Getting my hands dirty

I had no idea how much fun it would be to punch a hold in a wall, using a sledgehammer. Well that’s not true, I had an inkling, but the sheer satisfaction was really surprising. I’m learning a lot about myself in this renovation process, in fact! I *love* building things and heavy physical work! We’ve had to do some serious deconstruction before the actual renovation can begin and most of this was done by my father-in-law, with me and The Belgian on the weekday afternoons, and his team of experts on the weekends.

Francis, Jean & Jo

Francis, Jean & Joseph

André, Léon, Olivier, The Belgian, Joseph

André, Léon, Olivier, The Belgian & Joseph

Joseph & Joseph R

Joseph (having his gaufre!) & Joseph R

And just in case you didn’t believe it, here’s one of me!

Checking the plans and revising as we go...

Checking the plans and revising as we go…

We’ve done some serious work at this stage. We knocked in two doors, which was no easy feat. Joseph was halfway through the first one when we discovered that these awesome 1920 houses were built using granite in both exterior and interior walls! He broke two machines trying to get through a huge slab of granite, about 1.5m length by 40cm deep. It was crazy but he finally did so! We also discovered some hidden surprises in the walls, such as old rusting iron pipes that were not so easily displaced.

Granite around the edge of an interior room

Granite around the edge of an interior room

Following the discovery of the iron pipes!

Following the discovery of the iron pipes!

Fair play to Joseph, he’s a demon once he starts on a project. That granite was coming out, regardless! We managed to get it out eventually and it will be used in other places in the garden. My cousin-in-law will also reuse some of it in his building work – he’s a master carpenter and is building his own workshop at the moment in the southeast of Belgium!

The next big stage was to take up the beautiful hardwood floors, insulate the floor and then replace the hardwood. Sounds simple, right?! Don’t be fooled… It was far from simple. The boards have been in place a very long time. Almost 100 years! They were very reluctant to come up and the noise they made as we pried them up individually was some sort of primordial scream. It was horrific! I wore headphones for most of this work. We did half of the uncovering one weekend with the full team, and Joseph and I finished together during the week. This is another thing I discovered during the work – when left on our own to do a job, my father-in-law and I work exceptionally well together! I love my husband’s family but this is a new level of closeness that I think we’re all really enjoying. It’s very reassuring, given that we’ve bought a house now and are planning to stick around for a while!

Pot for nails! Joseph estimated an average of 22 nails per board. Phew!

Pot for nails! Joseph estimated an average of 22 nails per board. Phew!

The next stage was putting down insulation. After a little research Joseph suggested we go with a cellulose, recycled paper insulation. We looked into the prices and it was well within budget, so we went for it. I helped him lay it, and it was fun putting it in! (Apart from the terrifying occasions when one of us tripped and struggled to find balance before going through the downstairs neighbour’s ceiling!) Once in it acts like jelly. When I was padding in around the edges, some words appeared in the recycled bits. Never whole words but little bits on tiny pieces of paper. I love this! This idea that we are always walking on words, that the foundation of our home is grounded in words. It’s just beautiful. It made me think of the last two lines of Yeats’ Cloths of Heaven.

“I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

In our case it’s words, not dreams that are spread under our feet, and not those of a lover, but of the entire world…

Mixing the recycled paper to fluff it up!

Mixing the recycled paper to fluff it up!

Insulation down!

Insulation down!

We put a layer of really soft cardboard over the joints, and then the sad floorboards went back in place. They’re so hardy! We tore a few trying to take them out, but when they went back down, they looked as good as new. For the moment the place no longer resembles an apartment, but I’m hoping that now the floors are going back down, it can start looking like our eventual home…

a x


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