Woodwork – Stripping, Staining and Waxing Wood

Bonjour mes Chéries!

In this blog post I’ll be going over how to strip, stain and wax wooden surfaces so strap on – it’s about to get hot and sticky!

Recently I have been restoring  some antique cupboard doors, window pains and door frames that had been painted over several times in the past century, all situated in the spare bedroom of ours.  Although my project is quite specific, these techniques could just as well be adapted to restoring furniture or any other wooden surfaces including wood veneer.  Wood restoration is not at all as difficult as it sounds and there are loads of excellent resources available on YouTube, my personal favourite being Dashner Design & Restoration, to help you get started.  This lad does easy to follow, no-nonsense videos, mostly restoring mid-century furniture and I would definitely recommend a peek for a total novice before attempting your own DIY project.  Seeing how the magic happens does make it a lot easier to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on whatever products you may use.

Here’s a few images of what I had to work with: layers upon layers of paint, broken door panels and awkward corners, especially around the window that could not be lifted out of its frame without braking the pains.  Even after rudimentary paint removal, lots old varnish, specs of paint and general gunk remained on the wood.  To restore all of this woodwork I needed to get most of that out, repair broken pieces and completely refinish the lot.

 

 

Now then, let’s get stripping – grab your weapons:

  • A pair of sturdy gloves (mine are thick latex, as I found out white spirit eats through rubber)
  • Chemical paint stripper (I use an acetone based bad boy called Decapex, but a good “nontoxic” alternative is a product called Citristrip)
  • Brush (nothing too fancy, but nothing that would leave behind too much hair either)
  • Scrapers – good to have a few different sizes, but I’ve made do just with one.
  • Rags or sturdy paper towels
  • White Spirit
  • Wire brush
  • Steel wool
  • Sand paper (120 grit or finer if you are restoring furniture)
  • Tub/container (for the scrapings)
  • Stain of your liking (liquid or gel)
  • Wax, oil, varnish or polyurethane to finish.

Just to kick things off, I started my project by lifting as much paint as I could with a heat gun.  Cheating, you may say, but in my view this is the most efficient way to start the rodeo.  If you wish, paint stripper works just as well – it will, however, take quite a bit more time than removing just the paint residue and varnish.

How to apply the stripper varies a bit whether you use the standard or nontoxic product, so do read the instructions on your tin.  My method here is a pretty standard one:  Apply a generous layer of stripping agent on the piece you wish to clean and let it sit anywhere between 3 to 30 minutes.  (Citristrip – 30min to overnight)  Keep going over the surface with your brush to stop the goop from drying and keep applying more product as needed.  Needing to clear up mere residue, the Decapex took effect in around 10 minutes. You can actually feel the surface getting tacky when the paint is ready to come off although different types of paints react differently to the chemical stripping: you can expect bubbling, flaking or running where as heavy lacquer will change from clear to opaque or appear murky yellow in colour.

It is vital you take care of good ventilation or wear a respirator, unless you want to fly high as a kite for the rest of the day – or choose a nontoxic product.  Either-or, don’t take this warning too lightly as these chemicals are harmful.  And trust me here, I got my adult voice on.  When managed properly, acetone based strippers are perfectly safe to use, but not fun to breathe in.  Safety first, kiddos… safety first!

Now, where was I…

Once you think the stripper has done its duty, grab your scraper and with long, steady strokes get rid of as much stripper gunk as possible.  Use a wire brush to remove the build up from grooves and dips in the wood.  You can also try lifting stubborn spots with the aid of bit more stripper and brushing the whole area thoroughly, always going along the grain to avoid scratching the wood.  Follow up with a piece of steel wool generously doused in white spirit to get rid of the rest of the stripper and wipe the wood clean with a rag.  As you can see from the before and afters below, the effects of the stripper are pretty dramatic, just comparing the two panels, one stripped with just a heat gun and the other with the paint/varnish residue removed.  Some repairs were also in order, which I did having already used the paint stripper as dexapex also eats through glue.

