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)

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Accidental Prop Shop

The world’s smallest brocante – and nothing is for sale

All my current favourite rooms in the house seem to be the ones that had been in complete darkness for over forty years, with the shutters and doors firmly closed. Perhaps they scream the loudest and so they get the my attention?

This room is effectively just the end of a corridor next to the ‘Damask Room’ and had been used by the elderly lady as a cooking and laundry area until the mid-1970s. Note the clothes pegs and hangers – I’m not really a detective

Poshbird's prop shop
as we found it August 2015

I spent a day last week stripping this tiny room bare of paper. The Dissoucol worked a dream and I learned the (mercifully brief) wallpaper history of this space

Poshbird's prop shop

Under the very brown patterned wallpaper with the horribly mismatched border there was a cobalt blue and white lace-patterned paper which must have been very elegant in its day. This in turn had its own border, deep blue and graphite with silver grapes on it, though I only found small traces of this

Poshbird's prop shop

Poshbird's prop shop

The ceiling paper was extraordinary only in the fact that it would never have worked with either wallpaper. I was fascinated by how the pattern has chemically degraded

Removing the old coat rack (I have kept it for future use) revealed a patch where the colour had remained, showing an unexpected and much cheerier sky blue background

Poshbird's prop shop

I found various scribbles on receipts covering up to 1975 in the coke box. I gathered all the evidence – which will need a good iron – and stuck it into a vide grenier frame for safe-keeping

Poshbird's prop shop

Also in among the coke was a cannonball, about two and a half inches in diameter. No doubt at least one of these has hit the house during its history, judging by the cracks. This house just keeps giving

Poshbird's prop shop
in spring 2017 we ‘lost’ the cooker or whatever it was
Poshbird's prop shop
some epic gravity-defying cobwebs

The little room is earmarked for a loo and washbasin and we’ve had plumbing installed in readiness, but I was SO enjoying unpacking all sorts of smaller gems after two years in their wrappings that I decided to actually ‘put’ them somewhere to enjoy them. I’ve never had them in one place together before so it’s been hard to gauge scale etc. Plus, I wanted to check for breakages – so far, so good…

Poshbird's prop shop
Exterior doors (right one partially cleaned)

The original paintwork on the doors showed fabulous colours under the filth, so rather than remove the lead-based paint (and who knows what else is in it?) I will keep it. It rivals any posh paint colours of today and has a genuinely fabulous patina. I’m sure some people would squirm at the idea, but I don’t care. I can use wax to seal it

Poshbird's prop shop
Starting to unpack (interior door to hallway)

And so, here we have the world’s smallest brocante, the beginnings of my own personal prop shop from which I can pick and choose items. Don’t you just love it?

Poshbird's prop shop

Pavarotti’s Key

Hanging doors and pointing fingers

I knew I’d earned my bath each evening when that dirty ring of shame (or honour, depending on how you choose to view it) appeared almost immediately I got in the tub

At least eight internal doors in the house were taken off by the builders and plumbers for ease of access, but that was months ago and they had taken up residence propped against the walls (the doors, not the workmen, who all cleared off on their summer holidays without replacing them) so it fell to me to try to re-hang them alone before the family arrived

France uses a simple and effective drop-in hinge system, but some of these doors are over two hundred years old and very heavy. I’m pretty strong, and thanks to working in beer cellars I’m used to pivoting heavy items onto blocks, but  this was exhausting. It was a very hot day and the ludicrously oversized key in the Head in a Bag Room door was constantly bruising my right thigh as I tried to locate the hinge

It was then that I remembered someone describing making love to Luciano Pavarotti as ‘like having a large wardrobe fall on you’

‘With the key still in it’

I shuddered, removed the enormous key and successfully hung the door without further injury (!)

IMG_6408

Once done, there was no way I was going to try to lift it off again alone, even though my Marigold glove was stuck fast in the hinge (I guess it could just as easily have been my finger – ouch!) so the glove remained pointing its pink finger along the hallway until Baz arrived the following week to assist me

The house is certainly starting to change. The Head in a Bag Room is now fast becoming the much more user-friendly Damask Room, no doubt the first of various damasks, as I am currently having a bit of a love affair with patterned wall coverings. Of course, the newly-hung door needed to be painted blue as it had been propped elsewhere when I decorated so I had missed it

Interestingly, I noticed, the last person who painted the door had done so while it was closed

IMG_6414
Traditionally one opens the door before painting?

Unfortunately, because this was such an ugly and unpromising room, we hadn’t taken many pictures of it beforehand

There was never a plan to work on it first. This busy wallpaper was over EVERYTHING, there was decayed lino on the floor, brown skirtings and woodwork, and the old lady’s mattress leaned against the wall. Satisfyingly, apart from the removal of the mattress and installation of a 140kg radiator we’ve done everything else ourselves. At some point we will need the electrics sorted out, but for now we are using a portable LED light

IMG_5109
Head in a Bag Room after stripping (sorry, wordpress insists that the picture is THIS BIG)

Putting the bed together really spurred me on and I found it quite therapeutic to spend an hour or so a day decorating as a break from the slog of heavy workIMG_1353

IMG_6403
On the road to Damask

I put the shell-motif mirror over the fireplace. Gill – who doesn’t miss much – noticed it in a previous post, and I think it really works here. I had a much better pic of the room a few days later but wordpress is being an arse and won’t upload it. Hopefully, you get the idea for now. It’s a long way from finished yet, but there is a new calm in this unexpectedly light and airy room and it was a good feeling to take our shoes off before going into our new sanctuary. I love this space now (excuse the old light cable dangling)

DSC_5190

And every girl needs a place for her claret jug. As this will eventually be a guest bedroom the jug may just have to be kept filled for visitors