Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: Renovation Tips

Have you seen those pictures on the news before now of farms in the American Midwest, shattered by tornadoes? That is what our old house on the Wiltshire borders resembles five months after the builders moved in. It still has no complete roof, and no doors, no windows, or floors.

The garden looks like an abandoned inner-city graveyard, filled with broken roof tiles by the thousand, half-burnt waste timber and discarded scraps of plastic. Dracula would scream and run at the sight. Sure, we have been lucky with delays to date.

The builders have been helped by the driest winter for 130 years. (Although try telling that to Barry, who was up on the roof rendering the main chimney on Monday, his hair slicked to his head and water flooding down his neck from the collar of his jacket.) But now I sense inertia creeping in.

The roofers who went AWOL have still not returned a fortnight on, even though our resourceful builders have found a smaller handmade ‘bonnet’ tile to replace the giant ones that were turning our ancient manse into a Chinese pagoda.

The worst is that we have hit a snag sure to add weeks if not a month?aargh?to the building schedule. Whose fault? The unusual design for the roof of the orangery, with a triangular window set in one end of the pitch, is the culprit. A custom-made steel frame has to be engineered, and ordering the right thing has demanded an immensely long chain of command.

At one end are my wife and I, with the project manager next along, followed by the architect, builders, structural engineer, carpenter and, finally, the specialist suppliers of steel beams at the far end. Information moves down the line slower than a rat down a python’s throat. Stick to straightforward building designs for a smooth, pain-free life, I say.

At least the view from our wrecked manor house towards the piggery has bucked up. Instead of concrete feed towers and 100 or so grotesque concrete pens, I now see slender young cherry trees and limes. Our garden designer proposed a little copse of these pretty specimens to screen out the grim blot left behind by the pigs. Green buds on the trees are about to burst?a tiny but cheerful augury.

Back home in London, there is little escape from the project.

We realised we would need a system for storing all the paperwork when we first started out. We bought a purple plastic folder, the biggest Rymans stocked, and it seemed ideal. Within a month, we had to buy four more folders and soon they fell pregnant, too.

Six months on, we cannot enter my wife’s London study unless at the wheel of a dumper truck and wearing a hard hat. Otherwise, we risk burial by numberless folders, exploding cupboards, and tottering stacks of product brochures. If you are contemplating a renovation project like ours, one serious piece of advice: think twice. And if you must go ahead, first build yourself a storage shed.