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

Safe Keeping for Secrets

When is housework a good thing?

The house now has heating, so I’ve stuffed random packing materials into every possible cranny to stop the heat going into the roof-space and out of the windows. There are a lot of crannies, but there’s a heap of bubble wrap

I close doors to keep the heat in wherever possible. It feels good – mainly

Note to self: don’t close that bloody kitchen door again (there’s a very good reason why I’d never seen that door closed before and it took me over an hour to break in on Sunday morning)

I sit alone, having my coffee, lunch and evening meal at the recently unpacked and rather grand dining table in the grand – slightly derelict – courtyard. What else could I possibly need?

Well, wifi, as it happens

Because being able to access a neighbour’s wifi from the bedroom has allowed me to spend an evening researching the family of leather merchants who owned this house a hundred years ago

The father, Emile, was the mayor of the town when the first electricity turbine was installed in 1890. It would have been a very exciting era, and it makes perfect sense that he and/or his wife would have remodelled the house around that time

I found out that one of his sons helped found the town’s first ever rugby team. I’ve even seen a picture of him, cross-legged in front of his team mates

Sadly, I learned that this son died aged twenty eight in the war in 1914, and so did his older brother in 1918. Emile’s third son – another talented rugby player – was apparently also injured in the war and died prematurely. According to a local gentleman’s memoirs it was his widow who remained living here, and the ‘beautiful’ house was virtually abandoned after her death

We look through the panes of glass they looked out of, the shutters and doors have survived, the staircase and the tiled floors that they trod all remain

For some time, one of the simple terracotta tiles upstairs has interested me. It was so obviously different but I couldn’t move it and was afraid to damage it. Yesterday I tried again to lift it and this time the tile came away easily when I caught the corner just right, dislodging the loose dust that acts as grout and revealing that it was neatly wrapped in newspaperP1010055

Underneath it I found a small but perfect underfloor safe. All it held was a few scraps of newspaper, but I felt a real rush, because this had remained untouched for a very long time. The dirt and the newspaper had ensured that the tile sat soundly and was not easily found, perfect for hiding valuables. Only someone scrubbing this floor would have noticed itP1010057

P1010058So maybe housework isn’t all bad!

I have replaced the tile, leaving the newspaper undisturbed for now. I will try to date it later, but one of the items I noticed in the paper looks interesting …

I wonder what other secrets remain in this house

My Room 101

What can you not stand in your life?

I embrace many styles, and the French house will be subject to compromises because it is my only opportunity to indulge my catholic style tendencies (and because I take in whatever casualties/goodies that come my way)

Still, there are a few style elements that I staunchly avoid, and so, if I were to compile a short list for my Room 101 suggestions, it would have to include:

Things that are made to fit into corners (e.g. corner cupboards/ corner wardrobes/ corner shelves etc)      For some reason I have a very strong dislike of all things that were purpose-built to go nook and cranny-ish into a corner. This intolerance does not extend to things that go into recesses. No, I can’t explain, but corner-shaped things set me on edge

(a previous inhabitant of our French house painted the floor tiles around a long-gone corner unit as well as some of the rugs. I consider this very lazy as well as in poor taste, and its footprint is an enduring – ugly – legacy)

Barley twist legs    How boring and unimaginative, they make me think of my Aunty Kit (not that she was necessarily either of these things – and her legs were not kinked that I can remember – but she had a Jacobean-style cupboard with the offending legs in her chalet bungalow in Totteridge). I have yet to find a piece of furniture to persuade me that I could live with this particular feature and I have rejected many tables, sideboards and chairs because of them

Etched glass    Perhaps weirdly, though I drool over leaded, coloured, signpainted glass and over old pressed glass such as the feature image above*, I am not keen on etched glass

There are a few exceptions to this last one, usually in old pubs, but they have to be taken on a case by case basis. And no, again I cannot really justify it

What decorative things irk you? Or are there no rules…

*Only just noticed the generous dollop of bird poo, top left of the pic

Oh well!

Immortality Achieved

A beautiful space to remember

In retrospect, I dedicate this post to Terry of Spearfruit, who passed away just after I posted this. I was thinking of him when I visited the Memorial. RIP Terry – a brave and inspiring man – and much love to Gary who is left behind

‘Death is the brother of Sleep’

The Runnymede Air Forces Memorial at Englefield Green stands above fields and woodlands next to the Thames at Runnymede, looking over toward the sprawl of Heathrow and then London beyond. It was a place that Baz took me to soon after we met

Runnymede Air Forecs Memorial

Over the past twenty-something years I’ve seen it in most weathers. This weekend was hot and sunny, but sometimes the wind howls and the rain lashes as you open the door up to its roof, where the terrace gives a commanding view. Yet it always seems to remain protected from the elements at ground level, where light and shade play beautifully

Runnymede Air Forces Memorial

Designed by Edward Maufe – who also designed Guildford Cathedral – it has, to my mind, a perfect balance of decoration and restraint. Much of the decorative interest itself is provided by the lists of over 20,000 names engraved, immortalised on its walls, providing a thought-provoking memorial

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The dead named here are from the Commonwealth Air Forces and have no known graves. People visit the site from all over the world

We come in spring to see the bluebells on the slopes of Runnymede below, we come in autumn to look for fungus in the woodland. We always take these opportunities to visit the Memorial. Spring flowers abound at Easter and wreaths of poppies appear for Remembrance Day, but there are always flowers, photos and personal messages propped against its walls

Runnymede Air Forces MemorialThough it is currently partially-shrouded in scaffolding for repairs, I wanted to see how my little handbag-friendly Lumix camera would cope with the strong light

Runnymede Air Forces Memorial

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Restraint continues throughout, with simple benches and the airy chapel with its softly painted ceiling

Runnymede Chapel ceiling

Air Forces ChapelWalking the corridors is very moving, inviting reflection without trying to create drama – simply a beautiful place for people to remember the dead and for them to be cherished