So near and yet so far . . .

Along­side her hus­band Ben, and with their one- year-old daugh­ter Florence in tow, Han­nah Hug­gins is be­gin­ning to feel the strain, as the cou­ple’s on­go­ing strug­gle to con­vert a Devon barn into a £1 mil­lion home deep­ens un­der the bur­den of bro­ken prom­ises

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Mud, Sweat & Tears -


Mon 5 One week to go be­fore com­ple­tion on the sale of our cot­tage. I set the week aside to fo­cus on some se­ri­ous pack­ing. On our way to see an­other grotty cot­tage to rent, we stum­ble across some­one plan­ning to rent out her own, much nicer house for the next few months. It is cheap, and just a few min­utes from the site – home­less­ness cri­sis over.

Back at the barn, Ben and struc­tural en­gi­neer Bart Stock­man fine-tune the de­sign for the main bridge, span­ning a six-me­tre void above the kitchen. The orig­i­nal struc­ture has been worked, re­worked and tweaked to within an inch of its life, as it has to be light in form, but, ob­vi­ously, sturdy in prac­tice. The bridge is to be plasma-cut from 2mm-thick steel sheet that will sand­wich a 18mm ply­wood frame. Fri 9 We get the keys for our new tem­po­rary res­i­dence. Box af­ter box is loaded into the van ready to be off­loaded at the other end. Fri 16 My 30th birth­day. Ben sur­prises me with the prom­ise of a hol­i­day in France be­gin­ning a week on Mon­day. This will be our first proper break in a while. All very ex­cit­ing. Mon 19 The slate ar­rives and the long and la­bo­ri­ous process of slat­ing 120 square me­tres of roof be­gins. Wed 21 Six one-ton dumpy bags of lime putty and sand mix ar­rive just in time to be­gin the ex­ter­nal ren­der. First up, the mix gets put into the ce­ment mixer along with a fi stful of hair, which will help the ren­der bind and stop it crack­ing. On this oc­ca­sion, we use al­paca hair. Not sure why; there just seem to be an aw­ful lot of al­pacas in Devon right now. Sat 24 Hav­ing sat­is­fied our­selves that all is in or­der on-site, Ben Florence and I take the ferry from Poole to St Malo in search of some much needed rest and re­cu­per­a­tion. Mon 26 Phone in from hol­i­day to check all is go­ing OK. Fred, our site man­ager, as­sures us it is. Thurs 29 I get a call from Andy on Chan­nel Four’s Richard & Judy, which is plan­ning a seg­ment about potty-train­ing. I have pre­sented strands on the pro­gramme be­fore and some­how news has reached R&J that I have been putting Florence on the potty from the age of fi ve months. We’re booked.


Mon 3 A call from a sup­plier brings some bad news. The huge glass units, which were or­dered weeks ago, have been se­ri­ously de­layed. It will be an­other month be­fore they are de­liv­ered. With the au­tumn weather clos­ing in, the news comes as a se­ri­ous blow.

Mean­while, al­though the sale of our cot­tage has en­abled us to in­ject some ur­gently needed cash into the barn project, it’s still not enough to see it through. The bank will need to do their bit. I spend anx­ious hours on the com­puter, cal­cu­la­tor by my side, at­tempt­ing to pro­duce a fi nan­cial sched­ule that will con­vince the bank sur­veyor that our new bud­gets are re­al­is­tic. Tues 4 We re­turn home from our hols to a beau­ti­fully slated roof and ren­dered walls. Thurs 6 A call from our bank and we fi nally have the news we’ve been pray­ing for. They are will­ing to put up the cash to see the project through, pro­vid­ing we put our £70,000 in fi rst. It’s been an ex­cru­ci­at­ing few days. The thought of be­ing left with a half-fin­ished job doesn’t bear think­ing about.

