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Closing Time

After a long hot summer spent by the foot of the Montagne Noire, I have just about a week left before I’ll lock up shop and return to Somerset for the winter.  I’m in no means ready to go – it feels like I merely scratched the surface on this year’s renovations, but daily grind is calling… and I do miss James who has already returned to the UK work.

The last few days have been a combination of trying to enjoy the last of my time in France and tying of loose ends, finishing half painted walls and hanging missing shutters…  and although it does not feel much right now, I am glad to be able to wipe these little jobs off the agenda.  The most important one, started when my mother was still here, was to give our entryway a fresh lick of paint:

Less than an entryway per se, but a forbidding corridor, our hallway has been my least favourite part of this house since we moved in.  Despite of the stunning patterned tile right as you walk in, the walls were dirty and where they were not covered in mismatched patches of sage, electric blue, cream or brown paint, the plasterwork was, to put it plainly, falling apart.

Well, I describe it as plaster, but in reality a lot of the framework of our house consists of, in a need of a better term, construction waste, i.e. cement and sand combined with plaster.  This stuff was used widely in the beginning of the century as it was cheap and relatively easy to mix up, but unlike pure plaster, it rarely ages well.  For one, it cracks to buggery with changes in temperature & humidity and if that isn’t enough, it literally disintegrates from a slightest of punctures.  Imagine hammering a nail into a wall made of this stuff – that tiny little pinhole can, and will, easily turn into a fist sized crater.

At some point, sixties or seventies I recon, the previous occupants must have gotten fed up with their crumbling walls and simply covered the holes and cracks with a hearty layer of wallpaper.  Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.  However, when we moved in, the 90’s wallpaper, that had not been desperately well hung in the first place, was peeling off and mouldy so we had to get rid of it as a priority, exposing the hot mess that lay under the filthy surface.

To rectify the situation I would need to demolish all existing “plaster”, all the way down to the houses stone and timber frame, and start anew.  I have nothing against doing so, eventually, but I am going to have to sell a few more paintings before I can afford that.  So, to make sure we will not return to a house where half a wall has crumbled to dust over winter, I decided to add a stabilizer: good old white emulsion.

Paint, as you may or may not know is pigment suspended in a liquid, most commonly in an oil or acrylic based solution.  In a way, to offer coverage and stability, paint needs to act as a low level glue, to adhere to the surface being painted and this is where things get interesting.  My turn-to-dust-plaster walls crumble from the slightest touch, but introduce a bonding agent, such as acrylic emulsion, and you increase your chances of keeping this stuff up on the walls until you have couched up enough cash to do the job properly.

These walls had been painted before, in a sort of sage green colour.  This was originally paired with mahogany stained pine panelling, later painted brown followed by electric blue and finally haphazardly tinted cream.  With the help of my mum, I was finally able to lay that particular colour-monster to rest, deep under several layers of matte white paint.  Damage control, to say the least, but I can finally return to my wine and cheese without needing to worry about this particular problem… at least for another year or so.

I will be packing off to England soon, with a heavy hear, but that need’t be the end of Chez Nous N°21!  This blog started out chronicling the ongoing renovation of my century old abode, and I want this to be at the hear of it, always, but at the same time I would love to keep writing while I am not actually… well, renovating.  I am sure I’ll be able to come up with more exciting content from the other end of the pond, but tips on what you like reading about are always appreciated – just drop us a comment or get in touch via social media.

Until then – à tout à l’heure !

Tiina x

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

 

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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

Wish you were here!

The sun is high and so are our holiday spirits.  My mum and my wee nephew are half way through their holiday and both are absolutely in love with my adoptive home town and the French pace of life.  Mazamet is not a bad place to be in the summer: just last weekend we enjoyed the dance and music of the Fanfares Sans Frontières-festival, drove up and down the Montagne Noire and celebrated Bastille Day with a picnic up at the Lac De Montagnes.  It is all weird and wonderful for little Jim, but he’s taking it all on his stride like a seasoned citizen of the world, picking up bits of French, trying the food and hanging out with his new best friend – Rusty the dog.

I got my hands full to say the least, so better crack on and skip straight to the photographic evidence of our adventures:

Here’s a few pics from the Fanfares Sans Frontières.  I loved the marching bands and the bag pipes, but you can’t beat a bit of Samba…

It’s funny how enjoyable photography becomes when you have another pair of hands to hold the dogs lead!  These are my favourite snaps from around Mazamet centre ville.

I could not write this post without posting a few snaps of this adorable little fella, my nephew Jim – naturally with the consent of him mum.  I don’t think Rusty has ever felt this loved in his life.  Being a rescue, he needs a bit of attention and Jim is more than willing to fuss him to the ends of the earth.

Oh, and here you have some more dog photos.  The internet needs more Rusty, I am certain of it.  These are taken at the Lac de Montagnes and Payrin.

Right, that should be all for now!  See you again with a bit of painting and decorating news from chez nous N°21

Bisous!