 

As I am dealing with antique wood, I did not see a reason to get rid of every mote of paint or each miniscule stain – at the end of the day those are just additional character.  However, if you are going for a fully clean slate look, you might need to repeat the procedure before leaving the project to dry, overnight if possible.  Same attitude of preservation applies to sanding: sand too thoroughly and you erase all the lovely patina, sand naught and your stain may not absorb properly.  So be restrained, try sanding by hand if you’re not sure what to expect from an orbital sander and use a fine grit of 120 or higher.

When it comes to colouring wood, there are an array of stains nowadays, most commonly in either liquid or gel form.  I personally prefer a good old water soluble liquid stain as I feel using it gives me more control over the gel stains that you apply thickly on the surface, leave to sit and wipe off the excess with a rag or a paper towel.  Liquid stain can be applied with a sponge, rag or a brush and layering gives the colour its final depth.  You can mix and match hues with ease or stick with a pre-mix.  I wanted to replicate and existing tint and had to mix two different hues to achieve it, chêne dorée and teak.  In passing, I would absolutely recommend testing the colour on a scrap piece of wood before going whole hog at it, (YES, I learned this the hard way a few years ago!) and building up your colour with several thin coats until the desired depth is achieved.

Pro tip – gently moisten the surface you are staining with a damp cloth for extra even stain, especially if you are using the gel variety.  Also, glove up – as you can see above, I had a little puncture in my rubber ones and had to live with horror fingers for a whole week.  Not my most flattering manicure, but admittedly, not the worst I’ve ever had either!

This deep golden hue I went for is as close as I could get to the original finish on these old oak cupboard doors.  The window pane, also oak and the second original element remaining in this room from the early 1900’s, would have had a similar colouring.  The door frame with its lovely panelled door are made of pine and much newer, but I chose to blend them in with the older woodwork.  I could have spared myself the effort of stripping out the fire place mantel as it was in pretty good nick, but as neither I nor my husband were too keen on the dark mahogany finish it made sense to refinish it to match the rest of the woodwork.

Unless you are using an oil based stain, a coloured wax or polyurethane, standard water soluble stain should take about an hour to four hours to dry thoroughly, after which you are ready to apply your chosen finish.  And please do, stain itself does very little beyond colouring the wood – without a protective finish the newly cleaned surface is easily scraped, damaged by moisture and collects dust like crazy.  I can’t stress this enough – not top coating your stained wood is like leaving the house in the winter without your shoes on.  Or driving around in the rain with the boot open.  Just don’t do it, OK – nothing stinks like cheap DIY to me than non-finished woodwork!  Personally, I prefer wax.  It has got a nice little sheen about it and it is easily applied.  If you prefer a high gloss finish, I would recommend an oil based varnish over polyurethane, but that is just my preference as a die-hard traditionalist.  Either does the job and protects your wood for years to come.

 

In preparation for the wax, lightly sand the piece, again with a high grit sandpaper and a feather light touch.  The product can be applied with a smooth brush, foam brush or a rag and takes around an hour to dry between each coat.  Once you are happy with the build-up, leave your project to sit for a few more hours, ideally overnight and buff all over with cloth.  My chosen product this time was Liberon’s antique style black bison clear wax that was a delight to apply.  You will need to clean your tools with white spirit, but that’s the only hassle with waxing, compared to heavier treatments like varnish or polyurethane that stick like shit to a blanket and take years to clean from the equipment.

 

So there you have it.  Don’t forget to treat yourself to a few videos on You Tube about wood finishing, it is not only incredibly relaxing, but makes it a lot easier to visualise each step I have just outlined.  Although this gargantuan effort of refinishing every single wooden surface of our spare room turned out pretty damn well, in hind sight, I would absolutely have done it before painting the walls and the panelling.  Uups.  What can I say – live and learn.  I suppose we had no intention of going this far with our little renovation project, after all, it was supposed to be a cheap and cheerful makeover before my mum arrived on her holidays in the beginning of last June.  Another uuuups.

