Flashback Splashback

Inspiration from the past

The bathroom sink needed a splashback as I removed the cheap old off-centre ones that the plumbers kindly left behind(!), but it measures 55cm across so if I used 4 x 15cm tiles they would ‘hang over’ at each side, which I don’t like at all. Plus, I don’t want modern tiles, don’t like tiles that pretend to be old, don’t want real old ones because they’ll be chipped and I can’t afford these beauties (and they’d still hang over at the sides)

Fussy? Moi?

I decided it needed something that would look like it’s always been there – like the bath does

Until a few years ago bathroom and kitchen paints were brilliant white. That was it. Oh, and they were shiny. Now, all the good paint companies produce paints which are wipeable and low sheen, suitable for use in bathrooms. My personal favourite is Mylands* marble matt, and I have used ‘Museum’ in the bathroom

We all know how Anaglypta wallpaper had gone totally out of favour by the seventies, and by the eighties no-one other than me seemed to like it (and Therri, whose hall in her Victorian council flat in Wood Green had fabulous anaglypta up to the dado)

I still have a soft spot for some Anaglypta and Lincrusta designs. I covered marine ply in a scrap of ‘Paradiso’ and painted it in Museum, waxed it and edged it with a few black pencil tiles (seconds on Ebay)Paradiso Anaglypta

*Mylands sent me the wrong product a few years ago. I always check the colour before opening the tin, but didn’t notice that they had sent me the wrong type of paint so had already jemmied the lid and started painting before I realised. I sent them an email, fully expecting a battle of the ‘but you’ve opened it and used some’ variety, but instead they immediately accepted their error and handled the situation quickly, efficiently, and pleasantly. I can’t say enough for them for that. Plus, they have wonderful water-based paints

(I don’t get paid by Mylands, I promise!). And apologies for more phone photos

Baz arrives tomorrow so I hope he likes what I’ve done. The sunflowers and red wine in the bedroom are just my back up plan …

Publicly Fabulous

Recycling makes me sleep better

The clouds brought the night, and the night brought a crazy wind that howled down the street, clattering and banging shutters and all else in its path. At least the night would not be too stifling after such a scorching day

I arrived in France last night and worked hard today. Baz is joining me with C and her friend next week. They’re taking the only ‘clean-ish’ room and we were expecting Baz’s sister as well, but she decided to wait until next year. I’ve only now realised the extra stress that this would have put me under – we just haven’t had the time and money to make enough progress this year (still just one unfinished bathroom, no kitchen and no guest room)

My task was to somehow locate and put together enough components of any one bed for Baz and me to sleep in and then clear enough space in a room for that bed. Sounds easy, you’d think, but I admit that at one point today I thought that failure actually WAS an option

I bought the bed with this year’s Christmas money from my mum. When the usual courier collected it he texted that it was ‘in pretty bad condition’. I have no idea what he had expected, but I was very happy when it arrived back. Sure, it had some missing and broken slats, but they’re just rough bits of wood and could be replaced. Call me superficial, but what I look for in any piece of furniture is elegance and style

It has three of its four original castors. No-one’s perfect. And, honestly, you can’t tell now it’s propped up

So I supported the headboard, the footboard and the sides on various blocks of wood and bolted them together – normally Baz would help me. I then cut and replaced the four new slats before the realisation hit me that we had no flat base for the mattress to sit on

I eyed up the plywood case which I had been beating myself up about…

You see, I found this enormous painting on Ebay last year, around the time of my birthday. I was quite sure the picture would go for a lot of money and could never be as lovely as it looked online, but I also knew that I wouldn’t rest if I didn’t at least try…

It was a Friday night. I had put in an early and best sensible bid and I tried not to think about it too much while we were at a neighbour’s house for drinks. When I saw that I had won the auction at the reserve price of 115 Baz told me to calm down. Because he also knew that I’d be disappointed when it arrived

We were both wrong: it is even lovelier than I could have hopedpheasant painting

So whereas I usually try to re-use packaging, for this we built a spanking new plywood case (it’s 1.5 metres across) to keep it safe on its journey to France. But of course once it arrived, every time I walked past the empty case I felt very wasteful

The hand saw was no-one’s first choice to do the job – and nor was I – but there were no other available pairings. It took about 20 minutes, 2 cuts and most of the plywood to make a simple two-part bed base, leaving just screws and some useful lengths of wood from the case for another projectrough luxe room

Of course, no-one will see what goes on underneath the mattress (I did a fairly good job anyway). What matters is that the bed is publicly FABULOUS

I like the rough luxe quality of this room, known by us as ‘the Big Cupboard Room’. I think this should be our regular bedroom from now on. The floor tiles are lovely and the partly-stripped wallpaper is very cool, so I’m in no great rush to change it until we’ve got a room ready for guests

