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

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

faux wallpaper tutorial

Faux Wallpaper

Salut, ça va ? 

The arrival of Yule is imminent and the same is true for family that will spend it with us by the Montagne Noire.  This means a lot of interrupted projects and very little blogging, but I did manage to finish one thing: a faux wallpaper wall to cover up a discoloured corner in our new spare room.

We finished painting up that room in the summer, but even my strongest stain blocker could not stop one smear from reappearing coat after coat.  Instead of lining and painting this pesky section again, I thought I might as well experiment with a bit of pattern and wallpaper it instead.  Here’s the deal though; wallpaper, especially if you got an expensive taste like I do, is really bloody expensive!  To get the look for less, I hatched a cunning DIY plan and voilà – a trip to my local papeterie and less than two euros later, my cover up is looking fantastic.

My secret?  You must have figured it out by now that it was certainly not wallpaper, but humble wrapping paper that did the trick.

faux wallpaper diy

Never would I attempt to cover up a whole wall with it, let us be clear on that, but for a small area this technique worked wonders.  You simply cut your paper to size and attach it with wallpaper paste or (like me) PVA glue cut with a bit of water.  When choosing a paper to suit your DIY venture, remember not all wrappers are created equal.  In my experience, thicker the better.  A hefty recycled type such as craft paper, printed or not, is one of the easiest to use.  Thinner and finer stuff such as any bleached, glossy or foiled paper will tear easier but can be used with patience.  My chosen wrapper fell in the latter category, but I simply could not resist the pattern.

faux wallpaper diy

The scalloped motif I ended up choosing came from Action, a discounter store with Dutch origins.  A roll of five metres cost me 1.49 euros in total and I figured for that kind of money I can afford to cock this up a few times before blowing my budget.  Luckily though, I did not need to.  Having measured and cut my pieces, I applied glue straight onto the wall and pressed the paper on top, smoothing it gently by hand.  This was my whole process in its entirety and took me just about half and hour.  It is dead simple, but you do need to pay attention on the pattern alignment, just like when wallpapering.

This is basically découpage, just on a larger scale.  

Minus a wrinkle or two, you can’t tell a difference between my faux wallpaper and the real deal.  The size is naturally of the essence, as is the surface you wish to cover, but I could see this working brilliantly in other small nooks, insides of cupboards and on furniture.  The best part is, for me anyway, that if you get bored with a pattern it is dirt cheap to replace it with a new one, semi sustainably.

So in conclusion, before you can afford your favourite wallpapers (William Morris & Co, I am looking at you) FAKE IT ‘TILL YOU MAKE IT.

Happy Christmas y’all.

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…

Le Grand Balcon vol II

Bonjour mes amies!

We have really had it made this summer; the weather is amazing and there seems to be an event or a fête on every weekend around the Montagne Noire…  In short – la vie est belle!

Dry, warm conditions make the best renovating weather, if you are not too concerned about sweating like a sinner in church of course, and I have been trying to make the most of it all by painting random bits around the house, such as our back door.  This house sure has plenty of things that need doing up and ought to have a higher priority on my list of projects, but I have a habit of preferring to make small adjustments to the spaces we use the most instead of rushing face first into something big and scary like building a spanking new kitchen or plastering a few ceilings.  That way, I think, it all stays somewhat manageable and we do not lose faith half way through the renovations.

our balcony before

James was home for five-odd days and we had a smashing time watching the Tour de France, seeing friends and sipping copious quantities of rosè; generally talking bollocks and contemplating where to crack on next in this old house.  We have grand plans for our balcony and while the planning goes on, I have avoided doing too much painting or decorating on it in fear of wasting money and time, as practically every surface will be demolished when we start installing new windows, floor tiles and ceiling panels.  Among the many unsightly features of our terrace, a cinder block and concrete wall covering the whole left hand side will be taken down also, to expose the old granite topped half wall still situated behind the cinder block one.  I have personally waited to wish au revoir to this brutalist masterpiece since moving in: the uninspiring colour of its concrete render makes our otherwise lovely outdoor hangout feel a bit like a murky garage.  However, as we are waiting the window folk and a mason to come back with their quotes, it is looking like the works might not commence before next summer.

That would mean almost another year looking at that hideous wall.

