closing time featured image

Closing Time

After a long hot summer spent by the foot of the Montagne Noire, I have just about a week left before I’ll lock up shop and return to Somerset for the winter.  I’m in no means ready to go – it feels like I merely scratched the surface on this year’s renovations, but daily grind is calling… and I do miss James who has already returned to the UK work.

The last few days have been a combination of trying to enjoy the last of my time in France and tying of loose ends, finishing half painted walls and hanging missing shutters…  and although it does not feel much right now, I am glad to be able to wipe these little jobs off the agenda.  The most important one, started when my mother was still here, was to give our entryway a fresh lick of paint:

Less than an entryway per se, but a forbidding corridor, our hallway has been my least favourite part of this house since we moved in.  Despite of the stunning patterned tile right as you walk in, the walls were dirty and where they were not covered in mismatched patches of sage, electric blue, cream or brown paint, the plasterwork was, to put it plainly, falling apart.

Well, I describe it as plaster, but in reality a lot of the framework of our house consists of, in a need of a better term, construction waste, i.e. cement and sand combined with plaster.  This stuff was used widely in the beginning of the century as it was cheap and relatively easy to mix up, but unlike pure plaster, it rarely ages well.  For one, it cracks to buggery with changes in temperature & humidity and if that isn’t enough, it literally disintegrates from a slightest of punctures.  Imagine hammering a nail into a wall made of this stuff – that tiny little pinhole can, and will, easily turn into a fist sized crater.

At some point, sixties or seventies I recon, the previous occupants must have gotten fed up with their crumbling walls and simply covered the holes and cracks with a hearty layer of wallpaper.  Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.  However, when we moved in, the 90’s wallpaper, that had not been desperately well hung in the first place, was peeling off and mouldy so we had to get rid of it as a priority, exposing the hot mess that lay under the filthy surface.

To rectify the situation I would need to demolish all existing “plaster”, all the way down to the houses stone and timber frame, and start anew.  I have nothing against doing so, eventually, but I am going to have to sell a few more paintings before I can afford that.  So, to make sure we will not return to a house where half a wall has crumbled to dust over winter, I decided to add a stabilizer: good old white emulsion.

Paint, as you may or may not know is pigment suspended in a liquid, most commonly in an oil or acrylic based solution.  In a way, to offer coverage and stability, paint needs to act as a low level glue, to adhere to the surface being painted and this is where things get interesting.  My turn-to-dust-plaster walls crumble from the slightest touch, but introduce a bonding agent, such as acrylic emulsion, and you increase your chances of keeping this stuff up on the walls until you have couched up enough cash to do the job properly.

These walls had been painted before, in a sort of sage green colour.  This was originally paired with mahogany stained pine panelling, later painted brown followed by electric blue and finally haphazardly tinted cream.  With the help of my mum, I was finally able to lay that particular colour-monster to rest, deep under several layers of matte white paint.  Damage control, to say the least, but I can finally return to my wine and cheese without needing to worry about this particular problem… at least for another year or so.

I will be packing off to England soon, with a heavy hear, but that need’t be the end of Chez Nous N°21!  This blog started out chronicling the ongoing renovation of my century old abode, and I want this to be at the hear of it, always, but at the same time I would love to keep writing while I am not actually… well, renovating.  I am sure I’ll be able to come up with more exciting content from the other end of the pond, but tips on what you like reading about are always appreciated – just drop us a comment or get in touch via social media.

Until then – à tout à l’heure !

Tiina x

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

 

Let’s get ready to decorate PART 1

Let's get ready to decorate PART 1

Oh hi there.  I just burned my left index finger on a heat gun and thought it would make a great excuse for a spot of IRN BRU and blogging.  There’s this project I’ve been working on – you see, I got family coming over: my mum, bother and a Roger (who’s like family anyway), and only one bedroom to spare between them.  It’s not really a question of space, not really, as we got plenty of that here in chez nous… more so, the rooms we have available are sort of scary.  Picture this: forcing ma into the haunted attic while Roger takes the cellar of horrors.  Or have my bro sleep with the spiders in the abandoned toilet behind our kitchen.  As much as the idea of traumatising our houseguests for life attracts me, the time is ripe for some good old fashioned painting and decorating.

