Some potential renovation projects

One of my worst faults is that I have a constantly roving eye for a house in need of a bit of TLC.  Here are a few that have caught my attention recently, though they’re all either sold or probably will be before long!

The Old Schoolhouse, Halkirk

Lovely traditional house in Halkirk, packed with period features – just look at this staircase!

Formerly inhabited by a heavy smoker, this would need stripping right back.

It’s got damp issues and I’d want to get a loo/shower room in downstairs somewhere (possibly by taking a bit off the dining room), but this house has amazing bones and has an enormous back garden that could potentially provide a plot to build another house on.  Was on at offers over £115,000, went to fixed price £103,000 and is currently under offer.

St Andrews Church, Thurso

Pete tells me I am not allowed to buy this until I am making more money than God.

The roof is shot and has been for years and a lot of the glass is broken.  But what’s left is beautiful.

And yet again, a wonderful staircase.

I think it would make a fantastic space to show off the area’s artists and craftspeople – turn the downstairs into cubicled work areas for creatives, turn the upstairs into a gallery/showroom to sell their wares. Downsides are the lack of parking and the fact that just sorting out the roof is going to run into six figures.  Also B-listed.  Currently under offer for the third or fourth time at £50,000.

Adastra, Wick

This is a former drill hall, used by the Territorial Army from 1890 to 2018.  Gorgeous proportions.

Lovely old stone floor and upstairs, the drill hall and those amazing windows.

It has three entrances at the front and looks from the floorplan like it would split vertically into three houses fairly easily.  The problem is that they’d be pretty big family-sized homes and there’s no garden.  Currently on at a fixed price of £120,000, down from its initial asking price of offers over £150,000.

I have a load more I’m keeping my eye on, but that’s probably enough for this evening, I’ll save the rest for another day.

Project 2 – Coldbackie – FINISHED!

Oh my goodness, it’s been a year and eight months – where did that go?  To cut a very long story short, we planned to open Tor Aluinn to guests in May this year, got scuppered finishing it off by Covid and finally welcomed our first visitors at the end of August.

As a small memory refresher, this is what it looked like when we bought it:  http://househoarder.com/project-2-has-lift-off/

And this is how all those rooms look now.

Living Room

The window seat ended up not getting put back in because it turned out the three-seater sofa fitted so perfectly it could have been made-to-measure, so we just ordered another one.  We didn’t go for a woodburner in the end, they make a lot of mess and there wasn’t really anywhere to store logs, so we left it empty (I’m looking for a vintage fire screen to go in front of it, like the one in Ethel’s House’s bedroom) and picked a wall colour that would make the fireplace disappear a bit – this is Sulking Room Pink, originally this room was going to be dark red.  I’m still not 100% convinced I’ve got the colour right, because there’s so much blue in the rest of the house, but as soon as I change it the fireplace is going to start hitting you between the eyes again.

Downstairs bathroom

We ended up not doing too much in here.  Kris the plumber took one look at the floor and the wetwall and advised (a) it was about £2,000-worth of work and (b) it had been done extremely well.  So we took the shower seat and surround out, got some contrasting wetwall to make a feature of the shower and cover up the screw holes, replaced the loo and Kris had a rummage through his shed and found the shower screen.  The storage unit was bought second hand from someone at Mick’s work.  We did put a big chrome heated towel rail in here as well, which is to the right of the loo, and then the little white towel stand was £20 from Argos and is surprisingly sturdy.

Kitchen/diner

This is where we knocked the study/bedroom 5 into the dining room.  The old Aga was on the blue wall.  And yes, I know the blue kitchen is fashionable and might well date badly, but I love it.  David built the shelves on the island from some offcuts of worktop, so they match perfectly and are really sturdy.  The island isn’t actually fixed to the floor, it can be moved about if we ever need to access the electrics underneath it (the fridge is built into it on the other side).  The blue velvet curtains are the ones we bought with the house 🙂

Utility room

After a bit of a mismeasure with the units (they forgot to take into account the concrete skirting) we had to ditch the separate tumble dryer and get a combination one – and then had a mad panic when I thought I’d better test it the week before the first guests arrived and found it didn’t work!  We ended up frantically swapping it out for a new one the day before the guests were due and the one in the picture is now in my house after a warranty repair.  Glad I found a spot for my impulse bench seat buy and the seat holds all the dog-drying towels, dog poo bags and dog treats.

Hall and landing

Blue, blue and more blue – I didn’t exactly keep to my neutral plan.  Chris the electrician was convinced the feature light was going to be too big for the space, but it works just fine, although changing the bulb in it is a two-person job and you have to lean out rather perilously over the stairwell.  We put an LED bulb in it though, so hopefully it’ll last the advertised 15 years.  The cupboard downstairs has the vacuum cleaner and lots of spares (glasses, bulbs, handwash, loo roll etc. etc.) and the upstairs one is the linen store and has two full spare sets of sheets and towels.

