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.|
I know. And don’t even get me started on the Asterix-stickers… for shits shake.
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…|
|The clean and neat AFTER shots. I am very pleased how it all turned out.|
|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.|
|The mirror is not currently fixed on the wall, but rests on a shallow marble self above the sink.|
|Finlayson towels – this pattern is called Elefantti and it was designed in 1969 by Laila Koskela.|
|Our dining room before we moved in and after some light touch-ups, including partial wallpaper removal. The bare patch of concrete sticks out like a sore thumb.|
|The happy nuptials: These snaps are from our very hand crafted wedding. We needed to cut some of the fabric for the table runners, but no-sewing was required, merely a creative hand wielding an iron.|
|After: finished curtains in situ.|
I had the whole 6’6 of James helping me with the rods, thankfully. Getting them somewhat levelled on my own would have been a mission impossible, especially as the ceiling in this room sags just enough to make everything look crooked regardless. In fact, we had to fix them in place twice, perfectly level at first and then crooked to match the profile of the ceiling – now the end result appears somewhat straight.
Tackling this little eye sore really came to show that putting things out of sight does get them off your mind. Or I am just pretty good avoiding life’s little pitfalls! Either way, this dining room is slowly but surely starting to feel like home.
|The light box in situ in our boho bedroom.|
|Our DIY lightbox made of a screen used in textile printing and our bed, made with textiles I printed as a teenager with this very same screen.|
|The light box comes with a remote dimmer and an off switch – lazy sleepers dream!|
Je ne sais pas.
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.|
|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…|
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.|
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.
Let us start with a little lesson in art history:
Towards the end of the 19th century and as a counteraction to what was seen as the emotionally poor strife for realism in art, the symbolists wanted to get back in touch with the the invisible and the mysterious – their psyches. As defined by Michael Gibson in his book Symbolism: “Less an artistic movement than a state of mind”;, the artists and artisans inspired by symbolist ideas never formed a defined style or a movement, but greatly affected the development of others such as Art Nouveau in France, BeNeLux and the UK, the Jugend Style in Central Europe, Russia, Scandinavia and Spain and the National Romantic Movement, most prominent in Norway and Finland. Idealistically exhausting itself by the beginning of the First World War, symbolism acted as a bridge between the impressionist and expressionist way of seeing the world, standing between the old and the new at the dawn of modernism.
|Examples of symbolist painting (left to right): Gustav Klimt Hope 1 (1903), Félicien Rops Pornocratès (1878), William Blake The Great Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (1806), Francisco Goya Saturn Devouring His Son (1819-1823). Klimt and Rops representing similar symbolist ideas that Goya and Blake were pioneering in the beginning of the 19th century.|
|Paul Gauguin Arearea (1892), Hugo Simberg, the Garden of Death (1896). The red fox in the first picture by Gauguin symbolises sexuality and coming of age.|
But enough about the artsy-fartsy semantics: long before the adaptation of openly symbolist language into liberal arts, our ancestors, mostly illiterate and superstitious, used symbols to decorate and to communicate – just think about the image of a skull and crossed bones that today is near universally understood as a sign of danger and death. The typical heart shape, an ideograph of the heart, has been used to express the idea of romantic love since the 14th century. Folk art, religious iconography and the art of illustration, not even discussing the complex mannerism of literature and the performing arts, had been shrouded in symbolism long before the painters of the 19th century took notice. The exotic and intriguing language of symbols was all the rage in the Victorian England, too, as the mood turned melancholic in the hangover years after the industrial revolution.
Decorative symbols, warning symbols, coats of arms, pictorial traffic signs, badges, logos… the list is endless, are an integral part of the cacophony of visual information we are bombarded with. The meaning of popular symbols, however, is not always fixed. For example, the swastika – the feared and loathed symbol of Nazism in today’s Europe, is a popular symbol of the god Vishnu when drawn clockwise and a symbol of the goddess Kali when drawn anticlockwise in Hindu religion, dating back a millennium. Due to its easily repeated form, the swastika has been a common ornament in decoration, especially in embroidery, since the invention of embroidery. For more of a contemporary example, just think of the “save icon” on your computer and how it has evolved, in less than 20 years, from a literal depiction of the format used to store data, into a general symbol of saving information.
|The times they are a-changin’…|
Naturally, countless of symbols get ignored or become obsolete, and after a time, forgotten. How long will it take for our insignia, lets say a sign for a wheelchair space or the Starbucks logo, to start looking like meaningless decoration?
“Construction should be decorated. Decoration should never be purposely constructed. That which is beautiful is true; that which is true must be beautiful.”
Built originally with a neo-classicist flair mimicking the grandiose houses of the bourgeoisie in Mazamet, my home is a typical example of a townhouse from the beginning of the 20th century in the industrial South. It was originally a crèmerie, habited by a family of cheese mongers, complete with two beautiful cheese cellars, three floors of living space, a garden and an outhouse, situated on a street dominated by businesses on both sides and a large protestant church. The leather and textile industry here was just starting to pick up speed, drawing people from the surrounding countryside and streets such as mine could easily be built up within a decade.
