Thingamajig

I bought a thingy.

Just this little gizmo.

A thingamajig.

I went to IKEA hungry and this is what I bought… a net canopy for our balcony!  It’s like an adult blanket-fort, but classy… or this is what I’ll be telling everyone who questions my ability to adult.

I don’t even mind the hipster connotations – I am an artist living in a crumbling old Maison de Ville by the foot of the bloody Montagne Noire.  That ship has sailed, mate.

And my mother agreed to it, so it must be class.

Anyway, how’s your Monday?

Ta,

Tiina x

 

minty makeover cover image

Minty Makeover

Salut – ça va?

I got a new painting project to show you guys!

The veteran readers of the Chez Nous N◦21 blog might just remember the last time I wrote about our dinky kitchen…

Yes, we got there in the end, but it took some serious creativity to turn this narrow space into a cozy kitchen; for example, each wall had an opening of some description and there were only two electrical sockets to power up everything, including the fridge, oven, microwave and our little portable hotplate.

Go figure.

Some industrial strength cleaning products, elbow grease and several extensions leads later – this formerly dirty corridor had been transformed into a functional cooking space fit for two foodies.

Not a perfect makeover, for sure, but it served us well for a time.

Little by little, the kitchen evolved further: we swapped our storage units for a large Art Deco buffet, hired and electrician to sort us out with more sockets and demolished the hood fixed on top of the sink.  The latter had been a real inconvenience for James; whereas the hood bothered me aesthetically, I did not need to worry about hitting my head on a steal frame every time I wanted a sandwich!

Although this piece covered the old window-turned-glass cupboard completely, it offered us twice the space for our cooking & food stuff and I have no regrets about nearly braking both of our backs carrying it upstairs with my long suffering husband.

Sorry, not sorry, James.

We always knew this modular kitchen of ours was a temporary solution so why spend too much time and money fiddling with it, right..?

True, we will build a brand-spanking-new kitchen eventually…  However, it won’t be this year, perhaps not the year after.  This dinky kitchen we have is very functional – but can you blame me for wanting it to be a bit more up-together, too?

Like many DIY transformations here chez nous, this one started out with the words “I had a bit of paint left over from a previous project”.

Sometimes that is all you need, really.

I swear, by the power of Greyskull, I was only going to paint one wall… the one visible from our dining room, but once I set out to work, it was obvious the whole kitchen would receive a fresh lick of paint.  Without a primer nor a filler, I slathered the emulsion straight on top of the damaged plaster and the crumbling paint.  Not my first cowboy building job, but somehow doing any deeper reparative work felt like a royal waste of time and effort.

The old plaster needs to come down completely as it is far beyond repair by simply filling in the cracks.  Unfortunately, we cannot start the works until the space no longer serves as our main cooking space.  Bit of a catch-22 situation, hence why I chose to paint like a charlatan, to get the walls looking neater temporarily.

The shade I chose was identical (literally) to the one I had used for our downstairs bedroom: lighter than light mint-green.  Hardly darker than an old white.  In my humble opinion, it works silly well with the pattern of our stunning cement tiles and the sage-green cabinetry.  In turn, the ceiling received a fresh coat of brilliant white emulsion.  Truth to be told, these greasy, nicotine stained panels had bothered me since we moved in, but I had not managed to get them sorted ’till now.

Although an impressive makeover, the overall effect is subtle and it feels more like the room was deep-cleaned rather than decorated.  And I suppose that really sums it up – in the past, the kitchen felt dirty no matter how much I scrubbed.

When living in a house like this, with crumbling old plaster, cracked ceilings and what not, you become blind to its imperfections.  Overall I love the quirks of my home, but certain aspects of living in an uncompleted project do get under my skin from time to time.  Seeing progress, no matter how small, helps to keep my spirits up.

Hope you enjoyed this little painting update – I already got my eyes on the next one…

Don’t forget to let me know how you get on with your summer projects in the comment section below!

A tout à l’heure!

Tiina x

Wish you were here!

