New Year, new house… well almost.
Ive stripped each room in turn right back to its shell with only the plaster walls and concrete floors remaining intact. Ive rebuilt from the ground up including rewiring and replumbing a lot of it to just have things more practical.
As well as the practical Ive been trying to introduce some small details that usually only a photographer would notice. The little things which add visual breaks, warmth, contrast, colour, shape, form and loads of other things you will notice I do on photo shoots which you might on the surface seem minor points but when you see the finished article, understand why I seemed so engrossed in the little things.
One of the things that I thought let down a lot of the aesthetic of the house was the window sills. Yes, window sills, bear with me on this one…
About 10 years ago I had double glazing installed and at the time the original pine window sills had to be cut to fit the new windows and were covered up with some pvc stuff. Now it was clean and tidy but there was nothing spectacular about it.
It had no soul… ok yes we are still talking about white pvc windows here but bear with me still…
Im very much into recycling and assessing our impact on the planet so on the whole house rebuild Ive tried to use recycled materials or offer the old the old materials to others for repurposing/recycling. Ive rebuilt half the house so far and have only had 2 wheelie bins of rubbish taken to the dump with the rest offered up and taken on freecycle or able to recycle or repurpose elsewhere in the house and garden.
Going back to the window sills I was looking originally for some recycled wood that I could individually treat per room and give each room its own character. It does sound strange to be discussing that sort of detail for sills! In each room I was replacing the old broken architrave and skirting with pine/redwood and either oiled or satin varnished to show the main character of the wood and give an overall warmer feel (and reduce the impact of multiple coats of paint).
I had a search locally for recycled wood suppliers having spent weeks scouring freecycle and gumtree and came across the website of an architectural salvage company in Ballymena E&A reclamation It was in their flooring section that I found what I was looking for, reclaimed Irish Elm.
Elm is rare now and endangered due to Dutch Elm disease so any Elm wood available is from wind fallen stock.
It was the beauty of the grain, the variation in the colour including some green streaks and the idea of it being from storm blown stock that attracted me to it.
I took a run up to Ballymena and had a chat with the folk up there and to get my hands on a sample and feel the grain and get a good at it. They also showed me some reclaimed distillery oak which was in wider boards and longer runs than the elm and also appealed to my love of Whiskey! I needed a 3 metre long run for the living room window and a wider board for the bathroom window due to a wall extension in the bathroom rebuild.
The folk there had a passion for what they were doing and in turn really got what I was trying to do. I just happened to mention I was also looking a piece of wood to form my mantlepiece top to replace the old pine board that was there. I settled on a special request for them to cut me a length of edge elm board, in other words not to square the end off but leave it rough with preferably the bark still on it.
A couple of weeks later the folk emailed to say my order was ready and I went up and picked it up and then my task hit me. Originally cut to boards I bought a router to edge off the interlocking edge of the boards and produce a more rounded edge for the sill. I have ordered enough to make long shelves for my hallway but still undecided on that. At time of writing I still haven’t got round to the mantlepiece board yet but the unfinished wood is stunning and I really couldn’t be happier with it.
Driving home the heat of the van started to bring the whiskey smell out of the distillery board, better drive with the windows open!
I used the old pvc sills as templates and cut the boards accordingly. Then the question of how to finish the boards for each room. The bathroom and kitchen boards would have to be sanded flat and varnished due to the moisture levels and proximity to water splashes so they were settled.
For my bedroom I wanted this to be my first piece and as it was the reclaimed elm I didn’t want to waste any of it sanding it so I left in the mill saw marks and just oiled it with linseed oil to darken the wood and really bring out the grain. After several coats of oil the wood still had a rough texture and despite making a mistake in the cutting I left that all unchanged to show the history of the wood from growing, to milling to my initial crap attempts at carpentry. It reminds me more of when I teach photography and tell students that its more about the story and the journey rather than each individual photo. In a way the whole story of the wood, its backstory, my interaction, my developing skills (or not) in preparing and installing it and the finished article appeal to me as much as the look and feel of the installed boards. That’s what I meant earlier about having a soul, its not just some piece of extruded pvc.
Saying that Im reusing the pvc sills in my carport to produce workbenches and Im reusing the damaged pine boards as runner boards in the office and studio (or will do when Ive finished all this work).
With the bathroom and kitchen I settled on a satin varnish that would enhance the grain but not reflect away from it.
The office window sill would be directly in my eyeline so I settled on several coats of teak oil which brought out the grain but didn’t darken the wood as much as the bedroom sill.
The rest of the work is ongoing and as Im a photographer here are some photos of the so far finished articles, perhaps these show why I made the decisions I did, why I agonised over the details and I hope you think its been both a worthwhile story and journey so far…