Update update!

Argh – I have neglected my blog. I feel bad about this as I was so passionate about keeping it up to date for so long. I think the problem is two fold…

  1. I was playing catch up, telling our story room by room with historical photos and tales. Now I am in essence updating in real time so have much less to work with.
  2. The changes we are making now are much less seismic. We are even re-renovating things we renovated when we first moved in.

But just to get you all up to speed on progress – here are some pics from this summer. A summer where we were visitor free for the first time since we bought the house so in theory we should have had loads more time. Our first project was to redecorate the kitchen.

Here is how our kitchen looked when we first bought the house, complete with Flintstones grotto..


yabba dabba do!


And here is how it looked once we’d painted and added in a kitchen.


overtly olive in 2011

But this summer we decided to give it an overhaul. It was the first thing we decorated when we moved in and as such it was looking a bit tired. And I’d also tired of the Overtly Olive walls that we’d plumped for when we first moved in.

So I headed to B&Q and bought myself many tubs of Valspar Smoky Lashes and some Dulux Egyptian Cotton. And voila – add in a metal sign we found in a Vide Grenier and we have a brand new kitchen. The ceiling still needs to be painted but we both feel a it sick at the prospect of forty or more in between beam sections.

Next visit I am replacing the floor but may stick with a black and white theme as it feels like part of the house.

And I simply can’t part with the ‘ugly chair’ I bought after a fight with a woman in IKEA’s bargain corner. It was one of the first things we got when we bought the house and just needed anything to sit on. It has housed the bum of all our guests who sit in front of the fire checking their emails or reading a book and despite stains, burn holes and general wear and tear, I think it has to stay.

image image


Sorry I haven’t blogged for ages. So long in fact that the interface on wordpress has totally changed since the last time I blogged.

I received an email this week from a friend who has just moved into a new house, well it’s an old house, that needs quite a bit of work. “Please come over, and give us the White renovation pep talk,” he suggested. “Reassure us that it will all be OK one day.”

Which got me thinking of the days when our French house was hideous. And I would cry and wonder why the hell we had done this. Check out these pics for example.

Or for those who can’t be bothered to click on the link.. this was once my dining room!

So I gave him my five point plan for renovation motivation or moreover things I say but don’t always do or feel but they sound like sage advice!

1) Make one room nice straight away. Then you have somewhere to sit in the evening and watch TV or drink wine, or both. In the case of France this was our kitchen as it was the only room with a working fire. In UK renovations I’d go for the sitting room as I am assuming you have heating and/or running water. If not then I salute you.

The fire we huddled around for the first six months

The fire we huddled around for the first six months

2) Sort out a shower. Showers are on that Maslow’s Triangle of needs. Well if they aren’t they should be. Maybe Maslow was more of a bath man? If you have a working shower with nice tiles and some Aveda shampoo you can face anything. So get thee to bathstore.com or victoriaplumb.com for affordable bathroom fittings and do it asap. You can always upgrade to fancy Duravit stuff in a few years time.


My bathstore.com bathroom in London – done in haste but enjoyed every day!

3) Remember that the reason you bought a house that needed work is because you couldn’t afford the same size house all done up or because you knew that buying a wreck can mean potential money making opportunities. And then think about how cramped you’d all be living in a high spec penthouse with all mod cons. You see – you feel better already!

4) Only invite people around in the early days who appreciate the joys of a project. People like Peter and I in fact. We will swoon over your peeling paint and original features. We will talk about potential. We will be jealous of the fact you are at the beginning of a renovation project and not nearing the end of it. (I still have wallpapers, tiles etc that I have nowhere to put now in France and entire pinterest boards devoted to rooms that don’t even exist!)

5) In the case of my male friend who was asking my advice on the above I pointed out that the best thing he can do is to accept at all times that whenever his wife has had a bad day, or is fed up with bare floorboards when all her friends have Fired Earth tiles, it is HIS FAULT. ALL OF IT! That way everyone is happy. See – I’ve cracked this renovation malarky….

What colour should we paint our shutters? (part deux)

20140804-113627-41787089.jpgApologies for the prolonged exterior painting blog. Like those films that wend on and round and just when you think they’ve ended it turns out there’s still another whole section. Like The English Patient. Or Atonement. Or Legends of the Fall by the end of which I was shouting at the screen to anyone who came within of five mile radius of Brad Pitt “steer clear – they all die!!!”

And so it is with my exterior painting. I blogged about shutter colours vs wall colours way back here. And happily you all made suggestions, passed comment etc but as with all best laid plans I seem to have ended up nowhere near any of them.

My paint dramas taking my dreams of a dark cream wall with a white shutter from me – or HAVE they? Here’s how that looks so far…


All white?

