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Living with ‘less’ is definitely ‘more’
Published 20/01/14

FORMER Henley Standard gardening correspondent Jennie Herrington is half-way through a project with her husband Andy — building their own home in Wargrave. Here is the latest update.

Q. How are things going is progress better or worse than you expected?

“Progress has been really good. We were so so lucky with the weather before Christmas. There was hardly any rain and very little really cold weather too. This meant that things have been able to carry on unhindered and according to plan.”

Q. Are you on schedule and on budget?

“Before starting we estimated things taking six to seven months, but it looks like we will be able to move in again before the end of January, making it just under five if this happens on time, so effectively we are ahead, but I don’t want to tempt fate. We haven’t had any major disasters or had any unwanted surprises (yet!), which has really helped keep things on target. We are expecting the polished concrete floor to go in this week, but this still isn’t 100 per cent confirmed. Likewise the kitchen and bathroom are dependent on third and fourth parties, so things could still get held up. Let’s hope not though, caravan living is taking its toll.

“Budget-wise things have gone more or less to plan, we aren’t hugely over what we planned on price. Finalising everything has been challenging as prices have gone up on some things and because I love lots of different styles, I’m finding it tricky not to change my mind all the time. We have had to put some money into the landscaping though, which we had taken out early on as we didn’t think we could afford it. But the bottom line now is that we can’t afford not to. The landscapes are so intrinsic to this site and whilst the builders are here, they can do things much more easily than coming back after the fact. I always advise my clients to plan the landscapes from the start of a new-build project that involves the house. I stand by this. After all, the garden is effectively another room/s of the house.”

Q. How does it feel sharing your space with lots of builders?

“I’m sure few will believe this, but I was just saying last night that I’m really going to miss them when they are gone. We haven’t had any tradesmen on site who aren’t a real pleasure to have around. They are great fun, hard working and (mostly!) polite and courteous. One big plus point too is that they are tidy workers. The two main guys make sure each night that the whole site is tidied up ready for the next day. Materials are piled up neatly and protected where necessary and tools are packed away in secure areas. Not only does this help keep us sane, as personally I cannot think if the place isn’t reasonably tidy, but it also means that the site does not deteriorate over time in terms of its overall tidiness and I believe it keeps things on track too. One job is finished before another is started.”

Q. What progress did you make before the end of last year?

“I had to look back at my blog to remember what things have happened in the past few weeks — there’s been so much. The roof has been finished off, so we are water-tight. Velux windows have gone into the roof over the kitchen. They have taken out all the old floors in the bedrooms and bathrooms and most excitingly in my old office, which was always really super cold, so anything done to improve this is a real bonus. Inside, the insulation has gone in between all the rafters, we’ve had first fix electrics, which was super complex to manage, but we got there. More recently we’ve had plasterboard and plastering (this is almost all done) and most excitingly we’ve had all the external doors and windows fitted and the floor insulation and underfloor heating have gone in. In the space of a week the whole building was transformed from a cold, hard, shell into a home.”

Q. Have you had enough of making decisions about everything or is it exciting?

“I have and I haven’t. I’m still finding running my business and doing the build a huge challenge, which makes decision-making tricky and I am finding I keep changing my mind because I don’t give myself time to think things through thoroughly. It’s very difficult to keep everyone happy and whilst I feel strongly that getting the house exactly how we want it is paramount, I cannot just let my clients fall by the wayside. Luckily though work has tailed off a bit in the last couple of weeks, so I am much more free to make those all important final decisions.”

Q. How is your family coping?

“We are not bad actually. We had a stint of 10 days staying at a friend’s house on Loddon Drive in the village, which was amazing and I think we didn’t realise how much we needed a break from the caravan. The atmosphere is changing as the weather gets colder though and we are spending more time in the caravan. We have given in and let the dog sleep in the caravan with us too which means there are now four of us in a very, very small space. I think cabin fever isn’t that far off now! But all things considered, it’s been a great experience — living with very little and really quite enjoying it. Andy and I went into Reading in the week and just looking at the vast array of household goods on sale made me feel quite claustrophobic and overwhelmed. We really don’t need that much to live comfortably. In fact, my favourite old Mies van der Rohe quote “Less is more” should definitely be embraced by many more people.”

Q. What has been the most exciting aspect so far?

“So many things — just starting was exciting. The realisation that my plans were going to be followed to the letter and that this was almost all my own doing! The windows arriving on time and being put in. The building was transformed instantaneously.”

“The cladding going on afterwards enhanced this further and is just so beautiful. I’m sure moving back in will top the lot though!

10. You said in your blog how amazing friends and family have been. What does that mean to you?

We just couldn’t have done this without them. Knowing there are people there who you can call on whenever you need it is so emotionally stabilising. We had our first real disaster last week. Our new neighbours were supposed to be moving in - already friends of ours. Our huge 20 yard skip was badly positioned by the driver of the skip lorry and our builders, blocking our shared driveway so the removal lorry couldn’t get in. Their move was delayed by 48 hours and they had already moved out of their old house. It was just horrible and there was literally nothing we could do about it. Thankfully though they are now in and we are still friends. In fact one exchange between us involved them wondering if we were alright in the circumstances with everything else going on and them adding to it! Wow! You don’t get that kind of attitude that much these days.

11. Did you ever consider your progress being followed on a programme like Grand Designs?

I did approach them, but didn’t hear back. I think they like things to be a bit more edgy these days. Plus our windows arrived on time! It might have been good to do something like Grand Designs, but it’s been a really stressful process anyway and I think having the pressure of trying not to look an idiot on national television and ruining my business overnight because of some slight problem that they put a negative spin on would just not have been worth it. For us it has certainly been our grandest design thus far, so that’s enough.

12. When do you hope to move it?

We are going to wait until the decorating has been done rather than move in and have to move things around again. I think this will make it a really special day. The kitchen probably won’t be started until mid-January so this may not be quite finished by the time we move in, but after almost half a year cooking on Calor Gas a few more weeks won’t hurt.

13. Any last words?

Only that this has just been so much fun for us in so many ways. I have loved almost every day of it. I would do it again in an instant - once we’ve lived here for a good few years though. It’s given me the experience and courage to carry on doing similar things and more for my clients and has given us something to remember for the rest of our lives. The building part of the scenario has been a challenge yes, but living in the caravan has been the most difficult by far. But we’ve done it. So far anyway!

Published 20/01/14

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