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

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

diy moroccan tiles

DIY Moroccan Tiles

Here’s the dilemma: a perfectly solid yet ugly floor that needs a makeover, but all my sweet cash is being spent on avocado toast and Netflix.  Well, actually, I spend most of it on the dog, audiobooks and the upkeep of this wreck of a house, but I am sure you can relate.  The look I desired, those intricate encaustic cement tiles with bold Moroccan inspired patterns, was simply out of my budget, but what I could afford was a tin of paint and a stencil.  Add a little elbow grease and voilà – a wee while later, I am in love with my new floor and ready to spill the beans on how it all went down…

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.

BLUSH – a two tone paint job


When the nights are drawing in and the trees turn golden, so does the painting season come to a halt.  In this damp old house anyway.  But before I got to pack up those rollers for the winter and curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a cup of earl grey, from where I greet you, Dear Reader, there was one goliath job to finish: sorting out the walls of my artist studio. 

To be brutally honest, my atelier, the old crèmerieon our ground floor, has been giving me grief ever since we moved in; from the grimy cement tiles neglected to the brink of disrepair to the brittle plasterwork covered in chipped gloss and a layer of mouldy wallpaper in the most depressing shade of sunshine yellow, the space was an all-round disgrace.  The wall-tiles that used to frame the space were long gone, but the original double doors and two of the cupboards remained.  A third cabinet used to stand by the wall.  It was put together in the early noughties by the previous owner to secure the electricity- and gas-meters, but needed to be taken down to make way for a modern fuse board.  All and all, the atelier needed sorting out:  After half-arsed wallpaper removal and dismantling and rebuilding the old locking mechanism that kept the double doors permanently shut, cleaning and restoring the floor was the first big issue we tackled.  That turned out to be, frankly, utter hell, but throughout the course of the spring I muddled through.  The cement tiles still show the wear and tear of a century, but that is why I love them so.  Having been cleaned and resealed, they should be good for another hundred years or so.
 
Just a few snaps of how the atelier looked like when we first moved in:  The walls were covered tip to toe in mouldy yellow wallpaper and what was underneath turned out to be even worse…

With the tiles looking fab and out of mind, I was finally able to set up a working space for myself.  A tobacco-coloured ceiling got painted somewhere between the watercolours and I started scraping paint from the doors.  …And just like that, it was summer.


And what a summer it was!

As the mercury climbed from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties the newly exposed plaster started to dry.  It dried slowly at first, feeling cool and damp to the touch – a strange contrast really when the weather was as scalding as it was.  Then, as if overnight, it was completely dry… and flaky.  Small cracks appeared next to the old ones, the old ones growing into canyons, sending little feathers of paint and whole chunks of plaster freefalling onto my freshly painted canvases.  Not cool, I thought.  Upon closer examination of my walls, it became evident that some clever dicky had done a bit of patching up, using straight up lime plaster, rather poorly and straight on top of existing gloss paint.  No wonder nothing was sticking up where it was supposed to! 

At this point I had two options – to find a way to make these walls stay at least roughly wall-shaped or completely re-surface them from scratch.  I like to do things properly or not at all, but hey-ho, there’s a first time for everything.  I made an exception.  James and I had just agreed to spend some time away from Mazamet in the winter and starting the plasterworks during the summer at hand was looking unlikely.  I feared that if left untouched the plaster would go from bad to worse during the long damp winter and so a decision was made to bind them up with the toughest primer one could cook up, followed by a lick of paint and return to the problem in a few years’ time.
It may have not been a tremendous plan, but any plan is better than no plan…

…right?!
 
