Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Fireplace Woes

We are very lucky that our flat has many gorgeous original features. In fact one of the main features that caught our eye when we first viewed the property is this stunning marble fireplace with Delft tiles.

 A fairly simple design, it's not as grand as it's drawing room counterparts elsewhere in the building but personally, I'd take a marble fireplace over a wooden one any day. It's such a stunning material and one which over the course of our renovation, has now been utilised in different spaces within our home (perhaps subconsciously inspired by this very fireplace)!

Ooh shiny!
Gorgeous Delft tiles

Isn't she a beauty? The fireplace in the living room, by contrast, was lacking in lustre!

What could make the 50's tiles even better, you ask? Stick on metallic horoscope tiles, that's what!

It's difficult to make out but the fireplace had been boarded up and re-tiled meaning the original Victorian tiles were long gone. The first two things we did on the day we took entry of the flat were to rip up the sunflower carpet in the living room and take a hammer to the bricks in the fireplace. Step one of 'project fireplace' complete. 

The re-tiling of the fireplace probably occurred in the 1950's when the building was converted into flats as the crackle glaze tiles are reminiscent of this era. At some point the fireplace surround had also been painted. Not ususual. However, we had an inkling that something might be lurking beneath the layers of paint and as people who like to get stuck in, true to form, we took a run at solving the mystery!

You should always wear a face mask and allow ample ventilation when using paint stripper. Clearly, I have a death wish.

Armed with a vat of paint stripper, some rubber gloves, a paintbrush and a wallpaper scraper, we set to work. First of all, we painted thin layers of Nitromorse (paint stripper) onto the top layer of paint. This causes the paint to bubble and blister, so it's easier to scrape off (note that 'easier' is a relative term).

You can start to see what we uncovered underneath- marble!

Unfortunately, we also uncovered layer upon layer of paint including at least one layer of black paint which, when the Nitromorse was applied to it, turned into a sticky gooey tar-like substance, nigh on impossible to remove. Unlike the other paint, which became slightly rubberised in texture and peeled off without too much effort, this black muck clagged up into tar and became stuck to the scraper, the fireplace, our hands, smearing sticky gunk over everything it touched. Yummy.

In case you weren't sure, I can confirm that this is an extremely messy job!

What should have been an afternoon's work turned into an epic paint stripping marathon which went on for so long that in the end we gave up until the imminent re-decoration gave us the push we needed to tackle it all over again. Not recommended.

Buoyed by the relative progress, I also tried to prise off one of the yellow tiles with the scraper to see if there were original tiles underneath. There were not. However, in my vigour (ok, brute force) I managed to make a bit of a mess of the existing tiles by breaking two of them. In fairness the removal of the eclectic horoscope and other assorted tiles (which had been stuck on by the previous owner) didn't help the cause. 

The tiles looked awful and with the painter about to start, I knew I couldn't have the room decorated without first addressing the problem.

With funds depleting into the renovation and enthusiasm waning, I decided there was only one thing for it- spray paint! So we now have a lovely marble fireplace surround with battleship grey spray painted tiles inside it- how's that for a contrast!

It kills me to note that there are still areas of black paint on this fireplace in the hard to reach nooks and crannies that no amount of elbow grease will remove. Deep breaths!

The next step is to find some Victorian reproduction tiles which we'll have laid on top of the existing ones. This actually shouldn't be an expensive job but it's something I'm taking my time with because I feel a responsibility to put something in which, while not original, will be appropriate for the space. I know there will be those purists who like the retro tiles and abhor the fact that I've covered them in cheap paint and in a mid-centrury modern home, I can see that. However, throughout this project we have tried hard to preserve the period features and re-instate them where they have been removed so I am working with that constantly in my mind. We're not trying to be radical, just faithful to the history of the property.

Perhaps in another 60 years time, someone will even mistake the reproduction tiles I install for original? Who am I kidding- they'll probably paint the whole thing- surround and all- jet black and kick start the cycle once again!