C’est la vie!

I am a perfectionist, there are no doubts about that, and it feels pretty nice to do something properly in this old house of mine. And hold your horses – these are indeed the finishing touches before I finally get to crack on with that ghastly tiled floor!  I have waited a long time for this and nothing in the realms of gods and men can stop me now!

Let me know how you get on with your DIY projects.

Until next time, à tout à l’heure ! xxx

Le Petit Jardin vol. II

Salut from scorching hot Mazamet!  As the mercury climbs all the way up to the thirties, certain things get rather difficult to bear – such as maintaining a healthy work/life balance, any type of cooking what so ever… and pants.  Taking care of even the tiniest of gardens, too, changes from a simple pleasure to something akin to torture under the merciless blaze of our nearest star.  Even the poor dog is tired, but joins me regardless on my daily rounds of watering and weeding.  It can be hard work, especially for a townie like me, but each time a nail brakes or when I am slugging my two watering cans back to the patch from our back kitchen, our nearest water point, I feel a certain satisfaction examining this little patch of un-barrenness in bloom.

A month or so ago I planted wisteria with my mother as well as two different types of grapes to slowly start training them up the cast iron framework covering most of the footprint of this little yard, adding shade to our small oasis, and keeping us cool on summers to come.  She is one of those people who can make anything grow, my mother, and she doesn’t mind sharing her green thumbs either.  It was on her urging we got around sorting out the space and thus managed to restore some order to the garden that was left to grow wild when we departed to England last October.  On her orders I was spreading fresh compost, clearing out space for new plants as well as tidying up the roses while she was potting up a bit of dill, runner beans, Aeschynanthus, Geraniums and other stunning summer blooms.

It is also courteous to mention the upheaval of this wee garden of ours would have not been possible without a bit of grunt – in the form of my darling husband James, who did not only endure hot afternoons queuing up at the local déchèterie and endless tours around garden centres with mother in law in tow, but also upcycled an old pallet into a charming vertical strawberry planter.  And the honourable mention, with all my love, goes to my amazing neighbour, the owner of the most beautiful kitchen garden AND a flower garden in Mazamet.  She donated spare seedlings of tomatoes that are already bearing fruit and smelling gorgeous in the warm evening air.

Looks like this is all folks, for now.  Until I find motivation to edit the photos of the next face of my spare room project.  The post will be about using a chemical paint stripper and re-finishing wood.  Stay tuned and au revoir!

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

Let’s get ready to decorate PART 1

Let's get ready to decorate PART 1

Oh hi there.  I just burned my left index finger on a heat gun and thought it would make a great excuse for a spot of IRN BRU and blogging.  There’s this project I’ve been working on – you see, I got family coming over: my mum, bother and a Roger (who’s like family anyway), and only one bedroom to spare between them.  It’s not really a question of space, not really, as we got plenty of that here in chez nous… more so, the rooms we have available are sort of scary.  Picture this: forcing ma into the haunted attic while Roger takes the cellar of horrors.  Or have my bro sleep with the spiders in the abandoned toilet behind our kitchen.  As much as the idea of traumatising our houseguests for life attracts me, the time is ripe for some good old fashioned painting and decorating.

