Episode 79- two weeks of life in France- a little bit of work

20140728_102859Renovation, restoration, relaxation-

As we need and must have a proper rest we didn’t do a lot on the French trip.

I did finish the seven layered paint effect in the terrace bedroom and yes, it was worth it. The picture isn’t crisp as taken on my phone but will take my good camera with me next time and do a detailed post on the technique which I made up as I went along – as per usual.

Gives incredible depth and character to the walls and really works with the feel of the house as we get to final stages in this room.20140727_202837



Trevor also cut some tiles to finish the top of the terrace wall which has degraded due to sun etc since the building work finished.

Locals often use a terracotta roof tile for this scenario, but I wanted it smooth and flat to lean on when I am admiring the view and somewhere to put a coffee cup or wine glass when there are a few of us up there. If I ever reach the stage when I am not too embarrassed to let anyone other than workmen in! We found these stony, dragged  finish tiles as large floor tiles in M.Bricolage and cut to fit, they look great and it took exactly one box of eight  62cm x 32 cm tiles and cost 15 euros in total.

Naturally we have laid with a infinitesimal  slant at back so water from here will run onto our terrace and not next door’s roof. It is illegal here to do work to your house that allows water to be diverted to a neighbour’s house

The Thursday Three- from deepest France


Sorry it’s a bit late today but yesterday I had other distractions.
Today I am using my shiny new wordpress mobile app to bring you three more French chic gems.
From left to right-
Enamel towel hook, probably early 20th century ( from local French street market)
Large wall light in leaded glass, difficult to date but fairly old and hand made with the look of Tiffany, from proper junk shop in UK.
1920’s glass shade with little chinese / oriental figures and scenes in grape, pale green and gold- ebay
Hope you enjoy …

Back soon.

Newsflash- July 2014

designcertRenovation, restoration, certification!

Two very positive developments this week





Firstly, after squeezing in a distance-learning course on Interior Design on top of my demanding day job, renovations to village house in France, running the French holiday let & nagging Trevor to take it easy and take his medication I have finally completed this!

Secondly, I have been invited to submit a blog to the on-line UK publications “Period Living” and “Real Homes Magazine”  hopefully from next month’s issues

At last we have  positive developments



The Thursday Three- Arts & Crafts Embroidery and Silkscreen printing

Every now and then, my treasure trawling pulls up a knock out piece-see above-

If this very large hand embroidery in wools on a woven felted wool background isn’t an original , mid 19th century, Arts & Crafts piece from a disciple of Mr William Morris, I will eat one of my many hats. LOOK AT THOSE MOTIFS!

I have also reviewed my dating of this wool embroidery -left- I did think 1930’s , now pretty sure that it is older.

Both found on ebay for peanuts. It beats trawling dodgy overpriced  antique fairs in the winter months.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Right-as a complete contrast, how about this photo-silkscreen on raw canvas of George Harrison, executed by the (soon to be) famous Dan Bladen (my son)


Remember, you read about him right here, first.


Episode 78- “Always live in the ugliest house on the street”…

DSC02794….”then you don’t have to look at it”. Apparently the artist David Hockney  said this. I can vouch for the veracity of this sentiment as our French village house is unspeakably ugly by anyone’s criteria.

For the sake of our long suffering neighbours in their charming houses, who wonder what we have actually been up to inside Maison Grotty, we will be changing that very soon, if Trevor & I can agree on the front paint colours.

I have already decided, he is just lagging a little behind.

Renovation, Restoration, Navigation is today’s theme.sept13 155

Let’s start with the entrance to the village-above- a bit deceptive for two reasons -1) the camera angle has widened the road and lulls the casual visitor into a false sense of security as once you hits the old bridge, there is a whisker between the average car door and the walls; and 2) the plethora of signs make the village look like a hot, hip & happening little place (not true, thank goodness!) . Then we have some great street names, a  mix of the old  (Impasse du Souleillou) the unlikely (Rue de la Plage)  the informative (Impasse des Jardins) and the historically commemorative (Rue de la Republique)DSC02776???????????????????????????????








This is our corner of the south Languedoc Roussillon & we LOVE it

The Thursday Three- bluebells, shells and boats

???????????????????????????????Two pictures today-

Left- a 19th century watercolour painting with wonderfully evocative, glowing colours. I am fairly sure it was painted in Scotland evidenced partly by the drifts of bluebells, dark forests and distant mountains. It just has that Scottish feel(?!?) and bluebells are usually found only in Northern Europe.

I like landscapes with mountains in the background , reminds me of our adopted French home. The frame it came in was hideous, the one pictured was customised by moi. Right- A hand coloured French print of London. At least I am fairly sure that it is a print, although there are tiny indentations on it that look like the mark of a pen. I daren’t take it out of the frame to check as it is a bit fragile so I will never know .French print of London

Below- A moulded resin scallop shell from France . This will hopefully form the pediment to crown the decorative antique wood panels that we picked up in Bristol. These were taken from a Georgian bookshelf built into a late 18th Century house and no longer wanted. (?!?) These will frame our deeply inset shelf alcove in salon at French village house.

This moulding has a very French feel, the scallop shell design is a common motif on old furniture in France.scallop shell moulding

The panels may have to have a little added to the length, but I have every faith that Trevor can achieve this under my instruction!

Bonus Post- Le Tour de France , traversée de la Manche!

As the major logistical nightmare of getting a bunch of cyclists and their entourage across the channel kicks off, I thought I would share something from  my treasured photo collection .

This shows Le tour de France flying through the outskirts of our village, Campagne-sur-Aude, in July 2007  en route to the Pyrenees.Just amazingDSC00223.

On  an educational note-

“Le tour” means just that- a tour as in “around”someplace

“La Tour” means  the tower..

another little linguistic subtlety.

