Maison Petit Port: The “Ultimate House”, part 2

Well, we’re in. It took almost 9 months longer than expected (twice as long as originally envisaged) and cost more than I can bear to think about, but finally, 2 years and 4 months after leaving our lovely home in Cookham, we moved into the “ultimate house”.

The first family photo taken in the “ultimate house”. Unpacked boxes still very much visible.

Not that the house is finished of course. There is still a list of jobs to do, including work on the heat pump and various bits of “snagging”. We’re still surrounded by boxes, although the last couple of weekends we’ve started to make progress in putting up shelves. Outside, we’re surrounded by hardcore and builder’s rubble. We’ve run out of money, and so the “grounds” are going to have to wait at least another year. Thankfully – despite the mess outside – we’ve ended up with a house that we really love. But it’s been quite a saga. (For more of the history of the house, see https://jonathanrenouf.wordpress.com/2021/05/16/maison-petit-port-the-ultimate-house/ and https://jonathanrenouf.wordpress.com/2019/09/26/storage/)

As work got underway at the end of 2019, it became apparent that the plans we’d made with our architect (Jamie Falla) were not going to work out. We had planned to knock lots of holes in the “spine” wall that runs the length of the house (the old external wall when the house was just one room deep). But it turned out to be a far more robust wall than we’d thought, and also – once we’d chipped off some of the render – a rather beautiful feature. We pivoted. Instead of opening up the house west to east, we opened it up north to south. That decision turned out to be the key to the whole renovation.

Part of the new dining/living room. One of the big wins has been opening up the house so that light comes all the way through the building from east to west and north to south.

We ended up choosing to reveal not just the granite, but much else of the fabric of the building. Bits of concrete, brick and old timber were all left on show. Concrete lintels and wall ends were also left exposed. It just seemed to work, and to fit the house. We also liked the idea of displaying the building’s history. The magazine “Enki” was a significant influence.

The one part of the wall that we knocked through downstairs was where the original staircase would have had a “return” landing built into the wall, with a window. We simply extended the old window opening down to the floor level.

Looking through the ground floor opening in the wall. The bricks show where the old window was, and the concrete covers over where we cut down to the floor level to extend the opening

In the living room we dug out the fireplace and discovered that there would once have been a range in the opening. Once we’d excavated the original cavity we had a much better opening for our own wood burning stove.

Wood burning stove in the living room fireplace. The black stained planks on the wall are the old wood floorboards that we repurposed for panelling.

Upstairs we discovered beautiful old fireplaces in the two front rooms. The chimneys are blocked now, so we couldn’t bring them back into use, but they make a lovely feature in our study and the spare bedroom.

First floor bedroom fireplace after it had been discovered behind the wall: just big enough for a few coals.
Fireplace now (note the difference in floor level, we’ve managed to gain quite a few inches)

At some point I’ll try and add in some more before and after comparisons, but right now I’m still too exhausted by the whole renovation project to trawl back over the trials and tribulations. So what follows is a gallery of the house as it was when we moved in.

The study, looking into the spare bedroom. We put in an extra big door so that when nobody is staying we can convert these two rooms into essentially a single large room
The guest en suite: we were worried that this would be a tiny, pokey little room, but actually it’s turned out reasonably generous.
Looking from Sam’s bedroom into Jonny’s bedroom: the wave wallpaper is in honour of the latter’s obsession with surfing. One day we’ll no doubt put doors in to separate the two rooms, but for the time being they can make do with a shared space.
Our bedroom, complete with the old attic window in the gable end. The light and space up here are terrific…
The granite wall in the living room has a couple of these little alcoves. When we found them beneath the render they were stuffed with random bits of stone and brick. Our builders reckon they were for scaffolding support when the house was being built, and were roughly filled in at the end when the scaffolding came down. Now we use them for candles.
Looking up both flights of stairs. They’re made of sheets of plywood, and plywood was one of the main themes of the renovation.
The back of the house. Our choice of colour is not universally appreciated, but we love the way it reduces the impact of the building in landscape, particularly at night. The paint is heavily pigmented and the apparent colour changes significantly according to the light (compare with the photo at the top of this post).

Today, the interior of the house looks very different to this – full of the mess of everyday living. I have to say we’re slightly in mourning for the pristine, empty simplicity of the house in these photos.

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