World’s Most Expensive Kitchen?

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

World's Most Expensive Kitchen

World's Most Expensive Kitchen

Marzzi Design has designed and built a kitchen.  Nothing usual in that you might think, there are lots of places that design kitchens.

However, if you decide you would like this particular kitchen then you’ll certainly notice the difference when you get the bill, a whopping £300,000.  That’s right £300,000 for a kitchen.  Is this the most expensive kitchen in the world?  If not, it sure must come very close to it.

The London based Kitchen Design company, Marazzi Design, unveiled it’s Colosseo Oro Kitchen at Earls Court and it certainly did cause a stir.

Visually the kitchen is stunning with its 24 carat gold leaf, which is highlighted by the deep red base unit colours. But that still doesn’t detract from the fact that it costs £300,000.  Considering you can buy and install a very nice kitchen for under £5,000 you have to ask where does the price tag come from.  What makes this kitchen so expensive?  And what person, in their right mind would buy such a kitchen? Stop and think for just a moment. You could buy an entire house for that, including all the furnishings.

Like most things in life, what’s generally very expensive does come with some exclusivity and Marazzi Design did point out that it will only produce 10 in the world and each kitchen is fitted with the ultimate fittings, such as 24 carat gold leafing and crocodile embossed leather.  It also comes with Sub-Zero & Wolf appliances. As for the lighting, well they are Swarovski Crystal Lights, and would you really expect anything less for this price tag?

Just the appliances alone will set you bag a heart-stopping £55,000 and the mirrored steeled oven hood by itself is £8,000.  For the taps, well that’s also pretty special as these are Zaha Hadid Designed and cost… wait for it… £6,000!

So who will buy a kitchen like this? Who are the lucky 10? Well you can bet your house that it’s going to be someone who won’t be worrying about the cost.  Anyone who can afford £300,000 is certainly not going to worry about a mere £6,000 for the taps.

The question is… Would you buy a kitchen that costs this much money, if you had the money and why?  Leave your comments below.

Becoming a Millionaire

March 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve often heard people talking about creating the ‘Ultimate Lifestyle’ but what exactly is it and how do we obtain it.  I’ve got a really good friend of mine and quiet frankly he’s not exactly well off, but he lives life to the full on his small retirement pension.  He’s doesn’t have a large luxury home, nor a large yacht or even a nice car, in fact his car is 35 years old – sure it’s forever breaking down, but he loves it.  Does he have the Ultimate Lifestyle?  In his eyes he does, because he has no real worries and does pretty much what he wants each day and he simply finds things to do that do not involve spending large sums of money.

Ultimate Life Style - The Luxury Home

Ultimate Life Style - The Luxury Home

The ultimate lifestyle, for some might be a luxury home.  I for one wouldn’t want anything massive.  My ideal home is one that I want to build myself, so that I get exactly what I need, in terms of living space and how  the building looks.  I also definitely want a large swimming pool with a built in Jacuzzi.

Are my lifestyle choices extravagant or modest?  To some, it would be over the top in what you need for a comfortable lifestyle, while I’m sure there are others out there that will think my ultimate lifestyle choice in a home is rather modest.

Luxury Cars - The Rolls Royce

Luxury Cars - The Rolls Royce

So what about the cars?  Most of us like a nice car and most of us have a specific dream car in mind.  If money was no object, would you choose  a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari, or even both?  You might be one of those folks who is really into cars and so might, if money was no object at all, have a dozen or more.  Is this excessive?  Is this the ultimate lifestyle?  Again, it’s going to come down to two things, how much money you have and what your personal preferences are.

Recently a very young couple won over £45 million on the Euro Lottery.  They bought a couple of really nice cars, a Jaguar for him and a Range Rover for her.  Excessive?  Personally I think that was fairly modest.  But what about the house?  Again, and surprising to most, is that they paid just £250,000 for  a home.  A very nice home by all standards but nothing like what you might expect multi-millionaires to do.  Maybe they are just to green to their new wealth and will upgrade to something more elaborate in the future, who knows.  Maybe they now have their ultimate lifestyle.  Whatever they do, you can only wish them the best and hope that it provides them with their ultimate lifestyle.

Ultimate Living - the luxury Super Yacht

Ultimate Living - the luxury Super Yacht

If money was simply no object would you buy a luxury yacht?  Just recently in the news a billionaire couple took ownership of a Super Yacht that cost a staggering £100m to build.  Just to fill up the gas tanks is an eye watering £250,000 and you can bet your bottom dollar it drinks fuel like a herd of thirsty elephants.

Could you imagine yourself cruising around the Med or Caribbean in your own super yacht or is this simply too ostentatious for your taste?

The thing is, when it comes down to the Ultimate Lifestyle is really is all about personal preference.  I’ve often heard people saying that millionaire spending vast sums of money on these types of luxuries is obscene and yet these people fail to look at their own lifestyles within their own budgets.  Consider, as an example, that you live in a nice detached house, with a reasonably nice family car and that your annual salary is £50,000.  While you might not consider this to be luxury living, by a millionaires standard, it certainly far exceeds those living in parts of the world where the average daily wage is less than £3 and your home consists of a tin shack.

Would I buy any of these, or indeed all of these, luxury items if money was no object.  Probably, because as your wealth increases so does your lifestyle (in most cases).  Lifestyle, I guess is all about affordability, and the Ultimate Lifestyle doesn’t really exist as there will always be other things that you could own that would make your life more comfortable, more fun and provide a better lifestyle.

If these things don’t interest you, and for many it doesn’t, then certainly there is no denying that other things do interest you.  If they didn’t you wouldn’t be worried about earning a higher salary or even working much more that simply to put food on the table.

Therefore I have to conclude that the Ultimate Lifestyle only exists in the mind of the individual and as individuals we all have different needs and desires.

Here’s something for you to consider and maybe leave a comment for… If you won the lottery what would be the first thing you would buy – I’m not talking about helping out friends or family, that’s something most of us would do.  What I want to know is what would you buy for yourself to enhance your lifestyle. Try and be imaginative!

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 6

March 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Welcome back the the Self Build Horror – Thailand.  This is the true story of a guy who built a 4 Bedroom Pool Villa in Phuket, Thailand. In this final part we’ll find out what goes wrong and how one man found himself penniless and hiding from people who wanted him dead.  The following is the account of events in his actual words.

