Building The Dream, Chapter 3: Walls

Creating a ‘Self Build’ home for our family of five

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Aaaaand breathe. This past month has not been easy. For the first time, I have actually started to wonder if it’s all worth the hassle. But following one of the biggest ever (and very few) arguments between us since we met, I think Dan and I have finally started to see eye to eye again. And we’re still married. Phew.

But it is time for a reality check.

We have quite different or ‘complimentary’ ways of looking at things in life, which has in fact always been one of the key strengths to our relationship. But if there was ever a scenario where our differing personalities and priorities would cause conflict, it would be this. We are similar in many ways too, but Dan is much more cautious and logical and reserved, whereas it’s not really any secret that I am incredibly spontaneous, extravagant and very much of the attitude that if you work as hard as we do, we should be able to have whatever the hell we want. And why not!? Whilst we both like the finer things in life, I am far less willing to compromise on anything. Ever.

So obviously it was only a matter of time before this caused a disagreement here. Cue, kitchen budget nightmares leading to stress-induced, sleep-deprived screaming matches that I never thought we were capable of having and storming out of our tiny rented house to sit in the car just down the road for an hour and cry until I was hungry and bored enough to go home again for a snack and a cuddle. We made up of course, and the following is what we (*I*) have now managed to accept:

We are not millionaires. We have not won the lottery. We are not The Beckhams.

We do ok, but we work bloody hard for it and most of what we earn is swallowed up in childcare costs, bills, food and now vet’s fees. Our time with our kids is so precious. We cannot justify running ourselves into the ground and working 18 hour days for the next year to afford a couple of pink pineapple lamps that cost the same as a small car. Each.

We do not have to move into a show home.

We (again, *I*) had this vision that we would move into a perfectly decorated, brand newly, fully furnished from scratch from top to bottom, palatial property and this was non-negotiable. Until now.

Originally, I didn’t care how long it took. I didn’t want a single thing to still need finishing, not even the tiniest bit of snagging or any item of furniture missing by the time we moved in. Some of this may have even stemmed from the pressure of sharing the progress so publically and wanting it all to be picture-perfect on the final blog post, like I’m some kind of celebrity interiors guru that had to prove something. One of my fellow A Life Loved ‘Lovelies’ suggested this to me when I recently gave in and opened up on the private Facebook group about my mini-breakdown and immense levels of stress – and she absolutely hit the nail on the head. I adore writing about this project. It’s proving to be very cathartic. But I think subconsciously it has also led me to have expectations of myself/us that are just totally unrealistic, both financially and physically, and mentally! So that stops here.

We are not doing this to impress anyone. It is for a better, easier life for us and our children, with more freedom and space to do the things we want in comfort and to set up a future for our family. Yes, I love designing the interiors and indulging in the luxuries that I think we deserve too. I do have expensive taste. But it doesn’t have to be all at once. I have managed to get my head around the fact that saving money on rent, which we are currently shelling out (alongside our ever-increasing self-build mortgage payments) and moving into the new house as soon as it’s the slightest bit habitable, makes far more sense and should be the goal.

So, with that in mind, I am going to go out on a limb here and share with you all, our ‘fixed’ moving date of Thursday 18th October 2018! Gulp. (‘That’s brave to share’ Dan has just muttered, as I proof-read this back to him for approval. Although I never actually do take on board any of his suggested edits). We have always said we would like to be in by Christmas, but this earlier date will not only now give us a chance to settle before the holiday season and enjoy the festive build up with the kids, but it also syncs well with my time off over half term before my 2019 wedding season properly kicks off and in time for Poppy’s 7th birthday when we have promised her a big sleepover, since they won’t have had any friends over for almost 2 years! Another big plus will obviously be the rent saving.

This project is wasted if we are not relaxed and in love and healthy and able to enjoy the fruits of our labour when it’s complete.

