The dreaded cost overrun

I guess in a way it was always going to happen, despite our best efforts to avoid it. The Quantity Surveyor has just shared his schedule of costs with us, and it’s way over both budget and the initial estimates that we’d been given.

It was a stomach wrenching moment when we worked our way down his itemised spreadsheet and realised that the costs were about 30% over what we’d been led to expect. With some big costs, such as the utilities, not yet factored in…

And so late in the process! Too late to feasibly change anything big.

Having tried to control costs as much as possible by buying a ‘turnkey’ solution from a reputable firm of architects, we’ve been scuppered by the quotes from their builders for the groundworks, access road and actual build of the house.

Although the SIP kit is a fixed price and estimates for the erection were provided, their builder has come in with quotes way over what was initially estimated.

We’re now faced with challenging those figures, and if we can’t get them down to a reasonable level, which I think unlikely, potentially trying to source another builder. Not an easy task on the island where builders are scarce and already over-subscribed with work for the year. We may have to spread the net more widely.

And if costs still prove too high, we may have to do some of the work ourselves to make this in any way affordable.

There is a definite feeling that some of these figures are what we call “London” prices. (Ah, they’re from London. They must have loads of money and will accept any cost that we give them.) That’s a bitterly sad thought, and one that I sincerely hope doesn’t prove to be true.

Let’s see where this next week takes us…

Mushroom growing

One of the foods that I really love is mushrooms. Just about all mushrooms, but especially the meaty, flavourful ones such as ceps or shiitake mushrooms.

Living in France for many years gave me an even deeper appreciation of them, with the wild mushroom season kicking off an almost religious fervour in the locals, and restaurants using them in everything whilst they were fresh and plentiful. The flavour and textures were unlike anything I’d tasted from shop bought mushrooms, and I was hooked.

We’ve been looking at growing mushrooms using spore-loaded plugs drilled into beech logs on the croft. We have the wood, the rain and the space.

Skye has a good climate for mushrooms – relatively mild and wet – and there used to be someone who grew mushrooms commercially there until recently, so we think that they would be successful.

It takes a few years for the mycelium to take, spread into the fibre of the logs and the underlying ground and fruit into mushrooms, but then it’s possible to crop for many years.

Mycelium, the thread-like network of spores that propagate mushrooms are fascinating.

Research has shown that the presence of mycelium is beneficial to spreading and keeping nutrients locked into soil, and the no-dig method relies on not disturbing this network for maximum soil fertility and crop health.

Trees also use a network like this to communicate and exchange food and healing chemicals to each other beneath the ground. It’s remarkable.

However, back to the edibles!

We can get spore-loaded plugs online for shiitake, oyster, chicken of the wood and enoki mushrooms, all of which are worth a try.

Will keep you posted (but with a trial period of two to three years before we would expect results and enough for a portion of mushrooms on toast, don’t hold your breath..!)

Using the time wisely

As the weeks move on and progress inches along slowly, I try and keep my resolve strong and hold onto the dream by looking back at why we are doing this and using my time in active preparation for our new life.

Photos and videos that we’ve taken of the croft help me to reconnect. Endless lists and plans scribbled in notebooks also help. We are making progress, even if it seems painfully slow at this stage.

πŸ’We hope to have confirmed costs in this next week.

πŸ’The builder has visited the plot and is firming up initial estimates.

πŸ’We have a Quantity Surveyor appointed who is managing the activities around the build.

πŸ’We have the window and doors ordered, along with the request to start SIP panel production.

Yet somehow, until we break ground and I see something tangible, like the access road or the foundations for the house, it doesn’t seem real…

In the meantime, I re-read my books on bread making, jam making and crafts, all things that I hope to happily fill my time with once we are in our new home. I plan for years out when we have hedgerow fruits and can make blackberry wine!

I resist the temptation to peak too soon and buy demijohns, which we’d only have to cart a thousand miles to the island..

I create mood boards and source paint colours. I find floor tile and wood samples and try and decide remotely what will look best in the space and the light, balancing practicality with design.

We plan endless potential uses for the old barn on the croft. Book barn, accommodation, studio, willow weaving shed, brewery… I think we’re up to around 400 potential uses for it so far 😬. It’s become our family joke. I think it’s because it’s the only actual building on the land, however tumbledown. At least it’s real.

