The show must go on...

If you've written me a chatty email in the last year or so, or had a "let's catch up" kind of conversation, you've probably asked me: "So, how's your house renovations going?". Well, sorry I haven't been too vocal about it all. The reason I haven't had much to say on the matter is because it's a difficult issue. Almost every time I've thought about the house in the last year , I've had a minor panic attack - and as we all know, the best way to deal with panic is to squash it down and deny it. Right?

So I thought it was about time to fill you in on the neverending story that is our "renovators delight". We found the house and began the process of buying it about 2.5 years ago. Back then, we were very optimistic. Or should the word be "naive"? You can see my initial enthusiasm in the posts "Renovator's delight" and "Finally"; there's still a glimmer of hope in "Kl. Lagerstrasse 65A" , while I'm starting to lose my nerve by the time I write "Out with the Old". After that I stopped writing about the house altogether.

The more we stripped back, the more the house started to disintegrate - 120 years of rising damp,sleet and sub-zero temperatures, rumbling trams going past, inadequate heating and bodgy fix-it jobs meant that the whole house was an ailing wreck, rotting on the inside as well as the outside. The first crew of workers turned out to be totally dodgy, and after returning from our trip to Oz last year, we decided to stop the whole building process to get some extra expert opinions from engineers, builders and architects. The house was in such poor state that we would have to do much more to it than originally intended - this coupled with the fact that we have seen many dodgy "that'll do" building jobs go terribly wrong - made us decide to get all of the official paperwork done - architect's plans, plumbing plans, electricity connections, building permit etc. I think the reality is that we really couldn't do the job without most of the above stuff anyway.

So.... we started this official planning and paperwork process in April last year.... and we are still waiting on the building permit. The Riga council is notorious for its bureaucratic red tape and bribe-taking potential, and we have had to navigate our way through it all. However, we have an honest architect who knows nothing about bribes, which is good - although I must admit, if I had been given the option to "smooth" the bureaucratic path with some financial contributions in the last few months, my upstanding, ethical resolve would have been seriously tested.

In the meantime, we have started the structural building work in the back of the house already - in the places where the local police and building inspectors can't see. The house is basically an old skin with a new skeleton inside - all of the supporting structures have been built new - and when we finish the insulation and cladding, there will be a new layer on the outside as well. Everyone (and I mean f**king EVERYONE) has told us that we should have ripped it all down and built a brand new replica, it would have been cheaper, it would have been easier, yadda yadda yadda. Now I am beginning to suspect that EVERYONE was right - and its too late. Apart from the staircase, pretty much everything else in the house will be new, but the old outer walls will still be standing - no longer load-bearing, but standing. We are trying to salvage one major interior wall of the house, the corridor wall, which, if left in place, will hopefully preserve the sense of 120 year old home. Then we have the odd wall made of big old sleepers, or old bricks on the ends, which we intend to keep and restore/strip back. But that's about it. Breaks my heart. Floors will be new, windows will be new, most walls and all the ceilings - new. Gyproc and I have to establish some kind of loving relationship, and do it SOON.

And then there's the issue of finances. Oh, finances. Suffice it to say if we were millionaires this whole process would be a lot easier and decisions made much more easily. But despite all the misgivings, the show must go on. There's certainly no going back now, especially considering the financial crisis and the huge plummet the real estate market in Latvia has taken over the last 6 months.

On a lighter note, the next few weeks will be a little exciting, because the builders are taking off the old roof and building the new one. They have to get it done before the autumn rains/sleet sets in - once this has been done, we can get the rest of the interior work done during the winter. So hopefully my next post about the house will sound a little more optimistic. At the moment my uncertainty and stress about the house is a behemoth - maybe when the roof's on things will seem different...

Below some pics I took last week


View from the backyard, first floor behind the scaffolding you can see the new load-bearing frame that will be insulated and then clad in boards.

The old roof is coming down... piece by piece...

The lovable, wabi-sabi, crooked staircase

Hmmm. Should we plug up those holes?

On the right is the corridor wall we are trying to keep. It's got spaces for windows in it - so that light could get into the interior rooms, they used to be called the "black kitchens" because they had little daylight and were small rooms used for washing/cooking.


But here's a cheery sight - the apple tree in our back yard has fruit on it, first time in years, the neighbours tell me. So maybe the tree is more optimistic about the future than I am...

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