I’m sure most of you have forgotten by now that this is a blog about building a house. I myself have wanted to forget that this is a blog about building a house. But this has all changed this week. I’m back on the case.
The story so far in brief:
Way back in 2007 I saw this house and wanted to be sure my plans for it would be accepted by council before I bought it. So I hooked up with a builder (we shall call him Fatface) and an architect (let’s call him Moron) and they together, via reams of bullshit, took 9 months to put a projecto de architectura together. Meanwhile I learnt Portuguese and subsequently discovered that the delay was due to Fatface telling Moron that I wasn’t going to pay. So I got on a plane the next day with the cash and knocked on the architect’s door. The project was finished that afternoon.
The council approved the project and I bought the house. I found a new architect and a new engineer for the projecto de especialidades. The engineer said the project would take two weeks and I said pigs might fly. In two weeks we submitted the project and in about four months it was approved.
Meanwhile I had been cleaning up, digging holes, removing an oven in preparation for the build. I auditioned 8 builders for the job. Only one had any idea of the house I wanted to build, as I had picked them off a site in an aldeia do xisto in the Serra da Lousã and that’s exactly the style of my place. But they would have travel time of at least an hour each way, and for this wanted to charge a premium. Fair enough. I waited, I researched, I shopped around some more.
Some of the builders really made me laugh. When I explained I wanted to use meia- canudos for the roof, one showed me a straight 100 yr old tiles-on-battens example as in a shed. Believe me, I know the Portuguese for rockwool, ceiling, water barrier and even pumpkin: but maybe he didn’t. I’d take a look at jobs they’d done in stone and shout quel horreur! Awful cement mortar/ mismatched stone and styles/ uninsulated/ simply hideous things I saw. Clearly I’m not in the right area for decent builders. I will admit though, I did scoff when someone told me the project was too hard, too complicated for these guys. Mmm.
Then came in the great big ugly global financial crisis and stole half my money. The project was off, or delayed, at least until I knew what would happen next. I started the blog, hoping it might pay some living expenses. It didn’t. A year went by and I applied for a one year extension on the building licence. Still no sign of any money growing on the trees. I waited, procrastinated. I had the money to start the project but not to finish it. Even if I could finish the house there would be no one to buy it because the housing market was a dying duck.
I then applied for another 6 months on the building licence and in December 2010, this expired. This is what I had been dreading. Project death. It had cost in the end about €1500 including flights and hire cars and whatnot. But mostly it cost me in time and energy and heartache.
But when the council decided not to give me another extension (even the last six months was outside the legislation) the camara’s architect and I talked about a renovation. The basic rule of a renovation is that nothing of the outside is altered. The house cannot be enlarged, you can’t change the height, you can’t use any cement structures, you can’t make new openings for windows or doors.
And frankly what a relief. I had been clinging onto the project for dear life, but its weight was pulling me under. Once or twice people had suggested I simplify the design, but I couldn’t see how. The project had to be ripped from my womb first. Now I had to redesign, and it could only get simpler, cheaper, and more fundamental.
Along came Penfold, the surfer, writer, illustrator, philosopher, carpenter, renovator, restorer builder. And sort of a neighbour. As we took the tour through my house of horrors his face showed the same distress of the others who had gone before. Other builders usually mumbled and agreed to send me a quote or something, and some amateur builders criticised this or that, (because criticism makes you smarter, you know). One “builder” mistook a french drain for bathroom plumbing and another, practically in tears, told me the project was too big, because I was so very small.
But at last I was talking to someone who wasn’t overwhelmed by a need to condescend, but instead by the need to construct! Finally someone who could see what I had been trying to do but who could simplify it, under the terms of a renovation, and especially in terms of getting the project finished. He added instead of subtracted.
Brothers and sisters I have seen the light! Like all good ideas, the solution is so obvious that you wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner. This should and could have been a renovation all along. The new plan means that I get to do more of the work myself (good) than would be possible in a building-project.
Let’s look at the plans:
It’s massively simpler than before. All existing stone walls remain. The floors and the roof stay. No more new windows and door openings. So, anyone want to buy 68 windows and doors ripped from a french chateaux?
It’s not the house I dreamt of anymore. I’ve lost a 45m2 living room and a bedroom. It’s no way as luxurious a floor plan as I had – and it will not fetch the same sale price. It probably won’t satisfy its financial reason-to-be. But it’s do-able, and in these tough times, I’m happy just to be motivated again.
 An architecture project involves only the physical appearance of the house, as the name suggests. The specialised project covers the plans for water and sanitation, gas, electricity, the structure, roof, thermal & acoustics plus any additional things like solar, universal access, grey water systems, sprinkler systems, etc.