Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

The country’s lockdown provided Property Editor Tommy Barker with a chance to become an architect/builder ... well, of a shed, at least.

‘Distant sea views,’ the auctioneer’s sales spiel heralded, in the brochure and in the online images, including naturally enough a shot of the sea, winking silver and blue, by a white sandy beach at the end of a valley, a mere mile away.

It was the ‘money shot’.

But, what his engaging ‘distant sea view’ image (one clearly taken with a long, telephoto lens) didn’t fully reveal was the fact the only place you could see the sea from was one, singular garden patch of the property he was charged with selling.

Either there, or the sea view could be espied from the roof ridge of the house, as, post-purchase, I discovered while up painting the chimneys, or wiring the pots to keep nest-building crows at bay.

As was the way back more than 100 years ago, the farmhouse-style home had been built in a garden dip, specifically sited for protection from prevailing Atlantic winds and driving rains.

Ah, but the view. There it was, tantalising, but effectively out of the viewing frame. Like the saying goes, ‘you can’t eat scenery’ — but, it will help to sell a property, for you, or to you.

From the house door, or with a window open, you could heard the sea, and the splash of waves, especially on a windless night and, peculiarly, that main wave slap sound is from another beach even further away and, again, with the sound channelling up a different valley in an indented coastline.

So, rather than the usual ‘picture, no sound’ quip, it was a case of ‘sound, but no picture’.

I’ve yet to read in an auctioneer’s brochure ‘distant sea sounds’. While real, it doesn’t quite warm the soul, stir the senses, or have much of an echo beyond the moment.

Estate agents will post videos, but know not to bother posting audio files.

Well. It’s not all ‘quite so distant’ any more. The diminutive ‘money shot’ view has just been opened up and framed, some bit at least, thanks to a Covid-19 lockdown project that’s just coming to a summer 2020 fruition.

I’ve just built a shed, albeit a small one.

Or, or is it a viewing perch? Or a self-isolation Coronavirus chamber, driven by frustration and an inability to go far afield, while still quite perfectly placed atop a garden boundary?

It’s barely bigger than a confessional, but, hey, confession, there are smaller spaces out there in everyday uses. Even on Airbnb. Especially on Airbnb.

Yep, it’s tiny, but it’s kinda cool.

It got ‘sustainably’ constructed, using loads of leftover bits of building materials, salvage, scrap and some indestructible ‘Georgian-effect’ pvc double glazing.

The latter is the sort of thing I generally think of as a pastiche abomination ... but heck, they were free, and freely available at a time of lockdown, otherwise going to waste.

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Cool? Well, seeing as how ‘the shed’ has a small bit of cantilevered decking, and is finished in grey corrugated iron, it pretentiously sort of looks like an architect might even have been involved somewhere along the way?

I like to think that, anyway. It has been a decade now, and architects do still love their grey window frames, and their grey and black box houses.

Here, the ugh! white nPVC windows got a lick of grey paint outside, including painting the glass over the strip of plastic glazing bars set between the twin layers of glass.

So, now, it’s sort of pastiche on top of pastiche, a double negative as a positive? Like, yeah?

Eat your heart out, Mr George C Clarke, with your ‘Amazing Small Space ‘TV show specials, or even our own Dermot Bannon, or the followers and posters of the many ‘Tiny House’ threads online and on Instagram.

Pre-Christmas, Interiors section editor and colleague Eve Kelliher reviewed a book called Nomad, spanning mobile houses, from campers to live-aboard boats and ‘tiny house’ residents in forests, and interviewed author Emma Reddington.

Just how hard could constructing a grounded shack be?

The nation will recall Dermot Bannon putting corrugated iron or ‘galvanised’ into his garden room/bath housewhich he added putting corrugated iron or ‘galvanised’ into his garden room/bath house which he added (at considerable budget) to his massively watched personal home restoration quite recently.

There, apart from chummily sharing a bathtub with fellow TV presenter Diarmuid Gavin, who dived in for the outdoor and garden advice, they jointly christened galvanised or corrugated steel as ‘crinkly tin’.

CRINKLY THING

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Close enough, ‘Crinkly Thing’ this personal, tiny-budget Cork coastal project henceforth shall be known as.

Having Crinkly Thing upright, firmly rooted, weather tight, insulated even, and unlikely to blow away in a hurricane (Ahem! Fate-tempting here, given how exposed it is).

I am beyond stupidly happy and pleased with it.

