The Fall of the House of Birds

Sanity is Optional

Builders blustering into the house has created a great deal of stress and creative energy. Here are some of today’s tableaux depicting progress. There were more but you’ve been spared because nerdpress got stroppy when I tried to upload them:

img_4489
‘La Toilette Qui Rit’
img_4512
‘Face With Cigar and Telescope’
img_4462
‘Jazz Collage’ (detail)
img_4517
‘Still Life With Resting Wheelbarrow’
img_4514
‘La Toilette Qui Dort’
img_4528
‘Stardust’

 

 

Round and Round and Back

Big is not always better

The house has benefitted hugely from its first dry year in possibly decades. Today the sun was out and proud, and – though I couldn’t feel my  fingers or toes – the house basked. Even the water in the cellar is drying out, thanks to the new roof

This house never complains. It doesn’t threaten or stamp its feet. There’s no drama, it is just chilled and calm and forgiving. I love this house

We had talked of moving the kitchen into part of the cave/garage to allow more space, but now we have decided to keep it where it is. We can keep the floor tiles, the floor to ceiling two-metre wide larder, the chimney breast with its bottle shelf and the cute sink/drainer in the corner. What we will have to lose is the quaint old coke-fuelled range, the horrid Formica cupboards and the frill (Sorry, I just cannot live with that frill)

A simple kitchen, but enough for us. And enough for the house

When I told our builder yesterday that I had changed my mind again, he said it was good that we’d taken time to decide how the house will work best for us. And that’s true, because the mind can run riot in a house like this – all the possibilities – but the ‘feel good’ factor is important too

And this feels right. For us and for the house

 

 

How Low Can We Go?

There are clues everywhere, but put on your sunglasses

It’s exciting to find dates on things. I got a rush when I noticed that the panel of the attic door which we use on a daily basis is patched up with a financial report from 1914. Did someone from the house have links with Paris at that time?

IMG_8075.JPG

Newspaper seems to have been used liberally in the house. It’s great because it helps establish dates. The latest so far is 1983

On our first weekend at the house (Wine, Weather and Woodworm – 4 nights in Quillan) we noticed a door from one bedroom which didn’t open, while the other side of it in the ‘Jewel Room’ had fabric wall covering continued across it, making it invisible. The fabric covered the entire room, but we removed it from one wall amid a tempest of dust, exposing two layers of paper, the bottom one being pure ‘jazz age’ in exuberant zig zag, while also incorporating stripes and curves (below right). I love art deco but this is hideous

Having removed the paper from the wall with the door, I found that they had filled out the old door with cardboard and newspaper to make it flush with the wall before papering

The date of the stocks and shares is 9th August 1895. Under the newspaper is also some very old sort-of-flock paper, in a beautiful teal colour. It must have once looked very impressive, and it presumably pre-dates the newspaper

IMG_2381.jpg

Back in ‘the big cupboard room’ I purloined the builders ladder from the attic and have unleashed a torrent of papers. There are flowers, geometric print with flowers, stripes with bouquets, just stripes and then a simple one-colour blue on a pale background under them all

IMG_2412.jpg
Geometric with flowers – do you think it’s too much?

The one thing the occupiers of this house didn’t over-use was restraint. My neck and shoulders ache tonight, but I’m getting a little bit closer to the bones of the house now

 

When Wallpaper Becomes Something Else

Think Father Ted and Dougal knocking out the dent

Yesterday’s small ‘outline’ in the plaster has turned into something much larger. Think Father Ted and Dougal knocking out the dent in the car, if you have seen that episode. So as I continued to chip away it morphed into a very large outline, some 160cm or more across, and, having checked the crack in the room above, it is definitely relates to either this ‘feature’ itself or the way it was dealt with during the remodelling of the 19th C

A friend living locally thinks it is unlikely to be a fireplace because it is too large for the room. She may be right, but it leaves us back at square one. As I don’t want to remove all the plaster and bricks without taking advice, it’s very hard to get a decent photo

IMG_2338.JPG

Perhaps we’ll fully uncover whatever it is and expose it, as an unspecified feature behind a double bed. Or we may just cover it back up again. At very least I’ll ask the builder if it needs a lintel or something to stabilise the wall before re-plastering, and hopefully I won’t find myself in next door’s bedroom, apologising

On verra…

 

 

 

 

How Strong is Wallpaper? and Other Questions

Can anyone who knows French/old houses, please help me?

