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.

 

prime and joy header

My Prime and Joy

Welcome back to Chez Nous – it is really heating up here by the Montagne Noire!  Besides long walks with the pupper, along with trying to tame my garden – pruning the roses, etc., I have been hard at decorating this spare room of ours.  Last time it was all about preparation: sanding, scraping and patching, whereas today we’re all about that paint.  Oh well, primer, mostly, as this is all I have managed so far!

So, get comfy, things are about to get sticky and white.

yellow roses

But first things first – having steamed off pretty hefty layers of wallpaper, there was a lot of left over gunk on the walls.  Enter sugar soap – an industrial strength degreaser that will melt your fingers off if you’re not careful.  That stuff will get rid of old wallpaper paste, grime, dirt, spider poo… anything.  You name it.  Just remember to glove up and you are good to go.  It is the best thing to wash your walls with before a new paint job, but keep in mind it will eat through emulsion if you are not careful.  Remember to dilute your liquid according to instructions on the pack and always rinse everything after use.

primed walls in an old house

My soaping took a full working day due to the buildup of wallpaper paste, mildew and other grossness that needed to be scrubbed away with a sponge.  On the flip side, the solvent did wonders on the ceiling tongue and groove and saved me a lot of time priming later as I only needed to prime the areas where the wood was bare.

Having rinsed the walls and let them dry thoroughly, we had a few different types of surfaces ready to be primed: firstly, a previously painted but badly chipped tongue and groove ceiling, some bare plastered walls with a section of plaster board, two regular old painted walls and plenty of previously unpainted tongue and groove panelling.  Most needed coating with a brush as I wanted to make sure I would get primer into every crack and crevice in this timeworn room.  Especially inconvenient were the heating pipes that run along the ceiling and the old cast iron radiator as they were covered in a strong salmon pink gloss that needed a few coats of primer to fade away gracefully.   For these different jobs I used two different primers based on the level of coverage I needed and what these surfaces had been painted with before: oil based Dulux Trade in brilliant white for the ceiling, the radiator and pipework and as matt white emulsion primer for the rest, including the wood panelling.

plaster walls in an old house primed white

Ignoring the small section above the fire place that was plaster boarded, I am going for a big colour change from dark to light, thus a good primer was necessary.  Both of my chosen products went on smoothly with either a brush or a roller and dried reasonably quickly, achieving sensible coverage with a single coat.

With the exception of all that salmoniness.  Ghastly stuff!

I am also intending to leave quite a bit of that wood I uncovered last week unpainted – including the window, those cupboard doors and all of my door frames so a bit of masking was in order.  In hindsight I should have gone with my gut and avoided that value knock off and went with the regular masking tape I use, but what can you say – it was cheap!  No surprises there: cheap tape 1 – my will to live 0.

removing wallpaper and priming an old wall
My walls walls before wallpaper removal – after sugar soap and finally after the primer…

I am however over the moon with the way things have turned out otherwise.  Few hours of delicate brushing was needed to get paint into every groove of that pesky panelling, followed by a balancing act on a ladder, but we are all primed and ready for some colour chez nous.

On the eleventh hours as well as my ma is arriving later in the week.  Will the room be ready and decorated by then..?

I wish I knew – à tout à l’heure!

red roses in south of france

Wonderwall

 

Wonderwall (Noun) 

“A barrier which separates the mundane from the Transcendent Reality. A true Wonderwall will always have a crack, or a slit or an opening which allows anyone a glimpse of what lies beyond the Wonderwall.”

 

 
Do you ever catch yourself staring at a project, an unfinished wall perhaps or a gargantuan pile of ironing and say to yourself will this job ever be finished?  I love my old house with its rough edges and all its imperfections, but living inside a project does take its toll:  I get fed up of clearing up fallen plaster, let it collect in the skewed corners around the house and I tire of fighting the armies of spiders we share this house with, allow them to conquer the contours of our stairwell and erect their flags in the ceiling.  The work never ends.  Priming a wall can take a week when the moral is low.
 
This is usually when my husband strolls in with a new gismo and I rediscover my enthusiasm of painting and decorating.  To battle my growing apathy towards home improvement, last Monday he adopted a wallpaper kettle and come Friday, I have already given it a name and a place around our dinner table – that’s how much I love it.
Our new wallpaper kettle and my mum in action…
For those who have not had the pleasure of seeing one of these babies in action, a wallpaper kettle is a simple gadget that makes stripping wallpaper a joy.  It looks roughly like a petrol canister fitted with a hose and a plastic tray.  James told me it was around thirty euros in our local Bricomarche – money well spent I thought.  As water boils in the tank, stream is directed through the hose and into the shallow tray that is kept pressed against the section of a wall ready to be stripped.  Unlike my fingernails, the steam will penetrate several layers of paper at once.  The old adhesive is melted away, allowing big sheets of wallpaper simply to fall off with a gentle pull or a scrape – all in a matter of seconds.  On top of all this, the device is fairly light weight and using one is easy as pie.
If only it made tea, I would elope to Spain and marry it.