And once the window frames have been painted white too – it might be calm, serene and sophisticated… So that plan is, to paint all the shutters white (and as they are all in such bad condition they probably need lots of base coating and TLC anyway – check out our Shutter A&E area


Always knew this bit of barn would come in handy for something?

And then – I can take a view. After a long chat with Serge we decided that it might be nice to do at least the doors in a silvery green to match the leaves on my burgeoning lavender plants. (Imagine that conversation in French?) But the truth is I really can’t decide. Anyone got any thoughts then do share. I’m a bit stuck!!


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.


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.



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.


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


‘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!


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.


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!

Sitting room make over – shop the look!


pink to make the boys wink

Of all my room makeovers – I love this one the most (for more pics of ‘le salon’ before and after click here). And that’s before it is even finished. It is now an enormous, grand room befitting the style and size of the house. A place to gather formally. If we were prone to American style family Christmas cards we could all sit around the fireplace while Peter leaned in a patriarchal way on the mantlepiece. But the downside of this is a seismic shift in my attitude. I’ve gone from family and friends being able to wade through the house in mud covered wellies to a situation where I am following kids/guests/Peter around with a dustpan and brush. And that’s NOT how this holiday home was supposed to be.

Is this what happens when you choose a pale pink and cream colourscheme for a high traffic room? I fear so… But as out home becomes more boutique and less shabby-not-at-all-chic I am starting to get un peu precious!

Take my Stockholm black and cream Ikea rug

STOCKHOLM Rug, flatwoven IKEA The durable, soil-resistant wool surface makes this rug perfect in your living room or under your dining table.

Black and white and really alright

I spent a large portion of this New Year’s Eve celebrations encouraging guests that this was a ‘no outdoor shoe’ zone. I cried as the New Year’s Eve canape selection got tipped onto it and I even stressed about champagne spills as the clock struck midnight (red wine was banned natch). What had I become?

And my wall sconces that I picked up at a vide grenier now house drip free candles in case we get wax on them or heaven forbid the new real wood floor. I’ve found very similar ones though here at RE in case of serious disaster!

Galvanised Wall Sconce

Candle on the wall

The chairs all came from various vide greniers and the plan is to upholster them all in cream vintage linen picked up from markets and vide greniers too. And I shall be insisting upon clean trousers before anyone even attempts to sit in them. Should you want to copy my half finished chair covering look. Check out ebay for vintage french linen.

And finally woe betide anyone who messes with my cushions. Regular blog readers will know that cushions will possibly be cited in divorce papers should Peter and I ever split up. He hates them. I love them. I tried making my own (click here for blog post on this very subject) But when I spotted these ones at Graham and Green I splashed out. Shhhh don’t tell Peter!

Cushion and on and on

And finally for those who have virtually admired my cowhide footstool (*waves to twitter followers who did so…) It came from Marks and Spencer but is sadly now discontinued. So I recommend trying something like this from MADE.COM which has loads of great footstools. I have one of their purple chesterfield ottomans in my London home too! Just don’t attempt to sit on it. Well not unless you’ve showered and changed first!

Too nice for putting your feet on!

Full House!!


And then the Levetons arrived. And the house in France was as full as it had ever been during our ownership. We had six Candys, four Whites and now four Levetons. And everyone introduced themselves and although Candys and Levetons have met over the years they don’t know each other very well at all. And we all did lots of grand emotive ‘marvelous to see’ you sort of air kissing. And then Benny and Seb probably starting fighting as this is what they both love to do.

Best friend Petra has been best friend Petra (as opposed to Petra who works with friend Darren which is how she first entered my life) for twenty years or so. We met when we shared a house together back in the early 90s when she was a young accountant, I was an editorial assistant and we shared a diet of covent garden soup company soups and Jacobs Creek Chardonnay. Apart from our love of dry white wine we had little in common. It still baffles our other mutual friends that we were and are still so close. Petra is sensible. I am not. She has a big serious job these days doing something big and serious in a big bank. I edit a magazine about shoes and lipsticks. If we were in a Bronte novel, she would be that good and sensible older sister who wears her hair in a bun and marries well while I would have ringlets and be running off with some penniless, handsome soldier to Brighton! But best friends we are. And her daughter Cara is my god daughter and I aim to be a terrible influence on her and steer her into some highly inappropriate career in the media. In turn Petra is godmother to my eldest son Arthur and I expect her to return the favour and convince him to go into banking, earning loads of money so he can keep us all when we are old.

The Levetons were repeat guests and Cara was rightly a little miffed that ‘her’ room where she stayed last Easter had been given over to Mabel and Henry for the duration of their stay and she and brother Benny were squeezed into the guest room with their Mum and Dad. At least for the nights of overlapping guests. But to lighten the initial faux bonhomie I decided to take everyone to the La Maison Des Chameaux. Where better to bond than in a muddy field covered in Llama poo?

