Rev up your engines!

As one veteran Youtuber is fond of saying. We may not have quite turned the corner here weatherwise – we’re expecting some early-hours freezing temperatures next week-end if we can believe the weather forecast for that far ahead – but we’ve been getting some lovely days and must be quite close to it. On my way back from the supermarket the other day I saw 21 degrees Celsius on my car temperature gauge and we’ve been getting 15 – 17 degrees on a fairly regular basis.

Today we had blue sky and around 16 degrees so having made a start on the making good to the floor in front of my ‘new’ patio door yesterday and as I was feeling a bit tired after all the cleaning up that I had to do (fine dust everywhere from having used a diamond blade to cut chunks out of the existing floor tiles) I thought that I’d take a break to go over to Malbec and run the engines of my Savannah and Xair. And I was glad that I did because I felt much better afterwards for having done so and had the benefit of the sun and fresh air.

Both engines started faultlessly despite not having been run for several weeks. The fuel pressure on the Savannah took a while to come up, which it hasn’t done before. It wasn’t because there wasn’t any – the engine started and ran fine before the needle rose to the right level – so there might be the makings of either a sensor or gauge problem. I suspect that the former is more likely but I’ll have to keep my eye on the situation and see if I can find a way to check what’s going on. It’s really annoying that I have so many other things on my plate at the moment.

The Xair also had a brief problem with its fuel system. After it had started and begun running, the front Bing carburettor began overflowing and fuel began blowing back onto the windscreen. I stopped the engine and cleaned it off as soon as I noticed, being mindful of the damage that occurred to my Savannah’s screen a year or so ago, but luckily no harm was done.

I removed the carburettor bowl but both of the floats were working fine so I surmised that the problem was something to do with the carburettor’s fuel shut-off needle valve. Ater I jiggled it up and down a few times and replaced the bowl, everything worked OK, so it was probably because of just a small deposit that had formed as a result of the fuel in the carb having evaporated.

So apart from the Savannah’s fuel pressure gauge problem, I was happy with how things went. Even that might also have been due to fuel in the system having evaporated and may revert to normal next time now that fuel has flowed through the system, I’ll have to wait and see. The last time that I ran the engines I shot a video of the Xair so this time I took a few shots of the Savannah.

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It looks OK in the above shots but is actually rather dusty and dirty despite not having been flown (I think) since I last cleaned it. I must get around to doing that. I also bought several metres of cheap fabric a while back to make some hangar covers for it to keep the dust and bird poo off it while it’s in the barn. It was noticeable today that the Xair, which has outdoor covers on, was still clean so I need to find some time to do that too. When I just do not know…

Back in the groove

Not completely, but getting there. The amount I’ve got to get done before I move out of my house is quite frightening and what with Covid and a long, wet winter, I’m out of the habit. But I’ve got to force myself to get back into things as I’ve done all that I can for the time being on my new-build, and today I got underway at long last with tackling the tiling and making-good around my ‘new’ patio door. I say ‘new’ because it has actually been in for some months, since the end of last autumn, but what with the appallingly wet winter we had plus the work I’ve had to do to get my new-build project underway, I’ve not been able to get around to starting on it.

I’ll go onto what I’ve been doing today, but first I’ll tell where we’ve got to with the new-build. Yesterday was a very exciting and productive day. It started off with meeting Sandrine, my commercial contact at the building company, and one of their surveyors on the land itself. The latter got out his laser level surveying system and was soon feeding Sandrine with data to write down on the plan that she’d prepared showing the new house’s proposed position, based on the numbers etc that I’d given her taken from a plan that I’d made to scale as best I could, which is shown below.

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To cut a long story short, he concluded that I wouldn’t be able to place the house as far back from the road as I’d originally said – 25 metres – because of the slope of the land. He said that the furthest it could go was 24 metres. I’m not sure whether he was joking or not, but he kept a straight face and I was naturally delighted. I will have to have some vegetation removed along the northern tree border though, but evidently my plan was not far out at all and I will be able to have 3m between the house and the northern border and 5m to the south, exactly as I want.

At the end I handed Sandrine a copy of the detailed building plan that I had prepared and shown in my last post. We’ll be discussing that at a meeting next week among many other matters but before she departed she confirmed that one of the pernickety but non-negotiable requirements of Bâtiments de France, the overall controller of building planning, is that all windows must be higher than they are wide. This is rather annoying to say the least because I don’t think that this is appropriate for a low-roofed modern house design, but it appears that I have no choice.