Episode 77- The sunny side of the street- “en plein soleil”

DSC02770renovation, restoration, orientation

A little advice for French house hunters……..

I like this photo, it shows a portion of the our French village house to the right- bathed in sunlight ( I can’t get it all into any shot, street too narrow) I advise you to consider aspect seriously and don’t be blinded by a pretty looking house in a lousy location (many have)

Amazing how a bit of sun improves the look of even our tatty, yet to be painted part-medieval  hovel.  We are fortunate to have a relatively straight frontage- the lean on the house near left is not a trick of the camera!

Bear in  mind we saw it on a grey April day-Scan0003jpg Right- about 3/4 of frontage-

It looked even worse in the faded photos in the estate agency, in fact it looked so unappealing that they wouldn’t even put it in the window. You will all  have to wait a wee bit longer for the amazing “reveal” as Trevor is convalescing and won’t be swinging any giant tools for the rest of this year. Like I said, things (life) happen.

If you are viewing property to buy, don’t make any decisions in the sunshine; viewing on a dull, dark day, preferably with a bit of monsoon rain thrown in to highlight the leaks is strongly advised. Trust me



The Thursday Three- Felt appliquée & Petit point embroidery

DSC02904Today’s gems are- Left- three small vintage (14cm square) petit-point tapestries in subtle colours and silver gilt frames


Felt appliqued  cushion hand made in Hungary




Below- the clocks are ticking.. toward what? and why DSC0290614:20 hours??????

Episode 76- Panic in the Pissoir!

sept13 093renovation, restoration, vegetation-September 2013

The trees are coming in!!!

Let me explain- the big house behind Maison Priest was owned by an English lady who  has decided to sell and had been unable to visit as often as she would like recently.

Her property backs right up to our little courtyard, which is bordered on one side by what used to be her barn but has now had the roof removed to make a courtyard (keep up) which involved someone sawing through the barn’s supporting cross beam (no comment). sept13 073

Over the last three years we have watched, from our terrace, the progress of this courtyard from needing a bit of weeding, to numerous little saplings taking root and finally establishing themsleves as serious trees-Right-May 2013

This is the South of France, we get lots of sun and lots of rain (mainly at night- very civilised) and everything grows at least three times faster than in UK; so now these rogue  trees have gone from peeping attractively but slightly worryingly over her wall- above right- to hanging over our courtyard wall and  looming alarmingly and spreading their branches almost as far over as our terrace. Bearing in mind that this is a roof terrace on a three storey house you can do the maths as to how high the trees actually got from zilch to majestic in just 36 months!-below left-September 2013 (spot the difference)

sept13 089We knew that if they  continued at this rate they would block the light from our morning sun trap corner, and worse, bits of our mutual  wall were dropping off  into our picturesque pissoir (regular readers will know that our other neighbours told us that when the house behind was the village cinema , our courtyard was used as the pissoir because it had the ancient gulley to the river running through it- hahaha!!!) sept13 096






So we reluctantly had to email our neighbour and ask her  if she knew how bad things were. She didn’t, of course, as she had not visited her house for some time and had to arrange for the trees to be exterminated ASAP. Please note, I would not normally advocate tree extermination, but if they had been allowed to expand further, the roots would have succeeded in achieving what several centuries of intermittent benign neglect has not- i.e. bringing down our house.

So- another Handy Hint for all you prospective and actual French house owners- Green Stuff grows super fast over here and unless you can be here full time or frequently the Triffids will take over!

Episode 75- Papier peint, oui ou non? to wallpaper or not to wallpaper

tulip roomI had absolutely no intention of using any wallpaper anywhere when we bought the French house. Almost all my recent decorative treatments have been paint based. I liked what was left of the wallpaper in the  tulip bedroom, but it was way beyond preserving & the other wallpapers in the house were dark and dreary and I have no wish to duplicate that look, though I am aware that wallpaper is both authentic and traditional in French interiors so  perhaps it can be re-introduced into your renovation projects with a bit of thought and care.

I analysed what I did like about this vintage tulip paper, and it is it’s simple, traditional hand printed design and the slightly pearly, light reflecting ground which keeps it from overwhelming the space. Other SENSIBLY priced wallpapers with this vibe include-Left- Emperor Paisley and -Right- Marchmont DSC02894- by Laura Emperor PaisleyAshley-look out for sale prices







I have bought this wallpaper- below- which has a linen ground, and is produced for the American market, but Laura Ashley have a version in other colourways and it is very reminiscent of the historic wallpapers produced in France in designs influenced by 18th century “chinoiserie” wall paintings created by hand in grander French homes (and in other european countries !) and the classic “indienne” designs, which appear in both antique and contemporary textiles all over France, with bird, animal, paisley and floral motifs . Right- this more contemporary “Indienne” is by Crown wallpapers DSC02528and again has that pearly/metallic sheen that will reflect light around the space.

I am using this  as a single feature wall behind the bed.









I also love this chic American paper for a grander house -Left- “Norwall Grand Chateau”from MonsterMarketPlace.comnorwall-grand-chateau-beige-grey-yellow-jacobean-wallpaper-gc29829-page-1-600x600 or -Right-this great Graham & Brown paper (grahambrown.com) which is a true chinoiserie50-763-main







All the above are reasonably priced. I have found some lovely upmarket French traditional wallpapers but the prices are eye-watering. If you have a large chateau and budget to match, great, but this is the bargain basement, style on a shoestring blog!

The Thursday Three- three French interior design essentials!

$_1bbHow about these for village house in France?

