Rebuilding Home – Inside the House – things that worked and things that didn’t

Hallway, new floor Hallway, new floor
If the garden was bad the inside of the house was worse. When we arrived we only had one small loo and shower and we only had that because my lovely plumber Ian came out to the house, waded through the crap and got it up and running before we came home.

Essentially we came home to a house that had no bathrooms, no central heating, no hot water, rats nests and a collapsed ceiling in the utility room, every room needed to be redecorated, the wiring was buggered, there wasn’t a floor that wasn’t covered in animals stains and not a wall that hadn’t had assorted liquids thrown up it.

Beloved daughter had dealt with the worst of it – the blood stained mattresses and the abandoned ashes of some relative nobody gave a crap about! – but the whole house needed refurbishing. Fortunately we’re good at this sort of thing, it’s what we do. We build a plan, we follow the plan.

We start with the basics – heating, hot water, electrics and cleaning – and we work from there. And slowly it gets done, with occasional breaks to curse people who do such bizarre things to a home.

In an attempt to turn a really bad situation into a more positive one I decided to radically redesign the interior of the house rather than just replace all the damage. I decided to lay a new travertine floor in the hall, turn our second sitting room into a library, totally redo the utility room and all the bathrooms, aiming for a more cohesive theme and bringing in a lot of the art and textiles we have collected on our travels.

We went into the refurbishment with the attitude of “okay, you trashed my home; now watch me make it better!” Won’t be beaten. Not ever!

Ottoman embroidery, framed Ottoman embroidery, framed
We’re five months in now and we’re getting there. It hasn’t all been plain sailing because every day we would find new problems – a washing machine hose rammed down the main drain in the utility room meant we had to dig the floor up to get it out, all the wiring to the exterior lights and the internal bathroom fans had been cut in the attic and that took a while to trace – but we have had a lot of help from local workmen who have gone above and beyond and now we’re in the “making it pretty” stage it’s starting to be fun rather than heartbreaking.

The main thing that didn’t work was my decision to use Wickes to supply the utility room units because they had “take away kitchens” so that would make the job quick. Terrible decision! Wickes kitchen suck and our Wickes takeaway kitchen took weeks to arrive and we had to alter and reinforce every single unit because the quality was so poor. Lesson learned – use Howdens in future!

The travertine for the main hall really worked, I adore it and the tiler (Patrick) did an amazing job laying it and the slate floor in the utility room. My daughter thinks I am mad to put rugs on the hall floor, but I have two huge Laura Ashley aubusson rugs and their soft faded rose colours go with the pale gold of the travertine.

Auction find - little welsh dresser Auction find – little welsh dresser
Framing a couple of old ottoman tapestries has also worked, bringing part of the Turkish life back to Pembrokeshire. The heavy gold thread embroidery against dramatic red and black backgrounds, framed in white wood, injects more colour into the hallway.

I’ve recently rediscovered my love of auctions and bringing old things buried under assorted cast offs back into a home. The small county auctions, no catalogue in advance, cash on the day, are a favourite hunting ground. So far we’re got a lovely little welsh dresser, some beautiful prints, a heavy Turkish rug and an oak library desk and table.

Some online finds have helped the bathroom budget but the walk in showers and the old cast iron bath would have stayed at the other end of the country without our trusty delivery man Don who has driven the length and breath of the UK to collect, at reasonable costs, bargains from afar.

The gallery, back to how it should be The gallery, back to how it should be
So all in all we’re getting there, lots more to do but it’s coming, office done, kitchen done, utility done, three bedrooms done, gallery done, sitting room done, cloakroom done, shower room done, couple of bedrooms, two more bathrooms and the library left to do but the plan is clear and it all pulls together more every day.

Those who helped:-

Plumber – Ian of IRW Plumbing and Heating – 07795 277237 landline 01437 454044

Tiler – Patrick of P Busby Maintenance 0775 916 2122 land line 01646 602 895

Building Supplier – Travis Perkins Fishguard particularly Nick Jones and Danny who searched high and low for specific tiles, including weird ones, and generally went out of their way to help.

Pembrokeshire Picture Framing who have done sterling work framing my (not easy) ottoman tapestries and restoring prints we found at auction.

Carrier – Don of D.F.Couriers – 0779 2073773 – who has been brilliant and cheerful and helpful with whatever we have asked him to fetch, no matter how strange the request!

The Furniture Directory a family run business in Freystrop that have the nicest selection of homewares and furniture in the county, free delivery included and I never go there without coming home with something I love. Daughter has to be physically restrained when entering the premises too. This place is deadly!

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Summer in Pembrokeshire before the tourists arrive

This gallery contains 15 photos.

In May and June, before high season kicks off, before the schools close and the families come to colonise the holiday cottages, we get Pembrokeshire to ourselves. We get the wide beaches, bouncy grass headlands and secret coves between steep … Continue reading

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Rebuilding Home – In The Garden – things that worked and things that didn’t

Aquilegia, the new love of my life Aquilegia, the new love of my life
I returned to my home in Pembrokeshire in February to a garden that was mainly mud interspersed with nettles and random rubbish. My lousy tenants had ruined the garden with a combination of chickens, dog crap, bizarre fencing and driving assorted vehicles over it. In short it was buggered.

The trenches in the lawns were repaired with compost and reseeding, the stupid fencing got pulled out and burnt and Nick made hundreds of trips to the local tip with the assorted detritus we pulled out of the nettle banks that were everywhere – what kind of person just throws everything from broken drills to a £600 fish finder in the nearest hedge?