Internal Rendering Complete

Internal Rendering Complete

Week 17 & 18 – During these weeks I had to keep out of the way as much as possible. I was still on-site but it meant that I had to be careful that I didn’t get in the way.  There was even more people on-site, some where working on the Pool, some were starting on the building of the perimeter walls, while others where busy finishing the internal and external rendering.

The guys knew that the windows would be arriving soon and so had to have all the rendering and plaster work complete before they arrived.

Ridge Tiles on and Roof Complete

Ridge Tiles on and Roof Complete

The roof finally got finished during the week and once the Ridge Tiles were on it really did make the villa look so much better.

Plaster work - Front of Villa

Plaster work - Front of Villa

Week 19 – When I turned up on Monday morning it was obvious the guys doing the plaster work had been working non-stop over the Sunday and working late.  The font of the villa was now a brilliant while with beautiful fresh plaster work.  It really did look wonderful and the transformation was just incredible.

The whole thing was set off with the roof tiles and the carport being finished and the building was beginning to look like a home.  I had started to advertise the villa for sale and had a few people come and view.  Two people in particular made appointments to come back once the villa was completed, which was due in another 10 weeks.

Front Side View of Villa

Front Side View of Villa

When driving down the road the villa looked great from all angles.

Windows being installed

Windows being installed

The windows arrived early!  I was told this was not a really big problem, even though the plaster work hadn’t been done on the internal walls.  I was assured the windows could be easily masked off and that no harm would come to them.  I had chosen a ‘Green Tint’ glass.  The glass was designed to reflect the outside heat, so this would make it cheaper to run the air conditioning.

Windows and Patio Doors

Windows and Patio Doors

It took just 3 days to install all the windows and french doors.  With the reflection of the ‘Green Tint’ glass against the pure white of the plaster work the villa looked just fantastic.

Front View of Villa

Front View of Villa

Front view of the villa with the walls plastered and windows installed.

While I was outside taking photographs I could see my wife and the architect inside having , what I can only describe as a heated discussion.  I wondered in the Villa to find out what was going on, only to have the architect pass me and in very curt words said “Your wife no good.”

Obviously I needed to have a chat with my wife so we drove home and discussed the situation.  She dropped a bomb shell by saying that we couldn’t pay the final installment of the build – which was why the architect was unhappy.  I was more than a little upset as I had given her the final installment to give to the architect just two days earlier… so where was the money?  She explained that the last owners of the land had not paid the tax on it and so it was now our responsibility – by the time she paid that and the fines for late payment all the money had gone.  I wanted to know why we should have to pay, this should be the responsibility of the previous owner.  I got the usual Thai excuses that they can’t be found and that’s the way things are done in Thailand.  One thing I’ve learned over the years of living in Thailand is not to trust a word that a Thai speaks.

We were now stuck and we didn’t have enough money to finish the villa.  I decided to try and sell the villa as it was, with a heavy reduction in the asking price.  After nearly a month we had no one interested and my wife then asked me if it was possible to borrow what we needed, to finish the villa, from a friend of mine.  I really didn’t like the idea of it but it did make sense. We could finish the villa, sell it and pay my friend back , with interest.

My friend graciously agreed to lend us the money and even though we were good friends I made sure that a legal contract was made, just so everything was clear and in writing.  My wife left the next morning with the money to go and pay the architect.  On her return I asked her if everything was OK and when would they be back on-site.  I also asked her if she remember to get the receipt for our records as asked before she left.  She told me that she had the receipt and would put it with the rest of the paper work and that the architect would resume work in the next couple of days.

Each day I visited the site for the next week there was no sign of the architect or the builders working.  I was getting really upset and asked my wife to call him and ask him what was going on.  She made a call while I was there, not that I would have known, the writing on her phone was all in Thai and she spoke only Thai… for all I know, she could have been speaking to her sister or mum.  After hanging up the phones she told me that he had been caught up on another job and couldn’t start back for another week.  I was not happy!  I did point out that we had a contract to pay our friend back, so the longer the delays the less chances we had of meeting that contract deadline.

The next morning I received a phone call from a Thai woman, who spoke very good English, making an inquiry about my villa for sale.  I was pretty pleased and explained to her that she could buy it now, at a reduced rate (I wanted to pay my friend off as soon as I could) or wait until it was finished and then pay a higher price.  She said she was keen to buy  it now and could we meet on-site to discuss it.  My wife had already left the house and I tried to call her but she didn’t answer.  I would have much preferred it if she had been with me on-site to explain in Thai if necessary.  However, I wasn’t about to loose the chance of a sale and so I set off on my own.

To my complete surprise, when I arrived on-site, I was met by the lady and my architect.  Apparently is was all a ruse to get me to come on-site and she was simply acting as a translator for the architect.  She then explained that my wife had not given the architect the last payment to complete the villa.  I told her that I had given her the money just two days ago and that she told me the architect had to finish another job before he could resume work.  Apparently this was not the case and so the questions going through my mind were:

1. Where is my wife? I tried to call her again, but she was not answering her phone and;

2. What had she done with the money we had borrowed off my friend?

I apologized to the architect and said that I would get to the bottom of all of this and sort things out within the next few days.  As I was driving home all the horror stories began playing in my mind of all the other foreigners you hear about in Thailand falling foul to their Thai wives.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear of foreign husbands loosing everything they owned and in some cases even murdered by their wives for their assets.  I shock my head… we had been married for 4 years and we were happy together.  We were very much a couple, we played golf together and we never really went anywhere without each other.  I just refused to believe that she would do something like this to me, and more importantly to us.  The villa was to be our future together and there just were not any signs of her being under-handed in any way.

I arrived home but my wife was nowhere to be seen.  I tried to call again, but again she was not picking up the phone.  I tried on several other occasions but without success.  It was about 2.30pm when my phone rang.  It was my friend, whom I had borrowed money from.  I answered the call… it turned out that my wife had gone to see him in the hope of borrowing more money.  He asked me if I knew anything about it.  I told him honestly that I had no idea and then explained what had happened earlier that day with the architect.  He and I were both shocked and as we were discussing possible reasons when my wife turned up back home.  I told my friend that she was home and that I would call him back later with news of what was going on.  He was understandably concerned, considering the sum of money I borrowed was US$10,000.