From ebay, carved, painted and gilded  pale French blue corbels

How can the rest of the world  have  missed these? Someone has glued felt on the back to turn into bookends but I will be using them to support something as originally intended-        beam? shelf? lintel? doorway?…………………..$_1LOVE THEM






Below left- Lovely hand carved wood panels. The rose one is being mounted as pelmet for shower curtain in 2nd floor shower room. Leaf and  vine panel perfectly matches kitchen  dining room “buffet de cuisine”DSC02845

Below right-little hand printed cotton rug???????????????????????????????




Looks perfect in terrace bedroom on lime waxed floor and matches inside of my ballet pumps, have tried three other rugs here, none of which looked right. Love it so much I bought two (at 99p each!)

I am the queen of bargains

“One of those days in England”

20140622_161547With thanks to Mr Roy Harper, who provided the title, I would like to share  some great photographs  taken as Trevor and I had a healthy but sedate country walk along the canal by Stourton Junction where the Stourbridge canal meets the Staffordshire & Worcester canal in a beautiful setting.There is a seriously gorgeous white painted Georgian cottage down there that I wouldn’t mind finding in my Christmas stocking.

My son’s partner Anne (who has just attained her Midwifery degree after three tough years of hard work and no money) tagged along

Hats off to her, she got a first!!! We are so proud of you Anne.20140622_16355220140622_163243


The River Stour ambles alongside for a while then passes under the canal as it meanders over a tiny aquaduct not far from Stourton Castle.


There is still a Georgian brick bridge here  close to the road bridge constructed in the 20th century.

It was  lovely calm, warm, bright day and the views are wonderful over these quiet backwaters.

A perfect English summers’ day



A Georgian cottage in England- a look at our UK house (shoestring budget)

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Episode 74 – In which we reminisce on deceased vacuum cleaners..

kitchen dining arearenovation, restoration, suction (or lack of it)

We have  managed to wear out three vacuum cleaners since we started the French village house project.

The yellow one glimpsed left- in our scary kitchen/diner/guest bedroom was part of the three essential first purchases for our project, the other two necessities were a  pump for the sagging airbeds and a box of wine to get us through the initial push.

This vacuum died some time ago and has gone to the great déchèterie (rubbish dump) in the sky. It could not cope with the builder’s dust and rubble. So we bought a new, expensive one – though promoted as all singing, all dancing and capable of coping with “DIY waste” it didn’t. Perhaps our waste is worse? SAMSUNG

Despite it’s credentials this  second one is now sitting sadly in garage waiting to join it’s little yellow friend-right

The only vacuum cleaner to survive our long project is my son in law’s ancient upright Dyson. I guess it had lots of practice as it lived for years in his bachelor boy pad ( British readers think “Men Behaving Badly- tv show”)

It wil pick up anything, but now only works for about ten minutes at a time , then it shuts itself  down and goes into a sulk until it’s core temperature has stabilised and cooled to normal range.


So, this messy and drawn out project has worn out two vacs and brought a third to it’s knees. I am very relieved to report that it has not worn out Trevor, as we feared.

He has three titanium stents and a balloon inserted yesterday by inspirational Portuguese/South African heart doctor. He will be back to work next month….


The Thursday Three- Light fittings and Lions (GGRRHH)

The annual vide-grenier in our French village has thrown up some real gems over the last few years.DSC02756

I purchased a pair of these Empire style  appliques (wall lights) from our Mayor. If he ever comes round for an aperitif, it will be interesting to see if he recognises them! These had been rewired for electric and to hold glass globes, but I am going to mix it up a bit with some simple little white shades with a red rose print.


“French Empire” describes a move toward classical style and cleaner lines in the very earliest part of the 19th century; I guess it’s English contemporary would be Regency style. These are going each side of bed in tulip bedroom and will act as bedside lights.

Monsieur Mayor’s stall was also the source of this enamelled wall light destined for terrace bedroom.DSC02757 (The bit of masking tape is to identify what goes where for the Electrician.) I have a 1920’s turquoise glass shade with little flower garland on to go with it. I like the fact that the evident wear and tear on it is genuine and not someone’s ill-judged stab at “shabby chic”  .

No idea how old it is, but again has been wired for the very earliest electric supply about a century ago and given a shade fitting more recently.

I suspect genuinely vintage! Just seen one near identical in French brocante chic interiors  magazine featuring very posh renovation/restoration.???????????????????????????????


Lastly, we have my old faithful cast iron doorstop inherited by me (along with, according to some of my relatives, some of her less socially acceptable tendencies) from my eccentric great aunt Mary, daughter  of great grandad Sheffield featured in “Looking back” post below. Was in terrible rusty state and lovingly restored by me.

Ideal for wedging open our big heavy front door in village house in France, which has a disconcerting tendency to close itself when you are part way through it.



Maybe the whole house leans- toward the sun like a sunflower…………..?

Gallery – Finds for French village house

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Looking back-over my shoulder

scan0014[1]Feeling nostalgic today so have posted some vintage pics.

I love black and white  photos. There is something spare but subtly expressive about the absence of colour. Snaps like this heralded the beginning of the casual shot and a significant shift toward the informal & the normal in photography for the masses in the 1960’s.


The ready availability of cheap cameras meant that  there was one in everyone’s holiday suitcase.

(In case you were wondering, I am the one in the hat; the little sister to my right is being a great support this week, Dad is no longer here but I am sure he is keeping his eye on me from somewhere )

I love sepia photos even more; they almost have the quality of a painting  for me. Maybe it’s the necessarily protracted posing   and the fact that back then, you dressed up to have your photo taken and had a choice of painted backdrops to pose against! My mother used to say that she dreamed in sepia- so here she is below-???????????????????????????????

Left to right top-

My glamorous maternal great aunt in 1920, shame she didn’t pass the effortlessly chic gene onto me!

