Looking forward to the past

In this beautiful post Colin says he hadn’t realised how much he likes ‘to see the murk of history.’ I know what he means and I fear rubbing away the lifetime of a building. Patina is so important and I would hate to have an old house that did not reflect its journey. That is my goal – to allow the wear and tear to sit alongside the additions. We bought this house because I love it, not because I want to make it like other houses. Conformity is simply not for everyone!

Colin Bisset

This week’s Iconic Buildings on Radio National’s Blueprint for Living highlights the wonder of Chartres cathedral (see here). I mention the recent contentious restoration of its internal painted walls which supposedly takes them back to the original colouring of the mid-1200s. I wasn’t sure if I liked that idea but shortly after recording that piece I was on my way to France. I hadn’t planned to visit Chartres but somehow it just became inevitable.

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Womance and the love of Audrey

Friendships are formed in the most unexpected ways, and I suppose that is part of the beauty of them.
On the plane on the way down to view the house I chatted with the English couple sitting next to me. I will refer to them as G & T – it seems fitting, who then helped me find the connecting bus service to Quillan. This has been a very happy coincidence because as it turns out G is a fellow passionate admirer and saver of all things old, beautiful and undervalued. According to Baz she and I have been enjoying a wo-mance ever since, with frequent supportive texts, email exchanges about various gorgeous things, and then a chat on the phone when G negotiated with (possible!) Russian mafia in order to pick up a mirror I bought on ebay for £10.00. Some of the coincidences have been spooky and we even had to check we were not bidding on the same ebay items. How insane is that?!
So G has been ‘virtually’ with me every step of the way. From the initial viewing through the frustrations with the estate agent and notaire, to finally getting the final completion date, she has been an essential part of the process, keeping me sane via text and helping me understand the system. Now, to top it all, G & T are going to pick up our keys from the estate agent, collect us at Carcassonne and take us to the house when we arrive. This means I will get a chance to show them around (I know they are desperate to see this monument to my insanity), and that Baz and I will have some good old-fashioned moral support when we open the door. Honestly, it has made this whole ‘adventure’ feel way more manageable, and I am dying to buy them dinner to say thanks.

One of the hardest things about being away from home is leaving the chickens. They are very well cared for in our absence by our lovely neighbour Sue, who keeps them fed and puts them to bed. It’s especially hard to leave Audrey (above) who has never been well and has had more meds in her 2 and a half years than most chickens ever have to endure. We all have so much love and respect for her as she has repeatedly defied her odds, coming back from the absolute brink. She is such a fighter, brave and resilient. Luckily, Baz will usually be at home to care for them while I am overseeing work in France.
Now, if the estate agent will only tell us how much to pay and to which account in time for completion on Thursday, we’ll be fine….

At last – the date is in sight

The intended completion date is now 20th August. We are excited and relieved, but we will have to let the notaire sign for us as we cannot get over until the week after. The timing means that we will take possession just a few days before my 50th birthday, which is pretty fantastic.

missing finial thing

The plan is to go over and ‘camp’ with sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses for a few days. It’s one way to find out if the toilet works(!), and it will help prepare me for the weeks that I go over alone to get the repairs etc underway. Now the sleepless nights will start, as I start to panic about whether Baz will see potential in the building or be disappointed, and if it is as I remember it…..

Tuesday afternoon brings an inability to concentrate

I had a ton of things to do today but it’s been very hard to apply myself. We set up our account with Credit Agricole, Baz having had an ‘interview’ on 27th July. He just told me off for putting our French address on the payment instruction to the bank, as we don’t actually own it yet. I know he’s right but I just couldn’t resist, so I hope it doesn’t bite us.
We are very aware that August, the month of doing nothing in France, is almost upon us and we still don’t have a date for completion. On top of that I am away for a week. In the absence of real progress I’ve been struggling to keep my mind on work so I occasionally break off to Google stuff. It’s mainly harmless, but it can lead to me buying bits and pieces, as well as to schemes in my mind becoming grander. Or more time-consuming, at least.
We have both looked at the photos so many times now, and despite having quite a lot of them, it’s all getting a but tiresome. I wish I had taken a bloody tape measure with me to the viewing as we are constantly trying to guess the dimensions of rooms. Last night we were trying to figure out what size the courtyard is, based on various possible dimensions of the floor tiles. Obviously we don’t actually know the sizes of the tiles, the doors, or anything. So we’re still none the wiser…

Chinoiserie. Wild about it

Gill(coteetcampagne) and I have been discussing chinoiserie and she sent me this lovely picture. The sweep of the staircase is so elegant and the wall design is stunning. Gillschinoiserieinspiration
Chinese handpainted wallpaper for one of the bedrooms would not only be wildly expensive, and the preparation of the walls is beyond us. Rather than give up, I am looking into various stencils and have found several which are almost there, but not quite:
But I want something all-over and cohesive with a variety of intensity in the pattern while still forming a united design, rather than just stand-alone panels like these stencils. I may put the elements together from smaller stencils instead. Obviously this would be time-consuming and we would need to plan it thoroughly, but I need to find all the right stencils first. And do some practicing, as I have not stencilled since it was last fashionable – in the 80s!
The great thing about this style is that it can suit so many tastes – light and airy, dark and brooding, vivid monochromes. The colour possibilities are endless: yellow, green, blue are all favourites of mine, and for our house I want quite an intense background and perhaps a touch of bling to set it off. A silver ceiling?

