Saturday, 31 May 2008

Autumn up the river

This week's post is going to be light on words and heavy on images.

We had a very special book club meeting this week. We went out to Annette's place, which is about 45 kilometres out of town up the river road, and stayed overnight. Iain and I have stayed there before, as paying guests, when we took Jane and Pete up the river, and we had a wonderful time. See our write-up here. It was great to be going back again so soon. Here are some photos.

Tree ferns in the early morning light - can you spot the Moon?

Annette and John's house, as autumn turns to winter

On the deck

One view from Annette and John's deck...

...and another

...and another

...and another!

Inside the cottage where we stayed

Loading up the eponymous Flying Fox, the cable car across the river

View back to the house from the cable car

Me on the cable car

Gaye on the cable car

Carvings at the cable car station


Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Baby steps

Yesterday we took a couple of baby steps on the house-building journey.

The vendor's solicitor rang yesterday morning to say the surveyor is finally going to do the survey. He reckons it will take around four or five weeks for the legalisation process to be completed, at which stage it will be back in the hands of the council. With a bit of luck, we should finally have title to the land in about 3 months' time -- thirteen months after we signed the contract!

We got another pleasant surprise in the afternoon. We hadn't expected to receive the initial concept sketches from the architect, Phil, for another month or so, so we were delighted when they turned up in my e-mail inbox. Phil explained that some ideas won't let go of you until you put them down on paper, and this had been one of them (I know exactly what he means -- sometimes poems and stories do the same to me!)

Iain and I spent a few hours last night poring over the design and talking it through, and we really like it -- Phil's met our criteria really well, and we've got a renewed sense of enthusiasm about the whole project. It's going to take a lot of time and effort, because we'll be managing the whole project ourselves, and doing the majority of the internal fit-out too, but we're confident we're going to end up with a home we'll love.

Anyway, I'm going to sign off now. I've got a raging sore throat and my brain is fried. I just wanted to share the good news and show off the preliminary sketches.

I've got a site visit with Phil next Wednesday, so I'll give you an update after that.


Click on the pics to get a bigger view.
Initial concept: Elevation

Initial concept: Floorplan

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Land stuff

H phoned up the district planner today to find out what the hold up is. For a council department they were refreshingly open and forthcoming. No big issues by all accounts, just the need for the vendor's surveyor to do his job and submit the survey, then it's all done. It'll take 2 months from then to process.

The surveyor is, however, a muppet. So to anyone in the area who wants to employ a surveyor, I'd recommend avoiding John Harrison of Harrison & O'Sullivan unless you like waiting 12 months to get a field surveyed. Our surveyor did a really detailed geotech report in less than a month, so how a basic land survey can take this long beggars belief.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Decisions, decisions, Part 2

Apologies for not posting part 2 sooner, but another contract came along (thankfully a nice short one this time!) When I'm chasing a deadline and spending long hours at the computer every day I try to avoid spending any of my spare time at the keyboard.

Anyway, trying my best to pick up where I left off last time...

After making the decision to get a house designed with an architect, one fell into our lap, figuratively speaking. Iain was talking about our plans with a work colleague and it turns out she knows an architectural designer who works in Palmerston North, the 'big smoke' about an hour's drive from Wanganui. She gave us his contact details and we looked up the website of the firm he works for. We felt a bit intimidated when we saw the buildings in their online portfolio, but we dropped him an email nonetheless, asking if he'd be interested in designing a 'hippy cabin'. Thankfully, he said it sounded like fun, and would we like to arrange a meeting to discuss our ideas?

So that we'd have something to discuss at our meeting, and to give the architect, (whose name is Phil, by the way), a better idea of the sort of thing we were after, we sifted through the hundreds of house-related images we've collected from the internet over the last year or so, ever since we decided to build a new home. Initially we narrowed it down to about a dozen that we both liked, but I thought we might actually muddy the issue if we gave Phil too many images. I thought a single, well-chosen image would communicate our vision much more effectively.

Here's the image we gave him:

An interior we both really like

There are so many things that appeal to us about this interior: the 'solid' feel (even though it looks as if it the walls might be straw bale), the rough plaster finish on the walls, the rough wood cladding, the wooden post and beams, the wooden doors and windows, (yes, we're suckers for wood!) and the way it manages to feel both light and airy and cosy at the same time. It's neither strikingly modern, nor overtly traditional, but a clever and unpretentious blend of the two.

Once our 'key image' was chosen we needed to communicate the nitty-gritty of what we want from the house, and we decided to draw a mind map for this. When we first started we thought the complementary areas of form and function would be pretty evenly balanced, but as the mind map evolved, we discovered that for us, the functional considerations far outweigh the aesthetic side of things. This came as a bit of a revelation, or at least it did for me. I've always been an out-and-out dreamer, and I never realised before how important practicalities are to me. Maybe it's a function of middle age? (All observations welcome.)

Click here to view our new home mindmap. (Be patient; it's a big file!)

We had our initial meeting with Phil last week, and explained our ideas. We also gave him some photos of the section, as well as a map the engineer drew when he did the geotech report. He said it was an ideal spot to build a house, which was gratifying, because it confirmed what we've thought all along - that we've got a real cracker of a site, which we should be able to make into something really special.

Phil's busy on a big project right now, but he should be free in about six weeks time, and then it should only take him a couple of weeks to draw up a concept plan. Fortunately Phil seemed to think it would be possible to build the sort of thing we're looking for within our budget, and he even talked about the possibility of building a mezzanine, which is something we'd always fancied, but always assumed would bump the price up too much.

