Been a while…

Been a while…

Shortly after our last post, my aunt and uncle did a final stretch in the house and got the downstairs bathroom ready for installation. They boarded out the walls with insulated plasterboard – this is damp-resistant plasterboard with a 50mm layer of a sort of dense polystyrene attached – then they painted the washroom-style painted concrete floor with a layer of water-resistant paint before laying joists, insulating it and boarding it out with ply.

This done, the plumber was able to get the plumbing done (at length) and then the joiner made us an enclosure for the washer and dryer (this gets around regulations on zones and sockets in bathrooms and so on). The room is, well, it’s not spacious, but it’s still bigger than most Edinburgh bathrooms so I’d say that’s still a win.

The washer and dryer were housewarming gifts (along with some plants) from another aunt and uncle, for which we were incredibly grateful – while I have never aspired to own a dryer, it’s VERY handy at the moment, when we are running on a very stripped back wardrobe and need to be able to put a wash on and guarantee to be able to wear things the next day.

What have WE been up to since? Well…

The back bedroom needed a lot of plaster repair. Because it had been a kitchen at some point, we reckon a combination of the damp from that and from a leaky stretch of roof meant that there were big patches of plasterwork that had to be stripped completely and boarded out.



So I did some remedial repair and rough filling, and then topped them off trying my hand at skimming with finer plaster, which for some reason I didn’t take any photographs of; oh well.

Then it was a case of papering…

…and painting.

Which by the way? The thing they don’t tell you about painting is that you really need to make sure you have a super-bright bulb in. I know it seems obvious in retrospect but at the time…

So anyway, we spent what felt like forever doing this room, because I was mixing up tub after tub of plaster on week nights, only able to do one batch, and with some of the deeper holes of course I had to build them up in layers, and THEN the paint we chose was so close to the colour of the lining paper when it went on that you couldn’t tell where you’d missed patches ’til it dried, AND the cornicing was really dark and the paintwork needed a billion coats, and all-in-all, I really hope the other rooms don’t take this long!

We’re going to put carpet down in this room – most of the rest of the house will be sanded down, but the floors in that room are just too gunky from the floor tiles that were in there before. Technically we could remove it – it is water soluble, we found – but it’s just a lot of filthy work for what’s probably the worst set of floorboards in the house, so we decided to pass. It’ll make it a better room for recording music in with a carpet anyway.

We’ve found a remnants site online where we’re going to get carpet for this room and vinyl for the bathrooms and kitchen, which I’m going to try my hand at fitting myself. On all the forums it’s all “Ooooh it’s haaaard get someone in” but then when you read the instructions it’s basically: “Cut around stuff. Don’t mess up.” I reckon it’s the sort of job that plays to my strengths: no secret technique, just plain ol’ measuring (twice) and careful work with a knife. ‘Course, now we have to order and arrange delivery, which we’re terrible at getting around to, so we’ve wasted a couple of weekends pottering about doing other things at this point…

Until we can move things into that room we can’t really start on the floors elsewhere, but we HAVE been putting some thought into how best to do them. While we could hire a big drum sander, my research suggests that this can make a real mess on old softwood floors – they’re uneven and easily gouged by amateurs. Instead, and I know this sounds crazy, we read up a bit and gave it a go with a hand-held belt sander, and were pleasantly surprised by the results…

We did the patch above in the master bedroom in under an hour (there are about three boards hidden by the chest of drawers, and you can see Henry for scale). It would need going over again with a finer grain and there are some dips that we need to work on, but actually, while it’s a good bit slower than a drum sander, it’s risk-free, could be done as-and-when bit-by-bit, and furthermore with the dust bag attached it’s also zero-mess. Now we just need to clear a room long enough to have a proper go at it… We may yet end up renting something big for a weekend at some point, but it’s nice to be able to just chip away at the work in the meantime.

