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?

Little Bathroom of Horrors

Little bog,
Little bog o’horrors.
Little bog,
Little bog o’terror.
Call a cop.
Little bog o’horrors.
No, oh, oh, no-oh!

Yeah.  This is where we were just a few short months ago – stuck with a gross loo and a bath that could make a grown man gag.  Luckily, after a deep clean, what had felt like a sick joke was revealed to be a pretty decent little bathroom with relatively new fixtures.  We then set out to make it, not just liveable but pretty, on a minimal budget and armed only with my painting expertise and James’ endless trust in the power of DIY. 

This photo was taken on the day we first viewed this old house.  Something needed to be done.  Fast.

 

From the long list of complaints, the mouldy wallpaper was first to go.  I can only ask what sort of a sick bastard would choose floor-to-ceiling wallpaper for a wet space in the beginning with – Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, it was even IN THE SHOWER!  The only thing keeping the plaster work dry was a layer of ancient gloss paint, in better-than-expected condition, but stained with god-only-knows-what.  We were lucky to find out the tiles, on the walls and the floor, were mostly intact and usable as was the bath, although all of the grout lines had been painted with the strangest shade of acid green.

I know.  And don’t even get me started on the Asterix-stickers…  for shits shake.

This is the only useable bathroom in the house so our only option was to focus on small changes to make this space more practical.  We patched all the holes, gave the walls a new lick of paint and replaced a few small details such as the mirror, the shower head and the toilet seat.  The layout could be more functional for a narrow space and eventually I want to do something to cover up the very invasive waste pipe coming down from the upstairs loo, but for the time being I am pretty happy with what we got here.
As if the frosty minty wallpaper was not ugly enough, all metalwork in this bathroom was painted in the strangest shade of acid green.  On the right you see a comparison of the wallpaper and what we found underneath; banged up and stained sage green gloss paint.
Our aim was to create a fresh, modern space that would reflect the character of this old house as well as our taste, so we chose a moody shade of sage green, a bit darker from the original colour of the room, and paired it with a dominant, crisp white with hints of blush pink.  Sage is something we have going on a lot in this house and it felt like a good contrast for white that was used to bring light to this small and enclosed space.  Together with the grey of the exposed plumbing and the deep blue of the floor mosaic, I had a complete colour palette to work with.  James took a bit of convincing on the blush, but I think the finished article works rather well.
Choosing a über-trendy colour such as blush pink can be a bit risky, but if you truly love a shade, trendy or not, why hesitate?  Life is too short to fret about decor anyway.  On the flip side, it might be a good idea, before putting your money down, to think how easy a trendy detail is to change if and when the fab turns naff and how much it would cost you to do so.  As we were not ordering a custom kitchen or spending hundreds on paint, I felt comfortable experimenting a bit.  If we ever get bored with our little bathroom, repainting it would not bust our balls or our budget.

 

  This was my check list for the project:
– re-attach a few cracked tiles below the bathroom mirror
– patch holes in the plaster and a few on the floor 
– Replace the mirror – it was damaged as well as ugly
– fix or replace a broken shower head
– attach a rail for a shower curtain
– patch holes on the door and adjust the fit (the door did not close properly)
– Sort out all grout lines that have been painted over with that gross green gloss
– replace the toilet seat with something more comfortable
– create storage for toiletries, towels etc. 
– paint the walls, plumbing, tub surround and all trims
– Patch up the paint in the ceiling above the bath/shower
– attach a new towel rail closer to the bath/shower
– remove old towel hooks that were too far from the bath/shower
– decorate like a boss  

We did not have a set budget, but incredibly I ended up spending less than 300 euros on this update, bulk of if being the cost of paint.  As there was no plumbing or electrical work for the time being, I was able to do all of it myself, thus avoiding to pay for labour entirely.  Because we had to complete the painting while using the bathroom and wait to get the paint delivered, the whole process took a couple of months.  It could have been a week’s project for somebody with the materials at hand and another shower to use but taking it easy gave us time to think what we really wanted from this mini-renovation; what was necessary and what was not.

The paint I used had to be oil based in able to adhere to the old gloss base, so I picked self-undercoating Dulux Trade Eggshell in Brilliant White for the long walls, and Dulux Valentine Laque in Sage 4 and Framboise 2 for the accents.  We were in luck to have a friend pick us up some British paint as it can be silly expensive here in France.  Some say it’s not the same stuff either – and they are right; most Dulux paints sold in France are adjusted to the French taste in both colour and composition.  They are also largely made in France, therefore different from the ones sold in your average building supply store in the UK.  Not available beyond the French-speaking market, the Valentine gloss with a satin finish was pleasant to use and dried pretty quickly.

