Yesterday we met with Ief Willems of Memibo – he is an expert master practitioner of traditional building techniques, and an old friend of Ria’s. He came over to Dorpsstraat at Ria’s invitation, to take a look at the place and tell us what he saw.
Looking back in retrospect, I can see that I was in a state of some nervousness. This was the moment where the rubber was going to start meeting the road and the first steps would be taken from dream into reality for starting the transformation of this place, which is begging for transformation while at the same time calling for its original nature to be respected. And I am painfully aware that I am sitting with an absolutely finite budget and no idea of what it will actually buy. I’ve never done this kind of project before (neither has Ria) and I don’t know what things cost. I think I was afraid to hear that what I had to invest would not be enough after all to cover what was needed. When I shared this with Ria, she just rolled her eyes and whispered “TRUST, yes?!” So I heaved a sigh and let go.
I must admit that I wasn’t really expecting what happened. Ief wandered around the house with X-ray eyes, looking at what was under the surface, investigating to see how it all fit together structurally. It was his response when we took him up to the attic, that triggered the anxiety reactions in me. But, as they say, when the going gets rough, the safest place is reality. I had so many strange, amorphous ideas about ‘roofs’ and what it means to have to work on the roof – I have to admit that I’d been ignoring my own premonitions that this roof needed attention (despite the rotting beam and the gaps where the light shines through!), and was secretly hoping it would all go away.
So, thank God that Ief spoke what he saw. Basically, the roof needs an ‘onderdak’ – you see, the conversation took place in some unidentifiable dialect of Flemish, with Ief taking no prisoners, and me glad to have Ria to interpret in an emergency, and happily grabbing at recognisable Dutch words whenever one came along, even if I had no English equivalent ready to hand. So I could understand that an ‘onderdak’ is a structure that goes underneath the roof, and serves to keep out the wind and rain. Clearly, and not surprisingly, the current plain roof tiles on a wooden frame (which has seen better days) is not a sound basis for insulation. If we just stick insulation against what’s there now, the wooden frame will need replacing in 10 years time anyway (when my bank loan is all used up on other stuff).
What Ief suggested was to take off the tiles and replace the wooden frame and install the onderdak, changing the profile of the roof while we are at it to make it steeper and taller. That would gain more living space and lighten the load on the roof structure. Those tiles are heavy!
Ief told us that the house had the advantage of a really simple structure – basically, it’s an oblong box with one thick supporting wall in the middle. His inclination was to take everything that had been added on (particularly the outhouse where the bread oven is, and the aviary) and to strip out all the inner features. To bring the building right back down to its original shell and build back from there, as we want. He even suggested taking out the attic floor, leaving huge spaces upstairs for installation of duplexes. The attic floor is hardly something I feel inclined to cry over – although it occurred to the previous owner to be the perfect resting ground for old cupboard doors…
I must admit, I find this idea strikingly consonant with my own inner processes of this year – stripping right back to basics seems exciting and liberating. Also empowering. It’s a further manifestation of the radical freedom I am learning to inhabit in my mental and spiritual dimensions, being translated now into the material realm. Free to engage directly without the intermediary of received patterns that don’t necessarily fit.
Before leaving us, Ief gave us the names of an architect and a builder whom he would trust to work with us. So that will be our next step.