Last year as many of you know I threw myself into renovating the front of the house and our driveway. Plus I’ve been re pointing our Devon stone boundary wall ( all 60972 metres of it) for what feels like 27 years! All this is not only necessary as my windows were rotting and the wall had actually fallen down in places but it was also me having a severe case of ‘Pandemic Procrastination’ too. Whilst others were in their gardens I was strongly avoiding mine. You see my garden is a mess. It fact it needs more tending than the collective bikini lines of every woman in the UK who have missed their waxing sessions! Made worse by my outhouses (more about that in a mo). So today I’m sharing with you my outdoor room makeover.
outdoor room makeover – and this is after i started to tackling the paint on the stone wall!
OK, I say outdoor room but in actual effect it’s a half way house. It’s not inside the house nor is it technically outside. It’s sort of an afterthought attached to the back of the house. You see long ago in this houses history (some time in the 1920s) it was one of the first small animal veterinary practices in the area. The house was bought by George Cecil Hearn, an army veterinarian who served in both the Boar and 1st World Wars. On return home he set up his practise and for that to happen he needed somewhere to practice from. Hey presto, our outhouses. In fact I was once had the pleasure of meeting a lovely local lady in her 80’s who remembers bringing her pet rabbit here as a child.
the state of the house wall – chunks literally fell off with the loose paint
The problem though, as I afore mention, is that the outhouse is directly attached to the sitting room side of the house. In fact it uses the house as one of its walls. And the boundary wall as another two. Leaving only one wall to actually build and a roof plopping on. To say it is hastily thought out is an understatement. The roof line cuts the sitting room sash window in half too. So what should be a view of the garden is actually a breeze block wall. I had plans many years ago of transforming it to orangery style kitchen. Sadly it’s still a pipe dream yet to become a reality. But you know, never say never.
And the rather dire outside situation – you can see the offending broken roof panel
Anyhoo, here we are the year after I came up with plans to makeover my garden. And I am still suffering from ‘Pandemic Procrastination’ as I I am still to tackle the garden. Believe me though, I would transform it in a heartbeat if I could. I am willing, both in mind and in body to transform it but funds just don’t allow for it. At this point even the small baby steps towards the bigger picture require pennies that I do not have. And so thinking outside the box with the hope of a better rear view (pun intended) I set my sights on what we call outhouse number one. In total there are three rooms.
stone wall after it’s jet wash looking much better
My challenge should I accept it is to create an interesting vista through the sitting room window. And to have an outdoor room where you could sit and enjoy the air without having to wear a blindfold to avoid the ugliness. I’m aiming high! Wishing to raise the ordinary to the extraordinary. And to use the glorious Italian Amalfi Coast as inspiration. My favourite place in the whole wide world. All while reusing and repurposing what I already have and keeping the spend down to the absolute minimum. I mean easy, right! What can go wrong? Turns out quite a bit but I’ll get to that in a mo. This makeover has not been without complications and things going wrong! But then that’s how it goes with DIY. Getting it right first time around every time just isn’t going to happen.
As you can see from the before picture, a lot of work needs doing. So first I need to list essential maintenance works and the aesthetic pleasing jobs too. Namely:
Fix the leaking roof
Remove years of paint from the Devon Stone wall causing in to be damp as it’s retaining moisture behind it
Strip the window to make it open and close again – Glued shut with layers of paint
Render those God awful breeze block walls (not essential maintenance but aesthetically it’s got to be done)
Sort the cracked concrete floor in some way
First on the list was fixing the roof. Now I’m going to add a disclaimer here. I was going to leave this off the list. The job was daunting and would cost more than I wanted to spend. But in true RFW husband style he appeared tape measure in hand. Took a few measurements and disappeared in the car only to return an hour later with two sheets of clear corrugated roofing. Try doing that in our tiny car. My poor eldest son who went along to help had to walk home! And, so this job just got a whole lot bigger! Now how to unravel the miss match of roofing panels so that we can remove the now opaque and leaking panels that are up there?
My secret weapon when rendering!
When it comes to DIY I am a thinker! I ponder the best way to do things for a longggggggg time. I work through what I am going to do in my head. If I hit a snag I go back and rethink and so on and so forth until I have a plan that works. This is so NOT the case with MR RFW. So within seconds of returning home and faster than you can say where are the step ladders he was tackling the roof with an angle grinder!!! You can only begin to imagine how my analytical and anally retentive mind was now a swirling mess of anxiety.
Not only does it go in the render mix
And this is where mistake number 0ne occurred! I remember once asking MR RFW to trim a bush. No really (you smutty lot) an actual bush in the actual garden. It was a huge laurel. When he triumphantly came back to me to say he was all was complete what was once around 15 foot high was now a shadow of it’s former self with hardly any leaves left on it. This you see is my husbands rather gung ho approach. Most of the time it works out but other times…….. not so much!! And this is one of those ‘not so much’ moments.