The decision to not now aim to have everything complete by the end of the year has taken a huge weight off our shoulders. If it’s not done, that’s that – we will move in anyway. It already feels so much healthier psychologically to have a real date set for moving, rather than measuring this by our progress, which is ultimately out of our control. With the weather we have had this week (hello #beastfromtheeast) and the circumstances of various different trades having to align perfectly in order to get just a few steps forward, the pace has drastically decreased, so this new mind set feels a little less scary.

There is no point if we are not happy and in-sync.

I have reached a level of stress this month that no human should have to bear. Not when there is all this good surrounding me and I have so much to be so incredibly grateful for. This project is wasted if we are not relaxed and in love and healthy and able to enjoy the fruits of our labour when it’s complete. So my attitude has shifted massively. I can’t suddenly make it all easier, but I can manage it differently. I will not be pressured into making any quick decisions related to the build. I’ll open my mind,  make more compromises and be more patient. If one or two en-suites aren’t finished by October, who cares!? Plus I would rather hang on and wait for what I really want, than rush to have something installed that I’m not mad on just because it’s more affordable or the only option at the time (more excellent advice from the A Life Loved Facebook community). No deadline will phase me. What will be will be.

All the while we are positive and have our health and the kids are ok, nothing else matters. Our priority is us and should always remain so. Otherwise, what are we doing all this for? This is a dream we share and one that was born out of us meeting, falling in love and wanting the best for our family together. Without all of that, these ambitions wouldn’t exist. I’d rather live together in a shoebox than do any of this alone!

I knew this would be full on. I knew it would be stressful, but wow, this is another level of commitment than I could never have anticipated. I never thought I would feel guilty or like I was neglecting them, but the kids are missing out on so much at the moment. I know they will have the most incredible reward at the end of it, but I have been asking myself if they really even want all this. Is this just selfish? Kids don’t care about big houses and fancy kitchens and expensive tiles. However the opportunities and freedom this extra space will give them, how they can be little and wild and make a mess without us minding so much, how there will be room to make cakes and do homework and cook dinner and lay down and read a book all in the same room, they’ll forget within a week that they had to share a bedroom and triple bunkbed with their annoying siblings for 18 months, or that Mummy and Daddy didn’t have time to play board games for a while because every spare moment was spent project managing or working to save for the air sourced heat pump or we were just too exhausted to chat/sing/play. Won’t they? That’s what we’re hoping…

So there’s a few home truths and realisations which it feels good to get off my chest. Now moving on to more happy news!

We had our electric entrance gates approved by the planning office which is a brilliant milestone and something which was really important to us. Where I am keen on the little details like authentic wood, brass shower fittings and specific brands of paint, Dan has always had a couple of must-haves which included a driveway big enough for at least ten cars, although we only have two, and huge electric entrance gates. He is very private (the opposite to me, obviously) and loves the idea that we can leave the house and jump in the car without having to be forced to chat to the neighbours if we are not in the mood, or even put clothes on if we don’t want to! We can run outside, around the whole house and not worry about dogs or children escaping. I am beginning to wonder if we will actually see anyone ever again?! 😉

He has secretly felt, I think, that he won’t have really made it in life until he has a house with a large set of electric entrance gates with fancy brick pillars, a stone sign and a video intercom system so we can answer the door from the bedroom or France! Hehe! So I am glad he can tick this off the list. The A Life Loved private Facebook community also helped us make some of the design decisions for these and I’m so happy with the final plans. Now we just need to find the money to have them made and installed, before we have to put up with next door disturbing us whilst we peacefully unload the shopping in our pyjamas.

Blockwork is starting to divide the ground floor areas and defined ‘rooms’ are beginning to take shape, which is very exciting indeed. You can get a sense of the higher than average ceilings we have opted for, especially where the first floor joists have been fit already in the garage and I am in love!

There are tradesmen you end up regretting, there are those that are clearly true masters of their craft.