From a cracked up mess to… Barbie Dream House!
From the beginning I wanted to go for a two tone look as a nudge towards the rooms half-tiled past and the colours I chose were a subtle blush pink with plain old brilliant white.  Not exactly an epitome of timelessness, sure, but knowing this was to be a temporary fix I wanted to play around a bit.  I am not the first or the last to jump on the hipster pink-bandwagon, and that is fine by me.  Perhaps subconsciously all millennials such as myself are wishing to recreate the Barbie Dream House our Gen-X parents refused to buy us?  Perhaps it is because the Barbie Dream House is all most of us can afford?  For all I know, this house has gone through so many colour palettes and so many tastes – what’s one more in the grand scheme of things?  Besides, I thought it would look achingly cool.  Isn’t that all that matters? 

Now, boys and girls, try this out at your own risk – if you are not sure what products to use on plastered or any walls, drop by at your local paint dealership and ask around, there are qualified people being paid to help you not to cock things up!  I know a bit about paints and was willing to take a few risks with this primer job because the walls were already awful beyond the point of return.  After all, you can’t ruin something that’s already ruined.  This is not painting and decorating as I know it, it is damage management.  Now, with these words of caution, the primer I mixed was a combination of standard stain blocker, white emulsion paint (mr. Brico value range) and standard PVA glue.  Oversimplifying a little, most primers have adhesive qualities to allow them to stick firmly to the surface being painted and to offer a support for a top coat.  A good one has plenty of pigment for a complete coverage as you would want a neutral base (most commonly white) for the top colour of your choice.  I was willing to compromise on coverage in favour of ultra-stickiness to stop the surface of my poor walls from crumbling any further.  Adding PVA to the mix would also allow me to use a non-oil based solution to cover up the existing blue gloss paint.
 
 
Here you can see the various stages of priming and painting.  Last set of three images is illustrating the whole process from the beginning:  First picture is taken right after the wallpaper was removed and the walls were cleaned with sugar soap.  The ceiling has already been painted.  Second image is showing the same wall with just a primer and the last one features the complete paint job with the white top coat and Rusty the Good Boy lounging by the door.
Completely clogging up a wall with PVA is not exactly kosher: usually you would like your plaster walls to breathe a little.  Stopping a wall from breathing can eventually lead to moisture problems when condensation gets trapped under a layer of unsuitable paint and that, as you must know by now Dear Reader, is like pissing in your own cereals, i.e. not recommended.  In my case, however, sealing the plaster in a thick layer of unyielding primer was a necessary evil as I could not have these walls deteriorating much further.  Once the plaster is re-done – and when I say re-done I mean completely removing the old and re-plastering from scratch, I will be choosing my products with more care.  To mention a few UK based manufacturers, Farrow and Ball, Fired Earth, even the trusted old Dulux all have products suitable for priming, sealing and painting various types of plaster surfaces. 
But to continue on this priming journey – I chose to make my rather thinly pigmented primer bubble gum pink by adding a few droplets of fuchsia and ochre pigments and mixing thoroughly.  As a visual artist I got this stuff lying around, but if you wish to create your own custom tint, I warmly recommend hoarding paint samples and mixing them as needed.  By tinting my primer to the desired shade of blush I would need to use “real” paint only on the would-be-white top halves of the walls.  To completely cover up every last speck of that blue gloss paint, I chose to use a highly pigmented matte white emulsion.  The would-be-blush bottom halves did not have an existing coat of paint as they used to be tiled and thus required only a few layers of primer/sealant to achieve an even coverage. 
 
 
Before starting the long process of priming and painting I tore off what was left of the old rotten baseboards as well as the supports for the obsolete electricity cabinet, washed the walls with diluted sugar soap and covered my precious tiles with sheets of old wallpaper.  Remember boys and girls – reuse and recycle!  As one would expect, a lot of the loose lime plaster trickled off with a mere stroke, and plenty more came down when I was washing the walls.  In one or two places I deliberately chipped off some half-arsed repairs that were never properly bonded to the surface below.  If plaster has nothing to bond with, let’s say, when applied on top of smooth and unyielding gloss paint, nothing will keep it in place, not even a turbo-charged primer.  In these circumstances I would rather have lumpy walls with a few visual cracks than whole chunks of bad plaster falling down with the slightest touch.  

