Monday, 26 October 2015

JVlog #25: Last Week In Japan - Odaiba

Good Day Everyone,

When hubby and I were getting ready to leave Japan we had to sell all of our furniture as we had rented an unfurnished apartment. Luckily, we managed to sell/give away everything a week before we handed our apartment keys back. However, as a result of having no bed to sleep on, we had to spend our last week in Japan staying in hotels. We decided to split our week between Tokyo and Yokohama (where our apartment was).
Views from Sunshine City
Whilst staying in Tokyo we visited places that we'd not manage to see thus far. This included a quick visit to Sunshine City in Ikebukuro. There is an observation deck, Sunshine 60, on the 60th floor of the complex but unfortunately on the day that we went the observation deck was closed. However, we did manage to get to the 59th floor where there are bars and restaurants, and so we still got to enjoy the views. Looking out of the floor to ceiling windows, we got a real sense of just how built up and expansive Tokyo is. I love how amongst all the high rises you get little pockets of coloured roof tops.
The elevator up to the 59th floor was probably one of the quirkiest elevators I've ever been in. Not only did it show the speed at which we were travelling, but it was decorated in a spacey/starry night kind of theme with pretty lights, as you'll see in the vlog below - very cool!

From Ikebukuro, we made our way to Odaiba, an artificial island on Tokyo bay. It is a huge entertainment and leisure area with numerous shopping malls, restaurants and bars, as well as iconic buildings and sights to pass away the time. The area is particularly busy on weekends and is a popular place for young people to hang out, as well as being a big tourist attraction. On the man made island you will find a replica of the Statue of Liberty, a huge gundam robot statue, Megaweb which is the exhibition centre for Toyota, games arcades and a whole lot more, including a large ferris wheel. Interestingly, Odaiba is one of Tokyo's proposed sites in its bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The Daikanransha Ferris Wheel - an Odaiba landmark
View from the Yurikamome of some cool buildings
The Yurikamome (an automated transit system, a bit like a monorail) stops at various places in Odaiba. We used it to cross over Rainbow Bridge just for the sake of it really and to enjoy the views, before getting back on the train to come back to Odaiba. The first place we visited in Odaiba was a mall called Decks which features a mini Hong Kong and a Sega Joypolis (an amusement park). However, our main reason for visiting Decks was for the great views it offers of Rainbow Bridge. We were also pleased to discover a Bills - one of our favourite places to eat where we were able to enjoy a light lunch.
Looking out at Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge
Lunch at Bills
From Decks we made our way to the Fuji TV building. This is one of Odaiba's most iconic buildings and we've seen it from afar when we did the Tokyo Bay Cruise (you can see that here). There is an observation deck in the building but unfortunately we just missed the opening times. Can you tell that it just wasn't our day when it came to observation decks?! We did manage to go up a couple of escalators to get a bit closer to the iconic sphere that sits at the top of the building :o).
The iconic Fuji Television building
The Fuji TV building to the left
Next we headed towards another mall called Palette Town, next to the iconic ferris wheel. Given the petrol head that my hubby is there was no way we could go to Palette Town without spending some time at Megaweb, Toyota's exhibition hall. Inside there were some pretty cool things to see, including the Winglet. In my vlog above I actually managed to capture a few seconds of the Winglet advert that was playing on a screen, in case you've ever wondered about the Japanese style of advertising :o).
The Winglet
As it came close to sunset we went on the Daikanransha ferris wheel which is 115 metres tall. From the top we could see all of Odaiba and much of Tokyo, including Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo SkyTree. We could also see aeroplanes taking off and coming into land at Haneda airport.
Daikanransha Ferris Wheel
View of Tokyo and the Tokyo SkyTree from the Daikanransha Ferris Wheel
Venus Fort Shopping Mall in Odaiba
We ended our time at Odaiba by visiting Venus Fort, a Venice themed shopping mall - not quite what we expected to find in Japan, but it's Japan so one should expect the unexpected. There is a lot to see/do in Odaiba and I don't think you can really see it all in one day. We spent an afternoon there and barely scratched the surface. There is a wide variety in the things that you can see/do in Odaiba from enjoying popular Japanese culture/anime/music to architecture/museums/technology and even a beach. I'd recommend doing your research and prioritising, if you've only got a day in Odaiba just so that you don't miss anything that you're especially keen to see/do.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into our last week in Japan. I will have another vlog of the rest of our week coming soon.