It’s two days be­fore her fi rst birth­day and Florence has just made her de­but TV ap­pear­ance. To my huge re­lief, not only did she sit still through­out, not cry nor wee in her pants (en­tirely in­ap­pro­pri­ate in the cir­cum­stances) but to top it off, she did her own ver­sion of a “wind-up” cue in re­sponse to the fl oor man­ager’s sig­nal – that’s my girl. Fri 7 Florence and I leave Lon­don and head straight to the barn. A pile of time-sheets and post awaits us but the drive­way has been dug. It’s fi nally reached the stage of the project where if you turn your head some­thing has changed. Sat 8 Florence is one year old to­day. A cliché, I know, but where has the time gone? Cake is con­sumed by chil­dren. Cham­pagne is drunk by adults. A fun day is had by all. Mon 10 To pro­tect the oak struc­ture from the el­e­ments, the stu­dio and garag­ing is wrapped se­curely in Tyvex felt. It doesn’t look pretty but it works. Soon, the time will come to clad it in hor­i­zon­tal strips of green oak. In the court­yard the top­soil is al­most in place – now there’s turf to be laid be­fore the frosts set in and trees to be planted. Thurs 13 News from our glaz­ing sup­plier of yet more de­lays. The latest call sets the ar­rival of the glass back by an­other three weeks – “a hitch with the man­u­fac­turer”. Ben is livid. I am dev­as­tated. Our en­tire sched­ule hinges on get­ting the lin­hay wing of the house sealed up. This set­back puts us se­ri­ously be­hind sched­ule. Fri 14 To­day has not been a good day. Be­fore my very eyes, and with very lit­tle no­tice, the Pod (my of­fice) was winched on to the back of a trac­tor and trans­ported 300 me­tres across the site to its fi nal rest­ing place. The move goes smoothly enough but my sys­tems are in tur­moil. It’s go­ing to be days be­fore power, broad­band and my san­ity are re­in­stated.

Thurs 20 Hefty rent and

busi­ness rates force us to

move our un­til-now rented

work­shop on site as soon

as pos­si­ble. Trans­port is

hired to move the

mass of

ma­chin­ery and

huge amounts

of kiln-dried

oak that will

pro­vide the



and oak lou­vres. Hours of pre­cious time is spent on the move. Tues 25 With all there is at stake right now, the very idea of Ben and Fred dis­ap­pear­ing to run a marathon seems be­yond rea­son. To make my point known, I sum­mon them both to a “cri­sis meet­ing”. To soften the blow, I prep them both with a beer or two be­fore break­ing it to them that I think they should post­pone the run un­til next year. This turns out to be the most stupid idea ever. They both think I’m crazy for sug­gest­ing and tell me in no un­cer­tain terms. Well, I tried.


Wed 2 Ben and Fred head for New York in prepa­ra­tion for the marathon on Sun­day, leav­ing me in sole charge of the build, a noc­tur­nal, one-year-old daugh­ter and, if that wasn’t enough, fundrais­ing for the char­ity they are both run­ning for. Fri 4 I place the or­der for the

wood burner that, on

com­ple­tion, will pro­vide the

draw­ing room with its

cen­tre­piece. We opt for a

fairly pricey, clas­sic 1970s

Nor­we­gian de­sign.

De­spite the bud­get

strug­gling to take the

strain of what has

turned out to be an

in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive project, we are de­ter­mined not to com­pro­mise on qual­ity. Sat 5 Florence is sleep­ing ter­ri­bly, wak­ing nu­mer­ous times in the night and re­fus­ing to sleep be­yond 5.45am. With­out want­ing to sound like a pre­cious par­ent, I’m con­vinced she senses that her Daddy is away. Tues 8 Florence lands up in Ex­eter’s A&E hav­ing con­sumed a mouth­ful of dish­washer rinse-aid. In a state of panic, I just man­age to call NHS Di­rect who, af­ter a few min­utes and 101 ques­tions, con­firm that the sub­stance is “low tox­i­c­ity”. By the time we get to the hospi­tal, Florence seems ab­so­lutely fi ne, which the doc­tor con­firms. I, how­ever, feel com­pletely trau­ma­tised by the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. Phone Ben in New York to fi ll him in. Sat 12 Flo and I travel to Lon­don to meet the boys in from their New York trip. They look shat­tered. While in Lon­don, we take the op­por­tu­nity to pin down the spec for the bath­room tiles and place an or­der. Mon 14 Ben’s birth­day and back on site at 8am as usual. By 2pm he calls to say he is feel­ing ill. A com­bi­na­tion of jet­lag and 26.2 gru­elling miles of marathon has taken its toll. To top it off, tem­per­a­tures have plum­meted and the night stor­age heaters in our rented cot­tage aren’t cut­ting it. It’s ab­so­lutely freez­ing. Sun 20 The huge pains of glass that will span the en­tire length and height of the kitchen util­ity and din­ing area are due to ar­rive to­mor­row. We can hardly wait. The glass forms such a key part of the house’s struc­ture and style that un­til it is in, we won’t feel we’re deal­ing with a com­plete unit. Mon 21 A phone call at 7am from our glass com­pany brings the hor­rific news that our glass – all 75 sq m of it – has some­how got lost in tran­sit. We are both ut­terly gut­ted and the com­pany tells us there is noth­ing it can do. The scis­sor lift, which costs £500 per week, sits re­dun­dant. Tues 22 More phone calls to and from our glass com­pany. We are now se­ri­ously con­cerned about their abil­ity to see this or­der though - how on earth can you sim­ply lose 75 sq m of dou­bleglazed units? Wed 23 We have no al­ter­na­tive but to can­cel the ex­ist­ing or­der with the glass com­pany. It’s a huge de­ci­sion but, with the weeks slip­ping by and the el­e­ments clos­ing in, the sit­u­a­tion is get­ting se­ri­ous. A num­ber of calls later and we’ve switched to a lo­cal

