It’s just a couple of bits of plasterboard….

So I have a nice shiny island, complete with fully plumbed-in sink (eventually), working Aga, and ice-on-demand for the G&T. So barring a few more cabinets everything in the kitchen’s rosy, right?

Well that depends which way you look at it. The view to the Aga is looking good. But the other end of the room clearly needs a bit of work….

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It’s been one of my major procrastination projects, mainly because I haven’t figured out what to do with it.

I did managed to persuade my Dad to start the job a couple of years ago, while I was away on a jolly somewhere. Apparently there was a fair amount of procrastination and  head-scratching even then. And a bit of cursing when he discovered that the wood I’d bought would have been better used making wonky corkscrews.

I’d probably have attempted to use the wood and ended up with a slightly corkscrewed wall. But my Dad, when he does eventually get going, is a perfectionist, so he went out a bought some properly square timber. And proceeded to build a beautifully over-engineered work of art.

It looks like one of those squirrel’s intelligence tests. You know – where you stick a hazelnut in the middle of an assault course and watch to see if the squirrel can work out how to get through it.

But it did mean that I could at least board up some of the wall. And I have to hand it to my Dad – it’s the only genuinely straight wall in the whole house.

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It’s stayed like that for a year or so, until I finally decided that I could put it off no longer and I had to find a solution for the rest of it.

The problem is the large bunch of wires feeding through the wall from the cottage to the fuseboard at this end of the house.

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There’s not a lot of headroom as it is. I couldn’t build a false ceiling because the door wouldn’t open. I couldn’t build a false wall because the door wouldn’t open….

I looked at it. I thought about it. I made a cup of tea. I sorted out some random bits of wood from my hoarded collection of offcuts. I looked at it some more. And had another cup of tea.

I thought about drawing a proper plan, but I had another cup of tea instead. And finally decided that the best way to approach it was to build little sub-frames and randomly screw them to the wall – if I put enough bits of wood up, surely I’d be able to hide the wires eventually…

So there you have it. I’d like to see an intelligent squirrel get past that lot.

After all the hassle with the frame, I assumed the finishing off would be a doddle. Just a couple of bits of plasterboard, a lick of paint, a bit of flooring and a new door. Then feet up and a G&T. Jobs a good’un!

Well the plasterboard went on easily enough (though I shall gloss over my efforts at getting a nice smooth joint between the boards!).

Then for the flooring. And I’m a dab hand at wood floors, so that shouldn’t take long.

Yeah right. This is my barn remember. No straight walls (apart from the one my Dad built) and no level floors.

So the concrete floor that comes out of the cottage has a slight uphill slope. The concrete steps built up from the kitchen floor are perfectly level, but slightly lower than the cottage floor. It creates a kind of cliff-edge mountain range right in the middle of the floor. So when I tried to lay my flooring, I ended up with a wooden see-saw. And guess what? The door wouldn’t open!

I had another cup of tea while considering my options.

Option 1: Chisel the floor level: I tried. But it was the masonry equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge with a lip brush. I gave up.

Option 2: Put a thinner floor covering down: Well in that case I couldn’t use wood – even switching to engineered board instead of the solid wood I was using would only save a couple of millimetres. So it would have to be tiles. But large thin tiles laid over a mountain range? They’d crack the minute you stepped on them. You’d have to bed them down on so much adhesive they end up as thick as the wood. And the door wouldn’t open. So it would have to be small tiles. Really small tiles.

Well I admit I have been known to go a bit mosaic-mad on occasion, but that really wouldn’t look right here.

Anyway, I wanted to use wood to match the rest of the kitchen floor.

So it would have to be Option 3: Buy a smaller door: The door is already slightly shorter than the average. The doorway between the cottage and the main house passes under the valley between the two roofs, so the existing door is already ‘vertically challenged’. Anyone over 5’8″ has to duck. What’s another cm between friends?

I managed to find a door company that would make a bespoke oak door that would match the rest of the house. Amazingly without breaking the bank.

Add a bit of paint and a couple of wine posters and then open the gin.

 

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A definite improvement on the old view, don’t you think?

All I want for Christmas is….. an island!

The last time I blogged about my kitchen it was just before Christmas 2015, when I was attempting to install a fridge without squashing my mother. The fridge went in, but beyond that there was an Aga and a couple of rickety old workbenches rescued from the builders. All water related activities – other than what came out of the fridge were up in the freezing cold kitchen in the cottage.

