So when we moved into the cottage it had a traditional open fire. A very welcome feature given that the cottage has no central heating. When we first moved in we loved the novelty of having a fire and quite enjoyed laying it and sitting by the fire on a lazy Sunday afternoon. However, last winter was miserable. Really miserable. There is a big difference in lighting a first because you choose to and lighting one because you have to. Getting home from work when it’s dark and having to clear out and re-lay and light a fire when you have a toddler demanding your attention is not an enjoyable chore. We do have some electric radiators around the house in the bedrooms etc but they don’t really warm the downstairs as well as a fire does. Not only that but having a massive hole in your living room, even in the form of a chimney, does make it a bit chilly.
The long term plan had always been to add in a log burner when we did the big works on the cottage but as we have found winters so grim in the cottage we decided to get the burner installed in November so we could get some benefit from it this year. Though I really think it was my husbands way of trying to make me less grumpy as I tended to be the one having to deal with the fire as I generally arrive home first. So we enlisted a professional to rip out the old fireplace, open it up to the original size (which is pretty hard to determine beforehand) and then (a week or so later) fit a log burner. Now we were really lucky to get some great advice about burners. Most people tend to live by the mantra of bigger is better but when it comes to log burners than that isn’t true. It is really important to size your burner correctly for the size of room. If it’s too large then the burner will overheat the room or you’ll end up using it inefficiently and it’ll cost more in fuel. A burner should be kept at a fairly even temperature in order to work efficiently. Too hot and it can damage the components or flue. Too cold and it will go out and just not keep you warm. A burner can be run for several consecutive days if used properly it just needs a bit of tended to to keep it ticking over.
Anyhow I’ve become distracted talking about burners. As it turned out once the fire was ripped out we had a lovely sized space to work with and after much research J purchased an AGA multifuel burner to fill it. It has proven to be a great little burner and I couldn’t recommend it enough. It fact since installing it we have discovered that another of our friends has the same one and also loves it. We’ve had the stone at the back re-pointed but we will get the sides re-plastered when we get the major cottage work done. It has really changed the way we look at the room and it seems so much more open now. And honestly it has really improved our lives. It took a couple of days to get used to how to use it properly but now we shut it down every night and it keeps burning slowly through the night releasing minimal heat (but still some heat nonetheless). Then every morning we just open it up, wait for it to warm back up and then add more fuel. It feels so much safer leaving it burning when we are asleep or out and it is so much more efficient with fuel. Not only that but cleaning and maintaining it is so easy. It definitely provides more heat per unit of fuel than the open fire did and leaves behind far less ash. And as the chimney is now covered it feels like there is less heat escaping from the room. The surround still looks very messy but I still love it and J loves being able to brew coffee on top of it.
So when we were first preparing to move into the cottage last summer we found an old washstand in what is now our bedroom. The stand itself seems to be in adequate condition and with a bit of a polish up it could look like a really nice feature piece in our bathroom.
We’ve also found and kept the jug and bowl which currently sits on top of it. The bowl has been repaired where it has a massive crack down it although the repair seems kind of poor quality and basically looks like it has sone giant staples holding it together. I’m hoping that a better quality repair would look more discrete. There is also a matching chamber pot which is currently storing bits and bobs in our bedroom.
So my plan is that once we’ve done the work on the house we give the stand a bit of a spruce up, repair the bowl properly and turn it 90 degrees onto the other wall (the radiator will have been removed by then). Then it can be used as our bathroom storage. I think I’m going to have to get some plastic storage boxes to keep things inside as its not the most conventinal storage space and will be hard to keep ordered and organised.
Just another little project to add to our vast list at the moment but I feel that the bathroom will have a bit of a Victorian feel to it when we’ve finished renovating so it will be nice feature hopefully.