Conveniently, the purchase of our latest toy coincided with the visit of my mother, who, when faced with a choice between a relaxing trip to Benidorm or being sent to a Gulag, would choose the Gulag every time.  Like a good daughter, I thought, if working like a beast is how she likes to spend her vacation, who am I to stop her.

 So now, in five days, she has managed to be done with Mount Everest’s worth of washing and ironing, pickled enough cucumber for an army and walked the dog around the globe. Twice.  Last but not least, it was she who picked up the spanking new kettle and stripped, single handed, the walls of our entryway that were grotty and unfinished after past half-hearted attempts of wallpaper-removal, going back to the days when we first moved in.  Embarrassed to see how easily she had turned one of our biggest failures into a success, I may need to step up my mother’s day game for next year…

Despite of my personal feelings of inadequacy, the results are superb: plaster that was hiding under the stained 90’s wallpaper turned out to be painted light green and in surprisingly good condition.  It was always evident that whole sections will need to be replaced, especially from around the front door and in the back where previous occupants had tried to half-arsedly cover up old damages with floppy sheets particleboard, but the rest is pretty solid.  To see these walls for the first time without scraps of paper was both weird and wonderful.  Although the old paint job is in a dire nick, you get a good feel how the space could look like once fully restored.

Having a partner-in-reno, or a fabulous mum, to share the workload with every once in a while, is helping me to stay motivated.  When I find myself lacking in energy, nothing feels as good as a helping hand and some hearty progress.  My mum will spend a total of three weeks here, this being her whole holiday allowance for the summer, and I must admit, I was dreading it.  No matter how much I love my mother, three weeks is a long time to cater for any guests, including family, on a building site.  Luckily we seem to work very well together and she loves our house as well as Mazamet.  With her help and whirlwind like enthusiasm, I even found myself with a bit of free time for the first time this summer.  In a week I have managed to catch up on work, make a pretty summer dress and see attractions and events all around Mazamet and La Montagne Noire.  To summarise, I have managed to relax.
I can concur,  la vie est belle!  Seeing my mum adore the pace of life by the foot of the Montagne Noire is making me incredibly happy.  And as she happens to be dead afraid of spiders, I have a new reason to brake truce with the cobwebs brigade.  God knows, it’s about damn time!  

 

My Modular Kitchen

 3eac6-my2bmodular2bkitchen
This is just one of the quirks of the land o’baguette I suppose, but it is not out of the ordinary for houses, especially rentals, or ex-rentals such as ours, to survive on the most basic kitchen amenities: a sink in a corner and if you are lucky, a few rows of tiles.  Perhaps this is due to the French renters preferring separate pieces and their own appliances or because a fitted kitchen scores higher on the old tax bracket for the homeowners, but this is how it has always been.  As the French would put it – bof.

Je ne sais pas

We were dead lucky that both of the rooms intended as kitchens in this house had, besides from the gorgeous porcelain sinks, not one but two cupboards! The second of these little kitchenettes could even boast with a small glass-fronted cabinet – a conversion of a blocked window, but neither had any counter space.  Choosing between the two was easy though: the second had more storage and a floor to die for whereas the roof of the first was leaking.

I know… bof.  

Our tiddly kitchen before the deep clean:  This is a pretty typical set up in older houses in France, and we were lucky to have any cupboards at all.
 But worry not, dear reader, as we knew how to deal with this kitchenlessness.  And no, I am not talking about Papa Johns!  We previously lived with a similar pseudo-cuisine in Bretagne and already had all the necessary components for a fully functional modular kitchen.  Engineered and tested by my dear James, perhaps the cheffiest gentleman on this side of the Montagne Noire, our set up is tight but works pretty damn well even if I say so myself.
The biggest hoarder of space in this narrow kitchen is the fridge-freezer; the bastards only fitted in the middle of the room, but having a spacious fridge is something I would not want to compromise on, not even for the sake of good feng shui.  On the flip side, we do not have a conventional hob or an oven; instead we use a portable induction place that hides away under our make-shift butchers block counter and a non-fixed oven that is housed inside a trifted side table.  I believe the application sits on two pieces of mdf board, one of which is a discarded painting of mine. Recycling is good m’kay.  In Bretagne we lost valuable space for the microwave that used to sit on the counter, but we were able to place it inside a cupboard that was conveniently missing its door. Voilà!
The hot plate normally nests under the butchers block and it’s light enough to be lifted easily on top when needed.. let’s say, when making a light mid night snack…
Our main work space is basically a modified architects table: a thick piece of pine, sanded, treated with danish oil and hoisted on a pair of adjustable legs.  The oven-side-table-combo  was originally designed to fit under this counter, with the hotplate being stored between the two but in this instance we needed a short piece of furniture to sit under the glass cabinet so we moved it around.  The additional prep space turned out to be useful too.
The space savers: The antique unit on the far left holds most of our ambient food and the wine crate on top of it is the home of our spice collection.  The little oven is housed inside an old side table that fits snugly under the glass cabinets.  We lived with the “doors” of the converted window-turned glass cabinet at first, but chose to remove them for easier access to our goblets.