The chambre we chose to do up as the second spare room, is situated on the ground floor and has been largely disused due to an old leak in the ceiling.  Naturally, this was something we fixed straight away upon moving in, but the space remained somewhat of an afterthought until now.  Filled to the brim with tools, doggy stuff and disused furniture, it was not a part of the house I was particularly proud of.  In truth, my distain of this room runs much deeper than I would like to admit, largely because there is actually very little wrong with it.  Sure it’s hideous and dated, but everything is in such good nick!  The ceramic tiles, for example, as offensive as they are, have been laid by a skilled professional to be perfectly level and the revoltingly orange wood panelling is as good as the day it was installed.
A shoddy real estate picture versus how we left the place having removed some wallpaper and fixed a leaky roof.
And I hate that.  I detest the fact that there is nothing really wrong with this room and how that makes me feel like a wasteful idiot for wanting to change everything about it just because it is monstrously ugly.
But how do you deal with dated décor, in a way that utilises all available resources to their best potential?  Impossible dilemma.  This space was scrapped in the late seventies or early eighties, presumably to turn it into a granny flat for someone who was unable to get up the stairs.  As the renovations were done with care and good expense my guess would be it might have been commissioned by one of the past proprietors for themselves or for a relative of theirs.  Consequently, no part of the original floor remains, neither a trace of the old fireplace, but the built-in cupboard/wardrobe was left untouched as was the circa 1910 wooden framed window – the only one left in the whole house.  Even with the nauseating mix of retro finishes, I think this turd can be polished without ripping the place apart, hopefully, resulting in a beautifully layered mix of old and new.
 
As jobs come, this one is right up my alley; being a painter by trade, I know how to spruce things up with a shade or two.  Here’s the plan – not only will I be treating the ceiling and walls, scraping, sanding and painting all the woodwork including the orangey tongue & groove panelling, but painting the tiled floor as well.  I already bought the paints, (more about those later) but before the fun begins every surface needs to be prepared.  My dearest James, who’s commuting back and forth between his job in the UK and Mazamet, was here to help me kick start it all.  He wielded the wallpaper kettle like a champion and managed to get rid of all wallpaper and their respected liners.  The more recent of the two layers from was already gone when we started – shoddily installed 90’s orange, but a thick layer of 80’s Miami Cool took for ever to steam off.  I took my trusted Mac Allister to the wood panelling and sanded away as much of the surface lacquer as I could. It was the first of many sanding jobs to come and, as I later discovered to my utter dismay, the easiest one by a streak.
Faded but still there – hand stencilled diamond pattern and remnants of florals
Underneath all that mouldy wallpaper, we discovered some interesting fragments from the past: a faded but clearly visible art deco paint job including a painted frame for a mirror or a picture (presumably of religious nature) and remnants of an older floral motif, both stencilled straight onto the walls.  All too far gone to be kept, sadly, but a lovely thing to uncover.  A weekend’s worth of serenity later, I continued the gig by patching up a few holes with plaster and skimming over anything uneven, followed by another run with the sander, this time leaving me, the dog and everything else in walking distance from us covered in plaster dust.
To continue with the theme of creating a huge mess, I started to prepare the tongue and groove ceiling for a lick of paint.  Beyond where the old leak had damaged the paint job, it was in decent nick and looked like an easy scrape and sand job.  No such thing.  It was, in fact, soul destroying and seemed to go on for days.  My dad would be proud to hear I was wearing my protective mask all the way through.  No goggles though, and listen up boys and girls, this is why you should always wear them: little sharps of paint can be really f*cking painful when they lodge themselves into your eyes.
But goggles steam up – it’s irritating.
It would make an interesting philosophical point to debate whether one gets more irritated with slashed eyes or blurred vision while sanding, but for everyone’s sanity, I won’t bother.  Do as I say, kiddos, not as I do.
Two sides of a door frame, one with layers upon layers of floss and the other stripped bare.  In the middle you see just a few of these lovely layers of paint.
And all this brings us back to the heat gun – the last instrument on my list of sorrows before the painting begins.  Well, I do actually love this part.  It is time consuming for sure, but isn’t it great to see the different layers of paint melting away before your eyes, revealing near-virginal woodwork?  Revealing traces of old paints, layer upon layer, decade after decade, makes me feel like Indiana Jones.  So you know, before everything got slathered with salmon pink, the woodwork in this room was cream white, yellow, light turquoise, teal, sage green, concrete grey and finally, deep chocolate brown, all brilliantly reflecting the changing fashions of different decades.
For those not too familiar with painting and decorating basics, removing layers of old paint does have benefits beyond getting to admire the tastes of previous decorators and burning various parts of your body while operating a heat gun.  Oil gloss in particular is thick stuff and a century’s worth of it can clog up the profile of your woodwork, making it less refined and less pretty. Tons of the stuff can also prevent doors and windows from opening and closing properly.  Likewise, there is a school of thought that believes in reducing the paint build-up of radiators for more efficient distribution of heat.  You can use a chemical paint stripper just as well, but I don’t want to risk our dog messing around with that stuff… and I love to watch the world burn.
Having gone back to bare wood there’s always the option of not re-painting it, but giving it a light sand and a protective coat of varnish, wax or oil of your liking.  But manage your expectations as not all wood you will uncover will look stunning straight off the bat.  In old as well as modern homes, inferior wood or knotty wood such as pine is often used on baseboards and trims instead of more expensive hard woods.  Most of our timber in this house, with the exception of our stunning oak staircase, is pine from the Montagne Noire.  Some like the look of it, some not and I will just have to take each case as it comes and see what bits might look great au naturel.  Like me, you might find evidence of old repairs and depending on the quality of the wood used, they can be treated to match the original woodwork.
Making everything ready for paint has taken me just about a week with the aid of a wallpaper kettle, electric sander and a heat gun – oh, and James.  His contribution was massive as it would have taken me twice as long to steam those walls on a ladder!  And material wise, I’ve used half a bag of patching plaster, so around a kilo of the stuff, as well as a bit of polyfilla that I found from the back of the cupboard.  The paint colours are picked, bought and ready to go as well as my rollers and a mystery stencil for the floor.
Yes, he is helping…