The chambre we chose to do up as the second spare room, is situated on the ground floor and has been largely disused due to an old leak in the ceiling.  Naturally, this was something we fixed straight away upon moving in, but the space remained somewhat of an afterthought until now.  Filled to the brim with tools, doggy stuff and disused furniture, it was not a part of the house I was particularly proud of.  In truth, my distain of this room runs much deeper than I would like to admit, largely because there is actually very little wrong with it.  Sure it’s hideous and dated, but everything is in such good nick!  The ceramic tiles, for example, as offensive as they are, have been laid by a skilled professional to be perfectly level and the revoltingly orange wood panelling is as good as the day it was installed.
A shoddy real estate picture versus how we left the place having removed some wallpaper and fixed a leaky roof.
And I hate that.  I detest the fact that there is nothing really wrong with this room and how that makes me feel like a wasteful idiot for wanting to change everything about it just because it is monstrously ugly.
But how do you deal with dated décor, in a way that utilises all available resources to their best potential?  Impossible dilemma.  This space was scrapped in the late seventies or early eighties, presumably to turn it into a granny flat for someone who was unable to get up the stairs.  As the renovations were done with care and good expense my guess would be it might have been commissioned by one of the past proprietors for themselves or for a relative of theirs.  Consequently, no part of the original floor remains, neither a trace of the old fireplace, but the built-in cupboard/wardrobe was left untouched as was the circa 1910 wooden framed window – the only one left in the whole house.  Even with the nauseating mix of retro finishes, I think this turd can be polished without ripping the place apart, hopefully, resulting in a beautifully layered mix of old and new.
 
As jobs come, this one is right up my alley; being a painter by trade, I know how to spruce things up with a shade or two.  Here’s the plan – not only will I be treating the ceiling and walls, scraping, sanding and painting all the woodwork including the orangey tongue & groove panelling, but painting the tiled floor as well.  I already bought the paints, (more about those later) but before the fun begins every surface needs to be prepared.  My dearest James, who’s commuting back and forth between his job in the UK and Mazamet, was here to help me kick start it all.  He wielded the wallpaper kettle like a champion and managed to get rid of all wallpaper and their respected liners.  The more recent of the two layers from was already gone when we started – shoddily installed 90’s orange, but a thick layer of 80’s Miami Cool took for ever to steam off.  I took my trusted Mac Allister to the wood panelling and sanded away as much of the surface lacquer as I could. It was the first of many sanding jobs to come and, as I later discovered to my utter dismay, the easiest one by a streak.
Faded but still there – hand stencilled diamond pattern and remnants of florals
Underneath all that mouldy wallpaper, we discovered some interesting fragments from the past: a faded but clearly visible art deco paint job including a painted frame for a mirror or a picture (presumably of religious nature) and remnants of an older floral motif, both stencilled straight onto the walls.  All too far gone to be kept, sadly, but a lovely thing to uncover.  A weekend’s worth of serenity later, I continued the gig by patching up a few holes with plaster and skimming over anything uneven, followed by another run with the sander, this time leaving me, the dog and everything else in walking distance from us covered in plaster dust.
To continue with the theme of creating a huge mess, I started to prepare the tongue and groove ceiling for a lick of paint.  Beyond where the old leak had damaged the paint job, it was in decent nick and looked like an easy scrape and sand job.  No such thing.  It was, in fact, soul destroying and seemed to go on for days.  My dad would be proud to hear I was wearing my protective mask all the way through.  No goggles though, and listen up boys and girls, this is why you should always wear them: little sharps of paint can be really f*cking painful when they lodge themselves into your eyes.
But goggles steam up – it’s irritating.
It would make an interesting philosophical point to debate whether one gets more irritated with slashed eyes or blurred vision while sanding, but for everyone’s sanity, I won’t bother.  Do as I say, kiddos, not as I do.
Two sides of a door frame, one with layers upon layers of floss and the other stripped bare.  In the middle you see just a few of these lovely layers of paint.
And all this brings us back to the heat gun – the last instrument on my list of sorrows before the painting begins.  Well, I do actually love this part.  It is time consuming for sure, but isn’t it great to see the different layers of paint melting away before your eyes, revealing near-virginal woodwork?  Revealing traces of old paints, layer upon layer, decade after decade, makes me feel like Indiana Jones.  So you know, before everything got slathered with salmon pink, the woodwork in this room was cream white, yellow, light turquoise, teal, sage green, concrete grey and finally, deep chocolate brown, all brilliantly reflecting the changing fashions of different decades.
For those not too familiar with painting and decorating basics, removing layers of old paint does have benefits beyond getting to admire the tastes of previous decorators and burning various parts of your body while operating a heat gun.  Oil gloss in particular is thick stuff and a century’s worth of it can clog up the profile of your woodwork, making it less refined and less pretty. Tons of the stuff can also prevent doors and windows from opening and closing properly.  Likewise, there is a school of thought that believes in reducing the paint build-up of radiators for more efficient distribution of heat.  You can use a chemical paint stripper just as well, but I don’t want to risk our dog messing around with that stuff… and I love to watch the world burn.
Having gone back to bare wood there’s always the option of not re-painting it, but giving it a light sand and a protective coat of varnish, wax or oil of your liking.  But manage your expectations as not all wood you will uncover will look stunning straight off the bat.  In old as well as modern homes, inferior wood or knotty wood such as pine is often used on baseboards and trims instead of more expensive hard woods.  Most of our timber in this house, with the exception of our stunning oak staircase, is pine from the Montagne Noire.  Some like the look of it, some not and I will just have to take each case as it comes and see what bits might look great au naturel.  Like me, you might find evidence of old repairs and depending on the quality of the wood used, they can be treated to match the original woodwork.
Making everything ready for paint has taken me just about a week with the aid of a wallpaper kettle, electric sander and a heat gun – oh, and James.  His contribution was massive as it would have taken me twice as long to steam those walls on a ladder!  And material wise, I’ve used half a bag of patching plaster, so around a kilo of the stuff, as well as a bit of polyfilla that I found from the back of the cupboard.  The paint colours are picked, bought and ready to go as well as my rollers and a mystery stencil for the floor.
Yes, he is helping…