My wife strolled in with a smile on her face, kissed me and asked if I wanted to eat.  I was in complete shock, knowing what I knew then, and yet by her actions, demeanor and the way she spoke you would never of have guessed in a million years anything was wrong… what she didn’t know of course what that I had been on-site with the architect and on the phone with my friend.

I thought I would approach all of this slowly so I started off by asking her why she didn’t pick up the phone.  She simply said that she was busy with all the papers at the land office and forgot to call me back.  Then I dropped the bomb shell on her and asked…. Why did you go and see our friend to borrow more money? She just looked at me and then I asked another question… Why didn’t you pay the architect?  … It was the answer to these two questions that ended our marriage, left me penniless and the worst was to come.

It turned out that she had been gambling.  She had used the money, that we borrowed, to pay off one of her gambling debts but she owed more.  She had already refinanced our vehicle (which I had paid in full and in cash for). The vehicle, she persuaded me at the time of purchase, should go in her name otherwise we would have to pay more tax on it if it went in my name (a foreigners name), which the dealership told me was true.  I found out, from what she told me, that she had, within three weeks of owning the vehicle, refinanced it to pay off a gambling debt and then refinance it again to pay off another gambling debt.  Both debts were over US$25,000.

It gets worse… during the build she had gambled over US$60,000 and having no way of repaying it put the villa up as security to borrow the money from a loan shark. The interest payments were over US$6,000 a month and that was ONLY the interest payments, we would still need to find the US$60,000 she owed and she was already 3 month in debt to the interest payments.

The only money I had left was about US$2,000 in the bank … just enough to get me on a plane back home… or so I thought.  When I told her I was leaving to get my money out of the bank she then explained that she had taken my ATM card out of my wallet for several nights while I slept and cleaned out the account.

So there I stood. The only thing I owned was the shirt on my back.  The home I was living in was rented and I couldn’t afford to  pay it.  I was furious and I then threatened to go to the Police.  She told me that would not be a good idea… it was the Police that she owed the gambling debt too, but a few other people were also looking for her.  All in told, she owed over US$130,000 and she was telling all her creditors not to worry because she was married to a foreigner who has money.

That night I didn’t sleep at all.  My wife, on the other hand didn’t have any problem sleeping.  After all told I had exactly US$1.73 to my name and at 44 years old, it’s not a pleasant thought.  All my plans and dreams were gone and I was stuck, with nowhere to go.  I can’t really explain the feelings and the thoughts I was having, but is was a mixture of fear, disappointment and even raw hatred.  With that said I didn’t want to see any harm come to my wife but I didn’t want her around me either.  She wanted to stay and try and work things out, but the old saying “Scratch a Liar, Find a Thief” came to mind and there was no way I could ever trust here again.

So, here I was, penniless and about to be homeless.  Unless I could find enough money to pay off all the debts I would loose everything.  I held the telephone in my hands for over an hour thinking about who I could call for help – there were a few people but I really didn’t want to burned them with my problems.  I finally called my mother and she was understandably very upset.  She rallied around and managed to find enough money to pay back my friend – he was my biggest concern and I had given him my word that I would repay him.  This was at least one thing off my mind but it did wipe my mother’s saving out.  I felt so bad.

They say that when the chips are down you really find out who your friends are and you can trust me when I say that no truer words have ever been spoken.  I ended up contacting eleven people.  Four of whom I knew would be able to afford to bail me out without any problems.  I didn’t just ask for cash I was offering a deal – enough to bail me out and then when I sold the villa I would give them their money back plus 50% of the profits from the sale of the villa.  I thought that if someone was good enough to help then this would be the decent thing to do.

After eleven phone calls I had been turned down eleven times.  Some where very sympathetic but weren’t in the position to help while others showed no real support other than saying I should go to the police.  On an average week I would normally get plenty of phone calls from my friends – whether it was asking me to come to dinner or play golf.  From the point of making the last phone call I didn’t ever receive any phone calls from any of my friends again.  I guess they just didn’t want to be burdened with my problems, although in all honesty I would never of mentioned it to them again.

I did get one phone call from a guy I hadn’t spoken to in over 2 years.  He’s a nice old fella and he once asked for my help and I was in a position to do so at the time.  He repaid the money that he borrowed and I never thought any more about it.  When I answered the call he told me he had heard what had gone on and then told me to pack my bags as there was a spare room waiting for me.  I was just so grateful.

Before moving I did have a few things to clear up and my wife decided to leave because of all the threatening phone calls she was receiving.  She finally left me alone in the house we were renting.  Over the next 5 days I had received no less than 35 phone calls, each looking for money.  On 23 of these occasions I was threatened that if I didn’t come up with the money then I would be killed.

Unless you’ve ever been and stayed in Thailand for any length of time it’s difficult to understand how things work here.  Life is cheap and a Thai will think nothing of killing someone over money.  9/10 the killings are contracted out and 8/10 it’s police who are paid to  do the killing.  There have been hundreds of cases where foreigners have been murdered for money here so I knew the treats were not idle.

I slept even less in the last few days of staying at the house I was renting.  I kept seeing a gold pick-up truck passing my house. I lived in a very quiet area and this was very unusual. On the day of the move my friend came over to help me finish the packing.  As we were doing so the gold pick-up truck appeared again and this time stopped.  Two Thais got out and approached the gate and called my name.  When I went outside I could see both were armed and both were police.  This was worrying.  The two guys spotted my friend and obviously decided that shooting me wouldn’t be a good idea, unless they killed us both and again, I was extremely worried.  One of them asked me where my wife was. I told them, honestly, I didn’t know.  They then told me that she owed them over US$25,000 and had come to collect – apparently they had called her and she told them to go to the house and collect it from me.

I told them the whole story and they did seem genuinely sorry for my situation but the bottom line was they still wanted their money.  The only thing I could do was to tell them that I would try.  They took my phone number and told me to keep in touch otherwise things would take a turn for the worst.  What amazed me, after they left, is that they obviously didn’t spot that I was packing. I waited an hour before packing my friends car and then left.

