Let’s go (paint) Outside

And so I have caught up with myself… The story of our house in France is almost up to date. Which is why my blog posts have become much slower. I could have told you about Uncle Richard and Stuey’s new year visit – of how we had ‘welcome drinks’ in the Salon to celebrate and then danced outside to Wham hits. But I suspect only we really find ourselves amusing and I have the photos on my phone for memories.!!!!

What you really want to know about are renovations. I’ve peppered this blog with personal tales more for my own benefit. A record of all that passed at La Maison while we were painting, varnishing or tiling. And a memory for the children who in the years since we bought it have hurtled towards being a bit ‘France is so lame….’

And this summer is Arthur’s last one before Secondary School. And if that weren’t milestone enough – we decided it would be the summer we paint the exterior of La Maison.

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My Dad has passed comment about why we hadn’t ‘smartened up the front a bit’ before now. And my answer is always – when you have no loo to pee in or kitchen to cook in, nicely painted gates seem rather a luxury. And then we needed bedrooms to sleep in and bedrooms for guests to sleep in and extra bathrooms for extra guests and so the faded walls and peeling shutters slid further down our list of priorities.

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But this summer with fewer guests than usual and no other major interior jobs to do, we earmarked it for project L’exteriuer…

And so my colour plans began. I decided to keep it simple with beigey, cream walls and white shutters. This would keep costs down (white eggshell cheaper than coloured and easier to repaint) but it would also keep the house relatively true to its history. After a thorough search and tester potstravaganza of fifty shades of cream I settled on one called doves bum or some such and took it to Homebase. “Oh no love – we don’t do colour match masonry paint,” said a helpful man. “But look, this premixed one is virtually the same – Cornish Cream” he added. And so I bought 80 litres of it. And we drove the 80 litres to France. And Peter could hardly wait to get started so on the first day of our Hols he painted a side wall – just to check I still liked it….

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And it was dark yellow!!!!! Not cream at all but a horrid, dark, colour that would not allow the sunlight to bounce off it on hot days… I tried to like it, thinking of the 80 litres of it we had. But I couldn’t….

And Peter, who knows me well, knew that I would moan and complain for the next fifteen years if he continued painting the house a colour I wasn’t happy with. So we went to Bricot Depot to see if they had anything preferable. But that’s for another blog post….

Renovation project Number 2 (meanwhile back in London..)

The French House had taken shape and over the last three years we’d achieved a huge amount. Sometimes I had to sit and look at old photos of dirty concrete floors and rats nests just to remember how bad it had been. The early days where we huddled around the fire in the kitchen with only an acroprop for company! And a bizarre Flinstones grotto!

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yabadabadooooo!

Yes there is still a lot to be done and we’ve even had to redo certain rooms like the downstairs guest room here (am planning a big kitchen makeover in 2015 – watch this space!) but essentially it was comfortable and clean. We’ve even listed it for rent on Air BnB (link here )

And yet, about a year after starting the French house project, we decided to buy a house of similar disrepair in London. So now when we arrive back at our London house after the fourteen hour drive home – we leave a relatively nice, comfortable, clean french home – back to a dirty, ugly, building site of a house! Truly it’s basic. And the speed of fixing up our London renovation project is nowhere near the pace of France. We are seasoned renovators (Peter has done up and sold three or four houses over the last few years) so we thought we should have a go at a large family home that came on the market on our street in London. Actually it was three bedsits – with an external staircase to access the top floor one. In the early days of living there we had to go outside just to go to bed.

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But as it was over four quite large floors, we saw ‘potential’ the renovators dream! Large, high ceilinged rooms, room to expand out on all sides, separate sitting rooms for us and the boys, four bathrooms and a huge garden by London standards. (Non London readers, anything others than paving slabs of 10×10 is quite a luxury)

So reader, we bought it and moved in. And three years later we don’t seem to have done much at all compared to our French House. Maybe because when in France we have little else to do whereas in London combined work lives and social lives suck our time like a Dr Who vortex!

It has taken so much longer to do anything as we are living among it all. Just moving all the wiring in the four floors of corridors and replacing skirting and architrave around doors (oh and taking all doors off to sand and repaint) has taken a year. But recently we turned a bit of a corner as the boys bedrooms in the loft are almost finished and work has begun on their top floor bathroom.
I have no before photos as these rooms simply didn’t exist – they were one big attic room we had a loft conversion company come in and build out to both sides.

