I was always daddy’s girl and from as long as I can remember I helped my dad with everything – gardening, decorating and building work. Neighbours still on my mum’s estate from the 60’s, remember the little girl with the pony tail, sitting high up in the skip with her dad, eating sandwiches. I loved being dirty. I was a tomboy in every way. I absolutely hated pink and still rarely use this colour for any decorating, or if I do it has to be paired with greys or even black [in honour of David Hicks…..whom I admired hugely].
A collection of my dads tools – I am going to use them in the little atelier we are renovating to make lovely things.
At two years old I started what I suppose was an apprenticeship in renovating houses. My parents’ house was a 1930’s house in a London suburb, an absolute tip, dirty and neglected, with hideous wallpaper apparently – clowns on tightropes with umbrellas in the hall, bananas in the bedroom and in the lounge a loud geometric in red, grey and black that always gave my godmother a raging headache!
Somehow I think I have rather a lot of paint brushes!!
Till a rebellious streak at 16, swamped with O-Level homework and actually enough of my mums incessant insistence on Dad “freshening up” the décor, I helped most weekends. The whole house had to be stripped, re-plumbed, rewired, and redecorated. I learnt everything from mixing concrete to restoring woodwork. Even today I adore repairing old furniture and bringing it back to life with wax, stains and French polish. At the moment I am working on my grandfather’s bedroom chair, stripping out the old horsehair and capok stuffing to reveal a steam-punk affair of springs beneath. I will post progress later.
We are pointing a barn. It’s easy. I learnt to mix cement at just three years old, sitting on my Dads bench with my own teeny tiny trowel, beach watering can and little timber box to mix in. Dad even taught me at this age how to use blow-lamps to melt metal. We would lock the garage door so mum couldn’t come in and freak about safety and I learnt how the little glowing blue tip of the flame was the hot-spot. Soldering with mole-skin to smooth, sharpening chisels on carborundum blocks with oil and how absolutely tedious plumbing was, were all in a week’s work.
When I start painting I end up laying everything out like an operating table.
If you may be wondering why I wasn’t running around with all the other kids on the block – yes I was an only child and I was very shy. I did have three very good friends, but I also had some ill health and later some physical problems that got me bullied badly. It ended up in surgery, but gained me some lifelong friends from the Muslim and Indian community who looked after this strange white girl, who didn’t look the same as everyone else and got picked on. Only last month I spent three wonderful days with my old friend from school – I have now known her for forty years. Re the recent anti-muslim issues – I am afraid it’s a difficult one for me. I get it, but when I needed support, that was the community who gave it.
But I digress. I married and begun a huge renovation on an Edwardian House putting back all the original features – learning more about decorative plasterwork and paint finishes including removing nasty lead paint. But life and different ambitions led to divorce. Then I met Tony. Tony’s Father worked on many construction jobs tendered by the communist party. His company built many buildings throughout Transylvania and our home town area of Rm.Vulcea. The government often didn’t pay, but he soldiered on. Tony learnt that engineering is a life-long job of late hours and stress and left for Europe. Skills learned but ideally not as a career.
When I met Tony we had many things in common, the driven desire to have a home and get out of renting and finally moving to France was one of them. We bought an agricultural barn and wood-turners cottage and begun in 2015 to renovate. Now in 2018 we are on track to finish autumn next year. The bonus – we both know how to renovate – it’s saved us a fortune in money we just don’t have. It is a shame my dad hasn’t seen this barn, but we used all the materials he had hoarded over the years. Even today we found an old yellow broom handle which conveniently fitted across our bedroom window and a pair of red brackets to support it. Using what you have to hand seems to work well. You have to be inventive and its unique.
We wanted the barn to stay as built, with no plasterboard or modern materials – rustic I think is the word. The stone walls have lime mortar and we found a lime wash for the ceiling – all breathable to help reduce condensation. The ceiling was initially covered with wood boards to be later covered with timber of some sort. But finding a tin of lime wash and applying this to the boards turned out to be a simpler solution. With the addition of some cross beams, it gave a much softer result, where timber could have been overpowering on such a low ceiling. The beams are oak and just lovely to wake up to in the morning. The rest is simple painted tongued and groove and the wardrobes will have fabric panels in pretty cottons. We found a few doors out in the garden and after a year of drying, are all going back into the barn. Quirky sizes but then nothing in the barn is straight – unless I drink too much wine, then they will all appear straight to my eye!
It’s not all building work, sometimes we find something at the local brocante, or rubbish tip or amongst all the materials we dragged to France from my late Dads garage and it goes to the garden. I inherited a love of gardening from both my parents and family. The bramble jungle has been transformed and we have laid out the bones of a garden with the poultry sharing what will be a savage, wildflower and cottage garden, a summer studio surrounded by herbs and a tree house [because it’s always good to be a five year old sometimes].
An old table for the bedroom turned out to be oak. The top was a little rough, so this was sanded and painted primrose yellow for a splash of summer in our bedroom. The town near us often has discounts on paint and we want to fill the barn with colour, so we grabbed lavender, yellow, pink and a soft green. We have collected pretty linen and blankets over the years and copious hordes of fabric remnants for cushions. The stone and timber of the barn will be a good foil for these pretty shades.
The little chair is from Tonys school. The chickens like to sit on our laps for a quick cuddle and the little chair is a perfect. I love my garden and my new home. It’s been stressful getting here, but I wouldn’t change this for the world.
How did you get to your home? Are you renovating somewhere and what in your home makes you most happy?