The sun is high and so are our holiday spirits.  My mum and my wee nephew are half way through their holiday and both are absolutely in love with my adoptive home town and the French pace of life.  Mazamet is not a bad place to be in the summer: just last weekend we enjoyed the dance and music of the Fanfares Sans Frontières-festival, drove up and down the Montagne Noire and celebrated Bastille Day with a picnic up at the Lac De Montagnes.  It is all weird and wonderful for little Jim, but he’s taking it all on his stride like a seasoned citizen of the world, picking up bits of French, trying the food and hanging out with his new best friend – Rusty the dog.

I got my hands full to say the least, so better crack on and skip straight to the photographic evidence of our adventures:

Here’s a few pics from the Fanfares Sans Frontières.  I loved the marching bands and the bag pipes, but you can’t beat a bit of Samba…

It’s funny how enjoyable photography becomes when you have another pair of hands to hold the dogs lead!  These are my favourite snaps from around Mazamet centre ville.

I could not write this post without posting a few snaps of this adorable little fella, my nephew Jim – naturally with the consent of him mum.  I don’t think Rusty has ever felt this loved in his life.  Being a rescue, he needs a bit of attention and Jim is more than willing to fuss him to the ends of the earth.

Oh, and here you have some more dog photos.  The internet needs more Rusty, I am certain of it.  These are taken at the Lac de Montagnes and Payrin.

Right, that should be all for now!  See you again with a bit of painting and decorating news from chez nous N°21

Bisous!

Tiina x

Take a Seat banner

Take a seat…

La canicule has shifted and I am back on the chain gang; fixing little bits and bobs and trying to keep my mum and my nephew content in their holidaymaking.  They arrived from Finland a week ago and I am already running out of exiting things to do.  Thankfully, Les Fanfares Sans Frontieres-festival is almost here and it happens to be the best of Mazamets summer events, in my opinion anyway.  Having had a jolly good time swimming, barbecuing and burning every inch of my body in the sun, I am not quite finished taking photographs of my latest painting project so I thought I’d share another nifty chair restoration I finished yesterday.  This time around I revamped a relatively modern seat, not older than perhaps 15-20 years, and made out of aluminium.

Les Fanfares sans Frontieres, Mazamet, 2018, photo by Tiina Lilja

How I came by this piece mirrors a familiar tale:  Not a full day had passed since I wrote about finding a small Art-Deco-esque chair near our bins at Champs de la Ville when another appeared, deserted by the very same communal recycling point near our house.  It was a petite metal framed patio chair, in pretty good nick but repainted rather clumsily with a heavy-duty matte emulsion.  I needed a break from answering awkward questions from a nine year old so restoring a chair seemed like the perfect excuse for a bit of alone time as acetone based paint stripper and children don’t mix all that well.

old aluminium chair with its white paint job

Based on the thickness of the paint on this chair I expected to find several different colours, but there were only two distinct layers: heavy-handed white emulsion and the original teal & white powder coat enamel.  The latter turned out tricky to remove, but I enjoyed every minute of my time spent lurking under the guises of toxic fumes.  Three coats of paint stripper, some serious sanding and a quick steel wool polish later, I had managed to clean the chair down to bare aluminium.

The polished metal had next to no imperfections so I was happy to leave it as it was.  The seat, however, needed more work.  There was a bit of old rust and dinky scraps of enamel so I prepped these parts to be painted by giving them a quick once-over with medium grit sandpaper.  My chosen colour, blush pink, was largely dictated by what I had in the house, but it worked well with the dark brushed aluminium.  I’d bought the paint for our bathroom door two years ago and, based on the thick dried up layer of paint, it needed using up.

Although I am happy with the results, arguably this one was not entirely worth the effort.

You might be surprised by my sudden sensibility, but not all projects, no matter how satisfying they might be to execute, are cost effective.  Money spent on the paint-stripper, paint (although scraps) and other sundry potions and bits like sandpaper, not to mention my precious time, totals more than the chair is worth.  But I do appreciate a good up-cycling project.  Not to mention locking myself away from child-minding duties.

