Monday, 28 January 2013

Snow and Slow; Lakes and Lace

When It Snows
There Are Two Options.....

Make Snow Angels!

January can be such a dismal month. The skies are grey; night and day seem to merge into one, causing a feeling of despondency plus permanent tiredness and fatigue. I am convinced that with the low light levels I am suffering from S.A.D. So when snow was forecast I eagerly anticipated bright skies and wintery sun lighting up a white frozen landscape.

The snow arrived, but not as expected. One minute it was raining; half a mile later there was sleet; then darkness and falling flakes of snow. My journey of 10 miles which traffic dictating can take about twenty-five minutes on a good day or up to an hour and twenty-five minutes on a bad day was a horrendous gruelling nightmare scenario which lasted over.......


On the motorway I crawled grimly along; traffic bumper to bumper; cars in first gear, slipping and sliding; stationary, crashed or broken down - the Mini occasionally objecting ominously. Upon reaching journey's end, my head thumping and nerves jangling I decided snow angels were preferable to shovelling or indeed slithering about on treacherous roads with the rest of the traffic.

Thus next morning, bags packed -

we headed off - away from the chaos of abandoned cars and traffic inching slowly along; off to the country where I excitedly looked forward to walks in crisp white virgin snow amongst frosted trees, alongside frozen lakes and making snow angels before returning to the cottage to warm chilled fingers and toes beside a roaring log fire.

Happily for the one driving but sadly for the snow angels, I was doomed to be disappointed. We arrived at what must have been the only place in the British isles where not one single snow-flake had fluttered. The sky was grey; the air damp and the ground waterlogged - around us all looked bleak.

However, before I descended into gloom - a wrong turning and just like Brigadoon a building with white walls and thatched roof materialised out of nowhere at the side of the little country road. Too inviting to ignore, we paused at this unexpected mirage.

The sign outside proclaimed Antique Lace Shop

Gazing curiously through the windows, I could make out an Aladdin's Cave of Antique Lace draped intriguingly; tempting and captivating; luring the unsuspecting passerby into a decadent fairy-tale world.  

The little bell above the door tinkled daintily as we stepped across the threshold and were whisked back in time to a fantasy bygone opulent era. 

Everywhere there was Vintage Handcrafted Irish Lace in white, ivory, cream and even black

frothing over lamps and chandeliers

swagged from the ceiling and walls; swathed around mirrors;

draped over tables and dressers

interspersed with heavily hand embroidered gowns and shawls; roses; ostrich feathers; pearls and jewels.

Antique Table-cloths and Lace panels

Lace Gowns

Bonnets, bodices, collars and veils.

Black and white photos of 1920s screen stars adorned a mirror

in front of which were displayed an exquisite lace cap and veil.

In cabinets and

over dresser doors - spilled clouds of lace.

In a glass fronted cabinet a fan of mother-of-pearl and delicate Bobbin Lace.

 (The price-tag for this charming accessory was over £500!)

Upon leaving the shop, and returning back into the world of reality, to my delight the grey skies had lifted and the sun filtered through the clouds. 

As we reached the Isle and our destination,  

the Castle glowed in the winter sun.

I thought of Rebecca when she arrived at Manderley for the first time 

and saw the sun ablaze on the windows - making her think the house was on fire.

The sun shone on the old clock-tower and barn. 

One of the two donkeys peered around the huge trunk of an ancient tree.

Later - strolling through the woods, amongst the gnarled old Oak and Beech trees, 

not perhaps frozen and frosted with snow, but covered with lichen;

there was no snow to make snow angels but instead

I found little bunches of snowdrops, nestled amongst the fallen leaves nodding their heads as a sign of hope; Nature is awakening - Spring is on the way!


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

La Salle de Bain - Time To Talk Tiles

A reader of my previous Part 1 post asked me to give more details about the tiles that I am using for the bathroom. There is still work to be done before I can show you the fait accompli so I shall take this opportunity to talk about the tiles I have selected.

You may have gathered by now that I have quite specific tastes and a Love for Roses - especially pink roses! So when I found some vintage 1940s French fabric patterned with roses I was smitten straight away although surprisingly it was blue and not pink.

Despite it's age the blue roses had held their deep colouring beautifully and I thought immediately that I would base my bathroom design around this fabric.

A couple of years previously whilst at The Country Living Fair in London 

I discovered Welbeck Tiles - actually that is not quite correct - I had already seen Welbeck Tiles featured in an earlier addition of the Country Living Magazine and made a point of visiting their stand at The Fair.

Based and also handmade in Cornwall - not far from Mousehole, their tiny crackle-glazed tiles are patterned with an array of vintage floral designs,

 (Isn't this one just gorgeous?)

(all above tile photos courtesy of Welbeck Tiles) 

some of which remind me of the vintage Royal Winton chintz china that I adore.

Royal Winton June Roses

Royal Winton Victorian Rose

The designs are then put together like patchwork and are perfect for splashbacks and other small areas.

Therefore when I discovered they had a new range of blue and white patchwork tiles I just knew they would compliment my French fabric beautifully.

One particular tile was a perfect colour match to the fabric;

so when I contacted Welbeck I was delighted that they selected tiles with various patterns that were of the same delphinium blue shade.

The patchwork worked out so well as a splashback behind the wash-hand basin that I decided to use the same tiles for the bath splash-back also. However I failed dismally to source a plain tile to coordinate with the plain ivory glaze so I have opted to also use the plain ivory crackle-gaze base brick tiles from Welbeck to tile alongside and behind the bath.

This is my first time working with blue in my colour scheme - I love it so far; now all I need is my Much-Appreciated William to finish the final bits of woodwork and then the tiling; the trimmings; all the final touches can be put in place and then Voila!!....


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

La Salle de Bain - Part 1 The Renovation

On first impressions the bathroom at La Petite Maison was fairly unoffensive. Small, or in fact miniscule it was but the white suite was functional and the neutral wall coverings screamed only of being drab and boring.

Closer inspection highlighted the cramped layout of the room, which the positioning of the door that opened from left to right into the centre of the room did absolutely nothing to help. Hmmmmm....... This room was not going to be sorted out with a straightforward redecoration.

The proposed extension also became a factor for the revamping of the bathroom due to the existing, unacceptable, dated and unaesthetically-pleasing single-glazed window being smack in the middle of where the extension wall would come. This meant that not only was a new window required, but also that it would have to be relocated. The solution was simple - we would knock down the non-load bearing block wall beside the bath, between the bathroom and little bedroom and put up a stud wall in it's place but further over so that this would increase the size of the bathroom.

When the wall coverings were removed it also became apparent that the plaster and condition of the walls was even worse than the other rooms - the room would need re-plastering regardless of the moving of any walls or windows.

The old suite was unceremoniously removed and with sledge hammer and man-power the block wall gave way without difficulty.  

A stud wall was constructed and the floor ripped up to allow new heating pipes to be installed and insulation to be put down. Holes for vents had to be knocked through the walls beneath the floor level. By this stage I was seriously beginning to question my sanity as everything we did just made things look ten times worse. In fact the house had gone from dingy and dreary to completely uninhabitable; the use of a bucket for a toilet did not make spending long periods of time in a very cold house an enjoyable experience. I was starting to wish I had never set eyes upon the place.

(Oh and I suppose I should just mention the trifling matter of having to move the sewer connection outside to make way for the new extension!)

The window issue had been an involved process. Unswerving in my insistence that the new windows would be of painted wood and of traditional style, there was a lot of debate about a suitable design before I reached one that I was satisfied would work. Eventually after hours of research, deliberating and discussion the design was finalised and the windows were commissioned. The estimate for delivery was between 4 to 6 weeks, which fitted nicely into our schedule for the work on the bathroom to commence.

Six weeks rolled into eight weeks and frustrations were evident with tempers becoming short and the feeling that work was stagnating. Eventually 3 months later and on the day that the bricklayer was due, the windows arrived. I must add that in a moment of insanity I had undertaken the task of painting the windows myself. An arduous task, as I had greatly underestimated the amount of wood in the windows and the number of coats of paint required. Nevertheless the task was completed and by the end of the day that the windows arrived from the workshop, the old bathroom window was removed, a new concrete head installed and the new leaded casement window was in place.

The new window in place with Acrow Props acting as supports until everything set

At last things were moving along again. Once the cement and concrete was set the Acrows were removed and new floorboards and window board fitted. With huge relief that we were moving forward once more, I placed some blue hydrangea heads from the garden into a jam jar and set them in front of the new window. My Much-Appreciated-Men-Folk shook their heads at this frivolous act of feminine folly, but the presence of those flowers did much to change the feel of the room for me and I was already picturing my decorating scheme.

Marine Ply was fitted to one side of the new stud wall (which will be alongside the new bath and shall be tiled) and then the rest of the room was re-plastered. The old door had been taken away and adjustments made for the new door to open from  right to left this time. A fairly straightforward job one might think! But no, as with most things in La Petite Maison it is not just as easy as it first appears. The old door frame and fixings had to be taken off, and then the light switch and electrics moved from one side of the door to the other. In the grand-scale of the renovations it was a fairly minor adjustment, but nonetheless it has made a major positive impact on the layout of the room.

Out came the paintbrushes and rollers again as after the floor was sanded, I primed the floor and painted the walls. A traditional style white suite was introduced - I would dearly have loved an old roll-top bath, but sometimes practicalities must come first, so I readily accepted the new mild-steel bath.

There is still some work (bath panel, skirtings etc) to be completed before the final coat of paint can be applied to the ceiling, walls and window and then I shall begin the lovely part and titivate the room with my "feminine frivolity". For the joinery work we need William, and this means We Are Waiting for William. William is a master joiner and when he is there he works at a wonderful whirlwind speed. Unfortunately due to his skills he is greatly in demand, which is why there is very often a protratcted wait between his visits.

I have the perfect fabric for the curtains and have based my colour scheme around this fabric.

The look and feel that I hope to create is French combined with a Cornish influence. So please do stop by again for a visit - when I hope to be able to share with you very soon the fait accompli.


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Garden

As I recuperate from the horrible lurgy that obliterated my entire Christmas week; frustrated at the time that I have had to spend in bed and lying around feeling totally unproductive, I engaged in some rummaging through boxes in an effort to begin decluttering for the start of the New Year. As I rootled around (what a lovely word "rootle" is, don't you agree?) unearthing objects that I had forgotten I possessed, I stumbled across a few old photos of my garden which on this dank grey winters day I find so cheering that I cannot but help wanting to share them with you.

This is the garden where all those years ago my interest in gardening was first kindled. Totally private and secluded with mature trees beyond the garden fence - this little patch of ground had potential. Although the size of a postage stamp; never before cultivated, full of blackthorn and laurel bushes, with briars and brambles alongside the wall reaching as high as the windows, the garden was a little sun-trap and simply crying out for a make-over. 

Taking the bull by the horns, I "called in a man". The quote that he gave me for simply clearing the ground was derisive and standing tall with all my 5ft 2', I dismissed him with the retort that I would do it myself. And do it myself I did. Well, okay I capitulated after my first ineffectual encounters with the vicious blackthorns, which slashed and tore at my skin, leaving red inflamed wounds as though I had encountered a wild animal amidst this jungle of a garden, and so asked a neighbour to assist and cut them down with his chainsaw. 

Within a very short space of time, thorny branches lay scattered around the garden and my next task was to remove the hoary old stumps dotted across the uneven ground. I am sure that the efforts required for this are etched indelibly on the tissues in my back, as although my leg and thigh muscles toned up beautifully through all the digging, I hobbled around in the manner of an arthritic ninety year old lady for several weeks after I dug up the last stump.

At last the ground was cleared and a blank canvas waited expectantly. I had already decided upon a gravel garden with no lawn whatsoever - low maintenance I thought. How naive! At the time architectural plants were all the rage and I had not yet learnt to acquire the patience of a true gardener. So for structure and immediate impact I began by planting Bamboo, Fatsia Japonica, Pampas Grass, Yuccas and New Zealand Flaxes. I had also begun to have an obsession with hostas, but that's a story for another day.

Laburnum Tree behind a New Zealand Flax

The prolifically flowering Laburnum tree was the first realisation I had of my absolute need for flowers and the first clue that deep down inside me, waiting to burst out and defy everything I was doing, lurked an undiscovered passion for cottage gardens plants - most specifically roses. I began to regret planting so many architectural plants which took up valuable space that could have been used for flowering perennials and shrubs. 

I constructed a wooden pergola to separate the garden into two and clothed it with a climbing rose - Mdme Gregoire Staechelin, honeysuckle Serotina and Clematis Jackmanii.

Geranium Johnson's Blue and a perennial Wallflower Bowles Mauve Erysimum drape across old cobbles onto the gravel

The acquisition of some old cobbles provided an ideal form of edging to the gravel and borders in the top half of the garden where I have the little French wrought iron table and chairs. Of course it was not simply a matter of arranging the cobbles - nothing so easy! They were all encased in thick mortar which took a whole weekend worth of chipping to release, with severe wrist strain as a result! 

To disguise an ugly fence I planted Rosa Rambling Rector, a mistake that became apparent within a very short space of time and which necessitated the removal of 20 foot long whippy branches clothed with razor like thorns. (More wounds to add to the scars remaining from the blackthorns). I learnt from that to make sure and distinguish between ramblers and climbers.  

I fell in love with the beautiful Arum Lilly which bloomed profusely from a small cutting given to me as a gift.

The Cottage Garden passion began to become more and more evident. I discovered Alchemilla Mollus, or Lady's Mantle as it is known with its froth of lime green flowers and leaves which cup the morning dew drops like diamonds, although many see it as a weed because of the way it self-seeds so freely. I however cannot bear to discard any seedlings and have made use of the many that have seeded happily amongst the gravel, transplanting them into whatever nook and cranny is available.

Alchemilla Mollus beside the old stone trough

Blowsy candy coloured heads of Peonies bloom freely in front of a David Austin Rose called " The Dark Lady".

More roses soon found their way into the garden; Gertrude Jekyll and several other fragrant David Austin roses.

Honeysuckle entwines amongst the rose over the pergola.

Over the years the garden has changed; a few changes were imposed through the weather - The Hard Winter of 2010 annihilated some of the plants such as the New Zealand Flax, Pampas Grass, Lavender and Rosemary to name a few. Unfortunately both the elements and the weight of the foliage have taken their toll upon the pergola and last summer one horizontal piece partially collapsed.

Slugs and snails too have also dictated as to what survived in the garden. Hostas do not stand a chance and the Delphiniums and one of the Bronze Fennel plants suffered badly one year until I had the pleasure and delight of two hedgehogs who stayed throughout the summer and dealt with a multitude of the pesky snails. 

The bamboo that I planted in the very beginning is currently striving to take over and is going to need some serious attention to bring it back under control. If anyone has any suggestions as to how to tame bamboo, I would be delighted to hear them.

Of course the other major impact upon the garden has been the allotment. My desire to have more growing space for fruit, vegetables and flowering annuals led to me taking on the plot and so I discovered that it is possible to have too much of a good thing, as it unfortunately reduced the amount of time that I have to spend in the garden and thus last year the garden was not tended to as much as it needed. (The rain and the renovation of La Petite Maison were also contributing factors that shouldn't be overlooked).

However this little garden has provided a haven and a little bit of paradise for me over the years.

A beautiful Peacock butterfly basks in the sun on the Buddleia Bush, with the deep purple of Clematis Jackmanii flowers in the background

I have spent many very happy days here, along with Florence and Freddie enjoying the warmth of sunshine and the scents of the roses and honeysuckle. 

Freddie would lie peacefully at my feet as I ate my lunch at the little table, perturbed only by the audacious blackbirds bathing in the stone trough undaunted at his presence; confident of his docility; while Florence laid soporifically upon the bench until the heat got too much for her and she would flop down to the shade underneath, resting her chin on her paws.

Time does not stand still though and sadly Florence and Freddie are in the garden only in spirit now. I am preparing to leave the garden too, as a new garden is waiting to be created at La Petite Maison. I will be so sad to leave this little garden, but I shall be bringing it with me as much as is possible - I have already taken cuttings of the roses, the herbs, the arum lilly and so I shall ensure that all the memories of this garden are brought with me to the new garden.

I hope you have enjoyed this rather nostalgic visit to my garden and you too have felt some of the warmth of the sunshine seeping through from the photos offering a glimmer of brighter flower filled days to come.