One door closes…

Salut! Ca va?

Greetings from the stormy Montagne Noire.  So far we have had a thunderstorm every night for almost a week now and frankly I am loving it.  Rusty the dog is not the biggest fan of thunder and lightning because it is very, very frightening, but my strawberries are sure loving life for the minute.  Hot days and rainy nights – that’s not half bad, really.  James has been away in the UK so I have had plenty of time to piss around in this great old house of ours and finish up a few bits and bops that have needed doing, such as treating every inch of wood with wood worm killer, waxing the parquet and painting random surfaces around the house, such as our back door.

 

Now you might think it doesn’t really matter what a back door looks like, but ours has been giving me some grief since we moved in.  First of all, it is pretty damn unattractive and second, it soaks up water, especially during our wet winters, swelling up and becoming increasingly difficult to open.  If the good old seventies shed-look wasn’t bad enough, there are random pins and nails sticking out of it, horrible scratch marks on both sides evidencing bad dog ownership by the past inhabitants, and to top it all off – most of the exterior side was covered in a sheet of fibreglass.

 

Yeah.  Fiberglass.

Tell me if I am wrong, but nothing quite screams derelict meth lab like a door boarded up with fibre glass.  Like a great big neon sign to the thieves and charlatans, it just screams THIS HOUSE IS EMPTY, THIS HOUSE IS ABANDONED.

Abandoned by good taste, anyway.

OK, overreactions aside, I was tired of looking at this ugly door, so went and took it off its hinges one afternoon, removed all the pins, straggly bits of insulation tape, as well as THE F*CKING FIBREGLASS and started prepping it up for a fresh coat of paint.  The door in question is heavily lacquered pine, which needed a thorough sanding to insure the best possible bond between the paint-to-be and the wood.  As the weather was superb, I was able to use my orbital sander in the garden, starting with a rough 80 grit sandpaper to get rid of as many dog scratches and bumps as possible, followed by a twirl with fine 120 grit to smoothen things out.  The old hardware was easily removed before sanding, but having rusted quite a bit, I gave both pieces a good wire brushing and a new lick of black paint.  Once I moved the door indoors, just as the first raindrops were starting to fall, I proceeded to tape out the little windows and priming both sides twice with scraps of white Dulux Bathroom Plus.

 

For once, choosing the colours was easy – we are bang on in the middle of Mazamets protected historic quartier that expands around 500 metres around the protestant temple in Rue Saint Jacques and were obligated to abide with the existing colours scheme for the exterior of the house.  Our front door and shutters used to be painted deep indigo blue, now faded to buggery, and it was my pleasure to start riving the exterior woodwork.  I am aware some owners of old and historic houses get all hot and bothered about needing to obey protection orders and regulations around listed houses, but this is what we bought into!  I love the historic charm of chez nous and I see protecting the original character of it as my duty.  To summarise, if you do not wish to adhere to regulation regarding a historic building, do not get involved with one.  As simple as.

 

Also – ignoring the fact how anything would have been an improvement to the old grandpa-shed-chic, I simply love a bit of indigo.

The interior side on the other hand called for something a bit more neutral as the corridor the door is located in can look incredibly dark.  I did not see a reason to cycle into the hardware store in the blazing sun just to paint one tiddly door, ooooh no way Josephine, so I looked through the tins of paint I had left over from previous projects and from that ever growing collection I picked up a can of Nuance multi support in light grey.  This one is a nifty little product and even if I would not run swapping all my usual oil based paints for water based multi support emulsions like this one, I have always found it silly easy to use, economic and durable.  This little tin of mere 500ml has got me through several other projects before, including re-painting a dining room table, several door frames and baseboards as well as waterproofing the inside rim of a rusty enamel bucket for the garden – so little of it does go a long way.  Almost worth getting off my backside to buy some more, but naaah.

1960's orange motobecane retro bisycle

Where it was too hot to cycle before, today the skies are weeping and the roads would be much too slippery for me on my beloved Motobecane… or so I tell myself while making another cup of tea to go with blogging.

All and all, it took two coats of each paint, Nuance grey and Dulux indigo, for an even coverage.  I was working with scraps, but roughly calculating how much paint I used, the overall cost of this project would have stayed well under 20 euros – which is not bad at all when compared to buying another door.  Painting one does not take too long at all, but waiting for the paint to dry… that’s a different story.  The hot, humid weather did not grant me any favours in that regard either, so I waited a minimum of 12 hours between each coat of oil based indigo and up to 2 hours between coats of emulsion.  Painting a door is still an easy little DIY project, even for an absolute beginner.  Ordinarily, being an experienced painter, the most difficult part for me is taking the thing like that off its hinges and fastening it all back up again.  This time, however, I was very fortunate, because the door would sit so close to the ground I could literally just prop it up against the wall and attached the hinges back on without needing to hold the heavy bugger up in the air.  In theory you can just as well paint a door in situ, but I think you get better results when laying an object like that on its back.

 

On the flip side, my first attempt in re-attaching the handles went tits up real fast as I did them the wrong way round preventing the door from closing.  In the rain.  But that little hick up was easily corrected and nothing was spoilt – except perhaps my image as a DIY goddess.

I am sure you, dear reader, won’t tell a soul.

In hindsight… and there seems to be a hindsight to each and every project I start, I should have perhaps thought about how to cover our garden entrance before taking this door of its hinges.  Well – c’es la vie!  Nothing spoilt.  Our garden is fenced and backing only into other peoples secure gardens so I felt comfortable just propping up another loose door (because who does not have a few pissing around in the house at any given time!?) and calling it a day.  Looks to me it did the trick, steering of rain, stray cats and flying ants for the few nights the real back door was drying in my atelier.

 

So what do you think?  Yay or Nay for this little painting project?

It feels a bit funny to be painting something having just spent literally weeks stripping paint from woodwork and restoring it to its original glory, but this is how the cooking crumbles chez moi.  There are some wood purists around and I could see how some of you out there would prefer the knotty pine look over smooth, painted one, but not all woodwork is created equal in my view; painting over a century old door with lovely patina and stunning wood grain feels somewhat worse of an idea than blending in a relatively contemporary addition.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that I love the new look.  Sans fibreglass, the house is looking immediately more up together from the back than it did before and the grey really lightens up our dark corridor.  Job well jobbed it is then – I would even pat myself in the back if I was not sitting down so comfortably.

Rainy day in Mazamet, Montagne Noire

I am off to explore the rain with my little lad, until next time – au revoir!  xxx

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

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