And this became even more relevant later in the day when I happened to bump into the seller of my land and the mayor of Fleurac also coincidentally dropped by at the same time. He confirmed the fact about the windows and said that if my ‘Demande de Permit de Construire’ (planning application) didn’t comply it would be summarily rejected. And fortuitously, while we were talking contact was made with the department of ‘Urbanisme’ at Rouffignac and Bâtiments de France in Périgueux when it was confirmed that if my Demande de Permit de Construire wasn’t submitted within the next few days, it wouldn’t even be looked at until 8th April.

Whether this is because of Covid or not I don’t know, but I was also given the name and telephone number of a contact in Bâtiments de France who, if the house-builder contacted him, would ensure that there are no slip-ups and delays and the Demande would be given a fair wind. So what a fortunate unplanned meeting that turned out to be. After their survey, the house-builder has enough information to submit a sufficiently detailed Demande de Permit de Construire within a very short period which should then get very quick approval.

This will unlock several things, including allowing my purchase of the land to be finalised, for a start then to made on levelling it and preparing it for building (‘terrassement’) and for the waste system to be installed (‘assainissement’). If this is left too long then the whole project will be log-jammed until May/June which will be the result of the Demande not being looked at before 8th April. My guess is that in such an event, with building work stopping for the usual one month break in August, it would be difficult for me to achieve a moving-in date of late-summer/early autumn.

But that wasn’t all that happened yesterday. I’d stopped on the land to make a phone call on my way home but couldn’t get a connection for some reason. While I was there, a small combo van/estate pulled up in front of me and a young woman got out and walked over to the plot of land next to mine. After we’d introduced ourselves, it turned out that we will be neighbours. She has acquired a bit more land than has been shown on the various maps and charts that I’ve posted and plans to put a small house on it. We exchanged details about where each of our houses will be and I’ll tell more at a later date but she was absolutely charming and I think that if everything works out as it should do, I’ll be very lucky to yet again have a super neighbour.

So now on to today. I’ve finally made a start on preparing the special hand-made tiles that I bought up in the Vendée to patch the floor in front of my new patio door. I want to create the same pattern as I did for my fireplace and that involves cutting them down to size. My existing floor tiles (described as ‘tomettes’ because of their age) are a now relatively uncommon 30 cm square which is partly why I can’t match them. The hand-made tiles that I’ve bought for the job are nominally 16cm square so can’t ‘fit’ directly with the existing ones – they need to be cut down.

Reducing them in size to 15 cm square isn’t enough as that wouldn’t allow for joints but 14.5 cm allows for two to the width of one existing tile with joints of 1 cm all round. Shaving 1.5 cm off each of two sides of the plain small tiles is easy but it’s not so straightforward for the ones that have a Fleur de Lys pattern in their centre. These you have to start by trimming two sides down to 15.25 cm width and the other two to 14.5 cm, rotating the tile consistently either clockwise or anti-clockwise as you go.

That gives the required final result – or not depending on whether the pattern was positioned dead in the centre when the original tile was initially thrown. I found that some of the first few that I did were slightly off centre and the only way I could correct that was by checking by eye where the pattern was and choosing which sides to start trimming first. This gave good if not always perfect results but heck, they were hand-made after all.

The job was made quite easy by using my electric tile cutter that I’ve had stored in my workshop ever since I constructed my fireplace back in February 2013. It has an electric blade with water lubrication and works a treat. I acquired it for not a lot of money back then from Le Bon Coin and am I glad that I did. Here are some shots of using it today in my workshop and of the results.

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Here’s a shot of the little decorative diamonds that I made from cutting up a couple of the patterned tiles. The supplier calls them ‘Cabouchons’ and wants quite a lot for them but my machine made it easy for me to make them myself for a fraction of the price.

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Now I’ve started I’ll press on tomorrow and hopefully get onto the tiling proper over the week-end. As I mentioned at the very beginning, my ‘to-do’ list is getting ever longer and time is becoming shorter by the day. And I mustn’t forget that I have two ULMs waiting over at Malbec to be wheeled out of the barn, cleaned, started and flown. When I’ll be able to do that I just don’t know. Will it be before or after I prepare my Ford C-Max and get it up for sale, because that’s on the list as well 😕

Above and beyond?

Probably. I was working hard on the plans for my new house over the week end and I now think that I’ve done as much as I’m going to. I have a meeting with the surveyor of the house-builder on the land itself on Wednesday to plan its ‘implantation’ ie where exactly it will be physically positioned, and I hope to come away with an agreement that meets my requirements and with the land marked out.

What reservations I have are centred on the ‘misunderstandings’ that the house-builder and I have already had and the time-slippage that we have already incurred (they disagree but I think so) and in order to avoid more of the same and any potential misunderstandings as a result of language, for example, I have now put down chapter-and-verse on paper in the form of a four page document that I will hand over to them.