Over the space of the next few weeks I was getting lots of phone calls.  I had now lost the villa to the loan sharks she had borrowed from, so there was nothing left.  I did speak to my Embassy but the only thing they could do was to recommend a firm of lawyers.  They gave me three to contact and I did just that.  After I told them that it was the police who were involved all declined to take on my case. Self preservation is a high priority in Thailand, which is why very little ever goes to court.  Most people with financial problems generally solve it with a gun.  At one time Thailand was out ranking Columbia in gun crime and again, killing here is a daily occurrence.

I ended up throwing my old sim card away and getting a new number on a Pay-as-You -Go, which is the normal practice here.  At least now I wasn’t getting any phone calls and I began sleeping better at night knowing that no one knew where I was.

With no money I wasn’t able to travel back home.  I certainly couldn’t get a job here because that requires a work permit and then I would be easy to track.  Over the last few years I’ve been running a small website from my room.  My goal now, my only goal, is to raise sufficient funds from the business so that I can leave Thailand for good and I continue to work every day in the pursuit of this goal.

My now, ex-wife, I heard was dating another foreigner.  I just hope that the poor guy doesn’t end up like me.  Throughout all of what happened she never showed much in the way of remorse.  She even phoned me a couple of times to see if I had any money to give her.  One thing I have learned is that Thais generally care about one thing and one thing only… MONEY and it doesn’t matter how they get it or whom they get it from as long as they do get it.

I’ve never been one for quitting and I remain optimistic that one day I’ll be able to leave here and put this chapter of my life behind me… once and for all.

So there you have the conclusion of the Self Build Horror in Thailand.  We did ask if he would ever build again, to which is told us he would, but not in Thailand.  Feel free to ask any questions or leave comments.  We’ll pass the questions on and see what answers can be given.

If you are thinking about building a home, we wouldn’t recommend Thailand as a destination.  The laws in Thailand do not allow a foreigner to own land, so you will need to put the land title deed in a Thais name or form a company.  Note that if you form a company then as a foreigner you will only be allowed to own 49% of that company so again, 51% will be held in a Thais name.  This goes the same if you are just buying a house.  It can be extremely perilous owning anything in Thailand and our advice, especially what we have learned, is that if you must live in Thailand then only rent and NEVER buy.

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 5

March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Part 5 we continue to follow the build of a really nice looking Pool Villa, in Phuket, Thailand.  The Villa is now really taking shape, but as we have always stated, this is one build that goes horribly wrong.  Here is the continuing exploits of our self builder, in his own words.

Roof Tiling nearing completion

Roof Tiling nearing completion

Week 13 – From the photo you can see that the roof tiling is pretty much complete. As I explained in Part 4, the roofers did point out that laying the tiles was the easy bit but to really finish it off the rid and gully tiles would take a lot more time, if the finished roof was to be water tight and looking real good.

I wasn’t complaining and in just 13 weeks we had come such a long way.

Inside the pool villa - looking a little dark

Inside the pool villa - looking a little dark

Now that the roof was on the inside really did look a bit dark.  But this is normal and I knew that once the walls had been rendered, plastered and painted it would brighten up beautifully.

The photo here shows the Master Bedroom that would over look the Pool and Sala.  A Sala, for those of you who don’t know, is a covered space and considering the nice weather in Phuket, would be perfect for outside dining.  I designed the Sala so that it had steps that lead directly into the pool.  Also the pool pump house was being built under the Sala to hide it from view.

Swimming Pool - After Drained

Swimming Pool - After Drained

The Pool was half filled with water when all the supports were removed (after the concrete had dried).  It was a worrying time and now we would find out if there were any leaks. The concrete had to hold the water and the weight of it.  As it got filled up I was very nervous.  The pool sat for three days with the water in it and was then drained.  I was happy to hear from the architect that everything had gone according to plan.  I did question him about the walls not being straight but he pointed out that they would be once all the high points, along the wall had been removed and all the tiles were in place.  I have to admit I wasn’t convinced and so I went to see a friend who had a pool build by my architect.  He came on-site and put my mind at ease and said that his pool looked pretty much the same and that I shouldn’t worry – it’ll be fine.

You can see, from the photo that parts of the walls have already been cut back in order to square them up.

The real problem with building a home for the first time, is the lack of knowledge. I had zero experience and so if you are thinking about it then you will need to put a lot of faith in the architect, project manager and builders.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions and question what is being done.  Far from it, ask all the time and learn – if you ever decided to build again, then you’ll have a much better understanding of what goes on.

Week 14 – To my dismay some of the items, such as floor and wall tiles had turned up on-site.  I was not happy and this was not what I agreed with the store manager who supplied everything.  As it turned out, our goods arrived in-store and were then shipped to site right away.  It now meant that the guys working inside had to cover all the goods and work around them.  Once again, the Burmese, made no complaints and moved things around as and when they needed the room.

Rendering the Internal Walls

Rendering the Internal Walls

We now had an additional three people on-site and their job was the rendering and plaster work.  I personally don’t know how they worked so fast in the heat, it was hitting 45C inside but it didn’t seem to bother then at all.

Pool Sala and Pump House Foundations

Pool Sala and Pump House Foundations

Back on the swimming pool the guys started working on the foundations for the Sala and Pump house and it was nice to see more being done here.  We had come up with a few solutions for hiding the pool pump and filter systems but placing them under the Sala was the most practical solution.  They are not exactly very nice to look at and I certainly didn’t want anything looking out of place and this was the perfect solution for hiding the pools inner workings.

Internal Walls Being Rendered

Internal Walls Being Rendered

By the end of Week 14 all of the roofing tiles where in place and 50% of the internal walls had been rendered.  It really was a busy building site and the Burmese certainly knew how to work hard.  You could see big changes to the build on a daily basis.  The architect did point out that if the suppliers hadn’t delivered all the tiles, and other goods, then it could have gone a lot quicker.  I was still extremely pleased with the progress and on the Friday night I bought everyone dinner and a few beers.

Ridge and Gully Roof Tiling

Ridge and Gully Roof Tiling

Week 15 – I arrived on-site to find the roofers starting work on the roofing gullies and ridge tiles.  They were doing such a great job and I was so pleased with the overall colours of the tiles.  Each time I drove on-site I could see just how well they blended with the Jungle behind.  Yes, you could clearly see it was a roof of a house, but it wasn’t as intrusive on the background.

External Rending

External Rending

During the week the guys rendering the walls really did push on with the job.  The photo here is of the back of the house and you can see just how much rendering has been done.  By the end of week 15 almost all of the internal rendering was complete and a good deal of the exterior of the villa was also rendered.