There was plenty of ice on demand for the G&T, but otherwise cooking the Christmas dinner was a bit of a challenge….

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I decided that I would aim to have a properly functioning kitchen before the next turkey roasting session came around, so we entertained ourselves one day by planning the kitchen layout with a tape measure, lots of newspaper and sellotape.

Well how else do you decide how big your island should be?

I’d got my kitchen designer lined up already. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping, or so they say. So whenever Mr Incompetent Builder had really hacked me off, I’d take my plans and go for a wander around some of the posh kitchen designer shops. If your house is big enough that your plans don’t fit on anything smaller than A0 size sheet of paper, and the plans show that there are two kitchens in the house, those designer chappies get really excited.

“Would Madam like a glass of wine………?”

Well nice as some of those designs were, I really didn’t really think I could justify spending more on the kitchen than I did on the house. But I did find a decent local designer who was more or less within budget – not quite up there with the name-dropping designers where you really do need to re-mortgage the house to pay for the kitchen, but still pricey enough that I decided to to do it by instalments.

Fortunately they were happy enough to work with me on that, so towards the end of 2016 I arranged for the central island – which would house sink and dishwasher – to be installed first. The logic being that not only would that provide a nice large work surface area – perfect for turkey carving – but would also mean that we no longer needed to traipse up to the arctic kitchen in the cottage every time we needed to do some washing up.

In October I had the final get together with the designers to go through all the last minute details and we set a date for the work to start in a couple of weeks. At which point I jumped back on a plane and headed back to India, fully expecting that the next time I arrived home, I’d have a fully functioning island.

Hmmm. Well have you ever tried managing a building project from 5,000 miles away? First I got an email complaining that they’d turned up but no-one was there to let them in. Clearly my message about where to find the key under the proverbial doormat hadn’t got through to the delivery team. Next I got a panicked phone call asking where to turn the water off because they’d unclamped a pipe without checking where the water supply came from….. (Apparently my Aga got quite a good wash).

Still, I finally got an email saying they were all finished. So how excited was I walking back into my kitchen 6 weeks later?

Spot the deliberate mistake.

Yep. No taps.

I really should learn to read the small print when I get the contractors in. In my naivety I thought when you were building an island that included fitting a sink and integrating a dishwasher, installation meant plumbing it all in. So it all worked. And was ready to use.

Apparently not.

It means making sure there are the rudiments of pipework and (disconnected) cables in place before you build all the cabinets over the top of them, putting the sink in before topping it off with your nice granite work surface (complete with tap holes) and hiding the dishwasher in its appropriate cabinet. And leaving the taps in their box under the sink. Without connecting anything up.

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It was 10 days before Christmas. So once again, whilst most normal people are down at B&Q buying last minute Xmas trees, fairy lights and singing reindeer, I was in the Plumbing aisle buying U-bends and plastic pipe. Bah humbug to you too.

But hey, I’m an expert at the plastic pipe plumbing malarkey. Can do it in my sleep. So a couple of hours and we’ll have it all fully functioning. No worries. Right?

Wrong.

  1. The cabinets were custom made and beautifully fitted. And solid. And immoveable. The plinth was removable to access under the cabinets. And there was a gap left at the back of the cupboards under the sink. Theoretically there was enough room to fit all the waste and water pipes. If you had arms like an orang utan and were a contortionist to boot.
  2. Well I’ve had a bit of practice at the contortionist plumbers game. But on this occasion I’d ended my stint in India in a hospital in Chennai suffering from pneumonia and pleurisy. When I was finally allowed back on a plane to come home, I was still dosed up to the eyeballs on painkillers and struggling to breathe. Having to lay on my back with my head in the cupboard under the sink was probably not the best way to recuperate. It hurt. A lot.
  3. I did, with much swearing, pain and probably a few tears and tantrums, manage to get the waste and plastic water supply pipes all connected up. Only to discover that one of they tap levers was faulty. And since the shop was now closed until after the festive holidays, there was no way of getting a replacement in time for Christmas.
  4. And finally? A power cable for the island had been run under the floor when I’d had it screeded. But kitchen installation hadn’t included a sparky. So there was no socket for the dishwasher.

