The Tenth Circle of Hell

I like to listen to Radio 4. When I lived in the States, I regularly listened and supported National Public Radio. I make no apologies and it is safe to say I enjoy talk radio, but of a certain type.   Recently on Radio 4, Melvyn Bragg and several scholarly guests were discussing Dante’s Inferno, that medieval journey through the nine circles of Hell told through poetic verse.

Home renovation feels a bit like this, just without visions of afterlife, severed heads, cruel punishments, and a cameo appearance from Satan. Not so far, at least.

The presenters on the radio were all quick to point out The Divine Comedy, with its three components of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, is more than a travelogue into the disturbing and horrific, and instead was a guide for spirituality during medieval times, hailing it is one of the greatest poems ever written. All I can say is while listening to this radio program, I wished to invite the Italian Dante Alighieri to transport his poetic self several centuries forward and join us at Crockern, where we have entered the not yet written Tenth Circle of Hell: Our final push to complete at least one room in the house. Perhaps he could squeeze another poetic winner with this old house as his inspiration?

Nearly seven months ago, we made the decision to remove the pine ceiling in the living room and layer in more insulation. We introduced mess and chaos and should have placed a sign above the door: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. We did not and instead carried on and hung the replacement plasterboard. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years came and went, and all the while, we kept the door shut to any visiting friends or family. Shut, that is, until our friends Mark & Yvonne arrived in February. Mark and his plastering skills made the ceiling a work of art!

When it comes to home improvements, I like painting.  Not the prep work or the clean up, but the actual painting. I like the smell. I like the way it immediately changes a space. All things considered, it is a relatively inexpensive intervention that instantly gives a sense of completion to a room. Clean. Fresh. Finished.   That is, if there is nothing else to do like flooring, lighting, shelving, or installing stairs. Still, once the plaster was dry, I set about priming and painting the ceiling and walls.   It has been several years since I’ve held a paintbrush and known that satisfied feeling of having finished a room!  How quickly a freshly painted wall delivers the home decorator one step out of hell and closer to those Nine Celestial Spheres of Heaven. Just like Dante himself.

Occasionally prone to home-improvement-inertia, Roger and I set a deadline of April first to finish the living room. It was not lost on either of us that our deadline is April Fool’s Day. We’ve come close to meeting our self-imposed target, but had more than a few silly delays.

Take for example the stairs. Before we could do anything, the stairs had to be made. The previous ladder to the lower floor was removed. The hole in the floor measured. In January, we contracted a man to build us some stairs. We waited. We waited some more. We made the hole in the floor to the specified measurements to accommodate the stairs. On the scheduled day to begin installation, we had two inches of snow. For some, two inches of snow is a crippling amount. No experience driving in the stuff.  Better to just stay home. For others — I will put myself solidly in this camp — two inches of snow is chump change. It’s nothing. Man up! Get out there! Drive those stairs to Crockern and install them Buddy!

Nope, not our guy.   He made a decision that the snow was too much, leaving a phone message he would arrive to do the job the following week.

I returned his call and he began work the next day.

With snow on the ground, we busied ourselves and pulled up the carpet, sanded the floors, treated the floors for woodworm and finally stained them. Through all of this, we’ve attempted to live normal lives. Not easily done with the contents of our house strewn everywhere, covered in dust, and that much needed object – say a hammer – lost beneath all of the clutter.   Most recently, we slept with windows wide open to avoid the noxious fumes from the floor treatment, awaking to a hard frost and a chorus of bird song.

After two days of installation, the stairs are in place. They are lovely. With our deadline still looming on this room, floors, walls and ceilings ready, we made a mad dash to clean, clean, clean, and return all of our furniture back to its location. The room is looking nearly complete, enough that we can open the doors and welcome people into the space.

And those new stairs? Well, they lead down to what is our next, and possibly biggest, project: The Eleventh Circle of Hell. We have addressed the damp in this room, but we now need to build walls, add insulation, lay a floor, install a bathroom, fix new windows, and oh so much more.

Hey Dante, grab a paintbrush!