Crude, I know, but I am happy to say my butchery worked.  After a couple of coats of my special primer-brew the walls were set and crumbled no more. 
 
Working out the divide between blush and white areas was easy as the line between the old tiling and blue paint was still mostly visible despite of the odd splodge of lime here and there.  Painting a neat line between two different shades of paint isn’t always easy, but where I was able to follow the old tile-divide the job was done freehand with an angle brush.  Where I needed to work out a line, a used a roller and some of masking tape.  After the first layer of white paint had dried, I used the same soft brush to loosely go over the bottom line all around the room.  Some like their divides extra sharp, but I preferred a more organic look.  On balance, a bullet straight line in the middle of a lumpy wall would look a bit silly, don’t you think?
 
 

 

 

 

 
As far as I can trace it, the blue gloss that was covered up with that ghastly deep yellow wallpaper sometime in the late 90’s to early 00’, was only the latest of many coats of paint in that room:  Before the baby blue, the room had a tint very similar to Pantone’s colour of the year Greenery and before that, perhaps in the days of the crèmerie, it was clad in sophisticated warm grey.  It took me three coats of primer and tree coats of matte white to cover up these secrets, at least for a few more years.  More slivers of history can be read from the woodwork that remains to be restored.  Surprisingly it seems, the wood has always been painted – first in the same shade of grey as the walls of the crèmerie, then treated with a woodgrain effect (lovely reminder how commissioning a professional to create a look like that by hand used to be cheaper than just simply using actual wood), and finally painted white, rather poorly may I add, at the time the room was wallpapered.  It will remain to be seen how I will restore these details, but for the time being I am most intrigued by attempting to recreate the wood grain affect.

Artist studios have always been painted in light colours to reflect the maximum amount of natural light. I have visited only a few that would be anything but dominantly white or a specific shade of light grey.  The Art School Grey, as this colour is sometimes called, did cross my mind, but I wanted something more playful to adorn the walls of my atelier.  In the end, my own artworks have a certain frivolous aesthetic to them, something I actively try to explore though my usage of colour.  Perhaps, I also wanted to make a clear distinction this space is mine alone.  Not James, nor anyone else’s.  When it comes to the rest of the home we try to combine our tastes as well as possible, sure, but why risk a compromise of aesthetic in a space as important as my workspace?*  When the time comes to re-plaster and re-tile it all, I need to be more careful about my choices as they will be more permanent, but until then, I can afford to mock around a little bit.  Perhaps I will try out a new colour or a new material.  A cork pin board would be an interesting way to organise my notes, or I could give chalkboard paint a go.  Only the price of paint is the limit!
 
*Obviously, at a time when James wants to decorate his study he may choose the H-Block Beige for all I care.
 

 

From this angle, owning a house is great.  If a detail keeps bothering you – go and change it.  No storage – no problem, built some!  Change the lights or buy a new showerhead and go nuts.  The list of relatively inexpensive improvements is endless when there is no landlord to breath down your neck.  You can make a space your own with a pot of paint and a bit of elbow grease in a matter of days.  It is truly amazing.  Yet on the flip side, when the roof leaks or the boiler decides to go out of commission, you are at the mercy of your home insurance provider.  Succeeding to sculpt out a functional and beautiful atelier for myself is just one of those little things that I need to keep in mind when something unexpected happens or I get cold feet.   How boring would life be if everything was predetermined!  James and I are pretty level headed when it comes to taking on a project like this; doing the place up in small chunks, one day at a time, trusting our abilities and most importantly, knowing when to wheel in the cavalry of professionals.  

Speaking of, if somebody wants to come and help this strong and independent renovator get a few sacs of plaster dust and heaps of rotted baseboards to the déchèterie, I’ll buy you a beer.

Anyone?


Wunderkammer – DIY Restoration for a Vintage Map Cabinet

 
 
Don’t you just love summer; sizzling in the sun, all the BBQ’s, hay fever, swimming, sitting out sipping adult themed drinks and complaining about the mozzies… the works?  It truly surprises me anything gets done during the summer months when the sun is shining and the beach is burning!  However, in chez nous, it’s business as usual and I have been continuing to get my atelier organised.