Since we’re not moving anything into the back bedroom yet, we started this weekend on the upstairs hallway. On a whim, I just sized the walls and whacked up a couple of bits of lining paper earlier in the week on the basis that we might as well see how much of a mess they looked without us doing any further work. The results were far from flawless, but all in all not that bad, and after some humming and hawing we opted to paper and paint the hallway without spending any more precious time steaming and stripping (which is SO February, Dahling). It’s just plain white for now; we’ll think about what colour it should be later on.

Let’s take a moment to remember what this used to look like…

The streaks you can see in the current hallway photo are patches that are drying slower due to a combination of flexible filler and wallpaper glue beneath – the papering process was, er, not entirely without some bumps (or rather, some bubbles) in the road. Basically no matter how much you size very, very old plaster/paper, you probably haven’t sized it enough.

Speaking of sizing, you know those picture books you had as a child where you brushed a damp brush over the page and a picture appeared?

Oh how I wish we could get hold of paper like this these days without paying a King’s ransom for it!

Then we had some time left, so we painted the smaller front bedroom – this is the one we’re currently sleeping in, meaning we’ll probably sleep in the spare bed tonight as we moved all the furniture out which was maybe not the MOST sensible plan, but eh, nice to have it done and we’re sort of in ‘need a carpet’ limbo.

These walls are going to need some liberal application of wallpaper glue in a few places too, which was reassuring in a way, because this room was papered mostly by my aunt, who’s a Wizard, and so if SHE managed to leave some dried out patches I feel better about us having done so.

Other things we’ve done over the past few weeks, in no particular order:

We painted the garage roof with sealant roof paint. It still isn’t totally waterproof, needs another coat in some places and might never be completely leak-free, but it at least made it a more legitimate temporary storage space.

We moved the bigger bits of board and ply and MDF and so on into said garage. NOT the plasterboard, obviously, but it cleared up some space in the ‘dining room’ where all our tools and so on live.

We had the loft cleared of ‘insulation’ (read: polystyrene) and treated for woodworm. Still need to put proper insulation back up there…

We had the roof repaired and most of the guttering replaced.

Erin had a wee fit and crowbarred the wood panels off the upstairs doors to find that beneath the doors were beautifully intact!


We are not as optimistic about the downstairs doors as the moulding on those is proud of the door, not flush, but you never know!

We had the kitchen storage expanded…

The cabinet is half-depth, meaning there’s still loads of room to move about. The microwave we’d really like to move to a shelf in the boiler corner, but due to all the piping and other bits and bobs in there I’m a little stumped as to how to put a shelf there – I’ll figure it out when I have time to sit and think about it though!

We got around to properly blocking up the one fireplace that we’ve kept as an alcove – it’s got a screwed-on but easily removable bit of insulated board (leftover from the bathroom walls) and a vent, and the brickwork tidied up and then painted with masonry paint. I think the colour’s a little light and a little cool, but it’ll do nicely for now.

Meanwhile, the garden bloomed.

The magnolia flowered.

As did the camelia…

We discovered that the back section of the front garden is just covered with bluebells…

…and dandelions. Can’t win everything.

And that’s all for now! Very, very soon there will be more logistical money-stuff as we try to get the place revalued and borrow more on our mortgage to cover the work we’ve done. But not today.

As always, you can find all these pictures and more on our Flickr group.



Honestly it’s a shock it hasn’t happened earlier…

3 guesses what we’ve been doing today…


And the first two don’t count.

The end of the beginning…

A lot’s happened in the ten days since the last post. This really needs to be another picture post, which is terrible news for me because we’re using the wireless from our weak 3G phone signal ’til the phone’s hooked up here (I never ever remember to do this early enough to get uninterrupted internet).

Anyway, without further ado…

We’ve boarded out a floor and done some basecoat painting.

We’ve stripped even more walls.

The boys finally conquered the big tree.

The bathroom finished its transformation (well, mostly).

As did a bedroom (even less mostly, but still).

We located a nice mantlepiece or two.