So, this is where I am at with my mission of eradicating forbidding spare rooms in our house: fingers full of burns, blisters and what have you, but very happy about the progress made.
AND, during my sabbatical in the UK, while I was neglecting this blog, I made chez nous an Instagram account!  Check us out and give me a shout out @cheznous21 – I’d love to hear what you guys think.
Next blog will be all about ‘dat paint, ‘dat paint.. no dribbles.



The Ghost of Christmas Past

 

I’ve been neglecting you haven’t I.  But then again, I have been neglecting my family, my dog and my husband in particular so you’re in no way special position.

What can I say for my defence… it’s the holidays!  You are supposed to spend time together; quietly contemplate the meaning of Christmas and be merry in your togetherness with a glass of mulled wine whilst wearing a stupid post ironic statement jumper.  That sounds just lovely.  It really does.  Just don’t shit a brick when you find yourself swept away by the realities of hosting a Christmas: all that cleaning and cooking.  Keeping in mind that you are a capable adult is not going to help matters at all, not at Christmas, oh no, and especially when there are presents to be unwrapped and candy canes ready to be suckled into sharp shanks. You will pull through it, just like every Christmas before this one, just don’t let the existential dread set in.  Not too closely anyway.

I repeat: DO NOT LET IT SET IN.

We, James, Rusty and I, travelled home for the holidays.  Chez Nous in Mazamet that is.  Where, after a few variably chilly months in the good old West Riding Kindred Spirit, we were greeted by a warm and cosy house thanks to our wonderful friends who looked after her for us.  And boy, I tell you, it was great to be back.  Even the dog went a bit bonkers at first.  A rescue with abandonment issues on top of his abandonment issues, he couldn’t believe we were back at our regular old house and just kept running up and down the corridors and stairs.  I do like living on a boat, honestly, but nothing beats your own bed and a good central heating system.

Sleepy Rusty settling in for his first cruise in a cabin.

Oh, and just to mention, to get to France, we took the ferry as usual, but chose a dog friendly cabin for the first time.  Although he was not over the moon about needing to be muzzled on the short walk to our cabin, Rusty loved it.  He does not mind the car either, but certainly for overnights I’ll be keeping my eyes out for these in the future.  Brittany Ferries even gave us a little doggy-goodie bag with a collapsible wateterbowl, treats, poobags and a rope toy in it.  What’s not to like.