We can at La Maison Blanche provide wellies now for every size child as we’ve been collecting them over the years, so while the girls had style issues (tho Gracie, who has forged a pretty great fash-identity already by dressing in boys clothes 80% of the time was thrilled with her black pirate ones) we made like we were off to a festival.

And Sarah and Paul welcomed friends of La Maison Blanche to La Maison Des Chameaux with bras ouvert. Opening up, letting the kids feed the animals and showing them some basic goat and sheep training which for 8 kids who have been born and raised in central London is like seeing rhinos mating in the wild. And although my friends who between them edit a fashion magazine and do something important in banking are more used to lives that involve expensive restaurants and private hire cars (NB Petra stopped drinking Jacobs Creek a LONG time ago) in vertiginously high heels, they both threw themselves into a day of mud and camels.





And they have both dined out on tales of their friends’ friends who have camels and live in SW France. And the children tell their friends at central London day schools of the time they fed real, live, llamas and their friends probably have to google ‘live animal’ just to verify their existence.

And in the evening we invited Sarah and Paul from the Maison Des Chameaux to dinner and they brought their boys and Troy, an American 20something student who was living with them for six months to get some vet training. And Peter was able to bore/regale Troy with the story of how he was cut from the film Titanic. And Petra, Lorraine, Sarah and I were able to drink lots of rosé and dance in the kitchen. And the kids all watched a film or played table football until they were so tired they begged us to let them go to bed! And they were probably a bit bored of their rosé weary mothers saying what a “lurrvley time all of us togethuuur were haaaving”

Which left just Richard and Shona to arrive…. And for THAT We definitely needed a bigger cubivin!

It’s shabby chic (or is it just shabby?)



For some time, the phrase Shabby Chic was a buzzword in interiors. Cath Kidston, Kirstie Allsop et al encouraging us all to mix twee with retro with floral and come up with studied shabbiness. And I do love it to a degree but at home my husband (rightly) refuses any attempts of mine to girly up our home. And my two boys laugh in the face of a chintzy print. So in France, I indulge my girly side. I have wallpaper, I have quilts, I will attempt to smuggle in as many cushions as possible and I may even aim for some fringed lampshades at some point.

The house is so big that Mr White is sort of fine with some of it having a girly feel. And it rather suits the rambling, run down feel of it all. It would be odd to throw a state of the art, Italian marble kitchen into rural France (and we can’t afford it anyway!) so shabby chic it is. Thank god there’s a term for it, otherwise it would just be shabby! We had a shabby Christmas….

A shabby bedroom with laura Ashley josette wallpaper (just the words Laura and Ashley would send Mr White into a decline if I tried them in London)



We use outdoor furniture as a dining table (see above) but not for long readers! Dining room makeover coming soon…


And we use Cath Kidston Cowboy print A. LOT. I’ve always loved this print but have thus far only persuaded my male family to go with it in the form of an oilcloth tablecloth. For some reason in France they think its ok.


And we have lots of French Toile quilts which may be girly but they are perfect for snuggling under in the winter when watching Bullit on Peters 16mm projecter. Which I would argue is a boy version of shabby chic – old, slightly broken and not really as good as just buying Apple TV in terms of viewing pleasure but SO much more romantic. So you see, there’s a shabby chic for everyone.

mid century moderniser and friends with a chateau


Old stuff but not THAT old

I love mid -century modern furniture. Although, to be honest, I didn’t even know what that was until a few years ago. You may not know what it is. In short, if you are my age (27 -haha!) its the stuff your parents probably had in their starter homes and threw out when you were about six or seven in favour of ‘nice new stuff’ My parents used to have an amazing massive glass lamp stand with a huge bright orange linen shade which I remember thinking looked a bit odd at the time. They also had a scratchy brown wool sofa with wooden feet that again I hated on the grounds that a)it was brown and b) it was scratchy but looking back it was all deeply cool. So much so, I have essentially recreated the look to go in my kids sitting room in france only the sofa isn’t scratchy or brown. (see above)

The best place to buy mid century modern furniture is of course ebay using searches like G Plan, Eames, danish, or retro. Sadly people these days are very aware that people like me want this old stuff so they charge a premium but if you use plenty of different search terms and DON’T search for mid century modern (cos really only those in the know would use this term – Gladys throwing out her old sideboard in Penge would never refer to it as such!) you can still get some bargains – thanks Gladys!


We have a sideboard just like this in London

Or, even better, you do what we did and you find a sofa lying on the road… this is the story of the yellow G Plan sofa in the picture at the top….

A couple of years ago, I was on my way to our local station to go to work. And on the way there I passed a tired, broken, ripped up old sofa. It was G Plan style and just the sort of thing I love. But the cushions were dirty and torn and it looked terribly sad. And it had been dumped on the street unloved and unwanted. So I did what any sane person would do – I phoned my husband and told him to come down the road and get it. Carry it home on his back and find it a home. He told me to bugger off. He had a point. So I went off up West to work and forgot about the sofa.

A few months later as the tennants were being thrown out of the house we would later buy -which I forgot to mention in earlier blog post is actually six doors down from where we were living – and as part of their clearout they had dumped a sofa on our street outside the house. MY SOFA! It had manage to move closer to where i lived all by itself. Like the Littlest Hobo. Or those cats that cross continents to be reunited with previous owners who moved away without taking them.

So Peter had to go and get it now. The furniture gods had spoken. And so we brought it home and then drove it down to France. And in the meantime we bought an upholstery gun and some staples and a retro fabric from John Lewis who do a great range in 1950/60/70s fabrics called Atomic.


John Lewis fabrics with a retro feel

And I got my sewing machine out and made some new cushion covers for it – with zips no less! And ta da suddenly it looked how it does above. And it had only cost us the price of the fabric. And I love it. Though not entirely snuggly (see above comments about scratchy sofa – the seventies were NOT a time of comfort) it does provide the perfect place for me to sit and read French Grazia in the winter.

But where else can you find such gems IN France? Well, as it turns out this is around the time we met some lovely English people called Stephen and Philippa. They live in an amazing chateau in a village called Aignan – and from there they sell brocante. And they have lots of mid century modern stuff there (as well as properly old stuff too) so I bought my crazy orange lamp and a black leather chair (see below – covered in teddies).


Chair from Brocante Lassalle

And as small world would have it, Stephen lived in Greenwich before moving to France and Philippa is a fashion editor so it was more than furniture kismet that we were introduced to them and their chateau and their brocante. And now we often bump into them on Sunday’s at Vide Greniers and race each other for the mid century gems! And for New Year this year, they invited us over and we felt very grand telling people we were spending new year at a chateau. Which should you have some spare cash is currently for sale. Go on – its a bargain!Image

Another derelict house? Why not??


So just as our French home was taking shape, with heating, a working toilet and even a specific room for the kids to read French literature (er, ok, play on their iPads). We could have friends to stay, pretend we were a family in a White Company catalogue wafting around in Breton stripes and espadrilles and post pics on Facebook about our ‘gorgeous French home’.

Back in London, we had a lovely four bedroom house in Greenwich, a historical, leafy bit of London with a huge royal park and a branch of Nandos overlooking the river. The. Dream.
We’d bought our current house when Arthur was born and although it needed a bit of ‘doing up’, new bathrooms and kitchen etc, it wasn’t too bad (and remember we are seasoned doer uppers). Several years later and it was really lovely. Big eat in kitchen, two nice limestone and slate bathrooms, four gorgeous bedrooms – ours with Cole and Son Cow Parsley wallpaper in yellow which I loved. It had carpets. It was warm. It had a bright red glossy kitchen and a nice garden with decking and an outdoor seating area. So.



We did what any normal couple would do – we bought a disgusting huge house that wasn’t even a house, it was three flats. On the day we went to look at it we met a Jack Whitehall-esque (jack whitehall in Fresh Meat I add – in real life he prob lives in an Islington townhouse) paid by the council tenant who was there to stop squatters moving in. He was arriving back from the Co-op at around 10am with a see thru carrier bag containing half a loaf of hovis, a half pint of milk, a bottle of lucozade and 10 Marlborough Reds.
The room that was to become our kitchen had a mattress on the floor, half eaten pizzas in boxes, lager cans with cigarette ash around the ring pull opening and the occasional boil in the foil lasagna with cigarettes stubbed out in them.

It had three front doors, one of which was accessed by a horrid metal fire escape up the side and when we first moved in, to go to bed, we wearily left the middle front door, climbed up the fire escape and went in the top front door.

It was, and still is, the biggest project we’ve taken on and as we were concurrently doing up the house in France too, it was an act of madness. S why did we do it? Well, largely because it looked like this…..


Or more importantly, once Nester, our neighbour had been and helped us saw off the metal fire escape, and roger, another neighbour painted the front and some Farrow and Ball Studio Green had been applied to the front door. It looked like this…


A grand house with steps up to the front door. Like in Mary Poppins. The way I had always imagined people in London living, when I, as a child lived in Newcastle. With nannies jumping over roofs and chirpy cockney chimney sweeps popping in to say hello. It has four large bedrooms, six reception rooms and four bathrooms. The perfect home for my boys who were getting bigger and smellier and basically need a separate floor where they can be big and smelly.

The interiors sadly were and still largely do, look like this though…



But, hey, at least we have a nice home in France to escape to right?