When a Period Property Fights Back

Poplar Hall cottage - Amy Haddow Thabit

If my house and I were married, we’d be in intensive therapy right now.

She just doesn’t compromise. I try my hardest to accommodate her needs; to be sympathetic and pay attention to her ‘seasonal requirements’. But just as I think we’re making headway and reaching common ground, she pulls the rug out from under me.

This is she.

Beautiful, yes. Hard work; absofeckinglotely.

You know the type.

When we signed the contract in April 2017, we knew she needed love. And since then, we’ve worked to sympathetically restore and replace every single surface within her grade II listed walls.

Up came the rotten parquet floor, down went the biggest reclaimed oak boards we could find.

Cheap wood varnish was sanded off in favour of a good quality wood wax that celebrated the natural grains and variances of each timber beam and board.

Damp proofing was a must, and so we damp proofed whilst still considering the essential breathability of the oldest parts of the building.

All 45 single glazed windows were sanded, repaired, filled and repainted. Replacing them would have been considerably easier and cheaper.

And ye olde kitchen was updated and developed. And this is where my story has been leading to. The kitchen.

The original kitchen

After receiving planning permission to convert the 1960’s asbestos garage into an extension of the cottage’s original kitchen, we were thrilled to welcome a complete, high-ceilinged modern country kitchen by Spring 2019.

At long last, we could scramble eggs without hitting our heads and the tap-dancing mice in the original cottage kitchen ceiling had moved on. RIP.

The house was finally working for our modern family. Myself, hubby and our beloved retriever Teddy.

Or so we thought.

The thatch had other ideas. Or at least, the ground water around her did.

In December 2019 – whilst pregnant, might I add – I returned home to a flooded kitchen. Mid shin level water, to be precise. Our beautifully finished, bespoke made cabinetry was soggy. The paintwork was wrecked.

She was at it again. Laughing at us.

This wasn’t the first time she’d mocked our attempt at damp proofing. But after laying (and then re-laying) the entire downstairs oak floor, we thought we’d learned a thing or two about how to keep water a bay. Or at least try to.

Somehow, water was still getting in.

The builders were baffled. A concrete base lined with a physical and liquid damp proof membrane should not be permeable to water.

We weren’t hugely surprised. Disappointed, yes. Surprised, not really.

And since the great flood of ’19, we’ve been using a fish pond pump and a long yellow hose to pump trapped ground water into the sink from under the stone floor. Sophisticated system, eh.

Yesterday, myself, my husband, my 18 month old son, Teddy the dog, a builder and a labourer gathered around the kitchen to face the music. The waterproof tanking must be breached and so we would either have to live with the fish pond pump (not ideal when said 18 month old likes to pull it out of the sink thus coating kitchen floor with muddy ground water) or the entire kitchen was going to have to come out again.

Every hand painted cabinet, the entire kitchen island, the stone worktops, ovens – literally everything; including the kitchen sink. It all had to be detached and removed. The stone floor would have to come up, the underfloor heating would have to come up. Everything.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing hasn’t been a one off.

On several occasions, just as we think we are almost done and I’m starting to hang pictures and do the little final decorating bits, water pours in from above or rises up from under us. Not to mention electrical challenges, vermin control (mmm cosy thatch life) and human error – because yes, we do get it wrong.

As we’ve learned throughout the past four years, this house fights back.

Perhaps all period properties do.

Perhaps they’re rebelling change; rejecting interference; defending their right to endure on their own terms.

I suppose all we can do is learn a lesson, pay another invoice and try again.

Now how about that therapy…

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