Monday, August 15, 2016

Renovations... and Manners with the Tradies...

It all started in January.  My partner and I were having a two week holiday at my Beach house, a good time to get the little jobs done around the house and garden. It is an asbestos clad modular house built about 1970.  I have co-owned it since 1989 and loved it for its rustic, very casual ambience, never worrying too much about maintenance as it was just "The Beachhouse". Being in the country, as the house is located at the mouth of the Moore River and overlooks the river flowing into the Indian Ocean, I was advised to have a termite/white ant checkup as the house had not been inspected for some years.

From the moment he arrived the termite expert looked worried..."there's a lot of activity around the garden" (activity being termite trails) and when he finally climbed to the top bedroom and I casually mentioned a bit of a "bounce" in the floor boards, he pounced.  With what appeared to be a moment of almost glee he pulled back the carpet and announced..."well, what have we here? I don't like the look of this".  I must say the holes in the floorboards looked ominous.

It doesn't look good...

Within a few minutes the boards had been lifted and the tell tale traces of fairly extensive termite damage were revealed.  He started talking about lifting all the boards, digging into the concrete slab on which the house rested and exploring all the main wooden beams supporting the house.  As his excitement grew, my incredulity increased.  Was all this really necessary? Couldn't the house just be sprayed when we were not in residence?  Absolutely not...the termite expert was adamant that the concrete needed to be drilled in 40mm spaces and filled with toxic poison (government sanctioned!) to kill the bugs at source.  And then the internal components of the house would be treated.  By the time he left, half the room's boards had been lifted, there was a dangerously gaping hole in the floor and a sense of panic in me. 

Looking straight down to the room below...

But before he left, I called the other owner (my ex-husband)  and we decided the treatment needed to proceed.  Knowing a bit about these matters, he spoke to the termite expert, and following a conversation with lots of chatter about poisons, advised me that Lee knew what he was talking about and to give him the go-ahead.

And so the train of events was set in place. To cut a long story short, a few weeks later my ex-husband decided that the house should be pulled down and rebuilt as the renovations following the termite damage would be so costly. This presented a difficulty for me as my budget was more limited than his and his wife has taste for interior design dramatically different to mine.  After extremely good advice from my daughter and life matters guru, I offered to buy him out.  He jumped at the opportunity as his wife had apparently never liked the place anyway.

Firstly the floor in the spare bedroom needed repairing;  and while this room was generally used for storage purposes it was a wasted space.  My son-in-law, a lawyer gifted with an architect's eye, suggested that for very little expense I could have the wall knocked down between the bedroom and the living space, ensuring that the house would have a more modern, open ambience.

Down comes the wall

I asked around the town who I should approach with regard to having the work done and was delighted to be introduced to Geoff, who would become not only the builder but the project "director.  Steve the handyman directed me to Paul the painter and Glenn the cabinet maker.  Why a cabinet maker? Because when I saw the open space  I could envisage a new kitchen complementing the whole look. 

Geoff dismantling the kitchen, piece by piece...

So then I needed an electrician, Arthur, to change over the power board to cope with the new supply demands and install the lighting need to modernise "the look". 

Everyone knows Arthur the electrician...

Suddenly I was in the process of having plans drawn up, contracts signed and commencing the route to renovation knowledge.

All of these wonderful people are "locals" in the area, and not surprisingly they all know each other.  When I visit to see the progress I invariably meet their wives and girlfriends who are all fascinated by the conversion of the old asbestos modular into a modern looking space.  I think they are a little curious about this "lady with the manners business" who speaks on the radio... I gave a telephone interview one day when I was up at the house, and they all took a break to listen!  Nevertheless, while obviously trying to watch their language around me they all call me "mate" or "love" and treat me like the rookie of renovations that I am.  But they are patient with me and so kind as they explain what they are doing and why.

Paul the painter was incredulous when I said I wanted everything in the house painted white...what about the wooden features around the doors and beams, and the faux wood veneer on the staircase  he asked?  I replied that I thought it was ugly, and everything would look fresh in white, while also making the space look bigger..."well you're paying the bills" he mumbled with a cursory smirk. At the same time I could see that he took great pride in his work and would end up showing off the transformation to his "mates".

Paul called me "girlie" when he was explaining his choice of paint...quite the compliment!

And so the process is nearly finished. My dogs and I have spent many nights at the house without lighting, but fortunately with power to illuminate the lamps scattered around the extension cords for the two small heaters which have battled to keep us warm despite holes in the roof and floor.

Ruby and Amèlie have spent a lot of beach time avoiding the builders...

The old kitchen and I had shared many wonderful times together preparing food for family and friends.  I knew her shortcomings and nuances and many of them I will miss.

My favourite space in the house for 27 years...

But now I have memories to make in my new, very white kitchen...Paul said "no surprises you had it made in white!" with a twinkle in his eye.  It still needs tiles and the whole renovation is waiting on floor coverings, but I get a thrill every time I walk into it.  

There is lots of space for party preparations...

When all the work is finished I have promised all the tradies and their wives and girlfriends that I will have a party for them.  Because as is the life in the country, these wonderful men have not only worked for me, but we have all become friends.  At the end of the day we always share a drink..."wine for you love?" they ask as they open a beer  and grab a wine from the fridge and we chat over the ups and downs of the day.

I really enjoy that all of these people have encouraged me to learn about what they are doing, explaining the technicalities of power supply, types of paint, cabinetry details, lighting choices and all the while comparing "the job" of my beach house with whatever else is being renovated nearby.

The Moore River meets the Indian Ocean...

It has been a great journey.  I have gone over budget knowing that this house will always be "The Beachhouse" to my children and that the modernisation has not changed its ambience too much...sand between the toes and suncream on the faces of my grandchildren when they return from a morning at the beach will ensure that.  

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