My fierce, strong great grandmother and my  paternal great aunts Annie and Maude, whose antimacassars I used to straighten and whose exquisite embroidery, tatting and lace making left me with a lasting love of antique linens & hand embellished textiles.

My great uncle Frank Sheffield, boy soldier, who enlisted before his 16th birthday and died in France

Left to right below-My paternal great grandfather Sheffield, master decorator and later Mayor of Clayton-Le-Moors in Lancashire.

My mother and friends posing on her 1940’s hen weekend, in their home made swimming cossies!

( V racy back then)

My mother (left) and cousins (including Joan, daughter of the glamourpuss)

Episode 73- ” A light in dark places”

20121123_121139renovation restoration, considerations-

César Manrique

Apart from my admiration for Mr Manrique’s paintings and sculptures, our visit to his home/studio/gallery on the Canarian island of Lanzarote threw up some more inspiration for dealing with dark  places in style. http://www.cesarmanrique.com/fundacion_i.htm

I love the slightly retro James Bond feel of his 1960’s house20121123_120302, but aside from that and the great art of his friends and collaborators (including Picasso and Joan Miro) which is on display,


I like the way he has lightened these small  interior courtyard/ cave spaces, some of which have even less natural light coming in than our cave at the French village house, which will become a guest bedroom.

20121123_120348Although the cave is double aspect, it has low beamed ceilings and is 30 feet long, opening onto a little interior courtyard with high walls . We did consider a light well, but would have compromised the kitchen space and fittings immediately above. 20121123_120800


These photos show how Manrique  the artist mixed white with bright colours and the result is not at all oppressive. Love the idea of him and his  creative mates sitting around drinking wine and eating tapas ( and my favourite, patatas bravas!) till four in the morning!




The Thursday Three- Serendipity and waterlilies; les nénuphars

DSC02788 I have hung the first picture” Les nénuphars” (waterlilies) up at the French village house, in the terrace bedroom, which is not far off completion. This feels like a big step.

I found this in a troc (junk shop ) in Argeles-sur-Mer and not only is it a really lovely watercolour of a French house but it has all the  pale pastel 1920’s colours we are using in this bedroom- amethyst, birds egg/aqua, pale lime green and mimosa.

I thought the frame might be too dark, it looks like bird’s eye maple, but it works well.

This is a slightly fuzzy shot, but it does set the scene in here and also highlights my “boirofibred” wall which I am very please with & you can see a hint of the door and shower room accent colours.

As you might know, the Lloyd Loom stool I bought for the dressing table was half an inch too wide! but I found this “curiosity chic” vintage looking stool in faded grape linen  with luggage tag appliques in maisonsdumonde (www.maisonsdumonde.com) my favourite French home store and it looks perfect.    I don’t want to get too sugary in here, but these colours really work in this room, which is small and dual aspect so light enough to take something alongside the neutrals. The little stool was Trevor’s as a boy and ideal for reaching the Veluxes.

.DSC02804 DSC02803







I don’t want to wear out the fabric on the base of the stool by dragging it across the floor so I need to make two handles. Serendipitously, two years ago  I bought the vintage trim above, hand stamped with flowers and the word “Paris” which is perfect for the job.

If it wasn’t for recent events, I could say that everything is falling into place.

Episode 72- Hot, hot, hot!

1355501662-09703000renovation, restoration, conflagration

Trevor is now, as I predicted, bored to tears sitting at home whilst he awaits further tests.

Watching old episodes of Columbo & Murder She Wrote have lost their charm  and he is all kindled out, so he has decided to apply his forensic mind into researching the pros and cons of various range cookers for the French village house. We want a traditional design


Trevor being Trevor, he not only pores over the internet for hours on end but we have to go look at various shortlisted models too.

I left him for five minutes outside Laura Ashley yesterday (I went in for samples for my Interior Design course assignment but ended up spending half an hour designing a random lady’s entire living room around Gosford Cranberry wallpaper) When I came out he was drooling over an Aga display, I have to admit that the “pearl ashes” colour  (warm pastel French grey) is almost edible.pastel-green-cookerlavender-cooker(agaliving.com)

We are also considering Esse ranges (esse.com) and Lacanche (lacanche.co.uk) which we can easily get delivered in France. I do prefer to support our local businesses. These come in a range of mouthwatering colours and I am tempted to have one of these rather than white or cream


There is ONE minor consideration. Our kitchen is, of course, on the first floor, up a set of narrow twisty stairs…..

Bonus post-three more treasures

I should either be wrestling with one of my piles of files or doing my Advanced French homework before class tonight, but I am putting both off for  a quick bonus post right now???????????????????????????????.

Left-brass coal scuttle with wonderful patina         ( why does everyone seem to mis-pronounce that word now?)DSC01268 - Copy





Right- Petitpoint embroidery, images in style of classic “blue willow pattern” ceramics. Not coming with us to France so has gone to appreciative homeDSC01143 - Copy




Left- very simple, very classy linen tablemats and napkins, make me think of meals on the terrace under blue skies with the sound of the river rushing by.,, for the village house

Everything is going to be fine, I have just been blessed by an ex- monk…


The Thursday Three- Three colours : Red (Trois couleurs: Rouge)

An early Thursday Three as tomorrow is shaping up to be a very full day.

20131013_151935Today’s gems have a red theme. First we have this piece of fabric which amuses me enormously, just look at the two grumpy birds! Looks like it should have  a little speech bubble (suggestions welcome)

It is by GP & J Baker, a UK firm  who have been creating iconic prints since 1884

As well as this fragment, I have another on which the previous owner has lovingly embroidered each flower and bird in matching coloured wools. I cannot decide if it falls into the kitsch category but I like it and am planning to display in dining area.

