The day before Christmas Eve we finally finished the conversion of a former workshop and storeroom into a one-bedroom self-contained apartment.
Our plan is to rent it as a couples retreat, a ‘Love Shack’, and also use it for family and friends when they come and visit.
We started the project in May when we submitted plans to the local Mairie’s office, and when we received approval we commenced gutting the building and opening up the second floor.
Diamond Dave, our builder, carried out a lot of the structural work, creating a bedroom and bathroom and a bespoke staircase. We did most of the boarding out and painting and Sadie acted as project manager.
When I say ‘finished’ there is still work to do in preparing it for paying guests, which is our goal, but the building is sealed with new windows and doors and we have installed a wood-burning stove and it has hot running water.
All that is left to do is some cosmetic adaptations and then we can start furnishing it. We may even spend a night or two in there ourselves because it is much warmer in there than the house, once the fire is lit, we have discovered.
Originally we thought it would be ready to rent out in August, then October, and then Christmas. The work dragged on for many reasons — primarily due to the realisation we were slightly over-ambitious with regards to our own building and DIY skills.
A year ago I would never have dreamed that I would own a chop-saw, impact driver and drill and be studding out walls, boxing in pipes, restoring windows and mitring skirting boards. I have always been of the opinion that these tasks were best left of others far more qualified and skilled than myself.
But with a small budget to complete the project, we had no option but to do half the work ourselves as the project has drained our savings and we need to start clawing back some of our investment.
This led to some trying moments with Diamond Dave, the ultimate old-school craftsman, who threatened at least once to walk off the job, because of our slipshod efforts.
“It’s quirky Dave,” we would say when. “I don’t do quirky,” he would grumble.
Other delays apart from our obvious lack of handyman skills, were because we both have been working full-time throughout this period and had two months ‘off’ the building site in the summer to visit the UK.
Diamond Dave has also been AWOL for long periods, either working on other jobs, or being laid-low with injuries and physical ailments that come with a lifetime of hard, manual labour.
When he did finally return to us the week before Christmas he brought a beautiful oak door, handmade in his workshop, that has transformed the whole building. It has also sealed the interior and with the wood-burning stove that we reclaimed from the garden shed, the space is at last, warm and cosy in the winter and will be light and cool in the summer.
Being a dour Northerner, Dave also informed us that he doesn’t do Christmas either and would prefer to much prefer to work. Nevertheless, before he left us we gave him a good bottle of wine, a card and some Mon Cheri chocolates to enjoy with his wife Julie over the festive period.
He will be back in January to finish off a few little jobs for us and we will remain forever in his debt for his help and guidance in allowing us to realise our dream.
In 12 months we have created a second home out of nothing as well as made the main house comfortable and liveable. We have also built a courtyard with decking and started landscaping the garden and erected a magnificent pergola that is the envy of Culan.
And throughout all of this we have managed not to fall out and argue, despite being pushed to the limits of our mental, physical and emotional capabilities.
As a reward, we have promised to not take on too many DIY work projects next year, and instead, enjoy our new life and our home.