Thursday, 31 May 2012


Today was a mixture of delightful progress and massive frustration. The delightful progress was that our wall is all made! And the plumber’s made a start on the pipework! So the bathroom feels like it’s taking shape properly now, which is super-exciting.

Under construction

The frustrating bits started out with the taps for the shower having been put in the wrong place. We sent a plan to the plumber about 2 weeks ago with the taps clearly marked as being under the window – this evening we found out that apparently he needs 3 inches of vertical pipe above the taps before changing the direction of the flow to horizontal (to get past the window) or we’ll lose water pressure. Which is all very well, but to which my response is “And you couldn’t have told us this 2 weeks ago before we built the wall??” So now we have to work around it. I suspect I may ask him to at least move it over towards the window as much as he can – part of having the taps under the window was so we’d get a beautiful vertical run on the lovely green tiles (ordered today!) which of course is ruined if the taps are in the middle of it. Going to experiment with pieces of paper tomorrow…

My plan had been to scrub the second half of the bedroom floor this afternoon (first half done on Monday), but as the plumber had moved the circular saw in there and I can’t lift it, that was out. The electrician has a bunch of floorboards up in the upstairs room (he’s finishing tomorrow) so I couldn’t scrub those either. It was too hot to steam wallpaper off the walls.

So I revised my plan: scrub the 1st floor landing and strip the paint off one of the flights of stairs between the ground and 1st floor.

Step one: Apply paint stripper to top three stairs, leaving central patch untouched for access purposes. This went according to plan although the stairs had accumulated a scary amount of dust since I scrubbed them the other day, no doubt due to the building work.

Step two: Decide to see if paint stripper will also work on the dark stain around the edges of the floor in the bedroom. Paint on without incident.

Step three: Mop landing to pick up surface dust. Ew.

Step three: Realise 30 mins has gone by already. Paint second coat of paint stripper onto top three stairs, paint second coat on bedroom floor.

Step four: Start scrubbing the landing. Unlike in my study upstairs, the sticky remnant of carpet backing is stuck fast to the floor and no amount of scrubbing will shift it. Scrub like a demon to little avail (although the bare wood patches yielded a fair amount of muck)

Three quarters of the way through the scrubbing the builder arrived for sign-off on the wall, so I chatted with him a bit while we waited for Djeli to turn up. Basically, the wall is beautiful and has been signed off. The secure door into the back garden will take a little while yet though, so for now the old door stays nailed to the wall and we won’t be getting a skip for the weekend.

At this point, everything went to pieces: Djeli forgot to watch his feet while going down the stairs, slipped on the paint stripper and ended up with stripper all over his shirt, meaning I had to embark on some emergency laundering to ensure his good work shirt didn’t develop paint-stripper holes all down the arms.

Djeli started taking the tiles he’d picked up out of the car, while I suddenly realised the paint stripper had been on for an hour instead of 30 minutes, so nipped back up to scrape it off. Scrape scrape scrape, and yes it was coming off but – oh what a surprise! – there’s another layer underneath, this one pale grey. Scrape scrape ewwwww at the patch in the bedroom which seems to have turned into some kind of truly awful tarlike substance – almost exactly how I imagine the tarpits that swallowed woolly mammoths before there were real people. Absolutely disgusting and stuck fast to the scrubbing brush, water has no effect. Also hasn’t entirely stripped it and I’m wondering if it’s not actually paint but rather some kind of stain. £2 scrubbing brush ruined.


Given the multiple layers on the stairs, I reapplied paint stripper to those then went and carted tiles about with Djeli. Recoated the stripper then went upstairs to start sanding down the door which is going to be my desk. The sandpaper ripped at the corner after a little & Djeli (without looking) said I’d need new paper. Precut sheets couldn’t be found anywhere.

