Pass the fatted calf…

…we have a son returning home! Son no. 3 has spent most of the last ten years studying & living away, though he’s been home for holidays when in the UK. But he’s finally run out of stipend, hopefully having completed his thesis, and will be returning to the family fold imminently. And the bedroom required for a 28-year-old academic is not the bedroom that the 18-year-old student left behind…

It’s a different room, for a start. He used to have the smallest bedroom at the top of the stairs, but now the bigger, downstairs room that’s functioned as the guest room for the last ten years is more appropriate. He has a large collection of academic reference books to accommodate; my poor husband has already remarked many times that our elder daughter & I should just go & live in a library, so there isn’t much spare bookcase-space available. He will be job-hunting and keeping up to date in his field, so the room needs to work as a serious study as well as a bedroom.

He sent through a plan of how he thought it could be laid out, and as a little joke, included a wing-back chair, Sherlock-Holmes-style. It just so happens that I am always rescuing a certain make of old wing-back chair for an upholsterer friend, who re-makes them into the most fabulous, desirable & comfortable chairs going. But alas, all my usual sources are closed just now, so I put a request on Freecycle, not expecting anything as there were several listed locally on Ebay at exceedingly silly prices, i.e. more than my friend asks for them after she’s done them up professionally. To my astonishment, I got a reply within the hour, and picked up a modern, but very comfortable, reclining wingback chair the next day, for free. Joke returned! We may never get him out of there, though…

Free wingback recliner…

Then the hunt was on for serious bookcases. I answered an advert on Facebook Marketplace, for a tall painted wooden bookcase from a certain Scandinavian emporium. They did say it needed some TLC, but it was priced very reasonably at £10. We squeezed it into my van & bore it home triumphantly, but on closer inspection, though very heavy & originally very sturdy, it was actually particle-board and had been left outside for too long; the damage to the weight-bearing base was irreversible. But it hasn’t gone to waste; the shelves and one side have gone up into the loft as loft-boarding where there wasn’t any, and the damaged side has been trimmed to size & deployed across two (also Scandinvian) tall bedside tables to make a perfect, and rather stylish, laptop desk for my husband to work-from-home on, teamed with a comfortable office chair that came to us via Freegle. I also rescued the dowelling and other fixings from the shelves; they’re pretty standard across the whole range of their furniture, which we have a fair bit of, some of it even bought new. The only bits that went to the tip were the top & bottom trim and the flimsy back-boards.

I spotted an advert for all sorts of free furniture from a big Edwardian house being cleared only about 400 yards away from us. Old stuff, lovely quality, but mostly much too big & dark for modern homes. But there were two tall bookcases… I dashed off a polite request & heard straight back; the chap organising the clearance was upcountry, but thought they were a pretty standard size, i.e. 6′ tall x 3′ wide, so I replied that we would love to give both of them a home, please. So we went to pick them up from his brother the next day; they’re absolutely lovely in a shabby-chic sort of way, but actually over 7′ tall and well over 3′ wide! Only one would fit into the bedroom, but we’ve managed to make space for the other one in the hallway, replacing two smaller bookcases, one of which has also gone into the bedroom.

One free bookcase…

But he also needs a desk. And not the neat little desk that’s been in there all along; it needs to accommodate his laptop, a couple of big reference books plus notebooks, pens etc. and have plenty of space underneath for restless legs. However, add in the bed, wardrobe & a large chest of drawers (with small bookcase on top) and the remaining space is limited; 4’/120cm wide by about 20″/50cm deep is about all that will fit. Suggestions have been winging their way through the ether, but nothing ready-made has yet hit the spot in terms of style or size; he desperately doesn’t want white-on-white. However, a couple of days ago I picked up a Gumtree’d “Freebie” black desk top, also originally from the Scandinavian emporium, may their name be ever-blessed; I knew you could still buy legs to fit it very reasonably. So they’ve been ordered, and the desk top cut to size; it turned out to be easier to cut particleboard than I’ve always thought, given a decent jig-saw. I’ve added a board at the back to stop stuff falling off, as it’s side-on to the doorway. So, there will be a desk, which will have cost next-to-nothing, and *** It Will Do *** until he finds one of his own choosing, or the job of his dreams and moves out again!