(Apologies for photo quality. I didn’t pack the right chargers etc so they’re just phone pics)

 

Dust and Bubbles

A weekend away starts too well

After yet another croissant (“It was a chocolate one, I couldn’t help it”), Baz announces that he can have no more breakfasts for the entire weekend and that he should in fact “eat only dust”

“Dust and bubbles” I correct him: we are travelling to Reims to celebrate twenty years of marriage in champagne country. Bubbles are a given

Morning had forced us on to the next stage of the trip – the Eurostar from London to Paris. As we were escorted across the concourse of St Pancras, an animated old fella was thrashing out an energetic account of Billy Joel’s ‘Just the Way You Are’ on the station piano

Surely all stations should have a piano

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So, why was I not happier to be leaving? What could possibly be better than champagne tasting?

It’s simple. We’d stayed overnight in Room 184, a junior suite of the St Pancras Hotel. Outrageously decadent, but we both agreed that if we could do it all over again, we’d do it all over there

(Just not too often)

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The cornicing in our room, 184 – fabulous

That Sir George Gilbert Scott’s gothic masterpiece has been brought back to life, that it survived at all through the years of neglect and hostility (bombed in both World Wars and despised by many) is incredible. That much of it only survived due to the indifference and ignorance of a string of occupants* is poetryIMG_7951*This entire decorative alcove was saved because a previous tenant boarded over it. There were more but all the others are lost

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The hallway to the historic Ladies’ Smoking Room

The star of the show is the grand staircase, with its curves and perfect symmetryIMG_7954

3200 gold fleurs de lys, I am told, have been stencilled onto the red walls over the staircase – these are not GGS’s original design, but the new carpet was indeed manufactured to match the original and was faded just enough to look worn inIMG_7965

IMG_7952I haven’t attempted here to give you the history of the building: there are some wonderful ways to discover this, and one of those would be to spend a night here. But as someone who grew up in North London, and having known this building for many years only as an apparently derelict shell, I am in awe of how it has been imaginatively restored to one of London’s premier hotels

Seemingly, its champion, Mr Betjeman, feels the sameIMG_7875

Wallpaper Lickers of the World Unite

It’s all perfectly normal, honestly

I’ve been thrilled by some of the wallpaper designs in the house in France. But the thrill is as much the story as it is the design, a growing preoccupation for me as more layers unfold at the house, revealing the choices made by various occupants, reflecting changing tastes and fortunes, and those of the houseteal and silver print room wallpaper

Now I’m going to share something with you, and you have to promise not to laugh…

Just over a year ago I became a fully paid-up member of the Wallpaper History Society, a charity which champions, celebrates and strives to protect historical wallpapers (it also publishes the Wallpaper History Review, header pic)

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

While I myself am more of an interloper, with no more to offer than lots of – no doubt, irritating – enthusiasm, the Society boasts a membership that includes archivists, conservators and researchers, interior designers and the manufacturers and hangers of papers

As well as unqualified devotees of decorative and social history, like myself

Along with the considerable knowledge held by the Society’s members is the shared ability to still be thrilled by a surviving fragment, an ambitious colour combo, a rhythm in the design. Or knowing who bought which paper, and what it would go with

I also love old architectural and decorative catalogues, and I die a little bit every time I see them butchered and the pages sold for framing. This enormous 900-page builders catalogue (hardback and circa 1914-15), is therefore safe from such a fate. I may reveal more of its contents in future, but I think I’ve opened up enough for one post

(There are in fact some incredible records still in existence, such as the fascinating sales books of the Cowtan decorating company, held in the archives of the V & A Museum. These books document sales of papers and textiles across more than a hundred years, detailing the customers, the rooms they were for and the quantities required – often with notes alongside of the complementary design elements of the schemes. At the Society’s AGM in December the group enjoyed a superb presentation about these books, all of which are handwritten and hold samples of every paper)

Social history and wallpaper samples? I didn’t want the evening to stop

Luckily, there are a number of events in planning for the next year, and I intend to attend as many as possible, in the company of likeminded people

If you are a little bit mad for wallpaper, you can get a fix and check out the Society’s Instagram     #wallpaperhistsoc

And you may just start to realise that what you thought was madness is actually completely normal…

 

 

 

 

 

Paddling Daffs

Items I can’t keep my hands off

It’s hard to do justice in photos to this wonderful hand-made jug, which was in amongst a pile of stuff at a vide grenier in a car park. I could only just reach it without falling into the junk in front

The lady suggested twelve euros. I had the jug in my hands by then and was not letting go, and I was already trying to get my money out when she reduced it to eight euros

Well, who was I to argue?

