Thursday, 26 March 2015

The skeletons in the closets (or the walls)

We're nearly two weeks into our build and we are all still talking to each other. So far, so good...

Honestly, we are nowhere near the building bit yet, only destruction (or demolition, as it is technically known), and everyone says this is the easy bit. That may be, but I refuse not to enjoy these moments. These first baby steps towards big grown up renovation.

Having lived for a year in a house that made no sense, I am relishing every minute of peeling back the layers and getting to know our home from the inside out. As drywall is torn down, stripping back to the bare bones of the house, we are discovering why the crazy layout was the way it was. Probably constrained by the limits of their times (at least in terms of resources and materials, and quite possibly artistic vision), the previous incarnations have left us with our jaws on the floor.

Starting with the (now defunct) labyrinthine gas pipes that run along the walls between the studs, having once fuelled the gas lamps; to the cement poured between the floor joists in the second floor bathroom to level the tiling and the drains in the basement, blocked up and mortared over under layers of joists and sub flooring; to the wallpaper buried behind the studs, behind the first layer of tiling and behind the second layer of tiling, the walls that we thought were drywall but are in fact brick; to the discovery that behind the poorly crafted new trim that was made to 'look old' lies the beautiful old red brick walls with stone lintels that once housed the long gone original windows ... what were they thinking?

And don't get us started on the wiring.... We've always known that the house had 'knob and tube' wiring (an old system of copper wires coated in paper(!) or cloth and running through 'knobs' of porcelain and glass, which separate the wiring and thereby reduce the risk of potentially setting fire to the wooden framing). Although it was a safe enough system of wiring in its time, the use of electricity in our homes has evolved. Who could have envisaged electronic home entertainment, cooking and washing, not to mention charging devices and the maligned 'standby' function? Who could have envisioned a household that would employ electricity to carry out all those functions simultaneously? Knob and tube was not designed for the 21st century but until we opened up the walls, we had no idea how much of it ran through the house and, given it has been through a number of reincarnations, we also didn't know to what extent new circuits had been 'hooked up' to the original wiring, rather than replacing it.

Well, now we do know and its fair to say that this is an example of a situation where ignorance was bliss. Over the years, alongside the old gas pipes, buried behind the drywall, a spaghetti junction of wiring lay undetected. A tangling of lines and intersections more complex than a London street map. To be frank, we have a very bad case of 'let's just hook up it up to the old stuff and bury the junction box-itis'. But the first rule of renovation is: if you find it, you have to fix it. No more electrical skeletons in our closets. 

There have been pleasant surprises uncovered too. Like the six story bee's nest in the rafters of the third floor. Unfortunately, we weren't in time to see the 30 or so ladybirds who had taken up residence take flight. Nevertheless, the old bee's nest is beautiful and reminds us that this renovation is only the latest chapter in this old house that has known so many tales over the years.

No comments:

Post a Comment