closing time featured image

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

The Butchering Art

Here’s the summary of my blog so far:

Me: buys an old house crumbling to ruin
House: treat me right, will you
Me:
House: restore me with love
Me: I will try my hardest to do everything right and cherish you my love

Me: cheap building shite, though
House: !!!
Me: …though.

stripping paint

When I was in comprehensive school I had this Finnish-teacher who allowed her students to swear as much as they wanted during one lesson of their final year.  To get it out of their system.  This was known as vittu-tunti, roughly translating as the f*ck-it-hour.  As much as the teenage me needed an outlet for all those profanities, I feel the time is nigh for a confessional post, right here, chez nous!  I hereby come clean on all the restoration sins I have committed in the name of preservation of a status quo that is the reality of living in a century old property… and beyond.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the ultimate vittu-tunti – chez nous edition:  All the things I’ve done to this beautiful house that are against my principles, and the principles of good restoration and the civil taste, but needed doing regardless.

This will be a tale of creative problem-solving on a budget, but those of a strong conservatorial constitution might wish to sit this one out…

My story of cowboy building begins in December 2018.  Forgive me reader, for I have sinned.  There might have been a few slips of the old acrylate paint before, but this one is major! 

Let me set the scene for you: Our balcony was leaking downstairs and the winter storms were imminent.  The roofing would protect the cracked and leaky concrete, but a bit of the fibre-glass sheeting was lost and the replacements kept disappearing with the strong winds blowing off the Montagne Noire.  We cannot really afford the big works for the minute, but left untouched the floor was only going to get worse.  Driven by desperation I set out to investigate, peeling off broken bits of concrete and bitumen to reveal a gaping gash to the structure.  This thing is huge with a capital H.  I hesitated a moment before filling the hole with a wooden dowel and half a gallon of poly-filler before sealing the deal with a thick layer of moisture repellent paint. 

Out of sight, out of mind.  Blissfully.

Although the hole is now filled, I needed to think of something to cover the gap in the fibre glass sheeting.  As mentioned, we tried fitting a new panel, but the wooden supports were too rotted to house the screws tightly enough to withstand the strong winds.  I did not have a replacement panel, but what I did have was some thick black plastic and a staple gun.  Sin number two, but this “repair” if you can call it that, has lasted 6 months and counting. 

Forgive me, dear reader, but sometimes the flesh is weak. 

There was a small incident with a marble fireplace and super-glue, but I had been a very good girl until it came to replacing a panel on one of our doors.  Now, these things were hand made a century ago, but some arse with an anger management problem got to them a decade or two before we adopted this house and most of these stunning wooden panelled doors have holes punched and/or kicked through them.  I am no carpenter, but patching up a door with a bit of beech wood veneer and ready-made moulding is not a true crime against ones historical abode… is it?

Strike number three!

Summer is here and I have one last confession to make – the balcony I mangled for its own good in the winter was looking a bit sad and instead of getting on with proper repairs I simply covered up my butchery with a rug and a set of canopies made out of printed cotton.  I am unashamedly proud about this one.  The material first served in our wedding as table cloths, then I made curtains out of them to cover a gaping patch of raw concrete in our dining room… and now this! 

Adding a handy distraction has given us another year of living with the horrible fibre glass roof without needing to replace it with something equally cheap and nasty.  My plan is to source some pre-loved art deco metalwork and make this balcony a glazed conservatory, but we are at a dreaming-stage with that one, I am afraid, rather than ready to rumble.

There.  My conscience is clean.

Let the renovator without sin cast the first stone.   All I can say is that I did it for the greater good!

THE GREATER GOOD.

 

Bisous,

T xx