So next Spring J and I are planning some major works to the cottage. The downstairs space is fairly impractical. The kitchen is an extension to the original building (approximately World War Two era), so there’s that, the lounge, a small dining room (with the downstairs toilet and shower coming off of it) and what is effectionately known as the den. The den is essentially just a widened walk through where we currently house the fridge, freezer and tumble dryer and also have our desk and computer. So we’re going to knock the den, dining room and kitchen all into one and extend a small bit to square it off properly. We also plan to add in a pantry and a small utility room.
That sounds like a fairly simple extension right? But we also need to do extensive remedial work to the cottage. The cottage doesn’t currently have central heating so that needs installing. The windows are pretty poor single glazed numbers so they need replacing throughout. Plaster is literally falling off a number of the walls (see picture below) so they need stripping back and redoing.
And then all the carpets need replacing as most are threadbare at best. There’s also the slightly bigger problem of the stairs. The original staircase is an enclosed spiral one. Which is very cottagy and all but unfortunately ridiculously impractical. When we were clearing this place before we moved in we ended up having to break apart some of the furniture as it simply wouldn’t go down the stairs. And in fact we weren’t able to get a significant number of our own pieces of furniture upstairs as they wouldn’t fit. We’ve had to use one of those Ikea fabric wardrobes in our room as a temporary measure and ours is being stored in the garage for now. So we definitely need to make the staircase more open, therefore we are planning to move it to the edge of the house and have it as a standard width staircase. In doing this thought we will end up with the staircase opening up right into the third bedroom. The third bedroom does actually need a huge amount of work (see picture below) so we are going to end up moving it to where the stairs currently are and creating a dormer window in it to make it more spacious. The spare bedroom will just be that, a room to be used for guests a handful of times a year maximum so it only really needs space for a double bed, bedside table and somewhere for guests to put their cases and some clothes. We had contemplated trying to extend upstairs but it would be such a ridiculous extra cost just for the sake of enlarging a spare room as both our room and C’s room are good sizes. In the end we decided our guests would just have to put up with it!
Add into all this work the fact that the floorboards also need resecuring and some of the beams holding up the first floor need some work and you can see that we’re actually undertaking a fair old job. Oh and did I mention that the cottage is currently not exactly watertight so it needs a new roof. And we may need to rerender the house or something of that ilk. Not exactly the simplest job but hopefully it will be worth it in the end. We will probably end up spending a small fortune on getting it extended and restored, in fact it would actually be cheaper to knock the whole thing down and rebuild. But if we did that we would end up with a house that was just the same as the thousands on the new build estates which are popping up everywhere. And who wants to live in a home identical to everyone else’s?
One negative thing about the cottage is that it doesn’t have central heating. We have survived a winter without central heating through using a combination of a number of electric radiators and the use of a traditional open coal fire. Whilst anyone who has visited us has relished the fire and described it as giving the cottage a romantic winters feel, I’ve found it a pain in the backside. Coming home from work to a cold house and having to scrape out the ashes and lay and light a fire takes time and effort and is not exactly easy with a toddler who wants to help with everything. The cottage has a coal shed so back in August we stocked it up with a ton of coal and a good number of bags of kindling. The novelty of the fire quickly wore off for me and it had become a daily chore which became increasingly inconvenient. I also resent the cost of running a fire; when you turn on the heating you don’t necessarily think about the cost of it, but with a fire you can practically see the money being burnt in front of you.
A bag of kindling will typically cost about a fiver and is an essential for starting a fire before the coal is added. For us one bag of kindling could manage to start about eight fires if we were conservative with it. From some of the work we’ve done we’ve ended up with a few bits and pieces of wood and have been given some other bits from friends. So J has purchased a table saw so, among other things, we can create our own kindling. J’s dad was a woodwork teacher back in the day so he gave J a quick tour of how to use it and we have started to create our own kindling for next winter. The kindling can be stored in the log store that J built (more on that another day) and will be ready and waiting for us next winter. As an added bonus the sawdust created by the table saw can be used for our chickens. Although we might not save much money by doing this we are creating something that we need from resources that would otherwise go to waste which has to be a good thing.