A Once in a Lifetime Job

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Our building project was due to finish in mid July. It’s now late November and the work continues, over time and over budget. Although the end is in sight, the job may or may not be completed before Christmas. Early excitement and expectation has long since faded into disillusionment and irritation, but by next weekend we should have two newly carpeted bedrooms and a smart shower room (albeit without running water or heating). Our new spaces may have to remain unfurnished for now, but the construction work will be finished; and not a moment too soon. The house is cold, draughty and dusty, which does not make for comfortable living or a very Merry Christmas.

The final frontier is the ‘breakthrough’ between the old dining room and new library, which will be opened up in the next few weeks. This will doubtless create vast amounts of dust. Once that’s been swept-up the house will be habitable again. I have visions of enjoying a large glass of Madeira, reclining before a roaring fire, the Christmas tree twinkling in one corner of the room and carols playing on the stereo. I am holding this image in my mind’s eye, in the vain hope it might actually come to pass.


Library window, The Watch House, November 2016


Visitors to the garden over the summer expressed a healthy interest in how the library would take shape. Until now I have been loath to share any photographs lest you think the whole project doomed, but now it is recognisable as a library, I’m content to post a preview. In fairness the carpenters have been working like demons, building shelves, cupboards and sections of panelling in their workshop before installing them on site. They have followed my design drawings to the letter, only making changes where they have spotted a better solution. Every inch of the walls and ceiling will be painted, so we settled on MDF and pine rather than using more exotic, expensive, environmentally sensitive timbers. The panelling is false, but very nicely done, and certainly good enough for such a humble home.


Library, The Watch House, November 2016


With the decoration I aim to create a contemporary, gentlemen’s club feel, emphasised by moorland shades and moody lighting. Given the shelves will be dominated by books celebrating plants, flowers and gardening, I am also endeavouring to give the decorative scheme a botanical slant. We have chosen large ceiling roses with dramatic sunflowers at the centre, a design popular in the Victorian and Edwardian era. Hanging from these, smoked-glass chandeliers will one day cast a sophisticated light.


Sunflower ceiling rose


In time there will be terrariums, botanical prints, reading tables and a stately grandfather clock. The latter will be essential in creating an atmosphere in which I can genuinely relax: I find nothing more soothing and reassuring than the ticking of a venerable timepiece.


Library, The Watch House, November 2016


All the woodwork will be painted the same smoky, lavender-grey; a shade named ‘Erica’ by Paint & Paper Library. This unusual colour was inspired by a painting Him Indoors and I bought together eighteen months ago to celebrate the purchase of our new home, the work of Cornish landscape painter John Piper. We have another of his works, which blazes with the fiery colours of autumn, but this piece speaks of twilight in late summer, a composition of purples, mauves, terracottas and creamy whites. I could look at it for hours, if it were not under a dust sheet. In time there will be sofas and chairs upholstered in heather and bracken-coloured tweeds, which I hope will further emphasise John Piper’s wonderful palette.


John Piper painting, Cornwall


Friends and family keep telling me that the project will be worth it in the end, and of course I firmly believe that. However, I am not someone who relishes the prospect and process of ‘doing up’ a house. I want it all done and dusted so that I can enjoy it. Having everything as one wants it is great, but this takes time, energy and money, none of which I have in abundance. Then again, I guess one only builds a library once, so one may as well do it properly. This is a once in a lifetime job.


Library, The Watch House, November 2016








Categories: Art and Design, Musings, Our Coastal Garden

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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46 comments On "A Once in a Lifetime Job"

  1. It will be lovely and once it is all done – or even half way done – all of this grot will be wiped from your memory. Sounds like it is going to be a fantastic space and hope you will share more photos when you are happy to. Ceri

  2. Fantastic! Can’t wait to see it develop further. And by the way, I can’t speak for money or time, but if you don’t have an abundance of energy, no one does!

    1. That’s kind of you to say Janna, especially as I am starting to feel a bit drained. This is nothing compared to how I’ll feel on Christmas Eve! All well with you? Loved your picture of the super moon by the way 🙂

      1. Well, of course I am going for a degree of dramatic effect, but I won’t deny that it tests one’s patience and relationships. We have hardly seen our friends this year, haven’t seen much of family either and weekends have been a bit ‘all work and no play’. The idea is to correct the balance next year, which is why we are having a year off and not doing the garden opening. I am sure you will know the right project when you see it 🙂

  3. It is going to be wonderful – keep going. Almost there now 🙂 Our flat project looks smaller but it was real hell and we’re only now starting to love the place again. The transformation will be amazing 🙂

  4. That looks stunning. Well done. You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs and so this is the bad bit. Just wait till you see the end result (which i hope we get to see too). So far it looks stunning. Well done and thanks for sharing

  5. I can picture it all, it’s going to look amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing your photos as you are to see it finished.

