The Studio

It’s been quite some time since our last post. We moved into our mud brick house at Araluen NSW in February 2019 but since then a few small matters such as bushfires, Covid, floods, gardens, orchards, and life in general have kept us occupied.

For those who have been following since the early days; welcome back! You won’t be surprised to know that the house is not quite finished… We’re still painting around doors and windows, blocking a few gaps, and trying to get around to the seemingly endless number of small jobs that await.

If you’re new to our blog ‘Muddie in the Valley’, then you may wish scroll to bottom to retrace the journey through the building process. This will take you on a more-or-less chronological path (there’s a few aberrations) from vacant block to livable house.

However, it’s finally time to move on to the next major phase of the build – The Studio.

We had made a previous attempt to get started on The Studio, but this was interrupted by An Unexpected Circumstance on the morning the earth-mover arrived to commence work. However, now that the dust has settled or (more  appropriately) now that the mud has hardened) it’s time to recommence.

The Studio will be located in the foreground on the photo above and, to maintain continuity, will be constructed of the same materials as the house i.e. mud bricks, corrugated iron, concrete slab, double-glazed windows, and timber posts.

The Studio will have the same orientation as the house, and thus maximise winter sun as well as provide views around the valley (see photo below).

Chris the Builder has been re-engaged, Project Manager / Registered Owner Builder Margaret has been planning, and together they have been sourcing materials and preparing to get started.

In the days ahead we will commence regular posts that will trace the building process from start to finish, which hopefully will not take too long!

Stay tuned!

Framing (Part 2)

With the softwood framing in place, it was time for Chris to apply his drop saw to the Forest Red Gum (below) to complete the framing for The Studio.

First to go up were the corner posts (below).

Project manager and builder discussing progress.

With the posts in place, Chris prepared the beams (below).

Measure three times, cut once.

The first beam goes up (below) with more to follow.

As the sun sets, another beam goes into place (below).

As more beams were added, the scale of The Studio began to be revealed (below).

Yet another site meeting.

The door frame was put into place (below).

Frames for the north-facing windows were brought on site to determine the optimal position (below) prior to completing the framing.

For the next post we’ll go upon the roof!

Framing (Part 1)

Construction of the southern and western walls began with the preparation of softwood timber framing (above).

As each section of framing was completed, it was put into place by Chris with the assistance an unskilled labourer (above).

The sections were securely joined together (above)….

….and then braced (above).

By the time the frame for the western wall went up (above), we began to get a sense of the scale of The Studio and the views that the windows will provide.

Then it was time to start preparing the beautiful Forest Red Gum hardwood posts and beams . That’s in the next post! Meanwhile, the builder checks his plans and does his calculations (below).


As we did for the house, our plan has been to use as many recycled or locally-sourced building materials as possible for the construction of The Studio. Not only does this save money but it’s a responsible way to build – and we think it looks good!

Posts and beams

The hardwood posts and beams were sourced from Chris’ friend Simon, who mills timber on his property on the Deua River, just south of Araluen. Due to landslips across Araluen Road, an extended journey was required along the coast via Batemans Bay and Moruya in order to collect the timber from Simon. Araluen friends Megan and Richard joined Chris for the trip, which developed into a long day due to unforeseen road closures and a tree across the road.

Simon had milled all the timber from a single, very large Forest Red Gum which had come down during the 2019/2020 bushfires. Apart from making best use of resources, this was half the cost of having the timber milled at a commercial sawmill.

Richard and Megan in the forest south of Araluen loading the Forest Red Gum posts and beams.
In the absence of a chain saw, Chris applying an axe to a tree obstructing progress along the road somewhere between Moruya and Araluen. Unhelpful bystanders observing the process.
The posts and beams finally arrive at the building site.

Fired bricks

A layer of fired bricks will be laid between the slab and the mudbricks. Margaret sourced the required 170 bricks from The Green Shed – a re-use and recycling facility in Canberra which we used often when building the house. Again, a great way of both saving money and recycling materials.

Fired bricks collected by Chris from The Green Shed.


The most efficient option for softwood timber framing was to buy new from our local Braidwood Rural and Building Supplies.

Softwood framing delivered.

Corrugated iron

Several of the external and internal walls of The Studio will be lined with corrugated iron. Margaret’s online research discovered that the required 90m of second-hand corrugated iron sheeting in good condition was available from a single source in Sydney. The total cost – including the travel to and from Sydney – will be well below that of purchasing new materials locally.

New corrugated iron will be obtained for the roof.

The southern and western walls of The Studio will be lined with used corrugated iron, as is the house.

Mud bricks

Several stacks of mud bricks left over from building the house have been patiently waiting to be used for The Studio.

Over three years ago, Robin stacked surplus mud bricks to be stored for future use. After a long hibernation, these bricks will be employed for the northern and eastern walls of The Studio.

Time to start building….

Everything needed to get started on the framework is now on site, so Chris can get onto the tools. In our next post, The Studio rises!

The Slab

Every good building needs a good foundation, and having enjoyed the benefits of a concrete floor in our house, we’ve opted for a concrete slab for The Studio.

Pat, Master of Earthworks (above), was engaged to level the site and dig the footings, which he did with his usual accuracy and efficiency (below). This was completed during a small window of dry weather during lengthy periods of unseasonal rain, so it was a relief to finally get started.

Shannon and his team put the formwork in place (above) according to Council’s specifications, and we awaited another few days of clear weather to start the concrete pour.

The day of the concrete pour started well as the first truck arrived and, under the supervision of Shannon’s blokes, emptied its contents into the formwork (above). The sky was clear, the sun was shining, the concrete was pouring freely, and all was right with the world until….

….the second truck inexplicably and quite unneccesarily ventured onto wet ground and very quickly became bogged. A stationary, fully-loaded concrete truck is not easily moved, but thankfully two neighbours, Troy and Jamie, arrived with their tractors to assist with the extraction (above). Not a lot happens in Araluen, so the event created considerable local interest. At one stage there were ten blokes, one woman (Margaret, the Project Manager), two tractors, one concrete truck (stationary), one tray truck, one ute, one car, and three wheel barrows on site.

Troy was able to keep things moving by transporting wet concrete from the marooned truck up to the work site (above). We’re thankful for good neighbours!

The blokes worked hard to make up for lost time (above), and the slab was completed in the fading evening light.

With the horizontal stage of The Studio construction completed, it’s time to start collecting and preparing the materials required for the vertical construction.

Living in the ‘muddie’.

Once the mud brick walls were finished, the frames for the gables were nailed in place and the process of measuring, cutting and screwing down the second hand corro began.





Chris and Holly spent quite a while on this ladder adjusting the framing for the skylights. Two builders on a single ladder is still legal in Araluen.IMG_7611


Skilled crafts-people were engaged to fill cavities with wet earth i.e. mud was slapped into holes.WEHF1268

Trenches were dug for rain water pipes to the tank.IMG_7630

Shovels were used at critical places to avoid breaking the existing pipes – usually.  Hmmm!IMG_7649

The final piece in the jigsaw was glued into place. It had been kept in a ‘special place’ from when the posts were notched a little too vigorously resulting in the dislodgement of a tiny but nonetheless visually important wedge of timber. Only those who climb a ladder will ever notice but Chris would know if it wasn’t there – and would not sleep well.IMG_7670

And then began the Big Move….IMG_7703

Still a bit of a work site.IMG_7704

The only real way to transport a fridge in Araluen. Thanks, Red!IMG_7713

Good friends to help and Rob’s painting fits perfectly. Well done, Lorraine!IMG_7714

Chris insisted on putting my loom up. He was right. It would have sat in its boxes if he hadn’t done it….bit like the whole house really.IMG_7788

Trees were planted and the first guests arrived. Thanks Kathleen and Anna!IMG_7876

Dear friends of 37 years! Was great to have you Ken and Shelley!

Greg has the office / reading room he has always wanted,IMG_7994

and he has a beautiful view.IMG_8308

A bathroom.IMG_8003

The only wall big enough to fit another of Rob’s paintings. Eventually it will be on the wall!IMG_8004


A kitchen. Small but very efficient.IMG_7996

Our first House Concert. The builders at their ‘proper jobs’.IMG_8138

Mother’s day. Family and friends.IMG_8425


Aunty Holly!RREC0367

Billie is happy and so are we!IMG_E8592

Its winter now and we have been in the house for five months. It is a delightful space. Warm and cosy, light and airy with views from every window and door.






Details still to finish include trim around doors and windows, painting, lots of gaps to fill and eventually a verandah on the south, paving and pergolas.

Now for the garden……


Nearly there…

Although we had deliberately not set a deadline for completion, there was talk of ‘moving in by the end of January’. The first month of 2019 therefore saw an increase in activity and the phrases “We just have to do this…” and “We only have to do that…” were frequently uttered.

The open space of the house began to be partitioned into rooms as the internal walls arose under Holly’s supervision.


The small walls on either side of the wide opening into Margaret’s studio required quite a deal of cutting, shaping and notching – and a certain amount of faffing about (above). Holly can faff with the best of them, and was able to provide a grand entrance to Margaret’s World of Wool (below).


Not to be outdone, Chris got started on similar walls around the pantry opening (below).


With Chris suitably occupied, Holly took on the Great Wall of Araluen. Specialist assistance was required for the task, and Robin was called upon to lend his expertise i.e. working like a machine and keeping everyone on the work site amused (below).


Although a great worker, Robin is high maintenance and requires constant monitoring. Holly and Chris were responsible for checking his vital signs every 30 minutes or so and keep him hydrated (below).


A couple of young interns were also engaged to assist with the placement of mortar (below).


Although neither Chris nor Holly are at all competitive when it comes to building, there was certain jolly banter between the two as to which wall was superior, which required more skill, and which was likely to be completed first (below). There was also some healthy and respectful discussion as to the correct technique to be used.


The wall, situated between the hearth and wood stove, and the main bedroom was finally done by Team Holly and Robin (below).

IMG_7407.JPGChris however, working solo, had the distinction of laying the Last Brick in the house (below). About 1,200 bricks were laid in total. Fortunately no-one was counting at the time.


With walls in place, it was time to turn to details. The concrete floors required washing and sealing (below).



The pile of bricks adjoining the eastern side of the house of the house had almost become a permanent feature. Throughout winter there were numerous emergency dashes to the block in the dark to re-cover these bricks with the infamous black plastic sheets blown off by arctic winds during a storm that was certain to bring rain. Margaret and I will treasure those moments.

When the time came to move to these bricks to allow for trenching work, we considered numerous mechanical time and energy-saving methods – but eventually got Robin to do it (below).


Although we plan on having an open home, we have decided that doors will be useful on most rooms.


One of the many outside jobs to be completed included the downpipes, which Chris assembled (below).




With the Great Wall of Araluen completed, the wood stove could be installed (below).



Next the task of installing the internal linings of corrugated iron commenced. This involved hours of painstaking measuring, angle-grinding, pushing and screwing in awkward situations – but we think the final effect is worth the effort. Mind you, it was Holly and Chris who put in all the effort…(below).




Outside, the solar hot water system was hoisted aloft and attached to the roof (below). It’s obvious and Holly and Chris love working up there.



We’re nearly there! One more Council inspection and (if approved) we can start moving in! There will be plenty more to see in our next blog post.

Until then, here’s the view across the valley from our western windows.




The Builders Return

20181219_152358.jpgTo help speed up the progress of the build, we arranged for another Chris to help out for a few days. Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on several details, and one of the them departed soon after.


Overhead fans have been installed in the living area and in the main bedroom. Roof windows have been installed to allow more light into the kitchen and Margaret’s studio, and to provide for additional ventilation when required in the warmer months.


The pantry ceiling goes up. Insulation has been used internally to help maintain an even temperature for food storage. The loft can be seen above the pantry, and the entrance to the bathroom at left.


While Chris prepared to tile the pantry floor, Holly attended to the lining. Chris usually wears ear protectors when working to avoid hearing himself think. Holly wears them for exactly the same reason.


Chris waterproofed the non-mudbrick walls of the bathroom with villaboard in preparation to being covered with corrugated iron.

Next came the bathroom ceiling, which provided a few challenges.img_6872

Holly’s ballet lessons finally paid off,


as did Greg’s weight-lifting sessions in the gym.

With the bathroom ceiling and wall linings under control, Chris turned his attention to tiling the floor with slate. Or slating the floor with tiles. Or both.


Several internal walls were awaiting completion, so Holly was back at her favourite brick saw to whip up some noise and dust. Note the use of appropriate safety gear from the neck upwards.


Holly instructed Phoebe in the art of mudbrick laying. Having an eight-foot tall girl from Lancashire to help out for a few weeks was very useful as we did not need to hire additional scaffolding.


The completed wall between Margaret’s studio and Greg’s reading room / library / study.


Chris installs the top plate on the internal wall and the door frame for the reading room / library / study



Chris lays the floor of the loft over the bathroom and pantry.


The loft will be accessible from the main bedroom (at left). Another louvered window will be installed in the end wall for light and ventilation. The black pipe is for the solar water heater.


Outside, the guttering has been installed – soon to be attached to the main tank


Meanwhile, deep-ripping has been undertaken outside in preparation for planting the Autumn garden. Thanks to neighbour Jimmy for the tractor and ripper.



Handy hint for owner builders: These hardwood height-extenders are extremely useful. Holly prefers a Size 10A Ironbark, but see your local sawmiller to get what’s right for you.


While musicians are away….

Chris and Holly (and Graham the third member of The String Contingent) headed off into the wilds of Australia on the 4th August to play music, compose music and explore our great land.


While they were away we bagged mud brick walls which was a dirty, wet and cold job necessitating the use of Bill the Farmer’s cast off overalls!



We organised for ‘Pat the Amazing’ to return and make the driveway and finish the earthworks in preparation for gardening.






And installed our little kitchen! Peter built the kitchen in his workshop and transported it to the valley. We decided to use hardwood for all the cupboards and he chose a beautiful Queensland spotted gum for the bench tops. All the cupboards will be painted but the bench top and the island top will be oiled and waxed.








Appropriately the swallows took up residence on one of our posts. Mud brick builders recognise kindred spirits.


Next post the Musicians return and things happen!


For some reason I omitted to post on the work Chris and Ivan did on the rafters. So, a retrospective post is in order.

Chris spent many hours calculating, with the help of a computer program, the position of the rafters and where all the notches would go in each beam.

He then measured and cut the beams and rafters on the ground, in exactly the right place for each rafter to slide into the cut notch of the side beams and the notches in the three huge central ridge poles.



With Ivan’s help the beams were placed in position one after the other. A few adjustments were made and things went along quite smoothly.





The eastern bedroom had been extended to allow for extra space and that proved a bit of a headache with the calculations. Chris and Ivan spent a few hours shaking their heads as nothing seemed to be working but finally put the beams in place and proceeded to question when and how it had caused so many issues. A perfectionist musician with a touch of ‘dog with a bone’ mentality and a former physics/maths/problem solver IT/teacher are quite happy to spend hours thinking and talking about angles and calculations.






Job done!

On their next visit the council inspectors wandered around looking up at the beams and rafters and finally asked,

‘Did you hand notch all of these?’

I know I have used this photo before but it deserves a second showing.


Great work Chris and Ivan!