 
So the painting begins…
I did not need to use a primer when painting the sage accent walls as the transition between the old and new shades was minimal, but I did use a cheap white gloss I had left over from a previous project to go under the blush pink to stop the 90’s acid green from showing through.  Applying a proper primer takes time, but I would always recommend using one when you are painting a new wall or transitioning between two very different shades, especially when going from dark to light.  Primer helps the paint to adhere to the surface you are transforming and stops stains or the previous colour from showing through over time.  Also, a layer of primer will save you time and money on the top coats by stopping the wall from absorbing the paint too quickly – you get better and more even results while using less paint.
Another thing to keep in mind when using any oil/solvent based products is good ventilation – this stuff can get your head spinning.  It is best to wear a mask when painting and take care handling any thinners or the paint itself as they are toxic enough to harm your skin.  Not to mention flammable.  You must clean your tools with white spirit or turpentine and dispose all left over liquids and paint by taking them to a collection point.  Public déchèteries accept paint scraps in France, but check the advice of your local council if unsure what to do where you are based.
 
As a general rule, you can use gloss over emulsion but never the other way around.  The emulsion or any standard water based product* will not adhere to a base painted in non-water-soluble paint – it will just crack and flake off.  Most household paints today are water-based and whole walls painted in gloss, such as those in our bathroom, are highly unusual.  Historic homes have their quirks, but as an average decorator, you are more likely to stumble on an oil based product on trims, window sills and baseboards.  Replacing gloss with gloss is easy, but by stripping the surface bare, followed by a primer, you can use any type of paint.  Modern emulsion paints are hard wearing and come in all sorts of finishes so you can achieve the look of old-style gloss without using a messy oil based product.  
 
* There are a lot of contemporary innovations that allow all sorts of witchcraft, but I am not an expert on those. 
The Dulux Trade Eggshell, like most professional products, is limited in shades, but it is excellent value for the performance you get.  I enjoyed using it and being a qualified painter of one sort, did not find it difficult to manage cleaning wise.  The scent of the product is stronger than of those aimed for regular DIY use and you need to clean all the equipment used with white spirit or another suitable brush cleaner.  You can buy the stuff without a trade license, but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners as there are plenty of products that get you the same results but are a lot more user friendly.
The clean and neat AFTER shots.  I am very pleased how it all turned out.
The manufacturer recommends two coats and I found this to be sufficient – even on a larger than normal surface such as my bathroom walls, where you really do not want brush marks or other imperfections.  I used a wide synthetic brush to save paint and enable me to reach behind awkward pipework, the radiator etc. and a smaller one for the wooden trims.  You could use a roller just as well, but for the most even results, choose one that is designed for oil based paints and prepare for a cleaning session from hell.
Thankfully, my James with his formidable 6’6 frame took over the roller in order to paint the ceiling.  This was a simple emulsion job and we chose to use Dulux Bathroom + that repels mould and is guaranteed to last a minimum of five years.
This unit used to be in our kitchen, now it hold all of our toiletries and a formidable stack of towels.  Not a shabby space for a spa day.
Having finished painting the room we needed to decide on storage.  Not being a fan of open shelving in a wet space myself, we decided on a vintage unit bought originally for our kitchen in Bretagne.  The chest is just about narrow enough for this bathroom and has plenty of draws and shelves for our toiletries and towels.  The existing marble shelf above the sink was cleaned and kept for our toothbrushes and it looks pretty nice with the new mirror thrifted from a local depot vente.  The dark wood of the storage unit, a fancy new toilet seat (mahogany, baby!) and the mirror frame really tie the different elements in this bathroom together.
The mirror is not currently fixed on the wall, but rests on a shallow marble self above the sink.
The towel hooks that were inconveniently far away from the bath were taken down and replaced with chrome-finished towel rings.  Our old textiles such as the bathmat and the shower curtain were still in a perfect working order so we did not feel the need to replace any of them.  The accessories, too, were from our old hoard of stuff, merely repurposed to suit this bog.
 
Finlayson towels – this pattern is called Elefantti and it was designed in 1969 by Laila Koskela.
I think it is justified to claim this Little Bathroom of Horrors has been completely rehabilitated.  As it stands, it is a clean, welcoming and sweet-smelling space – no mouldy wallpaper in sight.  No longer do I have to recite Hail Mary’s whilst seated on my porcelain.. ahem.. mahogany throne nor feel dirty after taking a shower!  And I cannot underestimate the importance of this update – after a functioning kitchen, bathroom is the most important room in the house for me; it is an oasis to escape to after a hard day of living on a building site.
Or removing Asterix-stickers from other surfaces around the house.  Bastards.
But going back to the bathrooms… my bubble bath is waiting! *Crabs the ice cold flute of Blanquet and turns up Steve Wright.