From the original detailing chez nous, the most intricate piece of ornamentation is hands down the surviving plaster work. What would have been a thick, possibly ornate crown moulding was removed in the sixties in an effort to mod this place up, but two full panels of decorative plaster work were kept above the fireplaces in two of the grandest rooms. These plaster reliefs were commonly arranged into a shape of a frame, and mine are loosely neoclassical in style, featuring motifs re-popularised by the renaissance revival.
|Arabesque-style frescoes in late renaissance-style from Owen Jones’ the Grammar of Ornament|
|This is my lounge, there are many like it, but this one is mine.|
The detail in our lounge, what would have been the original formal salon, is pretty well preserved. Most of the ornaments in this frieze are typical examples of classicist flora and fauna; the top horizontal panel is decorated with foliage of anthemion, a motif of ancient Greek origin, interspersed with heavily stylised bouquets of acanthus, in turn popularised by the ancient Romans. Tops of the left and right vertical panels, featuring a shallow arabesque-style detail, are capped off by a suggested Corinthian capitals, again, archetypal for the periods classical revival architecture.
It’s by no means an uncommon symbol: before being adopted by the hipsters, the crossed arrows were used as a pottery mark by a German manufacturer Porzellanfabrik Kalk from 1850 until their closure in 1976 as well as a Japanese dupe company in the 1950’s. It was also a central motif on the old Swedish ör coinage before the introduction of krona in 1873 Here, too, the meaning of the symbol must have stemmed from heraldry, but my further investigation drew a blank. Heck – I even checked the known symbols of the freemasons. Another blank. So I decided to turn to God and read about the symbolism of catholic saints, knowing this would have been a catholic household. Frustratingly, nothing obvious cropped up; St. Ursula is often seen holding an arrow and St. Sebastian pierced by a few more, but the connection felt too loose.
There must have been a concrete reason why the crossed arrows ended up on the background of the serpents, but I couldn’t seem to figure it out.
Then, after referring back and forth with a guide of heraldic symbolism I finally checked the actual heraldry of this region… and BINGO! Or may I say Blauvac. A mere four hours away from here, in the department of Vaucluse, nests a rural commune with a coat of arms of crossed arrows with their tips in the air, on a bright green background. Could it be that my family came from Blauvac? Short look at the history of the tiny village tells me about the arrival of the first telephone connection in 1926, followed by the first power lines and electricity in 1928, indicating that the area must have been pretty damn deprived at the time my cheese mongers settled in Mazamet – one of the richest provincial towns in the South due to the immense wealth created by the industries of the Montagne Noire.
A closer inspection of the wings on the top of the Caduceus reveal another interesting quirk – that they are those of a honeybee rather than the wings of a bird as normally expected. An insignificant detail if it wasn’t for the fact that one of the symbols of Mazamet is – you guessed it – a honeybee, prominently present in the Mazamet coat of arms as a symbol of the heavy industry. If you ask me, it seems who ever designed this little crest and placed it so prominently on the centerpiece of the grandest room in the house was proud about their trade as well as their roots.
The other plaster relief, in our current bedroom, is a 1920’s addition and in poor condition. The detail has suffered after being painted with heavy gloss over the years and some of the trims are crooked or asymmetrical. Situated above a simple wooden fireplace surround, this ornament is Greek-revival style with a hefty nod towards art deco. There are no serpents and no crests in this frame, in fact, no symbolism at all that would go beyond the aims of decoration.
|The Greek revival-mantel. Note the beautiful portrait of my dear James – he’s changed glasses since it was drawn. Thank Cheesus for that.|
I would love to think the revamp of the third floor salon/chambre, that we know was finished around 1924, was done by the couple that built this house. Homes like these used to be passed down in the family alongside the family business, often while multiple generations lived and worked under the same roof. We know the crèmerie was still up and running, along with many of the other businesses on this street, in the late 1950’s, as confirmed by our plumber who was born on this street. Today, the Caduceus might be the only visual clue of the family that once lived and loved here, but perhaps the more we continue to dig around, the more there is to be found about their lives here.
My father is a builder and regularly collects things left behind by builders like him generations before; packs of cigarettes, coins, items of clothing and scraps of paper, letters even, but this is a first time, in a domestic dwelling, where I’ve seen a message or a brand left behind by the inhabitants, encrypted in symbols. I am convinced leaving traces such as these, little clues, is more common than people think. Just like with us, the signs were always there, just hiding in plain sight.
From all the symbols in the world, the caduceus seems oddly fitting, thinking about us, the current owners of this house, being both self employed. The shop downstairs has been empty nearly fifty years, but I have plans to re-open it for the summer, this time, reincarnated as an artists studio and a gallery. Somehow I think the family of the crèmerie would approve.
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.
“Lush exotic fabrics, perfectly disheveled pillows, and overgrown foliage – these are the trademarks of the cozy yet eclectic bohemian aesthetic.”
|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.