Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Restoration Home (BBC Two)

Dr. Kate Williams, Caroline Quentin and Kieran Long

While on a self declared break from my regular series I went down the rabbit hole that was YouTube, one video led to another until I found myself hooked on Restoration Home.

A production by the BBC Two, the documentary series presents old buildings acquired by ordinary citizens who are willing to see through the crazy idea of restoring said structures to habitability. 

Average couple, Paul and Laura Baxter,
owner of one the series' most successful builds

You’d think that only museums, corporations, and specialized foundations with historical fetish would want the trouble.

The private owners on Restoration Home willingly gamble their own money in spite of the restrictions by heritage laws (most projects in the show) to preserve features of building in which they already own. Demolish and rebuild is the easy way out but it was never a choice.

Can you read hundred year old handwriting?

Meld between Old and New, Historical and Personal

Caroline Quentin, the main presenter for Restoration Home, calls the derelict buildings as “the keepers of the past” in her opening spiel basically hinting on the show’s goal. She does face to face interviews and narrates the episode often from the point of view of the new owner.

Gloved and doing research with the Doomsday Book

Kieran noting the use of flint in the wall concludes
the original builders of St. Peter's Barn are of high status

Connecting the history of the buildings to the current owners, however, is the work of Kieran Long and Dr. Kate Williams. 

Kate does the historical research which is the about connecting the owners from past to present by digging up the social, political, and economic circumstances that connect the building to its original owners and immediate area; drawing as straight a line as possible the changes over the centuries.

Kieran Long almost does the same but his line of attack is through the building’s architecture. He will make sense of the building and its history via its design: what era was the particular design in fashion; why do people choose the design; what other motivations do they have for the design. 

The information within the Doomsday Book

There was one episode that he only had the bricks to go on; it was a barn, dilapidated, and bereft of details unlike the house which he had already solved.

A design show with a historic twist – at least for me, design is what drove me to it as I tire looking at the same shelves and sofas this pandemic. The before and after shots of derelict buildings to something livable is a joy to watch – often a wow moment. 

Suspense comes in the form of secrets an old building may be hiding, especially the bad kind like weakened support beams and walls which eat up time and budget.

It’s a struggle to understand when those engineering problems are not explained in graphical detail. The show does have graphics of the owner’s plan for the house usually just room distributions. Problems are often explained by the contractors who obviously are the ones to find it – this wall is weak so we need to do this or the beam needs replacement.

I would be in awe at the same time as not understanding what it all means to the whole house. But even without major structural problems the builders would explain what they’re doing especially since in many areas that requires traditional methods. Amazing that there’s a carpenter or stone mason alive versed with those methods.

Paul and Laura Baxter hear the history of their church turned home

When Kieran and Kaye make their final report to the new owners, then you realize the beauty of the show uniting history and heritage in what could just have been plainly about personal taste and design. New owners meet the original builder of your home 400 years ago, they would seem to say.

An old map of North Wingfield buildings for the Elms project.
The L shape pointed at is the house.

I am not British

What I find amazing since I am not of Britannia are the libraries and archives that Kieran and Kate would go to. Every single one is beautiful and whatever the form the information they’d find is all are neatly cataloged. 

I know libraries have catalogs but I’m still trying to grasp that it is hundreds of years worth of information. It would be accurate that I am more excited when it is their turn than I am with the house.

Queen Victoria's County History

Dr. Kate Williams would be able get at least the (moneyed) family who had the old home built. King or parliament would have at least the motive of noting persons who have money, in that sense maybe a commoner would have been more invisible. 

But sometimes Kate would be uncovering almost anything: baptismal records, invoices, ledgers, and census – the United Kingdom keeps good records. She would wear gloves sometimes if certain records were just too old to touch. 

Amazing that people keep records, amazing still that in all the wars and tragedies, they would still have the presence of mind to protect said records.

Kieran Long would also be looking at archives but often from the builder’s perspective. He would look at plans, building surveys, maybe deeds of sale; in one episode he was able to uncover a few hundred year old stained glass designs.

I assume an archive full of stained glass designs... which Kieran has found the right one

Plans of St Thomas à Beckett Church

Full disclosure, I am not in the same research field as Kieran or Kate so I wouldn’t know the full potential of Philippine archives, although after a brief glance of the website just getting in looks tedious. 