And I did say we have had the perfect painting weather…

This little project falls bang in the middle of the small upgrades and little tweaks category – nothing life changing, nor really even permanent, but makes such a difference on how our balcony looks and feels.  I have so many tins of scrap-paint sitting around the house so the cost of this wee improvement was not going to be an issue either.  As we do spend most of our time sitting outside (not always with a glass of rosè though, sometimes we drink gin!) it felt appropriate to splurge a bit of paint on this particular detail that has been bothering me.

Consequently, having found the time from our busy social calendar (LOL, as if), I crabbed my rollers and got to work…

edf

After a coat of white primer, it was time to add colour!  I decided to mix up a light blue-y grey by using some white paint and leftover arty pigments.  This makeshift shade appeared almost as a bright tiffany blue at first but dried significantly lighter and murkier, just as I hoped it would, as in this context even a pastel blue would have been a bit too dazzling for me.  The grey with a speck of blue we ended up with is just perfect, making the space appear fresh and airy.  I was afraid it could all look a bit too “new” compared to the other well-weathered elements of the terrace, but fortunately the concrete render of the wall was so incredibly rough I had hard time getting most of it covered in paint, resulting in an impromptu distressed look.

Lucky me.

I will not be getting back the hour and a half I spend painting this due-to-be-demolished wall, but I see it as a worthy sacrifice.  The balcony looks hell nice and I can go back to enjoying my wine without any intruding thoughts of concrete clad multi-storey car parks.  Win-win altogether, or what do you think?

If you drop in, I will be on our terrace, writing my next blog about painting a tiled floor and raising a glass to all summer projects… Sante!

One door closes…

Salut! Ca va?

Greetings from the stormy Montagne Noire.  So far we have had a thunderstorm every night for almost a week now and frankly I am loving it.  Rusty the dog is not the biggest fan of thunder and lightning because it is very, very frightening, but my strawberries are sure loving life for the minute.  Hot days and rainy nights – that’s not half bad, really.  James has been away in the UK so I have had plenty of time to piss around in this great old house of ours and finish up a few bits and bops that have needed doing, such as treating every inch of wood with wood worm killer, waxing the parquet and painting random surfaces around the house, such as our back door.

 

Now you might think it doesn’t really matter what a back door looks like, but ours has been giving me some grief since we moved in.  First of all, it is pretty damn unattractive and second, it soaks up water, especially during our wet winters, swelling up and becoming increasingly difficult to open.  If the good old seventies shed-look wasn’t bad enough, there are random pins and nails sticking out of it, horrible scratch marks on both sides evidencing bad dog ownership by the past inhabitants, and to top it all off – most of the exterior side was covered in a sheet of fibreglass.

 

Yeah.  Fiberglass.

Tell me if I am wrong, but nothing quite screams derelict meth lab like a door boarded up with fibre glass.  Like a great big neon sign to the thieves and charlatans, it just screams THIS HOUSE IS EMPTY, THIS HOUSE IS ABANDONED.

Abandoned by good taste, anyway.

OK, overreactions aside, I was tired of looking at this ugly door, so went and took it off its hinges one afternoon, removed all the pins, straggly bits of insulation tape, as well as THE F*CKING FIBREGLASS and started prepping it up for a fresh coat of paint.  The door in question is heavily lacquered pine, which needed a thorough sanding to insure the best possible bond between the paint-to-be and the wood.  As the weather was superb, I was able to use my orbital sander in the garden, starting with a rough 80 grit sandpaper to get rid of as many dog scratches and bumps as possible, followed by a twirl with fine 120 grit to smoothen things out.  The old hardware was easily removed before sanding, but having rusted quite a bit, I gave both pieces a good wire brushing and a new lick of black paint.  Once I moved the door indoors, just as the first raindrops were starting to fall, I proceeded to tape out the little windows and priming both sides twice with scraps of white Dulux Bathroom Plus.

 

For once, choosing the colours was easy – we are bang on in the middle of Mazamets protected historic quartier that expands around 500 metres around the protestant temple in Rue Saint Jacques and were obligated to abide with the existing colours scheme for the exterior of the house.  Our front door and shutters used to be painted deep indigo blue, now faded to buggery, and it was my pleasure to start riving the exterior woodwork.  I am aware some owners of old and historic houses get all hot and bothered about needing to obey protection orders and regulations around listed houses, but this is what we bought into!  I love the historic charm of chez nous and I see protecting the original character of it as my duty.  To summarise, if you do not wish to adhere to regulation regarding a historic building, do not get involved with one.  As simple as.