So, this is where I am at with my mission of eradicating forbidding spare rooms in our house: fingers full of burns, blisters and what have you, but very happy about the progress made.
AND, during my sabbatical in the UK, while I was neglecting this blog, I made chez nous an Instagram account!  Check us out and give me a shout out @cheznous21 – I’d love to hear what you guys think.
Next blog will be all about ‘dat paint, ‘dat paint.. no dribbles.



Colin the Camper Van



 

It’s been a while.  Again.  But hey, would you like to see my awesome camper van?  I suppose making it this far, you really got no other choice.
So without further due, let me introduce you to Colin… Colin the Camper.  He’s a converted Ford Transit circa 1988, with a solid service record, 2L petrol engine and enough room to sleep up to four people.  The previous owners, a tidy elderly couple who clearly pioneered the whole glamping thing before it was cool, kept him in tip top condition. 
 

 

Yes, he is peak retro.


Yes, I still can’t drive.

And yes, he was dirt cheap.   
Although he is ready to cruise straight to sunny Margate or down to Costa del Sol, today if needed, I actually have another usage in mind; we bought Colin to serve as my artist studio. 

Turns out renting studio space in our neck of the woods is near damn impossible.  Either the potential land lords are turned off by the idea of an artist splashing paints everywhere or they are not dog friendly.  Rather than compromise on our living space in the good old West Riding Kindred Spirit I really wanted to find somewhere else to work.  The boat lacks natural daylight and setting up a table for my things each day would just be too much hassle, especially with Rusty nestling in my feet all day.  I was getting pretty down about it all and lo and behold, it was my wonderful James who thought about hunting down a camper van.  We went to see our Colin during the Easter break and less than a week later we had him driven down from Nottingham.  Absolutely no regrets, not yet anyway.  Sure, the interior needs to be updated, the engine needs regular tender love & care and I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO DRIVE, but I am over the moon to have a working space again.  
 

In other news, we will be back in France soon, mid-May in fact, and I am itching to crack on with the renovations Chez Nous.  In our absence we had some lovely tenants from the UK staying over.  Lucy with her partner bravely took on our bohemian den for a few month and you can read about how they got on here.  Seeing her amazing photography is really inspiring me to do better in the future.  I’m even thinking about setting up a chez nousinstagram account – what do you guys think of that?

