In “refreshing” our new home, deciding on what to change, what to fix and what to leave as it is has been a challenge. When we were looking at houses we saw some horrendous renovations, some had really bad workmanship and others were just a bizarre use of the space in the way rooms were arranged. What attracted us to this house was that the basic renovation was sound and the building had been divided up into rooms of the right size and layout for us. We didn’t feel we would immediately have to rip out all the internal walls and start again.
In the year since we moved in, we have fixed plumbing and leaking roofs, rewired where rewiring was needed, installed a new kitchen and septic tank, repaired walls, and so on. We haven’t fundamentally changed all that much. Curiously, apart from the kitchen, the area we have changed the most is the utility room, called in French the buanderie, or laundry room.
It was a kind of forgotten room, as if an after thought. From the outside you can clearly see that it was at some time added on to the original building. The previous owners showed it to us with an almost “by the way, there’s this room” approach, as if we wouldn’t be very interested in it. Leading off from the kitchen it had a sink, an “open plan” toilet, the boiler, a freezer, a rather nice sideboard and the washing machine in it. Also some full height cupboards. It had a funny little door to go through to get into it and two tiny windows that let in hardly any light at all.
As soon as I saw it I thought “wonderful!” Somewhere to put the unglamorous and bulky kitchen machines and store all the other stuff that you need to have but not to use very often. And a pantry – luxury!
As we settled in we discovered that because of the way the room was laid out it was not as useful as it first looked. The shelves in the pantry were wobbly and difficult to get at and I was not impressed with the mouse droppings right at the back of them. The base units were thin and flimsy and had no backs in them. We disliked the open toilet, which didn’t flush properly, and banged our heads regularly on the low doorway. There was also a strange and unpleasant odour noticeable in the room after heavy rain, a bit like rotting vegetables or boiled cabbage. Damp, possibly, we thought.
We always planned to box in the toilet and raise the door lintel, but very soon we realised that we would have to change other things to make the room more useable, to make better use of what is actually a very generous space. The first job was to raise the height of the doorway. Not a job for us of course, so we asked the builder to do it while he was putting in the new kitchen floor.
Then Nick had an idea that if we were to reconstruct the pantry, we could put in a new outside door. This would go out to the side of the house, creating a new wet entrance for bad weather and also be nearer to the log store in winter and the washing lines in summer. It would mean redesigning and refitting the whole room, a lot of work for us and for our builder, but hopefully well worth it.
Once we took the room apart we were a bit dismayed to find the inside walls had been slathered roughly in concrete or cement of some kind then painted with emulsion, which was not the best thing for a room with three outside walls. It had been used in the past as a bedroom – it must have been a pretty horrid, cold, dark, damp and dismal place to sleep. Without all the cupboards hiding the walls we could see that they were not in a great condition and there was potentially a lot more work to do than we expected, including the possibility of a new floor – the tiles looked good but were badly laid and uneven, very noticeable when compared with the new kitchen floor. The question is – how far do you go and when do you stop?
In an ideal world we would have dug up the floor and laid a nice new one, chipped all the concrete off the stone walls and plaster boarded them in properly, allowing them to breathe the way old stone walls should. In the end we decided that in what was basically just a utility room, we couldn’t justify the time or the expense for all of that. Instead we boarded just the inner wall so that we could fix things to it properly, cleaned the loose paint off the beams and walls and repainted them with a special paint designed for this kind of surface, one that would not encourage damp. And of course we built walls and a door around the toilet.
The new side door is in and the woodshed is now only a few steps away. There are new cupboards for all the stuff that takes up lots of space, including the floor cleaners and coats. We had saved the original wall cabinets from the old kitchen and put them in one run along the inside wall. Although the new back door takes up a lot of one wall we now seem to have more useable storage than before. And a sensible downstairs toilet. There’s even room for an extra appliance – a wine fridge, which is on our shopping list. We still have plenty of finishing off to do but I’d call it so far – a result!
Apart from help with the plaster boarding and hanging the cabinets, Nick did it all himself, too.