After the house-builder provided me a few days ago with an incorrect initial plan of ‘implantation’ showing the house at only 15 metres from the road which I then had to redraw correctly and to scale with it at a distance of 25 metres, I’m waiting to see what transpires on Wednesday and naturally hope that the message got through. But I’ve also gone even further and addressed the key design issues to make sure that before we even get to the point of sticking a shovel in the ground, both parties (they and I) are fully in agreement about what the end product will look like.

I’ve stuck to the builder’s standard footprint for the house as I think that to modify that would be to incur unnecessary, and possibly quite high, cost. However, I can’t see how defining exactly where I want internal walls to be positioned, especially if they only vary by a few centimetres from their plan, will affect the cost in any way whatsoever, so that’s what I’ve been working on.

Only when I started getting into the nitty-gritty, did I realise that all of the other dimensions are dictated by the dimensions of the kitchen. This is because (a) the kitchen is at the heart of the house and (b) its dimensions are key, because only by specifying them exactly will it be possible to neatly and effectively install a range of kitchen units. Once you do that, you can work through the rest of the design modifying other dimensions as necessary as you go in order to preserve sensible proportions and living spaces, but all of that takes time, effort and understanding and whereas I had enough of the former two, only by getting engrossed in the job could I obtain enough of the latter to be successful.

So in order to ‘screw everything down’ and leave absolutely no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding I’ve therefore used Edificius to create a general layout, a detailed and accurately dimensioned building plan and elevation and section images, the latter to show the assumptions I’ve used for things like floor slab thickness, wall heights, door and window dimensions and the ‘delta’ ie height above floor, of the latter. I’ve shown all of these items below.

First, the general layout.

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Now the detailed building plan.

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And now the views that I mentioned – others possible but those shown sufficient for the purpose in hand.

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Now some new images of the house on the actual terrain. Edificius does a much better job than Sketchup although needing quite a lot more time and effort from me. However, I also had to create many of the items used eg kitchen, external guttering, shutters, in Sketchup before importing them into Edificius.

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And to finish off, a couple of overhead shots that are also in my view superior to the ones I originally created using my old Sketchup house model.

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So as you can see, an awful lot of work and effort involved. Was it all necessary and will it all be worth it? Who knows, only time will tell. But I’d say that the answer will be ‘Yes’ to both questions if in the end the project runs smoothly and to cost and I end up getting exactly what I want.

Weird flight

I just happened to be checking Flightradar24 to identify an aircraft flying over my house this morning, just before mid-day I think it was (Transavia, destination Eindhoven), when I came across this weird flight that was going on near Périgueux.

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There were no aircraft details available but clearly something very strange was going on and had been for something like half an hour, or maybe a bit longer. The aircraft was most probably a small single-engine type because it was showing a ground speed of around 100 kts and was indicating a calibrated altitude ranging from just under 1000ft to a maximum of just over 1300ft during the period that I was tracking it.

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Flightradar24 indicated that the flight had originated in Chambery near the Swiss border something like 2 hrs 45 mins previously and sure enough this was proven to be correct by zooming the map out.

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Closer scrutiny indicated that the flight had apparently been going smoothly up until the time the aircraft reached Objat to the north of Brive, after which it became incredibly erratic, twisting and turning randomly as it slowly transitioned westwards and climbing and descending as it did so, almost as though there was no qualified pilot in control.

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As I watched it, after it had passed Périgueux it turned back towards the east until just after it had passed Bassillac aerodrome, the trace suddenly ended. It could be that this occurred because the pilot decided to execute a hasty landing at Bassillac and descended to an altitude at which radar contact was lost. It might also have meant that whoever was in control switched off the aircraft’s transponder – which, incidentally, was not properly installed and set up as it was not transmitting any data about the aircraft itself.

Or finally, it could have indicated something much more ominous and I’ll keep an ear to the ground in case I hear of anything untoward having happened. The Flightradar24 trace would certainly seem to indicate that something out of the ordinary was going on – pilot incapacity for example – but whatever it was, one hopes that anyone involved came out of it OK.

Actually, I’ve just found the same flight on Airnav.Radarbox. It appears that the aircraft in question might be Cessna 182 registration F-HBRH and that it might have landed at Bassillac. I do hope that that’s the case.

I love this new technology!

One of the things you have to do to obtain planning approval for any kind of building work here is to show eg by ‘photomontage’, what the building project will look like in finished form in its actual environment. I thought that it might be interesting to show ‘the big picture’ by using backgrounds lifted from shots taken by one of my drones and shown below is what I’ve come up with.