We made some rooms a little more functional.

The kitchen was fitted.

(A picture with how it started out, just for comparison.)

(Step-by-step photo for the obsessive)

We’ve moved in!

(Extra credit assignment: Ziggy is somewhere in this picture. Can you spot him?)

We can’t really unpack everything everywhere yet as some stuff really needs to stay packed up ’til we’ve done more decorating.

But at least we managed to get a few home comforts in place.

New house, same as the old house.

The cats are, as usual, largely unphased.

I wasn’t going to bother posting a picture of Scout, but then she photobombed my picture of Erin napping on the couch, so.

The really important things in life: A/V set-up, mantlepiece, mantlepiece clock.

Oh, and the drinks cabinet, of course.

And so here we are at the end of Phase 1! Phase 2 involves prettying things up, getting the roof and guttering sorted out, and insulating, reflooring and refitting the downstairs bathroom. Piece of cake!

As always, there are loads more photos in the flickr pool.

Phase 1 countdown…

So! We’re fast approaching the ‘Phase 1’ deadline – that’s the essential stuff we must achieve before moving in. We’ve given notice on the flat for the 20th, which is a nailbiting 11 days away, so we’re both taking a few days off between now and then to make sure stuff gets done.

The bathroom is, in essence, done.

Sort of.

Okay, not TOTALLY done.

All right, fine, there’s still lots stuff to do, but basically everything essential bar the shower rail is in place and then we just need the finishing touches on cosmetically. A lot of finishing touches.

The kitchen ceiling has been completely reskimmed… which I forgot to take a picture of, but then it would either have been too dark to see or too bright to see due to shooting into the lights so you’re not missing much. Imagine a dark pink ceiling with lighter pink patches here and there and you’re doing great.

In addition, the kitchen wallpaper has been further steamed and scraped, revealing some ancient and genuinely pretty gorgeous layers near the bottom.

More here, here, here, here and here.

Shortly after this the wall in question was almost completely boarded out due to some less than structurally sound sections so basically all the effort of stripping this wall was a total waste – don’t tell Erin and Alison.

Anyway, we’ve been working on prepping the kitchen for installation which should happen Tue-Fri-ish this coming week.

Meanwhile, we work on other rooms as and when we can, stripping and prepping, filling cracks and hitting things with hammers. I cleaned out fireplace four today:

And the upstairs bedrooms are now all stripped.

You’re not seeing double, that’s another shower tray – they sent a new one because the first one was chipped. The chips on this one you totally wouldn’t see when installed so we’ll probably flog it on Gumtree.

This room guest-starring Alan’s trousers.

This one is a combination of tearoom and floorboard storage – some of those boards are rotten with woodworm and, well, rot, and some are fine but were hauled up for one reason or another anyway. Wood treatment guy’s popping over tomorrow morning and we’ll see what he says. Expect he’ll want to fumigate the whole place, which I suspect is overkill (so to speak), but if it gives us a shiny piece of paper guaranteeing us woodworm/rot free, so be it.

We’re waiting on a quote from a roofer, which has been held up a little but it’s not a massive rush.

‘The lads’ are having a little trouble with the trees out front – most are out and some taken away but the biggest one is proving to be quite a trial for them!

Bathrooms, ballasts, beams & bare, treeless earth.

The trees

Breaking news: trees are gone!

Mostly, anyway – there’s still some root digging left to go. But I’m still a little bit shocked every time I exit the house right now.

Central heating!

We also went in last night to a gentle wave of HEAT on our faces. The central heating is up and running, with just some of the bathroom and kitchen plumbing left to do. The electrician is almost done also, just some odds and ends to fit.

The bathroom floor

At some point over the past couple of weeks, my uncle, on checking into the house, was asked by Darren the electrician:

“Have you SEEN the bathroom floor?”

Apparently on lifting the floor he and David the plumber found a delightful combination of water damage, wet rot and woodworm holes. Darren was worried that he wasn’t going to be able to do the kitchen lights at first but he managed in the end.

