It’s been more than three months since I’ve updated you guys with progress on the castle we are building on our 4-acre plot. The truth is, there isn’t much to tell.
We are building the castle in stages, because it is easier on our wallets – and our sanity – that way. Stage 1 isn’t that exciting – we call it “The Barn” and it’s a small, 72sqm structure that we will live in until the rest of the castle is finished – which could be several years away yet! The barn contains a modest bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, a large living/kitchen space, and an even larger, sound-proofed music studio for CDH. Because of the extreme winds on our site, we’ve opted to construct out of concrete (which will give us the weighty feel and strength of a stone barn, but without the expense) which will be finished using a traditional lime/cement render with a beautiful rough finish and medieval details.
The roof has been a bit of a design challenge, as we needed to find a material that would give us the look we were after, while providing the wind protection we need (some roofing materials just won’t stand up to the conditions on our site), being low-maintenance and cost-effective, sturdy enough to support the weight of our solar panels, and provide a safe surface to collect drinking water. We were originally looking at asphalt shingles, but, not wanting to drink water that’s essentially come off a road, we had to abandon that idea. My husband happened across the perfect solution – Gerard metal tiles. They look like the shingles we wanted, are low maintenance, durable in the wind, and most importantly – safe to drink water from.
You can already tell by our choice of materials that we are not striving for a truly authentic castle structure – this would be impossible to do without a lot of time, resources and a budget of about 10x what we’ve got. What we are striving for is a modern home that maintains the functions of a castle – the layout, the different spaces, the fortified vantage point. The decor will be medieval, but filtered through our own tastes. The end result will, I hope, be something unique – combining the best features of medieval design with some aspects of modern comfort, without being a pastiche.
And we will be off-grid. This – and the fact that we will be working on the house and creating much of the furniture and fittings ourselves – is very important to us. It was part of the whole reason for this quite drastic move. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of off-grid living since I was quite young. Father Metal was doing some work for a client who was entirely self-sufficient for food (and probably off-grid, too, I think, but it was quite long ago, and I wasn’t interested in that detail then). He would churn his own butter, make his own cheese, butcher his own meat – everything from scratch. The idea absolutely fascinated me, and I’ve been holding on to it as something I wanted to aspire to in my own life ever since.
In university I did a lot of research about the archaeology and history of food – not just where particular foods came from, but how they were prepared, what a particular culture might have in a meal, how this differed across classes, what food could tell you about a society, and – of course – the preparation of food. All this thinking about – and growing closer to – food and it’s origins made me really crave these experiences myself. I started small, learning to prepare certain sauces from scratch that I might once have bought from the store. Then I got into bread-baking, and I’ve been making my own bread at least 3 days per week for many years now. Then it was preserving and home brewing, which is something I’d like to write more about here if you guys were interested. And now I want to space and the soil for even bigger projects – I’m picturing huge gluts of tomatoes just waiting to be turned into passatta, omelets made from eggs from my own chickens, piccalilli for Africa, fluffy lambs running around in the paddocks, curing my own bacon, making my own outdoor pizza over, stuffing a six-bird roast for a medieval banquet …
There’s a huge movement among certain metalhead circles called “Rewilding”, which I spoke about a bit in my last post. I find a lot to relate to in this movement (and am going to write about it a bit here in future), but my new life is more pastoral than primitive, and that’s what I wanted. We will also have many of the comforts of modern life – a big house (not stupidly big, but certainly big in NZ standards), enough power to run my husband’s music studio, my computer, a freezer for all our meat, and occasionally a movie on our projector. But many of these things we want because we know our house will be filled not just with us – but with our family, our friends (who are practically family), with children (maybe) and their friends. We’re both social people, and we know that our castle will never be cold and empty. It is a gathering place for pilgrims and adventurers. I am debating running a small B&B. Plus, I want a room filled with books. I am attached to some aspects of civilisation – a completely wild existence is not for me.
So what have we done so far? Well, not that much. We’ve done some more work on the driveway – spreading and compacting the gravel – and, although it needs more work (and probably another $5-7k), it should hopefully be fine for the duration of our Stage 1 build. We have rescued our trees from the drought and the possums, and although they’ve been nearly stripped of leaves they are fighting back. We have started fencing off our paddocks (our fencer has gone walkabouts, but I don’t have money in the budget left to pay for the other half of the fence, so I’m actually fine with this for now). We have built an implement shed, with a cute little shaded area and a 1000L water tank collecting water from the roof (this isn’t really OK to drink but will do the gardens just fine. And a couple of weekends ago CDH and Father Metal dug out and leveled off the pad for the foundations, and with the help of our friend Jen, we got one coat of paint on the shed. (It is Cherrywood Red and looks rather snazzy).
For us, the biggest problem so far has been finances. We took out just enough money that, if we were careful, we could build our first stage (“the barn”), and get the driveway in so we could move onto the land. The mortgage is small for the Auckland area and serviceable on our salaries. What we hadn’t factored in were delays – delays as plans were drawn up (about 2 months of delays), and the building consent process, which has basically been kicking our ass – and what we’re doing with the barn is hardly radical (unlike the rest of the structure).
The council have basically been going out of their way to screw us over. I’m not normally negative about anyone or anything – “they’re just doing their job!” “They have to abide by the regulations” – and I swore when we started I wasn’t going to become one of those complainy-pants people who goes on and on about how stupid and pointless the consent process is. And then we started the consent process, and I have to conclude that ALL THOSE COMPLAINYPANTS PEOPLE ARE RIGHT.
They want to know where our power box is. They want us to add supportive bracing to our concrete-block building. They want to know where our hot water cylinder is. There’s no power box, supportive bracing isn’t necessary or required for concrete blocks, and we’re on gas water, so no cylinder. There have been around 50 such questions, each one stopping to process and requiring our engineer or draftsman to make minor changes or send letters to the council. So we’ve paid out $2500 in additional fees to those two guys, all for stuff that was actually on our plans to begin with. Yay – thanks Council.
Council are required by law to give us building consent within 20 days, but every time they come back with a question, they stop the clock until we submit additional information. We submitted our consent application on the 25 Jan, and it’s April now, they are several days overdue, but legally there is nothing we can do except send a sternly worded complaint letter. Which I intend to do as soon as we’ve got the consent papers in our hands.
The delays have meant we will be spending more time living in rented accommodation than we intended, and have also eaten down our savings. Add to that the increasing costs of the driveway, and repairs to a digger and a fence after my husband introduced them to each other. Things are a little tight.
Have I mentioned that building your own house is mad? The process is extremely frustrating, but every time we go on site, I feel all the worry and all the frustration just roll right off me. I know we can do it, and that in the end, it will all be worth it.
So, that’s been my life over the last few weeks. What about you?