I let the boys get involved with colour choice and tried to make some fun elements for both of them. They each have a sofa bed from made.com

Seb has a magnetic board with minecraft magnets so he can put up posters etc while Arthur has a whole wall made of cork tiles to pin his various Dr Who related stuff.

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magnet board made with a bit piece of MDF and magnetic paint

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exterminate!

The boys both wanted shades of blue so for Arthur it was a ‘almost teen friendly’ Hague Blue from Farrow and Ball. And for Seb Borrowed Light – “it’s grey” he wailed when it was done, but I persuaded him that no it was blue, very pale blue. I have promised him an orange cupboard eventually to brighten things up!

And although it is small steps and the rest of the house is really, still huge amounts of work, the progress we made over the years in France means I KNOW that we can do it and one day it will be nice. I just have no idea when that day is!!!

I heart eBay

I’ve decided to do a blog post showcasing my greatest eBay finds. Friends of mine are forever bemoaning the fact that I always buy stuff on eBay while they cannot find anything of any worth or just can’t be bothered to look. Which is really their big problem. Ebay can be a bit time consuming but there are bargains to be had and the fun of knowing you got something for a lot less money than if you went to John Lewis/Habitat etc Best of all you can get one off, no one else will have them, pieces which is my favourite thing of all.

So here is my idiots guide to shopping for stuff on eBay…

1) EVERYTHING is cheaper on eBay. Even IKEA. Our Kitchen in France was all bought up on eBay thanks to constant searching for IKEA VARDE. If you do want IKEA stuff be specific. Find out its funny Swedish name and search for that. In the case of our french kitchen we plumped for a freestanding range which people seem to be often selling off on eBay so even though it’s pretty cheap to buy it full price, by the time we’d bought 10 units of differing size including drawers and a sink unit, we worked out we saved around £1500.

 

Going potty

Going potty

2) SAVED SEARCHES ARE YOUR FRIEND. Think about specific things you want or need and save a search on eBay. I currently have saved searches for Made.com and Graham and Green and so every time anyone puts anything up there I get a notification taking me straight to it. We bought our cooker in France this way with a saved search for Smeg Range. You can see the kind of price range you can expect to pay and sometimes one is going cheap. Like this range with hood – ours for just £500 from a cookery school closing down in Watford.

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3) BE PREPARED TO TRAVEL. Husband (patiently) has driven for miles around the country over the last few years to buy up stuff I have found and bought on eBay. The further from London the cheaper it will be. FACT.

4) Don’t be put off by things listed as damaged or broken. Our bedroom mirror in France was honestly listed by someone as chipped in the description line which obviously put everyone else off. When it arrived the chip was so minor you can’t even see it but I got the mirror for £50 as opposed to hundreds of pounds for similar ‘non damaged’ ones.

 

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my fifty pound mirror

 

5) Buy ‘new’ stuff on ebay….I get all manner of useful but quite practical stuff on ebay. Things like ‘wire’. Hanging lights look so much nicer with antiqued or coloured wire hangings and you can search for all this sort of stuff on ebay. And the choice is massive. I had been searching for light wire and stumbled upon this black and white ‘iron’ wire which I switched onto my White Company lights in my London home to make them look a bit more interesting.

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Difficult to see but the wire is black and white stripes.

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‘antique’ wire on the hanging lights. Search for fabric wire on eBay

6) If you have something you like – keep buying more on eBay. Our garden hammocks were getting a bit shabby but we loved them and used them more than any other item in our french house. IKEA had discontinued them but we saved a search on eBay and now just keep buying them and storing them!

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Our favourite place

7)It is the BEST place for haberdashery (well apart from John Lewis but you can get this stuff from your desk!) Cushion fabrics, linging fabric, zips etc can all be bought on ebay. Even discontinued fabrics. Or save a search for expensive brands like Designers Guild and you can always get some scraps and make cushions. I’ve bought all my lovely hessian fabric to make curtains on ebay – its not really intended for curtain making but I love it and it is VERY cheap.

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hessian fabric just 2 pounds a metre! Perfect for 3m long curtains!