You see for him the issue lay in the original placement of the clear (now opaque and full of holes) roofing sheets. Interjecting them was one lonely piece of old school sheeting. Now to me this piece needed to stay. It was in fact rendered into the house (notice I say was, can you tell where this is going). This was the conversation:
MR RFW – Rach, that piece needs to go!
Me – I think it would be better to leave it.
MR RFW – But it’s ugly
Me – Yes, but it’s…………
And that’s as far as I got before watching him heave the offending piece (in his eyes) up and away from the roof joists. Now if he’d listened to what I was going to say the end of the sentence went like this,’ attached to the wall with a drip ledge made of render so if you remove it half the wall will come away too’. And guess what? Yep, that’s right, half the wall came away. In fact not only did half the wall come away but the return into the window too. And guess who is the only person that can render (of a fashion) in this house? Yep, you got it right again. Me!
And this is where mistake/slash accident number two occurred. New roof panel in place it was now ready for rendering to make it water tight. Only the render was deep and so you can’t apply it in one layer. Plus the house is made of great big granite stones. And granite is not easy to render onto. The render really, really, does not want to stick to it. And so it began. Mixing render, climbing up rickety step ladders onto the roof and swearing profusely every time a bit of render would not stick to the wall. Up down, up down. I was really getting my steps in I can tell you! And the swear jar was almost full to boot too.
But it goes on the walls first too
Now I am and always have been a safely girl. I had my steal toe cap boots on, sturdy gloves and a clean working area. But did you see in the last paragraph the word ‘rickety’? I can only describe my step ladders as ‘well old’! In fact they probably wouldn’t be allowed now under health and safety rules. Because although they’re aluminium the ends that make the ‘A’ frame are plastic. So there I am on the top wrung, feet inside the outhouse and everything else outside and above it. And then one minute I was there, the next I wasn’t!
Holes in the house wall with the scratch coat on ready for the finishing render
Now I am no stranger to falling, not because I’m clumsy but because I’m a horse rider. We are a weird bunch! Falling off is par for the course because well horses have a brain, all be it small. And sometimes they want to do things you don’t want them too. Like buck, or stop on a sixpence for absolutely no reason from a full flat out gallop because a daffodil scared the living daylights out of them. And so we are used to falling. In fact we are taught how to fall to limit damaging ourselves. And the stupid bit is that when we do fall we get straight back up and get back on again. And over time falling slows down in your head. You become more aware of it.
top coat of render going on the house wall
And so back to one minute I’m there, the next not. Several things occurred to me all at once. Get the ladders out of the way. Don’t land on my left shoulder (previous fall which will result in surgery if I fall on it again) And stay soft on impact. The aim when you fall off a horse is to stay soft in your body, if you go rigid you hurt yourself. The aim is also to roll, to disperse momentum and to not put out your hands to break your fall nor land on your head. So I kicked the ladders to the right whilst frantically grabbing at anything on the roof including the joists to slow me down. The glorious 0.7 seconds plan in my head was that I would somehow hold onto said joints and end up hanging there before delicately dropping to the floor.
house wall drying after rendering
Yeah right! I do think I slowed myself down but there was nothing delicate about it at all! My feet fit the floor and I immediately went soft and rolled to the floor whilst trying not to hit my head or my shoulder. And it was important that I let myself fall to the floor completely. I know several people who have landed on their feet which has resulted in broken ankles. So laying there ever so stilly I started at the top and worked down my body. Everything hurt like hell but I could move everything. There was blood too but thankfully only grazes. And tears, lots of tears, firstly because boy did it hurt. And then later due to the humiliation of it all.
the very wet stone wall now repointed and starting the rendering on the adjoining wall
It turns out that the plastic end cap on one side of the ladders had snapped making them completely unstable. And they just collapsed. And so here is my lesson learned and I hope one for you also. If your ladders are starting to show signs of wear then replace them. I was incredibly lucky. I didn’t fall on anything or break anything and I am used to falling. OK, I’m not going into the stunt business anytime soon but at least I have some idea how to fall. And always when up high have another person around. If not actually with you in the room then at least close by. I’m battered and bruised but thankfully still here. It could so easily have gone another way.
roughly thrown up render – now to wait until night time to be able to smooth it!