Fortunately the garden has good bones being sheltered and surrounded by mature trees, but it is big, being a third of an acre and so whilst it does recover it takes work. Once the banks were cut back and we removed (by hand) the majority of the nettles the wildflowers came back and it started to recover.

Six months later the garden is well on the way to recovery but it’s been incredibly hard work (oh my aching back), its cost a lot and in the process I’ve made some howling errors, mainly out of a desire to get it all fixed now which isn’t really the best way to approach a garden.

Any plug plants I bought have struggled and any seeds scattered directly into borders and banks have failed spectacularly. My attempt at a camomile lawn was scoffed by birds as soon as the seedlings poked their heads above the earth. Any variety of thyme has curled up and died as soon as I have planted it (apparently it really doesn’t like the Pembrokeshire climate). All wildflower mixes have looked at the banks burgeoning with wild campion and wild garlic and have cravenly refused to try and compete with these bullies. I read an article in The Guardian that espoused the brilliant idea of scattering poppy seed every few weeks to ensure an ongoing period of flowering, not a single one made it beyond shy seedling stage (I love poppies, I feel really guilty that they all were scattered in vain).

The jury is till out on the couple of hundred bulbs I planted but it’s not looking good. I planted a lot “in the green” as apparently this is the way to go, plant them as they are growing and they will thrive. They produced at best straggly specimens but they may naturalise and next year may be better. My alliums I planted too shallow, my fritillaries didn’t appear at all, my irises are stunted and I doubt they will flower now.

On the plus side my anemones have been brilliant, all have flowered and their pretty nodding heads bob around in planters and borders throughout the garden. The same applies to the many many acidanthera I planted, they have all come up which proves they really are easy to grow; sadly they won’t last longer than this one season and I will have to plant new ones next year.

The roses have been a real success. I always wanted a rose hedge and as we came home in time to plant them bare rooted (between November and March) I decided this was the year to go for it. We sourced bare rooted Rosa Rugosa Alba online and in one painful week I planted 200 of them. Rosa Rugosa is hard to kill, which makes it ideal for me and ideal for hedging. And true to its promise every single one survived and thrived and four months on are well on their way to providing me with the kind of hedge no prince, no matter how keen, is going to hack his way through! As a bonus they smell wonderful.

It really has been a good year for the roses. The climbing roses I bought for the front of the house are shooting up and the hybrids planted by the front door are also thriving and I have finally managed to grow the blue rose I always wanted.

On the shady side of the house I have what I optimistically call an orchard. Years ago, just after we built the house, we planted a hawthorn hedge around it and we planted cherry and apple and plum trees there. Phil brought cuttings from his father’s soft fruit canes (raspberry and currants) and they thrived. Naturally my tenants destroyed this area, using it as a run for their bloody chickens, so I returned to dead trees, fifteen foot high straggly hawthorn bushes leaning towards the house, desperate for light, ground riddled with rat runs and the now standard rubbish (yankee candle lids, bricks, tent pegs, wire and plastic bags, lets chuck them in the garden!).

I managed to save one currant bush, which Phil would be pleased about. I know the pear tree is unlikely to make it (two leaves on a bare trunk) but I can’t bear to pull it up because we planted it long ago in those early optimistic days of marriage when every tree we planted was like our promise to the future, so I’ll keep pretending it’s still alive, like I still pretend Phil is, somewhere just out of sight.

We discovered Stackpole gardens and stocked up on a huge variety of perennials, all of which have done well. The new love of my life, aquilegia, with it’s jaunty face and ability to spread like wildfire, if happily colonising the orchard, as is jacobs ladder and there are new currants bushes to join the last survivor, to give him company.

In the rough banks the elegant fronds of Solomans Seal with their delicate hanging brachs of cream have settled in well and will return each spring to bridge the gap between early bulbs and the fountains of foxgloves and campion follow.

I don’t know a lot about gardening, I just got the bug for growing things whilst we lived in Turkey because basically anything grows there! I grew stuff! So when I came home I wanted to grow more stuff, on a much bigger scale.

I have a lot to learn and a lot of garden to fill because apart from the house garden we have the woods and the bridle path as well.

I want a little green house and I want raised beds for veg not just the few pots of herbs I have now and I want a burgeoning, wildflower, rambling, faded blue and bright white and million shades of green garden that feels welcoming and natural. I have a lot of work ahead of me :-)

People who have helped so far –

Fishguard Garden Centre

I’ve known Nick and Gill Chilton for (eek) twenty years, and I don’t think I have ever met such a hard working couple, they are tireless. They own and run Fishguard Garden Centre and they are my first point of call for information and advice. If anything dies is my garden it’s because I forgot to ask Nick before I bought it! Nick and Gill supplied all the compost, fertiliser, pots, canes and trellises, and loads of sound advice whilst we were repairing the garden.

Stackpole Walled Garden

We discovered Stackpole Walled Garden whilst exercising our National Trust passes (have Volvo, have National Trust membership, is compulsory!). The gardens have been given over to the care of Mencap and the maintenance of the gardens and all the plants for sale are produced by adults with learning difficulties. Not only does the garden produce an impressive array of plants but their prices are keen and thanks to them I have fallen in love with columbines in all their varieties because I can afford to experiment.

Beechwood Nurseries

Beechwood Nurseries from Northern Ireland supplied all the bare root roses for the hedges, every single one of them lived and they were delivered quickly and well wrapped, they also readily supplied advice when we rang them. Bare root roses in large quantities are only available November to March when they are “sleeping”.

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