Back to the stairs. Scraped off the paint stripper and there’s ANOTHER layer underneath – this one a sort of vanillaey cream colour. At this point it was about 7pm and Djeli had made noises about sealing the bathroom floor with PVA, so I offered to help him with that after the stairs were done. So I scrubbed my three stairs, then mopped them, resulting in this dismal result for about 3 hours work:

3 hours and 4 coats of paint stripper later...

This is really dragging on so I will try to condense – I hung about waiting to help Djeli with the sealing-painting while he kept adjusting things (among them trying to get the shower tray – which used to fit the space – to fit in, which it doesn’t seem to any more), then it turned out I couldn’t help with the sealing anyway because he wanted to use a roller and we only have 1 roller. Tried to fit new sandpaper to the sander, but it turned out the template provided in the box wasn’t actually right. Recut sandpaper and finally got it to fit at which point I lost all will to live.

But on the way home I bought half a litre of milk which I am going to let go lumpy so I can make casein and lime paint for my desk 🙂 Not sure how well it will work, but it’s cheap and if it goes nasty I can always sand it off if I can’t face the paint stripper!

Oh, and it seems that someone has smashed our gas meter so we need to get the gas company out to fit a new one. Yay.

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012


Just a quick update before I stagger off to bed – we’ve been at the house or out and about doing housey things from 9 this morning through till 8 or so tonight, so you can imagine the state of me. I don’t have terribly much to show for it – the bedroom is now mopped and half-scrubbed, but there’s some clarity on some stuff and some confusion on others.


  • The plumber came and installed the boiler. He’ll be back later in the week to fit the bathroom stuff and do the tiling (he’s a multi-skilled plumber)
  • The electrician is nearly done – he’s installed the bathroom fan (just astoundingly quiet! worth every penny paid for it), we have lights in all rooms upstairs and he’s just finishing off the final circuit which is for the stairway lights
  • BT came by today and hooked us up with a telephone line and… wait for it… fibre optic internet!! Yes, we have internet and we haven’t even moved in yet! Our previous three moving experiences each saw us without internet for about 6 weeks, so you can imagine my joy
  • We have bought lime putty for the limewash part of the Great Homemade Paints Experiment
  • We did a mammoth trip to Gillingham B&Q (apparently the second-largest in England, but my brain cannot compute how big a bigger B&Q could possibly be) and I think we’re now basically sorted for hardware supplies (apart from bathroom paint) until we move in – paint stripper, sugar soap, paint brushes, a paint mixer attachment for the electric drill, Polyfilla to fix the gouges out of the door and so on
  • We have finalised the decision for the feature-wall tiles in the bathroom – green handmade Mexican terracotta tiles:

Medium green tiles

Up for reconsideration:

  • Patrick Baty, a highly respected colour & paint expert and interesting Twitter personage, recommends against limewashing the floors. I’ve asked him for more detail as to why not. I do know that there could be problems – hence the plan to test it on some spare floorboards first and having a contingency plan to stain the boards instead with tea and steel wool in vinegar – but given that most books seem to just ignore the possibility of limewashing your floor, rather than say why they’re not talking about it, it’s hard to know what the problem is, especially given that the Georgian Group’s Book of the Georgian House cites an historical reference indicating that English floors were sometimes limewashed. Anyway, I plan to forge ahead with my test this week, but will definitely bear in mind Patrick’s anti-recommendation…

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Saturday, 26 May 2012

You know you’ve done too much renovating when…

… you have to write placeholder text to test out an email template you’ve been coding and you come up with this:

Big Green Tile – our newest production launches.

For years we’ve wanted to do something big and green, and here it is: Big Green Tile, the latest opera by Caitlin Rowley, is an astounding tale of renovation and regret. Featuring big green tiles hand-made by Mexican virgins underwater, Big Green Tile has something for everyone, unless they wanted mosaics.

Big Green Tile: Opening Thursday at a building site near you.

Oh dear.