Anyhoo, that’s a life lesson learned. And the public information ad is now over too so let’s get back to the outhouse. All be it several aching days later. Step ladders fixed with nuts bolts and screws and now firmly weighed down with sand bags and MR RFW with me I finally finished the rendering and painted it. Only for mistake number three to raise it’s ugly head. The f*cking thing f*cking leaked! Honestly water has a mind all of it’s own. Turns out I needed more of an overhang at the eves end. The water was running off but instead of going into the gutter it was diverting itself and running back under the roof. Extra overhang added and we were finally leak free!
starting the render on the third and final wall – a mixture of breeze blocks and bricks
Next up was that ugly stone wall. I swear there was at least 73492 layers of paint on it! With sheer determination and grit I slowly revealed the glorious stones underneath. And one jet wash later found that most of the mortar now lay on the floor! And so the laborious task of re pointing it began. Actually it wasn’t that slow. I’m actually quite proficient at it now considering just how much garden walling we have. I can almost do it in my sleep. And, thank goodness, no mistakes with this part either!!
rendering drying – not perfect but soooooo much better than it was
Now, onto that pesky window. The one that hasn’t opened for years. Now unsticking a sash window isn’t all that hard to do. In most cases you just need to break the paint seal where the windows meet the sash rails. Easy enough with a paint scraper and a smallish hammer as long as you are delicate about it. I say delicate because sash window glass is normally only around 3mm thick and it cracks easily. I’ll say that again shall I, IT CRACKS EASILY!! And here we come to mistake number three. Remember how Mr RFW is a little gung ho? Well I’m there daintily tapping away to break the seal. Giving everything a wiggle, trying the window and then back to breaking the paint seals. Slowly, slowly catch ye monkey.
Roof Panel Waiting to be fitted and the offending hole I fell through!
Oh no, this was just not fast enough for MR RFW. Just not fast enough at all! Out comes a lump hammer and faster than you can say a very short mono syllabic sentence there was a barely audible cracking sound. Closely followed by the clink of a small piece of glass hitting the concrete floor! F*CK!!! Guess which one of us can glaze a window?? Yep, there’s a theme here right, it’s me. Down side, it’s not exactly warm and now we have a gaping hole into the sitting room. Plus I now have another extra task not on the original list!
the offending window with the glass removed
On the up side though I did manage to make another blog post on the back of this though. I mean I might as well take advantage right? So now I also have a post on how to reglaze a window for anyone needing help on that front. Thankfully that saves you having to read the particulars here. I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I was when I rang the local glaziers to find someone answer the phone. And yes, they could cut me a piece of glass to size on the same day. And so whilst the glass was out I removed all the other loose window putty too and stripped the cracked and pitted paint from the window ledge.
here’s the window again after paint
Once stripped and glazed all that was left to do was give it a lick of primer, undercoat and then paint. It was also at this point that I did a little happy dance. This is the only downstairs window that didn’t receive remedial work last year. And now all the windows are working, rot free and sporting a new coat of paint. Huge back pats all round methinks! This one wall was now complete too as last year I had already repaired the rendering and painted the wall. So that’s one down, half of one complete and just two and a half to go.
and another glimpse of it from the other direction
Which brings me to the ever so sexy and alluringly attractive breeze blocks! Yes, they are a staple of modern building. Relatively light, affordable and easy to build with but never were they designed to be left bare! They are without a doubt as ugly as sin. Note here as partial mistake number four occurs. Do not, and I cannot express this vehemently enough, do not start to render in the afternoon. Because by ten o’clock at night you will still be doing them in the cold and dark! Lesson learned but at least this step was now complete. And, magically when I arose the next morning the render was actually still on the walls too!
One light fitting down – now out of stock! GRRRRRRRR!
OK, I’m not the best renderer in the world. The end result is not perfect. But then again I am not trained in this art, and believe me it is an art. In fact it’s far harder than plastering at which even if I do say so myself I’m quite good at. But the after is far better than the before and the total cost to me was only £21.25 too. All it took was sand, cement and PVA along with a sprinkling of effort and a soupcon of time. The most difficult bit was the upper half of the stone wall. Having to somehow blend the breeze blocks into the stones. That took some time but I think it worked out pretty well in the end.
Another After shot although still some bits to do
So that’s fix the roof, check. Return the Devon stone wall to its former glory, check. Return the window to working order (and with all the glass intact), check. And all the rendering is complete too. Next up is the fun bit, the painting. Now I always start from the top down with any room even an outdoor room makeover like this one. So first things first I gave the roofing sheets a lick of paint. Black of course! Not only because of my love of black but also to try and disguise the corrugated sheeting. And once the walls were dry they were given a coat or three! I want this room to feel somewhere between a ‘Gran Caffe’ and a Roman atrium. Grand plans I know for such a small and uninspiring space. So I added black panels around the room to distract from the main house colour.
And a final one looking the other way
The wood work was up next. Black again, there is a theme running here I think. All the while my excitement is rising as I get closer to the ‘pièce de résistance’ that will be the floor. Or at least I hope it will be. In my head it looks amazing! And that my friends is where I small leave it. I’m out of funds and this blog post is way too long already. Tune in for episode two of my outdoor room makeover at some point hopefully in the not too distant future. I’m yet to track down furniture and accessories that are perfect for the space. But for now I’m happy with a leak free roof and saying ‘good riddance’ to those god awful breeze blocks. What do you think so far? Please do leave me a comment and let me know.