Our 63 year old bricklayer continues to blow our minds day by day. With the help of just one occasional labourer, he has pretty much single handedly taken on the block and brickwork, as well as helping to manage other tradesmen on site when we are not around (which is often) and I honestly don’t know what we would do without him. There are tradesmen you end up regretting, those that don’t really appear to want to be there and who are sent by their boss to fit the job into their already over-cramped schedule, which is frustrating beyond belief, and often impossible to gauge until after they have been given the job and half-heartedly commenced work.

Then there are those that are clearly true masters of their craft, experts and the owner of their business, whom work with passion and tenacity to make you feel at ease and confident that they will go above and beyond and execute everything perfectly, without the need for micro-management. Our bricklayer is one of those guys, and a total dream to work with.

We did get a quote initially for the house to built with a timber frame rather than the conventional brick method. The one huge perk of a timber frame would have been saving time. Those on the site that have chosen to opt for a timber framed build have steamed right ahead, but we chose to go for a standard brick and block construction method for a few reasons.

The first was that we obviously had a fantastic, reliable bricklaying contact, so this gave us peace of mind from the start that we had a reputable and trustworthy man for the job. The second was that despite timber frames being much more common and popular these days, particularly on the big housing development/new build sites, many insurers and lenders prefer a solid brick built construction, so this just gave us one less thing to worry about in that respect, especially with the self-build mortgage being so pivotal to our ability to take this project on.

Speed wasn’t really a priority for us to begin with. Unlike those who are builders, architects or developers, building their property to ‘shift’ and for whom time is of the essence, we are one of the few of the 14 plots on the site that plan to actually live in the property and call it our home. So the build for us was about security and longevity and along with the fact that overall, a timber frame was probably that bit more costly based on the quotes we received, after much thought and deliberation, this shifted our decision to the brick built method. It somehow feels more like a ‘real’ house to watch this process as well. It’s quite an art and mega impressive to see it all take shape gradually before your eyes.

We have had our structural engineer and ‘timber man’ onsite to discuss the ins and outs of the huge, glazed feature oak façade to the property. Something that the original architect had designed to be aesthetically awesome and really rather special, but with no thought whatsoever to the structural implications and how it would work as part of the rest of the design. It is proving incredibly complex to work out how to build this part, but they sound like they know what they’re talking about between them, so we will continue to just nod and smile and hope for the best.


The chimney flue turned up in lots of pieces. That was a completely unforeseen cost. It’s just not something that crosses your mind as an inexperienced builder and nor does it appear on the many basic template lists online of ‘Things to Budget for When Building a New House from Scratch’. These types of decisions are also painful, as we had to know the exact dimensions and specifications of the log burner we hadn’t chosen yet, to get this particularly uninspiring but very necessary object ordered.

Obviously without it, the build could not progress past a certain stage, so it is just one of many examples of having to make a call on something not yet needed, super prematurely, due to the knock-on effect it has with building the ‘shell’ of the house.


Another ridiculous example of this is the dining table! We have started to talk to electricians and when they do arrive on site for first fix, they will need to know precisely where to wire for the statement over-table chandelier pendant and its required positon will depend entirely on the exact size and orientation of said table, which will in turn depend on the table style, which will also be largely governed by the actual kitchen design. Hence ‘kitchen-gate’ so early on in the process.

So, we’re off to meet our trade account manager at Heal’s in London soon, to discuss dining tables at the Tim Oulton gallery, which seems utterly ludicrous, but yes, it is absolutely essential to the productivity of the build, and not entirely down to my absurd impatience and wanting to start sourcing amazing furniture immediately. (Not sure I have entirely learnt my lesson, but I am working on it, I promise).

In truth, one of the key initial purposes and the layout design of this build was in fact to accommodate our ideal 12 seater dining table for family get togethers and Christmas feasts, so I suppose it makes perfect sense that we address this particular furniture item early on, doesn’t it?

That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.

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  • Great reading Helaina! As someone whose parents decided to renovate an old barn from scratch whilst i was at secondary school, i thought i would try reassure you that your kids will be absolutely fine.