Right-  a small linen mat with handmade lace edging and embroidery. The deer image is an iconic Art Deco motif and could date it but the style distracts me slightly. It doesn’t “feel” English   anyway.DSC02848

Last of all we have this red linen mat with simple white embroidery, which cost me 5p  many years ago and has been waiting for the right room and the right use for decades! ???????????????????????????????


Episode 71- In which I make a few decisions…

20140531_190718Renovation, restoration, visualisation- It’s June 1st, the sun is blazing down outside and I am  feeling  much more positive and determined to be proactive: I will meet the next obstacle head-on.

Decided to get into French mode this weekend as that always cheers us up. My grandson stayed over & I showed him the photos of the new loo in the shower room at the French house , he was suitably  impressed. We cracked a bottle of Southern French vin rosé, though I bitterly begrudge  paying English prices for something I could buy for under three euros in the village.( should the thought police be checking this out, the grandson did not partake)

Today I am cooking scallops with pasta, pesto, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes for  dinner- a few black olives too I think.

I am sorting out and putting on ebay anything we don’t need now and isn’t going to France with us.( I bought some oatmeal linen blinds thinking I could make them work with inward opening windows, but I can’t!)

This means refining exactly how I am going to do the rooms and what is going into them. This has been a slow organic process as have changed my mind a few times. My usual modus operandi is to buy  things I love that feel right for house and then decide 1) where they are going and 2) what needs to be done to get them looking right. The house & I are deciding the look between us.

Gloriously OTT  chateau  chic will NOT work, nor will an overly rustic pastiche, or the screamingly  bright American version of French  Country with bright red, blue and yellow thrown into the pot.sept13 103

Colours need to be subtle for this house, and  a linking colour/theme has finally been set as only about 125m square in all, however, both sides of the house have a distinctly different character which creates a challenge as far as a cohesive style goes. The chalky palette in the terrace bedroom, which is closest to completion, reflects that it is the newest bit ( 80 years old) You may detect a hint of 1920’s styling, but more Chinoiserie chic than Art Deco.

DSC02650These perforated zinc doors from an Edwardian house were going to be the boiler cupboard front  but now I think will use to create a “garde manger ” (pantry/food store cupboard) All the wood in here will have a light finish, no heavy treacly varnishes, and at least half the cupboards/furniture will be painted in a neutral  matte finish. I am edging toward a pale stone colour  which exists only in my head at present.sept13 125  Here is the kitchen now- don’t laugh..

Episode 70- part two, where are we now? five “facts”

Renovation , restoration, stagnation…


I am really rambling now. If a picture paints a thousand words, then the photo posted for episode 70 (part one- below) might well confirm the current state of play on the France project :-

1) We still haven’t agreed about what to do with the grotty kitchen ceiling- we are definitely putting off  a lot of decisions now and not just because Trevor can’t DIY

2) We are drinking vin rosé in  half pint glasses- in our defense I would just like to clarify that these were spritzers!

3) The dining table is still has  horribly marmaladey  orange  varnish finish-see above (1) I have lost all capacity to make decisions about anything relating to France at the moment

4) My Persian rug is getting trashed- But I am fed up of living in a building site so it is staying out

5) Trevor does not look ill- It is all unreal 

Well, I have answered my own questions from Episode 62… I just knew something was going to happen to thwart us further. As my friend Pam once said, being telepathetic is a right drag……



The Thursday three- carved wood furniture

Today’s three are two furniture treasures unearthed in the Languedoc region in the South of France and one little gem from my most frequented hunting grounds, Black Country charity shops.photo 5 buffet

Left-my only photo showing most of my “buffet de cuisine”or sideboard (these are sometimes known a “buffet a deux corps” or “cupboard with two bodies” !!) This photo was taken on purchase , the top resides  in the dining area, piled high with light fittings and dust and currently containing, tea towels, dust sheets & a hot water bottle.

The bottom cupboard lives in the cave, covered in tools, an awning and a pair of fishing rods.

This is how we liveDSC02787

The wood is hardwood, close grained and pale and in very good condition , it has not been slathered in nasty shiny varnish, any suggestions as to what the wood might be are welcome. We paid 180 euros for it in a brocante (  these are usually stocked with less valuable antiques, vintage & interesting” junk”) it fits under the new ceiling with millimetres to spare!

Has lost it’s original marble top, but this has been replaced with three panels of shaped wood which I may faux marble or even wrap in zinc, haven’t decided yet. It is a beautiful thing.DSC02760

Left- we have the only visible bit of a big 19thc/early 20thc armoire. It has carved doors as seen at each side and a large bevelled mirror in the middle panel, it has a base with little feet , Inside is hanging space in centre and shelves to  each side. 65 euros of gorgeousness from a “Troc” slightly less upmarket than brocantes but very good budget hunting grounds!

Currently living behind a mountain of building materials in the garage/workshop.

It is very scratched and marked but this is not a problem as it is going to be sanded and painted in very pale chalk French grey and rubbed back to highlight the beautiful rose carvings. It will live directly opposite the entrance door to the cave.???????????????????????????????

Right- Centre section of 1920’s oak sideboard bought here in the West Midlands (£25) from a charity shop.

Quite what a sideboard decorated with beautifully carved bunches of grapes and roses was doing here in the  Black Country is a mystery. Of course, roses are often planted with grapes for mutual benefit here in France  but how on earth it surfaced in Cradley Heath is the eighth wonder of the world.

It showcases my favourite period of Art Deco, falling between the end of the First World War and the late 1920’s; before the over-stylised geometric edge crept in. Sadly, although the carved frame, including the door frames, drawer fronts & handles are solid oak, the top, cupboard door panels and side panels are oak veneer and a different colour. The jury is out on whether I just rub it all back and leave it raw or wax it.

Episode 70- Iron or Platinum??-part one

20140427_133425renovation, restoration, postulation and random musings..