Christmas Past and Present

Today is the anniversary of a landmark moment in our development. Exactly one year ago today, we finally got central heating. After nearly 5 months of progressively becoming colder as the seasons changed, by December 17th it's fair to say we were ready to kill someone- the builders, the gas network, each other. If only those frozen fingers had the ability to grasp! 

Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two back but putting up the Christmas tree this year inspired me to look back at last year's effort and I realised just how far we've come in that time.

As you can see below, we'd tried to make the living room as homely and cosy as possible. It's definitely eclectic...

Our inherited and hideously in-efficient electric fire taking the edge off. Yes there are 2 sets of bath taps in this photo. Best not to ask!
Watching Eastenders 'cause we're classy like that. 

Fortunately, this summer we enlisted the services of a fantastic painter/decorator so the room is now a much more pleasing shade. 

As you can see the sunburst mirror is still occupying pride of place. As for furniture, we're just using what we have at the moment so it's not ideal or perfectly matching but carpets, cleanliness and festive decorations are making the space a joy to occupy in stark contrast to previous months!
Oka coffee table still going strong. You can see the fireplace has been painted. More on that to follow.
The infamous dresser in it's new home. The ridiculously large but supremely comfortable Andrew Martin sofa is destined for downstairs. Once we get some new streamlined sofas and have undertaken the necessary graft, the dresser will be shown off to it's full potential and hopefully won't seem so boxed in.
One new addition, my glorious buffet console (ignore the unsightly plugs). I decorated a plain wreath for a bit of pizazz.
'Whare' was a gift from a relative in New Zealand. It means 'Home' in Maori. Rory Dobner tile displayed under dome.

Next on the agenda is to get some blinds installed. As you can probably tell, we have a high tolerance for making do. Last year one of the sash windows had a 4 inch gap at the top, so the gale howled through into the room making for some bracing evenings. Blinds are seriously the least of my worries!

Hopefully these photos illustrate some positive progress. Lots still to do but it's moving in the right direction!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Treasure Hunting (with abandon)

One thing you will quickly learn during through reading my blog is that I love treasure hunting. 

Love. it.

There is nothing more satisfying to me than finding a hugely discounted designer sofa on eBay or rescuing a battered, once loved, piece of furniture ripe for a makeover.

Luckily, I happen to have a wonderful, long suffering partner in Steve who is well used to receiving mid-day texts detailing a treasure I've uncovered online. This is usually followed by my desperate pleas that 'we have to go to (insert random location, further away the better) straight after work', to collect said mystical item. This formula is usually a success, save for the fact that our only car is Steve's, a 2 seater with no boot to speak of. A sensible vehicle capable of collecting sizeable items of furniture it is not.

I am a very creative but extremely fickle person. I stubbornly maintain that I have a clear vision of what items I want for the flat and generally speaking, I do. I have an elaborate end vision in my mind but so often plans are changed when I see a product that I NEED. The problem being that I didn't know I needed said product before that fateful click of the mouse. With such a relaxed attitude of buy now, think about logistics later, it is fortunate that I have stumbled upon some amazing finds right on my doorstep.

Last Autumn, during our kitchen planning, I was inspired by freestanding kitchen furniture, so I was delighted to find a large Victorian dresser advertised on Gumtree locally. My itchy fingers got the better of me and quick as a flash, I emailed the seller. The best news possible came in reply. Yes, it was still available and collection was from the opposite end of my street! A sign indeed. So, it was easy. No transport required, only some muscle. 

Did I mention it's enormous? 

Pictured in the Studio (Reception 2). At this point the dry rot specialists have treated the bay window and not yet laid the replacement reclaimed boards (hence the wood chip insulation). The bare stone wall and electric heater complete with burn marks on the wall are our take on 'industrial chic'. Ha! The postcards etc on the door are another story altogether so I'll save that for another post!

Chatting to our lovely neighbour, we discovered this dresser had originally been in the kitchen of their 1900's home. Having been built in to the room, the piece was likely designed and built for the house when it was built. Only for sale due to renovation and change of use of rooms, the seller was happy that it would remain on the street and I was delighted to be the new custodian of such a lovely original piece of furniture. The details are so beautiful:

The dresser is stained pine and has beautiful, simple original turnlock catches.