  6. It already looks VERY NICE, Dan. I know it gets on your nerves and your patience is pushed to the limits, but the works will really be completed soon/-er or later 🙂 and you will be able to enjoy the library, the roaring fire, and a large glass of Madeira and of course your Christmas. Anyway, the most important thing is the people who you are spending time with at Christmas (Him Indoors among others ) … The place is important to but …you know 🙂 Be patient for some more time. I keep my fingers crossed and can’t wait to see the final effect when everything is done. Have a nice week.

    1. Thanks Paul. It’s been a frustrating project, but I am certain that will be forgotten in time. The good thing is that the transition between the old house and the new looks quite natural. You would not imagine they were originally separate houses, except from outside. Then again, there is no angle from which you can see the front and the back together! Hope all’s well with you?

  7. Oh Dan, it’s looks wonderful even in its in finished state. It’s clear to see where it’s going and the design and proposed finishes looks perfect for your Gentleman’s club style. I adore the sound of that colour…perfection. It will be heavenly. Cheers, Peter

    1. I’m happy you like it Peter. It’s a lovely colour when it’s painted on the wall. Not too lavender, not too grey, not too obvious. There’s going to a lot of it, so I have been living with ‘Erica’ for a while before taking the plunge!

  8. I feel your pain. We here at Madrona have just moved into our Kentish hall house, complete with oak panelled library – and boy, did it take a long time to finish! The whole house – 7 years! But I can assure you; it is definitely worth the wait. Come and have a look next time you’re over, and we can compare libraries.

    1. I’d like that Ylva, although I need no further excuse to visit your lovely nursery. I don’t think my MDF panelling is going to compare very favourably to your oak though 😉 7 years is a long time, but in reality these old houses are never actually ‘finished’ are they? That’s what makes them what they are.

  9. Oh la la! So enticing….you sitting in a chair??noooooo I doubt that will happen, as you will look out the window and see all the ‘jobs’ you should have done, need to do, forgot about until you sat down, on the other side of the window!!

    It is looking beautiful and your selected colours are my absolute favourites…divine. Hope ‘others’, not of the gentleman variety, will be permitted entry if they bring an appropriate aperitif to share…..😂😂😂😂😂😂

    Just remember it is nearly finished 👏 Xox

  10. What a fabulous project, the bones of the library are looking great – brilliant idea to use a key painting for inspiration for the colour of paint/soft furnishing. Your above comment in reply to Helen made me smile … memories of the thrill of peeping into Vita’s hallowed space at Sissinghurst.

    1. Funny you should say that, but it’s probably Vita’s library at Sissinghurst that gave me the idea in the first place. I’ve always loved that transition between the brightly lit garden and the dim, dark room, which is part library, part study, part living room. Not at all Downton Abbey and much more intimate. If I can conjure up 10% of the atmosphere and dignity of Vita’s library I will be very happy indeed.

  11. As everyone above has said: it’s going to be amazing! While personally I prefer White, Scandinavian style, I love your idea of choosing a colour to match that gorgeous painting.
    And despite armchairs, those wonderfully wide windowsills seem perfect to sit on with cushions, snug blanket if necessary, drink and book! (They are not to thin/ fragile for that, are they? Don’t shatter my illusions!) But will you be able to keep them plant-free, you think? 😉

    I completely sympathize with you being annoyed, irritated, disillusioned etc. because work’s still not finished. I suppose the worst bit is having been told it would be ready in July and then, like the carrot on the stick in front of one’s nose, it drags on and on – always in sight but never within reach. If they’d said “by the end of the year” straight away, it would have been much more bearable. At least this is how I’d feel. But I remember my first reply to you here on the blog was a year ago – about the PROSPECT of you getting that library. See how far you’ve come! You can almost allocate books to those shelves already! Still, I hope you’ll be able to do that over the Christmas break for real – with the fire roaring and a few drops of something nice to go with it.

    Oh, and am I the only one confused by the vertical pic with the silver tubing in? The upper half looks like one of those optical illusion drawings where stairs endlessly go no-where or a screw nut that’s impossible in reality but you can’t quite put your finger on where things go wrong… 🙂

    1. Hmmm. I can’t see it myself, but that’s because I know what I am looking at. Never fear, those window seats are rock solid. They’d need to be to take my weight! The sides of the windows will be panelled too, and the width is generous, including vents for the radiators underneath. That will make them hopeless for putting plants on, which is good. I do plan to have very generous window boxes outside, at least in the short term, probably full of herbs.

      You’d like upstairs, it’s a lot more Scandi!