 

This kitchen has a fair bit of open and exposed storage and although I am not generally a fan of clutter, the maximalist approach was the only realistic one.  We simply have too many things to tuck away neatly.  And there are examples of our hoard that I actually like to have out in the open, such as my collection of Finnish design glass and James’ elegant set of copper pans, but some, let’s say the scanky jar of Marmite that expired on the first half of 2014 should be meant for our eyes only.

Most of our cook- and tableware is stored in the built-ins where as the food hides inside the wooden art nouveau-ish cabinet.  Although we both prefer to fill our lives with trift-store treasures such as that, the space would not be as functional without the little acquisitions from everyone’s favourite Swedish furniture giant.  The ever versatile Raskog cart deserves a special mention for providing a home for our extensive condiment collection.  The IKEA shelf dividers and trays set out places for our heap of kitchen crap, but this mini kitchen is, as many dinky interiors tend to be, still just one misplaced plate away from complete chaos.

A place for everything and everything in its place.
Having a place for everything is paramount in keeping a pint sized kitchen tidy.  Each module, each pot and every jar, in fact everything in this kitchen has their own set function.  Even the dishwasher, currently not hooked up, houses lesser used odds and sods.  And for us, it works just fine.  And we cook an awful lot, from elaborate Sunday lunches to quick weeknight bites and brunches.  Although this modular set up is temporary – we are planning to built a bigger fitted kitchen downstairs in a few years time, we chose not to compromise on the functionality of our cooking space in favour of a less crowded, airier cuisine.

Depending on your needs, a modular kitchen can be just as functional as a fitted one and it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg.  As small space living is becoming increasingly popular, you do not need to be a carpenter to built a set up that works for you.  IKEA launched a tiny all in one-kitchen just last year and similar units can be found from most home improvement stores.  And the best part?  If you get bored or have a change or heart – bof.  All you need is a free afternoon and a bit of grunt to re-configure your units for a “new” kitchen.

Les Nouveaux Bohémiens

82592-bohemians

 

Rant warning! The following content may not be suitable for hipsters or anybody who wants to be a modern bohemian.

Bohemian style, rescued from obscurity by Coachella going fashionable millennials and the pesky bike-riding hipsters of this world*, has been mainstream for a while now.  Despite of, in principle, being a movement of unconventionality, today the bohemian decor is available to buy in any home store near you.

And frankly I think this is a bit of a pity.

Bohemian interiors are layered, casual and quirky.  I stumbled on an old Buzzfeed piece on boho style whilst researching (procrastinating) for this blog and I think the writer, Peggy Wang, sums up the feel of typical bohemian homes better than I ever could:

“Lush exotic fabrics, perfectly disheveled pillows, and overgrown foliage – these are the trademarks of the cozy yet eclectic bohemian aesthetic.”

Being a visual artist as well as a walking talking stereotype, I have been invited to a few rather bohemian households and I can concur, this is pretty much true – aesthetically anyway.  These spaces, thinking about a beautiful home of a couple that traveled the world in love, a shared flat of young and curious individuals, or a conventional house full of un-conventional memories in the middle of the “Middle-England”, were not decorated to be bohemian – they grew around their owners like a well maintained garden would, with care and time.
Bohemian interiors from Buzzfeed

Sure, you can take Ms. Wangs advice and hit the charity shops and the flea markets for your own piece of eclectic cool, or you could wait and see what life brings your way.  The boho style has been hot enough for several years that all sorts of bohemian goods are available to be consumed, from the high end boho chic brands such as anthropologie to the offerings of the trusted opium for the masses-giant IKEA.  Lets look at the example of Moroccan wedding blankets, the readers of popular design blogs will know exactly what I am talking about, the ultimate bedding accessory of 2015 – I would be lying if I said I did not like them.  They are beautiful objects, trendy, expensive.. proper showcases, but there is just one problem: I already have a good blanket.

My blankie, as scruffy as they come, has multicoloured spots on a white background and I paid 3.99£ for it in Pound Stretcher right next to the Meadowbank Sainsbury’s in Edinburgh about seven years ago.  It’s made or 100% polyester and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

My “incidentally” bohemian bedroom.

