First fantastic find of 2018- local landscape

On the subject of finding shocking bargains in various charity and junk shops; I present what may well be The Find of 2018. Hidden behind various rubbish prints on the bottom shelf in a dark corner of Parchemin Limoux was this treasure. ONE EURO!

Someone had covered the painting with a sheet of dirty perspex. It was signed and dated, I knew that it was Carcassonne “castle”, and indeed the words”Cité de Carcassonne” were faintly distinguishable on the back.

It is a lovely painting in it’s own right. Oil on board. The way the artist has captured the fall of the light on stone and grass is particularly beguiling.

I hadn’t heard of J Ourtal, so I googled him. Here are some links to start you off  if you care to investigate

Jacques Ourtal remembered

Jacques Ourtal

An Audoise painter and truly local to this region. We must go and check out his other paintings at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne and in the salons de l’Hôtel de la Cité.

Posted in Art, design and inspiration blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Restoration Rescue Dog update

In response to kind enquiries, we will update the fur-baby diary.

We have had a spot of backsliding (behaviour wise) over the last few days. I am quite sure that this is a manifestation of her growing confidence with us and with her new environment. She’s behaving like a dog.


She really is, mostly, a Very Good French Dog and it is still Very Early Days.

This photo was taken following her first serious transgression of 2018. You can see the extreme canine contrition in those eyes.

You can also see that she is hoping that the man will save her from the possible consequences of the stern and censorious face that I was pulling at her at this particular moment.

Though quite why she would think that a man pairing Christmas joke Grandad socks with boat shoes could save her, I don’t know.


Posted in Renovation and restoration diary- France | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Gilding the lily

I am experimenting with an updated version of my alternative “gilding” technique.

I have gilded with both silver and gold leaf, but where the detail needs to be supersmooth, and/or finely detailed with nuanced colours, then paint gives, in my opinion, a superior finish. It requires underpainting (where gold is concerned, in the right reds) to get the depth and warmth of finish  required but is well worth it.

In order to try out my lately acquired metallic paints and to establish how well they mix, blend and look on an older piece I decided to start with some well overdue refinishing on some fairly cheap and ugly frames on this pair of oriental embroideries in the dining room.

Slight panic set in when I couldn’t find my good, old Daler-Rowney sable brushes, but these were eventually located. This is my favourite brush for blending and smoothing and is unequalled for a classy looking finish.

The finish stands up well to close inspection, so I have decided not to knock it back, antique wax or crackle it.

I think it would be very easy to end up faux-aging everything in an old house.

Overkill alert.


Posted in Art, design and inspiration blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The Os de Mouton chair gets it’s new cover

Remember this vide- grenier buy from August 2016?

An ode to the os de mouton chair

The frame was great, though we did treat it for woodworm just in case. It wasn’t safe to sit on, only two working springs left underneath so Trev re sprung the seat and, a mere 16 months later, I have finally obliterated that awful mid-20thc “dralon” cover.

perceptions and the interception dance

I did not want fixed upholstery. Not practical in any cover with a light ground. I wanted light.

One of my favourite embroidered panels, which has been waiting for  a new incarnation for many years, is this piece of Jacobean crewelwork . It has some wear but that is, of course, just fine with me. It is the perfect width & length for this project. It is also redolent of the same period when these chairs were first made.

The real challenge was to fit it as a loose cover with minimal invasive sewing to the original piece. The back was tacked, shaped and fitted without cutting anything,, ditto the front and side hems.   As the arms sit forward, an opening had to be made, but I carefully chose where to make two small snips at each side and rather than cut through the bit I didn’t need, I have simply folded this piece back and the whole is sewn with a large stitch, so I could unpick it and put it back together as was.

Frankly that is never going to happen as it looks even better than I expected.

Quintessentially French chair with quintessentially English woolwork. Perfect

No zips, buttons or tabs.It fastens in four places on each side with lengths of my new favourite (strong neutral coloured herringbone tape) tied into neat bows.

The Bride will understand.

Bronte helped a bit. It is very sad when the only way one’s dog can garner the attention that she feels she deserves is to place her face right where I am sticking the pins in…

Posted in Antique and Vintage finds, Art, design and inspiration blog, Renovation and restoration diary- France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Reclaimed materials. Some thoughts

The views expressed in this post may be deemed provocative. I stand by them.

To avoid any inference that I am pointing the finger, I will use the original shot of our French house. Well, about 2/3rds of it as street is too narrow and oddly angled to permit a full photo; so even when we finish the facade and make it gorgeous and maybe even desirable. we will never be able to show more than a glimpse of it. Ironic, no?

