Day 49 - Approach to restoration - coming to agreement
I feel it's important to note how Mehdi and I came to agreement on how we manage a huge slow project like this without going insane. We both grew up in big old houses in the country, with big gardens, where everything needed a tonne of work done, all the time - every time my parents ticked something off a to-do list, 3 other things had been added.
In Mehdi's family, his father's approach was to do everything he could himself. While this approach can be cost efficient and means you're sure of your finish (for better or worse...), it has huge drawbacks, particularly if - like Mehdi's parents - both of you work fulltime and have 5 kids to take care of. Projects that drag on, things that don't get done, stuff that doesn't work out the way you planned, all take a toll on family life. Mehdi grew up in France, so at least the weather was better for a big family who were sometimes living rough and ready while things were done. But the never-ending renovation of their family home caused problems and added pressure to the already overwhelming demands of work and family life.
In my own family, both my parents worked full time, and had 6 kids. They bought a derelict 4 bed, 4 reception Victorian house in the country, that also came with a dance hall, cloakroom (like, an actual huge cloakroom, not a small toilet with some hooks), coal shed, wood shed, garage, pond, well and a huge, overgrown garden. My parent's approach to fixing the house up was a combination of DIY where possible while saving up every penny they could to pay for a renovation with a local builder as soon as they could afford it.
I only have great memories of living in our pre-renovation house. We moved when I was 4, the summer before I started school. The house was huge compared to the bungalow we had previously lived in. I remember the woodlice crawling up and down the damp walls in our bedroom. But I don't remember being cold - that's because despite not having central heating, my mother got up at the crack of dawn each day to light a fire from the previous night's embers to breathe some warmth throughout the house. I remember the blue built-in kitchen - it must have been from the 40s or 50s - and this crazy blue 60s wallpaper that was pasted on over the polystyrene the priests had installed for insulation. One evening a wild cat that my mother was attempting to tame panicked in the kitchen and ran yowling straight up the wall, where she clung, spitting with fear, her claws dug deep into the polystyrene wall. When we first moved in we had no bath. I remember being bathed outside, three at a time, in an old bath my parents had liberated from a nearby field where cows had been using it as a trough. We had old gnarled apple trees to the bottom of the garden that had a mixture of what we expertly called 'cookers' and 'eaters'. When my father and grandfather took a scythe to the meadow that had once been a lawn and began to cut it, armies of fat frogs began to emerge from the long grass. I remember this as some kind of miracle - I loved being up close to so much amazing nature. I was devastated when my father sliced a frog in half - he slung the still twitching animal up over me into the ditch, and I can still see clearly how the guts of the frog trailed in the air as it sailed over my head. When it rained and we drove our parents mad, they'd pack us off to the dance hall, where we'd have a huge hall and a stage to run wild in - I still love the sound of the rain hopping off a corrugated iron roof - it reminds me of fun. We had the oddest playthings - a huge old wooden confessional box and a tabernacle (the confessional box is gone now - but I have claimed the tabernacle for our new home). I also have great memories of the renovation project - it was fascinating to a ten year old. But I also remember the tensions and pressures placed on a family of 8 living in a caravan for 6 months with no running water. I'm sure I'll excavate one or two of those memories as we progress with own own project.
I doubt our restoration project will be as vivid for our boys, but the contrast between our small 2 bedroom rented apartment on the quays and this spacious house with garden must be startling. I hope we too create good memories - and that we fix up the house before they're old enough to complain about a lack of comfort or style.
All these experiences meant that before buying a house, Mehdi and I talked about our memories of living in homes that needed a lot of work, and the different approaches our parents took to DIY and renovation. Mehdi didn't have a lot of happy memories of DIY: it's simply not something he enjoys. Whereas I have lots of great memories of helping my parents - my mother in particular. I found DIY empowering, and I loved the feeling of 'tending' to an old building.
We agreed that our approach on this house is to work with our natural inclinations - we have zero expectations of DIY from either of us or our boys. This means that anything that anyone does - from plastering a wall or stripping wallpaper from a whole room, to removing a nail from a wall - is a win. And that on weekends like this - where I'm exhausted from work, moving, travel and single parenting - I can sit back and switch off.
We believe in paying professionals for a professional job but we're both also excited to learn new skills - or resurrect old ones - where possible. We're only at the start of what will be a long old slog, but the initial dynamic has been very positive. It helps that we are both thrilled to own our first place together ten years into our relationship, and while this house needs a tonne of work, we have lived in worse places.