Tiina x

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Take a seat…

La canicule has shifted and I am back on the chain gang; fixing little bits and bobs and trying to keep my mum and my nephew content in their holidaymaking.  They arrived from Finland a week ago and I am already running out of exiting things to do.  Thankfully, Les Fanfares Sans Frontieres-festival is almost here and it happens to be the best of Mazamets summer events, in my opinion anyway.  Having had a jolly good time swimming, barbecuing and burning every inch of my body in the sun, I am not quite finished taking photographs of my latest painting project so I thought I’d share another nifty chair restoration I finished yesterday.  This time around I revamped a relatively modern seat, not older than perhaps 15-20 years, and made out of aluminium.

Les Fanfares sans Frontieres, Mazamet, 2018, photo by Tiina Lilja

How I came by this piece mirrors a familiar tale:  Not a full day had passed since I wrote about finding a small Art-Deco-esque chair near our bins at Champs de la Ville when another appeared, deserted by the very same communal recycling point near our house.  It was a petite metal framed patio chair, in pretty good nick but repainted rather clumsily with a heavy-duty matte emulsion.  I needed a break from answering awkward questions from a nine year old so restoring a chair seemed like the perfect excuse for a bit of alone time as acetone based paint stripper and children don’t mix all that well.

old aluminium chair with its white paint job

Based on the thickness of the paint on this chair I expected to find several different colours, but there were only two distinct layers: heavy-handed white emulsion and the original teal & white powder coat enamel.  The latter turned out tricky to remove, but I enjoyed every minute of my time spent lurking under the guises of toxic fumes.  Three coats of paint stripper, some serious sanding and a quick steel wool polish later, I had managed to clean the chair down to bare aluminium.

The polished metal had next to no imperfections so I was happy to leave it as it was.  The seat, however, needed more work.  There was a bit of old rust and dinky scraps of enamel so I prepped these parts to be painted by giving them a quick once-over with medium grit sandpaper.  My chosen colour, blush pink, was largely dictated by what I had in the house, but it worked well with the dark brushed aluminium.  I’d bought the paint for our bathroom door two years ago and, based on the thick dried up layer of paint, it needed using up.

Although I am happy with the results, arguably this one was not entirely worth the effort.

You might be surprised by my sudden sensibility, but not all projects, no matter how satisfying they might be to execute, are cost effective.  Money spent on the paint-stripper, paint (although scraps) and other sundry potions and bits like sandpaper, not to mention my precious time, totals more than the chair is worth.  But I do appreciate a good up-cycling project.  Not to mention locking myself away from child-minding duties.

This seat will serve us well on our balcony, for years to come, but unlike the one I just upholstered, it perhaps falls under the vanity project-category.

Voilà.  Another wee task tasked.

Now, if you excuse me, I am off to read a story.  About an Alsatian dog called Roi, who catches crooks and stuff.  And I am pretty excited about that.

Tiina x

Absolute Beginners

This will be the first of my catch up posts from the past couple of months and I thought it best to begin the unloading gently with an easier-than-easy tutorial on upholstery.  Now, upholstery is a bit like cooking: you can make it as easy or as complicated as you want and I chose to go at with as little effort as possible.   It is not a skill I would say I have mastered, not yet anyway, but pulling off a little project like this was surprisingly straightforward.  No sewing and no specialist equipment needed: simply a piece of cloth you like and a staple gun, although a hammer and some tacks/small nails would do the same trick.

Yes, and a humble old chair.

I found mine discarded by municipal bins whilst walking the pupper.  In France, like in many places where I’d lived before, especially in bigger cities like Edinburgh, it is commonplace to leave unwanted furniture by the communal wheelie bins or in the street to be collected by those in need or want.  A rogue way of recycling perhaps, but in my view, better than taking your old things to the recycling centres that sort things to be burned or destroyed rather than working towards re-using them.  When I was a student trying to get furnishings on a budget, things left out to be re-used were a true godsend.  This chair that I picked out in Mazamet was certainly not the first one I have adopted from the rubbish and I have collected other ones since.

This particular chair looks to me to have been made in the late 1930’s or 1940’s with an art deco-esque steel frame and a wood veneer seat, upholstered in cream coloured vinyl.  The metal was covered with a bit of rust, but otherwise the chair was in pretty good nick – the perfect upcycling project really!  Better yet, I had just the fabric.  Ideally you’d have something quite hefty and tightly woven so that it won’t fray too badly with use – thinking canvas rather than sheet with a bit of elasticity but nothing too bouncy like jersey.  The one I chose is a Finlayson fabric meant for table cloths, cushions, aprons and things that need to stand a bit of wear, made of pure cotton.

metal frame of a 1930's chair

Before I could start with the seat, I wanted to make sure the frame was looking its best.  First I removed the seat and began getting rid of most of the surface rust using an orbital sander.  Regular old sand paper with a fine grit would work, too, and one designed to be used with water on metal specifically would have been a stellar choice.  To finish it off, I added a bit of multipurpose furniture polish to protect the frame and moved on to the next and final step of this little project: upholstering the seat.

