A Kitchen/Diner conversion

It’s the moment of truth. The kitchen has arrived! My clients placed the order back in March and finally, after a 10 week lead time, it is here. The space was created from two rooms – a small, unimaginative kitchen and a larger more conventional dining room. We’ve taken the wall out between the two and squeezed in a downstairs WC too, but it hasn’t been the most straightforward of processes – even though there was nothing to really cause concern. We knew we needed structural support because we also removed the old chimney breast to allow for a continuous run of units on the long wall. We knew that we needed to support a door opening we moved and we also removed the whole back wall to fit bifold doors, but all of these jobs are standard procedures in todays kitchen conversion.

the wall is out but not the chimney breast

the wall is out but not the chimney breast

the chimney is out and the stud work for the WC is in

the chimney is out and the stud work for the WC is in

And yet we had the council (Lambeth at its absolute finest yet again) jumping up and down about substack drains and not signing off the steel work because the DS hadn’t seen the drawings. Considering I’d taken in the drawings at the time of applying for building control, it was all farcical – especially when I found out that the inspector assigned to this job had been on holiday and it was someone else covering his jobs. I spent a week on hold with Building Control to speak to the right person and when we finally got the right guy on site, he was totally in agreement that we’d been asked to do things that weren’t necessary – and were wasting his, ours and the clients time!

the substack drain - that we didn't need

the substack drain – that we didn’t need

That was Easter – so much has changed since then! The kitchen company have taken the plans for the space and created something which will look wonderful. I haven’t specified the kitchen on this job; I’ve been devil’s advocate, because I’ve continued to work on the rest of the house while the kitchen has gone through the design process. It’s actually been interesting being one step removed; there are so many little things that have had to be decided because the kitchen company have simply said ‘it has to be like this.’ My usual position is that the building will throw up problems that you have to work with – and in agreement with the clients – that defines the space. As none of this job has been new build – it’s all within the footprint of the existing house – we haven’t had the luxury of increasing ceiling heights or extending rooms to accommodate the kitchen. It has all had to be designed around what we had to work with. And I’ve been pretty happy with how the drawings shaped up. With the bifold doors framing the garden, the space has such a connection with the outside, it has a 3D effect somehow. But of course this space is about the kitchen and inevitably the conversations were more to do with the problems of shoehorning an appliance into the room than how much space we’d created.

the opening for the bifold doors

the opening for the bifold doors

the bifold doors are in

the bifold doors are in

This has been a collaborative process too, with the clients actively involved in the choice of everything from appliances to sockets to door handles. Very often I include this type of detail on the sample boards and the client simply approves what I’ve suggested. On this job it’s all been sourced and signed off after many discussions, so there has been extra time involved and there have also been a few moments when things didn’t get discussed with the right person.

the bathroom kitchen

the bathroom kitchen

new space temporary kitchen

new space temporary kitchen

But for the most part the project has gone well – if not straightforward. Why do I say that? Because the scope of the project has grown and become the entire house. We knew that the clients wanted to do this but scheduling that amount of work is always difficult when you have the clients living in the building. The space they have to live in gets taken over by the need to store items away from the build area and any temporary fit out is constantly moving to allow for any work needing to be done in that area. This creates additional work for the team – for example the clients have needed a temporary kitchen throughout the process – the first was in the old kitchen, the second was in the hall, the third was in the first floor bathroom, the fourth was in the new kitchen, the fifth is currently in the front room. That means the old cooker, fridge and washing machine have been carted up and down stairs as have all the pans, utensils and crockery. This is a lot of work. And don’t get me wrong the results will be fabulous, but what it means in real terms is that our time on site is spent trying to co-ordinate the arrival of deliveries so as not to overwhelm a space that is already bursting at the seams.

the kitchen arrives

the kitchen arrives

DSC00532

So, it became apparent yesterday when the kitchen arrived that our team would not be able to carry on working downstairs. They can’t go into or through the kitchen because it is piled high with boxed up units and appliances. Right now there is plenty to do on the first floor, but not being able to get the rear of the house or the patio finished is an added annoyance because any waste will now have to be carried through the brand new kitchen. Grrr.