Together with making art again, it would be great to get back to regular blogging, I’ve just been lacking the motivation lately.  Let’s hope the summer will inspire me to crack on with it…  

How to Cook Like a Granny

Photo by NordWood Themes via Unsplash

 

Did you make any resolutions for 2018?  Mine is to stay somewhat sane and learn how to make sourdough.  We may also, after a year of heavy contemplation, start building our dream kitchen Chez Nous.
Our current kitchen was always meant as a temporary solution.  Besides from a pretty porcelain sink in the corner, there were but a single electrical outlet and three built in cupboards to work with.  To fit in a bit of practicality, i.e. a worktop, fridge and the likes, we had to block one door completely and obstruct the usage of another.  Not ideal, but actually worked pretty well for us.  Later we improved the space even further by swapping some of our modular elements for a stunning Art Deco buffet and cutting off the steal framed hood that did very little else besides from looking ugly and stopping James from standing straight when washing the dishes.  Addition of two more electrical sockets made a world of difference, too, but we still need to shuffle things around if we wish to use the microwave and the hotplate at the same time.
Our modular kitchen almost a year ago…
…and the latest addition.  This appalling collage of appalling photos is supposed to give you an idea of what our new art deco unit looks like.   What did you say, a child did these?  Darling, don’t be a hater!  Bad photos are still better than no photos.. right?

Long story short, functional as our little kitchen is, we simply want more space.

The two of us cook a fair bit and generally enjoy spending time in the kitchen.  Currently every inch of space serves a function and does not yield any room for leisure or socialising and certainly not for not dining.  Cooking elaborate meals, especially in the weekends is something I and James love to do together, but there is frankly not enough space to do it comfortably.  Our dining room, although adjoined to the kitchen, feels very separate and does not allow much communication between people dining in and the cook.  For structural reasons, opening up the wall between the two spaces is not practical, thus we have decided to convert the dining room into a joint kitchen-diner.  The room is certainly big enough and it has direct access to our favourite part of our home, a large north facing balcony.

Like anything else in our house, this plan is not without complications:  first up, plumbing and electrics need to be well planned out before calling in the cavalry and the ceiling needs to be re-plastered.  But before anything else, we want to start it all off by replacing our narrow french door that opens into the balcony with a walls worth of bi-folding windows.  Once this is all done we will need to re-finish the century old oak planks on the floor, remove the fireplace (that will be later reinstalled elsewhere) and start building our kitchen cabinetry.  This project will take a few years and may or may not begin next summer, depending on how much money we got flying around and the how long it takes to install the panoramic window.  That part will need to be done by professionals – replacing a whole exterior wall with glass is something I bluntly do not want to be responsible for.
You may think with all this waiting I may be anxious to start already – hah, and you would be dead right.  We have already started hoarding components for our new awesome kitchen diner, the latest piece being an antique wood burning cooker.
I know, I know… a bit obsolete isn’t it, but they are lovely!  First we seriously thought about getting a reconditioned AGA and even visited a small business that would be willing to ship and install one for us in France.  In the end, it turned out that they could only build us an electrical one as the gas or wood burning models were not fitted by their French agent.  More and more we thought about the matter, it seemed that both of us would prefer something more period accurate and started looking for solid fuel ranges online.  Sympathetic restoration of old properties has never really been the rage in France and old cast iron cookers do crop up at online markets like Le Bon Coin pretty regularly.

It is sad how commonplace it is to dispose antique kitchen elements in favour of, for arguments sake, IKEA flat packs.  Beyond their historical and decorative value, old cast iron ranges can be made to work with a bit of elbow grease and are not that complicated to use.  They chuck out good amount of heat in the winter and being mostly great big lumps of iron, they do stay warm for longer than your average modern wood burner.  Sure, not nearly as environmental and efficient as their modern counterparts, using an old one is still safe and easy as long as you understand basic principles behind heating with wood and take good care of your chimney.