So far my luck had held with the rain, but that was about to end.  We had an almighty down pour over the last 2 days of week 15, which filled the pool over 1/4.  Without the ridge tiles or gully tiles in place the internals did get a bit wet but the walls were fine and we didn’t suffer any major set backs.  The guys did have to empty the pool and make a make-shift cover for the pool and sala but apart from that the roof really did go on just in time for the worst of the weather to arrive.

External Rending - Front of Villa

External Rending - Front of Villa

Week 16 – Most of the external walls where now rendered and the villa started taking on a whole new look again. The roof gully tiling was also complete and now would come the final part of fitting all the ridge titles.

While things were moving along nicely I was having problems with the architect.  He tried several times during the week to have a chat with me but considering he didn’t speak English and my Thai was rudimentary at best, we just couldn’t communicate.  The wife, as she explained, was off busy sorting out paper work for the villa.  This I didn’t question because anything official here requires reams of paper work.  If you want  a Visa or a Work Permit expect to sign at least 30 pages or more of paperwork.

I did explain to the wife that the architect was trying to explain something too me and so she needed to go and have a chat.  We turned up on-site and she had a chat with the architect – from the body language it didn’t look good.  I just asked the architect if everything was OK, once they finished talking.  He simply nodded his head yes and it got left at that.

That evening I asked my wife what the issue was about.  She just explained that there was a problem with the Pool Pump House and a bit more money was needed  – apparently  the model of pump and filter that was budgeted for was not large enough to handle the size of the pool.  I thought this was a bit strange considering his experience and knowing the size of the pool well in advance.  However, I left it at that and had no reason to doubt my wife.

Villa is looking good

Villa is looking good

By the  end of the week 90% of the internal and external walls where rendered and with the roofing almost complete the villa really was looking stunning.

Well folks that concludes Part 5.  In the next, and final, part you will find out how things went from being perfect to a complete disaster.  The final part really does show you just how perilous building a home in a foreign country can be and in this particular case is life threatening.  Come back  tomorrow for Part 6 and the conclusion of this true story – not to be missed!

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 4

March 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Parts 1-3 we’ve seen just how much progress has been achieved on this wonderful looking 4-bedroom pool villa, which was being built in Phuket, Thailand. The owner had provided a detailed account of how the build has progressed and in this part we continue to follow the build into what will eventually change the man’s life dramatically.  Again, the following is in his own words and is a complete and factual account of what happens.

Steel Roof Structure 100% Complete

Steel Roof Structure 100% Complete

Week 9 – I arrived on-site and was really pleased to see that all the steel roofing was complete and that it had been given the OK by the architect. We now had to wait for CPAC to return on-site and give their stamp of approval and I was assured, this time, there wouldn’t be any problems.

Swimming Pool Floor re-Concreted

Swimming Pool Floor re-Concreted

At the end of Week 9 the swimming pool floor, along with all the plumbing was finally complete and it once again started looking like a swimming pool.  There was still a long way to  go but at least now the depths and the slope of the pool was much better.

Internal brickwork - Master Bedroom

Internal brickwork - Master Bedroom

Inside the Villa it remained looking like a full fledged building site and now most of the internal walls had been built.  We still had a way to go, as they all needed rendering and plastering – but before any of that all the electrical and plumbing conduits needed installing.

Week 10 – At the beginning of the week the builders started fitting the door frames and skimming out for the windows. The windows where included in the price and the architect was keen to get me to decide on which windows I wanted to install.  He gave me three samples, each from local firms but I couldn’t say I was impressed.  These were all aluminium, which was what I wanted, but these were all constructed from either 1.8 to 2.2mm and simply holding it in your hands you could crush it. For me the quality just wasn’t good enough and I had already seen these installed in other homes – it was just awful.  After talking things through with the architect he agreed to let me source my own and simply remove the cost from the plans.  I ended up finding a company that supplied German made uPVC windows and doors.  The quality was as you would expect from things German made – solid and extremely well constructed.  As far as costs went, it did cost me more money but as I explained, we wanted to sell this villa and it had to be of the highest quality.

The window suppliers were extremely good, they arrived on-site the next day, discussed the plans with the architect and then agreed on all the measurements.  Delivery time was two weeks and this was right on schedule.

During this week I also expressed a concern regarding the living room.  I felt that it could be extended further to allow for more internal space. Due to the way the villa had been planned this was not a problem and so we extended it by a further 1.8m and still left a huge outside patio area before the swimming pool.

Swimming Pool - Taking Shape

Swimming Pool - Taking Shape

By the end of Week 10 the swimming pool had also taken more shape with all the rebar caging, for the sides in place, and the timber forms well under way.

Other parts of the house, such as the roofing fascia boards where also fitted in preparation for the tiles.  The overall room sizes looked really good and the architect pointed out they would look even bigger once they were rendered and the plastering was complete.

The weather was holding steady, which was great considering we were expecting rain, but my luck was certainly in and it hadn’t rained at all.  We all hoped that the rains would hold off for just another week or two until the roof tiles were on.

Roofing Tiles Arrive

Roofing Tiles Arrive

Week 11 – I got a call early Monday morning to say that CPAC had been and gone.  They had signed off on the roofing steels and delivered all of the tile.  This was really unexpected, we didn’t expect CPAC for another week at least.  Apparently the architect made a phone call Sunday morning and took the guy from CPAC out for dinner that night and bought a few beers – that did the job and when I arrived on-site they had already started stacking the roof tiles on the roof, ready for laying.

Guest Bedroom - Mountain View

Guest Bedroom - Mountain View

Most of the conduit for the electrical cables had been fitted and during this week they would start rendering the walls.  The image here shows one of the guest bedrooms, which had a wonderful view of the mountains.

Swimming Poll - ready for the concrete pour

Swimming Poll - ready for the concrete pour

Finally the swimming pool had been completely shored up with timber and reinforcement bars that would hold the timber forms together when they poured the concrete to form all the walls.

The swimming pool was, without doubt, the one part of the build that caused the most headaches.  It had to be constructed very carefully because the back side was not underground and so the amount of steel reinforcement was immense.  Again, the Burmese crew did a really good job.  The only thing now was to wait for the cement to arrive and be pumped into the wall forms.

