lot of activity.  It seems that the occasional broomstick dive-bombing exercise can be quite effective…

Stair window and front door frames were in place.

Stair window and front door frames were in place.

Living room door frames in place.

Living room door frames in place.

 

Ceiling of cottage veranda with street boundary wall behind.

Ceiling of cottage veranda with street boundary wall behind.

Rhinoliting started in the cottage. And paint samples on the walls.

Rhinoliting started in the cottage. And paint samples on the walls.

Painting undercoat on the garage walls.

Painting undercoat on the garage walls.

The wall bordering on the park  taking shape.

The wall bordering on the park taking shape.

Production Line

Production Line

Bird's Eye View from upstairs balcony.

Bird’s Eye View from upstairs balcony.

Up to now, I haven’t really tried to explain what is supposed to happen in the front garden which is what the chaos above is eventually supposed to be.  And the main reason for that is that I’m not sure where to begin…  Firstly, there is going to be a swimming pool somewhere in this space.  It is designed to run parallel to the park wall.  A vast quantity of ‘filler’ has to be delivered to the site to bring the level of the front garden up to just two shallow steps lower than the finished house.  In effect, the pool has already been dug.  The filler will be packed in around it.

On the left of the pool, close to the gate that will open onto the park, there will be an underground room, housing – among other things – a generator and a couple of water tanks.  For those of you reading this in First World Countries, this might come as a bit of a surprise but having back-up electricity and a supply of stored water is becoming almost a necessity in Johannesburg and seeing we’re building from scratch, we decided to factor that in.  Power outages are increasingly common and every now and then we turn on a tap to nothing more than a burp of fresh air.  This usually happens without warning and with no  information forthcoming as to how long it will be before services are restored.  I never thought that having a swimming pool in one’s garden would prove to be useful in such a variety of ways…

And so it is that landscaping the front garden is not as simple as one might have thought and at this stage, quite a lot of energy and time is being expended there.  But having put up with no fewer than 3 power outages in the last 3 days, I think the effort will eventually prove to have been worth it.

This post is specially for ‘Happy Laughs’, ‘House by the Water’ and the other overseas bloggers whose projects I follow and who are following mine.

Reading about all the wonderful house builds and renovations taking place in Australia and the States, I’ve become aware of the different vocabularies we use sometimes and thought it might be fun to start a building ‘glossary’.

For my part, I have learned a few things from House by the Water.  Early on, I became a little confused by the emphasis Jo was placing on her kitchen benches.  In South Africa we use the word ‘bench’ to describe something we sit on.  A bench can be an elongated stool, with no backrest and no upholstery, that can seat several people at once.  It can also be a garden bench which might have a wooden slatted back rest or a wrought iron one.

Garden bench

Garden bench

The only time ‘bench’ is used to describe a work surface is in terms of a ‘work bench’ in a wood working studio.  It is never used to describe the tops of kitchen cabinets.  We call those ‘counter tops.’  Until reading one of the earlier posts in ‘House by the Water’ I had never heard the word bench used for work surfaces in a kitchen.  Once I’d figured that out, I could easily understand why Johanne was giving the matter so much thought.

In a more recent post, I learned from ‘House by the Water’ that to have a ‘sticky beak’ was to have a look around a place, and not, as I first thought, to pop in for a casual cup of tea or coffee and something sweet and ‘sticky’ to eat….

In my post about Fountains and Fireplaces, I mentioned that we’d found an interesting fireplace manufacturer  out in the ‘veld’ and ‘House by the Water’ responded that she was off to look up the word ‘veld’.  Veld refers to open fields and uncultivated farmland.  I think in Australia you’d call it the ‘bush’.  And I suspect in the States you might say ‘the country’.  We also use the expression ‘the bush’ in South Africa but more specifically when we’re referring to an area where there are wild animals as opposed to farm ones.  Often, when planning a holiday in the Kruger National Park or  a similar game reserve, we might say we’re going to ‘the bush’.

The word ‘veld’ is an Afrikaans one, derived from Dutch which was spoken by many of the earliest European settlers in this country.