      1. Hi Dan, have just now discovered your “botanical library” addition to the website. But I can’t find a comment box there yet, thus will do so here again.
        Boy, you’ve been busy! Love love love the idea and section as I’m hopelessly bibliophile myself, doing just that: compulsively buying books, in the vain hope that someday I’ll have the time to actually read all of them.
        For my birthday this year I had actually planned a solo-trip to all the second-hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road whilst the children were at school (and no-one could have told me off for I’d be allowed a treat or several on my birthday, no?). In the end, I was busy all day tending to a sick little one with a severe stomach bug and finishing the day with a trip to A&E (but all well after that). – That’s motherhood for you :-). Anyway, I digress.

        Funnily enough, the book I loved (and read) most in my childhood and one I still treasure today is also about plant hunting – or sort of: published in 1941 it’s about a natural scientist and his ten year-old daughter travelling to Madagascar on a voyage of discovery. And yes, of course I wanted to do that too.

        But back to your new library section on the web: Why restrict yourself to just five titles in each category?? After all, you’ve gone to the trouble of writing about (older) titles you like already when you’ll “update” with newer acquisitions.
        I’ve found several of my own favourites in your current list but also some I’ll need to track down now. My own encyclopedia of choice is the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Editor in Chief Ch. Brickell – alphabetic listing of plants, lots of pictures and plenty of information.

        Actually, perhaps one day when the library is installed, you could add a list here on your website, uncommented, of ALL the books in it?? I’d be really curious – it’s always so fascinating learning what titles others have fallen for. And bound to provide inspiration for a spending spree of one’s own :-). Please also share with us how the decorating of your library is going – your plans sound exciting! Most of all: enjoy filling all those shelves!

      2. Hi Stefanie. Thanks for letting me know about the comment box. I have discovered how to rectify this and there should now be somewhere to leave comments on this page. I do plan to catalogue all the books in my library once I have them in situ. We are taking a break of a few months before we get going again with the decoration. Meanwhile I am just completing a review of a new book on daffodils which I’ll publish later today. I am lining them up faster than I can read them! Hope you make it along to Charing Cross Road before long … perhaps under the cover of darkness? Dan

  12. WOW. It really is looking worth the effort, Mr TT and I also fans of John Piper so I can envisage the colour scheme. Keep going, we also know what these projects take out of you, but it will be worth it.

    1. Alex is keen to buy another one at some point. I saw a beautiful John Piper in St Ives at Easter, but didn’t buy it as I was already trying to be sensible (not a behaviour that comes easily to me). Of course, I will now regret that decision. It was a lovely watery blue/green palette, quite unusual for him, and very soothing to look at. Perhaps when I am rich I can commission him to paint me something similar!

  13. It looks fabulous, the real works. We have commissioned bespoke furniture for the current bedroom project and it really does draw out the timescales, so my sympathies once again. But what I am finding is that such projects need to evolve. Countless meetings about little details only for the whole thing to go back to the drawing board when a further ‘old house’ complication presents itself.
    You will get there in the end and all the troubles along the way will rapidly fade into insignificance, especially when you can start to enjoy the result!

    1. Hope so. Actually, the carpenters have been a dream to work with. I only met them once. They took my plans and have just gotten on with it. They work 9-5, 5 days a week and make super progress. Thankfully that room was a neat, rectangular shell with no hidden surprises …. apart from a copy of the Daily Mail published in 1984, found inside the chimney, which would be regarded as so deeply sexist and racist that I almost blushed when I read it! How times change.

  14. It’s going to look wonderful in candlelight, especially with your Christmas decorations. Talking of which – I had a trip to John Lewis, Trafford Centre, recently. My daughter leaves me there while she looks at all the other shops. Wonderful Christmas decorations – every year!!
    I look forward to your finished photos.

  15. Looking absolutely wonderful Dan love the panelling and the bookshelves I am so envious as our shelves are at breaking point! What a coincidence…we too were debating whether to buy a John Piper last month when we were in St Ives at the New Craftsman gallery but couldn’t decide whether to go for the heathery coloured ones or the bracken gold ones…so we didn’t buy either….another time perhaps! It is going to be fabulous when it’s all finished and I am sure you will both love it!

  16. It’s going to be stunning! 🙂 As a veteran of two complete whole-house gut-and-remodels plus one from-the-ground-up build, I can definitely relate. As the saying goes, ‘Two weeks’ is one of those funny jokes that only contractors and builders understand!

  17. We have a John Piper and I adore it. It is of course a row of cottages, but the dominant colour is burnt orange. We are very lucky people. Your library is going to be fabulous, of that I have no doubt! x

    1. When it’s a bit more dressed for Christmas I’ll post some pictures, but the expanse of MDF, albeit beautifully constructed, tends to overpower everything. I am determined to get the John Piper up for Christmas, even though it will have to come down again for decorating. I’d like another one at some stage. There was a greenish composition, without cottages, that I saw in spring and I regret we didn’t buy it then. Never mind, with John Piper you can be fairly sure he’ll paint something similar again! Hope you are having a peaceful run up to Christmas. Dan

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