Why don't you knock it down and start over?
This is a question Cal and I get A LOT.
To be honest, it's not a bad question. Even our structural engineer, who has been a fantastic help on the project, recommended we knock Jameswood down - THREE TIMES, in the same report! The Argyll and Bute council have taken the same stance on the place, recommending we demolish in nearly every meeting we have had with them face to face.
So why didn't we?
I want to start off by saying that we respect the opinions of these professionals. Cal and I don't have previous experience doing up a house. In every task we've done on the house so far, we've relied on the opinions and advice of professionals - whether it was for drainage, stonemasonry or roofing, we try learning from others' experiences, taking their knowledge on board, and using it to do the tasks at hand as properly as we can.
There are a long list of reasons for why we didn't consider knocking Jameswood down, and putting a new build in her place. Let's start by addressing the concerns of our structural engineers and the council.
It was recommended Jameswood was knocked down, not because it wasn't possible to make the repairs needed to make the building safe for living, but because, based on their knowledge of these types of restorations, it would be more economically viable to put a new build in Jameswood's place.
We aren't naive to the fact that this restoration will be costly, but we are also well aware of the fact that this advice was based on the average developer's life circumstances, which are very different to our own.
This restoration will either take a LOT of time, or a LOT of money to pay tradesmen to carry out the work. With the amount of physical labour needed to carry out this build, Jameswood would cost way too much to restore if it wasn't a DIY project, and saving the building wouldn't be economically viable.
For the average adult, who has the prior responsibilities of a mortgage or rent, a job and possibly even children, putting everything aside to work full-time on restorations is not often an option. Cal and I's life circumstances are much different from the average adult. Before Jameswood, we were quite nomadic - working and skiing in the winters, and saving up for road trips and wild camping throughout Europe and Canada in the summers. We don't have much money, but we have plenty of time to commit to Jameswood. It almost seems like fate that we were brought together. We were in the perfect life-stage to drop everything, move into a tiny caravan on a building site, and dedicate a LOT of time and hard work into a restoration project.
Photos from our Euro roadtrip, in which we wild camped for three months. A photo of our new caravan - very happy to have a clean, dry space to retire to at the end of days on site.
Members of the council, as well as my father, both pointed out that even with doing the restoration ourselves, the margins on the project weren't large enough to justify the time it would take - we could quite easily make more money by working. I think this purely economic analysis of our decision overlooks some very important things this opportunity has presented us with. Jameswood gives us a fulfilling goal to work towards. It gives us an incredible experience to challenge ourselves and learn every single day - not just about house building, but about managing and taking responsibility for a team - with up to 10 volunteers at a time helping with the project. It's teaching us incredible problem solving skills, with unexpected challenges facing us every day. And importantly, it's teaching us, as a couple, how to work together as a team.
From the very start, Cal and I have wanted to make as environmentally responsible decisions as possible for this project.
Architectural waste is a HUGELY overlooked aspect of our ever-growing landfill problems. Our society has be designed to disconnect consumers from the life cycle of the products they use. Items we buy are conveniently brought to our doorstep or displayed on shelves at nearby stores. At the end of their life, our waste is collected from our doorstep and taken away. Out of sight. Out of mind.
But where are the materials from a full demolition going? When a school in the Dunoon community was being demolished, we investigated. On site, you could see perfectly good timber flooring and joists being torn to shreds by huge machines, and stuck in skips to be taken off to the dump.
We acknowledged that a new build could present us with an opportunity to build a very efficient home in its place, but with Jameswood requiring gutting, we were presented with a great opportunity to achieve similar efficiency with an eco-retrofit. Even if we chose eco-friendly materials for a new build, the fact of the matter is that all materials take energy to make and transport. The embodied energy involved in retrofitting this Victorian building is a lot less than would be required for a full rebuild.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
We were going to reuse Jameswood. In this case, we felt it was the most environmentally friendly option we had available.
The final, but equally important reason for restoring Jameswood was because we love the character of the building, and we really feel it would be a shame to take down such a beautiful home.
Built in 1900, Jameswood is a lovely example of Victorian architecture. Her beautiful red sandstone face is a piece of Sandbank, as well as South west Scotland's history. The building is in keeping with the surrounding Victorian style architecture that dominates Dunoon, left from it's days as a seaside getaway from the hustle and bustle of life in Glasgow 120 years ago.
Although Jameswood isn't a listed building, it stands 2nd in a row of 5 Victorian Red Sandstones. The council had made it clear that if we were to demolish, we would likely have to incorporate the red sandstone and some of the design features of the original building into our plans in order to get planning permission. Our tight budget wouldn't allow us to create the same character and beauty that is offered by Jameswood. Why take down a beautiful building to let a new build stand as a shadow of its former self? We didn't see the point of starting afresh.
Since we decided to embark on this journey, we haven't worried about whether we should have knocked it down and started over, or cut our loss and sold the building on. Those worries and what-ifs don't feel productive or helpful for the project.
Instead, our focus, from the very start, has been on moving forward. We focus, not on the problems that made people overlook this building for development, but on the solutions, that will help us bring the building back to life.
So far, we are incredibly happy with our decision to restore. Will we still be so happy about our decision by the end of the project? I guess only time will tell, but until then, we will continue to try to learn and grow from the adventure presented to us.
Thank you for following our journey, and for your incredible support along the way. Everyone's support has helped us immensely with our goal of saving Jameswood Villa.
If you would like to support the Jameswood restoration project, you can visit our gofundme page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/whathavewedunoon, or you can follow our journey on Facebook or Instagram!
Cal and Claire
Written by Claire Segeren
What Have We Dunoon Blog by Claire Segeren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at whathavewedunoon.weebly.com.