Love Sheen xxx
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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

From Stables To House: #3 Stairs & An Exciting Delivery

Good Day Everyone,

We have stairs!!! I recently came back onsite after over a week at my parents to find that our staircase had been installed. This is very exciting indeed! I have not been upstairs for such a long time that I'd actually forgotten what it looked like. As well as stairs, we also had a very exciting delivery. Our cast iron radiators arrived. We took a bit of a gamble on these as we ordered them online without seeing them in person first, but the gamble paid off. These are absolutely stunning - I love them :o). The intention had always been to go for matte black cast iron radiators... until we saw these. We loved how these had a modern twist and we also like the different colours and how they change depending upon the lighting.
Cast Iron Radiator

A closer look (please excuse the dust)

In the above vlog, I take you upstairs and show you how we have split the upper floor. Historically, the upstairs was split into two rooms - one very large open room with a dividing wall and door that led to the smaller room with cupboards and a kitchenette. Each room had it's own staircase.
The old larger room with it's own staircase
Door way from large room into smaller room
Old small room had cupboards & a kitchenette
Old small room had it's own staircase too
The upstairs space is very rectangular and when it came to rejigging the layout we had to work around the existing windows. We were not allowed to change the position of the existing windows nor could we install any new window openings. So we decided that the best way to maximise the space would be to remove both staircases at either end of the rectangular space, and install one that was slightly more to the centre. This way when you go upstairs you could have rooms coming off to either side of the landing as well as in front - it makes sense when you look at the photos below of the new layout :o).

Reworking the space allowed us to create a master bedroom with an ensuite wet room, a family bathroom and two further bedrooms. We were allowed to install skylights into some of the rooms with no/very small windows as they do not change the overall silhouette of the building, thus adhering to the conservation restrictions. The whole of the upper floor is built into the roof space. This means that every room has sloping ceilings, making the rooms feel quite cottage like.
The new layout
The new layout

Originally, we intended to have painted floorboards in the bedrooms and landing, however, most of the floorboards turned out to be very rotten. Not surprising given that the building is over 130 years old. In the end, we managed to salvage about 25% of the floorboards. As our floorboards are so old, they're a different size and thickness to what's currently available on the market. After ringing around a few reclamation yards we got lucky and found some that matched our existing ones. The reclaimed floorboards are from an old hospital, and aside from being dirty, they are in immaculate condition. There are no holes or nails in them whatsoever. In fact, hubby cleaned and sanded a small part of one and the wood looked so good that we have decided to sand and oil them, instead of painting them. Don't you just love it when things work out differently but better?!

I hope you enjoyed this little update on our renovation project.

Love Sheen xxx
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Monday, 12 October 2015

From Stables To House: #2 Underfloor Heating

Good Day Everyone,

I never thought that something as nondescript as underfloor heating would ever get me excited - but boy was I wrong! To say that I was very excited would be an understatement. Perhaps it's because summers in the UK never actually get that warm... you can forget about hot! Also, having spent the last four+ years living in temperatures of 30+ degrees C, the thought of actually getting some warmth into my bones was just too much for me to remain calm about ;o).

Hubby and I are always cold. You'd think that having been born and raised in the UK, we'd be accustomed to the climate, but no. You will always find us in front of the fire or sat with our backs to the radiator whenever we are in the UK. Growing up, my bedroom was the only bedroom in the house that, as well as a central heating radiator, also had a gas fire. As a child I was always cold, even in summer. In fact, me feeling cold all of the time was seen as being completely at odds with the rest of my family (who feel warm very easily), so much so that my mum actually took me to see the doctor about it when I was a teenager. She felt it just wasn't normal to feel this cold, all of the time - but it was. This is just the way my body is. My mum has always said that having a hubby who feels the cold as much as I do, was a real blessing for me because now there are no arguments in our house about the heating, unlike when I was a child ;o).