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Saturday, 26 May 2012

More of the same

Just a quick update today – absolutely exhausted after a stinkingly hot day out at the house. True it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – once we managed to open all the windows, there was actually more airflow than expected, and there was a nice breeze coming up the hill from the river, which helped too. But I’m not good with hot weather so am rather wrecked tonight.

Mostly today was more scrubbing – the electrician was out yesterday, and again today, and he’d pulled up half the floorboards in the top two so scrubbing those was out. The bedroom’s perimeter is still covered in this & that, so that was out too. Which kind of just left the stairs. So I have scrubbed the stairs. And damn hard work it was too. And scrubbing involved removing yet more nails of varying sizes from the stairs but at least now all the stairs down the ground floor are done – the ones from the ground floor down to the basement are new so while they’re also dirty it’s not ingrained in them yet.

We also had a useful discussion with the electrician about bathroom lighting, how to organise the circuits for the room and hall lights, and the plan for powerpoints – SO good to finally be getting things fitted! By the end of Monday we should be all sorted for the lights and powerpoints and the bathroom electrics!

And I achieved my first-ever solo flat-pack project! We bought me a little stool at Ikea the other night. And I assembled it, all on my own! It’s true I tried to screw it together back to front to start with, but I soon sorted myself out – and now I have a step! I can open windows! I can get tins of tomatoes off high shelves! Huzzah!

So a small day, albeit an exhausting one. Monday is when the real fun begins – we’re spending Sunday night at Dartford so we can make an early start, and in the plan is to go out and buy lime putty and a paint mixer and then I will start my homemade paint adventure! Yes, on Monday I’m going to be making my first test batches – I need to run tests on the limewash to see if a linseed-enhanced limewash will stick to the floor and what effect the pigment has. I also need to do a test (possibly not on Monday) to see how the egg & linseed oil paint turns out – I want to use this one on the front door. Part of Monday’s work will also involve stripping paint – the blops on the floor in the top two rooms once they’ve been scrubbed, and the white panels along the sides of the stairs.

Tomorrow, though, we’re going to look at hand-made Mexican tiles as a possibility for the feature wall in the bathroom. What do you think?

Lime green Mexican hand-made tile

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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

A day of shopping

Today got a bit messed up. I meant to go out to the house and keep scrubbing today but what with one thing and another it didn’t happen. Instead today has turned into a day of shopping.

Firstly – I have pigments!! I went to Cornelissen’s on Great Russell Street – it’s a wonderful art shop and they keep all sorts of ground pigments, ready for artists – or ambitious renovators 🙂 – to create their own paints. They can also advise which pigments are lime-safe, so I have come away with a small packet of Deep Cadmium Red for painting the front door and my little step for reaching high shelves and a larger packet of Mars Black which will be for the floors. The Mars Black isn’t actually lime-safe – none of the blacks are – but apparently I’m not the first person to be attempting dark grey floors with limewash, and the Mars Black is the pigment most people are buying for this, so hopefully it works! I also got some boiled linseed oil – planning to try out an egg and linseed oil paint for the front-door – slower-drying than some of the others (several days to dry, several weeks to become washable) but ultimately it should wear a bit better than some of the other ones.

Shopping for paint

This evening we went to Ikea – we now have the bathroom basin and cabinet, some curtains and a step for me to be able to reach high shelves. Djeli’s brother suggested we also consider getting a gazebo for the garden – we had a look at them and it seems like a truly excellent idea. Given that we’re going to be cooking outside for quite a while, it looks like an excellent plan to me. So we’re going to have a think about that one, clear a space in yard and work it out after we’ve moved in.

I’ve also ordered my housewarming present to myself – the Phaidon Book of Tapas – we’re going to Spain shortly after we move and we’re going to be staying in a self-catering apartment there. Last time we went we had terrible trouble finding actual Spanish food, so this time we’re going to make our own. And tapas seemed like a good idea, given our random cooking arrangements for the foreseeable future.

Tomorrow the taps arrive – it’s starting to get exciting now!