To our mutual surprise, the roof over our kitchen had only leaked a little bit.  Sounds very damning when you say it like that, but the alternative would have been a lot and I was incredibly happy the situation had not gone worse.  Due to dismal weather right before we left for UK in October we did not have an opportunity to set things right beforehand, but that roof was going to get it this time.  James had already purchased some felting so all we needed to do was to wait for the rain to stop to get cracking.

I never put down felt on a roof before, but it turned out to be easy as pie.  Good thing, as we quickly realised the damaged part of roof with an array of ancient terracotta tiles was not going to take the weight of a grown man and pretty much all of the grunt fell on my shoulders. The damaged area was roughly five meters times two meters in size and from start to finish it took me five to six hours to remove and relay the existing old tiles plus a few spanking new replacements.  Laying down the felt once the tiles were removed was not too bad, but clearing the thick layer of rubble that used to sit under the terracotta turned out to be a real time killer.  If we didn’t know this part of roof is to be ripped out, raised and replaced in a few years time, I would have replaced all of the woodwork as well, but in these circumstances that would have been a bit wasteful.  So, I merely replaced a few completely rotted planks and blocked a hole or two before covering it all with felt and tiles.

Out of sight, out of mind, they say.

And rock me sideways, there have been no leaks since and the only damaged party turned out to be James’ ego after he was told off for running errands and letting his wife work like a man.  There will be no photos of this expedition as I did not want my dad ever to come across pictorial evidence of me dangling on roof without safety gear. *

*Please for the love of God – always were the appropriate safety gear.  Do not do as I do, do as I say. 

But what I did manage to photograph was some pretty charming 1920’s wallpaper I uncovered while stripping the walls of our lounge.  I had seen little slivers of it before, but the steamer allowed me to uncover parts previously hidden by 1940’s, 70’s and 00’s wallpaper, revealing for the first time the complete pattern of this floral art nouveau gem.  The results of the strip, if you will, will be revealed later.  Not for any other reason that I forgot to snap a few photos.  Dang, there creeps the existential dread again..

DO NOT LET IT SET IN!

Decorating what is basically a building site for the holidays could be challenging.  We got a lovely little tree, (still in its pot and currently in our garden waiting for next Christmas) that immediately made everything look festive and James drove me to the mountains to nick few bits of evergreen to dump on the mantelpieces.  And it looked great, even if I say so myself.  We even got ourselves a little piece of mistletoe from the Mazamet market.  I put fairylights on everything and let me tell you, you could make Draculas grave look cosy with that stuff.

Perhaps it is because we are both blind to it already, James and I don’t mind the cracked plaster nor the half stripped wallpaper anymore.  It is our home regardless.  Even if our budget for this renovation was bottomless, I think we would still prefer to take things easy, live in our house and make the decisions regarding future finished and layout when it feels right rather than as soon as possible.  It would be so easy to fall into the same trap with the previous owners of our house and try to keep the ageing building liveable by cheap cosmetic fixes like wallpapering on top of damp or covering up tiles in vinyl rather than taking care of them.

We have been privileged to call the N°21 our home for over a year now and it’s been tough at times.  The little time we had to spend in Mazamet during the holidays wasn’t nearly enough and every bit of me just wants to go back home.  To my own bed, my central heating and my bath.  Yet I recognise time spent away is temporary and necessary, for me and James to be together a bit more, but also to raise enough capital to afford the next face of our renovation – and that will be something to look forward to.

Stay tuned and remember, DO NOT LET THE EXISTENTIAL DREAD SET IN.

DON’T LET IT SET IN.

My other house is a boat…

 

There comes a point in every marriage where your husband walks up to you and asks how would you feel about living on a narrowboat my little sausage.

Oh, they generally don’t, you say?  Must just me and my James then. 

Here we are regardless, on a boat!  Being either naïve, stupid or both, I said yes in a heartbeat.  The winter months in Mazamet are incredibly calm; when it gets cold and grey, everythingslows down.  In fact, the colder it gets, more sluggish it is, up to a point where even the never-tiring labour of atoms comes to a halt and everything we love and cherish will cease to exist.  Wait– I might have accidentally described you the absolute freezing point, but I hope you catch my drift.  Winter is not the best season by the Montagne Noire.  So, to cut a long story short, as James works in the UK anyway, I thought I might as well join him on the Kindred Spirit with our little pupper Rusty.
 