So there you have it. I literally buy almost everything I can on ebay. Even if I see something I like in a shop I just go home and do a search on eBay to see if I can find it cheaper. And that’s the way to make sure you get lovely stuff even if budgets are tight. Hope you find my advice useful. You’ll become the master or mistress of the ‘saved search’ before you know it!

Be our guest (part 5)

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We’ve got the keeeey…

I have lost my thread blog wise… (And frankly in all other aspects of my life most probably) but in particular I’ve veered off on a tangent chronologically. So let me take you back – cue wibbly, wobbly, blurred screen device…..

We are still in summer of 2013 – I warned you in a blog post here that this was a summer of many parts. Guests, fetes and pigs. And while I’ve told you of the arrival of Dawn and Cora here And talked of parental visits and holidays with baby Io, there were five guests still to come – the Murray-Leslies.

We first me the Murray-Leslies when they were just a couple back in the early 2000s via some mutual friends. And then we never saw them again…. well not really. Not properly until the same friends hosted a 40th birthday in Northumberland (which coincidentally was the inspo for our treehouse – see post here)

By now there were 5 Murray-Leslies and our eldest two children who hadn’t met before that weekend struck up a friendship and so as parents we did too – forced together by our children’s love of ipad film viewing. And after a great weekend we stayed in touch and met up occasionally for Greenwich Park fun and we introduced them to the joys of Nandos. And when Peter suggested with his customary hospital flourish that they come and visit us in France (The Murray-Leslies are seasoned travellers and have not one but TWO campervans parked up at their home so he figured they could cope with the shortcomings of La Maison Blanche) they said yes straight away. Great. I thought. And then I thought again. We didn’t know them THAT well. They seemed like very nice people but did we want them in our home for five days of summer? Was this going to be one of those occasions when you realise that two hours of Nandos and chat you can do – but FIVE whole days of someone else and their three kids???? But we prepared the house for their arrival and planned fun stuff to do….

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Making the place look nice

When it comes to hosting guests it CAN be a tricky business. Over the last three years we have come to realise that everyone arrives intending to be brilliant guests. Our friends and family all love us and are good people so no one would intentionally irritate or annoy us when in our home. But at the same time, having a holiday home that is a holiday for others and then becomes a hotel for you can be a bit stressful no matter how brilliant the guests are. And so, over time, we’ve realised that as hosts it is up to us to make it as easy for guests as possible to be perfect guests… And so the Murray-Leslie’s were our test case. We specified that in return for staying at our home they had to plan, shop for and totally co-ordinate one kids meal and one adult meal. This helps ease our food bill and gives me the chance for one eve at least to sit in the garden drinking a gin and tonic with nothing else to do!

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I never did finish Wolf Hall (I did finish the G&T tho)

And as it turns out, the MLs didn’t need any help on how to be good guests. They were actually some of our best (sorry everyone else, it’s not a competition although we are tempted to turn the kitchen blackboard into a Top Gear style league table…)
Not only did our kids all rub along brilliantly, but we adults did too. And as well as a delicious dinner cooked for us, Nick and Liz also insisted Peter and I go out on a date night while they looked after the five kids. They had read my imaginary manual of dream houseguest behaviour and delivered on every chapter.
(chapters include 1) thou shalt be stupid fun at all times 2) thou shalt have children who do not behave perfectly at all times thus making ours look bad 3) thou shalt go to the shops and buy a large bottle of Ricard then help us drink it all and dance in the kitchen 4) thou shalt embrace Peter’s broken garden tractor and tools with geniune (or faked) intrest.

And most of all – thou shalt make day trips to all our fave places even more fun…. Come back soon MLs!!

 

 

 

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Seb was such a gracious loser to Lulu

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Just an ordinary day out stroking a camel

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How to train a llama

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chick!

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Ready to climb!!!

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Redecorating already….

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Be our guest

We have been in our house now for almost four years I think. It is big, it is empty for a lot of the year and the starting place we had was one of decades of neglect. So despite our Herculean efforts over the last few years, this project is like the forth bridge in that once we get to one ‘end’ we simply need to start again. Arghhhhh!!!

Regular blog readers will have seen our guest room makeover a year or so ago click here if not

But sadly for Peter and I as this room really has seen the most upheaval over the years (again recall the flood of 2012 here )
And despite this being it’s third iteration, it needed decorating again.

