Well the last few weeks have flown by in a cloud of dust, noise and exhaustion (for Andy that is) as he has thrown himself fully into starting the work on opening up the new kitchen.
It’s hard to believe that not even 4 weeks have passed since that first Philibert lorry pulled onto the driveway and unloaded the delivery of building supplies we would need to get the work underway.
Seeing the pile of ‘melange beton’ and all the reinforcing rods, oak beam, bags of cement and sand piled up outside, it was hard to imagine that we would ever get through it all, but that pile has already gone and we’ve had to pick up more supplies since, hiring the Philibert truck and unloading it all ourselves, which was so much more fun than it actually sounds.
It’s always daunting, starting a major piece of work like this, especially in an old house where you really don’t know what you will find. But at some point you just have to bite the bullet and remove the first bit of plaster and once that was done, there was no turning back.
The external plaster came off relatively easily, with the aid of the new heavy-duty drill and before too long the first 3 supporting beams were in place and the work could start to remove the wall below to create the opening that will eventually be the doorway out onto the terrace.
Of course the wall started coming out on the day that the South of France was hit by Storm Alex and just dashing from the back door to the steps to the utility room was like running under a waterfall and left us looking like drowned rats. Happily though the work could continue from inside and during the day the hole began to grow and we started to get a real sense of what the door would look like once it was finished. You can see some of the work involved in a couple of brief videos on YouTube, which You can find here
As the stones came out, more old openings became evident and we ended up wondering how the house had actually managed to stay standing as long as it had, as we found large gaps in the stonework where windows had been and one part held up by a beam that was so powdery and old that it broke when Andy kicked it. There was even an old partially collapsed chimney hidden too…. As I say I really don’t know how the house was still standing.
It really is amazing how much is often hidden under a skin of plaster and render in an old house -the old saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ does tend to help explain it
Within days though the door was opened and the room that will be the new kitchen was filled with light and we finally walked out onto the terrace and realised that we really had done the right thing, although by now it was too late to change our minds and there was no going back.
Opening the door was just the first step though and 3 heavy oak beams had to then be lifted into place and secured, before the reinforced concrete pillars and beams could be created. As I’m still in a brace after braking my clavicle, I’m about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, but friends came over, helped lift and secure the first one and Andy could then lift the last 2 into place himself, with me just offering encouragement.
Once the shuttering and ironwork was in place for the beam and pillars to be created, the next step was mixing and pouring the concrete. To say that it was hard and exhausting work is an understatement. Andy had to mix the concrete down on the driveway and then barrow each load up the 30% incline to the terrace as the lorry couldn’t stop and unload on the hill. All I could do was watch, provide coffee and tea and offer words of encouragement as Andy pushed load after load up to create the supports (over 25 in total). I don’t think I can remember the last time he slept so well! But at least it has meant that he hasn’t had time to miss the cycling….
Once the doorway was fully opened we finally got a sense of how it would feel height-wise. The problem with our house (but also the joy of it too), is that it is built on so many different levels that although we had drilled pilot holes to get an idea of how far above the new kitchen the terrace would be, we didn’t really know for certain until everything had been put in place. At first (before the pilot holes) we thought it may be more of a large window or over-sized serving hatch, that would see us having to almost climb out, but happily with 2 steps from the new kitchen we can almost walk out totally upright, although our boys (both over 6ft will have to stoop a little, but that’s just character-building).
The door may be open now, but it will just be a hole in the side of the house, covered by a tarpaulin until the concrete has fully ‘gone off’ and hardened, before we can fit the doors and those still need to be made.
Once again we will be using Pascal, who helped us re-work all the old doors we had come across and make new ones to match when we refurbished the upstairs of the house. He’s such a talented ebeniste, who seems to understand exactly what we want to do, even when some things seem slightly bizarre. So we have a list of pieces to be done and a few line drawings and I have no doubt that he will be able to convert them into something of substance.
The electrician has been round to look at the work that we will need doing and we have started the daunting process of looking at kitchens too, which I have a feeling may be a bit of a chore. I know we should be really excited about that part, but so far we have met a wall of shiny, glossy and hideously expensive kitchens and that is about as far away from what we want as possible. All we have in mind are simple ‘Shaker’ style painted units that seem, so far, rather difficult to find, although we haven’t really been committed to the search over the last few days, having been a little distracted by nice walks enjoying the autumn colours that are appearing around us.
But the relaxation is already over as the next big delivery has arrived from Philibert – who are getting to know us rather well at the moment – this time the lorry was packed to bursting with enough equipment to fill the ‘cave’ ahead of it being needed – including 55m2 of Travertine tiles and all the supplies needed to start putting up the ceiling and straightening the walls in the new room. So Andy’s nose is well and truly ‘back to the grindstone’, but at least this time he will be working inside and really starting to see the room take shape, which is incredible.
Roll on stage 2……