I could have removed and replaced the original vinyl, but as it was not damaged in any great way I simply stapled my new fabric on top of it.  By using the seat as a template I cut out a piece of cloth, about 10 cm bigger than the base and made little indents alongside the edge of it, every 3 cm or so as you can see on the photos below.  This was to insure the best possible “fit” without wrinkles.  Having done this, I used my staple gun to tack the fabric tightly in place, one flap after another until the cloth was completely stapled in.  Having checked everything looked smooth on the top, I fastened the seat back onto the frame using new, stainless steel screws and… voilà!

I just upholstered a seat in less than 15 minutes.

And so could you.

Here comes the best part… ok, the preachy part:  By re-using an old piece of furniture rather than buying new is one step away from the single-usage-discard culture of today.  If the eco-aspect does not float your boat, how about saving cold hard cash?  That usually gets people listening.  When I get new things, I try to favour local producers and things that are made to last.  Unfortunately, quality seldom comes cheap.  By skimping on cheaply made goods such as chairs for my balcony (which is where this newly upholstered one is going) means that next time when I really need something, I can afford to pay that little bit more for it.

Working towards a more sustainable consumer culture is not just a nice thing to aim for, it should be a given thing.  I am not trying to lecture you about how to buy – maybe you want new stuff and that is fine.  However, when you buy things to replace your old items, think of ways to put them back into the circulation.  There are clothes banks, charity shops, apps to buy and sell surplus food (too good to go-app being a recent favourite of mine), facebook groups to donate stuff… or the curb.  Chances are there is someone willing to take on your pre-loved goods, even if they need a bit of TLC.

Rant OVER.

See you in a bit with a new blog!

Bisous,

T xx

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Boys are back in town…

Little did I know that spring would be sprung and long gone before my next post, but here we are!  My husband and I decided to spend a few months in the UK: my (soul)mate had his leg operated on and the best place to be was surprisingly not by the foot of the Montagne Noire, in a house consisting mostly of stairs.  However, we are back Chez Nous for the summer and I’ve got so many things to write about!  There will be more projects executed in varying degree of success by yours truly, Cowboy Builders – Mazamet edition (spoiler alert, I become the restoration charlatan) and so much whinging about la canicule.  Yesterday the record for the highest temperature in France was broken twice, finishing at a scorching 45.9 °C, observed just outside Nîmes.  Our region has enjoyed sunny days of around 35-39°C and quite frankly, that is hot enough for me.  I blistered my bum on a car seat the other day and the poor dog is boiling in his furs.  If you know a witchdoctor specialising in weather magic, have a word.

Anyhow, before I start to unload the latest from our hellishly warm building site, here’s a wee tongue-in-cheek picture post of the top 3 reasons why I have been too busy to blog.  Enjoy!

  1. We are now living on the outskirts of Wells, the smallest city in England. Population density ’round these parts is measured by cows per person and everyone drives a combine harvester. Posh people hire chauffeurs for their combines and they have gold-alloy wheels.  Pip pip! The social calendar revolves mostly around the Royal Bath and West Show and consuming copious quantities of cider.If you don’t know who this man is we cannot be friends.
    Sorry.

    Roger Wilkins, the maker of the worlds best cider

  2. There are too many great walks in the West Country…I left the house to take the dog on a quick piss and got lost once on the footpaths near our house.  Three hours and around 17k later we ended up home.  My alsatian loved it all, but I still have flashbacks to being chased by a herd of cows.  For my fellow townies out there, cows are much bigger than you would expect.West Country Cows

    Much, much bigger.

    About half a tractor, I’d say the official unit of measurement in Somerset.

    Another funny thing about walking…  Watch your step!  I made the mistake of letting Rusty off the lead once without checking my surroundings properly.  He took off like a rat down a drainpipe, towards a field in the distance.  There was a waft in the warm evening breeze – a familiar scent of the countryside.  The time stood still when my pup took a leap toward the stinking ground.  I let out a shriek, but it was too late: Not a day had passed when I observed a farmer spraying these field with something that stank suspiciously like fermented cow shite.

    Funny that, I thought to myself when on closer inspection my sweet dog turned out covered from the tip of the nose to the end of his waggily tail in exactly that, – fermented cow shite.  Despite two baths Rusty smelled like a thousand burning landfills for at least a week.

    Clothes were burned, lessons learned etc.

  3. We were busy hunting essentials in the UK.The place we rent was unfurnished and having moved our stuff to France we had very little in the UK.  The houseboat we used as a base had built-in furniture so beyond cooking stuff and bedding we had very little to set up home with.Luckily family stepped in and helped us out and we were able to get some good deals on gumtree and carboot sales.  A daunting task, but an interesting one.  Put in that situation, what would you buy first?

    We got a baby grand piano.

    He is called Graeme – free to a good home so we only paid for the delivery and he’s the centerpiece of our front room.  A logical purchase, really.  Oh, and did I mention, I when we got him I could not play to save my life.  Few months later I am learning Beatles and stuff, but mostly Graeme the Baby Grand serves as a three-poster-bed for Rusty.

     

Here we are – a little catch up before the work begins.

I’m off to find some rosé now – gotta keep hydrated during a heatwave!  Keep cool and see you later – à plus tard!

T xx