The paint had begun peeling from the walls and collecting in piles of dust around the edges where Peter was meant to instal skirting boards but hadn’t got round to it yet (come ON – what HAS he been doing?). Perhaps it was the damp walls of many decades making their own form of anti- farrow and ball protest “not Old White’ they were shouting…..

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Starting to lose it’s a-peel

And the ceiling was peeling. Not, as badly as our dining room ceiling or indeed the downstairs bathroom ceiling but as we were painting the walls in here we figured we may as well do it all. And repainted the woodwork. And finally get round to painting the door. And so, now it is Calluna by Farrow and Ball a sort of lilacy grey.

And it does look much better but it did make us realise that we may need to do everywhere else! So much for a ‘holiday’ home….

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New pics bought in Vide grenier

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The same….. But Calluna

Home alone…again

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I’ve written a feature for Red magazine next month. It’s about my single summers. The up-to-four weeks of every year since we bought La Maison Blanche that I spend home alone in London while my boys get fattier, dirtier and scruffier in France. Like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys refusing to grow up, ignoring the inevitable start of another academic year. One day that summer will be the summer before GCSEs or A Levels. One summer, in the not too distant future, it will be the last summer before leaving home….oh who am I kidding? This generation are NEVER leaving home…
Anyway, this summer (or rather, last summer, because, blog readers I am still a year behind real life! Keep up at the back there…) I had less time home alone than usual but it was, as ever, a combination of whooooppppppeee free, free at last. And the odd evening of meal for one, Coronation St on catch up and sleeping like a starfish in my super king.
The funny thing about being alone is that I never seem to get any time to myself. My friends book me up so that I have something planned almost every day and night. While weekends become a blur of all day drinking at Shoreditch house – and I can at times exist for days on nothing more nutritious than wine and peanuts. I pointed out to a childless friend for whom this is the norm all year round – that perhaps the real reason we have children is just to safeguard our livers.
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So when we ARE reunited – we go out and drink rose. And appreciate our marriage, our partnership and we heartily recommend that all couples spend a bit of time apart. It makes you realise how nice it is being together.

Oink oink

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The Two Little PIgs

It’s time to talk pigs. My youngest son, Sebastian has for quite some time been nagging us about getting a dog back in London. We have said no. Many times. As husband, Peter points out, he would end up walking it, feeding it and picking up its poo. He is, funnily enough not that keen on this. Sebastian always insists that he would ‘help’ but until they have produced a dog in a lab that can use his paws to play Minecraft it’s unlikely that Seb’s interest would last beyond a fortnight.

When in France, one of his favourite things to do is visit our friends who own a camel farm (click here for their story – it is too long and complicated to explain again why they have camels in south west France!) and on an early visit there they showed us this year’s bumper crop of piglets!

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Please can we have one????

And so his campaign began…. “Pleeeeease can we have one?” And both Peter and I quite liked the idea of some cute pigs roaming around the patch outside our back door (a ready made pig sty in fact), rushing up to us for food and strokes. Oh yes, it would be like Babe only without the talking. And Sarah who owns the Camel Farm insisted we take two (an only pig is a lonely pig) and that’s how we ended up with two pigs living at La Maison for the summer.

We had to decide on names. Ant n Dec? Kate and Wills? Eric and Ernie? Kim and Kanye were all ruled impossible as the only two pigs slow enough to let us catch them and take them home were girls. And so it was left to the children to suggest one name each and they chose…… Dawn and Misty!! Peter said they sounded like strippers and vowed to check the parental settings on our laptop when we got home to see just what the boys had been watching on youtube…. .but it turns out they were Pokemon references which he persuaded them to change to Dawn and Cora (marginally less ‘stipperish’). And the names stuck.

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They ate like pigs!

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Trotters Inc.

And for at least a couple of days, everyone was fully committed to feeding Dawn and Cora. A diet for baby pigs of bread, milk and sugar sometimes topped up with the scraps from our meals (anything as long as it wasn’t pork – inadvertent cannibalism, even among pigs was considered very dodgy). But unsurprisingly after about a week and the realisation that pigs don’t really DO much except eat and then run away into a dark corner squealing, the boys got bored of their porcine friends. And despite my efforts to get Dawn and Cora to interact with us, they remained terrified of anything except the Marks and Spencer Andante bowls filled with bread and milk (maybe they’d seen that Gordon Ramsay programme and knew their eventual fate at the hands of humans – maybe pigs are born with an inante fear of humans – like the rabbits in Watership Down!) Whatever their reasoning – they steadfastly refused to become our friends.

