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

 

Take Nothing for Granted

Water or wine? Sometimes either will do

(My apologies if the image is terrible. WordPress is trying to force me to buy an upgrade, so it is showing all my images as low-res and is deleting any drafts that I start. You may not even be reading this!)

Written one hour ago:

It hadn’t occurred to me to ask before, so I asked the smiley plumber this morning:

‘Est-ce que l’eau est potable?’

He grinned. Of course it is drinking water. After eighteen months we can finally go to the tap and have a glass of fresh delicious water. And it really is delicious, better than that bottled rubbish I’ve been used to. I had woken up with a caffeine withdrawal migraine, so I grabbed some tablets and the only glasses we had were a set of champagne flutes

Santé, tout le monde!

It’s Wednesday and this was day three of various people in the UK, the Netherlands and France making well-intentioned promises about Monday’s delivery: ‘this morning’, ‘this afternoon’, ‘tomorrow morning’, etc. It’s now nearly 6pm and it still hasn’t turned up

I will have no-one to help me to unload the goods tomorrow. If they ever do arrive, that is. But that doesn’t bear thinking about, as it contains a lot of things I have bought and squirrelled. Things that belong to me

Perhaps the migraine is more due to stress than to coffee. Stress is less easily remedied, of course

It might not be the best time for looking at colour charts for the head in a bag room. I’ve been torn between something fresh and airy and something dark and stormy. Guess which one was winning today…

Ooh! Perhaps that driver’s head in a bag would top it off?

At this stage I was about to press ‘publish’ but there was a man outside..

Update at 7pm

Yes!! It has arrived. And though the Ukrainian delivery guy didn’t speak French or English and looked like he wanted to kill me (probably mutual, in hindsight), and while the box appears somewhat weary and deflated, I think everything’s OK inside. Good job I stuck a few pillows in with it!

Finally I can go and shower, and celebrate with another glass of water and another look at those colours I chose

Maybe the smiley plumber can install a wine tap as well?

Bitten? I’m Smitten

Think before you lick that wallpaper

The recent cold dark evenings have not inspired as much paint-stripping as usual, especially as the rain, frustratingly, continues to get in through our garage roof

But, while the cold keeps me indoors more than normal, I can curl up on the sofa with ‘Bitten by Witch Fever’, a book which can only be described as very tasteful Victorian wallpaper pornimg_4101The book looks at the effect of the use of arsenic in papers, considerably widening the range of colours available. Opinion at the time was apparently divided between people who considered it terribly detrimental to the health to have such chemicals in their homes, and those who believed – rightly or wrongly – that it was only dangerous if they licked the wallpaper

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All the papers featured are catalogued with dates and manufacturers, many English but also some French

This book has made me re-think how I currently strip the paper in France. Until now I have not been wearing a mask or gloves, but I probably should protect myself from any possible ‘nasties’

And I am still trying to find information on this wonderful, if fragile, scenic paper in our salonimg_9078

This last picture (below) is a wall of the chapel at the fabulous Royal Holloway College in Egham, completed in 1886

img_3191I admit, I could barely keep from licking it!

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?

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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

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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

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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

 

Peeling Back Layers

It’s a random sum

There’s something about stripping wallpaper that to me is very therapeutic. The downside is that it can be immensely hard work when there are numerous layers and RSI sets in. Multiply the layers by the number of rooms to strip and the total here becomes at least fifty, perhaps seventy. I don’t know what that number means – it’s a random sum – but that’s what we’ve got. Yesterday that total equated to around about a year’s solid work for me

But today that number has been considerably reduced, courtesy of one of the roof guys who saw me labouring away and brought in a stripping product for me to try. I tried some last night and can confirm that the sum will now be divided by perhaps ten, meaning that naked walls will be achievable in about six or seven. I started again this morning after a coffee

The effectiveness seems to be due to not only the product, but the application using a pressurised spray (‘vaporisateur’), the type you sort of jump up and down on to build up pressure

When we were kids there was a product that was regularly applied to prevent greenfly in the garden, not only by our parents but by us, very willingly, because it seemed so much fun to use the spray thing. It was called, enchantingly, Killa Spray. Therefore, before anyone gets too precious about using spray substances to remove wallpaper without proper mask/ overalls/ ventilation I would suggest that any damage was already done back in the seventies

So, the concentrated product is enormously diluted with water (we’re back to wallpaper stripper now, I very much doubt that Killa Spray still exists) and is used to soak the paper economically and evenly. A few minutes later a scraper will just lift the paper cleanly. Voila! C’est fait!

I admit that I am not so tough, I do wear gloves because my hands are like beacons of abuse right now. But I am also really enjoying removing wallpaper in its truest purest form as therapy

IMG_8092And as you can see they’ve left some spare paper in case I change my mind!

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

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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…