Oh hi there. I just burned my left index finger on a heat gun and thought it would make a great excuse for a spot of IRN BRU and blogging. There's this project I've been working on - you see, I got family coming over: my mum, bother and a Roger (who's like family anyway), and only one bedroom to spare between them. It’s not really a question of space, not really, as we got plenty of that here in chez nous… more so, the rooms we have available are sort of scary. Picture this: forcing ma into the haunted attic while Roger takes the cellar of horrors. Or have my bro sleep with the spiders in the abandoned toilet behind our kitchen. As much as the idea of traumatising our houseguests for life attracts me, the time is ripe for some good old fashioned painting and decorating.
The chambre we chose to do up as the second spare room, is situated on the ground floor and has been largely disused due to an old leak in the ceiling. Naturally, this was something we fixed straight away upon moving in, but the space remained somewhat of an afterthought until now. Filled to the brim with tools, doggy stuff and disused furniture, it was not a part of the house I was particularly proud of. In truth, my distain of this room runs much deeper than I would like to admit, largely because there is actually very little wrong with it. Sure it’s hideous and dated, but everything is in such good nick! The ceramic tiles, for example, as offensive as they are, have been laid by a skilled professional to be perfectly level and the revoltingly orange wood panelling is as good as the day it was installed.
A shoddy real estate picture versus how we left the place having removed some wallpaper and fixed a leaky roof.
And I hate that. I detest the fact that there is nothing really wrong with this room and how that makes me feel like a wasteful idiot for wanting to change everything about it just because it is monstrously ugly.
But how do you deal with dated décor, in a way that utilises all available resources to their best potential? Impossible dilemma. This space was scrapped in the late seventies or early eighties, presumably to turn it into a granny flat for someone who was unable to get up the stairs. As the renovations were done with care and good expense my guess would be it might have been commissioned by one of the past proprietors for themselves or for a relative of theirs. Consequently, no part of the original floor remains, neither a trace of the old fireplace, but the built-in cupboard/wardrobe was left untouched as was the circa 1910 wooden framed window – the only one left in the whole house. Even with the nauseating mix of retro finishes, I think this turd can be polished without ripping the place apart, hopefully, resulting in a beautifully layered mix of old and new.
As jobs come, this one is right up my alley; being a painter by trade, I know how to spruce things up with a shade or two. Here’s the plan - not only will I be treating the ceiling and walls, scraping, sanding and painting all the woodwork including the orangey tongue & groove panelling, but painting the tiled floor as well. I already bought the paints, (more about those later) but before the fun begins every surface needs to be prepared. My dearest James, who’s commuting back and forth between his job in the UK and Mazamet, was here to help me kick start it all. He wielded the wallpaper kettle like a champion and managed to get rid of all wallpaper and their respected liners. The more recent of the two layers from was already gone when we started – shoddily installed 90’s orange, but a thick layer of 80’s Miami Cool took for ever to steam off. I took my trusted Mac Allister to the wood panelling and sanded away as much of the surface lacquer as I could. It was the first of many sanding jobs to come and, as I later discovered to my utter dismay, the easiest one by a streak.
Faded but still there - hand stencilled diamond pattern and remnants of florals
Underneath all that mouldy wallpaper, we discovered some interesting fragments from the past: a faded but clearly visible art deco paint job including a painted frame for a mirror or a picture (presumably of religious nature) and remnants of an older floral motif, both stencilled straight onto the walls. All too far gone to be kept, sadly, but a lovely thing to uncover. A weekend’s worth of serenity later, I continued the gig by patching up a few holes with plaster and skimming over anything uneven, followed by another run with the sander, this time leaving me, the dog and everything else in walking distance from us covered in plaster dust.
To continue with the theme of creating a huge mess, I started to prepare the tongue and groove ceiling for a lick of paint. Beyond where the old leak had damaged the paint job, it was in decent nick and looked like an easy scrape and sand job. No such thing. It was, in fact, soul destroying and seemed to go on for days. My dad would be proud to hear I was wearing my protective mask all the way through. No goggles though, and listen up boys and girls, this is why you should always wear them: little sharps of paint can be really f*cking painful when they lodge themselves into your eyes.
But goggles steam up – it’s irritating.
It would make an interesting philosophical point to debate whether one gets more irritated with slashed eyes or blurred vision while sanding, but for everyone’s sanity, I won’t bother. Do as I say, kiddos, not as I do.
Two sides of a door frame, one with layers upon layers of floss and the other stripped bare. In the middle you see just a few of these lovely layers of paint.
And all this brings us back to the heat gun – the last instrument on my list of sorrows before the painting begins. Well, I do actually love this part. It is time consuming for sure, but isn’t it great to see the different layers of paint melting away before your eyes, revealing near-virginal woodwork? Revealing traces of old paints, layer upon layer, decade after decade, makes me feel like Indiana Jones. So you know, before everything got slathered with salmon pink, the woodwork in this room was cream white, yellow, light turquoise, teal, sage green, concrete grey and finally, deep chocolate brown, all brilliantly reflecting the changing fashions of different decades.
For those not too familiar with painting and decorating basics, removing layers of old paint does have benefits beyond getting to admire the tastes of previous decorators and burning various parts of your body while operating a heat gun. Oil gloss in particular is thick stuff and a century’s worth of it can clog up the profile of your woodwork, making it less refined and less pretty. Tons of the stuff can also prevent doors and windows from opening and closing properly. Likewise, there is a school of thought that believes in reducing the paint build-up of radiators for more efficient distribution of heat. You can use a chemical paint stripper just as well, but I don’t want to risk our dog messing around with that stuff... and I love to watch the world burn.
Having gone back to bare wood there’s always the option of not re-painting it, but giving it a light sand and a protective coat of varnish, wax or oil of your liking. But manage your expectations as not all wood you will uncover will look stunning straight off the bat. In old as well as modern homes, inferior wood or knotty wood such as pine is often used on baseboards and trims instead of more expensive hard woods. Most of our timber in this house, with the exception of our stunning oak staircase, is pine from the Montagne Noire. Some like the look of it, some not and I will just have to take each case as it comes and see what bits might look great au naturel. Like me, you might find evidence of old repairs and depending on the quality of the wood used, they can be treated to match the original woodwork.
Making everything ready for paint has taken me just about a week with the aid of a wallpaper kettle, electric sander and a heat gun – oh, and James. His contribution was massive as it would have taken me twice as long to steam those walls on a ladder! And material wise, I’ve used half a bag of patching plaster, so around a kilo of the stuff, as well as a bit of polyfilla that I found from the back of the cupboard. The paint colours are picked, bought and ready to go as well as my rollers and a mystery stencil for the floor.
Yes, he is helping...
So, this is where I am at with my mission of eradicating forbidding spare rooms in our house: fingers full of burns, blisters and what have you, but very happy about the progress made.
AND, during my sabbatical in the UK, while I was neglecting this blog, I made chez nous an Instagram account! Check us out and give me a shout out @cheznous21 – I’d love to hear what you guys think.
Next blog will be all about ‘dat paint, ‘dat paint.. no dribbles.