Back home, I found that it doesn’t hold water, and I haven’t quite identified the leaky seam. No matter: Baz has a shower gel bottle that’s exactly the right size to use inside as a slip vase, but until he’s finished with it, these daffs are paddling in a small plastic bagmetal jug, handbeaten, Gothic, poshbirdyI don’t know anything about this jug, though there is a strong Arts and Crafts influence. It certainly has a wonderful patina and is lovely to hold – I pick it up whenever I walk past

The stool (probably elm?) had been kept outside in a past life. Although beautiful, it was weathered and had grey lichen clinging to it. Still, it cleaned up beautifully and drank in a hard oil treatment. It’s now a much-loved indoor piece, both as a smooth beautiful seat and as a prop. The beaten finish and applied decoration on the jug could as easily be 1970s or early 20th Century. If anyone has anything similar and can help me date it, please let me know…IMG_7812And daffs – well, who doesn’t love daffodils? In last week’s snow, we woke to find to find that a lovely neighbour had left these on the doorstep, a bunch stuffed deep into each of Baz’s chicken shoes to keep them from blowing away

 

Happy Spring, everyone x

Bitching Barstools

Quasimodo In Leather

The stools had wonderful claw-footed bases. The previous owners had bought them from a dealer years ago and suggested that they may have been in a club at some point: they’re probably right

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Oh, they have certainly seen some life. The originally seat covers were unspeakable. One of the seats had been slashed at some stage and the foam was bulging through its gaffer-taped cover, but the bases alone were worth a punt and I could always get new seat pads if necessary. At least, that’s what I thought…

…until I saw how expensive the replacement seat pads would be – way more than the bases cost me – and I decided to salvage whatever I could, even poor old ‘Quasimodo’ P1000652

When I found an enormous pale green hide at an unbeatable price, the stars were aligned, so to speakIMG_7789

I removed all the previous staples, and there were many. Admittedly, underneath the old covers there were marks and burns on the foam pads, but they were still firm. After hovering them, dampening and leaving them wrapped tightly for a few days, even the foam on the slashed stool recovered its shape sufficiently (and you’ve got to love that great big fag hole at the front edge!)IMG_7798

I made my leather stretching solution from household products, a recipe picked up on Google. I already had the rubbing alcohol, and a quick trip to Boots provided the baby shampoo, I chopped off a piece of leather, squirted it with the solution and got stuck in with the pliers and stapler

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It’s very physical work, but  I could happily do this every weekend – if it weren’t for the back strain, the wrist pain and the blisters on my hand!

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After trimming, I finished the underneath using some unloved place mats we hastily ran up out of scrap vinyl before Christmas. Don’t worry, the star is not a design statement, it’s covered by the metal bases

clawfoot stools

And there they are. I only took a hasty pic because I’m tempted to sell them, but I don’t want to. Better to get them packed up and out of sight before I change my mind

Now I just need another project to use up all that green leather

 

Blooming Lovely

This is another little heater I picked up

The auction was timed to close at 2am on a Monday morning, so I set an alarm on my phone before bed on Sunday night and was up five minutes before the end. The seller later apologised when he realised what he’d inadvertently done and the effort I’d gone to

I didn’t really mind: it meant that I was the only bidder

IMG_7174I showed this prize to my friend and tame sparky, Ray, who scratched his head and asked what I was going to do with it

‘I’ll make it into a light, of course’

He looked at me dubiously, not for the first time over the years. ‘I don’t know where you find all these things‘ he said, implying that what he really meant was ‘why’ rather than ‘where’

But I was weak at the knees when I saw this and I could see how simple a project it would beIMG_7179

I showed him the original damaged fittings, the same size and ‘pitch’ (apparently) as a shaver socket, but much longer. He said they’d need to be cut and filed down to make them safe but I thought this sounded like hard work and – just perhaps – not very safe at all. Instead, I stuck them into a bag for safekeeping and bought a new black batten bulb holder to attach to the central fitting. It didn’t fit, but I worked at it with various pliers until eventually it stopped resisting and accepted my persuasion. I was fairly stoked, I can tell you, when it finally sat in place

Black fabric flex completes the look, and I got Ray to add the plug and check it over, as I am no electrician and I remain nervous about mixing electricity and metalIMG_7186

The light was too intense from a bare bulb so I chose a small copper-coated golfball bulb for a more subtle effect, and then reinstated the pretty little grill with its Universal logoIMG_7200 There is a neat handle at the back and the light can be tipped to any angle, even directly upwards as an uplighterIMG_7212

It’s made entirely of copper and has perfect patina, so just a firm wipe with WD40 removed the dust from the decorative base

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Even Ray likes this one