We had got the picture by now that there’d definitely been a serious flood in the bathroom at some point. The hallway wall has a big bulge where there is obviously water damage that I’d already made plans to cut out and replace, and bits of the kitchen wall have similar evidence.

Although there was visible movement in the kitchen ceiling when my uncle or I bounced on the floor above, we found it hard to get properly worked up about it. Houses as old as this one have massive joists so even a half-eaten one is more than capable of holding you up, and so we made plans to shuffle the floorboards about a bit to make sure the weight was well-spread across the joists, paint what we could see with rot and woodworm killer, replace the floorboards we had to and move on, whistling nonchalantly as we went.

Then, however, we (I say ‘we’, it was my uncle) made the level corner platform for the shower tray, and discovered that we had a bit of an issue. The floor, naturally, sags quite badly – two inches or so in the middle (I will be using imperial and metric interchangeably as I feel like it in this blog; deal with it). Ordinarily you might just say “Whatever, it’s an old house” and stick some edging around the shower tray plinth, but we have opted for a rectangular quadrant shower enclosure (for reasons I won’t get into in this post), meaning that the corner not against the wall is curved. Meaning that we couldn’t easily work around the floor sag, not without attempting to cut a curve into the corner of the tray platform which would be a total pain.

Does that make sense? I wish I’d taken a picture for this bit now for illustration.

Anyway, that meant we had to reconsider our options. We essentially had three:

  1. Refuse to pull up any of the floor that we hadn’t already, go with our original half-hearted reinforcement plan and cut a corner out of the shower tray plinth so that the raised section was fitted to the shower tray.
  2. Pull up SOME of the floor so that the shower tray end was level and the rest of it just sloped randomly but hopefully not too noticeably.
  3. Pull up the whole floor, pack the tops of the joists up to level, reinforce them with 3×2 timber, treat everything with wood protector and relay the floor with sheets of 3/4” ply.

Guess which we ended up doing?

Basically the more floorboards we pulled up, the more we wanted to see what else was hiding under there. Sections of the floor turned out to be totally fine, but we soon found evidence that the woodworm was active in some places, and so onward we went, hauling the whole lot up and reboarding it. Which is apparently what David and Darren had wanted us to do in the first place (though I think Darren also thought we should replaster the kitchen ceiling, which we probably are going to get reskimmed in fairness).

In the course of this we also opted to remove all the ‘ballast’- dust and debris – that was under the floor for sound deadening (though my uncle speculates that it was also a handy way of not having to clean up your rubbish as you built a house!). There’s still a cement crust in there and I doubt it’s going to make a great deal of difference to the noise from people in the bathroom in the kitchen, but even if it does that’s a pretty minimal inconvenience for us to be able to get at as much of the joists as we could with wood treatment.

So! Now the floor is flat, reinforced, and treated against future damage. And I now know what your legs feel like after you spend two days mostly getting around by balancing on floor joists.

(This is before all the joists were padded, as we were fitting things, so the back left there is lower, it’s not your imagination.)

Get thee behind me, ceiling!

Anyway, I feel a bit like my uncle and I were the Vorenus and Pullo to Erin and my aunt’s Caesar and Mark Antony in the end, because I then came downstairs to find that they had spent their time battling the most recalcitrant papered and painted ceiling in the known world.

Better them than me.

Skeletons under the floor

Oh, I almost forgot, I also found a rodent skeleton under the floor! Probably a rat, though we also wondered whether it might have been a misplaced squirrel, but their skeletons are, to me at least, so nearly identical that I can’t be sure.

Apparently Darren found a couple of skulls in the crawlspace downstairs that he speculated were either squirrels or cats. I’m not sure how one mixes those up but in fairness that’s a pretty tiny, oppressive little crawl space, so he was probably delerious.

Witch House Resort and Spa

Welcome to the new Housercizze(tm) programme – we’re glad you’re considering Witch House Spa and Resort for your exercise needs!


