A Question of Taste

Cou Cou !

Greetings from my work – I’m trying to keep this blog more regular by typing in my thoughts during our lunch breaks.  And you know what, I am in love with being back at work – having spent half a year on furlough I am chuffed to bits to have this routine back in my life.

I’ve been writing a lot about furniture lately: what to consider when looking for second-hand pieces and the affordability of certain types of antiques and vintage finds.  As you know, I love a bargain, and sustainability also plays a huge part when it comes to choosing what to buy for our home.  However, nothing weighs in quite as heavily as the look and feel of things.  Within this frame, I am actually really picky when it comes to most things, especially décor.

And it’s not just me either: I share my life with someone with a distinct taste and values of their own… no, I don’t mean the dog.  I refer to my husband James.  Whereas I used to be daft about dainty retro furniture, quirky patterns and curiosities, he was into classic Victoriana, warm wood and solid craftsmanship worn by the passage of time.  As we have grown tighter as a couple, our tastes in things have not so much merged, but evolved under the influence of each other’s likes and dislikes. 

When I first met James, you could say I fell in love with his antique chest before I fell in love with him.  A keen appreciation of carved wood, soft leather and cricket memorabilia shortly followed.  It was Stockholm syndrome via décor, really.  As mine was all sold or donated before I moved to Edinburgh, there was no choice but to live with James’ furniture when we moved in together.  Combined with my collection of Finnish glassware, textiles and knickknacks, however, our first house actually felt ours, not just his or mine.

cricket memorabilia

Since buying our Maison de Ville by the foot of the Montagne Noire and especially when crafting a base for ourselves in the UK, from the houseboat in Staffordshire to our dinky little cottage here in Ilfracombe, we have both only wanted to buy things that we really like.  It took us a year to get a bookcase because we couldn’t find one that looked like nice and was transportable, or wasn’t silly expensive or made of laminate.  Yeah – and here’s a pro tip if you move a lot:  having chipped enough flat pack furniture in the past, I go for solid wood now.  Sure it weighs a ton, always, but unlike laminated particle board pieces, you can refinish and repair wood when needed.

One of my favourite things about James is that he favours the unexpected.  Within a framework of solid, well-crafted things, he’s open to risks and blind to trends.  You either like something or you don’t’.  A great example of this would be our buffet in France – a massive carved Art Deco thing complete with a mirror and a bright yellow sunburst detail.  Most people assume I chose it as I got this thing about the early 1900’s, but it was James who picked it out at our local Dépôt-vente.  Sure, I love it, but I never thought how amazing it would look in our kitchen. 

On the flipside, I didn’t think my influence on James has been all that great but I do bring in a certain je ne sais quoi in the form of colours, materials and Scandi-influences.  He didn’t actually like our current sofa when I picked it out but got really into it when it arrived from Made.com.  Ironically, I’d be ready to swap it for a comfortable old leather Chesterfield as it’s really pretty but incredibly uncomfortable to sit on! 

So was it really Stockholm syndrome or can I admit my taste has become more British perhaps over the years?  My relationship with cricket is still complicated, but I can’t resist a bit of English eccentricity.  I’ve been wanting a pair of Staffordshire fire dogs for a long time and James finally agreed.  It’s not quite a matching pair, but I rather like it that way. 

What do you think – they make a nice pair, don’t they?

‘til next week,

Tx

mother of plants blog banner

Mother of Plants

don't let the existential dread set in comic
I wish I knew who to credit with this masterpiece!

Cou cou – greetings from Chez Nous.

I am on my second month of furlough and the existential dread has started creeping in.  Not today though, it’s a sunny day by the sea, so I thought about writing about my favourite obsession:

See, I’ve been making a man, with blond hair and a tan.

I mean plants, of course. Defo.

rainbow tulips

So go on and get yourself a nice cup of tea while I take you on a spin around my lifelong houseplant addiction.

I am still waiting for my inner Monty Don to kick in regarding gardening, but houseplants…  I can funk with that.  Not that it could have gone any other way – my mother is the original #plantmum.  Our home was a real jungle growing up.  From African Violets to Flame Nettle, you name it, it was thriving on the windowsills of our dinky council flat.  Each time my mum ran out of space for her pots my dad crafted her a new plant stand.  These were pretty grand affairs, sculpted from scraps of pine and lovingly lacquered to look like antique hardwood.  My favourites, however, were the hanging planters, made of either macramé decorated with tiny little seashells or braided jute twine.

Me and my wee sister around 1995
Me and my wee sister around 1995 (I’m on the left)

My mum’s cuttings accompanied me to my first flat.  Through a bit of trial and error, it did not take long before I too had a windowsill full of flora.  I loved that dinky apartment with its massive set of south facing windows.  It broke my heart to move out when I was accepted to study art in Edinburgh four years later.  The first thing I bought to brighten up the grimy bedsit where I ended up was a Peace Lily from IKEA, the only plant that refused to die in that damp hole.  Offspring of that tenacious Spathiphyllum continue to oxidise our cottage here in Ilfracombe.

my wee peace lily

I met my tall dark stranger James mid October 2013.  He is a man of the cut-flower variety – can’t kill a plant if it’s already dead, right!  Opposites attract I suppose, as we moved to France together soon after.  During our year in Brittany I produced a crop of chilies on our front room and grew my first avocado plant.  Compared to the dark and damp house we rented there, our first apartment in the South of France was flooded with natural light and made for cultivating greenery.  I never had a sunnier spot for my tomatoes than our balcony overlooking the Montagne Noire.  Although the Toms didn’t live to see us settling in Chez Nous N°21, the plants that did, however, are mostly with us here in Ilfracombe.

the famous Breton chilies
the famous Breton chilies

Yes, I rather packed the car full of pots than made sure I had enough to wear in the UK.

