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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

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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

Tour de BLOODY France 2018

Coucou – ça va ?

We only had the Tour de BLOODY France pass through our little town, so I thought I would let you in on the ambiance.  I was a proper Tour de France virgin, having never even followed the competition on the telly before, and boy was it a blast!  When the Tour last passed Mazamet in 2007, the streets were full of people.  People love their road cycling here and it is the hometown of one of the most successful names of French cycling, Laurent Jalabert; needless to say, I had my hopes up for a great day!

The caravan was estimated to run through Mazamet from 2:30 onwards, followed by the leading riders and the Peloton around 4:15-4:30, giving us plenty of time to get settled.  As my darling James is currently still hobbling on crutches, we took seats in our local, Café de la Paix, with a view to a giant screen showing the race and ordered up a bottle of rosé to share between friends and family… and waited.

By the time the caravan floats started trickling through, I was full of wine and benevolence, ecstatic to be cheering and waving at the passing carnival among hordes of bouncy children trying to snatch freebies thrown from the passing vehicles, their parents wishing to sneak a picture of their favourite rider and everyone else in Mazamet.  I did observe some pretty unsavoury behaviour from a few adults, mainly frumpy middle aged men obsessed about snatching every single free promotional item thrown their way and not at all shy about tackling kids to get to them, but all in all, we had no problems finding places to observe the run through and enjoying the event.  We caught a lovely pack of laundry detergent, sweets, biscuits and a few hats that got either eaten fast or donated to the keenest participant, but sadly not a single shirt.  Debbie, from Debs World, did get herself photographed by the local press with her Tumba – Bloody – Rumba banner (made by yours truly), so it wasn’t all a waste.

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And yeah, I do appreciate the effort and training that is going into finishing a race like Tour de France, but damn… did I enjoy the floats or what!  The leading group whizzed by so fast you could have missed it if you blinked.  I could not believe the speed these guys were travelling, especially knowing they were about to approach the most gruelling part of the étape, the climb to the Pic de Nore, the highpoint of the Montagne Noire.  Peloton, the chasing pack if you will, was much more enjoyable to watch and akin to a flock of starlings or a school of fish for me in the way the riders rippled and moved as one unit. I could have stood there for hours admiring their efforts!

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Tour de France 2018 was truly a treat for me.  Although I am not the biggest fan of road cycling in the world, I loved the atmosphere of anticipation, the festive spirit that took over our little town, no matter how fleeting, and how excited we all were to welcome the Tour to Mazamet.  AND that chicken float!!!  That thing is my new spirit animal.

À bientôt!