When I used to work (pre severe arthritis) there was a joke in the office that I had the world's most traveled hot water bottle because I used to take her (yes, my hot water bottle is a pink and fluffy 'her') on every overnight trip, and I traveled quite a lot with work. Not only that, but I also used to and still do, take her on every holiday even if it's to a hot climate like Australia or Dubai because often I find that I can never get the air conditioning in hotel rooms warm enough. The thought of feeling cold is just too much for me.

Needless to say that it came as no surprise that hubby and I opted for underfloor heating in this renovation. The idea of walking on warmth pleases me more than I can explain! Not only that, but it also meant that we would not have to have radiators on the ground floor which gives us so much more freedom on where to place furniture, and what we can do with that unoccupied wall space.
Underfloor heating pipes
Now, there is no way that I can write this blog post without giving a massive shout out to my amazing hubby because he laid all of the underfloor heating himself, having never done it before (with a little help from Andy, our carpenter). Hubby spent many nights researching, reading and watching YouTube videos all about underfloor heating.
Insulation being laid
The ground in our house was prepared with a concrete base that incorporated a damp proof membrane. Hubby then started by laying 100mm thick foil faced rigid insulation board all over the ground floor which buildings control came out to check, as this is a requirement in the UK, in order to meet energy saving regulations. 
Ground floor insulated
Over the insulation board, visqueen sheeting (the black sheet you can see in the photo below) was laid to create a waterproof membrane. Hubby then spent days on his hands and knees laying the water pipes in accordance with the design provided by the underfloor heating supplier. Basically, he was creating continuous loops of pipe with no joints, that started and finished at the underfloor heating manifold. Hubby laid over half a kilometer of pipe which was pinned down into the insulation by white barbed pegs.
No underfloor heating pipes under the kitchen island
Hubby created different zones with the underfloor heating pipes so that we could pick and choose which areas of the house had the heating on at any given time. There were specific areas such as the kitchen cupboards, kitchen island and the corner where the wood burning stove would be going in the living room where he didn't lay any pipes as those spaces don't need to be heated. The pipes were then pressure tested with water to ensure there were no leaks. 
Screed being poured with laser leveled tripods
The day before the screeding mix was poured over the pipes, workmen came to place metal tripods all over the ground floor. These tripods were set up to a pre-specified level that the screed would be poured to, and they had been laser leveled to ensure that we would get an even and leveled floor throughout. The screed is a liquid mix which covers the water pipes and sets to form a solid floor that we can then lay floorboards or tiles upon.
Lorry with screed mix
Screeding day was very exciting, particular for hubby who loves all the machines and gadgets involved, and because he'd literally worked his socks off getting the floor to this point. The screed came in a large lorry which was then poured into a machine with a sieve in it to sift out all the big pieces. The liquid screed was then pumped from the machine via a large pipe, into our house's ground floor. You can see it in action in the vlog below.

Once the screed had been poured and leveled it gave the floor a glass like, reflective finish. The screed was then left to set for 48 hours before we could walk on it. As it dried, the floor lost it's shiny finish and became a lot more matte. Over the course of those two days I had a bad arthritic flare so hubby stepped in with the vlogging and shows you the finished floor in the above vlog.
The floor just after the screed was poured
I hope you enjoyed this update. I can't imagine underfloor heating is something that most of you reading this would be particularly excited about but it was exciting for us ;o).

For mini progress updates, don't forget to follow me here on Facebook. The rest of my social media links can be found to the right of this blog post, when viewing on a desktop :o).

Love Sheen xxx

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Monday, 5 October 2015

From Stables To House: #1 Living In A Caravan

Good Day Everyone,

If you’ve seen this post (and I recommend you do before proceeding :o)) then you’ll know that hubby and I are currently in the middle of renovating what was once a horses stables into a house. It’s what we have been spending our time/energy/money (and everything else) on since our return from Japan, earlier this summer.