I was finally prompted to write this when I had a question from ‘Happy Laughs’ in Texas earlier this week asking what a ‘scullery’ is and for the first time I realised that I had never heard the word in the States and I’d never actually seen a scullery there either.  So perhaps it is a word and concept that hails from Britain.  To be absolutely certain, I looked it up in my trusty Oxford English Dictionary and this is what it says:

A scullery is a small kitchen or room at the back of a house used for washing dishes and other dirty household work.

It’s origin is late Middle English (denoting the department of a household concerned with kitchen utensils): from Old French esculerie.

So it’s a dishwashing space, separate  from the laundry which is specifically for washing clothes and household linens.

In our new home there will be a ceramic ‘butler’s sink’ in the main part of the kitchen.  I will be able to fill the kettle from there and also, if I wish, wash glasses or only slightly used crockery.  In the scullery, which will be separated from the main kitchen by a door, I plan to have a far more utilitarian sort of stainless steel kitchen sink with a draining board on either side.  Here I will be able to wash or soak bigger items like pots and pans, the roasting tray, baking trays (cookie trays) etc.  The dishwasher will be to one side of the sink.  Having a scullery simply means you can get used crockery and cookware out of sight even though you might not have the time to load it into the dishwasher immediately.

East wall perspective of scullery-to-be.

East wall perspective of scullery-to-be.

Sink is another confusing one.  In South Africa and Britain we use the word ‘sink’ only in kitchens, laundries and sculleries.  In bathrooms we use the word ‘basin’.  And on the subject of bathrooms, what Americans call the ‘powder room’ we call the ‘guest loo’ or ‘guest toilet.’  Back in the 1970ties when I was an exchange student in Alabama, someone suggested that I pre-shrink new dress fabric in the ‘lavatory’.  This led to considerable confusion and not a little embarrassment.  The word ‘lavatory’ was even then quite archaic in South Africa and had only ever been used to describe a toilet.  I had never heard it in the context of a sink or basin until then and have never heard it used in that context since.  Of course it is derived from the Latin, ‘laver’ to wash so perhaps I should have been quicker to make the connection.

Other words related to houses which have different meanings are ‘pavement’ which is what we use in place of ‘sidewalk’ and ‘yard’ and ‘hall’.

I’m not sure about Australia, but I know that in the States you might refer to your ‘yard’ as being all the property surrounding your house, including garden areas.  In South Africa a yard is very specifically the space outside your kitchen door where you might keep your refuse bins and where you’re likely to have an outside washing line. The yard is almost always paved in brick, cement or tiles.  The rest of the property is referred to as being the garden, even if there is not much in it.

In the States you use the word ‘hall’ for an area we call a ‘passage’.  The word ‘hall’ in England and South Africa refers to a large room such as one that is attached to a church for special functions.  Our schools all have ‘halls’ for morning assembly, school plays etc.  In bigger buildings like schools, we might call passages ‘corridors’ but never halls.

In South Africa this would only ever be described as a passage.

In South Africa this would only ever be described as a passage.

In South African homes, the ‘hall’ is very specifically the area immediately inside the front door where you might leave your coat, your car keys etc. In other words, it’s the reception area of a private house.

Lovely Entrance Hall found on Houzz.

Lovely Entrance Hall found on Houzz.

I know in the States it is quite usual for visitors to come in through the back or kitchen door.  This is very unusual here where we use our front doors almost all the time.  Our back doors are usually out of sight and sometimes inaccessible to visitors since they often open into walled yards.

Which brings me to ‘Mud Rooms’.  I’m not sure where I first learned about mud rooms.  It might have been in British home décor magazines and I have since come across them on all sorts of American decorating sites.  I think they are a fabulous idea and would have loved to have had one but space was something of a problem, so I’m going to have to make do with my little laundry leading into the garage instead.  They are creeping into new South African homes, I think, but they’re still a fairly new concept. This is not a country with extremes of climate; we do not often wear Wellington boots and we never need snow gear, but still, there is something awfully appealing to me about this concept.

I love this Mudroom found on Houzz.

I love this Mudroom found on Houzz.

