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!

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 (!)

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

 

A Plank of Wood and a Glass of Wine

In some places this project would be considered therapy

I’m not really the mental psycho bitch that I am often portrayed as. For example, this weekend Baz came to France with me and helped me put skirting board around our tiny multi-angled bathroom, working around the cast iron bath, sink and loo already in situ. Despite these frustrating obstacles we worked well together, didn’t break anything and didn’t lose our cool in the afternoon heat. By the time we were cleaned up (Baz loved his first ever experiences of cast iron bathing luxury this weekend) and taking aperos we remained very relaxed and still on speaking terms

Always a good start to an evening

Through necessity, the bath is installed in a fairly small space and there is nowhere to put toiletries (the name ‘roll top bath’ sort of gives it away really)

A shelf on the wall next to the bath would look cramped, but my memory strayed back to childhood: we had a hideous broken plastic bath rack across the bath, as I remember

There are some vintage 1920s metal bath racks for sale as well as a few modern ones, but I felt that a metal rack could look very fussy in the small space. In fact, the designers of some of the modern ones have totally lost the plot, adding ugly random sticky-out bits to hold wine glasses, books, tea lights, as well as the necessary shampoos etc

Baz had some interesting ideas for add-ons but I cannot share these here

They’re a bit niche

I went into a very expensive bathroom showroom and said ‘I don’t suppose you get many people asking for bath racks, do you?’
It seems that my instinct was correct. He only had one silly rack which cost more than our entire bathroom

So I consulted my erudite friend, M. Google, who introduced me to the simple wooden racks – rather like chopping boards – that can be bought for not very much, according to M. le Goo

I decided that I would make my own, using a piece of old wood found in the house itself. I had visions of using a patinated oak floorboard, of course

There are none going begging, as far as I can see 🙂

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Before and after some graft

But last night after the plumbers had left I found this unpromising shelf, recently ripped from a (probably late 1800s) walk-in bedroom cupboard to make space for a water heater. I removed a few hooks and nails from the underside, cut a piece off and then scrubbed it with steel wool and white spirit. As you can see, the wood came up nicely and I even left the original uneven unsawn edge. I added toilet seat dampers to protect the bath enamel and to hold the shelf in place, then treated it with an oil-based waterproof finish. Simplicity itself

I could have added a wineglass holder, but no-one tells this psycho bitch where to put her wine glass I don’t think I need one

It could almost double up as a cheese board!

If IKEA had made it, it would be called ‘BJÖRD’ or ‘BÊAM’

But they didn’t make it, did they?

Because it belongs to this house, a token minimalist item. And it cost nothing

The bath will be an even greater pleasure this evening, I am sure, now that I can enjoy a glass of red wine and listen to a bit of Lana Del Ray…

Object of Desire

What’s black and white and grows in the bathroom

‘Your bath looks wonderful’ said a friend. ‘It’s as if it grew there’

The bathroom is finally coming together exactly as I had planned, dominated by the roll top bath. I was unreasonably thrilled when the plumber confirmed that I could have my first bath today – nearly two years after buying the house

And yet, as it approached 8pm I realised that I had been finding things to do and putting off filling the tub. I had really stuck my neck out by insisting on a roll top bath and it had caused a lot of effort for everyone. Supposing I didn’t like it? I was even obsessing over the idea that it would not take the weight of the 120kg tub full of water and me, and that it would fall through the floor, leaving me cold, naked and alone in the hallway downstairs

But it looked so inviting, and I was filthy

Yes, I had to improvise a bath mat (today’s dirty T-shirt) and my toiletries were balanced on the taps, but I was so euphoric after finally taking the plunge that I composed an Oscar-type thank you speech in my head as I bathed. ‘Thank you Baz for believing in me when I bought this house and this bath back in 2015, and for allowing me to fritter away war could have been our pension fund. Thank you to the Smiley Plumbers for doing what I asked, even though you thought it was wrong. Yes, you did. And thank you to the bloke on Ebay who was chucking away the bath of my dreams,’ etc …

Afterwards I ran downstairs to check that water was not pouring into the hallway. (Oh, me of little faith!)

I texted people to tell them ‘I’ve had a bath’

I called Baz, still full of enthusiasm. After all these years he still just laughs and says ‘if you’re happy, I’m happy’

The guy’s a saint

This gorgeous bath, including the taps and shower thing, came out of a house three miles from us in the UK, where developers had gone in :(. The site manager just wanted a few notes and collection within 24 hours. Two years on, it has found its homeIMG_4386

Why do people choose acrylic baths over cast iron? Enamelled cast iron looks wonderful. The smoothness of enamel is calming, cosy and warm, like a big cuddle. It’s huge. It cleans down so easily. Oh, someone stop me here! I have spent the last forty-odd years since my childhood dreaming of another cast iron bath while everyone else has moved into the acrylic future

What am I missing?

A Very British Sunburst

I was so sure I would manage all kinds of tasks while Baz was away, but I have been hit by cold-snap apathy over the last few days. Waiting nearly an hour for a cab to work this morning and the ensuing migraine were just the icing on the cake

I think it’s time to reflect on a previous project which I haven’t followed up on properly: the sunburst cabinet

In time for Christmas, it reached its potential as a drinks cabinet. It totally owns the living room at home and will not be going to France, being simply too BritishIMG_3987I have avoided any work to the wood itself. This cabinet is in great nick and I love its patina. Mirrors make it more glamorous, as does a shelf in the lower cupboard IMG_4023I added a cheap bath plug chain to give a stable working space on the fold-down doorIMG_4025I love how the top opens up. It’s very useful and I’m amazed at how many bottles I can stuff into it. The top is for beer and other small bottles, but it’s the bottom where the magic really happensIMG_4026

It’s such a sweet little cupboard and I love that something so basically made has, with very little effort, become such a star