The final few weeks of the extension and renovation of our West Sussex home, Oakview, reminded me of a 100m sprint with the fastest man on the planet. You know that moment, when Usian Bolt, legs a blur, three quarters into the race, looks around him, wide eyes left, then right, and finds an extra something to increase his speed for the final few metres? Yep, that was the end of our project.
Our builders found some extra energy, their hands and tools moving in a blur like Bolt’s legs, and, chests up and pushed out, they got us over the finish line. We moved back into Oakview in early December, and, snagging aside, the house is finished and we couldn’t be prouder if we’d won the gold medal ourselves.
I hadn’t really prepared for how filled with last-minute decisions and issues the last month would be. I’d recommend anyone nearing the end of a big building project to clear their diaries of work and commitments for the final few weeks, to allow time to focus on the inevitable last-minute details.
In a brain-busting mathematical spin, I had to calculate how many lengths of ash batons we needed for a feature wall in the lounge (I’m proud to say we had just two short lengths left at the end. Carol Vodermann eat your heart out!).
The ash feature wall, so skilfully constructed by our carpenter Ben, has surpassed our expectations – it’s beautiful, warm, solid, and brings life into our living room. We got an LED strip housed along the top line of the ash, so when it’s dark outside and we switch it on, a soft downwards glow illuminates the batons. It also makes the television less ugly, and houses a brilliant bio-ethanol fire.
This was a long debated element – we wanted a fireplace as a focal point, but we didn’t have the ventilation for a woodburner nor the money for a flueless gar fire. After a lot of research we stumbled across bio-ethanol fires – they’ve got the charm of a natural, real flame, without any need for ventilation and with very little heat transfer.
Our fireplace from www.bioethanol-fireplace.co.uk is a sleek, modern black unit which emits a lovely orangey-blue flame for hours with surprisingly little ethanol fuel. We’re thrilled with it.
The final push on the plumbing and bathrooms was our tightest squeeze – with our plumber, Lee, finishing off grouting, pipework and sealant up to the wire. The bathrooms are now sanctuaries, in which to wallow in a bubble bath, or shower in our wet-room style showers, cocooned by jet black tiles.
Read more: Bathroom Design Ideas for Renovators
The space that has surprised us most is our bedroom – it’s almost been an after-thought room, built to fit the dimensions above the kitchen we wanted, but it’s turned out to be one of the nicest spaces in the house. We left the room open to the eaves (I really encourage everyone to do this where they can – losing loft storage space is well worth the price of generously high ceilings) so it’s luxuriously spacious with a sense of calm and tranquillity.17
The kids are thrilled with their bedrooms – although blank canvasses at the moment, I’m looking forward to watching the walls fill up with Little Mix posters, artwork from school projects and Lego models covering every available surface – our children’s lives captured in microcosm.
There is still work to do – snagging jobs to be done, lots of painting needs touching up and completing, but we’re working our way through the list. We’ve spent some happy weekends putting up pictures and sorting out our cupboards to spark joy (yes I’m obsessed with Marie Kondo-ing our life!). Our plaster-pink colour scheme brings warmth to our otherwise monochrome style, making the house inviting and cosy.
Read more: Final Checks – Moving in & Snagging
I have found our building project deeply stressful at times, and we have been unlucky enough to suffer with some mental health problems during the same time period. We are emerging, metamorphically, from what has been a very tough time, and I hope that home, our sanctuary, will enable us to live as a happy and content family.
We hosted family for Christmas. It was a wonderful chance to enjoy Oakview surrounded by the people we love.
There was a moment mid afternoon on the big day itself, when I stood, G&T in hand, and took stock – my sister was feeding my baby niece at the dining table chatting with my father in law. My Dad was racing a remote controlled car with my son. There was a competitive game of Cluedo in the living room. My daughter was modelling underwater creatures with her new fimo set on the island. Another niece was watching Moana in our spare room.
This, I thought, is what our home gives us – the chance to spend more time with the people we love. It’s a facilitator for relationships, a safe harbour.
We are grateful that the sprint for us is now over. With prized medal in hand, we can follow in Bolt’s footsteps, take a bow and retire.