Don’t let this phone camera horror show fool you – there is a beautiful stove hidden in there.
Somewhere.
We found our late 1920’s solid fuel cooking stove online for a measly 100 euros.  Compared to even a second hand AGA, and deducting possible restoration costs, we are looking at three grands worth of savings, which is music to my ears already.  I also think this one is more beautiful.  It is about a meter wide and 80 centimetres deep, standing a little lower than a standard modern day worktop, and has two ovens, two adjustable hot plates and a water tank – everything a pre-electical era housewife could ask for.  You load it through the top, after lifting out the left hand hotplate, and clean the ashes from a draw below.  This type of cooker is a pleasure to use once you get used to it – I can confirm this as my granny had one, albeit hers was Finnish and twice as big.  I would, though, recommend having an alternative mean of cooking as a reserve for the times you want food fast or it is too hot to fire up the old beast.  We already use a portable induction plate in our modular temp kitchen and it will continue to serve us from time to time in the new one.
Although reasonably small, this cast iron stoves is heavy as sin and could not be transported home in our trusted Laguna, but thankfully a friend gave us a hand.  I stayed at home as the boys boarded his’s Kangoo and headed towards Albi.  Let me make it clear that it happen before any red wine was consumed, but on the way back the Kangoo, our new stove and the merry men took a steep turn to a roundabout, causing the lump of iron to tilt suddenly on one of its legs, twisting it and sending what was now a few hundred kilos of instant regret against one of the minivans windows, braking said window and releasing loose cooker parts flying onto the road.  Long story short; no people were harmed in the bundle, but the van was left with a smashed window and the cooker with a broken set of cast iron rings.
So if you know a skilled craftsman that could make us a new cast iron hotplate I would be very grateful to have their number.
Even after the dramatic turn on to the roundabout of shame, the piece is still in pretty good nick for its age.  Ignoring those few broken rings and a twisted back leg, the restoration will be mostly a cosmetic one: removing the extensive surface rust from the top and some from the chrome safety rail, re-lining both ovens with clay and patch up a few coin sized holes in the enamel.  Only thing needing to be replaced completely is the water tank that is nearly rusted through, but commissioning what is basically a stainless steal box should not be too difficult.
This cooker is nearly identical to ours and for sale in Samur 😉
I had no change to photograph our beautiful cooker before it was transported Chez Nous and dumped into my studio and the ones my husband took later were ehem.. a bit blurry, so I thought I ought to find images of a similar one for you to look at.  This burgundy one caught my eye and it is near identical to ours besides from the colour.  The condition is incredibly good and as far as I can tell, it is only missing a part of its safety rail – and that could easily be replaced.  The blood red seductress is for sale in lovely city of Samur – in case you would like one of your own.
In this model, the wood goes in through the left hand side hotplate.
The reason we wanted to opt for a wood burning cooker was simple – cutting down on our reliance on gas whilst avoiding huge electricity bills.  Burning locally grown wood, especially in a modern energy efficient stove is one of the most environmentally friendly ways of releasing energy – something I feel quite strongly about.  Although our cooker will not have the specs of a modern Scandinavian-style wood burner, we do have access to cheap firewood grown on the Montagne Noire, literally less than twenty minute drive away from our house.  That will make a world of difference compared to the price we pay for our logs in the UK, which we buy in bulk from a local supplier but are grown and packed in Latvia.

You can’t beat a good gas fired range when it comes to reliability, but the routine of cranking up a wood burning one is something I wholeheartedly enjoy.  James and I both have enough confidence in our cooking skills to know what to expect, especially after making meals on top of our little stove here on the West Riding Kindred Spirit on a regular basis.  Having said that, a thermometer for the ovens would not be a bad thing to get.  And a really thick pair of oven mittens.  I am not much of a baker, but I got a long list of traditional Finnish dishes lined up to try once our cooker is in operation.  It is nothing too fancy: rye bread, root vegetable casseroles, karelian pies, baked porridge… – just your typical northern comfort foods that lack a certain je ne sais quoi when made in a conventional oven.

I promise to invite you all for tea and pie when it is all done.  Do not wait by the phone though, it may take a few years to make this plan to a reality.  In the mean time, you will find me browsing pinterest for wood burner suitable recipes and tile inspo.

…à tout à l’heure!