Master bedroom

I LOVE this room.  I know that Hague Blue makes me a walking middle-class cliche and I really don’t care.  Mick had serious doubts about the peacock until he actually hung it on the wall and then he had to admit that it fits in nicely.  The shop actually had two, the other one faced the other way, and I was so tempted to get them both and hang them in the dining room instead, but Mick veto’d that in favour of a really big wooden clock he’d fallen in love with (not shown in the kitchen picture because it hadn’t arrived).  The window seat cushions were made by Just Wright Crafts, who did all the lampshades and cushions for Ethel’s House.  We also cut a hole in the wall in here and put in a little en suite shower room.  If I could change anything about the way we did this house, it would be to put another 10cm onto the en suite, but hey ho.  We went for new doors upstairs in the end, rather than reusing the ones removed from downstairs, as David said too much needed cutting off them and they’d have looked wrong.

Upstairs bathroom

Bit of a difference from the old bedroom.  Because we put the en suite in we decided not to put another shower in here, just the hand-held shower attachment on the taps and a screen to stop the splashes.  The old window seat is the perfect height for a glass of wine and a book.  Kris and David made the boxout to hide the pipes and the bath surround from wet wall.  Again, the radiator was swapped out for a big chrome towel rail.

Front bedroom

This ended up having to be the twin after I couldn’t make the space work for it in the back bedroom.  A shame to lose the fireplace, but we did really need the space.  The bells are all still on the walls, but sadly the wiring couldn’t be revived.  The cupboard in here has had a rail fitted and is acting as a wardrobe, which saved a few hundred.

Back bedroom

The wallpaper in here was such a sod to get off that Magnus ended up papering over the whole thing with lining paper and painting that rather than scraping.  We had to move the bell push, it’s just been glued back on.

Garden/outside

The old asbestos garage, half-built over the boundary, got removed by specialists, and we created a gravel parking area at the front.  The garden was hacked back, a really big tree too near the house was taken down completely, and Pete and Mick spent four very hard days levelling the broken flagstones and laying new patio stones around the back of the utility room where the garage used to be.  There’s now a rustic wooden table and benches in the rectangle area where the wall is and the double sink is at the back door as a planter, with mint and chives in it.  Fencing David (he has the same name as David the joiner) came and replaced the remains of the old metal wire fence with a beautiful wooden one with handmade gates at either side of the house, which Magnus then stained with creosote – we have not yet had a dog escape!

And that’s it, job done!  Is there another project?  Well, yes, there is, but more about that another day.

Lurching forwards

I had a fun time a week ago Friday being a chimney sweep assistant – two and a half tubs of soot were removed and Calum is very grateful that he’ll never have to sweep the kitchen chimney again.  Apparently it’s marginally less awkward without the Rayburn in front of it, but not much.  He ended up having to climb up on the roof and sweep downwards from the chimney and then went into it with a much smaller brush through the access hatch on the outside of the house, attached a drill to the end of the rods and power-swept it all the way down.  £70 for a job well done on all three chimneys!

I was away last week and hoped that David would have been able to start, but it’s all come to a bit of a grinding halt again and the only sign of progress is three rows of slates laid on one side of the roof and lots of holes appearing in joists and walls as Dougie tunnels his way through the structure of the house with his cable runs.  The roof can’t progress until the rooflights are resized and Dougie can’t get too much more done until the studwork is in.  However, we’ve managed to track David down and he says he’ll be on site probably Wednesday, might be Thursday (I’ve been told this probably means Thursday!).  If he can spend a couple of days sorting out the bits Pete needs him to do for the roof and putting the studwork in, then we can get quite a long way down the road before we need him back again – I think we’re then okay until we need him to lay the floor over the underfloor heating, as Mick is intending to do all the insulation fitting and plasterboard work himself.

It’ll be good for Mick to get cracking on it again, actually – he’s been loving working on this one so much, that he’s now gung-ho to do another.  And look what I saw online today…

203 Talmine

This is about 20 miles west of us, so not exactly just up the road, but it’s just over the road from one of the north coast’s prettiest beaches, Talmine.  It’s derelict, but someone has drawn up plans to turn it into a one-bed cottage and the asking price is £22,500.  I’m sure it’ll be snapped up by someone before we’ve finished this one and sorted out the finances for the next, but if I’m going to have a stable of holiday cottages, this would be a perfect addition.