Delivering it, warts and jagged bits and all, shows me how architects, builders, developers and engineers who actually build and create things of real scale and real substance may have real big egos to match?

Truth be told, this was a project loosely ‘in the wings’ for several years, knowing the slender, valley-framed sea view potential from an elevated garden ridge, on a high ditch above fields of reclaimed land in (notionally, at least) a pastoral idyll.

Short of trying to get planning permission for a replacement glass box, an achingly cool architectural fantasy, putting a garden ‘shed’ up there by the polytunnel was always going to be about the next best thing, for a tiny fraction of that ‘Plan A’, glass cube dream home notion.

It’s been cheap as chips, too, even if it did go over the notional €1,000 budget.

It went about 50% over that budget so, say €1,500 all-in; thus I’m up there with Dermot Bannon again, only ‘pushing the envelope’ from a much lower, paper-thin base.

TSUNAMI ROOTS

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Viewing the house years back, when it first tantalisingly came to market, the elderly man who had lived here all his life lived here stood in this exact shed-set point, and precisely declared: “This is where the Tsunami after the Lisbon earthquake stopped.”

His initially odd-seeming claim was no auctioneer’s hyperbole either.

It’s pretty well documented that the 1755 Great Lisbon earthquake sent waves rolling from Portugal (where the earthquake killed an estimated 60,000 citizens) towards the south and west coasts of Britain and Ireland, impacting from Cornwall to Clare and Galway, and helping to create many of the sand dunes along the coasts at the time.

At that stage, ‘our’ valley and its streams would have been tidal, only filling in and silting up since the mid-19th century, when a seawall was built by the beach as a Board of Works/Famine Relief scheme, similar to the causeways at Inchydoney and Clonakilty.

Had that seawall not happened, we’d have had water frontage. But, then had that been the case, we couldn’t have had afforded the extra price premium which ‘water frontage’ confers on a property.

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Hmm, if this lockdown and beach ban goes on much longer, though, I might end up dynamiting the sea wall, blowing it to smithereens and wait for the tide and rising sea levels to slowly come back up our way once more.

After all, ‘adding value’ is always the sad hope of the demonic DIY-er, isn’t it?

As the idea of a ‘man’s shed’ project germinated, the options included ideas from the aforementioned Artisan Press book Nomad, or the various ‘Tiny Home’ websites, or, most alluringly, doing a copy of a Terence Conran-design spotted years ago in a 1990s book, Terence Conran’s Garden DIY.

Naturally, being done by Conran it looked lovely, but maybe was a bit too ‘cricket pavilion’ and posh?

In any case, there’s a very similar one in the lower grounds of Bantry House, so the Habitat chain founder’s ‘Summer Room’ with corrugated roof is way more properly at home there by the stately pile.

The Conran plans and images spanned 18 pages of the book; it even seemed manageable but was unlikely for a solo-DIY project, and cost-wise would have been multiples of the €1k budget.

SHED YOUR POSSESSIONS

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Most new sheds of any sort of robust quality, either in steel or timber, again were over the initial €1k budget, especially when the base and projected decking which was done pre-Christmas 2020 had come in at a surprising €500.

Naively, I usually think things should be cheaper than they usually are — a bit like the property market?

I checked for second-hand sheds, but quickly realised most people generally advertise older sheds for sale as a way of getting rid of them, to save the price of getting a skip, with the hope of a few quid thrown into the ‘bargain’ from some eejit.

Lots were ‘free to take away,’ and while that ‘free’ had a natural appeal, in the main they were sheds that weren’t going to survive being taken down, transported and reassembled.

Time to man up, so, to pay out a bit, and to build, on a modest scale.

There were no plans, no CAD drawings, no walk-throughs, and while Crinkly Thing won’t win a beauty contest like some Terence Conran design, it has — ahem, hopefully? — a certain rustic, raw and honest charm.

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Its proportions weren’t dictated by the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio so beloved by architects and aesthetes.

Rather they came from the humble 8’ by 4’ sheet of WBP or plywood, so the shape essentially is an eight-feet cube, keeping everything simple. It meant the least amount of cutting — and minimal waste.

Simplest roof was always going to be ply, with a slight mono-pitch, felted, and then topped with overhanging 11-feet long sheets of farm-quality corrugated steel or galvanised steel sheets: grey, natch.

Bought just the day before the country’s total lockdown from the local co-op, and in a panic of ‘don’t over order/don’t under order’ they were purchased along with many boxes of screws, and only after a decision not to clad in lapped timber boards.