 

Also – ignoring the fact how anything would have been an improvement to the old grandpa-shed-chic, I simply love a bit of indigo.

The interior side on the other hand called for something a bit more neutral as the corridor the door is located in can look incredibly dark.  I did not see a reason to cycle into the hardware store in the blazing sun just to paint one tiddly door, ooooh no way Josephine, so I looked through the tins of paint I had left over from previous projects and from that ever growing collection I picked up a can of Nuance multi support in light grey.  This one is a nifty little product and even if I would not run swapping all my usual oil based paints for water based multi support emulsions like this one, I have always found it silly easy to use, economic and durable.  This little tin of mere 500ml has got me through several other projects before, including re-painting a dining room table, several door frames and baseboards as well as waterproofing the inside rim of a rusty enamel bucket for the garden – so little of it does go a long way.  Almost worth getting off my backside to buy some more, but naaah.

1960's orange motobecane retro bisycle

Where it was too hot to cycle before, today the skies are weeping and the roads would be much too slippery for me on my beloved Motobecane… or so I tell myself while making another cup of tea to go with blogging.

All and all, it took two coats of each paint, Nuance grey and Dulux indigo, for an even coverage.  I was working with scraps, but roughly calculating how much paint I used, the overall cost of this project would have stayed well under 20 euros – which is not bad at all when compared to buying another door.  Painting one does not take too long at all, but waiting for the paint to dry… that’s a different story.  The hot, humid weather did not grant me any favours in that regard either, so I waited a minimum of 12 hours between each coat of oil based indigo and up to 2 hours between coats of emulsion.  Painting a door is still an easy little DIY project, even for an absolute beginner.  Ordinarily, being an experienced painter, the most difficult part for me is taking the thing like that off its hinges and fastening it all back up again.  This time, however, I was very fortunate, because the door would sit so close to the ground I could literally just prop it up against the wall and attached the hinges back on without needing to hold the heavy bugger up in the air.  In theory you can just as well paint a door in situ, but I think you get better results when laying an object like that on its back.

 

On the flip side, my first attempt in re-attaching the handles went tits up real fast as I did them the wrong way round preventing the door from closing.  In the rain.  But that little hick up was easily corrected and nothing was spoilt – except perhaps my image as a DIY goddess.

I am sure you, dear reader, won’t tell a soul.

In hindsight… and there seems to be a hindsight to each and every project I start, I should have perhaps thought about how to cover our garden entrance before taking this door of its hinges.  Well – c’es la vie!  Nothing spoilt.  Our garden is fenced and backing only into other peoples secure gardens so I felt comfortable just propping up another loose door (because who does not have a few pissing around in the house at any given time!?) and calling it a day.  Looks to me it did the trick, steering of rain, stray cats and flying ants for the few nights the real back door was drying in my atelier.

 

So what do you think?  Yay or Nay for this little painting project?

It feels a bit funny to be painting something having just spent literally weeks stripping paint from woodwork and restoring it to its original glory, but this is how the cooking crumbles chez moi.  There are some wood purists around and I could see how some of you out there would prefer the knotty pine look over smooth, painted one, but not all woodwork is created equal in my view; painting over a century old door with lovely patina and stunning wood grain feels somewhat worse of an idea than blending in a relatively contemporary addition.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that I love the new look.  Sans fibreglass, the house is looking immediately more up together from the back than it did before and the grey really lightens up our dark corridor.  Job well jobbed it is then – I would even pat myself in the back if I was not sitting down so comfortably.

Rainy day in Mazamet, Montagne Noire

I am off to explore the rain with my little lad, until next time – au revoir!  xxx

Adding Colour

Ça va?

Life is looking rather good here by the Montagne Noire, especially as I just managed to complete painting the walls of our project room here in Chez Nous.  It has taken me (and James) nearly three times as long as initially planned, but behold – we have colour!  Rehabilitating that orange panelling sure wasn’t fun and do not even get me started on the ceiling… or paint removal for that matter, yet somehow here we are: nearly finished decorating the first full room in this old house.

Cannot lie, saying that does feel pretty good.

