Thursday, November 02, 2006

Choosing our Huf Haus

As predicted, little further progress to report.

The Keller is likely drier than last week, which is a rather intangible form of progress methinks. Last weekend, Claudia and I spotted that a lot of the rain water management had been installed into the gaps around the Keller walls. Wot's rainwater management? (ahem) It's a network of what looks like plastic drainpipes with holes drilled in 'em, laid underground, and all pointing towards the lowest corner of the land. One supposes the idea is that all sogginess as a result of rain or melting snow (and/or ice-caps), will be channelled in the general direction of downhill, from whence it becomes somebody else's problem, i.e. until it ends up in some German's house during the next large scale flooding caused by excess run-off water from Switzerland.

So, somewhat drier concrete and some plastic drainpipes.

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So, while we await the excitement of the arrival of the house (the week after next) I thought I'd describe our experiences with regards to choosing and modifying a Huf Haus design. Now I'm going to assume the gentle reader's reasonably au fait with the general concept of a Huf Haus, and furthermore knows wot au fait means. But bear with me if I spell it all out in a little too much detail. Not everyone's armed with one of the Huf Haus marketing packs.

As told previously, the general size and shape of our Huf Haus was pretty much dictated by (a) the size and shape of our land and (b) the wishes of the previous owners and (c) the Baubewilligung - planning permission - that came with the land.

(a), (b) and (c) above had pretty much committed us to what's known as a 3.09.30 before we even had a chance to peep at the view.

A recap: the 3.**.** means it's a three-axis house. The *.09.** means it's standard design number 09 in the three-axis book, which roughly translates to 12.81 metres long, with a bay window sticking out of the side, u-bend stairs, and a gallery above the dining area to give yer vertigo. And the *.**.30 just means that each axis is 3 metres wide. Ergo, the general ground floor area (not counting the bay window) is 9m times 12.81m which equals about 115 square metres.

Still with me?

Well, the Baubewilligung we had didn't allow for the bay window, because it would have stuck out about 1.5m, and therefore the living space would have 'encroached' too close to the boundary, a no no in Swiss planning circles. So delete the bay window (and the bay window-shaped extension to the Keller underneath it) ending up with a oblong house. This was easy-peasy with the magical Huf Haus system, and in fact we even got a credit from those lovely people at Hartenfels.

Next, the Baubewilligung also stated that the standard 9m width of the house would be 10cm too wide for the land (really, Swiss planning rules go to this level of detail) so not only would the bay window have to go, but the whole sodding house would have to go on a diet. So, our central 3m axis is actually 2.9m. Again, a few click-clicks on the computer by the good folk at Hartenfels, and those 10cms were shaved off. No credit this time, but then again no extra cost. Try that with someone else's system house.

And that's the basic outline that we inherited: 8.9m by 12.81m.

Ok, so we bought the land, took over the Baubewilligung, and then spent days, weeks, months poring over the internal ground plans of the previous project which differed significantly from the standard 3.09.30 (mentally minus bay window, and a tad slimmer). The upstairs bathroom had been moved to the back of the house, diagonally opposite from the kitchen. The kitchen itself had walls and windows which didn't seem to make sense to us (the whole kitchen story to follow in a subsequent post). Some of the internal walls had been glassed, and other external walls unglassed.

And then there was the Options List, which I've decided to capitalise because it's one of those words like Baubewilligung, Bastelraum and Keller, that's come to rule our life during this project. The previous owners had an Options List that ran to about 60 pages, and somewhere in the region of an additional 50% to the cost for the standard 3.09.30 Huf Haus with Keller. Now that was a shocker. Especially as the Options List's in perfect German, and even worse, technical German so yer german-speaking wife can't help much in the translations 'cos she doesn't know what the words mean in any language. The full Options List Story'll have to wait for another post...

So, we had someone else's Baubewilligung, someone else's floor plans, and someone else's Options List. We'll concede the Baubewilligung, as the size and layout of the house was pretty much dictated by the lay of the land, and I'm sure we'd have ended up with the same if we'd started from scratch. But the floor plans and Options List? We had to some some way of making this bloody house our own, didn't we?

Clearly, the floor plans were to be the starting point:

We returned the upstairs bathroom to the front of the house, on the premise that the nice view from the back of the house would be better appreciated from two bedrooms, not just the one. It also which simplified the water, drainage, and gurgling noise situation. Kitchen, downstairs loo, and upstairs bathroom would now all be at the same side of the house, geddit?