Some back ground on our building - historically, the two part building was a stables along with a gardener’s house. Together, these two properties belonged to a large estate home with its own fruit orchard and gardens. Unfortunately the large estate home was, at some point, knocked down and replaced with a small apartment block. The land has since been turned into public parks and gardens. All that remains of the original estate are the stables (which we own) with the gardener’s house (which our neighbour lives in), and another building nearby which has been converted into a house. From talking to our neighbour and some of the local residents who have lived in the area for decades, we understand that over the years the stables was used as some kind of storage building, and then a vehicle depot before being left vacant for many years.
The old stables block
The stables building we bought is near the beach, in a conservation area which means that the area, and buildings with in it, are considered worthy of preservation or enhancement because of their architectural/historical interest. What that meant for us was that we had numerous restrictions/conditions on how we could renovate the building and the materials that we could use. One such condition was that before any work could begin we needed to call out the batman to conduct a bat report. Luckily for us no bats or evidence of bats was found, otherwise no work could have begun until the bats were safely removed and rehoused, as bats are a protected species in the UK. Other conditions focussed on restoring the building to the way it would have traditionally been. We've had to replace all of the plastic guttering with traditional cast iron guttering, and all of the windows with traditional handmade wooden sash windows. The local authorities want our building to be preserved as close to its original state as possible, so we couldn’t create an opening for a front entrance. To access our property we have to go round to the back and use the entrance that the horses would have traditionally used.
Our neighbour has the upstairs, whilst we have the downstairs
As you’ll see from the Youtube video below, there is a natural divide between our building and our neighbours due to the height difference, with our stables block being the shorter building. However, our building also came with half of the ground floor space that sits under our neighbour’s bedrooms. It’s quite strange because we now own half of what looks like her downstairs space and she owns the upstairs. Our neighbour has lived here for over 30 years so we assume that this is how the buildings were originally split. Perhaps because traditionally, more of the ground floor space was used to keep the animals, with people occupying more of the upstairs sleeping space? Who knows!

When we bought the building it was very much derelict with just the roof and outer walls. The inside was dirty, rundown, damp and falling apart. On the ground floor there were two stair cases, two toilet cubicles (random!), and the space had been subdivided with some rooms bricked up and partitioned off from others, and some of the windows had been boarded/bricked up. Upstairs there was a large room, and a smaller room with a kitchenette. There was also an old garage in the garden. I have inserted photos of what the inside of the building used to look like in the above video. We bought the property with plans to turn it into a family house. We subsequently gained permission to convert the old garage into living space, on the condition that we matched the exterior to the existing building. We had a little bit more freedom to make changes at the back of the building as it is out of public view, so we were allowed to brick up one of the doors and turn it into a window.
The old garage
The old garage being renovated
We have completely changed the layout upstairs by turning the two rooms into three bedrooms (one with an ensuite) and a family bathroom. The upstairs rooms are built into the roof space with low sloping ceilings and small windows. Luckily we were able to insert skylights into a couple of the rooms as skylights are quite a subtle addition. Downstairs there is an ensuite bedroom/study, a living room and an entrance hallway in the double storey part of the building. At the single storey end (the part under next door neighbour’s bedrooms) is an open plan kitchen and dining area which lead on to the main living area (that used to be the old garage).
Dining area (to be) with kitchen area blocked of by the grey bricks to the left
Dining area with bricks removed to open up the kitchen area
The building work started on the property whilst we were in Japan but when our time came to an end there, we decided that it was an ideal opportunity to come back to the UK and live onsite, so that we could manage the project ourselves. It wasn’t easy to manage the project when we were living on the other side of the world, especially with the time difference. Putting our trust and faith into the hands of strangers doing the work was also quite difficult, especially when it involved all of our life savings and more! Plus, with it being summertime in the UK, we thought living onsite in a caravan wouldn’t be too bad.
We’ve been onsite all summer so far and whilst work has been progressing steadily, the renovation hasn’t been smooth sailing that’s for sure! As is often the case with such projects, there have been delays, unexpected costs and problems that just could not have been anticipated. Needless to say, it is costing a lot more and taking a lot longer than we expected, but with all of the structural work now complete, we are finally getting to the stage where we can actually see the progress. This has been tremendous in giving us the motivation to push on. As the temperature begins to drop, and the novelty of living in a caravan wears off, hubby and I can finally see the light at the end of this very long tunnel :o).

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and vlog of our renovation journey. I will share more as things progress over the coming weeks. Have you ever done a renovation or restoration project? What did you renovate/restore? What was your experience?

Love Sheen xxx

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