And lastly, for now, I learned something new from Houzz just a few days ago when I looked for photographs of ‘stable doors.’  Our new house is going to have a stable front door.  Needless to say, when I looked for stable doors on Houzz, that is exactly what I found, doors opening into stables housing horses…..  Somewhere along the line, the words ‘Dutch Doors’ popped up and I realised that what we call ‘stable doors’ here are called ‘Dutch Doors’ in America.

Dutch/Stable door found on Houzz.

Dutch/Stable door found on Houzz.

Given all our Dutch heritage in this country, I’m quite surprised we don’t call them Dutch doors too, but I had never heard them described that way before.  I look forward to hearing what they’re called Down Under…

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have made a small but significant change to the roof windows in the guest-suite above the garage and to the upstairs section of the cottage.

Originally we had planned to have only opening skylights in the guest suite and while there were downstairs windows in the cottage, there were also only skylights in the upstairs section.

Original plan showing Velux skylights in guest suite.  The cottage has similar skylights on the northern roof face.

Original plan showing Velux skylights in guest suite. The cottage has similar skylights on the northern roof face.

Now that we are able to climb up to the upstairs level of the house, we are able to appreciate the outlook; not only to the north, over the park, but also to the west, over rooftops to trees beyond.  We realised that to be able to actually see out of the skylights in the guest suite, you would have to stand up against them and you would not be able to see anything but sky from a sitting or lying position.   We are now replacing the four west-facing skylights with two dormer windows and are adding a dormer window to the west face of the cottage roof.  The plan now looks like the one below and we prefer it.

Revised plan showing two dormer windows above the garage and one facing west in the cottage roof.

Revised plan showing two dormer windows above the garage and one facing west in the cottage roof.

 

This elevation gives a good idea of what the house will look like when approaching from the driveway.  Bernard, our architect, specifically wanted different roof heights which he feels are reminiscent of clusters of farm buildings.  This is the main reason why we have the flat-roofed link between the garage and main house.  That ‘link’ is to be the laundry.  I have always had an aversion to flat roofs because I have never known one that doesn’t eventually leak so this has been something of a compromise for me.  I do, however, appreciate his reasoning and I like the way it looks.  But I think I will climb up onto that roof myself when the waterproofing is done.

Looking carefully at this drawing has also revealed a strange-looking upstairs window which is supposed to be a conventional sash.  I’ll have to take that up at the next site meeting.  I have no idea how it has come to be drawn like this.  It is a west-facing sash window in the third bedroom.

The only other physical changes we’ve made so far have been the moving of the door leading from the kitchen to the scullery by a few centimetres and extending one internal kitchen wall by approximately 800mm.  I’m not sure but I think this is pretty good going.

Some of you might have noticed that this blog has been a little quiet lately.  Following a Highveld storm two weeks ago, I have been deprived of the internet at home until today when a particularly determined technician managed to restore the connection – and my sanity – at last.

But just because I’ve been kept away from cyberspace has not meant that more earthbound projects have come to a halt and right now I’m focusing on kitchens.  Bernard has sent a plan of the kitchen to a ‘kitchen consultant’ along with a list of pre-requisites from me.  While I wait to see what her suggestions are, I am enjoying trawling through hundreds of beautiful kitchens on Houzz.  Here are some of my favourites so far:

This looks like a practical way to store utensils.

Since I usually come off second best in the battle to extract baking trays and muffin tins from my pot drawer, this storage option really appeals to me.  It should also put paid to the cacophony of a discordant percussion band that accompanies my efforts to extract the tray I need – always the one somehow at the bottom of the pile.

Perhaps it’s the light from the beautiful windows in the two kitchens below, but I absolutely love them.  I am leaning towards white cupboards again and will be having a wooden floor.  There will also be a bay window on the northern side of the kitchen.  At the moment the plan is to have a two-seater sofa in the window rather than a built-in seat but this could still change.  Movable furniture is more versatile and although I love the look of window seats, sofas are more comfortable.

Great pantry but won’t have the space for something this generous.  Love the ladder.  What is it about ladders?

And finally, a bit of whimsy.  Very sensible to have the pet food bowls lifted off the floor but a pity about the ceiling.

I look forward to getting some feedback on the general ‘look’ of these kitchens.  Any suggestions and ideas would be very welcome.