But at the end of the summer, when we packed them back into their box – after a most amusing game of ‘catch the squealing pig’ which involved us all falling over a lot in the mud until Peter finally pinned them down – we were a bit sad to see Dawn and Cora leave. Especially as we knew their fate and it wasn’t a lifetime of running about in fields growing old and fat. And the bowls we used to feed them for the previous six weeks wound up back in our human crockery rotation. And if I sat down to eat soup out of those Andante bowls, I’d find myself getting a bit emoshe – especially if it was ham and lentil….

A baby at La Maison

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Children make the best childcare

NOT FOR ME!!! Dear god – that horse has bolted…..but there are moments like when baby Io came to stay this summer that I do wonder if our French House could be just a little bit fuller – I mean we have the space….

Anyway broody feelings notwithstanding, this is a tricky post to write as it features my friend Ian, who is a writer. And he is a very good one. Writing a blog post about a writer is rather like putting on an am dram production of Iolanthe and asking Robert de Niro to swing by for a look.

Only last week Ian wrote a brilliant piece on turning 42. It was featured on the Independent website – and although I was apparently quoted in it, there were many ways he had found to describe the subtleties of aging that seemed so spot on I was a little envious I hadn’t written them ALL myself. Finding a successful path in life is surely about being so good at something that others simply don’t understand how you do it. And this is sort of how I feel about Ian’s writing. I feel the same way about Peter and plumbing. My Mum once said to me that she couldn’t understand “how you come up with so many ideas for things to go in your magazine each month” and it was one of the best compliments anyone had ever paid me. I do it without question or analysis. And I love it and maybe, I hope, I’m quite good at it. One of my main hopes for my children is that they find something that they are good at. That they get to spend every day of their life doing that – even if it is building Minecraft servers or googling pictures of poo!

Anyway back to Io – enough of her parent (who for the sake of blog continuity I should mention is a friend from Uni who, along with his lovely wife Alice had already visited La Maison Blanche once – it was pre Io, they didn’t just leave her in the car with the window cranked a bit… The sun shone while Io visited physically and metaphorically. My children were angelic, picking up on her good girl vibes, offering to look after her so that Ian and Alice could head off to Super U alone (for those reading without small children – at this stage of parenthood, a trip anywhere without having to pack a nappy bag is like a week on Necker with Ryan Gosling)

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Seb’s in charge

And we were happy that Io liked the big plastic toys we’d been amassing at vide greniers for her in the run up. The boys even used their allocated €5 to get her some wooden building blocks at one. And Ian cooked us an amazing dinner of chicken with baked bread and we lolled and LOLed in the hammock with Io squished in between us. And Sebastian asked why he couldn’t have a baby sister – at which point Peter shuffled uncomfortably and announced he was going for a long run. But with our combined baby girl god-daughters Mabel and Bo and slightly older goddaughter Cara we have more than enough girlyness at La Maison and at home in London. But we did suggest that Io comes again next year and every year after that if she wants to – she can get her Dad to write a book about it!

The way you make me feel…..texture, fabric and other touchy feely stuff around my French House

Bonjour! Je suis en France. And as per usual this means blogging takes a back seat to complete relaxation. Eating and relaxation in fact. As we speak I am feasting on cherry compote with fromage frais with one hand and writing this with the other. One of the great joys of being in France is eating – as much and as highly calorific food as I can. 

The other joy is wandering around, looking at all my finished projects. Taking a little mental walk down memory lane. And I thought I might take you on a stroll with me on this blog post using textures and fabric to tell the stories. Or at least to kick start them.

