A Little House at No. 18

The ins and outs and inbetweens of building a new house in Little Howard St, Fremantle


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Back Down to Earth

Short but productive is how I would describe our last burst on the house – it was only 8 days long but we got a fair bit achieved. The major task was to start the groundworks on the western side of the house, aiming to get to a point where it is paved and ready to move in.

This time we had to start from the top and work our way to the ground. Before we could shift any dirt we had to move the scaffold and before we could move the scaffold we needed to finish all those odd jobs from roof level down, including painting the brackets, fixing a minor roof leak and the bigger one – pointing up the western wall.

Then we were back at ground level. Our labourers did a great job shifting all of the dirt that had washed down in the last few months of rain back up the ramp, restoring the ground level to where is should be, then digging a bit lower so that we could create some footings to support a small retaining wall.

Everyone worked a lot quicker than expected so it was a few urgent calls to order some concrete and get hold of reinforcing steel and before we knew it the concrete truck was back on site, this time for the last time. As always with concrete, it’s a mad rush to get the stuff out of the truck and into the hole – hoping you’ve got the balance right between having enough concrete to do the job and not so much that you have to dump excess or pay to take it back to the yard. Greg did a great job and with a bit of hurried digging to create one more footing to support some steps up to the back wing, we were able to use it all, down to the last wheel barrow load.

The next day, the boys were straight back into it, starting work on the limestone retaining wall. As this wall is up against our neighbours house and it’s beautiful turn of the century, locally quarried limestone wall we thought that blocks and even new rubble would look a bit out of place. Instead, we were able to cart most of the limestone foundation blocks that we had recovered from our old house around the side and use them to construct the wall.

I think the end result is fantastic – a really natural looking wall that blends in so well with the wall behind it (and will continue to do so as it weathers). It should do, it’s all the same stone. We didn’t quite get it done, we intend to put a recycled red brick capping course along the top plus we obviously didn’t get to the paving. But we carry on and next time Greg is home from work and we can carry on we’ll be straight back into it.

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Entering the home straight

With the roof on we move into a new phase in the project – pretty much everything from now on is about finishing off various aspects of the house (well, not quite everything but the number increases every week). At the end of June, the final week before Greg went back to work, we managed to squeeze in a few of these finishing touches: the walls for the upstairs bathroom; cladding the outside of the front and western gable with weather boards; and about a third of the brick header course for the balcony.

The upstairs bathroom is the continuation of a stack of rooms built from recycled red brick, starting with the cellar, moving up to the pantry and finishing with the main bathroom. We recently removed some of the scaffolding from downstairs and for the first time got to see the space from the ground floor right up to the ceiling with nothing (well, relatively nothing) in the way. The continuous column of red brick wall is something from the plans that I had never really dwelt on or imagined but now that I can see the final effect, it is really a rather lovely surprise.

 

Pantry and bathroom walls

Pantry and bathroom walls

The building of the bathroom itself is relatively straightforward – three walls in brick, a couple of doorways, oh, and individually cutting each brick to fit perfectly underneath the rafters.

There are two or three spots on the external faces of the house that are not limestone. The architect’s plans have these clad in ‘dressed softwood’ but that was always in the ‘we’ll come up with something better than that down the track’ pile. Maybe it’s the amount of material we have on site, maybe it was because it was a cheap option or maybe it was nostalgia or just plain aesthetic appeal (in a rustic kind of way) but we decided to recycle the weatherboards from our old house and use them to clad the new house.

Now these weatherboards are probably over seventy years old and I don’t think they’ve seen a lick of paint since they were installed. We were a little worried that they would look a bit shabby but cutting into them, the jarrah was still solid and we really liked the idea of having part of our old house in the new one and continuing on with that little slice of history.

We did hedge our bets a little bit and first put in some standard fibre cement sheeting to form the weather proof layer with the weather boards forming an external cladding.

The carpenters were a bit dubious about using the weatherboards at first but they carried on, amusing our whim. By the end though, I think they had come around. It’s not a shiny, new polished look – more shabby chic – but we are really pleased with the way it all kind of blends in and how the materials complement each other.

The red brick header course was always in the plans and has always been imagined as an important finishing touch to the façade. I am pleased to say that it does everything we had imagined it would – provides a functional balustrade (although we do need to install a handrail as well), finishes off the limestone nicely and provides that nod to the combination of materials used in the entire house. Working out the details of the corner returns took a little bit of thinking but we are really pleased with the end result. There is obviously a bit more to finish off but it is so satisfying to see that part of the house completely finished (you just have to focus a bit on a very discrete section!)

Nearly there… The question is now, will we be in by Christmas? and if so, which year?