Larch? That was a call that could have gone either way with a coin toss.

The roof has a slight overhang for shedding water — some but, yet not so much that a dramatic uplift in a gale will rip it all off, like ripping off a Band-Aid. Hopefully.

(No engineers were consulted in this ‘back of envelope’ design.)

THE BORING BITS

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Wall frames are simple, under the ply are lengths of 4” by 2” timber, and they’re fixed to a base of four, very long parallel-running 9” by 3” timbers.

I’d initially thought of using old telephone poles on the ground for the cantilever base, but, what was around was mostly strange chunky sizes, which were nigh impossible to transport and heft up into the raised garden.

Otherwise, the nicest, most even poles were still in use, keeping phone lines open to neighbours and strung out along the roads. I had to resist the call.

In any case, the 16’ long base lengths of 9” by 3” were plenty enough weight to haul around.

There’s four of them for the base, resting on three slightly angled concrete block foundation strips, coming just above ground level at the front to allow air circulate under the deck.

The base juts, protrudes or cantilevers a bit out from a ditch above a farmer’s field to carry what’s meant to be a viewing deck.

But, I funked just a bit on how far to let them stick out in the V-front, opting for caution, fearing uplift from high winds, as much as for the fact we didn’t own the field underneath and didn’t feel entitled to claim ‘air rights’.

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Having hefted the timbers, and the ply, the windows and the corrugated steel sheets, I’d reckon there’s a good tonne of material gone into the back, so it should be well anchored.

(No mathematicians were used in this build, nor QSs nor builders, neither.)

Bar an hour’s fraternal helping hand to get ply squarely onto the roof, this was a solo job. Getting the windows in without a buddy was a dose, and they were a tight fit: damn, double glazing windows weigh a whack.

I had to prop them up on a stout pallet, precariously set on its edge and jemmy them in.

(No Health and Safety procedures were followed to the letter, naturally. Miraculously, no visits to A&E were needed either.)

I had a pair of Velux windows going abegging from a ‘job lot’ kindly donated via a brother-in-law and his wife who had taken down an extension.

Their pitch-pine kitchen units had already been reused, and I still had hundreds of their rescued floor tiles, those Veluxes, and even radiators left, and not yet found a home.

Maybe keep the Veluxes and more for a shed extension, Lockdown Phase ll?

Double doors came from the the same in-law family donors, as did a pair of internal double doors. second-hand sliding patio doors still cost a fair bit.

Budget was a driver here, even if it did get blown out by 50%. There was still great value, especially as the labour was free, with lots of time on hand.

The most extravagant purchase was a roll of lead flashing for the simplest of windows and door sills.

A compact looking roll was close to €70, and oh, the weight of it relative to its size — it’s like embracing a black hole.

I reused left-over insulation, with some big sections of 200mm Xtratherm boards tediously getting sliced down to narrower widths: not pretty, but now out of sight, sandwiched between interior and exterior boards of ply.

Also used up was every scrap of old ply I could get my hands on inside. But, some rough shuttering ply (the cheapest grade) had to come back out again of the shed’s lining when I noticed woodworm in it — feckers, them and their ‘tiny’ houses.

LIFE SPAN

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

At this stage, what had started out as a shed project was turning into something that could actually have a 20-year-plus life span, so the spec actually went up in terms of weather-proofing as the project progressed over the last two months’ weekends.

Last gasp? Stay with me.

The advanced lockdown meant no access to plaster board, or to pine timber sheeting (we’ve seen Claire Byrne’s chic wood-lined home-office/chalet during her self-isolating broadcasts, and/or those from Marty Morrissey among others broadcasters).

Not having Ryan Tubridy’s or Brian Dobson’s bookshelves either to line the interior with, the increasingly odd shapes of ply lining Crinkly Thing’s now-insulated interior instead got covered in every bit of leftover wallpaper I could get my sticky hands on.

It was strange looking back over several decades of end-rolls of cast-off wallpaper: Just how did any of it ever seem fashionable?

Guiltily, before the taste police called by, it was all covered over with coats of white emulsion.

Claire Byrne broadcasting from her garden shed a few weeks ago
Claire Byrne broadcasting from her garden shed a few weeks ago

Even though my hoarder’s store ‘out back’ has tiles galore, and old slate, there was no adhesive or grout available, or proper floor paint either, instead the ply floor got a few coats of white emulsion, topped with a few coats of varnish from a suspect-looking rusty tin.