PS. And I wrote some notes today!!! First time I’ve managed to compose anything since about March. I’ve been carrying this idea round in my head for the past couple of weeks for how to start the recorder quartet piece I’m writing for Pink Noise – now it’s down on paper and really properly started. Woohoo!

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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A change of tack

The past couple of days have been pretty huge for the renovation project, even though I haven’t actually been at the house.

We’ve ordered a bunch of stuff – the boiler’s coming on Monday, taps for the shower and bathroom sink and a pump so we can have the laundry in the basement are coming on Thursday. And all this spending spree brought on a rather nasty realisation – with the bank having taken so insanely long to let us buy the house, we ended up spending about £6000-8000 more on rent than we’d figured on when we first did our calculations and budget. The bank also insisted on external render works which will cost us about £3000. And what with the bank withholding £2000 and needing to get the bathroom wall replaced, our budget is getting raaaather tight. We both want the windows replaced quite desperately – me because I feel trapped by the hideous picture windows and Djeli because they’re single-glazed and the house is going to be freezing & waste a whole lot of money on vanishing heating as soon as it turns chilly.

So we’ve made a bit of an about-face and come to a big decision: we’re not going to buy a kitchen, we’re going to make it ourselves. About 3 months ago when I had a bit of a book-buying frenzy, one of the books I bought was Terence Conran’s DIY By Design. I got it mostly because it had instructions for making your own bed because it looked like we wouldn’t be buying one for a while, but it also has a Conran-designed kitchen with full instructions to make it yourself. We figure that if we keep things simple, it should be entirely possible for us to make our own kitchen – after all, I never wanted head-height cupboards, our requirements are pretty basic for the most part and Djeli already has some experience making cabinets – he made a special shelf unit to slot into the bathroom cupboard here to hold loo rolls (one of the best things about this flat now!) and a clever pot stand to use some dead space in the kitchen here too.

I’m surprisingly happy about this decision. I expected I’d start to worry but I haven’t. I feel quite liberated, really – most of the prefab kitchens I’ve seen have left me severely underwhelmed by the design while gasping at the cost. The only ones I’ve really liked have been bespoke, which there was never room in the budget for, but I really like the simplicity of the Conran design. I also like that we can start out making it as open shelves and add cupboard doors later if (more likely ‘when’) we get fed up with the dust.

I’ve gone back to looking at range cookers, on the grounds that it’d be easier to install and then we wouldn’t need to worry about cutting holes in a worktop or ensuring there’s enough ventilation in a home-made cabinet for a fitted oven. And I think I may have already found what I want – it’s a tiny 60cm range by Smeg – pyrolitic cleaning, rotisserie, wok burner – everything we wanted, and cheaper than buying a separate oven and cooktop with these features too.

Smeg 60cm 'Concert' range cooker

So it’s a big change from the original plan, but I think it’ll be for the best. Djeli seems to think so too, although as usual his brain is bounding ahead of the pack and dreaming of hand-chiselled wooden sinks – I’m all for it, but I think I’ll pick out a normal sink too, just in case 🙂

PS. I now also own a pair of heavy-duty gel kneepads – bring on the scrubbing! Nails, do your worst – you can’t reach my knees now!

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Monday, 21 May 2012

Little scrubber

Yep. That’s me. I have moved on from mopping to scrubbing. Which has led to the discovery of a very important life lesson:

Knees don’t enjoy kneeling on nails

Even though I’ve removed what feels like 10,000 nails from the floor of my study, it seems there’s still another 10,000 more that I couldn’t see because of the dirt. Scrubbing is proving to be both a satisfying – look how CLEAN this is!


– and a revolting experience – ewwww! look at the filth from one tiny corner! and most of it’s still on the floor waiting to be mopped up! ewwwwwww!

The price of cleanliness

but it’s definitely a worthwhile one. Finally it feels like these rooms may be clean enough to live in when we move in in 3 weeks’ time. It’s also starting to feel like there may be a slim possibility of the bathroom being complete in time for moving in too, even if it’s still awaiting its window and we need to resort to heavy-duty plastic sheeting to keep us decent when showering.