com­pany, which as­sures us it can turn our or­der around in 10 days. Thurs 24 Ben and I meet with a com­pany to dis­cuss the spec­i­fi­ca­tions for two huge glass doors for the kitchen and study. We opt for alu­minium frames fi nished in a pow­der coat of matt grey to tie in with the lin­hay glaz­ing frames. Un­for­tu­nately, we miss the dead­line for pre-Christ­mas de­liv­er­ies. Our hopes of get­ting the house sealed up be­fore Christ­mas are slip­ping away. Mon 28 Our elec­tri­cian, Eric, who has worked for us on many projects be­fore now, is prov­ing tough to pin down. This, yet again, has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions on progress. We had our plas­terer, Long John Gar­rity (the tallest plas­terer in Devon) booked in to fi nish the kitchen and din­ing room but un­less Eric shows up as planned, we’re go­ing to have to send LJG home. It turns out that the charms of pre­sen­ter Kevin McCloud and his latest Grand De­signs project have lured Eric away from us. Tues 29 David Wilcock – pur­veyor of fi ne ar­chi­tec­tural iron­mon­gery – is back on site to get the or­der for the door furniture mov­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, a cou­ple of be­spoke items won’t be avail­able un­til af­ter Christ­mas but the ma­jor­ity should be with us be­fore then. The aim is to get all the solid-oak ex­ter­nal doors hung be­fore Christ­mas so that we can get the heat­ing sys­tem on. The oak fl oor­ing will need two weeks in the heated house to ad­just to the at­mos­phere be­fore they can go down. All be­ing well, we should be able to get it down in the fi rst week of Jan­uary. I tackle the plans for the kitchen which I feel aren’t quite right. Wed 30 Ben su­per­vises the seal­ing of four of the wet rooms in prepa­ra­tion for til­ing next week. The fi fth “pod” bath­room – a self­con­tained, curved-cor­nered, oak­clad struc­ture which ap­pears to sit half-in and half-out of the bed­room it serves – will re­quire a dif­fer­ent treat­ment.


Thurs 1 A huge quan­tity of lime­stone for the kitchen and en­trance hall and bath­room fl oors ar­rives plus tiles for the en-suites. Ben gives our tiler a brief­ing in prepa­ra­tion for to­mor­row. Fri 2 Driv­ing rain makes work on site mis­er­able. The court­yard has turned in to a mud­bath. On the pos­i­tive front, the lake – which was lined with al­most £3,000 of pud­dling clay - is fi lling nicely.

Prop­erty de­vel­op­ment rule num­ber one: never set tar­gets that co­in­cide with re­li­gious fes­ti­vals. It just never works. With three weeks to go un­til Christ­mas, the barn turned house is not look­ing as it should. The glass is still not in (al­though it is in the de­pot be­ing checked), the doors aren’t hung (al­though Ben and the team are work­ing flat out) and our elec­tri­cian has only just shown up. Panic? Me? The sea­son of good­will is al­most upon us and so is the Christ­mas party. Two great rea­sons to hang on in there. Be­sides, we’ve got un­til Easter to get this place fin­ished.

In all their barn days: ( far left and above) Han­nah, Ben, Florence and col­leagues on site in Devon, as the barn slowly, painfully, en­dures the next stage of de­vel­op­ment. Left, Ben took time off work to run the New York marathon

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