The last time you saw the stone dairy it had no roof.
Now it not only has a roof but walls, a floor and, after a protracted search for beautiful and affordable floor boards, a ceiling. It will not be ready for Christmas however, despite my most fervent appeals to Santa. We started digging out the dirt floor in February (back when Pep said we’d be all finished in “about three weeks”) and I have done zero to help the cause since so I shouldn’t be surprised I’m still camping. I did wonder whether I’d have a natural aptitude for building, but over the year I’ve realised I can oil timber and that’s about it. I do lament my lack of skill and motivation but I’m not giving myself a hard time about it as I’m a rabid gardener and that’s enough for me. I reserve the right to sprout hot building skills in the future construction of an outhouse but right now I leave the business of building to others and get on with the other 52.5 acres. (Briele, being genuinely handy, has nearly finished her end of the dairy, and her sweat has rewarded her with a gorgeous little space, photos of which will be coming at some point soon.)
I knew I wanted the walls rendered. I love the look of stone, but being a dairy, the walls are cobbled together from rubble i.e. built with stone good enough for cows but a bit patchy and dusty for people. Back in the late 1800s who knew a human would come along and want to make a studio out of it?
There was only one guy to get in to do the job. Shannon is some kind of artist and in serious demand, and so holding all the cards he arrived three months late, kept his own hours and left behind four dozen empty 1.25 litre cola bottles. I never saw him eat in the three weeks he was there. One day I came home to see ‘VB’ scrawled into the render (for non-Victorians, that’s a beer). Sense of humour? The guy was dry as a bone and very entertaining. I loved to watch him work.
All other tradies acknowledge the skill of the renderer. You can really muck this stuff up – all eight layers of it. I am thrilled with the look and feel. To stand in the room feels like marzipan, Santorini and fluffy egg whites all at once.
Then the floor. I got myself a bit tangled up over this. I wanted stone but couldn’t afford it, and a concrete slab (at a quarter of the cost) was the obvious solution. As much as I appreciate the beauty and utility of concrete, I just couldn’t bring myself to settle on it for this place. I want to deeply love my floor. And so, after some deliberation and many unsolicited neighbourly opinions, I decided on flagstones and hang the cost. Cue moral panic – the kind I liked comes from dusty mines in a corner of China, the local and virtuous Castlemaine sandstone was more than twice the price with half the good looks. Argh.
Aesthetics won out. I went light because the 35 square metre space needs all the help it can get. And the best part about it is the cooling effect when lain on in 35 degree heat – tested just this week.
To the ceiling. I wanted secondhand hardwood lining or floor boards with some character. These seem not to be found at any reasonable cost or in any sensible size. You can buy them from salvage yards but they’re fairly rare and in packs of random lengths and they need planing, sanding and a lot of editing. To save my sanity I gave up on the secondhand dream and Pep led me to Fowles auction yard in Melbourne. We scored some new blackbutt at a fraction of the cost of both secondhand hardwood and new shiny stuff you’d find in a showroom. Blackbutt is a eucalypt grown in plantations in coastal forests of New South Wales – I opted for the roughest quality because I wanted as many imperfections as I could get my happy hands on.
Putting it up was a bitch of a job. It took a long time, it was hot and Pep’s bald head is still covered in bruises and marks. He should have worn a helmet.
With that job done, we have just a few things left on the list – sorting the trims, getting the doors on, sanding and oiling a lot of timber, making the mezzanine bed, putting the fireplace in. So close.