All in all, finally there’s a feeling of it coming together and feeling like an actual home. We’ve made almost all the bathroom decisions now – today should see the boiler ordered, sometime this week we’ll go to Ikea and buy the sink and cabinet (OMG that just made me realise we haven’t even thought about taps!), and yesterday we identified the tiles we want for most of the bathroom so now I just need to find places that sell really stylish mosaics for the feature wall because the affordable-tile places only have tedious ones and I want this wall to be really nice. Fortunately it’s also going to be pretty small so we can afford something a bit pricier because we won’t need very much of it! The builder’s booked in to come and rebuild the far wall (which is supported by a rusty girder so it seemed better to replace it all now than wait until we drop out of the sky while showering), and the plumber’s booked to install the boiler & test the heating while the wall’s being built, then to move straight on to plumbing and tiling the bathroom once the builder’s done. Electrician still needs to be booked in, but I think that’ll happen either today or tomorrow – that one’s in Djeli’s hands.

Progress! These are the tiles we’ve chosen:

Bathroom tiles

Apart from the scrubbing, I have been continuing to remove the wallpaper in Djeli’s study. This weekend I’ve been focusing on the chimney breast area and I have to say, it’s like the labours of Hercules, but with less manure – there’s so many layers!!!!! From top to bottom there are:

  1. Cream-painted woodchip wallpaper
  2. Mint green-painted woodchip wallpaper
  3. White paint
  4. Green wallpaper with a light stripe
  5. Kitchen design wallpaper similar to that on the wall by the light switch but in a different colourway
  6. Lovely wallpaper of coloured patches with a network of raised fine white lines across it
  7. Blue paint which may be original – certainly isn’t plastic paint anyway


I absolutely adore the lowest layer of wallpaper – I almost wish it extended over the whole wall so that we could keep it!


You can see more close-up details in the Flickr set for the house.

The mint green paint is hell. Pure plastic so the steam doesn’t penetrate it unless you rip it up a bit with the scraper to start with. The white paint is not so plasticky but just as determined to stay on the wall. So the cream woodchip comes away easily, then I battle my way through the green layer, then another battle through the white layer.

To add to the woes, the green paint woodchip doesn’t extend over the full wall – in places it’s just green paint directly on cement. And some damn fool has cement rendered directly over layers in places – it looks like they tried to remove the paper but gave up and just slapped the cement on top, so you get to a point where the paper’s been coming away beautifully and then it stops because you’ve just found the concrete.

In other places they’ve spackled cracks or gaps with God-knows-what. Something that hasn’t dried fully, at any rate – some of it’s white, some brown. The brown is cracked and they both scrape quite softly away if you even lightly touch them with the scraper. If you told me the white was toothpaste I would not be surprised. Suspect we’re going to have to dig this crap out and maybe even see if the layer of cement that’s gone over the paper can be removed so we can clean things back properly.

My big concern with this haphazard use of cement and other random materials is about paint. Originally the walls were all plastered using lime, which allows them to breathe and prevents damp. Modern materials like cement and normal plaster though won’t let the house breathe – they’re fine for modern houses which have damp-proof courses, but this one doesn’t so without breathable material on the walls, the damp can’t evaporate and starts to damage the building. And as some fool in the past covered the whole of the outside in concrete render, it really needs to be able to breathe inwardly.

Add to this the problem that modern plastic paints won’t let lime render breathe but many natural paints need a porous surface to be applied to and the problem compounds because to find a paint that will let the lime do its breathing thing while still sticking to the cement bits is going to be quite difficult!