I'd neglected to consider that myself and Steve alone could not move this beast. Luckily, Steve happens to have a long suffering friend, Adam, who is nearly always roped in to help with the tricker projects, like some sort of inevitable domino effect. I think his comment sums it up:

"Steven asked me to move 'something'. It was bigger than the moon and twice as heavy"
Adam showing off his achievements. At over 6ft tall himself, you get the impression of scale hopefully! The wooden baton was fixed on by the neighbour's builders to keep the cabinet rigid and assist with transporting it by hand.

Thanks Adam!

It took these poor guys over an hour to get both pieces of the dresser along the street and up (ahem) three flights of stairs. A kindly neighbour took pity on us along the way and put the boys to shame by lifting it's bulk a good ten metres into the building with ease (!) but they got there in the end as the pictures above demonstrate. By contrast, my involvement was minimal. I did help. A bit.

After all the effort involved, it sadly transpired that the dresser was too large to fit in our new kitchen as we would have been compromising on critical worktop space to accommodate it. On breaking this news, I feared that both Steve and Adam may never speak to me again! Of course, ever the optimist, I insisted I would find another use for the dresser. The truth is, we all knew the dresser was never being carried back down those stairs...

The good news is that the dresser has now been re-located to the living room where it fits perfectly. Whilst I'm sure the purists would love to see the piece left alone or restored to its original form, in reality it's in bad shape and needs a lot of TLC so for this reason, I've decided to paint it. Sympathetically and tastefully of course!  The next stage is to have a joiner carry out the repairs (it needs a new base, back, shored up and some matching cornice added to one end) before it begins a new lease of life as an elegant cabinet. Updates on this transformation coming soon!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Christmas comes early!

I always love this time of year when due to the joys of internet shopping, parcels start arriving through the door only to be squirreled away, far from the prying eyes of their intended recipients. I'm very much of the view that it's rude not to indulge in the gift giving spirit by giving your home (and yourself) the gift of nice decor.

I searched high and low for a campaign or gueridon style table similar to the images below for the bathroom.

Traditional Bathroom by Bloomfield Hills Architects & Designers CBI Design Professionals, Inc.

I was delighted to turn up this gorgeous accordion table from none other than Urban Outfitters with an equally pleasing price tag of just £55 and was lucky enough to snag it with an additional 20% off! The downside is that on receipt, I've decided it's too nice for the bathroom so am using it in one of the reception rooms meantime. I will definitely need to purchase another one. Or two...Small occasional pieces like this are so versatile and it's lightweight design makes it easy to move around the home. I can see these doing a turn as bedsides, drinks tables and, who knows, one may end up in the bathroom yet!

Urban Outfitters Accordion Table

A slight peeve however is that the U.S. site has the same table in a fabulous burnished gold shade but unfortunately this colour option isn't currently available for U.K customers. Our spray painting skills may be put to use once again in order to achieve the same look.

(As above in gold)

My love of all things golden and shiny follows some logic. There was a trend a couple of years back for grey interiors with yellow accent furnishings. I'm sorry to say I never quite got over this combination but it was done to death, so in order to add a twist to this interior scheme, I have decided that gold in place of vibrant yellow works just as well and updates the look, adding a more sophisticated palette. Perhaps it's the magpie in me but I can't get enough of gold accessories at the moment, so imagine my joy to stumble across this Scandinavian style vase from Danish Brand 'House Doctor'. It may be small, but at only £14 it is a guilt free purchase which functions as an interesting objet d'art. I purchased mine from one of my favourite online stores, Rockett St George.

I also found these similar vases for sale on Seld.co.uk. I love the colour and shape, though I'm not completely convinced by the drip effect. I think on balance, I prefer the simplicity of the House Doctor piece but with prices from £15, I may just purchase one to see how it looks in the flesh.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


There's nothing like a deadline to get the creative juices flowing. With the looming of constant deadlines for each respective room in the house, my attention has been solely focused on design ideas.

