We are busy getting ready to move in on the 3rd of February, thirteen months after we moved up to Yorkshire and ten months after the building works started. The site is full of trades: builders, joiners, painters, electricians and plumbers. Making space to work in is difficult and involves moving piles of materials around, inevitably getting in someone else’s way. A bit like the way all nations have another scapegoat nation as the butt of all their jokes, so it is with trades: a messy lot ‘sparks’, always leaving their rubbish about. It’s good-natured though.
The hole for the new doors and their frames is cut out of the front of the coffee shop. The old windows come out first and props are put in place either side of the heavy stone mullion. The mullion is then carefully taken out. This is a tricky operation as the stones making up the mullion are big and heavy. First the mortar is sawn through then the individual stones taken out. It’s like a very high risk version of Jenga. The builders are relieved when it’s done and the rest of the wall comes out quickly after that. New stone is being cut to extend the mullion to match the full height of the door frame. There’s a delay though when the temperature plummets, as the stone can’t be cut until the temperature comes back above freezing. Meanwhile, inside the building work continues, in the warm thanks to the air source heat pump. We are a bit alarmed when we notice the ice building up on the back and the base of the pump in the cold weather but are reassured when the plumbers tell us this is normal. They create a channel under the pump that leads to a drain which should allow most of the condensation to be carried away in warmer temperatures.
The stairs are fitted. The wooden structure arrives first, prefabricated in the same workshop that provided our new windows. It is put in over a couple of days by Chris and Derek, our joiners. Later, my old schoolfriend, John, who is down for a few days helping me lay the wooden floors, suggests we might be able to do away with the 100mm newel post that supports the top of the stair at the front. The post creates a pinch point as you pass under the stair into the main space. We discuss with our builder, a saw is produced and the newel removed. Nothing falls down and access into the room, as well as the aspect, is significantly improved. The framework is subsequently strengthened when the blacksmiths arrive and fit the metal balusters and balcony they have designed for us. The finished effect, with hardwood handrails and newel caps is very pleasing. We decide to stain and varnish the timber, including the treads, rather than paint.
The wood burning stoves are fitted, along with their substantial flues. They both have to twist and turn to get around trusses before going through the roof. They’re being fitted on Indian stone plinths.The plinths need to extend beyond the front of the stove the distance of the door when it’s fully open. To accommodate this without them becoming too huge we curve the front of the plinths. In the coffee shop the curve is an arch shape to match that above the door through to the passage. A successful smoke test and the stoves are ready for use.
John and Bill make a start laying the engineered oak boards. John knows what he’s doing, Bill hands him things. We get one of the two downstairs bedrooms done on the first day, the other on the second and make a start on the main space on the third. There are some long clear runs that allow us to get a rhythm going at the beginning but there’ll be some tricky bits to negotiate later when we work around the bookcase, stairs and fireplace. Bill enjoys working with John as well as catching up and reminiscing - they go back a long way having known each other since reception class in primary school. The boards are the click-together kind that ‘float’ on top of the concrete slab. A plastic membrane goes down first, then a thin layer of paper from a roll - like the stuff we painted pictures on at school. The boards’ special tongues slide into grooves on the previous board and cramp tight, sealing any gaps when they are tapped into place from one of the ends. The finished surface looks very smart. Once it has all been laid we will clean it down and polish it off with linseed oil.
We start fitting the Ikea kitchen. Slowly transforming over one hundred cardboard packs of bits and pieces into recognisable items. Bill quite often looks like the pictogram of the man scratching his head on the wordless instructions.