We had a site meeting today for the first time in two weeks and while there was quite a lot of progress to be seen in some areas, in others, chaos still seems to reign.

Site Meeting, Oct 10/13

Site Meeting, Oct 10/13

Architect and Contractor

Architect and Contractor

But brickwork has finally started and it is almost possible to see the layout of the ground floor taking place.

Brickwork up to floor level of patio.

Brickwork up to floor level of patio.

In a nutshell, getting the site ready for building and sorting out the different levels, has been a lot more complicated and has taken a lot more time than anyone ever seems to have anticipated and as each week passes, I am more grateful that we have not yet sold our present home and so have no real time pressure.

One problem that has recently surfaced is the depth of the sewer in relation to the position of the downstairs guest toilet.  I have never before given a moment’s thought to how plumbing works on sloping sites and now find myself learning all kinds of things of which I’ve previously been happily ignorant.  If the sewer runs off the lowest end of a property there’s no problem, but if, as in our case, it runs off the highest point towards a connection under the street, it poses all sorts of issues I’d really rather not think about.

The original house on this plot was built just a little lower than street level.  And now we understand why the guest toilet which was odd anyway, was perched up a step on a throne-like structure.  It needed to be higher than the sewer outlet.

Up until now, we’ve been aiming to position our house as close to the level of the park as possible.  We were hoping to have only one shallow step from the patio down onto the lawn, and from the driveway and front porch, only a very shallow step up into the entrance hall. Tracing the sewer proved problematic.  The council couldn’t help.  Days and days of digging by the builders, however, have eventually revealed the sewer to be – although buried far down – at a higher point than our downstairs toilet was going to be.  So, at this morning’s site meeting we had to take a decision to raise the entire ground floor level of the house by two brick courses and that may still change to three.  Of everyone involved in the planning, I seem to be the one least troubled by this:  Knowing how the rain thunders down in Johannesburg, I was always a little concerned that we might have flooding under the front door occasionally unless the driveway drainage is absolutely and completely faultless.  Also, in our present home, our patio is completely level with the lawn and many storms have left the tiles awash with water, despite our having built a special drain to avoid this.  So a few steps here and there, provided they’re wide, shallow and outside, are fine with me.

I'd like a miniature version of these steps.

I’d like a miniature version of these steps.

What isn’t fine with me is the chaotic look and feel of the site.  I can’t help feeling that by now, with a little imagination, it could be better managed and today I requested that something be done about it.

Still all a bit chaotic.

Still all a bit chaotic.

While I appreciate that there is very little ‘spare’ space to play with in terms of stacking building materials etc, having everything piled on the pavement and sliding down into the road is not an option.

These need to be stacked on site.

These need to be stacked on site.

Today I asked for the entire street frontage to be fenced off with temporary corrugated iron fencing, with a solid gate to replace the untidy blue plastic which is currently operating as an access point. Each time I visit, it has bigger and bigger holes torn in it, made, presumably by curious passers-by.  And I’ve also asked for a proper board to be erected on the pavement giving the details of the contractor, engineer and architect.  I’m curious to know how long this will take.

This blue plastic needs to go.

This blue plastic needs to go.

This house is being designed as a ‘down-sized, lock-up-and-leave, low-maintenance home’ so including a swimming pool in the plans hasn’t been an automatic decision.  But when summer hits and the highveld sizzles, we know we’ll want one so the debate has moved on from whether or not to have a pool to what size and shape it should be.  This will be our fourth home in Johannesburg and our fourth pool but it’s the first time we’ll be having one built.  The others were already there.

Although we have discussed the fact that it is probably best to do most of the pool construction while the rest of the building is underway, but, with the property still looking like little more than a bomb site, we haven’t up to now, given pool details too much thought.  But now our contractor has asked us for specific plans as to the position and size of the pool and we are having to make some decisions.