I suppose this is also the time to reveal the colour palette we chose: two shades of light sage green paired with crisp white and charcoal grey combined with terracotta and dark chestnut woodwork.  I was aiming for more of a Wes Anderson kind of vibe rather than 90’s country, but we’ll see.

sage green, white, terracotta, dark wood and charcoal colour palette

May the Pinterest be my judge, etcetera.

Good preparation and priming is obviously a key to a perfect paint job, but how do you go on choosing the right paint for a project?  Naturally it all starts from what you want to paint.  Yeah, I know multisupport emulsions are getting better each round we scoot around the sun, but I like things old school – oil paint for wood, trims, metal and anything previously coated with an oil based product (this includes furniture in my book unless a specific finish is required) and water based breathable paints for plaster (i.e. walls & ceilings) or plasterboard.

Oil can go on top of emulsion, emulsion cannot go on top of oil.

As long as you keep this simple rule in mind you are good to go.  Some people would disagree with me as going over an older, fully dried oil-painted surface or a heavily varnished piece of wood is indeed possible, but keep in mind the end results are not as hard wearing as they should be.  As emulsion does not really bond with an old oil based product, it can easily chip off, crackle or flake with time.  For these reasons I chose to use a mix of mediums in this spare room project of ours.

cofcofedfcof

James and I both wanted to use sage green from the get-go, but had a little trouble selecting the exact shade.  Like a true husband and wife, we ended up going with what I wanted – two dusty shades of light sage with the promise that I will make it look good or else.  Both were from our local Brico’s mix in store range, Dulux Valenite Laque in satin finish for the wood panelling and Nuance matt emulsion for the plaster.  The respected shades were chosen from the lighter end of the sage greens available, around the Sage 6 mark, and we bought two and a half litres of each.  This was to be just about enough to coat the panelling twice and more than enough for the plaster as we chose to add generous 5 litres of Dulux matt white to the Nuance before I was happy with the contrast of the two colours.  We could have just got the right shade mixed up in store, of course, but could not quite find one light enough without going too yellow for my liking.  And besides, by adding cheaper white paint to the liberally priced Nuance emulsion, we got over twice the paint without the hefty price tag.

paint swatches on the wall

paint swatches on the wall

Combining scraps of paints or different brands in order to create custom shades is no fuss at all as long as you remember to keep your oils separate from your emulsions and always test your shade beforehand as it can dry surprisingly darker or lighter once applied – unless you like happy little accidents that is.  I myself like to be the only accident in this old house, so I patch tested our custom emulsion straight on the wall as I was gradually pouring in the white until I was happy with the mix.

The panelling and ceiling (oil based paints) had two coats each before I moved on to the plaster (emulsion) that required three coats to look even.  As there was so much tongue and groove panelling involved, I found it easiest to use an angled brush to get paint into each and every groove and cranny before applying the last coat with a smooth foam roller.  Having primed the ceiling few weeks before, I was over the moon to have James bearing the grunt regarding the top coats.  He’s tall and doesn’t need a ladder.  Some might call it natural selection!  This meant I was able to crack on with the easy jobs… ahem, I mean the important jobs such as masking taping and going over the corners and such with the cute little roller thingy.

the walls and tongue and groove panelling were painted in two different shades of light dusty sage

It was a bit of pain navigating our respected rollers around each other as well as everything that was not to receive a coat of paint, such as the shelving, doorframes, the dog… but we did well.  My mum who has now arrived on the building site was generously taking care of the refreshments and the running commentary of our labour.  Most of it approving, may I add.

sage green walls and panelling

Seeing this project getting closer to finish has been a real motivation booster for us all; we both, James and I, love the colours we chose. (Instant wifey points!)  They go well together and suit the existing elements of the space such as the fireplace and the plentiful dark wood.  By going lighter we made this dark and unwelcoming space feel much more open and airy with very un-invasive changes.  The dusty sage has a lovely vintage feel to it and looks right at home in a house of over hundred years of age – although, as sage was one of the colours the trims and the doors of this room had been painted with in the past, it really came as no surprise to us.

What do you think of our pastel hued room so far?  Got a project you want to share with us?  Let me know in the comments, insular remodelling sure is not fun and I could do with a bit of decorating inspiration right now!  The bulk of this project is starting to look finished now, but there is plenty more to do.  Perhaps I’ll let you in on it next week…

A tout à l’heure.

For now.