    We actually lived on site in 2 of the biggest caravans you’ve ever seen for 2 years. Not always easy but they made it work somehow!

    I think kids just see it as an adventure. My parents always involved me and my sister where they could and let us ‘help out’ and seeing it all come together was great! It’ll be the kids turns to pick out things for their bedrooms soon enough and i remember enjoying that a lot, especially with an en-suite at 14! Ha!

    I also remember them setting up a massive easter egg hunt around the build one year with hints and clues of where to find the next treat. One of the best Easters ever! Maybe a thought for the end of the month?

    Anyway enough rambling from me. Your doing a smashing job and having the move in date will help a lot! I can’t wait to read the next installment 🙂

    • Thank you Jess! That’s very reassuring to know. I do wonder how anyone manages living onsite in a caravan when we are struggling so much in a house, albeit a very small one for our family size. I feel bad even complaining when we are so privileged to have these opportunities, but it is certainly a trying situation and we are working like we have never worked before to get there.

      I LOVE the easter egg hunt idea! Having the kids involved is so special and one of the biggest highlights of the whole process. They are certainly very excited about their rooms and keep asking to review my Pinterest boards for their decor haha! Heath is loving the inspiration for his very grown up concrete en-suite too (age 9!)

      I can’t wait for them to finally see what we will have been working so hard to achieve become a reality.

      Thank you so much for the inspiration and encouragement.

      Helaina XXX

  • Great read, I’m impressed that you have the time to write this, with everything else going on

  • Loved reading this gorgeous lady. I can almost see the stress lifted off the page and hopefully you feel that way. The whole journey is awesome and that’s what your kids will remember, along with the amazing future memories you will give them in this wonderful home. Xxx

  • I love the honesty of your account Helaina, hope the snow has all gone and it’s full steam ahead this week! Can’t wait to see that cladding it sounds beautiful!

    • Thanks Jo! Snow is melting, but now there is no water supply to the entire village due to burst pipes! So kids are off school for the 5th day and I am trying to work, plus we have issues with the carpenter regarding the roof. All fun and games!! Indeed, very excited about the oak 🙂 We will get through this haha! H xx

  • I absolutely love your honest updates and following along with your progress.

    I can entirely relate to your description of the differing approaches of you and your husband. We are exactly the same. Our brains are wired so differently I can’t even bear to watch him navigate a website it’s that frustrating!

    When it works well, it’s a tremendous power, our different ways of thinking combine to produce incredible results. But when those stars aren’t in alignment it can be turbulent at best, and absolutely catastrophic at worst.

    We’re just setting out on our renovation project and after 15 years together I feel I am prepared to a degree to navigate our potential divergences of thought. Just being aware that it needs managing mindfully is an improvement to back in the day where I was constantly surprised and annoyed when we didn’t see eye to eye.

    Like you I have this unfathomable tendency to feel dissatisfied unless everything is utterly complete and polished and finished to perfection but your post has helped me realise that rushing it is futile. We have to set our own family time lines in the sand independently of whatever progress has been made on site and if the build doesn’t coincide perfectly with those then que cera.

    I’d love to hear more about the ins and outs of managing the site. Such an interesting read about your bricky. It’s so great to have found a gem like that. You probably don’t want to dwell too much on the more frustrating side of managing trades but it’s be helpful to hear some lessons learned in that respect.

    I can’t wait to see your table and hear about your fireplace choices!

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Philippa. I am laughing about the navigating a website comment. So often I shout in frustration ‘Oh my god I can’t watch, just give it here will you!?’ I am very impatient!
      I’ll definitely delve deeper into the subject of managing different trades and lessons learned in this respect. It has been a real eye opener.
      I am super impressed with your decision to draft your own building regs. Have just been catching up on your latest post. You are a brave, very intelligent lady! Wishing you all the best and looking forward to keeping up with your progress too.

      Helaina x

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