Here is a drawing showing the position of the house, garden and pool:  The building closest to the street boundary is going to be the cottage which could be used either for guests or let out to tenants.  The driveway can be seen on the left of the cottage, curving in to the next building which is the double garage.  The garage is linked directly to the house via a scullery or ‘mud room’ which leads into the kitchen.  The house itself, is set quite far forward on the site and the garden, coloured in green, is going to be small and – hopefully – manageable.  We are taking the attitude that ball games to exercise dogs etc will take place in the park to which we’ll have direct access.  After considerable thought, we’ve decided to run the pool along the width of the garden, at the bottom, rather than at right angles to the house as I like the idea of a stretch of unbroken lawn sloping very gradually towards the pool.

Position of Pool and Garden in relation to the buildings.

Position of Pool and Garden in relation to the buildings.

Agreeing on the position of the pool was easy.  Agreeing on the style of the pool has been more interesting.

We are definitely going to move away from this look:

The pool we have now.  Probably build sometime in the 70ties.

The pool we have now. Probably build sometime in the 70ties.

There are all sorts of interesting options available and we’ve narrowed them down to two: I am very taken with the idea and the look of pools that could almost double up as ponds, but it seems there is some hope that I might take to ‘proper’ swimming rather than simply cooling off and I have been persuaded to go the route of putting in a ‘lap pool’.  I’m not making any promises and have actually managed to find a picture of a pool that could almost fill both briefs….

I love this one.

I love this one.

… but in the end, I think we’re going to end up with something more like this:

A lap pool with dark coloured lining.  I particularly like the pool surround on this one.  It has the look of a farm reservoir.

A lap pool with dark coloured lining. I particularly like the pool surround on this one. It has the look of a farm reservoir.

(This photo was published in the June 2013 edition of South African Garden and Home magazine.)

Apparently 10m in length can suffice for a lap pool.  We plan to make it only 2m wide with a cut-out bit where there’ll be a shallow step to sit on and which will  also  allow for getting in and out with a modicum of grace.

The Building Centre

The Building Centre

In London, a friend recommended that we visit The Building Centre. (www.buildingcentre.co.uk)  We took the tube to Tottenham Court Road Station and found the Centre easily at 26 Store Street.  Not quite sure what to expect, we were surprised to find a smallish exhibition centre, featuring great designs, 3-D models and providing interesting information on alternative energy sources. As you enter the building you are presented with a particularly interesting 1:1500 scale model of central London, showing all recent and proposed planning submissions.    For anyone who enjoys models and miniatures, this is fascinating place to visit.

House model showing layout of alternative heating source.

House model showing energy-efficient heating and plumbing options.

Model Garden.

Model Garden.

The Chelsea Harbour Design Centre (www.dcch.co.uk) is also a lovely place to spend a few hours – or more if you have the time to spend poring over thousands of fabrics.  It’s a perfect place to visit on a rainy day with its spectacular glass domes allowing light to spill through the central atrium right down to the ground floor.  The emphasis is on fabrics and soft furnishings but beautiful bathroom fittings, bespoke doors and several decor stores are also featured.

DSC02827

One of three linked atriums surrounded by showrooms and stores.

One of three linked atriums surrounded by showrooms and stores.

Loved this Nicholas Haslam trestle table.

Loved this Nicholas Haslam trestle table.

Beautiful Nicholas Haslam Oak table.

Beautiful Nicholas Haslam Oak table.

My primary response to the Chelsea Design Centre was one of feeling quite overwhelmed by the vast array of products and options on display.  It is a place that would require several return visits and probably a fairly specific focus before one could really come to grips with it. It’s worth a visit simply for the architecture of the building itself and must be absolutely spectacular when lit up at night.

There is also a good coffee shop and an excellent RIBA bookshop stocked with every architectural and design book imaginable.  I could have stayed there all day.

A tiny selection of books available in the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) bookshop at the Chelsea Design Centre and part of my growing personal collection.

A tiny selection of books available in the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) bookshop at the Chelsea Design Centre and part of my growing personal collection.

Back in Johannesburg after five weeks away, it’s taking some time to settle into old rhythms and to get back into the building mindset.

We arrived unannounced at a site meeting on Thursday and my initial reaction was one of mild disappointment that there was not more progress to be seen.  We’d been on site three minutes when we were joined abruptly by an employee of our contracting company, who, without introducing himself, reprimanded us for not wearing hard hats and suggested that we remove ourselves from the site. We were too taken aback to respond for a minute and then introduced ourselves as the owners.  We pointed out that we had not been offered hard hats, that there did not appear to be any available for our use and furthermore that we were perched on the very edge of the site since there was nowhere to go without mountaineering equipment to navigate the high piles of red earth.  We were hardly in a danger zone.

