When we first started moving things into the building, it was early January 2015. The internal temperature registered at below 5C. You could see your breath when you exhaled. The spiders had long since taken charge of the place, with heavy blankets of cobweb draping from the ceiling, and their expended meals wrapped in silk and dropped on the floor below.
We spent the first couple of months thinking about what to change. The need for improved comfort was pressing, but we didn’t want to invest time and money into jobs which would later need to be re-done. This was the sort of place we could imagine being for a long time, so we needed to arrive at the right plan. The basic wish list was for a comfortable home which had a light environmental footprint, ideally one which would use as little energy as possible. We wanted to make use of recycled and reused materials if possible, and keep the costs low too. There were some obvious aesthetic changes to make, as well as some more practical alterations required to the internal layout.
The layout when we bought it was simultaneously expansive yet restrictive. Glazed timber panelling created a porch through the front door. It opened up to a large, open, ground floor room with full height vaulted ceiling which made a big impact when you first walked in. The exposed heavy timber roof trusses, the bare stone walls and very few windows gave the impression of an old barn, but roof windows meant that light poured in. The smart and modern hardwood symmetrical staircases opposite drew you up to the right to a mezzanine with a glass partition to the ground floor, and to the left was an upstairs room with a large glazed doorway aligned centrally under the roof apex. From the ground floor, a doorway to the left drew you towards another medium-sized, but low-ceilinged room. There were three small rooms beneath the overhanging mezzanine, which were arranged as the toilets and a tiny kitchen. It was bright, yet gloomy at the same time. The dark blue and green tartan carpet seemed to absorb all the light which came down from the ceiling. The strangest thing about the space was the absence of a view to the outside.
Not deterred, we set about cleaning, with the help of some obliging family helpers, and over the next few weeks began to move our furniture in. We cranked up the central heating, and watched the temperature climb to a toasty 14C or so. And then watched the electricity meter also climbing as our electric boilers worked their hardest. We spent Valentine’s day with a cheap hired van (with a sliding door with a broken catch, which violently slammed shut when parked on a slope- care required for users), some more obliging family helpers, and several trips to and from the old house. A take-away curry from our old favourite, Moghul’s, and we spent the first night at our “new place”. The temperature was back down at 8C by the morning.
Clearly there was a lot we needed to change!