My relationship with decor has always been complicated: When I moved to my first flat back in 2006, still living in Finland, I had practically no furniture beyond my childhood bed.  My mum stepped in, teamed up with a few relatives and collected everything a young person could need to set up their first home.  I was almost sixteen and in my head a fully grown adult.  Four years later I moved to Edinburgh to study painting and my sister, in turn just about to move into her first apartment, inherited all of my furniture and the nick-nacks I used as decoration.

Like most students, I moved several times whilst in uni, sometimes living on my own, sometimes sharing with friends or befriending the strangers I moved in with.  Although I carried a suitcase full of things back from Finland to Scotland on each of my visits, I always purged away twice the amount when I moved house. By the time I moved in with my future husband I had two suitcases full of clothes and three IKEA bags of other stuff and this was roughly the sum of my worldly belongings.

Thankfully, he did have furniture of his own; very nice furniture, things that he had collected in good time, with pride and love.  He is a maximalist with more clothes than I have, a brilliant taste regarding antique pieces and he shares my appetite for drifting.  We have, successfully may I add, bought furniture together; done the IKEA relationship test, haggled in a depot vente (a sort of a flea market), and replaced some of our old things with new, some of which were expensive and some on a budget.  Our decor is an eclectic mix of old and new, high and low-end – a bit… bohemian.

Interior details from our little old house, with raw plaster walls and pealing wallpaper.

 

I never thought of myself as a bohemian before. Never. Not even in the middle of my art studies with the evenings spent in pubs discussing painting and sex with other fashionably artistic millenials.  Bohemians, for me, don’t shop at Lidl and they certainly don’t store their H&M undies in a MALM dresser and enjoy watching the Embarrassing Bodies or the Jeremy Kyle Show.  To be honest, I think the culprit is this house – there is nothing more romantic than the idea of a creative couple living in a crumbling old house with charming period detail in the middle of the most picturesque France.

With a dog.

We did not set ourselves out to become cliches of bohemian living, it merely crept up on us and I guess this is how most interiors loved by the people who live in them are born. Just like all good gardens, with care and time.  Once we get going with the plaster work in this house, paint the walls and patch a few not-so-discrete holes on our ceilings, our dwelling will start looking more conventional again.  I like the rustic boho look we got going for the time being, but I would never pay a designer to recreate it.  Just as one might walk to Anthropologie today and pick up a piece of exotic old world chic to crown their eclectic lives, I imagine it could never feel the same as haggling for it in the bazaars of North Africa.

Avocados growing on an IKEA stepstool – is this what hipsters are made of?

I feel immensely privileged to be able to live where I do and it works for us well.  Part of our choice to live in the South of France is to do with the relatively cheap cost of living, especially the price of property.  Like many, we would have not stood a change in owning our home in the UK where the system does not exactly favour the self employed, especially those working in arts.  Just like the bohemian artists that flooded the quarters of the poor in Paris at the end of the 19th century – we are part of the cycle of gentrification that is more relevant today than never before.

This is why I am cynical about the boho-craze: nothing is ever as simple as it looks.  Les Bohémiens of the golden age of Paris were mostly an ideal constructed by themselves; Henry Toulouse-Lautrec, the epitome of a poor bohemian artist, came from a wealthy aristocratic family who supported their son financially enabling him to pursue his artistic merits and live the jolly good la Vie de Bohéme.  To appreciate the bohemian aesthetic is fine as is living the bohemian life, I am not trying to point the finger on anybody, but this style, like any trend, is also a gargantuan business venture.  Boho-chic enterprises such as Coachella in the States, to use an obvious example, look like great fun, but let’s not forget the fact that the cost of tickets for the weekend is more than most people pay in rent each month.

The cozy, laid back bohemian feel of these types of events and products is often just an illusion.  Using the undying words of Dolly Parton: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”

Raw plaster wall in our bedroom

 

An quick search of bohemian interiors on Pinterest reveals a never ending stream of beautifully curated eclectic interiors from all around the world.  On a lot of cases replicating a look like that would be a choice between a new decor or a new car.  A few of us can afford to complete a process such as furnishing a home in one blast, but worry not – the process can be just as rewarding when you take, yes I am going to repeat the punch line one more time, time and care with your choices.

Want to live like a new bohemian? Hit the flee market, anthro or your local asda – and get only the things that you need.  Focus on the stuff that reminds you of good times and good people or what you really, really love.  With this set of guidelines you can’t go wrong.  Trends, they come and go, so you might as well do you.  This is what visiting other peoples delightfully eclectic, cozy and totally bohemian homes has thought me.

*Drops mike – rant over*

*Disclamer: You might meet me driving around on my vintage Motobecane bike, rocking a sundress-winter-scarf-combo.  I grow avocados on my lounge, like craft beer and I have a degree in fine art.. So dear hipsters – don’t hate me, I’m one of you.