Mountaineering equipment needed.

Mountaineering equipment needed.

The atmosphere shifted a little and hopefully we will be provided with the necessary hard hats shortly.  Far from resisting wearing one, I’m delighted by the prospect.  I’ve always wanted my own hard hat….  Watch this space.

The red earth mountains were what contributed to my slight sense of disappointment as they both prevented us from exploring the site and obliterated the view of much of the progress.  The foundations had been dug and many tons of earth removed from the site during our absence.

DSC_0687

Foundation trenches .

Foundation trenches .

Fortunately, on arriving at the site, I had experienced the same sense of ‘rightness’ about it.  The outlook across the park is lovely, particularly with the trees taking on their fresh spring colours.

At the meeting we were reminded that until we had signed the JBCC documents, the contractor was unable to pour foundation concrete.  JBCC -Joint Builders Contracts Committee – have a website explaining their role in the control and supervision of building projects and it is important to have a contract signed at the start of the building process.  The documents had not been ready for signature when we left for Europe at the end of July but they were signed this afternoon and hopefully the concrete-pouring will begin soon.

In a nutshell, were anyone to ask me how things have gone so far, my response would that everything has taken at least twice as long as we initially expected.  Starting with PHRAG and getting permission to demolish the original house, to getting the plans passed, progress has been laborious.

In the heart of Tuscany two weeks ago, we heard that our plans had finally been approved, stamped and released.  We had expected to have them back in the first or second week of May.  Despite using two “Plan Runners” who – for a fee – undertake to facilitate and hasten the progress of the plans through various divisions of the planning department, it was almost 4 months before we had them back.  Other than adjusting the ceiling height of one room by a mere 200mm, there were no other design issues that needed to be addressed so the process does seem to have been surprisingly sluggish.

However, hearing that they had been approved and passed was good news and went some way to offset the only other communication we received in Italy which was an email from our ‘neighbour on the left’, informing us that ‘the philistines had wrecked her pavement garden’ and that she was informing her lawyer of that fact.  I continue to be intrigued that this person has apparently managed to renovate no fewer than twelve properties without causing even a minor inconvenience to anyone, ever.

At Thursday’s site meeting there was no sign of any damage to the pavement garden which is looking remarkably pretty considering we have not yet come to the end of our winter.

Moving on.  We were told right at the beginning that the building process would take about a year and at this stage we feel we should only start counting from next week.  That takes us to next September, about 9 months later than we thought when we originally bought the property.  This also affects when we can confidently put our existing home on the market.  We are bombarded by conflicting opinions by estate agents and even by friends as to what would be best.  Above all, we want to avoid moving twice and having to spend time in rented accommodation.  So right now, we feel we can only realistically market it early next year.  I am bracing myself for the calls from agents who were told we’d be ready to sell from this month or next and I admit to finding this aspect of things quite unsettling.

In the meantime, a drive around Parkhurst reveals other building projects apparently forging ahead at great speed and I am a little envious.  One small stand that sold at about the same time we bought ours, now has a house built on it up to roof height.  Needless to say, it was a level site with no previous building on it.

Our contractor told us today that he hopes to get to roof height before the Xmas break this year.  Originally we’d hoped to have the roof on before the rainy season starts, but at at this stage that might be asking too much.

While away we did take the opportunity to visit a few building exhibitions in London although it was difficult to relate what we saw to our own project which still seemed to mired in bureaucracy.   Some things bemused…..

London's answer to PHRAG.  I somehow don't think 60 years would count for much.

London’s answer to PHRAG. I somehow don’t think 60 years would count for much.

while overall the sheer choice of products is quite overwhelming.  In the end, with the exception of one or two unusual features we might find abroad, we are likely to be perfectly content with the decor options we have available right here in South Africa.  Our aim is to have a South African home in a South African environment and hopefully, when finally completed, it will both look and feel like one.