I think of my studio and all the things that I will create once I have the time and mental space to do so – canvases, textile works, sculptural objects, things with driftwood and beach finds. I’ve commissioned a weaving for the wall.

I dream about the croft. I think about how it will look once we have thousands of trees planted and birds and wildlife start to return to the land. I dream of those beautiful views across the sound, and the sheer magical peace of the place.

And I try and use the final months here in productive preparation. Organising the recovering of my bargain sofas for the house. Sourcing a local stone sculptor to make our house sign. Researching where we can find the cheapest scaffolding boards on the island. Thinking of buying a car suitable for the roads on Skye. Contacting the forestry commission and woodland trusts. Sourcing firewood. Registering the croft.

It’s coming, we tell ourselves. Hold on.

Frost, Hope, Happiness

A frosty morning hillside in Dorset in January. The sun rising over the English Channel. My brother sent me this image some years ago at a very low time in my life, and it made me smile and gave me hope that not everything was dark.

It popped up in my Facebook feed again this morning and I found myself uplifted again.

Such a simple, contagious thing, a smile. I am determined to pass it on today and help someone’s Monday become a little happier.

Linen addiction

The January sales are always a temptation, although I try hard to use them just to buy things that I really need.

This year, thinking ahead to life on the island, I’ve looked at our bedding supplies carefully and decided that a bit of a root-through is needed.

We have lots of old bedding from previous lives that I will keep and cut up for cleaning cloths and studio use, but a few more duvet covers and sheets wouldn’t go amiss. Especially in brushed cotton (or flanelette, as some of you may know it).

This is a soft cotton with its’ nappe raised through brushing as part of the manufacturing process, rendering it warm and comfortable to the touch. Perfect for colder nights and mornings.

I confess to being a bit of a textile junkie, and I love a bargain. I have always bought my bedding in the sales whenever possible so that I can buy the best for less. πŸ˜‰

It’s a good thing that we have a large linen cupboard built into the new house so that I can store our bedding and towels…. but we could also do with a bit of a towel sort out. A few more big, comfy bath sheets for when we have both kids home might not be a bad idea, although my husband will raise eyes skywards at me suggesting that we might need more..!

I rarely throw out the slightly thin or ratty towels. They will simply get repurposed and will be kept in the utility room for muddy paws, the garden or emergency mopping-up. There’s always a use somewhere 😊.

A thousand things

It seems that there are always a thousand things to think about at any given point in a house build project.

At this precise moment we’re appointing a Quantity Surveyor to manage and oversee the build quotes, and get a more accurate projection of build costs for budget. We’re hoping to have costs through and an idea of possible build start dates in the next few weeks.

We’re also looking at flooring in more detail again. The bathrooms, entrance hall and utility room will all be tiled for practicality, and although I started off considering stone floors, the maintenance requirement for regular re-sealing has put me off a little, and I’m now thinking more of big, matt finish porcelain tiles.

Samples will be winging their way through the post over the next few weeks so that we can narrow down the selection.

In parallel, we’re waiting to hear whether the Forestry Commission managed to get out to the croft before Christmas as they were hoping to in order to survey the land from a tree planting perspective.

It all feels as if it’s on the very cusp of happening. Just a few inches further…☺️

Reuse, repurpose, refurbish…

I’ve been on eBay whilst laid up these last few weeks, looking for furniture for the new house.

It’s very tempting to buy new, but as we don’t know the final cost for the build yet (and it never, ever comes in under budget) I thought it best to be prudent. I also like the idea of repurposing or refurbishing pre-owned furniture.

Ercol is a manufacturer of classic furniture that is extremely well made and is going through a bit of a renaissance at the moment with the popularity of Scandinavian and mid-century style. To buy new would cost many thousands of pounds.

I’ve purchased a couple of pre-owned sofas and armchairs for a song and am now looking at options for recovering and refurbishing them. The frames have a lifetime guarantee, so I suspect once I’ve got them refreshed with good quality linen upholstery they’ll be good for another few decades.

The chairs arrived this morning. They look a bit sad at the moment with their musty, worn, faded floral fabric, but I have to see past that. The frames are solid and in great condition.

I have these in mind for a cosy reading corner next to the wood burner in front of the big lounge windows. One each for Hugh and I for many hours of lounging with feet up, good books and maybe a wee dram.