Roofing Tile Being Fitted

Roofing Tile Being Fitted

Week  12 – Arriving on-site first thing and seeing the roofing tiles going up really was a treat.  The tiles had a pattern to them and the name of the tiles “Autumn”. The idea was to try and blend the roof in with natural surroundings, so that while you could see a roof, it didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  I was really pleased with how they looked and with each passing day, as more of the roof tiles went up, I was truly delighted with the overall effect.

More roofing tiles fitted

More roofing tiles fitted

In this picture you get a better idea of how the roofing tiles looked – these guys really knew their stuff, but as one of them explained to me, laying the tiles was easy, it was finishing the roof with all the ridge tiles and flashing gully tiles that was the difficult part and would take time if the job was to be right.  I told them not to rush it!

During the first day of the 12th week the cement truck also turned up and pumped all the concrete for the swimming pool walls.  There was a lot of activity with several vibration units working, to ensure no air bubbles were left,  as the concrete was pumped in.

Inside the Villa work continues

Inside the Villa work continues

Work continued on the interior with the installation of the electrical conduits and plumbing pipes.  By the end of the week most of the roofing tiles where in place and lots of progress had been make to the internal of the villa.

I was told that the shuttering and forms would all be removed from the swimming pool on Monday morning and then they will partly fill the pool with water to see if it holds without leaking.  Considering that the pool had caused me a lot of grief so far I was not looking forward to it.  It was a very long weekend and I visited the site every day wondering if it was going to hold up.

Well that’s the end of Part 4.  It’s been an exciting time for us listening to the story and from the photos we’ve seen the villa certainly does look to be in great shape.  As we have said all along, this build does end in tragedy and you’ll find out just how one man, in a foreign country has to cope with what is to become a life changing disaster.  Come back tomorrow for Part 5!

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 3

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Welcome back to the third installment of the Self Build Horror story.  So far, in Parts 1 and 2, things have gone really well.  The Thai architect / project manager and the Burmese builders really have done an excellent job and progress has moved along nicely.  In this part we’ll follow the story of the 2nd month of the build and the following is in the words of the chap whose build the villa, read on…

It was a bright sunny Monday morning.  I was full of beans as the build was progressing so well.  Both my wife and I agreed that things where right on the money.  I had agreed with the architect that he would provide a fixed cost for the build but I would be responsible for purchasing of all the finish items, such as floor / wall tiles, toilets, kitchen units and all the other bits that would make the villa look and feel the way I wanted.  I know sometimes it’s easier to let the architect handle all of this but I wanted to ensure I didn’t end up with any cheap and nasty fixtures and fittings just for the sake of saving a bit of money here and there.  My intention was to sell this villa and so I had to make absolutely sure that the overall quality was as perfect as I could get it.  For instance I could have purchased a Jacuzzi Bath Tub that was around £1,500, but for me quality meant everything so I splashed out on the latest model at £3,700.  I just wanted to make sure that when people viewed the finished villa that it was impressive and for the buyer, knowing that they really were buying a luxury pool villa.

At the rate the build was progressing I was informed now  would be a good time to start purchasing all the tiles for the floor, walls and pool.  I took a trip to the local Home Improvement Superstore and had a word with the manager.  We decided, for a decent discount, that we would purchase everything from the tiles, to the kitchen, appliance, bathrooms and even down to the door handles.  The only thing we didn’t buy where the doors themselves.  I wanted to add a real touch of class to the villa so I commissioned a local craftsman to hand carve the double doors for the front and then all the internal doors.  These were beautifully made and all from Grade A Burmese Teak. The doors were expensive but again, I wanted the person, whoever bought the villa, to have a truly beautiful home.  I also felt that selling a Villa of this quality would be easier to sell.

The store manager was pretty good and agreed that they would deliver items as needed instead of cluttering up the building site, which seemed like a sensible approach.  Meanwhile back on site things where progressing nicely and week five saw the building taking leaps and bounds of looking like a real house.

Villa Swimming Pool

Villa Swimming Pool

The swimming pool was really beginning to take shape and once again the architect expressed is concern over the depth of the shallow end.  Again, there was me thinking in feet where in fact the measurement was in meters.  The shallow end, as I mentioned, was 0.4m and there was me thinking this was 4 feet.  Again, I assured the architect it was exactly as I wanted.  When it was all said and done, maybe he could of explained that at a depth of  0.4m it would barely come above my knee cap (if that) and maybe then the penny would have dropped, but as it happened he merely said “If that’s what you really want, then OK, but I still think it’s too shallow.”

Swimming Pool - Concrete Base Poured

Swimming Pool - Concrete Base Poured

As you can see from the photo, the rebar caging is now in and the plumbing work installed and yet it sill didn’t occur to me that anything was wrong. It wasn’t until they poured the concrete for the flooring of the pool that the penny finally dropped.

I now realized that the shallow end was all wrong and finally realized that I was mixing feet with meters.  There was no choice in the matter – the lot had to come up and be completely redone.  During this we also decided to reduce the angle of the slope, so that instead of such a dramatic drop, it gently flowed from one end to the other – this time I let the architect have full say.  This small mistake was a costly one. Digging up all the pool require all new rebar, plumbing and concrete – we simply could not just cut half of it away, the whole lot had to come up and it was going to take at least a month to get it back to the stage it was now.

I felt really bad, not about the money, but for my Burmese crew because I knew they would end up taking it apart using pick axes and shovels.  I felt so guilty to put them through such hard work and considering the heat.  The architect assured me it was OK (I guess it was for him, he didn’t have to do the labor) but I insisted he hired a Jack Hammer to make the job easier – which he finally agreed to.

Part of Roof Complete and Concrete Floors Complete

Part of Roof Complete and Concrete Floors Complete

While the issue with the pool was being sorted, behind me the remaining members of the crew were fitting all the sewage pipes and the roofing guys had arrived on-site to begin the construction of the steel roof.  Again, it was one of those weeks that if you blinked you missed so much.  At this point, and standing back, it was like watching a colony of ants at work and no single person stood idle for a minute.

By the end of Week 5 the base of the swimming pools was complete and then started in digging it up again. The roofing guys were well underway in fitting the steel roofing beams and the entire concrete floor base of the villa was complete.