I’m having a lovely time anyway with my new paints books that I showed last time – REALLY interesting. I think I’m leaning towards limewash with added linseed oil for the floors but need to read some more to be certain. I wanted to use casein (milk curds) because the combintion of the casein and lime creates a strong glue-like effect that would ensure the paint would stick to the floor and not just brush off, but being milk, casein paints can be affected by mould if they’re in a damp area, and given that we’re planning to put carpet down as soon as we can (prob October or November), I wouldn’t want to risk someone dropping a glass of water and the paint under the carpet going all mouldy.

However, I’m planning on having a play with casein paint – traditional Shaker milk paints – to repaint the cupboard in the temporary kitchen. It’s a really well made cupboard – solidly build right into the wall, so I’m going to strip back the filthy and chipped plastic paint that’s on it now and repaint it using natural paints. It’s already got battens fixed inside so we’re going to make some shelves from some leftover floorboards and I’ll paint those too.

So that’s where we’re up to. Once I’ve bought some heavy-duty kneepads, I’ll be heading back out there later this week to do some more scrubbing and wallpaper steaming and possibly some paint-removing too. I’m also planning a trip to the wonderful Cornelissen’s to buy pigments for the paints – REALLY looking forward to that one – can’t wait!!!

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

On my own at the house

Yesterday was the first time I’d been out to the house alone. I guess that’s a pretty big step. It was kind of nice, being alone there, quietly (or not so quietly – singing along to my iPod on random at the top of my voice while I worked 😀 ) working to make it nice.

And I got a fair bit done too, if I may say so – my original plan was just to get some more mopping done and see what happened. The mopping ended up involving removing a bunch of nails left over from when the boards under the carpet were taken up, so was a lot more strenuous and time-consuming than it sounds – as I swiped the the mop over the floor it would catch on any protruding nail – some I could remove, others I just had to bash down with a hammer so they were level with the floor instead of sticking up. Some of the nails I pulled up were actually screws – screws that had evidently been used as nails for some bizarre unknown reason.

As planned, I took a photo of how the floor had dried after the last mopping – still quite light (I suspect I mostly was just pushing mud around by the time I washed this patch) but there’s a visible difference between the mopped and unmopped part.

Once dry

I guess I kind of felt inspired, being there alone and working to make the house nice, so after I mopped the whole of the top floor, I set about stripping the wallpaper from one of the walls in Djeli’s study with my steam wallpaper stripping tool. It seemed a good point to start – there’s only half the wall left because so much plaster fell away when we were trying to remove the tiles that had been stuck directly onto it for the bathroom in that room. And it had two layers of the dreaded woodchip wallpaper. We’d heard that that stuff is an absolute cow to remove but the steamer made it really easy. I’m not sure how much that was helped by the pretty intact paint layer underneath, but it’s off now (except for the bits I couldn’t reach because of my wonky post-injury ankles not being happy up ladders) and Djelibeybi has a green wall, which is a vast improvement over the nasty woodchip:

Djeli has a green wall!

And then I cleaned up all the mess (why didn’t I think to deal with the wallpaper BEFORE I started cleaning the floor???) and mopped it again. So that room has now had 3 moppings and the landing and my room 1 each. This is going to take a while!

The other thing I did yesterday was that we’ve revised our bathroom plan due to finding a picture in Grand Designs magazine of a bathroom, similar in size to ours (it’s a little wider though) and beautifully done, which is making us rethink both tiling and – more critically – what we want to do with the window. So we need to play about with some ideas, and I figured the easiest way would be to have a rough drawing of what the bathroom will look like so we can experiment, so I drew this rather approximate perspective drawing of what we plan to do. The wall straight ahead will be the feature wall with the window, in the shower area, the loo sits back in a small alcove created where the second doorway was, and above the basin are a couple of plate mirrors, similar to those in the picture.