So even after all my heroic efforts (- well I was seriously on the sick list), all I had for Christmas was a decent work surface, a sink that was plumbed in and usable, but without working taps, and a dishwasher that needed a very long extension lead. Still at least we didn’t have to wash up by hand any more!

 

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I promised myself it would be working by the next Christmas……

The Aga, the crowbar and the car jack….

My Aga joined the household a couple of years ago. It arrived in pieces, and took a couple of engineers the whole morning to assemble.

They seemed a bit bemused by the fact that they were putting a brand new Aga into what was, effectively,image a building site – the kitchen was still bare concrete floor, unfinished plasterboard walls and random pipework sticking up out of the floor…..

Still, they set it all up, warned me that it might smoke a bit, and left.

Smoke a bit??? It’s emissions for the next 6 hours were worse than a VW diesel engine. In a panic, I phoned the ’emergency’ number the engineer had left. And got through to a lovely chap who calmly explained that when a brand new Aga is heated up for the first time, it burns off all the oil used in putting it together, so the smoke that I could see pouring out of the roasting oven was perfectly normal.

I really wasn’t convinced. So much so that I phoned the ’emergency’ number again about an hour later. “Are you sure this is normal and it’s not going to spontaneously combust and burn the house down?” His very patient tones suggested I am not the first neurotic new Aga owner to ask this kind of idiot question.

And even when all the smoke started to clear and the dreadful smell of burning oil started to disappear, I remained a bit of an emotional wreck – madly excited by the fact I now owned a trendy purple Aga, and absolutely terrified by the thought of actually having to cook on it.

With all that excitement to distract me, is it any wonder that I didn’t notice the minor flaw in the way it had been installed? In fact it took me about 6 months to notice that my Aga was not sitting square on its plinth. To be fair, it may not have been the engineers. It may have been the builders who came in a few days after the engineers had left, to finish putting in the housing for the vent through the stone walls. Either way, I didn’t notice.

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I probably should have phoned the Aga shop to point out the error – but to be honest it would have been a bit embarrassing trying to explain that the reason I hadn’t noticed it was because I was too busy dancing round my kitchen like a lunatic.

So I ignored it; if I don’t look at it, it will go away. And anyway, it was only half an inch out, so who would ever notice?

So the Aga sat slightly skewed on its base for the next couple of years. Until now – when I am finally getting round to putting the final flooring down in the house. And I have realised that the wonky plinth is going to cause a problem, not just in trying to lay the floor, but also when I finally get round to building the kitchen cabinets around the Aga.

I phoned the Aga service people to use if they could help and they agreed to send an engineer out. Since I couldn’t be at home on the date suggested I asked my neighbour if he’d be around to let the engineer in. He came up with a better idea:

“Can’t we move it ourselves? I’ve moved a Rayburn before and the Aga isn’t much bigger. I’m sure it can’t be that hard”

Here we go again – where have I heard words like that before?? Nonetheless, we arranged that we would give it a go at the weekend.

So how do you move half a ton of Aga. Apparently all you need are a few lengths of decking, some random offcuts of wood, a 4ft crowbar and a carjack. Oh, and a couple of very obliging neighbours!

They turned up on Sunday afternoon, and there followed a lengthy discussion about how to move half a ton of Aga without damaging it. It was decided that if the plinth could be wedged in place on one corner, and a few bits of wood strategically placed to protect the cooker’s enamel, the crowbar could be applied to ease the Aga  back into line on its plinth.

But the only safe way to wedge the plinth was against the concrete steps at the other end of the kitchen – 7 metres away. I ‘deconstructed’ the decking I had been building to provide a few lengths of wood. Operation Move the Aga duly began.

So far so good. Aga aligned to plinth. Now we just needed to straighten the whole set up back against the wall. It was decided that if we put a few more bits of wood down to wedge the other corner a then got a car-jack and turned it on its side…..

There was a lengthy man-debate about the merits of a scissor jack versus a hydraulic jack. I just stood back and let them get on with it – after all, I’m just a girl, I have enough hassle trying to convince people I’m capable of impersonating a builder, I’m not going to pretend to be a mechanic as well! 

The scissor jack won. Part 2 of Operation Move the Aga was carried out.

Hats off to the chaps – the Aga is now straight on its plinth and is square to the walls. (Well, as square as anything can be in this house!)

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Only problem is, I’ve now got no excuses left for not getting on with putting the kitchen floor down….