This seat will serve us well on our balcony, for years to come, but unlike the one I just upholstered, it perhaps falls under the vanity project-category.

Voilà.  Another wee task tasked.

Now, if you excuse me, I am off to read a story.  About an Alsatian dog called Roi, who catches crooks and stuff.  And I am pretty excited about that.

Tiina x

The Butchering Art

Here’s the summary of my blog so far:

Me: buys an old house crumbling to ruin
House: treat me right, will you
Me:
House: restore me with love
Me: I will try my hardest to do everything right and cherish you my love

Me: cheap building shite, though
House: !!!
Me: …though.

stripping paint

When I was in comprehensive school I had this Finnish-teacher who allowed her students to swear as much as they wanted during one lesson of their final year.  To get it out of their system.  This was known as vittu-tunti, roughly translating as the f*ck-it-hour.  As much as the teenage me needed an outlet for all those profanities, I feel the time is nigh for a confessional post, right here, chez nous!  I hereby come clean on all the restoration sins I have committed in the name of preservation of a status quo that is the reality of living in a century old property… and beyond.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the ultimate vittu-tunti – chez nous edition:  All the things I’ve done to this beautiful house that are against my principles, and the principles of good restoration and the civil taste, but needed doing regardless.

This will be a tale of creative problem-solving on a budget, but those of a strong conservatorial constitution might wish to sit this one out…

My story of cowboy building begins in December 2018.  Forgive me reader, for I have sinned.  There might have been a few slips of the old acrylate paint before, but this one is major! 

Let me set the scene for you: Our balcony was leaking downstairs and the winter storms were imminent.  The roofing would protect the cracked and leaky concrete, but a bit of the fibre-glass sheeting was lost and the replacements kept disappearing with the strong winds blowing off the Montagne Noire.  We cannot really afford the big works for the minute, but left untouched the floor was only going to get worse.  Driven by desperation I set out to investigate, peeling off broken bits of concrete and bitumen to reveal a gaping gash to the structure.  This thing is huge with a capital H.  I hesitated a moment before filling the hole with a wooden dowel and half a gallon of poly-filler before sealing the deal with a thick layer of moisture repellent paint. 

Out of sight, out of mind.  Blissfully.

Although the hole is now filled, I needed to think of something to cover the gap in the fibre glass sheeting.  As mentioned, we tried fitting a new panel, but the wooden supports were too rotted to house the screws tightly enough to withstand the strong winds.  I did not have a replacement panel, but what I did have was some thick black plastic and a staple gun.  Sin number two, but this “repair” if you can call it that, has lasted 6 months and counting. 

Forgive me, dear reader, but sometimes the flesh is weak. 

There was a small incident with a marble fireplace and super-glue, but I had been a very good girl until it came to replacing a panel on one of our doors.  Now, these things were hand made a century ago, but some arse with an anger management problem got to them a decade or two before we adopted this house and most of these stunning wooden panelled doors have holes punched and/or kicked through them.  I am no carpenter, but patching up a door with a bit of beech wood veneer and ready-made moulding is not a true crime against ones historical abode… is it?

Strike number three!

Summer is here and I have one last confession to make – the balcony I mangled for its own good in the winter was looking a bit sad and instead of getting on with proper repairs I simply covered up my butchery with a rug and a set of canopies made out of printed cotton.  I am unashamedly proud about this one.  The material first served in our wedding as table cloths, then I made curtains out of them to cover a gaping patch of raw concrete in our dining room… and now this! 

Adding a handy distraction has given us another year of living with the horrible fibre glass roof without needing to replace it with something equally cheap and nasty.  My plan is to source some pre-loved art deco metalwork and make this balcony a glazed conservatory, but we are at a dreaming-stage with that one, I am afraid, rather than ready to rumble.

There.  My conscience is clean.

Let the renovator without sin cast the first stone.   All I can say is that I did it for the greater good!