Clips of Kieran and Kate combing through the records, especially with camera and mic setup, makes it feel like their archives are more open.

Early 20th Century Tax Records

I also don’t know how national my National Archive is when referring to the scope of its collection, it is fascinating that Kate seems to be going to localized archives and Kieran to those that are only within his area of specialty. You’d be hard pressed to find a public library in the provinces in my country.

How much do average people make?

Proud owner and now builder of St. Peter's Barn knows his way up

The Big House,before and after

Another aspect of Restoration Home that got me curious is how much do average people make in the United Kingdom? Even granted that the owners featured are outliers compared to the regular population, they would still have a sense of security that would make them susceptible to the gamble they are doing now.

I refuse to believe that anyone in the Philippines would sell their own house, little as they may be, to finance a restoration project. Filipinos would be that insecure in getting just the one house. If it were an exchange for a finished house yes but to gamble after having the stability of land and roof to call your own, I don’t think so.

How many owners in Restoration Home have sold their old homes to finance the build? Almost everybody, except for those who bought castles who obviously would have enough left for restorations.

The series did not dwell formally on the economic and social status of the owners but some of them are skilled laborers. Caroline narrated as much, and if you missed what she said you can just watch the new owners perform. They don’t have much money so they would do the entire project almost alone.

Graham the proud owner of St. Peter’s Barn is a roofer and builder by trade. Seeing him climb with ease a thin looking ladder with wood over his shoulder leaves no doubt about that. 

Alun Lewis owner of Big House calls himself a jack of all trades, but his main source of income are maintenance jobs at a local river port, 20 miles from his soon to be restored home. He talks of feeling divided, obliged to work all the hours he can to earn some money, but still since he still needs the same time and dedication to work on his dream home.

At face value you would pity Alun buying a building only half standing but the latest updates by Restoration Home showed that he was already in slow but steady course in restoring the building to its full shape.

Paul and Laura Baxter owner of St Thomas a Becket church in Somerset; they were described as newlyweds. Laura does the funding, Paul, who Laura describes as not having a proper job previously, does the building full time. Four and half years later husband and wife would have one of the best builds in the series.

Kieran Long does a check up years after Paul and Laura,
now with a baby, started the build. Here they talk at the sitting area.

Some steps after the entrance, noticeable are the arches used
to unite the restoration with the building's former identity.

Dinning area with authentic church altar

Kitchen with some stain glass windows

The master bedroom. Note the arches in the headboard.

And the amazing bathroom

I’d be hard pressed to find skilled workers or what in the UK they would call a tradesman, especially single income families in the case of Paul and Laura who would gamble the same here in the Philippines. They may not even have a car much less gamble with restorations. 

You can also add to the discussion that physically Alun is approaching the heavy side, Graham is impressively built, Paul is just young which is why he looks slim so I look at Laura and she’s fairly built. All the builders in various projects in the series are as impressive. 

Caucasian built notwithstanding, I doubt I'd find
as healthy a tradesmen here in my country

I don’t know anyone personally but I’ve passed by construction sites, seen the workers as they prepare to go in; have had work in previous homes to see tradesmen up close: and I don’t know if I can see one physically similar to those that I have seen on Restoration Home. They have a look that says contented and I eat great meals every day.

If UK tradesman looks ok, not that I am saying they look like they don’t have financial issues, how fares workers from other industries? It is sad to think that a country with an existing aristocracy would treat their people, especially one literally building the country, better than the Philippines which does not have a formal nobility.

Jump down the rabbit hole

Ever thought that with a pandemic raging the production companies will not be able to shoot new material for at least two years?

If the question sounded dire it isn't. Sources of video content is as large as the internet. It is massive! What may be small is getting yourself boxed into a genre. And who says you should stick to videos?

This pandemic will be a while so for entertainment and mental stimulation, go down whatever rabbit hole of videos - or books - you can jump into. Discover something new, like I did with Restoration Home.

1 comment:

  1. When the first episode aired I was driving past with my husband and I wanted to meet Paul and see his work. We called in and Paul was so inviting. He could see our interest and was really interested in telling us about his work.
    I have just seen the latest episode and the dedication in his "unskilled work" is amazing .