Bathroom perspective

Djelibeybi and I also discussed the question of employment monsters. He’s been taken – he started his new contract this week – but while I’ve been on the brink of sending my CV out for about 3 weeks now, there’s always been something getting in the way – dental trauma, client jobs to be finished, new client jobs turning up, house stuff – and we’ve agreed now that I should focus on these other things until after the move – we’ve got a tight enough timeline as it is and a mere 3 weekends is not going to be nearly enough to get everything clean and nice, even in only 3 or 4 rooms, as well as packing if we’re both working full-time. So that’s that. No employment monster for me just yet.

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Monday, 14 May 2012

The big clean begins in earnest

So no, still no musical activity, although I’m starting to think about it more. I have a sort of vague idea about where to start on the recorder quartet, now I just need to force myself to sit down and work on it.

But the house is progressing! This weekend I finally moved on from the endless sweep-and-vacuum routine I’ve been in for about the past two weeks and moved on to MOPPING. Yes, mopping. I went out and bought a £2 old-fashioned rope mop and after a last sweep-and-vacuum I started mopping the top floor.

I think from these photos it should be clear that I have not over-exaggerated the extent of the dust (and remember, this is after about 4 rounds of sweeping and vacuuming already!):

Wet and dry

Wet and dry 2

Observe, in particular, in the first picture, the colour of the mop (the mop was brand new out of the packet when I started mopping that room) and the colour of the water in the bucket (it was that colour basically after two dips of the mop!).

It’s great that the floor looks so dark after mopping, actually – it’s confirmed for both of us that we want to seriously consider dark floors throughout the house – it really does make the room feel much wider than the pale floor. The ceiling feels a little lower though, than with the light colour, so I don’t think I’ll be painting the skirting boards dark now but I really think it’ll look great when it’s a dark grey.

Unfortunately it’s also highlighted just how careless previous painters have been, especially in Djelibeybi’s study – blops all over the place, so I think I’m going to have to get in there with paint stripper or something before the Great Limewash Experiment commences.

Speaking of which, the course I was going to do filled up faster than anticipated so I’ve had to scrap that plan. To be honest, I’m not that sorry – I’ve been absolutely exhausted with everything I’ve been trying to fit in the past couple of weeks – work at the house, client work, preparing my renewed portfolio so I can apply for a real contract soon, not to mention dealing with having to get the half-crown installed on my tooth that was root-canalled over a year ago. So not having to go to Chichester, with all the attendant finding accommodation and working out travel, has actually been quite welcome.

Instead, today I made use of the Amazon gift voucher my lovely mama gave me for my birthday and bought two books which I think will help me with the Great Limewashing Experiment:

Using Natural Finishes book cover

The Natural Paint Decorator book cover


They both include recipes for natural paints, but while the first one looks immensely practical, including tips on what might have caused various problems, the second one looks like it might have some more creative ideas and just generally looked interesting.

So the plan now is: washing and scrubbing for the moment, then steam-cleaning (probably not till Djeli’s done whatever needs to happen with the ceilings – either patching or replacing). I’ll see how much of the paint splotches come off with the steaming and if need be then I’ll move on to paint-removing. Once that’s done and I feel the floors are as clean as can be, I’ll start the limewashing. Have to get onto the intense cleaning pretty quickly though – each thin coat of limewash needs to dry for about 24 hours, and if the employment monster takes me, the time to get 3 or 4 coats done (or preferably 5) before we move on 8 June is going to be very tight indeed!

I’m still plotting a day for people to come and join in the cleanup fun – unfortunately it seems the new weekend I’d planned (2 June) is the Jubilee weekend when some people will be joining in the festivities (and I’m hoping to be one of them 😀 ) and others will have fled in terror. So I need a new plan and I’m not sure what it will be.

But first for more cleaning!

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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Contemplating colours

I’m working today, so of course I’ve become totally distracted by housey things. I guess that’s the beauty of working for yourself, eh? In particular, today I am contemplating colours. The whole house needs to be painted, inside and out, and the other day I received the Little Greene paint swatches which are just delicious so I’ve been thinking about what should go where and how to proceed.