On the land purchase front there's still no more news on when the subdivision is likely to go through; we won't be at all surprised if the first anniversary of signing the contract comes around and we still haven't got the land.

Anyway, it's getting late, so I'll sign off now and catch you again next week.


Sunday, 4 May 2008

Decisions, decisions Part 1

Ever since we signed the contract on our section out at Turakina almost ten months ago we've been talking about what to do with the land, and the main topic of our discussions has been what type of house to build. 

Thanks to Iain's tireless research efforts, we've looked into many possibilities. They are, in no particular order:
  1. Relocating an old house and renovating it on site. 'House Movers' has a whole different meaning here in New Zealand, where houses are stick-built and can be picked up and put on the back of a lorry, even if it does mean cutting them in half first.
  2. a Lockwood Home (the 'posh dream home' option).
  3. an almost-dream-home with one of the other national house building franchises who have branches nearby
  4. a standard home design with a local builder
  5. a non-standard home designed by an architect
  6. a lined and insulated garage
  7. a tipi
  8. a yurt
  9. a caravan
  10. a house truck
  11. a geodesic dome
  12. an earthship
  13. a prefabricated wood cabin
  14. a prefabricated 1880s style cottage
  15. a kitset home (you buy the materials in kit form and either build it yourself or get a local builder to put it up for you.)
  16. a bach (cheap holiday home)
We were anxious not to overlook any of the options open to us, but after a while it became necessary to throw out some of the ideas, just to keep our heads from exploding.

Decision number 1: Build a permanent home. We made this decision because we want to live in a particular spot on our section. If we were to build a temporary structure, someone on an adjacent section could build their house too close, and we'd lose our ideal, private building site. The tipi, yurt, caravan and house truck had to go. 

Decision number 2: Borrow as little money as possible. Both of us earn only modest amounts of money, but in discussions with the bank we found they were willing to give us a quite immodest loan, which would translate into mortgage repayments that would soak up a truly scary proportion of our disposable income. Tempting as it might be to borrow the full amount the bank is offering, if we did so we'd never be able to afford to develop the land, to go on holiday, or to do any of the other things we enjoy doing, and we'd be suffering extreme anxiety every time interest rakes took a hike. What's more, we'd never stand a chance of paying our mortgage off before we reached 65. Iain also did some rather sobering calculations on the long-term cost of borrowing, and found that the overall cost of borrowing doesn't rise proportionately with the size of the loan, but exponentially. Out went the dream home and the nearly-dream-home.

Decision number 3: Go for practicality. Practicality is always an important consideration for us in most areas of life, so I'm surprised we didn't reach this decision sooner. 

Impracticality comes in many forms, and we decided to get rid of the renovating an old house option because of the potential for significant overspend. It's difficult to estimate costs accurately until you start dismantling things, and discover the whole roof/framing/floor needs to be replaced because of rust/wetrot/woodworm/*insert other problem here*. 

We binned the geodesic dome and the earthship on the same 'impracticality' pretext. It would cost a lot to get either of them built, because they use specialised building techniques, and we weren't prepared to take on the huge task of building them ourselves. 

Decision number 4: Go for something that inspires you. At a stroke this decision got rid of options 4, 6 and 16. We just didn't feel excited about the prospect of building a cheap, off-the-peg kiwi house, a garage or a bach. 

That left us with just four options, (numbers 5, 13, 14 & 15) which was a much more manageable number to choose from. We weighed all these four options up again, and decided that the one that enthused us the most was to get a non-standard home, designed by an architect. 

Iain found out that, on average, it costs about 20% more to build an architect-designed house rather than an off-the-peg one, but there are several ways that we're planning  on clawing back the extra expense: First of all, we're willing to sacrifice size (there are only two of us, after all - we don't need the 'standard' 150 to 200 square meter home - we reckon between 80 and 100 square meters is plenty big enough. We're also happy to use building materials that are chosen for their practicality rather than their aesthetics, i.e. rough board and batten cladding instead of the more expensive weatherboard. Finally, we're willing to pitch in and do the interior work ourselves. We've looked into what's involved in an internal fit-out, and while it will be very time-consuming, we're confident that we've already got most of the skills involved, and those we don't have, we're capable of learning.

Well, this post has gone on for a lot longer than I expected and I've run out of time, so I'm going to have to make it a two-parter, with part two next weekend.


Thursday, 1 May 2008

Quiz team celebrates in style

This is just a very quick post to upload some photos I was given (thanks, Frank.) I'll write a proper blog entry at the weekend.

Some of you may remember a post from December 2006 with photos of our pub quiz team's Christmas bash. Well, I'm pleased to report that the team's still going strong, although we've moved to a different pub, where the quiz is livelier, the food is better, and the prize vouchers are not only more generous, but they're also valid for twelve months rather than for three nights of the following week.

We've been doing pretty well in the quiz, often coming second and sometimes even making first place, and as soon as we collect enough vouchers, we spend them on a celebratory meal. Here are some photos of our latest 'team meal' last weekend.

'Bill's Clues'. On the right (l to r): Scott, me, Frank and Linda

On the left, (l to r): Jane, Andrew (AKA Maccas), Iain and Bruce (AKA Lippy)

Bruce before drinking the Sambuca...

...and after