Anyway, it is what it is. The work will soon be finished and the irritation will fade because the one thing you learn in this industry is that there will always be glitches and changes to plans – and it won’t in any way affect the finished product. It just might take longer.

A Busman’s Holiday

Richard, the contractor I work with, recently had to have surgery on his foot and ankle and as a result was stuck at home for a few weeks unable to drive. To be honest having someone with an injury on site is dangerous, they can’t move fast enough to get out of the way and for that reason cause a hazard just by being there. Even worse, if they should overbalance or land awkwardly, the risk of damaging the surgical repair is quite high. Would you want to go back to the surgeon and say ‘I’ve ruined your work’?

So nobody wanted him around and not being one for sitting still, he decided to rip out his bathroom at home! I know, right? So this is the only family bathroom; WC, handbasin and bath, quite a small room. Downstairs luckily, there is a separate WC – so far so good. **This was the reason he thought replacing the new bathroom right at the same time that he was sporting a surgical boot was a good idea.

plumbing the shower valve

plumbing the shower valve

One wet Sunday in March he investigated the tiles on the wall and low and behold, they ‘fell off the wall almost without effort at all.’ Hmmm. So the walls were completely stripped and the pipework for the WC was capped off (because there was still the WC downstairs.) Then it all got a bit complicated because the only place for the family to bathe was in the bath that he was removing. He ran the pipes for the new shower position and put the bath in its place. He ran the pipework for the new WC position and the new handbasin position. He skim coated the walls with plaster around the area that the bath had previously been in. He started tiling the floor and did half of the room, waited for the adhesive to go off (dry) and then moved the bath back to its old position and tiled the other half of the floor. He repeated the process to do the grouting, moving the bath around the room as he went. The bath could still be used at that point because he reconnected the taps to the new handbasin position and had the waste going out via the new WC position.

the existing bath position

the existing bath position

But then it all got a bit difficult because he had to wait for the shower tray and every time he needed to do something, he had to move the bath and re-plumb it. So for a couple of days the family showered at friends or the gym, while the project inched forward and the wall tiling was done. But even when the tiles went in, the shower tray was installed and the shower valve and shower head were plumbed, there was still the shower screen to be fitted (which was a special order – and it was delayed.)

By that stage Rich was mobile and his name was mud at home. Complete mud. Think about how frustrating it is to have delays on site when the project is your own, you want someone to blame, don’t you? When it’s a project that you haven’t really asked for and certainly not when the builder is on sick leave, I imagine that you don’t hold back. So Rich was living in a building site and going off to work in one every day. Complaints at home and complaints on site.

awaiting the vanity unit

awaiting the vanity unit

How fun – not. If you decide to refurbish your bathroom while you’re living in the house, expect to be unpopular!

mirror and hand basin

It all turned out well though, the shower screen is in and the family are really happy with their new bathroom. And it looks fabulous – Rich is back to valued member of the family status. Woop!

walk in shower

Don’t let this put you off, it is possible to do the work and live on site with a bathroom that is the building site. It isn’t fun, but it is possible. And if you’re prepared to put up with the frustration of delays and having dusty feet and a gritty handbasin, you will save yourself some money in the process. Keep in mind though, when you’re living on site, there’s no escape from the dust and the noise – and generally work takes longer if the site is habited – especially if fittings need to move every day and be re-plumbed or re-wired every time this happens.

wc and shower

The interesting thing is you get a perspective of your own home that you wouldn’t otherwise see, the raw, vulnerable side of a building with wiring hanging out and pipework exposed. And I think that makes you feel more protective of where you live, more inclined to care and less blasé about the responsibility of homeownership.

vanity unit

When you see that your property needs you to care for it, I think that is when your house becomes a home.

glass jar