Since I haven't yet covered the progress of the development and therefore the redecoration, I won't ruin the end result (I know you're all just dying of suspense)! However, here are a few of my favourite designers which I drew inspiration from:

Rory Dobner

New kid on the block, Rory Dobner is a gifted artist lending his quirky line drawings to a range of ceramics, prints and cushions including his signature alphabet tiles. Word has spread quickly and this edgy designer now has a collaboration with Fortnum & Mason and a concession at Liberty's. I adore his gothic style and particularly love the idea of using his striking tiles in kitchens and bathrooms. Admittedly, I've not been brave enough to try this myself due to our desire to keep the decor traditional to the period style of our property but have purchased some key decorative items including the parrot tile shown below which I have proudly on display and the cat monocle cushion which I gifted some dear friends for their wedding.

Timorous Beasties

A Glasgow institution, I would be surprised to find anyone in this city who isn't slightly obsessed with the edgy design duo. As far as West End interiors go, the use of their bold wallpapers as a feature wall is a little predictable perhaps (does anyone else remember the property developers/interior designers having a field day with Thistle print circa 2010?) but nonetheless the punchy designs show no signs of waning in popularity and I for one am a huge fan.

We're lucky enough to have the bird branch hand printed panels in a gold and power blue colourway which was only produced in small quantities. I'm planning to have these mounted on a large MDF board as a feature behind a large buffet console, the idea being that it can be moved to another room in future to act as a headboard, for example. I love the subtle aesthetic of this paper.


Primarily a kitchen and furniture manufacturer, Neptune also produces classic, elegant furnishings for the entire home. Number one on my 'love list' is their lighting section, having found it nigh on impossible to source attractive lighting for my kitchen and bathroom that didn't cost the earth.

Whilst, I'll admit that IKEA have some nifty solutions for those on a tight budget, I really wanted something different with maximum style and pizzazz. In terms of kitchen and dining, Neptune really nailed the look I envisaged with stunning fixtures using tactile fabrics such as linen and high glamour metals like polished nickel.


If you're a fan of the traditional look, Oka Direct are sure to have something to tempt you. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this retailer. Some of the pieces of furniture and wonderful and well worth the investment whilst others I find a little obscure and overpriced. My top pics are the 'Upton' console table;

and this 'Ananas' cushion from the Nicholas Haslam range for Oka. This design as an accent to Timorous Beasties Grand Thistle paper is a match made in heaven in my opinion. It adds an unexpected texture to the room which blends into the scheme without being too 'matchy matchy'.

The beginning

Where else to start?

Below is a snapshot of the flat as we found it. It was, if nothing else, a sea of colour! Every door a different splash of paint, the rooms sporting various themes. In at least half of the rooms multiple patterns of wallpaper co-existed somewhat eclectically side by side but being the home of an artist, the chaos seemed considered and rather jovial. We could see past the decor to appreciate the amazing space on offer.

Unusually, the flat is split over multiple levels with rooms formed over three floors. 22 Kingsborough Gardens is end of terrace and our property is the top floor flat. Originally when we took on the project, the front door to the flat opened onto the lower floor comprising of Reception 2 (known as the Studio due to formerly being Louise Annad's art studio) and the kitchen. The first flight of stairs led up to Bedroom 1, Reception 1, a cloakroom and bathroom and finally the second flight ascending to bedrooms 2 and 3. This layout remains fundamentally the same but changes will be documented as the blog progresses.

Reception 1

Reception 2 (The Studio)

Stairs (1st flight)

Stairs (2nd flight)


Bedroom 1

Bedroom 2

Bedroom 3 (Study)

 It was to be the beginning of a massive challenge and the end of carefree living in our previous low maintenance modern flat. The romance of the property remained but the sobering reality quickly crept upon us that we had no heating, no kitchen to speak of and a mammoth task on our hands. Cue the onset of some seriously hard graft!