Lost and found

It was the late 70s. I must have been thirteen or fourteen years old and I often spent more time at my friend Adrian’s house in Bounds Green than I did at my own. I was in awe of his film star-esque mum Eleanor (part-time opera singer, part-time antiques dealer) and his sister Therri (probably still the person I would have most liked to have looked like). The house was a dog-smelling chaotic mix of antiques and dust. The colours throughout were dark and brooding, with intense colour in unexpected places. There was nothing contrived about the house, it just oozed casual style and screamed ‘home’ to me like nothing else. Eleanor was my self-appointed mentor. She was slovenly, selfish and demanding, and I learned all I could from her! There was a skip outside one weekend and I saw a small wooden Burmese dragon lamp hanging over the side. It was perhaps 2 ft tall, and would have matched the enormous standard lamp version in her living room. I could see it was damaged, but I asked if I could take it. Of course, she said yes. Her husband John was clearing out some of her old stock which she had no room to store in either the shop in Islington or in the house. I grabbed the light and scoured around. The other thing that caught my eye was the most gorgeous embroidered picture I had ever seen. It was all the colours of thread sewn onto a beautiful green background backed by simple cardboard. Someone had obviously spent their own personal hours meticulously creating this and yet it had ended up in a skip?

found in a skip in the 70s
found in a skip in the 70s

My gut feeling then was – and it still is – that it was sewn in the 1930s. I hung it in every bedsit and flat I lived in and then when I bought my first home at 21 years old I splashed out and had it framed. The framer in Porlock in Somerset was intrigued, and he suggested that it was older than I thought, but I doubt I will ever know. It remains in the same frame and has pride of place in our living room. I look at it every day and would never part with it.

A bit of a scrub

I spent some time this weekend with my beloved ten pound chandelier. So far I have removed quite a lot of rust and am starting to experiment with finishes. I bought a product on Amazon called Rub’n’Buff which is intended for use on porous items, but I couldn’t resist giving it a go on the chandelier as I sat on the decking in the sun. It comes in a tiny tube and I started applying it directly with my finger, but as I went on I found the best method was to apply a small amount to a soft cloth and wrap the cloth around it, then rub the item until the paint gently comes through the cloth. I definitely got better at it as I continued, but the areas where I used my finger looked very ‘painted’ rather than metallic (first picture) chand first paint
because I had used too much, so I had to get the Wonder Wipes out to scrub off the excess (second photo) I am struggling to get some of the initial paint out of the details in the metal so I will get the non-scratch scourers out again.
after polishing
This stuff is going to be very useful for anyone distressing frames or similar. I was very impressed with the coverage I got and the way it hasn’t obliterated the delicate pattern on the metal. It behaves more like a dye than a paint.
I have asked my brother to bring his soldering iron the next time he visits as the frame has been dropped at some point and one corner has two very clean breaks which should be invisible once mended.

Are we talking 1975?

BernardThevenetHaving only visited the house once, and that was now months ago, I want to know more of the history and how it came to be empty for so long. A friend who also has a house in France described the remote buying experience as feeling unreal and dreamlike. You are so right, Gill!! (coteetcampagne). In our case Baz hasn’t even been there and I feel a weight of responsibility. While obsessing I noticed a magazine called ‘Jours de France’, on the floor in my photo of the ‘Club Room’. Google tells me the magazine went out of business in 1989. The front cover shouts ‘Bravo Thevenet!’ and the picture is of Bernard Thevenet. To be fair he was easy to find as he hasn’t changed much (see recent photo below). He is a renowned cyclist and won the Tour de France in 1975, so I will check the publication date once we get the keys, but it looks like the last time anyone spent any time there was around 40 years ago, which would explain, but not excuse, the hideous insane clashing décor in that room


What can you get for a tenner?


I was very excited when I saw this rusty chandelier on ebay. It definitely has a touch of the Jugendstil about it. It was honestly described as having two missing, one chipped and one smashed shade and broken glass in the body too, but no-one bid on it and I got it for ten pounds. It’s very heavy too. The guy selling it was so nice that he packed it all up for me (brilliantly, I should add) and wouldn’t take any money for the packing materials. Apparently he bought a very large hotel laundry basket at a local auction and this was inside when he got it home! If anyone knows how to safely remove rust from something like this please let me know, and I will have to find new shades for it, which is a shame as the piece has a very clear style and different shades will dilute this, but it has to be given life again. I may have to look into metal paint, but there is some silver metal coming through where I started with my toothbrush and Brasso. I have done lots of googling but cannot find anything like it anywhere. Daybedsandsilverchandelier 007firststepstorustremoval