Before we begin our work.

Before we begin our work.

Another before photo.

Another before photo.

The room before.

The challenge ahead.

The "stairs" (many would call this a ladder) before we started this project.

The “stairs” (many would call this a ladder) before we started this project.


Game on:  During.

Roger installing more insulation.

Roger installing more insulation.

The hole in the floor awaiting the new stairs.

The hole in the floor awaiting the new stairs.

Mark busy with plaster work.

Mark busy with plaster work.

The new stairs.  They are as done as they can be until we finish the downstairs floors and walls.

The new stairs. They are as done as they can be until we finish the downstairs floors and walls.

We did it!  The room is finished.

We did it! The room is finished.


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30 comments on “The Tenth Circle of Hell

  1. It really is amazing what difference a coat of white paint can make to a room. It looks lovely 🙂

    For orientation purposes, is this room in the roof space of the extension/smaller section of the house?I think I can just make out the bottom corner of one of the skylights in the photo of the cottage.

    • Thank you. It is such a relief to have one room completed — a place to retreat when feeling fed up with the other on-going projects. At last!!!

    • It is the upstairs of the old barn which was attached to the old farmhouse at some point unknown. The room can be accessed with a small set of stairs from what would have been a pass through between the barn and the house. And also, from the downstairs (next big project) which also has a door to the outside. The house is a bit of a rabbit warren in its design. So, when looking at the photo of the cottage on the blog header, you can make out the ribbon skylights which are in the roof of this part of the house. Hope that helps.

  2. Annette P Nicolls says:

    Well worth the wait and the effort – you must both be thrilled

  3. Rosie's Dad says:

    Those new stairs look amazing Catherine. Good Job! In comparison, I just had to fill up a 3inch gap with polly filler, sand it, and paint it,- took two weeks! Look forward to seeing all the new stuff in August.

  4. Catherine that looks truly wonderful. And the stairs are beautiful too – can’t believe you could fit them in! x

  5. donna04 says:

    It looks beautiful and calm! Good job!!

  6. Russ says:

    Very nice. The stairs remind me of the cottage at Lake Cumberland

    • Thanks Russ. I know what you mean about the stairs from Lake Cumberland. The difference — and this is a big difference — is you can walk down these and your feet fit on each step, avoiding the likelihood of breaking your neck!

  7. Looks wonderful! Great job. Looks so comfy one would like to curl up and read a book. Is the clay vase one of yours?

    • Oh how I wish I had made that vase! Thanks for the endorsement on the finished room. Thought of you while we were picking out the colours and arranging the furniture, “now where would Diane put this?” C xx

  8. Susanne says:

    So beautiful! You created a real haven. And even if he’s a snow wimp, the guy can build a stair!

  9. Paul Blaney says:

    What a lovely, welcoming space you’ve created. Does Dante get out of those hellish circles in the end? I’m struggling to recall how it finishes!

    • Thanks Paul and I certainly hope he gets out of hell in the end. I think there is a long bit in purgatory before reaching heaven, but I too am fuzzy on the ending. Think it best to just enjoy this one nice room and set another stress-inducing deadline to complete the last of the back part of the house. That will set us up nicely for the remainder (rough translation: at least 4-5 years!).

  10. I loved the new wooden staircase ,every thing is starting to look beautiful ..your usual good taste !

  11. jllevitan says:

    The staircase came out great. The room looks so much brighter. Terrific job!

  12. kiwiskan says:

    Looks lovely. I know all about that home improvement inertia. We suffer from it…

  13. Andrea says:

    Congrats on the beautiful fruits of all that hard labor! It looks so wonderful, cozy and inviting! We have to plan a visit. Until then, I’m looking forward to seeing you at the end of April! 🙂

  14. RobP says:

    What a transformation to an already interesting room. 🙂

    • Thanks Rob. The transformation that isn’t visible, but you’ll appreciate, is how warm and cozy it is on one of those Dartmoor days/nights when the wind is blowing a gale and the rains are falling sideways!

  15. […] The Tenth Circle of Hell […]

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