I bought a few beers on the Saturday night and some food.  I really did express my sorrow for the amount of extra work for the swimming pool. The Burmese just had a good laugh about it and thanked me for the Jack Hammer – I still felt awful for such a mistake, but mistakes happen and building a home is not always clear cut.

Walls being to be built

Walls being to be built

Week 6 started off like any other week and everyone was busy doing their work. While some of the crew worked on the swimming pool others work on the roof and the bricklayers turned up to start their work.

At this point I was blissfully unaware of any problems regarding the steel roof and it was during this week that the architect put a stop to the roofing work.  Again, the architect was very good and explained to me that it was not up to the right specification.  We had ordered the roofing tiles from a company called CPAC and they offer a guarantee on the tiles, but only if the steel work met the proper specifications.  It didn’t and so the architect fired all the roofer and bought in a new crew, who then dismantled the entire roof and then started rebuilding it.  Thankfully this was not my responsibility and so didn’t cost me anything to put right.

I did have a contingency fund for the build of 20% but the swimming pool had already taken a large chunk of this so I had to make sure that nothing else major occurred.  I found that with every passing day I was talking over the plans with the architect just to make sure.  All in all it was a very good learning experience and anyone building a home should understand the plans.

Villa taking shape

Villa taking shape

By the end of Week 6 the villa was really taking shape. The brickwork was well underway and and the steel roof was 90% complete.  With the walls taking shape I could now walk around the villa and get a feeling for the overall size.  It was huge – much bigger than I had initially thought it would be.

Week 7 was another flurry of activity. The bricklayers were hard at work building all the internal walls and the roofers where working their way towards completing the steel roof structure.  We did have one issue and that was due to the last roofers making a mess of the job. It meant that CPAC, the suppliers of the tiles, needed to come out and inspect the steel before signing off and delivering the tiles and organizing one of their crews to fit the tiles.  Because we had missed our appointed slot we were looking at a delay of a month which meant that we couldn’t get the building water tight and the rains were becoming more frequent.  Being a tropical destination Phuket suffers from monsoons and so getting a building water tight was a priority.  If you have never experienced a monsoon I can tell you it is one sight to behold – it rains as if buckets were being thrown at you.  It can get so bad that you can’t see 10 feet in front of you and you have to appreciate just how powerful mother nature is.

Villa Taking Shape

Villa Taking Shape

By the end of Week 7 the Villa really was transformed. The roofing guys had finished installing all the main steel beams and the bricklayer had not only finished all the external walls but made real progress to the internal walls as well.  We even had the new road surface installed leading to the villa.  It was taking shape so fast and I was spending more and more time on-site to watch the progress and learn as much as I could.

At the start of Week 8 things looked really good, apart from the swimming pool. It looked like a bomb site as it was still being dug up, but the rest of the villa was coming along nicely and I knew the Burmese crew would do a good job of the swimming pool – I just had to grin and bare it while they tore it apart.

Inside the Villa - Living Area

Inside the Villa - Living Area

Walking around the internal of the villa now, with the brick work complete I got a true sense of the amount of living space the villa had.  The picture “Inside the Villa – Living Area” was looking great. The idea behind the design was for it to be open to the back of the house, so that you had great views over the pool and into the jungle.  There was going to be a fair amount of glass to capitalize on the views.

The remainder of Week 8 continued with the building of the internal walls, all of which were double skinned to help with soundproofing from one room to another. The villa had a total of 4 bedrooms, each to include it’s own en-suite.  Then there was the open plan living and dining area.  The kitchen and utility room completed the villa with a 2 Car carport.

Villa Looking Good - Steel Roof Completed

Villa Looking Good - Steel Roof Completed

The end of Week 8 arrived and the roofing guys had completed the job.  It was now time to tile the roof, but with the delays due to the first set of roofers, there were no tiles, or tilers to do do the job.  We just had to concentrate on other areas of the build and wait for our new allotted time from CPAC.

I really couldn’t complain, so much had been achieved in just 8 Weeks!

Well that’s it for Part 3.  Tomorrow we’ll take you through the next 4 week period.  Everything appears, on the surface, to be a normal build. A few ups and downs, but that is expected.  What lies beneath will change this fellas life forever – he’s lucky he’s alive to tell the tale.  Check back tomorrow for Part 4.

Self Build Horror – Thailand – Part 2

March 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Welcome to Part 2 of the Self Build Horror in Thailand, which follows the true story of a very unfortunate chap who’s self build project not only cost him everything he had, but almost cost him is life.

The story commences…

I was delighted to visit the site to find that the ground works were underway.  Although I had no previous building experience (most first-time self builders don’t) I knew the method of constructing the foundations was a little different than those methods employed in the UK.  I wasn’t concerned, the architect, while he didn’t speak any English (everything was translated by my wife), did appear to know what he was doing and he did come highly recommended by other people who had used his services to build.

Digging the foundation pillar holes

Digging the foundation pillar holes

To start with the builders, all from Burma, had to dig a number of holes.  In fact there were a total of 39 holes, each measuring about a meter square and approximately 1.5 meters deep.  These holes were all dug out by hand and in the heat of 30 C + it could not have been pleasant for the guys and girls doing the work.  If you look at the picture, to your left, you can see some old corrugated tin roof, this was used to keep the sun off the workers while digging the foundation pillar holes.  Again, each one was dug by hand and the work was not only back-breaking it was very hot.

In Thailand, most of the construction work, is carried out by Burmese. The Thais consider it a low class job and in a society that is ruled by class they consider it to be beneath them.  Thais don’t like the Burmese, mainly because hundreds of years ago, Burma raided and burnt the then capital Ayutthaya to the ground on more than one occasion.  It was one of the main reasons the Thais moved the capital to Bangkok.  Again, this was hundreds of years ago, but Thailand is extreme in it’s nationalistic attitude – they really do believe they are the greatest nation on earth and that everyone who is not Thai is beneath them.  Being a foreigner in Thailand is not always a pleasant experience and the Thais are extremely discriminatory towards foreigners… but I’ll get back to that later.

Buddhist Ceremony for the Building Foundations

Buddhist Ceremony for the Building Foundations

Thais are mainly Buddhists and so they believe that the foundations need to be blessed – to make sure nothing goes wrong with the build and that it doesn’t suffer from any ill fate or problems with ghosts.  Personally, I’m not superstitious but I did respect their beliefs and the expense of the ceremony was not a great deal of money.  I also had to keep the wife, architects and the builders (Burmese are also mainly Buddhists) so I went along with it.

