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

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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

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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.