THE GREATER GOOD.

 

Bisous,

T xx

 

Absolute Beginners

This will be the first of my catch up posts from the past couple of months and I thought it best to begin the unloading gently with an easier-than-easy tutorial on upholstery.  Now, upholstery is a bit like cooking: you can make it as easy or as complicated as you want and I chose to go at with as little effort as possible.   It is not a skill I would say I have mastered, not yet anyway, but pulling off a little project like this was surprisingly straightforward.  No sewing and no specialist equipment needed: simply a piece of cloth you like and a staple gun, although a hammer and some tacks/small nails would do the same trick.

Yes, and a humble old chair.

I found mine discarded by municipal bins whilst walking the pupper.  In France, like in many places where I’d lived before, especially in bigger cities like Edinburgh, it is commonplace to leave unwanted furniture by the communal wheelie bins or in the street to be collected by those in need or want.  A rogue way of recycling perhaps, but in my view, better than taking your old things to the recycling centres that sort things to be burned or destroyed rather than working towards re-using them.  When I was a student trying to get furnishings on a budget, things left out to be re-used were a true godsend.  This chair that I picked out in Mazamet was certainly not the first one I have adopted from the rubbish and I have collected other ones since.

This particular chair looks to me to have been made in the late 1930’s or 1940’s with an art deco-esque steel frame and a wood veneer seat, upholstered in cream coloured vinyl.  The metal was covered with a bit of rust, but otherwise the chair was in pretty good nick – the perfect upcycling project really!  Better yet, I had just the fabric.  Ideally you’d have something quite hefty and tightly woven so that it won’t fray too badly with use – thinking canvas rather than sheet with a bit of elasticity but nothing too bouncy like jersey.  The one I chose is a Finlayson fabric meant for table cloths, cushions, aprons and things that need to stand a bit of wear, made of pure cotton.

metal frame of a 1930's chair

Before I could start with the seat, I wanted to make sure the frame was looking its best.  First I removed the seat and began getting rid of most of the surface rust using an orbital sander.  Regular old sand paper with a fine grit would work, too, and one designed to be used with water on metal specifically would have been a stellar choice.  To finish it off, I added a bit of multipurpose furniture polish to protect the frame and moved on to the next and final step of this little project: upholstering the seat.

I could have removed and replaced the original vinyl, but as it was not damaged in any great way I simply stapled my new fabric on top of it.  By using the seat as a template I cut out a piece of cloth, about 10 cm bigger than the base and made little indents alongside the edge of it, every 3 cm or so as you can see on the photos below.  This was to insure the best possible “fit” without wrinkles.  Having done this, I used my staple gun to tack the fabric tightly in place, one flap after another until the cloth was completely stapled in.  Having checked everything looked smooth on the top, I fastened the seat back onto the frame using new, stainless steel screws and… voilà!

I just upholstered a seat in less than 15 minutes.

And so could you.

Here comes the best part… ok, the preachy part:  By re-using an old piece of furniture rather than buying new is one step away from the single-usage-discard culture of today.  If the eco-aspect does not float your boat, how about saving cold hard cash?  That usually gets people listening.  When I get new things, I try to favour local producers and things that are made to last.  Unfortunately, quality seldom comes cheap.  By skimping on cheaply made goods such as chairs for my balcony (which is where this newly upholstered one is going) means that next time when I really need something, I can afford to pay that little bit more for it.

Working towards a more sustainable consumer culture is not just a nice thing to aim for, it should be a given thing.  I am not trying to lecture you about how to buy – maybe you want new stuff and that is fine.  However, when you buy things to replace your old items, think of ways to put them back into the circulation.  There are clothes banks, charity shops, apps to buy and sell surplus food (too good to go-app being a recent favourite of mine), facebook groups to donate stuff… or the curb.  Chances are there is someone willing to take on your pre-loved goods, even if they need a bit of TLC.

Rant OVER.

See you in a bit with a new blog!

Bisous,

T xx