During the first week the Burmese had managed to completely dig out each of the foundation holes, construction the rebar cages and dug out a fair amount of the ground for where the swimming pool was to go.  The pool was pretty big at 10m x 5m and so there was a lot of earth to be dug out.  Again, no mechanical equipment was employed, every shovel full was dug out and removed by hand.

Now that the foundation pillar holes were complete it was time to move onto the foundation trenches and constructing and fitting all the rebar cages that would add strength to the concrete.  All of this work was carried out by women.  The oldest lady on-site was in her late 50’s and the youngest was just 15 years old (apart from Poppet – see below – but she didn’t actually work).  I watched in awe of these ladies and just how hard they worked, especially in the heat.  I was told, from the beginning of the build, that I shouldn’t really chat with any of the workers or be nice in any way, but for me these were people, with real lives, real feelings and they worked so hard for practically nothing.  The average daily wage was approximately £3.50 and that was for a minimum of 10 hours a day and it wasn’t unusual for them to work 12 hours plus.

Burmese Ladies hard at Work

Burmese Ladies hard at Work

I got on great with the Burmese – all in all, a really great bunch of people and even though they didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Burmese, we managed to communicate just fine. At the end of each week I would bring in a few beers or a bottle of whiskey and some food and chow down with them having a laugh.  I believe it paid off – they didn’t just see me as another rich western arsehole (although I wasn’t rich, but compared to them I was a billionaire) and they certainly put in a great deal of effort into the build.  They would often stop working when I came on-site just to ask me if everything was OK, regarding the work they were doing.  Again, great bunch of people.

I made sure that I spent as much time on-site as possible, throughout the build, as this would be a good learning experience and would stand me in better stead for the next villa I would build.  The architect was great and explained, through interpretation with my wife, each stage and what was going on.  I will admit, there were times that I looked on in horror – I couldn’t believe that the workers didn’t have any type of safety wear, it was all bare feet and flip-flops.  No safety shoes, eye protection or anything and yet, not once did I hear any of the Burmese complain.  It did make me wonder just how bad living in Burma must be for them to want to come to Thailand, knowing the are despised by the Thais and their working conditions would be appalling.

Villa Foundations complete

Villa Foundations complete

By the end of Week 2 all of the foundations where in.  From the picture you can see that the timber forms where still in place while the concrete cured, but in just two weeks, and all by hand, my group of Burmese workers had dug 39 foundation pillars, all the footings, built and installed all the rebar cages, built the timber forms and put them in place and then, by hand mixed the concrete and poured.  I was in awe of these people and it never ceased to amaze me just how hard they worked.

While the concrete was curing the Burmese didn’t sit around doing nothing – the foreman, while a really nice guy, was Thai and he was not about to pay a bunch of Burmese to sit around doing nothing.  The whole crew, for three days, was set to work on the swimming pool foundations.

The swimming pool presented a number of problems, because the land at the back where it was situated, sloped away quite dramatically.  The solution was to dig down the sides and then build up the back. This allow us to build an Infinity Pool and the overall design was very attractive and once it was completed it would look like the water was just cascading over the edge and into the tropical jungle.

I provided the architect with the specifications for the pool, that is the width, length and the internal depths.  He did try to tell me on a few occasions that he had reservations about my  internal depths and even my wife tried to relate this too me.  I was convinced however my calculations where right – but as it turned out I really made a mess of things.  I put the shallow end at a depth of 0.4m and the deep end at 1.6m – for some really stupid reason I was thinking in feet and meters, that is I knew the deep end was OK but I was thinking in feet for the shallow end and therefore 0.4m just was nowhere near deep enough.  Unfortunately for me, this mistake ended up costing me £3,500 by the time it became obvious.  I’ll explain more about the pool later and provide some pictures. As this mistake occurred a little later in the build when the concrete was being poured.

Foundations nearing completion

Foundations nearing completion

During mid-week, the timber forms got dismantled and for the first time I could see, roughly how the rooms where laid out.  It was a fairly big villa with an internal living space of 265 sqm.  I was really impressed and there wasn’t a day that went by without some excitement.  The thrill of watching a home being built is just incredible.  Yes, there are stressful moments, but the satisfaction is unparalleled in my book.

Once the floor timber forms where removed the Burmese crew got to work on the structural pillars. Again, it was an unusual sight, not seen in the western style of building but this was Thailand and it had it’s own ways of building. I couldn’t complain and with each passing day I was amazed at just how much was achieved.  Each supporting pillar was constructed with timber forms that surrounded a rebar cage.  All the cement was then poured by hand into each column. This was the first time I had seen any type of mechanical equipment on-site.  They used a long steel rod that was attached to a generator and then slide inside the timber forms. This rod then vibrated in order to remove any air bubbles in the columns.   I had never seen anything like it and yet, this was apparently, the way things in Thailand were done.

By the end of Week 3 all of the supporting pillars had been been completed and the forms removed. I was in awe once again.  I just couldn’t believe how 9 Burmese Men and 11 Burmese Women could achieve so much in such a short space of time –  it was remarkable, considering they had nothing much in the way of machinery and the fact that they were working in temperatures that would make the average man faint.

Poppet - Kitchen Supervisor

Poppet - Kitchen Supervisor

I mentioned earlier, that safety was never a concern on-site.  I know in the UK you can’t even walk on a building site without wearing all the appropriate safe gear, but here in Thailand, safety is of no concern – the only concern is getting the job done on time and on budget.  We did have a very special member of the Burmese Team turn up at the end of Week 3.  I took it upon myself to put her in charge of the food.  I did not know her name but took to calling her Poppet – she was adorable, and while a building site is no place for someone so young I had to accept that this was acceptable practice in Thailand.

The last week, in the first month, experienced a flurry of work, mainly to the swimming pool area, while the support columns where left to dry out.  It was a very busy first month and I was amazed at just how much was achieved by a group of people all working by hand.

In Part 3 we’ll take you through the 2nd Month of the build and you’ll see just how much progress had been achieved.  So far things have gone smoothly, but in the coming months things will take a turn for the worst.  Look out tomorrow for Part 3.

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