A good week’s work

Mick and I have been cracking on with more panelling removal and we’re making slow but steady progress.  Pete the Roofer was going to bring David the Joiner round for a look this week, but Pete’s wife (who works with Mick) passed on a message that David has the lurgy that’s going round (or man-flu, as she put it!), so hopefully he’ll be recovered soon and able to come round and size the place up.

One of the nice things about spring starting to spring is that flowers are popping up all over the place outside:

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Inside, we’ve depanelled the dormer window in bedroom two and found this – I think the initials may stand for Harry Macdonald, Ethel’s husband’s uncle (if I remember correctly), who left the house to her husband.  (EDIT:  Thanks to my friend Elizabeth, it may also be Hughie Mackay, her mother’s cousin, a joiner who worked on a lot of the houses in the village.)

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It’s amazing how much more space there is with the panelling taken out of the top of the dormer window alcove – that thin piece of wood was only to fix the panelling to, so hopefully we can leave it open and maybe put a small armchair in there for a quiet reading spot.

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One unwelcome find in this room (and it’s not very clear on the picture, but trust me, it’s there) was woodworm.  Lots of it.  On all the roof beams on the west-facing roof.  It’s live as well, a bit of sawdust came out of the holes when I banged the beams with a hammer, so that’ll all have to be soaked with treatment stuff.

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It was when I was working in this room and Mick was working in the little bedroom next door that we realised we could hear each other so clearly that we could have a conversation in normal voices, despite being in separate rooms.  As our target holiday guest is a family with young to teenage children, we thought that Mum and Dad might not appreciate the lack of soundproofing at bedtime (for any number of reasons!), so we stripped off some of the panelling on the internal walls to see what was inside.  Answer?  Sweet nothing – that wood is the back of the panelling on the other side, so we can’t take down both sides or we’ll remove all the internal walls!

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The only other thing we’ve done this week is break into the living room fireplace – Mick has done a great job and it looks like it’s been filled in with concrete and bricks, so we should be able to enlarge it for the woodburner fairly easily.

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Whoomph!

Mick took the day off work yesterday, as he’s away for the long weekend and wanted to get some more work done.

Actually, scrap that, what my pyromaniac husband wanted to do was light the big pile of panelling and since the wind was coming from the south and not too strong and he was going to be outside repairing some of the fanks so I can dose the sheep tomorrow, it seemed like a good time to do it.

I’m not quite going to say ‘I told you so’, but I did express my reservations about setting light to something nearly as tall as the house in fairly dry conditions with both peat on the ground and an oil tank in the vicinity, so I did have a quiet chuckle when this appeared on his Facebook timeline:

Today’s job – rebuild and hang the gate on the fanks. Took me a while but got there. Also ran round like a looney with a bucket of water throwing it everywhere as the old wood panelling took to an inferno………

We’ve been working mainly in the second of the bigger bedrooms this week, stripping out more panelling.

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Old nails left behind from last time the roof was worked on.

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That’s one heck of a big stone!  Sitting just over the fireplace in that room.

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Back wall of the house.

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This fell out when I took the skirting board off.  Wonder what happened to the rest of the deck?  We also found a lot of hair grips!

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And finally, I had a quick look under the tiles in the living room fireplace.

Good news on that front though, Pete the Roofer says that David the Joiner is on board and he’ll be bringing him over early next week to have a chat.

The jigsaw puzzle

It’s struck me today that project managing this is a little bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle.  You find the odd piece or two that go together and gradually you work out how it all fits together.

The heating engineer came round this afternoon and delivered the good news that (a) the boiler is a combi boiler and (b) it’s in pretty good shape and doesn’t need replacing.  Hooray!  The hot water feed from it hasn’t been connected up, seems that Ethel and John simply used the Rayburn and the hot water cylinder upstairs, which means that’s a closed circuit and we can simply disconnect it from the header tank, drain it and take it all out.  Does mean I have to find another use for my saved mirrored door, but I’m glad of the extra space in the bedroom.

So I’m starting to piece the timetable together like a logic problem.  Pete is replacing the roof and needs the joiner (who’s the only major trade I’ve not yet spoken to) to enlarge the existing Veluxes and cut the new ones, which will depend on us having stripped the panelling in the relevant areas.  He’ll also need the stonework person to patch the harling into the spots where the fascia boards are being removed, who’ll also need to patch up the spot where the electrician is moving the mains power cable.  The electrician needs to work with the joiner if any cabling needs running up the new studwork behind the plasterboard.  The heating engineer needs to put the underfloor heating down and install the woodburner and hearth before the joiner lays the wood floors.  The joiner is the one we’re going to need the most flexibility from, I think, in terms of popping back and forth.  Fortunately he’s the one who lives closest!