Housercizze is a dynamic, specially developed programme that will work all key muscle groups as well as get your heart rate pumping! Stations include:

  • Wallpaper stripping, which works your biceps, delts and pecs as well as your faith in humanity (who in their right mind would have chosen that pattern??)
  • Lugging heavy things up and down the stairs for your glutes; you’ll almost surely forget things so make sure you have time for extra reps!
  • Skip trips, which work your core strength as well as your agility as you negotiate down a slippy brick path with arms fully laden.
  • Why not try planks? We’ve got those… and plasterboard, and 3/4 inch ply, and bricks…
  • The Witch House Spa and Resort toilet is specially designed for squats: cobbled together from two separate loos, it’s inadvisable to rest your full weight on it – so work those thighs!!

Finish off your workout with a patented ‘Freezing Cold Out of the Taps’ shower and treat yourself to a stale sandwich and some tepid tea from our juice and smoothie bar.

The Housercizze programme is guaranteed to leave you sore and aching next day – or your next visit is free!

Two weeks (or so) in pictures…

Finally I’ve moved some new photos onto the pool, so check ’em out!

I know we really ought to do a proper update about how things are going but honestly I’m just too knackered and just the photo bit took forever, so you’ll have to be satisfied with this pictorial recap…

We’ve stripped some wallpaper (this is my not-so-wee cousin Emma).

(Also featuring Erin, Kev and Helen…)


(Not pictured, my aunt and uncle Anne and David, who also helped.)

We’ve destroyed some fireplaces (featuring Erin and my aunt, Alison, looking a little homicidal)…

…and we’ve bricked some up:

We’ve found yet more hideous wallpaper…

…but the quest to rid ourselves of all of it continues apace:

We’ve stripped a LOT of plasterwork…

…an AWFUL lot:

(Not pictured: Sarah D, who was a massive help with this.)

We’ve destroyed some bathrooms…

…quite decisively, in point of fact:

(Not pictured: my uncle, Alan, who was largely responsible for this chaos, and various other things.)

We have a kitchen…

…with some rather nice solid oak doors:

(Honourable mentions: my aunt and uncle June and Alistair, who helped us shift these from Brad and Jen’s garage to the house, and Brad and Jen, for letting us use (and break!) their garage.)

We’ve felled some trees…


(So annoyed that I accidentally tapped my phone and only got a fraction of a second of this moment, but it’s gifd for posterity anyway!)

…well, these boys did anyway:

And you can now almost see the house from the street, at some angles! (They actually got even more done than this but I got distracted with wallpaper stripping and didn’t snap it before it was too dark.)

(With thanks to Bruce and ‘the lads’.)

We have a boiler! (Not pictured: LIGHTS!)

…and a strange object. Any ideas what this is anyone? It looks like it might have had things hanging from it at some point…

(Not pictured: Erin’s frustration: “HOW DO I GOOGLE THIS?”)

All this and more in the flickr pool!

UPDATE 26/01/14: Thanks for all the help, guys; it looks like a few folk hit on the right answer in surmising it’s part of the mechanism (a pulley/linkage apparently) for an old-fashioned servants’ bell system. Not sure that Rosebank will ever actually have HAD a bell system (there are seven pulleys there and only seven rooms in the house, not counting bathrooms), but perhaps the mechanism found its way there from one of the nearby jute/flax mills/warehouses, as the people who sold the land were jute merchants.



Busy busy busy…


So it’s been two weeks since our last post in the blog, but don’t think that means we haven’t been hard at work! Indeed, we’re so overwhelmed with Witch House stuff right now that sitting down and writing it all up in the blog seems a bit overwhelming. So, in the hopes of not falling too far behind I will summarise what’s been going on; pictures will have to come later as they’re all on Morag’s phone, alas. Just imagine a really big, messy, dusty house full of terrible wallpaper and stacks of rubbish and you’ll start to get the idea.