One of the big perks of my studio space, the old crèmerie on the grown floor,is a large built in cupboard where I keep my art materials.  In the absence of any other storage however, I have been forced to keep my stock, i.e. all of my finished paintings, drawings and prints, either propped up against the walls or in boxes and plastic bags which is obviously not ideal.  Wanting to get something more permanent sorted out for these fragile things cluttering up my workspace, I took on the long overdue restoration of a piece of furniture I and James bought nearly a year ago – an old map cabinet big enough to house my paintings and protect them from the hustle and bustle of the atelier.
 
 
Actually, these draws of mine are not map draws at all; the owner of the local Depot Vente who sold us the parts, said they used to house the robes of members of clergy working in a nearby church.  He in turn found the pieces in a skip as the chapel was being refurbished. 
And yes, the piece was in bits when we got it; two of the draws had lost their supports completely, the top was broken in three and the right side panel had been taken out and replaced with a piece of plywood.  Having studied the woodwork and the metal pulls, looks like it was custom made for this church in or around 1960’s and kept well for most of its life.  Seems like a great waste to through something as stunning in the bin, but their loss, my gain, I suppose.  Even in the condition it was in, the cabinet had so much potential it ended up in my studio where is stood patiently, waiting to be restored back to its former glory… until now of course.
The very first step in the restoration process was to replace the supports for two of the bottom draws which turned out to be easy as pie.  Using an existing piece as a template James cut two new runners out of new pine, dry fitted them in place to make sure they were the right size before attaching a strip of recycled wood on top of each to stop the draws sliding out of place.  Next up, I would attach the new runners permanently in situ with the help of a mallet and some wood glue. 
 
 
Our dog Rusty helped a lot too, mostly by wagging his tail and being in the way adorably. 
To complete the framework, I re-attached the top of the cabinet by using old nails still attached to the panels and glued in a few strips of wood that stuck out where the top-pieces had been torn apart in the past. The draws, although dirty, were in pretty good shape and only needed to be waxed to help them slide in and out with ease.  
 
 
After the structure was secured I begun the cosmetic side of the restoration.  To even out the tone of the piece and mask out a few old scratches and wood-worm marks, I stained the whole chest, including the new plywood side and the draws, by using a strong solution of Yorkshire tea.  A bit un-orthodox, I know, but I only wanted a thin coat of stain that would cover up some of the imperfections and damages without compromising the woods lovely patina.  I applied it with a microfiber cloth, in three coats, letting the wood dry thoroughly between each layer and sealed it with two coats of a furniture wax that gave the piece a lovely sheen.  The product I used contained 8% beeswax, giving it a slight orange tint.  It took an hour to be dry enough to touch (or re-apply) and around 12 hours to dry out completely.  
 
 
Beyond cleaning and polishing, I did nothing with the pulls and so they will remain brown for now.  As it stands I have not decided on whether I ought to get new ones, perhaps in brass or aged copper, or strip and restore the old steel ones.  The brown paint, which is a bit chipped around the edges, I believe, is original to the pulls.  The chest being a vintage piece rather than an antique one, I am not too bothered by changing the minor detailing like the pulls as long as the woodwork won’t be damaged in the process.  Not that I am fundamentally against painting woodwork anyhow, I’ve done it before, but here it is just too lovely to be covered up.  

For something that was ready for the skip, or actually already in a skip, this magnificent chest of draws is now perfectly rehabilitated and ready to serve in my atelier, with or without the retro-brown.  My precious artworks couldn’t be better protected in these priestly draws and I have one less project to worry about.  (Insert a sigh of relief!)  James is happy, the dog is happy and I am happy.  Having finished it all, I actually feel like I deserve the cheeky swim and an ice cold beer…

Meet you at the Lac de Montagnes… anybody up for that?