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Monday 27 February 2012

Blast to the Past

Years of paint, smoke, dust and aging did a brilliant job of hiding the colours, textures, character and natural beauty of the original wooden beams and brick archways.

Three days of sandblasting has blown all the cobwebs and other layers away to reveal wonderful chestnut beams, handmade clay tiles and bricks, all of which are now to be carefully cleaned and sealed to retain and express their original qualities.

Why such wonderful natural wood was painted with dark brown paint we may never know or understand … but it does go to show just how much fashions and tastes have changed over the years … or indeed the centuries!

While blasting has very effectively removed the many layers of history from these beams … the resulting dust is now 2-3 centimeters (1 inch) thick all over the floor! 

The handmade brick archways respond particularly well to sandblasting, immediately revealing the richness and softness of their natural variation in colour.

This wonderful house continues to thrill and surprise us as day by day we slowly peel back the layers to reveal its original quality and charm. Although a messy, noisy and dusty process the sandblasting has proved most rewarding providing us with a real blast to the past!

Friday 24 February 2012

"Let the sun shine, Let the sun shine in!"

Small, heavily barred windows in the old stables intentionally kept animals safe and cool in summer as well as nice and warm in winter. However, with no other natural light, the stables are dark and claustrophobic, hardly ideal for future guest lounges.

Planned as full height glass doors opening to the south facing garden and views beyond, early demolitions very soon made clear what a difference this would make to the guest apartments!

Existing stone frames, cills and lintels, all weakened by heavily rusted iron grilles, quickly fragment and cannot be recovered and reused in the rebuild …

… so new brick frames and lintels are created, with concealed steel reinforcement and reused stone, to match existing period detailing elsewhere on the building.

As these openings are created the incredibly bright winter sun quickly pierces the gloom, dramatically illuminating the interiors.

The garden and views beyond can now be seen and enjoyed, the thought of summer breezes effortlessly wafting through these rooms no longer a distant dream … but an increasingly imminent reality!  
"Let the sunshine
Let the sunshine in
The sunshine in.”
Humming these well known lyrics to myself I suddenly realise we are at the end of January … maybe this really is "The dawning of the age of Aquarius." 

Thursday 23 February 2012

All Going to Waste

Having dug down the subfloor and prepared the routes new pipes are laid to connect existing first floor drainage with the new kitchens and bathrooms planned for the ground floor.

After all the demolitions, structural openings and rubble removal there is now a feeling things are moving in the opposite direction ... primary services for the new house are going in and rebuilding works begin!

Hard Rock Foundation

As builders clear the stalls and demolish the manger it is easy to see how the original walls are built directly on the bedrock.

With considerable human effort, noise and power tools the bedrock has to be cleared to allow for ventilated subfloor, plumbing and electrical services and eventual underfloor heating. 

We are delighted to find the bedrock perfectly dry explaining why this 200+ year old property is remarkably free of rising damp.

Assured by experts there is no better foundation than solid rock we are reminded of what Jesus said in that well known parable (Luke 6:47-48):
"Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them ... is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built."  

Saturday 11 February 2012

Breaking Through

To link the main stable (future lounge) with the intended bedroom areas we needed to break through the central stone wall which is typically 70 cm (2 ft) thick. Cutting into the old fireplace and chimney flue was the obvious way to make this easier. 

Some surprise at the dramatic angle at which the central spine wall is built! Over 20 cm (8 inches) of lean from vertical between top and base of the wall over the 2.8 meter floor to ceiling height. The angle is clearly seen in this photo, ceiling props being approximately vertical!

The inner contents of this 'structural' wall prove to be little more than a varied selection of stones and rubble with very loose dirt and water based 'mortar' infilling all the gaps.  

Weight, gravity and age are pretty much the only things holding all this together ... (Which, thinking about it, might sound like a good description of me!)

Sympathetic brick and stone infill, this time with a real cement and mortar mix, soon brings a sense of structure and solidity to the entrance. The original angle remains!

The finished opening with several steel lintels to support the stone wall above ...

... while the old timber mantel from the original fireplace is used decoratively on the stable side. This will be sandblasted and left exposed as will several of the original stones within the thickness of the wall opening.

Seeing this opening in place is a real 'break-through' on the project as for the first time there is a physical link between the living and bedroom areas on the ground floor.

Looking great so far ...

Saturday 4 February 2012

Rescuing the Wisteria

An early and easy decision ... the extremely ugly garage, with grey industrial size metal doors, just had to go!

Having been savagely chopped into original stone wall the scars would take some time to 'heal' ... but demolishing this monstrosity would immediately open up a large part of the garden, allow direct sunlight into the ground floor apartments and make way for the external stair planned from the garden to what will one day be the primary entrance to the first floor accommodation.

But there was a problem! The ivy that had so successfully covered the whole garage and balcony had evidently submerged a large wisteria in the process, the only evidence now being a few tendrils desperately reaching out from the dense foliage in a final attempt to reach the light. The message was clear, the wisteria was crying out for our help and needed to be rescued!

Several hours of painstaking work and careful pruning gradually peeled back the all pervasive ivy and its chocking roots to reveal several large wisteria trunks and branches that with nearly micro-surgery precision we were able to pries free.

However difficult this first step, the hardest task was to persuade the enthusiastic builders to demolish the garage without damaging the wisteria! Helped by frequent stern reminders (and serious threats on their own lives should anything happen to the wisteria) they were able to successfully work round the primary trunks and remaining branches to leave the wisteria safe despite a demolition site all round.

As soon as possible we'll get a temporary pergola put up on which to fix and further protect this wisteria from future damage.

Having so lovingly and carefully rescued it we will be expecting ... nay, demanding! ... that it puts on a spectacular show for us this spring. We feel sure it will not let us down ... watch this space.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Snow Beauty

With one of the heaviest snowfalls for nearly 30 years I was anxious to see how Casa sul Monte was surviving ... and how might we cope once we're living up there next winter! No need to fear ... the journey was fantastic, trees and bushes laden with crisp white snow ... the roads all clear, the views breathtaking and the journey uneventful.

The cleared roads delivered me safely all the way to Casa sul Monte (... and back) and our little Smart Car, with obligatory winter thermal tyres, coped perfectly with the conditions. 

Whatever temporary difficulties such winter weather may bring the sparkling beauty of the snow draped forest and softly blanketed Umbrian hills will more than compensate.

Unfortunately building work is suspended for a couple of days because of the below freezing temperatures, but I'm sure we will soon catch up on the programme. Meanwhile I was able to enjoy the deep downy silence only such a landscape can provide and reflect on the wonder of God's creation in all its seasons!

Sweet dreams little "House on the Hill", enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts!

Hopefully work resumes tomorrow ...