If you ask James, we probably have enough plants already.  Like with dogs and brogues, I think you could always have another pair.  However, it’s variety of foliage I appreciate, not quantity per se.  Following my latest re-potting marathon, I decided to donate most of my new cuttings to the poor plant-less people of Ilfracombe.  Less than 20 minutes by the kerb, with a “free to a good home” sign and the whole tray was gone.  Quite literally, although it was later returned with a thank you note.  Feeling positively saintly, I thought it was only right and just to reward myself with a medium-sized Cala Lily from Lidl.  As the newest member of my plant-family, it is also my current favourite, narrowly taking the top spot from an adorable Angel Wing Begonia.

My mum has recently re-discovered her love of plants after a few years of being too busy to take care of any.  I can’t wait to be able to swap cuttings with her.  Our joint love of plants is something that makes me feel closer to my mum, regardless of the 2000 miles between my home in England and hers back in Finland.  I think every mother and daughter need a thing of their own and this one is ours.

(You can see her green-babies below.)

I hope browsing through this short history of houseplants of Chez Nous N°21 has brought you as much joy as it has been to write it.  Looking up old photographs with my mum via WhatsApp and remembering blooms of the past has been a real delight – a proper break from the bleakness of lockdown life.  Hope you enjoyed that cup of tea, btw.  Just remember to give a wee drink to the thirsty plants at yours as well.

That’s what I am going to do next.

À plus tard!

Tx

Thingamajig

I bought a thingy.

Just this little gizmo.

A thingamajig.

I went to IKEA hungry and this is what I bought… a net canopy for our balcony!  It’s like an adult blanket-fort, but classy… or this is what I’ll be telling everyone who questions my ability to adult.

I don’t even mind the hipster connotations – I am an artist living in a crumbling old Maison de Ville by the foot of the bloody Montagne Noire.  That ship has sailed, mate.

And my mother agreed to it, so it must be class.

Anyway, how’s your Monday?

Ta,

Tiina x

 

minty makeover cover image

Minty Makeover

Salut – ça va?

I got a new painting project to show you guys!

The veteran readers of the Chez Nous N◦21 blog might just remember the last time I wrote about our dinky kitchen…

Yes, we got there in the end, but it took some serious creativity to turn this narrow space into a cozy kitchen; for example, each wall had an opening of some description and there were only two electrical sockets to power up everything, including the fridge, oven, microwave and our little portable hotplate.

Go figure.

Some industrial strength cleaning products, elbow grease and several extensions leads later – this formerly dirty corridor had been transformed into a functional cooking space fit for two foodies.

Not a perfect makeover, for sure, but it served us well for a time.

Little by little, the kitchen evolved further: we swapped our storage units for a large Art Deco buffet, hired and electrician to sort us out with more sockets and demolished the hood fixed on top of the sink.  The latter had been a real inconvenience for James; whereas the hood bothered me aesthetically, I did not need to worry about hitting my head on a steal frame every time I wanted a sandwich!

Although this piece covered the old window-turned-glass cupboard completely, it offered us twice the space for our cooking & food stuff and I have no regrets about nearly braking both of our backs carrying it upstairs with my long suffering husband.

Sorry, not sorry, James.

We always knew this modular kitchen of ours was a temporary solution so why spend too much time and money fiddling with it, right..?

True, we will build a brand-spanking-new kitchen eventually…  However, it won’t be this year, perhaps not the year after.  This dinky kitchen we have is very functional – but can you blame me for wanting it to be a bit more up-together, too?

Like many DIY transformations here chez nous, this one started out with the words “I had a bit of paint left over from a previous project”.

Sometimes that is all you need, really.

I swear, by the power of Greyskull, I was only going to paint one wall… the one visible from our dining room, but once I set out to work, it was obvious the whole kitchen would receive a fresh lick of paint.  Without a primer nor a filler, I slathered the emulsion straight on top of the damaged plaster and the crumbling paint.  Not my first cowboy building job, but somehow doing any deeper reparative work felt like a royal waste of time and effort.

The old plaster needs to come down completely as it is far beyond repair by simply filling in the cracks.  Unfortunately, we cannot start the works until the space no longer serves as our main cooking space.  Bit of a catch-22 situation, hence why I chose to paint like a charlatan, to get the walls looking neater temporarily.

The shade I chose was identical (literally) to the one I had used for our downstairs bedroom: lighter than light mint-green.  Hardly darker than an old white.  In my humble opinion, it works silly well with the pattern of our stunning cement tiles and the sage-green cabinetry.  In turn, the ceiling received a fresh coat of brilliant white emulsion.  Truth to be told, these greasy, nicotine stained panels had bothered me since we moved in, but I had not managed to get them sorted ’till now.

Although an impressive makeover, the overall effect is subtle and it feels more like the room was deep-cleaned rather than decorated.  And I suppose that really sums it up – in the past, the kitchen felt dirty no matter how much I scrubbed.

When living in a house like this, with crumbling old plaster, cracked ceilings and what not, you become blind to its imperfections.  Overall I love the quirks of my home, but certain aspects of living in an uncompleted project do get under my skin from time to time.  Seeing progress, no matter how small, helps to keep my spirits up.

Hope you enjoyed this little painting update – I already got my eyes on the next one…

Don’t forget to let me know how you get on with your summer projects in the comment section below!

A tout à l’heure!

Tiina x