We unglassed those interior walls (privacy) and reglassed those exterior walls (sod privacy). We also removed the glass partition and door that comes standard between the open living area and the entrance area. This was on the good advice of the nice lady at Huf Haus Switzerland, who's now living in her third Huf Haus. Seems that those glass doors remain permanently open anyway ("every does it"). Oh, and the wonderful Huf Haus people gave us a credit for them. Heh heh heh.

There were a few other details, but by the time we'd finished, the floor plans were truly our own, oh yes. So much our own that they looked like, erm... they looked just like the standard floor plans for the 3.09.30. Yes, it's true. Each decision we made seemed to naturally undo all the tinkering that had previously been done, and the design was pretty much back to where it had started.

How could that be?

Well, those standardised floor plans in the marketing packs aren't just throw away ideas. They're in fact beautifully thought out designs, both aesthetically pleasing and practical. They've been envisaged and executed by clever Huf Haus architects, and then fully debugged by 10,000 somewhat detail-oriented German Huf Haus owners. In short, there's far more to those standardised designs than meets the eye at first glance. In fact, Claudia and I truly believe that's what's at the heart of the Huf Haus success story: it's not just a beautiful design concept, with plenty of space and light; it's the deep thought that's gone in to making these houses practical. The flexibility is still there for those that want it, or for the planning authorities that insist on it. But if I were you, I'd leave the messing about with the internal layout of yer Huf Haus to those wot know: them clever Huf Haus people. Redesign's still an option, but make sure it's done by someone who really knows what's what with a Huf Haus, and not as the result of some fickle brainwave by you and yer partner that came to yer at 2am in the morning.

A couple of observations, meant kindly:

First, the en suite bathroom situation. Now the upstairs of yer classic three-axis and four-axis Huf Haus is dominated by the sloping roof on either side, right? And you usually get a central landing upstairs with a suicide gallery on one side, and a rather elegant u-bend staircase on t'other. And then that leaves one equal-sized room per corner, 'cos that's where the light comes in. And one of those rooms is the family bathroom. All very nice, but this doesn't leave much option for the en suite bathroom for the master bedroom. Well, it could do, but then yer master bedroom would be the smallest bedroom, 'cos there's nowhere logical to slip in the en suite other than by losing the gallery, which would be a real shame.

Ergo, this sloping roof business is not en suite bathroom friendly. We've done without the en suite, but mitigated this by adding the optional shower to the downstair loo ("everyone does it") so we've at least got a second bathroom somewhere in the house.

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Secondly, the kitchen situation: yer three-axis and four-axis Huf Haus is incredibly spacious and 'open' on the ground floor, but a combination of the few remaining internal walls (essential for holding the bloody house up) and the regular posts and beams (ditto) leave you with a narrower space for your kitchen than you'd like. Think about it, a three-axis house gives you a 3 metre wide kitchen (2.78m actually, but let's not get picky) and once you've shoved in those standard 60cm deep base units either side, you're left with 1.58m of kitchen floor (whoops, I got picky after all). Not a lot considering the outrageous spaciousness of the rest of yer gaffe.

Ergo, the Huf Haus concept naturally pushes you towards a long but narrow space for your kitchen.

Most Huf Haus owners spend a looooooong time struggling with this, and you will too. Forget (at this stage) which kitchen company you'll choose, which units, and whether or not you can live a single minute without a combination oven/steamer; the first priority is getting that space that you're going to need as a blank canvas. There are many options I've seen and heard about, including moving the front door of the house to one side and making it a two axis kitchen, moving walls about, or indeed moving the whole damn kitchen, and various other concepts. Prepare yerself, 'cos this is going to take a lot of your time and attention, and very likely many rethinks.

What did we do? Well, during our trip to Hartenfels we walked into the grey three-axis show house there, which is basically a mirror-reversed 3.09.30. Very similar to our house, although it does have that bay window. It's impossible for me to explain adequately, but the bottom line is that the beam that runs across the house in the kitchen area's been moved a step back towards the front door so that that it opens up the option for a whopping big cooking island in front of the usual kitchen area. Not sure who that vagrant is, but the image further up shows it.

So we copied it; nuff said.

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