First off, taken from a low height – only 7 or 8 metres – from the road at the western end of the terrain.

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Now a shot taken from a south-westerly direction.

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This is a shot of the back of the house taken from the east.

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The next shot was taken from the south.

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Now a shot taken from the south-east.

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And finally a shot taken from the north-east.

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It’s almost impossible to get the scale dead right but I think they’re really interesting and I’m very pleased with the results. I think they give a great idea of how the house will look and are much better than just using images from ground level. When we eventually get to meet I’ll see whether the construction company would like to use any of them. It’ll save them having to produce anything of their own and as I’m now getting rather anxious to move on, anything that can save time will be welcome in my book!

Back again

My contact at the building company is still sick, unfortunately, so our meeting has had to be postponed yet again. So in the meantime I’ve come back again to post some more kitchen pictures, this time from the Edificius ‘walkthrough’ mode. Not only is this good fun to use but it also gives a reasonable ‘feel’ for a room with an idea of how spacious it will be in reality.

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I’m very pleased with the outcome. I think that the above pics make the room look more spacious than it does in the 3D ones of the model taken from above. I hope that it turns out that way in reality. I’ve definitely decided to leave the fridge where it is as I don’t think that losing a wall cupboard is an option even if losing a bit of worktop is. By the way, I’ve left the large gap between the floor-mounted cabinets where the wall bends for now. When the time comes I’ll look for a way of either just blanking it off (not desirable) or making it into a little storage area with a shelf maybe (preferred option).

All done!

Well, for now anyway, and I’ll only make changes if I spot any problems or come up with any more ideas. As I suspected, the problem was planning a layout that gave me everything that I needed in what I think is a rather compact kitchen space. Experience has shown me that you must have as much worktop space as possible and that you can never have too much storage space, so my aim was to maximise both while not making the kitchen cramped and still having enough space for a small table and chairs. I think that I’ve managed to do it, as the following pics show.

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I’ve kept a small fridge and the dishwasher in the kitchen, the latter close by the sink, which will facilitate connecting it up. I’ve had to relegate the freezer to the ‘cellier’ though, but that’s not a big problem because you’re not accessing it all the time and it will only be across the hall anyway. I may look at the layout again and make the small fridge in the corner into a tall fridge/freezer at the expense of losing some worktop space and a wall cupboard, although I’d be reluctant to lose the latter, but I’ll have to do that later and it won’t require any changes to be made to the house plan anyway. I am pleased with how quite by chance the sink has come out dead in front of the window, which will be a huge improvement on my current house, which, typically for old French country houses, has the sink facing a blank wall.

So that’s it for now. I’ve got a meeting with the house builder this afternoon, which I’m looking forward to. I’ve got a lot of questions to ask 😉

Just for fun?

No, not really. Although my Edificus computer model isn’t complete (it doesn’t have a roof on for a start, let alone much furniture or any decor at all), I thought that I’d learn again how to activate the program’s ‘walkthrough’ view mode. This was very handy when I was doing the planning for my existing house’s extension because with the model placed in it’s ‘proper’ environment and coloured correctly, even though it was empty, ‘walking through’ it gave you a pretty good feel for how the final job would turn out.

In the interim, I’d forgotten how to activate it but I managed to get it going again this evening and I’ve shown a few results from it below, starting with the master bedroom.

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Now the second bedroom.

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And finally bedroom 3, which will be a secondary guest room.

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Now the bathroom.

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And last but not least, the little separate toilet.

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OK, it’s only a bit of fun – well, almost. In fact, it has given me a reasonable ‘feel’ for how the house will be in ‘real life’, plus it has gone a long way towards allaying my fears that the rooms will feel a bit ‘pokey’. On the contrary, I now think that the bedrooms will be ‘bigger’ than I first thought, which is something of a relief. I’m not convinced about the kitchen, though, so I’ll need to ‘fit’ some units into it as well before I start thinking that it too might present a space problem.

Getting in deeper now

I’m a stickler for detail and hate making decisions unless I’ve got all of the necessary information, especially if they are important ones. Like signing a contract for a house design. The house I’m having built is ‘100% customisable’ says the builder. But at a price, obviously, so although you don’t want to ask for changes that are merely frivolous, you do want to make sure that when you put pen to paper, you know that the final product will meet your essential requirements.

I’ve been given several versions of my ‘proposed’ layout that have all differed slightly from the version shown on the construction company’s web site. The latter doesn’t have any dimensions on it but the later versions do, so they have given me something concrete to work with (please excuse the unintended pun). I created an initial computer model using Sketchup Free which I used for the ‘pretty’ images that I’ve posted showing the exterior of my new house with colours etc which have been accurate and to scale but although Sketchup can be used by expert users of the program to do so, I’m not up to doing a highly accurate plan with accurately positioned exterior and and interior walls of the correct thickness, doors, windows, interior furniture and all that stuff.