So, over the decade and more that we have worked on this restoration project I have searched my soul (and much of Europe) looking for just the right materials that will lift our house out of it’s hovel category and onto a more historically and aesthetically pleasing platform, I have bandied the word “reclaimed” around with abandon.

Our idealistic aim to use mostly reclaimed materials was initially compromised by a number of things; like finding the right colours, the right size, the right quantity of flooring and tiles and doors and other architectural elements. This is problematic, unless you have a bottomless purse and nothing else to do with your time than to search reclamation sites online and in person. But then, the more I thought about this act of replacing lost old, original  stuff with someone else’s old, original stuff, the more the ethical considerations inherent in taking this route have begun to make me uncomfortable.

Where is this (finite) supply of old materials coming from ? Is taking a 300 year old tiled floor or acres of wood panelling , or a stunning 16thc door or a carved stone mantle or quaint country sink from another property actually ethical? Why is this stuff being stripped  out?

I can accept financial need, if you can’t afford to pay your bills and someone offers you crazy money for that fireplace then, yes, of course you’ll take it. I can accept a builder acquiring some character features that the new owner hates and wants out of the place ASAP. I can accept rescuing old stuff from a property about to be demolished.

But what if your ” reclaimed” materials came from a remote rural farmhouse, stripped out and loaded under cover of night? What about the folk who buy cheap houses just to take the features out of them then leave them to fall apart quietly?

There is a beautiful old house visible from the road between Caracassonne and Limoux. I don’t know the story, and I speculate merely (so please do not use the comments section to lecture me), but on the frontage someone has painted words along the lines of “don’t bother breaking in here, there is nothing left to steal”.

If I found out that something I’d bought for this house had been sourced by destroying a feature in another equally old and equally worthy house ( and it was just serendipitous luck that my house has me to love it) then I couldn’t sleep at night.

I am indebted to Bizzyella for the link to this article“stripped village homes”

I respectfully ask you to think about it. That old door and that pretty old floor that doesn’t quite fit your space fitted perfectly where it originally came from.

So I will use new with pride and a clear conscience. Just saying.

Posted in Renovation and restoration diary- France | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Trevor’s limited editions 2017

You may remember this rack that Trev made for our small chopping boards. All recycled wood from the French house, apart from the dowels. The finish is my secret recipe for treating new and old wood to blend both together aesthetically.

I think my favourite bit is the little rustic pegs made to cover each screw fitting at the base.

What is particulary suprising is that he designed this piece himself. OK, he wraps, panels, fixes, replaces, refinishes and is generally the resident carpenter. He designed doors for the shower room, but  I had major input into that.

This rack, however, is Totally Trevor. It’s all that L.O.C

(It is straight. My phone camera distorts )

Below- Is number two of this strictly limited line- with my handpainted Folky French design. Gift for friend. Will there be a number three? Who knows?

Posted in Art, design and inspiration blog, Renovation and restoration diary- France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Joyeux Noël et bonne année à tous

My daughter is  not sure about this particular Christmas design statement. She is accustomed to seeing the Family Baubles draped o’er a big green traditional tree.

This is the tree branch Bronte and I dragged home from the riverbank. It’s in an artisan African pot. Eclectic.

The usual Christmas culprits are here; we all have named decorations, even the dear departed dogs. Someone pencilled in Trev’s mid- life-crisis beard onto his blue Santa. My daughter and son’s wooden baby decorations (now disintegrating) their near forty year old American brass reindeer and partridge in a pear tree are all present. There’s a few made by artisan friends over the years.

It’s not colour coordinated. It’s not styled. It’s memories.

Even my Father makes a posthumous appearance, happily sandwiched between my children and daughter in law. A Christmas of family and food and whisky and dry ginger (one ice cube) was the focus of his entire year. Family was so important to him that he rented out an hotel on the Lancashire coast every spring and filled it with family for the weekend. Riotously good times were had. Sometimes a few spats. That’s family.

My relationship with some of my close relations is complex and a little dark. That’s life. Not my father, he was a sunny soul and blameless. Others.

I know who I consider to be my family  and it’s been a patchwork, mutable mix over these many years. Yes, the dogs are included.

Enjoy what you do, or don’t do today and  value your family. I know that you don’t need some pontificating person in the Aude to point this out. None of us are here forever; so let’s make some fine memories.

I like this French greeting, ” à vous et vos proches” . Perfect.

Posted in Art, design and inspiration blog | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments