House project update: Bumps in the road, poverty and a tipsy cat

In the past couple of weeks a lot has happened, and then again not so much. This post is about sharing a little status update on our project “house by the sea”, including the bumps in the road that we’re encountering.

Let the works commence!

So, the good news first: The building works in our beautiful old house are starting. We are so lucky that we found a company who can provide several services under one roof which makes it a lot easier to coordinate. They have also agreed to help hold things together between the disciplines from electrician to carpenter and so on and project-manage. The house will get a make-over during which we will treat the old structure with a lot of respect to preserve its character while at the same time making it look and feel contemporary and cosy. There will be new floors, refurbishment of the walls, works on electricty. We also want a door to the garden where there is none today, replace a couple of windows and the big ticket item is the two new bathrooms.

Our new home: An old country house, built in 1910. It is located in a landcape in northern Germany that is called “Angeln”. Way back in the 5th century some people decided to leave this place and then became the famous Anglo-Saxons who settled on the British Isles.
This will become my office. Under the carpet there are old wooden planks and we intend to bring these back to the surface and give them a new life. The window on the right will be turned into a door to the garden. The old pine wood desk on the left will stay, I am inheriting it from the previous owner.
This will become our dining and living room. It is facing south so we should have plenty of light most of the day. The ceilings and walls need a new look and the carpet will have to go – but the beautiful century-old tiles that you can see across in the hall will definitely stay.

The tale of the unforeseen bathroom

To start with, our plan had been to keep the seventies bathroom on the ground floor pretty much as it is because we felt that the dark blue tiles are not too bad (there are much more cruel things color-wise from that era). After the builders had had a look at the situation, however, they made it clear to us that in order to get the top floor bathroom installed, they will need to open some walls in the ground floor bathroom too, making quite a mess. So the best thing to do is to now refurbish both bathrooms completely in one go. That was a bit of a setback because as you can imagine, it also has an impact on our planned budget and the schedule. I felt worried for a day and then a friend reminded me that there is nothing really to worry about as it is perfectly normal for things like this to pop up. She encouraged me to just set an intention that money will come from somewhere and all will be good. Abundance mindset at work, and right she is. 🙂

Setting the tone for our organisation

Our timing is pretty tight as we have a total of only eight weeks until the planned moving date. Still, after a couple of phone calls and having seen the revised offers, all experts involved are confident that this is very tough but still doable and to a certain degree I get the impression that these guys have the ambition to pull it off; it even seems to be a welcome challenge for them.

This could be a good motto for the building phase: We can do this! (As seen at Oberrieden train station)

Maybe it’s a bit easier, I dare think, because I am a good customer, i.e. treat them as partners and don’t pretend I know better and try not to boss them around. Of course I ask questions and I don’t just say yes to everything. I have ideas of how I would like things to look like and I challenge in a constructive way, but I don’t create unnecessary pressure and I never ever talk down to them.
In our conversations, I mention how in two months’ time we’ll proudly look back on what we will have achieved together and we will all have a house warming party with a big cask of local beer. 🙂 This house renovation is, in a way, a leadership assignment where I can be the kind of leader and spread the kind of energy that I want to see in the world. Klaus and I are now in charge of this house and its culture and I want to make sure that this is a place where people trust each other and are valued for who they are and what they bring. And if that’s the case I know the people who work there will do an amazing job and will feel accountable. Being accountable and knocking it out the park is, I am convinced, an inbuilt trait in all of us – some workplaces and environments just make us unlearn it.

The interior design learning curve
It has been quite a ride for me when it comes to interior design, colours, materials and the like. I now know a lot more about the options and what these things cost than ever before in my life and I am grateful that I have people around me who give me hints and tips. You can easily spend hours browsing designs on Pinterest (and I did that), you can walk through flooring and bathroom exhibitions (and we did that) but there is nothing like a person who sits down with you over a cup of tea or with a beer and helps you think it through. At one point I realized that we have too many different types of floors and that we will need to simplify if we don’t want the place to look like a – well, a flooring exhibition. 🙂 Also, I had fallen in love with colour tones that don’t really match because one is warm and one is cold and I needed someone to nudge me and make me realise that.

Choices, choices – interior design can make my head spin! It’s good to have a sparring partner to mull things over with

Sustainability versus aesthetics and the ingenious cork trade-off
Klaus says he is fine for me to take the lead on all refurbishing and interior design decisions which makes it a lot easier in a way. There was one moment though when he looked at the cork flooring I had preferred, gave me a frown and said “but not in my room”. I would like to use sustainable materials where I can and I really like the idea that cork regrows, you don’t have to chop off the tree, cork has a great capacity to reflect and contain warmth (which might come handy in the chillier northern climate and in a house without a basement) and it is really sturdy at the same time. For me, cork flooring seems very cosy while for him it just looked like a pinboard on the floor. Well, we now have found a nice compromise: a sustainably sourced cork flooring that has a thin layer on top with a wooden look.

Getting ideas on flooring and tapestry: The divisive cork floor mentioned in the text is at the centre and on the far right are two examples of what the printed version can look like.

The poor people of Switzerland

One anecdote I need to share with you is when we visited an exhibition here in Zurich. Klaus and I were welcomed to have a look around at our own leisure and while doing that and taking the different bathroom designs in, we came across a nice shower with a glass door which we then had a closer look at. There was the typical “lists of ingredients” with prices, like you would expect. And what we saw there just knocked us off our feet. A shower glass door for 6’000 CHF and a shower gel dispenser (wall mounted) for 500 CHF – what??! Don’t get me wrong, I am willing to pay a little extra for good design but I think there are limits for how nice you can make something and that also here, like so very often in life, the Pareto principle applies. Of course a door for 1’000 CHF is bound to look nicer and maybe has better quality than the cheapest one for 500 CHF bought at the DIY store. But what’s supposed to be the incremental benefit when you multiply that price by six is completely beyond my understanding. “How did we get here as a society?” I asked myself. Some people in Switzerland are so poor that all they have is money and they throw it around aimlessly – that, to my mind, is the likely explanation. This is sick and sad and it makes me gutted to think that there are thousands of people here buying this stuff (and/or their new SUV or you name it) while at the same time there are so many people, geographically not so far away from us, who are struggling to make ends meet.

When will these poor people understand that money does not make you happy? Sharing does, caring does and I want to be a role model of that. Sure, they will not see me but I think there are more and more out there who feel like me and that by moving in the same direction, we will eventually create a gravitational field. They say 15%-25% is the tipping point of change. If you get the leading 2 in 30 people to not try something new, chances are the others will follow. Are you in?

The tale of the tipsy cat

One challenge in the next leg of our journey will be how to get our cat Phoebe safely and sanely up there. She doesn’t really like being in a container in a car so we would like to make it easier for her (and us) by sedating her. The dress rehearsal with Valium did not go quite like we hoped for, though. The vet had advised to first give her half the dose and see how she does so that we could then ramp it up if needed. We were told that reactions to this sedative can be quite different from one individual to the next. Phoebe gave us a stunning demonstration of that. Unlike it is the case in most cats, she did not get drowsy or calm. The first half dose she did not even seem to notice while after we gave her the second half, she started to act like she was properly drunk: She was a bit unstable on her legs but that did not at all keep her from acting out, being noisy and wanting to play big time. We felt sorry for her, of course, but also had to laugh about that weird behaviour. So, next time we will give the full dose at once and see how that works out.

Phoebe: Does she want to make sure she doesn’t get left behind? Or does she want to remind me that I should not pack the book boxes too tightly?
Phoebe giving her opinion on the wall decoration for the living room

The two phase move with a lush ending

The first part of our move starts mid March and it means we put our things into storage here in Switzerland and move into a temporary accommodation up north, so that we’re close to the building site and can see how spring arrives and paints the muddy fields of Anglia green again. The second phase at the end of April means that I will go down to Switzerland together with my mum and make sure our household items clear customs. The lorry and we in our car will arrive up north two days later at the beginning of May. And then we can properly move in and set ourselves up in the new home, hurray. There is a lot to do until then, it will not always be easy and we will manage, I am sure. Right at the end of the first week of May, Mum and I will go on our holiday which we had planned long before the house project was even an idea. This feels a little bit like a leftover from a previous life: Going to South Africa for a lush holiday with safari and beach feels a bit like what one of the typical “poor people of Switzerland” would do. Nah, I am looking forward to it regardless. 🙂 I know we’re doing it in a humble mindset and I intend to compensate this extravagant trip by not doing any far distance travel in the next couple of years.

What’s going on outside the house project

I have dedicated some time to volunteering (helping out at an event here in Switzerland), our first MeetUp took place which was an unforgettable evening. Also, after 12 and a bit weeks my coaching with Claudia has come to an end. We just had our closing session and the timing could not have been better. I am so grateful to have had her as a companion in this important phase in my life.

The first gathering of our newly formed MeetUp group in Zurich “Future of work – humanized, beyond the buzzwords” took place this month at Netzwerk-Haus. Yes, more than these four people turned up later 🙂

Also, I am happy to share that I have signed a contract as a freelancer for a company that enables transformations, you can check that out on LinkedIn if you like. My first engagement will take place at the end of March and I am immensely looking forward to it. We will be working with senior leaders in a German company (no, not pharma) and invite them on a journey of discovery and development. My plan is to work no more than 30% for the time being. That way, I will still have enough time and energy to organise the house project, explore the new surroundings, meet friends and enjoy this life.

This moving thing – it’s a moving thing

We are hosting a leaving do here very soon and will say goodbye to friends, neighbours, colleagues, and people from the village. It will be a diverse mix and I am so looking forward to seeing them all in one place. Some of these people we have known for more than ten years now. Saying goodbye to them and being suddenly 1’000 kilometres away from people you used to be able to see spontaneously – that is quite a step and despite all the excitement it does hurt a little. I know it’s the right thing for us to do, though. I already look forward to welcoming some of these people as guests to our new home. Thanks to tech, it has never been easier to stay in touch across geographies, and I will continue to take advantage of that, for sure.

It calls for a bit of imagination: This is the model of our kitchen corner bench. The tiles here in our kitchen are the same ones we also had in the house where I grew up, so of course they will stay as well.

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