However, I am fairly skilled at a moderately low level in the use of Edificius, the software that I used to do all of the planning work for the extension on my current house, which won’t now being going ahead, of course. When I downloaded Edificius there was a free version with all of the full program’s features except you couldn’t print from it. This wasn’t important for people like me who don’t need full A3 printouts the way proper architects do as there are ways of getting around the problem.

The main issue that I face with my free version is that I can’t download many official Edificus 3D objects (like WCs, showers, hand basins) to incorporate in my house model. I could if I upgraded it, but the catch is that it would then become a subscription model and not free, which wouldn’t be economical for me as I won’t have a long term use for the program. However, I can get around that problem as well because there’s a huge range of free 3D Sketchup models on the internet which I can export into Edificius by way of a complex, somewhat convoluted process that I won’t even try to explain here.

So that’s what I’ve been doing, with great success. My Edificius skills are certainly good enough to work on a single floor building, so I got cracking again and after relearning stuff that I’d forgotten in the meantime, created a highly accurate 3D model of the new house’s layout.

Along the way I learnt an amazing amount about the house which otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated. My initial reaction a day or so ago, based on the rough dimensions that I’d gleaned from the construction company’s original plan, was that the bedrooms are too narrow to take proper double beds with side units, which I found somewhat alarming. However, my detailed work showed that although Tarquin in Kensington might describe the house as ‘a bijou residence’, I was wrong, as I’ll go on to explain.

First, the plan itself.

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I’ve put everything into it that I definitely want as of now. The bed sets I’ve put in the bedrooms are tight but not as bad as I thought and the ones I’ve used I’ve adjusted for scale. The beds are about right but the side units might still be a bit narrower than average but at least everything looks doable. There’s enough room in all the bedrooms to have a drawer unit on the wall opposite each bed and although bedrooms 1 and 2 will have fitted cupboard space, bedroom 3 is large enough to also have a small wardrobe and it will only be a 2nd guest bedroom anyway.

I’ve extended the right hand kitchen wall (looking from inside towards the window) to the right of the window more than the construction company has in its floorplan and also allowed enough width for a worktop right along the whole left wall. This should give plenty of opportunity to design a good kitchen layout and the space I’ve nicked from the living room won’t matter as there’ll still be plenty of room to the right of the kitchen wall for my dining table and chairs.

I’m thinking about playing around a bit more and making the kitchen window into a door and seeing what that means for the rest of the layout but that’s my next job for later.

I was thinking that the bedrooms are tight compared to what I’ve got now but then again I’ve only got two at the moment and this floorplan has three. Also there’s storage space in the bedroom cupboards and in the ‘cellier’ which will be a utility room for the washing machine and my big fridge and freezer if I keep them and I have hardly any storage space for anything in my present house.

The bathroom is, let’s say, ‘compact’ but I think there’s adequate space for the shower, basin and WC. In fact I think that the shower I’ve shown is quite ‘fat’ and extends further into the room than other walk-ins that I’ve seen. I need to get some real measurements though and adjust it to make it totally realistic to confirm this as the WC and hand basin are both to proper scale.

Here are some shots of the 3D model from various directions and angles which give an excellent ‘feel’ for how things will look. It’s also possible with Edificius to ‘walk’ through the building and even make a recording of the ‘journey’, but I haven’t got around to doing that just yet. Maybe later, but it’s not essential.

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One final observation, however. The garage won’t take my Bentley when I get it… 🙂

What’s this then?

It’s my proposed new house actually shown on the land on which it will be built – it’s amazing what you can do nowadays with relatively unsophisticated software. The images below show the four principal elevations of one of the versions that I’ve worked up with the house in ‘Perigordian’ style, that’s with the walls rendered with the traditional orangey ‘crepi’ cement. First up, from the west (the road).

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Now from the north.

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Now from the east.

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And finally, from the south.

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The computerised images that the house-builder sent me were so inaccurate that I decided to make my own model and I’ve sent them my ones just in case they were going to use theirs for the planning application. You never know and I don’t want to have any hiccups in the process as ‘Bâtiments de France’ now approve all plans and are known to be quite picky about what can and can’t be built in an area or on a parcel of land.

I have another cleaner, more ‘modern’ loking version but I have a few modifications to make to that before I’m happy with it. That’s the beauty of using computer software for the job – you’re only limited by your imagination 😉