I am working under the assumption that wallpaper cannot hold up a three-storey house: not even if there are five or more layers of it. I hope I am right, because:

I’ve been working in a first-storey bedroom we call the ‘big cupboard room’. At some point the room height has been reduced by about 100cm to borrow enough height to squeeze a room above it, leading to a low void, like an eaves cupboard. The room was originally the same height as the salon (390cm). The original moulded cornice is still visible within the void next to the later room on the second floor, and shows that the division between the bedroom and the ‘big cupboard’ is an original 17th Century feature (perhaps a salle de toilette?), and not a later change as we had assumed

(I only know this from crouching in this void, armed with a torch to get a better look at the cornices. A weird little space with a rough seat/bench built onto the wall, it contains huge cobwebs, a cast iron saucepan lid and a couple of very old mummified shallots. Strange? I thought so)

IMG_8051.JPG
Into the void. Something’s hanging from the ceiling mid-pic. Only just noticed

How is your spacial awareness doing so far? I know, a diagram might help

Anyway, the original tall double doors are still in place in the ‘big cupboard room’ in keeping with a higher ceiling. But was the entire first floor of that ‘house’ once two high-ceilinged rooms with mouldings and tiled floors? This makes me wonder if it was not originally a house, but a commercial premises of some sort

Now the paper stripping comes in: the plaster in this butchered room is bulging along the adjoining wall to next door. A crack has broken through all the layers of wallpaper, and there are at least five, probably six layers (have I just answered my original question?)

I’ve removed some paper the original plaster shows an outline about 75cm square, by the looks of it, filled in before any of the layers of paper were applied. The rough filling is dropping out and someone has later (badly) skimmed over it. I scraped away to get a better view of the indent. I might have said that it was a window, but the house is part of a terrace of houses and this is an adjoining wall. Plus, a window would not be so close to the floor of this room and right up against the fireplace

It’s a terrible picture and I’ll try to get something better, but the top of the indent is roughly 1/4 of the way down and the bottom 3/4 of the way down the photo. The right edge lines up pretty much with the mantelpiece. The crack is not visible here

IMG_8177

So what could this unwanted ‘feature’ be? It’s definitely original to the house

 

 

A Bit Damaged

Briefly all the builders stood still, drawing in breath and watching me to see if I would cry – I didn’t, quite. Totally my fault, I hadn’t paid attention and turned my foot over on the rubble, yelping involuntarily. Luckily it isn’t broken, or I would have descended in the cherry picker

Today my left ankle and foot are still hugely swollen and sore. A trip to the chemist felt like an expedition, but I came home with ibuprofen gel, arnica and predictable advice

Some of our junk belongings were supposed to arrive this afternoon, but we’re heading toward evening now. What I am most looking forward to is finding and retrieving my pillow: I loathe the square ones with hardly any filling favoured by Europeans. When it arrives I may just take to my bed with my kindle and wallow in self-pity for an hour before dinner

But yesterday was very productive. Having seen the attic roof opened up, we’re adding Velux windows to the new roof and are reinstating the broken chimney to allow us to have a fire in the salon. These things would have been missed if I had stayed away and left the guys to plough on. The price of the improvements so far is my swollen extremity

IMG_2299

The Very Busy Cherry Picker has gone home for the night, trundling backward the wrong way down our one-way street. The guys have just left and the drizzle has moved in, right on cue

Still no pillow…

Room with a Temporary View

The sky may be grey rather than blue, but it’s still the sky

In the builders’ lunch area, two large paint pots and a board had been used to create a third seat at the Formica-topped table, and there were thermos flasks, bread, a frying pan and a camping gas stove. They may be the first people to sit down and eat a hot meal here in over forty years

That’s a wonderful thing, a landmark. Life is creeping back into the house

IMG_7923

The removal of the roof began. It’s been windy and very cold but the guys really cracked on with removing the tiles. Almost all the original 17th Century beams are past saving and need to be replaced, which is disappointing, but an essential compromise toward stopping the decay in the rest of the house

IMG_7920.JPG

Seeing the sky come into view (albeit a flat grey that even F and B would struggle to glamourise) through the open roof was a beautiful thing and it reassured me that anything is possible, that we will overcome whatever obstacles we face and rescue this house

But we need to earn some more money first 🙂