After Christmas, when he announced he’d be returning home for some indefinable length of time, I was panicking mightily that I’d have to spend quite a lot of money on new furniture that really needs to be spent maintaining my van, as I’ve earned next-to-nothing over the last year & will need to go out & sell stuff on virtually every fine day this summer. But given time & access to a computer, I’ve been able to assemble bits & bobs that fit the bill for very nearly nothing. Thank you so very, very much, to all Freecycle/Freegle volunteers, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace!

And another free bookcase!

The Gumtree shed…

When we got our allotment, it didn’t take long to realise that a shed would be an enormous asset. The site is just under a mile away from home; close enough to walk up there, but not to run home to escape a shower. And that’s quite a way to carry tools; if we didn’t want to drive up there all the time, we needed somewhere to store them. In true Permaculture style, it would fulfill other functions, too; where we planned to put it, it could act as a partial windbreak, as we are in the southwestern corner of the site, where the wind whistles in over the river meadows, partially screened by a blackthorn hedge, but partly exposed. The roof would be a raised surface for capturing rainwater to store in our (wombled) water-butts, too.

New allotment with an “open aspect”…

The maximum size we’re allowed on site is 8′ x 6′, on a slab base; no concrete, no decking. But we didn’t really want to give up that much growing-space, as our plot is an odd shape; triangular, with the hypotenuse facing south-west into the prevailing wind. We don’t have any power tools to store, just secondhand manual tools, so security wasn’t much of an issue. So an 6′ x 4′ wooden shed would be plenty big enough.

But a new shed would cost at least a hundred pounds, which kind of negates the money-saving aspect of allotmenteering, even if it’s a one-off investment. So I started looking round on Gumtree, allowing myself a budget of around £30, thinking there’d almost certainly be money to be spent getting whatever I found up to scratch. But most were far too big, and I kept missing the smaller ones that were offered. Except one, which was offered FREE as “might suit someone for firewood!” Half of one long side was missing, replaced temporarily by the door, but I went to see it anyway as it was only a few hundred yards away. Not great, but surely, salvageable… The lovely young couple giving it away had decided to replace it with something intact and also bigger.

The Head Gardener surveys a pile of potential shed…

So we hauled it across town, the end bits, the door & parts of the framework inside my van, and the sides lashed to the roof-rack of the Head Gardener’s estate car. It sat for a week or so in a heap, beside where it was going to be put back together again, whilst HG laid & levelled the slabs. Then we spent a merry afternoon puzzling out what should go where, and screwing it all together; it had previously just been nailed. Some bits are a little rotten & have been replaced, and the roofing felt needed replacing altogether, and our allotment just isn’t quite the same shape as the ground it sat on before so the roof just wouldn’t quite sit properly, but hey! we have a shed, all screwed together firmly, and it hardly cost us anything!

Oooh look, a shed!

It just so happened that a friend had recently had her conservatory roof replaced with something more permanent. It occurred to me that a piece of ex-roof triple-wall polycarb might just plug the gap in the wall and make a rather good window; Head Gardener moved the remaining slats down to the lower half, I cut the polycarb to the right length and lo and behold! it just slotted over the slats perfectly. Screwed into position gently, the windward side that looks towards the water-meadows actually lets the light in now.

The structure was probably never the sturdiest, and strong winds might have been an issue, exposed on the edge of the site. But HG had a stroke of pure genius; why not use some of the pallets that I’d wombled to make composters to brace the shed, inside the structure, instead? So there are three strong & heavy pallets resting on the floor slabs, screwed to the wall supports & each other, and acting as shelf supports & tool racks.

A pallet serving as a brace and a tool-rack

There’s a triangular shelf made from pallet-wood at the end for all the things you might need a work-surface for, like potting, or making a cup of tea, and two shelves running across the end over that for all those little pots & tins of stuff we seem to need. Like biscuits…

Pallet-wood shelves, and conservatory-roof window!

There’s a shelf at the bottom of the window; whilst it doesn’t let full daylight in, I think there’s enough light to start the odd window-box propagator-tray of seedlings in there. There are hooks and nails to hang small things like trowels, string, netting and dibbers, and I’ve even cobbled together a somewhat flimsy welly rack from an old curtain pole and a spare bit of wood. It’s not “finished” yet, in that we have yet to trim the roof felt, put up the “bug box” and add the guttering; in fact I’ve yet to source some of that. And it’s far from luxurious, and there are no gingham curtains or bunting (yet!) but we haven’t found a single drip of rain inside, and it’s stood up to winds that have brought branches down elsewhere in town. So, so far, so good!