Budget Day

Not just for Mr Osborne, but I thought I’d add up how much I’ve spent to get here so far, as the solicitor’s bill arrived this afternoon.

The only two expenses I’ve had (not counting the running costs for my sheep – I’m keeping my crofting budget separate) are the interest on the money I’ve borrowed from my family and the legal fees, so the accounts so far look like this:

Difference between money borrowed and purchase price – £70.51
10th Nov – Interest – £96.68
10th Dec – Interest – £276.88
11th Jan – Interest – £276.88
10th Feb – Interest – £276.88
10th Mar – Interest – £276.88
16th Mar – Solicitor’s bill – £766.00
Total:  £2,040.71

So it’s cost me a little over £2,000 just to get the keys.  In fairness, that’s not bad – I had to sit down when I opened the solicitor’s letter, as I was expecting that to be four figures and possibly starting with a 2!  I shall drop in and pay it tomorrow and leave a large Easter egg for Jane, my solicitor 🙂

I had a call back from Dougie the electrician this afternoon – he was up the road in Melvich, could he come and have a look?  Sure.  The good news is that he’s agreed to quote for it, so I need to think about what I want in each room in terms of lighting and sockets (I don’t need to finalise positions just yet), think about where I want the TV and the phone, as he’s going to hide all the cabling currently tacked to the front of the house for those, and decide whether I want the power to the byre to be on a separate meter to the rest of the house.  He’s also going to move the position of and seriously upgrade the heating controls (it’s a cheap clockwork timer and the noise is really annoying) and move the meter and fusebox etc. – he’d seen that the main power cable into the house is chased into the harling down the outside wall and then goes through a wooden panel above the front door, which isn’t ideal, so since we’re getting the door replaced and we’ll have someone patching the non-harled bits that will be revealed when Pete takes the fascia boards off, it’s going to go through the wall at the height of the connection and all be hidden in a little cupboard on the landing.  Mick has suggested that we ask him to also quote for putting in outside lights, particularly one to illuminate the fanks (sheep handling system), and also for wiring in a back-up generator so that if we do have guests in and there’s a power cut, it’ll cut in and take over.  We actually have a generator here, but it’s not wired in, so it can go down the road.

Another two hours stripping out panelling and bedroom one is very nearly ready for work to start.  The priority over the next few days is to get the surfaces with the Veluxes/proposed Veluxes bare so that if Pete wants to start cutting holes in the roof next week it’s all ready to go.  I uncovered a MAHOOSIVE spider which I thought was dead, but turned out not to be.  Mick really Does Not Do spiders, so I had to dispose of it out of the bedroom window.

The boring bits

It’s been nearly eight years since I last moved house, so I’d forgotten what a pain all the administrative bits are.  Over the last two days I’ve managed to mess up sorting out the council tax (apparently I don’t go on to business rates until it’s available to let, so I tried to apply for a major works discount using their online form and accidentally tried to backdate the claim for two years – well, they asked how long the house had been empty, so I told them!) and nearly mess up sorting out the electricity (didn’t think I had to take a meter reading because it was a PAYG key meter, rang them back to give them the reading, and then got cut off when they attempted to transfer me to the appointments system to get someone out to replace it with a credit meter), but on the plus side, I managed to speak to Pete the Roofer’s recommended electrician, who is very hard to get hold of because he’s so in demand, and he’s said he’ll give me a ring back to sort out a time to come and have a look, and the double-glazing and front door company are ringing back tomorrow to make an appointment.

We had another couple of hours stripping panelling this evening. Some pics from tonight.

We finally found some insulation!

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Hole in the wall – not brilliant, but when I put my hand in (yes, it’s that big!) there was no draft, no daylight and no damp.  Phew!

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The front wall of the house with the rafters sitting on it.

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Someone had carefully worked out the angles of the roof on the back of this bit of panelling

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Temporarily distracted by the last of the evening sun as it hits Strathy Point

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And the reason all that panelling has to come out – it’s very, very tasty apparently!

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Now that we’ve got going, I’ve started using my Instagram account properly, so if you want the pictures-only version of the blog, give me a follow 🙂

The starting point

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…”

I thought it was important to take photos and videos before we did anything, so when we get completely bogged down mid-project and feel like it’s never going to end, we can look back and see how far we’ve come.  Thanks to our broadband speed it has taken nearly five hours to upload an 11-minute video(!) so here are a couple of films showing you the outside and the inside and I’ll try and go through the photos tomorrow.

So with apologies for my Blair Witch-style filming and dodgy commentary (I’ll get better, I hope!), welcome to Ethel’s House!

Outside:

Inside: