Friday, 6 September 2013

Guest post: Découpage Coffee Table

Découpaged table

Eva Stephen of Home Decor sent me a découpage project that oozes vintage vibes and doesn't cost the earth. I reproduce the text and the accompanying pictures with Eva's permission. If you want to reproduce any of these pictures or the article, please contact Eva through her blog.

Découpage dates back to East Siberian tomb art; the tombs of the deceased from Nomadic tribes were decorated with cut-out pieces of felt. This craft travelled from Siberia to China, where it became commonplace by the 12th century. In China cut-out paper was used to decorate lanterns, windows, boxes and decorative objects.  This decorative craft made its way through trading routes from China to Italy in the 17th century.

To draw forth this ancient craft into the modern world, I paid a visit to Blick, which sells beautiful, handmade paper.  It was découpage bliss as I picked out a few lovely pieces to work with.  

My goal was to beautify a hand-me-down my mum gave me, a plain table from Shop4furniture. Here's how I did it: 

Materials for découpaging:
4-inch sponge brush 
Selection of paper
Mod Podge (a découpage glue and varnish)
Measuring tape

How to découpage a table:
1.  Clean the surface thoroughly.

2. Cut out the paper pieces according to the size you want them to be. Hint: I smoothed down the corners of the paper around the surface I needed them to fit in order to create a bend I could follow when cutting.
3. Arrange the paper pieces and make sure they fit the way you’d like them to.

4. Apply Mod Podge to the back of the paper.

5. Apply the paper pieces to the table, one piece at a time.

6. Smooth each piece of paper with your hand, starting in the middle and working toward the edges.
7. Take your sponge brush and start brushing on a medium thick coat of Mod Podge in large brush strokes all over it.  Be careful, do not to be too rough if using delicate paper.

8. Allow the table to dry, according to bottle instructions. Apply a second coat if necessary.

Voila'... Love your home for less has always been my motto - I believe anything can be made beautiful if you put your heart and soul in it!

PS: here's an old découpage of mine, a cardboard box... in hindsight I recommend using several coat of varnish as it's starting to crumble at the edges.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Budget kitchen makeover

Before - pic 1
Before - pic 2

I have always been budget conscious, as this old article, Kitchen Renovation on a Tight Budget, proves. That was my first kitchen revamp, subsequently we lived in a Victorian house in London with a modern kitchen, so we only changed the handles of the units and the light fitting. 

In our 1930s house, the kitchen is about 30 years old at least, if not older. It's good quality, German made, though so we didn't want to scrap it as yet, not until we decide how to modernise it. So we used our DIY skills and a few frugal purchases to update it and the results are rather impressive (see bigger picture below). We changed the handles of the units, replaced the neon light fitting, painted the walls white with emulsion paint, removed the orange blinds and painted over the beige and brown tiles with eggshell white paint (2 coats were needed). Window frames and the door got a coat of gloss paint too.

All the appliances (except the fridge and cooker) were replaced with ours - we rented an unfurnished house for a year and we had to buy our own (we always sold our houses with the appliances in situ, it's so mean to take them away. Plus they are a pain to move - as we found out with the rental, but then we could hardly leave them behind since the rental agency charged us for not removing detergent residue from the oven after cleaning it. Who knows, they might have charged us for leaving the appliances behind!).

Et voila'! What do you think?
Pic taken while the paint was drying on the left side

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Sneak preview of my summerhouse, revamped shed, artist's refuge...

BEFORE What the summerhouse looked like when we bought the house, basically a storage shed/cabin with leaky roof and hideous 1970 lino flooring, surrounded by brambles and overgrown trees.

AFTER It only took me two summers and lots of hard work to trim the garden, restoring it to its original beauty - hope Mr G. (RIP), the botanist who owned it, approves. I used Forest Green fencing paint and domestic paint inside. Most materials are recycled, I kept new purchases to the minimum. My partner re-roofed it and put a shelf up, I did the rest. 

Owl and pussycat theme and rudely shaped seashells

Dinky toys and other toy collectables

I restored and re-upholstered this 1940 
utility chair and made the William Morris 
hanging using Sanderson's 
reproduction fabric swatches

I did try to ask for sponsorship, product review opps from major DIY chains but  it was too much of a hassle to pester them after initial zero replies so I bought well-priced items from B&Q, Screwfix, Homebase, John Lewis and used materials and items I have collected in the past 19 years. DIY PRs eat your heart out! More photos to come in future posts.

My original inspiration and photos of the garden

My inspiration, a wonderful Victorian-style cabin in the US, is the labour of love of Sandy Foster, which was featured in the NY Times in 2010. I contacted Sandy through her blog a few years back and praised her excellent taste. I read she is taking a break from blogging at the moment, but you can see some wonderful pictures here

But back to my wonderful garden. For those who were skeptical about me tackling the jungle we bought alongside the house, I did it mostly by myself using a pick axe and gardening tools - I didn't employ anybody with a chainsaw as somebody hinted. My partner tackled the tall trees with a forestry saw (I'm 5ft 2in and weedy, so not up to that). 

Sadly Alan Titchmarsh didn't reply to my request for help (or more likely the TV producers), which is a pity as I haven't still identified some of the rare plants I have got. I had the pleasure of editing his copy when I was freelancing at Gardeners' World and let's say his articles needed minimal changes. I wasn't surprised when he started writing novels.

Back to the garden, I'm no botanist like the previous owner, Mr. G, who used to grow orchids in the greenhouse at the back. He worked for the University of Cambridge and I found his academic papers online. I also found some weird items in the garage, which I'm hoping to show off soon and lots of gardening products that I had to discard because they are now probably banned (aka strong weed killers that smelled like paint stripper). He was an experimenter and also used organic methods, which were not fashionable back then. 

But with no further ado, here are photos of the garden, introduced by my constant friend, the robin, which is very tame.... We do get quite a lot of wildlife in the garden, my partner spotted a heron, because we have a pond and very tall, mature trees. We have a whole wall of holly on one side, but I have seen very few berries at Xmas as the birds scoff them.

Summer 2011

June 2013

Yes, I know, the pond needs cleaning, my partner and I did it after taking these pics. There is lots of grass! It takes me two hours to cut it and trim the borders. What about the back of this garden? Not many people realise that the garden goes on after the summerhouse, through a jasmine archway. It's also much wider than it looks on the pics, I couldn't take it all in so the flower borders and the massive wall of holly are missing from the main picture. The back, pictured below, was Mr G.'s vegetable patch and experimental ground. We still have his greenhouse but it will need replacement as it's falling apart. We built the raised beds you see with the running beans crawling up bamboo sticks, some sourced from the garden as we have a big bamboo patch by the pond.

The apple tree above (it got trimmed so a bit forlorn looking) offers some unusual apples, nobody so far has been able to tell me what variety it is. Mr G. lived in the house when there was still rationing after WW2, so he was growing plenty of fruit and veg. He was digging for victory for sure! When I reduced the amount of brambles - I kept those he planted by the fences and the greenhouse - I found rhubarb, asparagus, several apple trees (some espalier style), a stray spring onion and also realised he was growing weeds that had organic purposes (such as nettle, good for the compost heap). 

We removed the original compost heap as it was falling apart to create the raised beds. We do have a compost heap in a corner and we have kept all his water buts, which make watering the garden easier and eco-friendly. That's it for now. I will take more photos.

Monday, 15 July 2013

I'm shedclassist!

My middle-class shed with social mobility aspirations
My working-class shed, in homage to my parents
who could only afford a black and white TV when I was a child

Friday, 12 July 2013

Our house is the best ever for gas consumption... shocking!

My partner put all the gas consumption figures for our previous three houses and this one into a spreadsheet and our 1930s detached performed better overall* even with the old inefficient boiler and single-glazed windows (we have secondary glazing only on the north side and 1 double-glazed window - nearly all windows are single-glazed iron-framed originals). We had a boiler replacement yesterday so it's going to get even better!

We think this is due to loft insulation and cavity wall insulation. The secondary glazing might play a part too but it's quite old and makeshift for certain windows.

So what were the other houses? We moved a lot in the past five years so the houses we compared were:

  • A Victorian semi with original single-glazed sash windows and combi boiler
  • A 1930s semi with double-glazed windows and brand-new combi boiler
  • A 1960s semi with double-glazed windows and combi boiler.
Strange but true! Cavity wall insulation beats double-glazing big time!

*Bearing in mind that we had the coldest and longest winter ever!

Summerhouse project back on

Playing croquet at Churchill College, Cambridge

Steampunk event - two young gentlemen

My summerhouse in mid May

Hello, just a quick post to catch up before I upload new photos of my summerhouse project. Remember last year's post about restoring my old summerhouse? I painted it forest green outside and bright light blue inside. My partner re-roofed it. Then I removed paint and varnish from an old table I found in the garage and my 1940s utility chairs, bought from a charity shop in London over 11 years ago. Now the chairs and table are finished. Yesterday I re-upholstered the chairs (these are different chairs from my previous post where I had pics of an older. antique chair) and placed them in the summerhouse.

I have been gathering vintage objects to show off in my summerhouse and hunting out decorative stuff to hang and display. I'm planning themed displays and even an art show. Watch this space.

What else? I gave myself a Great Gatsby hairstyle (goes well with the cloche hat in the top pic) and went to a Steampunk event - a great concept merging Victoriana with sci-fi.

More Steampunk pics below....

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Back in the DIY business - and I'm the ugly Bennett sister!

Detail of my mini rock garden - a new addition.
Oyster shells look good against red and green succulents
I'm back at home, gardening and fixing things around the house - about time! We had a lousy spring and disappointing summer so far, so I haven't done as much DIY as I'd have liked but have made a good start by tidying up the garden and re-upholstering a set of antique chairs my dad restored over 11 years ago. The fabric was worn out and when we took it off, alongside the flammable padding, we found broken springs and straw! We manually straightened the springs, then connected them together and to the chair using garden wire and screws. As they are hidden, it doesn't matter what wire we used. Getting rid of the old tacks was quite a job, though and my partner helped with that.
One of the chairs, stripped

The chair after the makeover
Once the chair was ready, I used fireproof thick foam for the padding, I needed two lawyers so the spring wouldn't poke out. The olive green and cream brocade is a curtain remnant I had from a previous house, it's not 1930s in style but the colours are right for this period. The matching trim was bought from John Lewis (a bargain at £1.55 a metre). 

After stapling the padding to the chair's frame, I stapled the fabric, then glued the trim on top using UHU fabric glue. When it ran out (why is John Lewis selling such a small tube? A bigger version is needed for serious crafters) I deployed my cool melt glue gun with UHU sticks as I read on the net that it was OK to use on fabrics. 

The chair's seat
Note: I have paid for all these purchases. This is not a sponsored post. I'm open to product testing, though! Read more restoration and home interest articles here.

Last but not least, a pic for fun value... I looked like the ugly Bennett sister but had a Ball at the Regency Ball organised by Lucy Cavendish College. I was lucky to win 2 sold-out tickets in a competition run by Cambridge News.

Wearing the Regency-style costume I cobbled together.
I got the pattern for the skirt from the internet

Friday, 17 May 2013

Update on my activity

A new flower I spotted in my border, not sure what it is...

Sorry I haven't posted for a while, but I have a full-time job now and don't work from home any more. I  haven't done much work in the house but have started tidying up the garden and planting seeds. No doubt when the weather gets warmer I will be able to finish my various projects!

UPDATE: Ex journo colleague Bethany says it's a fritillary, a very interesting plant, some bulbs apparently are edible if prepared correctly, but it's also poisonous.