 
The house will wait patiently for our return in the spring. 

As narrowboats come, The West Riding Kindred Spirit is a pretty typical one; basically, a floating one-bedroom apartment clad in wood – with a kick-ass log burner.  Once you get used to the narrowness of it, the boat is more comfortable than many flats I have lived in; it is bigger than my first apartment and far more comfortable.  Our unusual accommodation does not feel like a compromise either.  The lounge is nice and cosy, and so is the snuck bedroom with a double bed and a wardrobe.  Our galley is roughly the same size as our kitchen chez nous, but with the added convenience of fitted cabinetry, a gas hob and an oven.  The bathroom too boasts all the modern conveniences including a generously sized shower and a fixed cassette toilet.  We a reliant on our mooring for electricity as well as water, but when chucking down the canal system, a handy set of leisure batteries keep us powered up.  The regular maintenance includes emptying the toilet around once a week, keeping us stocked in gas, wood and coal and filling up the boats water tank when needed. 

Kindred Spirit, currently leased to us, was built by its current owner, an electrical engineer with his dad who’s a carpenter – and the expertise shows.  Every nook and cranny of the boat has been beautifully crafted and finished with real wood.  Storage has been well thought out too, and there’s enough of it.  Only thing I am missing at all is a fixed dining area, but a foldable table is not bad either.  The layout of the boat is pretty straight forward: first up there is the lounge and the kitchen, followed by the bathroom, our bedroom and finally some storage space in the engine room at the back of the boat.  I personally like how they have divided the public living space from your private bedroom- and storage space by placing the loo between the two.  So far, we have had one quest staying with us, on our handy sofa bed in the lounge, and the separation of space worked really well for us and the dog.  
 

 

And speaking of dogs – Rusty the dog, who has his bed set up right by the fire, has settled in well, although there has been one of two Houdini-acts performed while I was out on errands.  It is tricky to say whether he dislikes staying on the boat on his own, or if he would great-escape his way out from our usual residence as well if the door wasn’t so secure.  Once on board with us, though, he is as relaxed as ever.  Equally importantly, we have settled in well, too.  Neither James or I have never lived on a boat before and leasing Kindred Spirit has felt right from the start.  We both love the wood burner most; fiddling with the fire is incredibly relaxing.


Altogether, this feels like a great alternative to renting a flat, especially considering the price of renting in England.  The biggest bonus is of course that unlike an apartment, it is not tied to a specific location.  Let’s say James’ work moves to London next month – we can move the boat with it.  It has always been a big stressor for the self-employed folks like him and I, the need to relocate ourselves where ever the work may be at a moments notice, when the standard rental period is 9 months.  The UK’s extensive canal network and the ability to chug our home anywhere on it is a huge benefit. 

Other important aspects of the boat life I have embraced so far, and I am trying really hard not to get too preachy here, are not just economical but ecological.  Needing to be aware of our usage of energy from seeing we have enough gas or logs and making sure the electricity meter is topped up, makes me almost instinctively scaling down our consumption.  Also, as the space, storage space in particular is at a premium, you think twice about bringing in more stuff – often realising you can happily do without certain objects and things altogether.  The times I do use up a lot of energy around the house, when cooking for instance, I actively try to go with as little gas as possible.  In practise this means keeping the kettle on the log-burner rather than firing up the gas every time I want a cuppa or slow cooking stew on it rather than roasting the meat in the oven.  Having our food cooking on the residual heat of the wood stove is incredibly satisfying.  And did I mention, you can toast crumpets on it too! 
 
 
Don’t get me wrong, I will stay a material girl ‘till the day I die, but who really needs to acquire every new book/film/gismo that is available to buy?  No doubt this newly found self-awareness of my habits as a consumer will extend to my life in France and have an impact on the things I purchase rather than borrow, store rather than sling.  It is easy to advocate a life without luxuries when you have a nice house full of nice stuff waiting for you in France, but there we go.  As the alternative would have been renting another house or a flat, I think we have done pretty well.