This is our 70th post….according to differing sources, if this were a wedding anniversary, it would be represented  by either iron or platinum(?!) If we apply these to the French village house that’s quite interesting , we have virtual opposites-

Iron- is cheap, common, rough, rusty, thick & dull and requires major manipulation and work to achieve a thing of beauty & strength (could certainly be a description of village house when we found it)

Platinum-is expensive, rare, refined,untarnished, beautiful & bright


( hopefully end product will be all that)..hmm.. interesting….

Now, look at the slightly distorted picture above and deduce five facts from it. There will be a prize

Antique & vintage textile gallery- some favourites

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Episode 69- Perspectives……(a shift in)

???????????????????????????????Renovation, restoration, acceleration……….

Well you just never know what life will throw at you.

If we go down the simplistic “everything happens for a reason” road, then Trevor’s sudden and unprecedented health scare could be taken as a timely wake-up call.

Maybe it’s time to get our head out of the clouds and look at everything from a different  angle.

We have allowed things to drift a bit; understandable really as we thought we had time on our side for the French project. Maybe we still have, but we need to stop dreaming and start doing.

We have been concentrating on making enough  money to get through this renovation project and lost sight of just why we are doing this in the first place. Time to shift a gear or two.

As well as analysing OUR personal outlook, we have a couple of pressing practical problems to think about as the end is finally in sight on the village  house.

(1) I look out of the kitchen window  at one of the most charming, authentic  and chic houses in the village -above left-(How are we I going to live up to THAT?) ((my French linen and voile blinds are cute though, huh?))

(2) Even with the French doors into courtyard at the rear and a lighter paint job, the cave is still going to be dark (30 feet long with no natural light source in the middle) this is going to test all my design skills…-right ???????????????????????????????Also have had to grudgingly concede that French doors at front into street are not practical; a heavy, traditional hardwood door with a big glass panel and black cast iron decorative grill is  best option. We could look forever for an antique or  vintage door with the right dimensions or we can have one made ( cost alarm goes off!)

Then again, we are economising on coffee tables in France (THAT’S where those damn earrings are!) DSC02761

The Thursday Three- Art Nouveau, more embroidery, vintage florals

??????????????????????????????? I will start today with this Art Nouveau piece from the turn of the 19th century. This would have been  the back part of a washstand, which would probably have had a marble top.

The hand made tiles with the two decorative “tubelined” tulip tiles are very typical of this style???????????????????????????????, as of course is the stylised sinuous lotus flower design carving at each side.



But the most beautiful part for me is the beaten copper inlay in the top corners with the stylised flowers and the real turquoise inlaid stones???????????????????????????????-below-

I had no idea what to do with this piece when I picked it up on ebay, but I always knew that a use would suggest itself, and it has- we will rub back the damaged finish, apply a matte wax,  add a row of forward facing dowels and hang above the sink in the kitchen to hold wine glasses

These linen table mats -below- have little open pockets to hold the matching fringed napkins, The pink on black rose embroidery and the matching bohemian style embroidered braid borders make me think of something that might be found in a  Romany caravan.???????????????????????????????


Finally, this vintage floral bedcover and it’s soul sister of a cushion turned up a week apart in different charity shops.. serendipity………DSC01896DSC01897 - Copy (2)








Bit floral for me but both have gone to happy new home via ebay

Bonus blog- To wash or not to wash? that is the question…..

DSC01809Well, if you acquire a stunning piece of embroidery or antique or vintage textile , do you risk washing  it or not?

Good question: I will probably horrify textile conservationists and museum curators world wide but, personally, I usually do .

If the piece is fragile and is going to be glazed & framed that’s fine , no need to head for the laundry, but for items that I intend to actually use, then the ability to launder them must be a given. If not, why buy?

After 40 + years of buying and selling these little gems, I am successful 99.9% of the time as I only look for robust bed and table linen, curtains, cushion covers etc.   The intricate cut work and embroidery cloth above left lost all it’s dodgy stains and storage fold lines in two washes.

These French linen torchons (teatowels)  disintegrated as I thought they might.Clearly, only the muck and the weird “biological” stains were holding them together!DSC02033

I was in two  minds about this cute “underpinnings pink” nightdress case but I risked it and it came out beautifullyDSC01855 - Copy (3)

Episode 68- While we are waiting…..

renovation, restoration, positive contemplation….sept13 120(2)

Whilst we await the results of a battery of tests (see Episode 66-Stop everything..) and news as to whether we can actually progress our project (i.e.can Trevor manage the stairs in the French village house or the liftless seaside apartment?) I am taking lots of deep breaths and focussing on the positive.


The plethora of pipework dropping down through the salon ceiling means that we can, at last, get rid of the pipework snaking down the front of the houseDSC02769 , as the shower & wash basin above are now routed internally( and reconnected to the  hot water supply for first time in three years..YAY)

We just have to insulate and box the lot in carefully.We will duplicate the panelling in on the left of the window to maintain symmetry on front inside wall.

The last necessity before we can paint the whole rendered facade outside is  to replace the lethal lead painted shutter and the broken window in the tulip bedroom. Although ancient, these shutters have no redeeming features whatsoever and are simply not worth preserving, even to me, the “keep the original features” fanatic!

Why are we not ripping off the rendering and exposing our stone walls?

The answer, dear reader is because, underneath the fairly good render, only part of the front wall is in beautiful original stone. the rest is patched with terracotta blocks, and the end wall was built from breeze blocks when the last owners tacked on the barn.

If we left the stone bits exposed and rendered the rest THAT would look really twee. So we will be having a traditional render “finition taloche”, i.e applied semi smooth by float ( NOT  that horribly rough crepi finish with rough bits to catch muck and rainwater!) This finish is traditional in our village.