But, unlike the product’s boast that it does ‘exactly what it says on the tin,’ it was fine within its rusty confines, emerging suitably polyurethane-ish and robustly chemical. Down it went.

‘Dammit, it’s only a shed’ is the get-out clause I justified more than a few cut corners or bodged angles with.

UP THE WALLS

Hold the front page(s): Lockdown 'property' project sent me up the walls

Then, entirely by accident and as a last thought, came the ‘pretty’ or the quirky bit.

Given the Crinkly Thing’s interior now needed nothing bar a ‘look’ or final finish, yet in the midst of shop shutdowns, some small ray of well-timed good fortune struck.

I had to go the Irish Examiner’s Blackpool offices mid-April to get a PC and paraphernalia as the wonky laptop I’d been using had failed.

I had an official work pass to justify the journey: going into an empty office building was like clambering aboard the Marie Celeste.

While there in the eerily empty echoing chambers, I swiped my own few hundred reference and back issues of the Irish Examiner’s Property & Interiors supplements from under the desk, a stash going back a handful of years.

Now, three walls, and a bit around the Crinkly Thing’s access double doors (salvaged, stored, finally repurposed) are ‘ironically’ pasted with page 1s, most of them taken by former and now retired star Irish Examiner snapper Denis Scannell.

‘Sca’ couldn’t take an ugly image if he was commanded to. Seriously, he couldn’t.

Apart from the heavy ‘Denis Scannell shrine’ vibe, included were page 1s from other staff photographers drafted in on a property jobs post-Scannell, or from dedicated freelancers, whose images have thankfully graced our P&I front pages.

Most shots brought back memories of visits or chats with owners.

Ballymagooly House, Mallow, Co Cork. Picture: Denis Scannell
Ballymagooly House, Mallow, Co Cork. Picture: Denis Scannell

Many were just posted and pasted with admiration for the visual craft of those behind the lens, or for the in-house Graphics team who help deliver a fresh look each Saturday, hopefully with a half-savvy tag line to encourage readers to peer inside.

Ooops, one or two short ‘kicker’ headings or tags were as recycled as the materials in the ‘shrine’, it turns out.

I’m not sure we can use ‘Curves in the right places’ for any more shots of spiral stairs, round towers, or curvaceous buildings and rounded rooms: that one was used three times in as many years.

Thankfully, the final finish isn’t perfect, or an absolute shrine to P&I self-indulgence.

The newsprint wrinkled badly under the assault of PVA glue, while the top coats of left-over satin-coat varnish darkened them further.

As a ‘Warning, do not try this at home’ memo to other cheapos, looking to paper a room with newpaper pages of interest, the wetting of the paper meant print images on the reverse page 2s (the House of the Week slot, and therefore ink heavy with images) bled through the page one glories.

Thus, it ain’t exactly a job you’d do in a private home.. But, in a shed (yes, again the ‘get out’ clause whenever anything ended up a bit rough, or off-square) “it’s grand”.

In defence of accusations of vanity project with recycled Property & Interiors page 1s, I’d have say that (apart from being free) they were plastered up with a strong grace note of irony.

Having some of Munster’s best, swankiest and most stylish homes ending up ‘gracing’ the walls of a country garden shack, wrinkles and all, is just a hoot.

But, that wouldn’t be entirely true.

In fact, it would be as disingenuous as Donald Trump last week claiming his comments about injecting disinfectant or introducing UV light into the body were intended as ‘sarcasm’.

So, hands up? Perversely proud with it, and, if I can top 3,000 words writing about a shed, well, stand back if I ever build a house: it will fill a tome.

Sadly, the ‘house-warming’ such as Dermot Bannon does on episodes of Room to Improve won’t happen any time soon in my ‘Room to Seclude’.

New social-isolating norms would see a maximum capacity of four, one per corner, unable to move without breaking the two-metre distance barrier.

But, small and all as it is, it’s done, dusted, and weatherproof.

Most importantly, the finished Crinkly Thing sanctuary ‘box’ opens up a previously, only barely-appreciated valley view, complete with daily farm activity; seagulls following fresh ploughing; abundant birdsong, occasional glimpses of hawks and yes, those pesky sales brochure heralded points of ‘potential’ and ‘distant sea views’.

And, sure, if you can’t believe an auctioneer, just who can you believe?

VERDICT

Hold the front pages.

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