 

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lumpy and bumpy

This is our hallway. Smooth huh? The walls in La Maison Blanche are not smooth. They are in fact the exact opposite. Craggy, lumpy, bumpy, like wall cellulite in fact – everywhere. And although some were so bad we had to replaster them, most. like this have been painted over and left. Lumpy. Peter insists this adds to the house’s character. I’d truthfully like to plaster them all up a bit and at least make the edges a bit neater but as he’s the one doing the work I can’t really do much about it. This wall is half way up the first flight of stairs and I bought the light in one of the first Vide Greniers we ever went to. There is a door on this wall. I have never been beyond it. There are lots of these in our house – doors leading to attics – which sound like romantic, hidey holes for children to play in. If CS Lewis were writing this blog post we’d all be in there discovering secret lands and faraway adventures. But sadly – they are just dark, cobwebby attics probably full or rats or bats or both. 

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Who IS the fairest of them all?

Marble plus mirror in my bedroom. A very early purchase and for bigger pics of the bedroom cick here. This mirror came from my favourite shopping destination – ebay…..and I have always wanted one just like it. They are however very expensive – but this one wasn’t because it was broken. There were a couple of pieces of glass which had fallen off the mirror so the vender couldn’t charge much for it and no one else wanted it. And when it arrived, Peter simply glued the broken pieces back on and voila. My dream mirror. The marble fireplace in our bedroom is the original fireplace and very grand. But our only attempts to actually light a fire in it ended in us being smoked out of our bedroom, eyes streaming, gasping with smoke inhalation as opposed to sitting gazing into each other’s eye’s romantically in front of it. 

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Star Studded

These are our dining chairs. Which Peter upholstered himself. Each morning he likes to get up early. I am never sure if this is simply a way of getting time alone before everyone else gets up or wether his body clock is wired differently to everyone else in the world . If he’d been married to Margaret Thatcher they’d have been always bumping into each other at 4am – her deciding wether to  defend small island nations, him wielding an upholstery gun. Anyway, I love these chairs. I barely let people sit on them I love them so much. And they populate my dining room which is the best room in the house.

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Le Metro tile

And now my own personal homage to the Metro Tile. The budget conscious renovators best friend. Which is lucky because I love them. And if you can’t use a Metro tile in France then where can you (unless of course these tiles were so named because of the Newcastle Metro – whay aye) These ones came from Topps Tiles and we drove them over in the back of our estate with the back end dragging along the motorway! I think the real trick to make metro tiles more interesting is to get a coloured grout. In Jamie Olivers Italian near us they have orange grout in between which looks really cool. Though taking loo inspo from restaurants can be dodgy as before you know it you’ve ended up with your home looking like Nandos! 

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Charlton Hessian

These are my home made curtains. I am very proud of them as I’d never made curtains before. If you look really closely it turns out I’ve attached the linings to the wrong side so the hems are actually on the outside but by the time I’d done this, sewing three metres along both sides and a metre along the top and bottom, I couldn’t face redoing them. And who will look THAT closely anyway. The fabric I bought on ebay for next to nothing as well as the lining fabric. And the whole project took me about a week to complete. I’ve bought the fabric to do the same for the sitting room but can’t even face getting the sewing machine out of it’s box. It might be easier just to go to John Lewis like any normal person.

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yeeeeeee haaaaa!

My final fabric/wallpaper is this and features Seb as it IS his room. I have always loved this cowboy fabric from Cath Kidston. When we bought out first flat together in Balham, London, I bought some of this in the oilcloth fabric to cover some old chairs Peter had retrieved from a skip for our kitchen. I then painted the kitchen to match with green walls and cream cupboards but I had never managed to persuade Peter to use it any more liberally than that. Until now. Perfect for a boys bedroom although terrifyingly already feeling a little juvenile for my growing boys. Arthur has in fact moved out of this room now and into his own more minimalist designed den. And I can’t help but feel that in a year or two Sebastian won’t want cowboys on his walls anymore. And so it is with all children’s room decoration – it serves to remind you that they aren’t children forever. And those sheep cot mobiles, designers guild cat print curtains,  and toy wooden forts are but for a fleeting point in time. A time that YOU appreciate far more than they ever will which is no doubt why we spend so long decorating children’s rooms. Mine are happy if they get to put a Harry Potter posted on the wall (posters are strictly forbidden in our home, as are cartoon related duvet covers) which one day, when they leave home they can do. Until then its cowboys and farrow and ball paint colours. But from the look on Seb’s face he SEEMS happy enough with his wallpaper. Until he’s 13 and decides he wants to paint it all black anyway.