The colour? well it’s a bigger decision than where we are going to put the bath tub. Trevor wants “Teinte pierre” (stone colour) but it’s not really stone colour as such and is the magnolia of exterior colours and not even particularly popular in Campagne; Ochre shades are traditional and popular , but some are a bit mustardy.

Our builder Jean-Marc favours screaming egg yolk on acid yellow- because the house needs cheering up (so do we)  but this is too loud.

I have seen a pretty pale mimosa  lemon colour which will look chic with new shutter choice (yes I have changed my mind since we painted them in 2009 !) a soft blue/grey/green, like sage leaves in sunlight………







Episode 67- Shocking news ! We have facilities!

DSC02795Renovation, restoration, sanitation………….May 2014

I am in a state of shock.

We wandered into the village house, as we do, fully expecting leaky roof due to wind-slipped tiles, martins nesting on the bedroom window ledge( they are very set in their ways) more moss in the courtyard….??

All seems fine on the ground floor ( apart from rampant weeds) and  first floor.

I haven’t looked up yet so don’t notice that  the as yet unboxedin plumbing has been tweaked. I go upstairs to bedroom level, I turn the corner into the tulip room

BLOODY HELL, WE HAVE A TOILET ! I think I screamed a bit

Not only that, it is attached and it works!!! You have no idea how exciting this is for us. prior to this , sole  facilities here at the French hovel were single ancient loo on ground floor behind front door (see below).

Toilet behind front door(?!)

Toilet behind front door(?!)

Then plumber literally turned it through 120 degrees to face into cave and we built new wall behind to create cloaks cupboard on hall side.

Now handy cloaks cupboard

Now handy cloaks cupboard

This was progress, but then we had two years of toilet not being attached to floor, which was semi rubble anyway,and we were flushing with a bucket. When you have various trades going on and each bit has to be saved up and paid for, and you are trying to project manage from England it is not easy.

Then temporary plastic piping went in to reconnect to mains again, which was a treat. The updated plumbing in here will serve the new wash room in the cave bedroom eventually.

But  now we have the most eagerly anticipated toilet in France installed AND IT IS NEXT TO THE BEDROOMS! You have no idea how exciting this is. I admire it and take photos from various angles so I can admire it further back in UK. I perch gingerly on it (FULLY clothed!)

Trev!” I shout “your panelling looks straight from here!”sept13 130


Carte Grise-Getting the golden ticket… some hints and tips

Renovation, Restoration, Replication…….

May I introduce today’s guest blogger, Trevor, who has battled with this little bit of bureaucratic mystery for some time.

“There are many things to be done to register a car in France, but there is one piece of advice that stands head and shoulders above all the rest.


To register a car in France you will need the following

Old Carte Gris or UK Registration document, Purchase document, Proof of Insurance, Proof of address in France (utility bill), Proof of identity (passport).

Any documents in English will need to be translated before you can consider going any further.

Up to date MOT if the car is English registered or bought in England, or Controle Technique (french MOT) this must be have been dated as issued less than 6 months ago, as after that you cannot use it for Carte Grise registration). If you require a new CT, you will need to make an appointment at a Testing Station, and it will cost about 60€

We know someone who managed to register their English car without replacing the headlights, they are still using the stick-on reflectors, but I cannot see this will be a satisfactory solution long term

(PS if anyone out there has a pair of LHD headlights for a very old Kia Sportage, we would be thrilled as to buy new would cost more than Gill’s Kia is worth)

Certificate of Conformity. You can get this from the vehicle manufacturer by quoting chassis number etc. Can take 2 or 3 weeks to come through. Not required if the car is French registered already.

You will also need a thing called a Quitus Fiscal, for vehicles that are not already registered in France. This is proof that there are no outstanding debts or bills other owing on the vehicle. You can get this from the Hotel des Impots in your local town. Take all of the above documents with you to the Hotel and they should issue the QF.

When you have all the above and have obeyed the copy everything rule, take the lot to your local Prefecture, in your local administrative city, and be prepared to wait.

You will need to complete the new registration request document. When you enter this establishment you will find one, maybe two, people behind the reception desk and their job is to weed out the rubbish applications and check the correct ones.They act the same towards everybody, it’s not just because you are English(!!). Assuming you have filled in the application correctly and have the relevant other documents, copied of course, the desk person will then give you a number and you then go and wait for the Carte Grise section of the department to call your number up and they will then enter the details in the computer system which links to Paris.

Again assuming everything is correct they will then point you to the Caisse section where you pay your money. This must be by  cheque or post office money order, no cash or bank/credit cards, and they will then issue you with a temporary registration document which is valid for a month.

The Carte Grise will come to your FRENCH address by recorded delivery and must be signed for, so ensure that you will be around to do that in person! we recommend you allow at least a week for delivery, excluding weekends and bank holidays.

If you cannot be around, you can nominate someone to collect it for you from the local post office, but ONLY if you have received a card in your letterbox that states delivery has been attempted but has failed. Sign this card in the right place to nominate someone else to pick it up for you.

Don’t rely on sorting any aspect of the above via email, it doesn’t work that way in France yet;

It was at this point when I did my Reg that the computer link went down ( 10 mins to 4 on a Friday afternoon, and they shut at 4. System came back with 2 mins to spare)

The Carte Gris should be sent out within 3-5 days. However in my case the document didn’t come out and it took us 6 months to find out why. Instead of Rue de la PlaGe, they had entered Rue de la PlaCe, which is not our address ( I guess they thought that no one could possibly live on “beach street” in an inland  country village!) So we had to go through the same routine all over again.

The cost of the registration depends on the power of the vehicle, for a 1.9 diesel engine car it was 345€.