Today I’ve read a couple of truly fascinating posts on the blog of Patrick Baty, an authority on architectural paint and colour. The first article, The Heirarchy of Colour in Eighteenth Century Decoration, yielded useful information about which bits to paint what colours – it seems that in the 18th century, the panelling and mouldings on the walls were an interpretation of classical columns (see the diagram in the article) so the wall paint should go all the way up to the top of the cornice – not to the bottom as we were thinking. I would imagine this would also have the effect of making the room seem taller.

The colours Baty shows in this article as “The Common Colours”, interestingly enough, reflect the colours I was thinking of – something like his Pearl Colour on the walls, and Lead Colour on the floors, with white ceilings. I found it interesting to discover that these Common Colours were the cheapest paint colours, and so would have most likely been used in modest homes such as ours. Also interesting to note is that Georgians usually painted the whole house the same colour – no different colours for different rooms, which is comforting for me because that was my original plan, but then I’d been a little concerned that it might feel a little overwhelming. Or boring. But hopefully this means it’ll be OK.

Of course, our house isn’t Eighteenth Century – from what we’ve been able to find out, it was probably built around 1850, officially early Victorian – so it’s Georgian outside, but really more Victorian inside, which kind of poses a conundrum about how to deal with the interiors. The one room (our bedroom) which seems to have original skirting boards and cornices also has picture rails which seem to be genuinely old picture rails, not modern ones that someone’s stuck on afterwards. The thing with this is that – as I understand it – picture rails were a Victorian invention and didn’t exist in the Georgian period. But as it’s there – and from our own experience as tenants, and bearing in mind that we will most likely need to rent the house out at some point, picture rails are fantastic because they allow for easy personalisation of a space without putting holes in the walls. But do we then paint them to match the walls (Georgian approach) or to match the ceiling (Victorian approach, I think)?

Of course, having then read Baty’s article on Lime Plaster and Subsequent Decoration and given the plaster disaster in Djeli’s study:
Coming apart

it would seem that after re-rendering – if we do it properly to allow the house to breathe – we may not be able to paint the walls properly for 2 years. But I guess that gives us LOTS of time to really think about what colours to use!

My first step before anything happens is to take casts of all these mouldings & cornices and so on, so that we have a record of what seems to be original so we can make the other rooms match that.

And then there’s the floors. We still seem to have the original boards, but they are FILTHY and bashed around, especially in the loungeroom where some moron decided to saw out a patch instead of just lifting them. It seems that in the Georgian period, where floors were made of cheaper woods such as pine, they would have been painted, possibly with a trompe l’oeil sort of pattern to make it look like it was actually a stone or marble floor. This is more faff than we’re prepared to go into, given the future carpeting – our original plan was to clean and paint the floorboards in the same colour as we’re planning to do the carpet. This will let us test out the colour and make the rooms feel cleaner and more finished until the carpet goes in – plus it will mean we can still have access to lift the floorboards as we build in various forms of cabling, including the home automation stuff that Djeli wants to play with.

However, we seem to have lucked out with the exterior colours. Our original plan was to make the outside of our house match that of our (joined) neighbour, which seems to be the right thing to do. And by a happy chance, the colour that the neighbour has fits with the recommendations in Baty’s Painting of Georgian Buildings post which says that rendered facades should use stone colours. Unfortunately the ironwork on the front of the house is painted black (should be some sort of grey – black came in much later, apparently) and the window frames are white (should be pale stone or off-white) but at least the overall colour will be correct, and it’s a colour we like, and the overall effect is very handsome, if not terribly historically accurate.

The one thing we haven’t really settled on yet is the colour for the front door. Baty’s table says the front door should use “Bronze Greens, Brunswick Greens, Invisible Greens, Red-Browns, Olive Browns”, which rather kills off both our ideas – Djeli had wanted black, and as I grew up in a house with a red door, I always feel a red-door house feels more like home 🙂 but from this list, I’m thinking a nice green might work. Now to run it past Djeli… and get back to work!

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