After a lot of frantic scheduling and surveying we finally managed to get both a plumber and electrician sorted out; they both start on the 20th. The house is getting a full rewiring and gas central heating installed, neither of which is an especially cheap prospect, but we’ll talk more about the quotes we got and the final costs of everything in another post. For now, suffice it to say it ain’t cheap.

We still need to arrange a roofer to come out and sort out some leaking in the flat bits of roof above the master bedroom, as well as replace the guttering. Apparently it’s a very busy month for roofers; despite inquiring at over a dozen firms I’ve yet to find anybody who’s actually free to come out. Harrumph.

In preparation for the tradesmen starting work we’ve been trying to get things ready for the stuff they’ll be doing; so far we have mostly managed to make the house look like an absolute tip. There is debris *everywhere* (including stacked high in what is lovingly known as ‘the Rubbish Room’) and a growing pile in the garden. Still, quite a lot has been accomplished:

  • All three remaining fireplaces have now been removed, thanks to judicious application of a pickaxe and a lot of brute force. We’ve started bricking them up so that we can then plaster over them; it may be that we want to reinstate one or more in the future but for the time being they’re not worth the hassle, so out they go!
  • The old kitchen units have all been removed (save for the sink) and the remaining flooring (and nails) have been ripped up in the kitchen. 
  • The *new* kitchen units have been fetched from their resting place in the lovely Brad and Jen’s garage and are now sitting in the lounge, awaiting their turn to be installed. We still need to sort out a few purchases (worktops, cooker hood, flooring) and have bought a few more additions (new gas hob, ceramic sink) but all in all the kitchen is one of the most ‘under control’ rooms, mostly thanks to Morag’s meticulous planning.
  • Many many layers of wallpaper have been ripped down. I’ve been trying to save that job for breaks between harder tasks, since the paste that was used seems to have disintegrated away, making it a fun and easy job to do. On Sunday we had a seven-person wallpaper-stripping party in the master bedroom, which is now almost entirely devoid of the NEON GREEN paint and terrible brown wallpaper adorning it before. Hooray!
  • Important things like radiators and the boiler have been ordered, after much umming and awwing over brands, capacity, and price. I think we’ve found a good compromise on all three, and the Baxi boiler we ordered comes with a 10-year warranty, which isn’t too bad. 
  • The very leaky back porch has been covered in a tarp in the hopes that we can dry it out a bit and caulk it to be more watertight. Long-term plans include knocking it down and replacing it with some sort of lean-to conservatory, but that is quite a bit down the line and in the meantime the indoor pool feature is less enjoyable than one might imagine.
  • I’ve done some tidying up in the front and back gardens, mainly getting rid of the plants obscuring the front path and raking up all the leaves turning the back patio into a slippery deathtrap.
  • We’ve had a (very reasonable) quote for the removal of all thirteen trees in the front garden and weather permitting will get them removed next weekend, which I think will make a huge difference to the feel of the whole project. It should make the front of the house and garden much brighter and warmer, though it will also remove some of the ‘witchiness’, sadly.

I’m sure there must be more that I’m forgetting, but suffice it to say that things are moving along, and we’re very hopeful that once the tradesmen have been and gone we’ll be able to do a bit more superficial work (sanding, plastering, painting) and then move in properly by mid-February. Fingers crossed it all works out according to the plan!

PS – We’ve had some incredible help and support from various friends and family members over the last few weeks, and we are so grateful and appreciative of their time and efforts. This project would not be moving along nearly so swiftly or smoothly without them and Morag and I would be a lot more exhausted and flustered if we were doing it all on our own! Everybody who has pitched in will definitely be the VIPs of the housewarming party – whenever that is!




We’ve just heard back from the testing company and apparently the hideous textured plaster is negative for asbestos! This is great news, and it means we can rip it down with impunity, which I’m sure we’ll begin doing shortly. Smooth, non-seventies era hallway here we come!