This is my experience this year 2014, in our department of Aude, so please regard as guidance only

Bonus blog- embroidery on linen

???????????????????????????????DSC02837I can  see from my search engine stats that you love my embroidery posts so here are today’s bonus pics.

Left & below-self coloured and delphinium blue embroidery on linen tablecloth, with cuffed ladderwork edgingDSC02092




Left-More Jacobean style “tree of life” embroidery. I love it and can’t resist it, but have noticed that even quite tired and tatty pieces have shot up in price on ebay.DSC02041

Right-part of a dressing table set featuring very fine embroidered flowers

The Thursday three- Latest French Vide-Grenier finds

DSC02805We went to a great Vide-Grenier (literally “empty your attics”) market in Quillan in late April. Some great antique and vintage treasures Left-This wonderful cotton/linen union curtain fabric has a really evocative design in typically French country colours . Not quite right for our kitchen , so sitting on ebay right now.


Also-right- I picked up this little souvenir plaque which I just love.

Probably late 19thc and could be any colonnaded building in France or Italy -If you can identify it, would be delighted!DSC02792

Below- Hand made leaded glass wall display dish, in red/yellow/blue colour way- reminiscent of Catalan sun symbol designs and perfect for salon in French village houseDSC02799


Episode 66- Stop everything……..

Trevor wondering why

Renovation & restoration stops,


Where do I start?! regular readers will know that we were in France for the first time  for seven months at the end of April.

We got back on May 5th; I have posted a couple of low key pieces since but I have not been able to bring myself to update the true situation regarding us or the village house  properly because everything in our lives is on hold.

This is an honest “warts and all” blog on our project , so here goes………….

We have been dealt a serious blow. Trevor had a minor op in early April and since that point, in an  apparently unrelated chain of events, he has become more and more  weak and short of breath with the most worrying aspect being chest pains.

He cannot go back to work until his symptoms have  been checked out, diagnosed and any treatment started.

He could not do any  work on the house and is frustrated and bored as the novelty of  sitting around here is beginning to pale.

I obviously have to carry on working but it is not easy under these circumstances. We can’t commit to any more work or the planned move until we know more. We are in limbo, it is awful.


Bonus blog- More antique and vintage finds

DSC02194These wonderfully chic early 20th century chromed light switches were in place at  the French house when we first moved in. I wanted to reuse them  but the Bakelite backing had melted (??!!??) and my Electrician was of the opinion that they were potentially  lethal.

I guess it would have been quite costly to have new back and fittings made up and sometimes you just have to decide where to prioritise spending  your budget.

(I remember the days when we still had a bit of money and the luxury of choice!)  ???????????????????????????????


This little wool embroidery, about 27cm x 16cm-Right-resembles a miniature version of  a Kilim rug and is very old.

The linen tablecloth and napkins – below – I believe to be either Austrian or Swiss and I can imagine them in use on a pine table in a dramatically perched ski chalet. Unfortunately that is not the look we are aiming for in either the village house or the apartment in France , so sadly have been consigned to ebay  DSC02301DSC02302

The Thursday Three- Fresh from France for you

DSC02750Today’s three French treasures are a mix of old and new again

This chopping board was found under the sink in the French village house behind a pile of anti-insect products. I cannot say I have noticed the presence of any of the creatures these were designed to deter, perhaps the previous owners simply enjoyed the power of pest control?

I have scrubbed it but may have to steam clean it!.

I love it’s simple clean shape  and to me it epitomises form and function, like any good kitchen tool.DSC02747



This dinner mat-right- is part of a set of six, all in different floral designs that all look like they have been lifted from the golden age of Dutch flower paintings in the 17th century.






The cushion -below- was obviously irressistable. The best of vintage style reinterpreted in a washable fabric! For “la cave”DSC02748

Episode 65- French living for beginners

???????????????????????????????renovation, restoration, forced relaxation…2014


I don’t want to relax, but we don’t have a choice right now.

Trevor is not in any state to Do It Himself so we nearly have a proper holiday. (I say nearly, things are never straightforward, or maybe that’s just us)

In fact, it felt like the  closest to a real taste of how life will be  here that we have had to date as usually we are busy working on the house -Not this time, we pottered.

As people ask me what we do with ourselves whilst we are here I have selected a photo of the village house that certainly sums up this year’s first French trip and what has been going on on this project to date.

DSC02800NOTE 1)  The pile of paperbacks we have waded our way through during the last  XXX years of property renovation in the Aude.

2) The mobile phone charger which I forgot to take down to the Argeles sur Mer apartment  with us so I couldn’t contact anyone and they couldn’t contact me for two days. (Critical when your one-woman day job means that you have to be contactable at all times, even when you are on “holiday”)

3) My all singing all dancing smart phone which wasn’t smart enough to pick up  more than a few hours phone or internet reception  all week. Luckily there weren’t any major crises to avert that week.

4) One of my many uncompleted projects ( sewing panels of late 19th & early 20thc Jacobean style embroidery onto plain coloured  cushions)

5) Colour charts for shutters and house facade paint & finish  options- a source of even more dispute  than the contentious “where are we going to put the bath?”

If you zoom in you can see the layer of dust around my  made to measure corner sofa which is most expensive item in whole house so far and is getting repeatedly knocked about. Good job I favour a vintage look…………………. shabby chic living by default.DSC02356

Left-detail of-  Jacobean tree of life embroidery. These are actually “antimacassers” – used for both protection and decorative purposes on the backs of armchairs and sofas and very popular between the early 19th century & the 1940’s.

These are frequently overlooked by vintage linen buyers as the positioning of the decorative bits restrict other obvious upcycling uses such as cushion covers.

But these are beautiful and have the perfect colours for the sitting room so I will sew a large panel to front of a chartreuse and a French blue/green cushion.