I can’t believe it’s a year since we finished the big transformation of our house at Vastrap. That means it’s only a month off the first anniversary of this blog! People with experience know what a nightmare it is to live and work on a building site 24/7, which we did for 8 months between October 2011 and May 2012. What started as a relatively minor alteration of the kitchen and TV room ended up being something much bigger encompassing most of the rooms in the house except our study and Ashley’s room. It was dusty and noisy and relentless and in retrospect took up a huge amount of time and head space. The beautiful silence (and free time) left behind by the departing builders allowed me to think again and ultimately led me to start this blog.
It might seem strange that I’m only documenting our building process now, but I think I needed some time to get perspective. At a distance I’m able to look back on it with nostalgia rather than dread! It has also taken a year for things to settle and find their place. We love the final product and have thoroughly enjoyed entertaining and hosting people in our ‘new’ home over the past year.
What made building a bit more difficult was the fact that we used 13 inch sandstone blocks in the alterations to match the existing house. Large sandstone blocks are typical of the old buildings in our area, but these days people tend to build with smaller blocks almost the size of bricks. We decided to stay true to the original since there were still 13 inch blocks strewn around the mountain behind our house left over from when my father-in-law employed a full-time stone mason in the 1960s. The blocks were carved out of big chunks of sandstone fallen from the cliffs above. He must have been a very productive guy because he carved all the blocks for the renovations that Bill and Karine did in the 1960s (including the building of a squash court) with more than enough left over for us!
Building with these heavy blocks is laborious work. The builders used a pulley system to stack the blocks on top of each other. Plastering the stone is another story entirely, because the blocks don’t fit perfectly on top of each other and the surface is very uneven. The thick plaster virtually guarantees a slightly wonky wall, which becomes very apparent when you start installing straight kitchen cupboards or try to get tiles to match up! Fortunately, we were happy to sacrifice perfection for authenticity so we’ve made peace with these little imperfections.
All that heavy lifting gave us a slightly larger kitchen and a new main bathroom added onto the side of the house. Many of the internal walls were broken down and changed, but the brick work seemed easy compared to the stone! We replaced all the steel windows with double glazed wooden windows to improve our insulation. Internally, we also had to source some old reclaimed wooden doors and frames to match the original doors in the old section of the house. Below is the final product as seen from the outside, including the changes to the garden (see Before and After: The courtyard transformation). Over time the stone will change colour and develop a patina to match the original stone so that one can’t see where we patched and matched. Now the house can be left in peace until the next generation decides to leave its mark on Vastrap!