Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: The worst may be over

A reader of this column introduced himself at a drinks party in London. ‘Sounds as though you are having a terrible time restoring your house in the country. But it is a spoof, of course,’ he chortled. I was aghast. When I swore to him that, no, every word is God’s honest, he threw his head back, guffawed and veered away for a full glass.

Truth is, I think the very worst of the project may be behind us now the grotesquely mucky groundworks are mostly done. Activity has picked up all of a sudden, too. Gangs of workmen fizzed about like angry atoms during this week’s site meeting: four electricians, two roofers, four carpenters, a project manager, two kitchen-makers, three plasterers, two general builders and an interior designer.

Fantastic as it is to have as many helpers as Rameses II, I could not help wincing at the thought of all their hourly rates. So when they gathered for a summit and someone told a funny story, I had to cut them off. We did not allow for jokes when we drew up our budget.

Inevitably, the builders’ bills are mounting up so, at least once a week, my wife and I growl at each other, ‘Right that’s it. We have got to start making savings.’ Do we really need a boiler that gigantic? Maybe the cheap ceramic floor tiles from Fired Earth will do in the utility room instead of the luscious antique French terracotta pammets? Then temptation comes knocking.

The team of electricians was busily running sheaves of wires through the shell of the house as we arrived on site, but Chris ? their boss ? broke off from work and pulled my wife and me aside to point out a flaw in our plans for outside lighting. ‘You are from London,’ he said with the careful enunciation reserved for foreigners and the infirm. ‘You are used to a lot of lights at night. At the moment on the plans, you have only asked for one light for your car-parking area. Is that going to be enough when you come home on a winter’s night and you see no other light for miles around?’

My wife did not need any more convincing and instantly asked for more spotlights, although I fear she will not feel fully at home in the countryside until we replicate the lighting of Kensington High Street in our fields.

And then comes yet more temptation. We did not think there was room in our small bathroom for a shower as well as a giant bath, but C. P. Hart, the well-known London firm of bathroom suppliers, has just introduced a bespoke shower-making service. We discovered this on a visit to the firm’s Waterloo showroom yesterday, and the fact that the service is only marginally (fatal word) more expensive than a ready-made shower. Now if one were specially made, we might just squeeze it in. Hmmm . . .

As the months of work continue, we are building up a supply of wonderful drawings by the architect and the garden designer. It would be a rotten shame ever to throw them away. Stuart, our architect tells me previous clients decorated their under-stairs lavatory with wallpaper made from photocopies of Stuart’s designs for their house. Smart, distinctive and?uniquely?cheap.