renovation

Dream house Renovation: The Dressing Room

Dressing room ladder

It seems inconceivable that just five years after moving into our rambling, creaking old house we could be decorating a room for the second time.

Harry’s then-nursery was the first room we did anything to on our list of priorities (a list pages-long, that still sits tacked to a noticeboard somewhere in the hallway, the paper curled at the edges now, with a faltering list of ticks and crossings-out).  We wanted a room that felt, to him, exactly like the one he had left behind; a cocoon and a place for dreaming and comfort.  We picked the smallest room in the house, and used Cole & Sons ‘Woods’ wallpaper for a magical night-time feel.

Then within a couple of years, Harry graduated to a bigger room; one with enough space for books and toys and a bunkbed; for den-building and story-telling.  I slowly took over the old nursery as a room to store clothes and handbags, but it looked very much like a room with an identity crisis…

nursery wallpaper

…so last week I funally took it in hand and gave it a makeover to be a proper dressing room.

Dressong room peg rail

I used Piet Hein Eeek wallpaper on two of the walls for a Scandinavian, cabin-like feel; the room gets a weak, Northern light so the cool, bleached look of the plank-wood wallpaper suits it perfectly;

dressing room with Scrapwood wallpaper

The eagle-eyed may remember that I used the same wallpaper, hung horizontally, on a chimney-breast in the main bedroom;

Piet Hein Eek wallpaper on a chimneybreast

I added simple peg rails made of unfinished timber and shaker pegs, painted with a single coat of chalk paint to blend in with the walls (I left the pegs in their natural state).  It echoes the guest room with its wall-to-wall peg rail.

Peg rail with shaker star

I borrowed a comfy chair from the kitchen which has rapidly become a place where discarded clothes accumulate daily.  I hasten to add, having looked at this picture (below) more closely, that I don’t wear these cut-off shorts and heels together.  Channelling Pretty Women is never a good idea.

Dressing room chair

I moved an old chest of drawers down from the loft  (*I lie; I had nothing to do with its journey down from the loft. That took lots of effort and cursing from two grown men and I made myself scarce as soon as the difficulty of the situation became apparent).  I painted the knobs silver – after purchasing the wallpaper, new knobs seemed like a luxury too far – and from a distance they could be mistaken for pewter.  A distance, okay?

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Dressing room tableau

This matronly mannequin has moved from the spare room and now houses bits and pieces of jewellery, pinned to her ample bosom;

vintage mannequin

And one of my favourite new additions; Ikea cabinets make the most of the super-high ceilings and provide a home for my handbags.  The only problem?  I can’t yet fill them all.  What a nice problem to have. (On the other side of the room and not shown; Ikea ‘PAX’ tall mirrored wardrobes which bounce the little available light around and are crammed full of everything else…)

handbag cabinets

it’s an unashamedly girly room, and as such, I have it completely to myself in this house of men; the mysteries of women being very much a fontier not to be breached.

Now, to the handbag-cabinet-filling opportunity…

 

handbag logo

The Dream House Renovation: Creating a Family Bathroom

DIY Bath tray

Regular readers will know that we’ve been gradually restoring our ancient, crumbly-but-beautiful home, room by room as budget allows.  We began with the kitchen and hallway and gradually worked our way upstairs, tackling our en suite bathroom and guest bedroom last year.  One room that has never quite hit the priority list has been the family bathroom; an inoffensive but bland mishmash of linoleum flooring, pastel tiles, 70s wallpaper and a squat, kidney-shaped plastic tub.  Oh, and a shower which has not worked for the entire 3yrs we’ve lived here.  What can I say? We’ve obviously been rather busy.  Finally last month we ripped it all out…

bathroom refit old bathroom

And now it looks like this…

An understated family bathroom

I tell you, I could spend the rest of my life in this bath and die happy.

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The huge roll top, ball-and-clawfoot bath was  salvaged from another bathroom in the house which we don’t use – it actually spent the last year filled with old suitcases and boxes, gathering dust.  Finally we’ve liberated it and it has pride of place as the decadent main attraction of our family bathroom.  Oh, and it’s big enough for all of us at once, which is both a good thing and a terrible thing when you just want a quiet and relaxing soak…

bathtime rituals

Classical bath taps

I painted the feet silver as a first experiment towards painting the whole of the exterior; I’m going to live with the white for now whilst I ponder colours…

Bath feet

We added tongue and groove panelling to all the walls and hand-mixed a bold charcoal colour with a blue-ish hint (achieved by combining Shaded White and Railings from the Farrow and Ball range).  I love the depth of colour and drama of it, offset by paler walls and the whiteness of the fixtures and fittings.  We found an old French street sign in a local junkyard and that now picks up the colour of the wood and is one of just a couple of decorative elements…

French street sign

Another being this ancient rowing oar, warped and weathered with verdigris clasps; I love it.

Vintage oar in the bathroom

It is, above all, a family bathroom, but one we wanted to be able to switch easily into a calm and adult zone, so Harry’s bath-time Octonaut tribe live in this old wire basket and can be easily drip-dried and contained once darkness falls.

Octonauts!

One of my favourite, favourite elements is the bath board I made using a salvaged piece of the original floorboards; when we ripped up the lino, the underlying boards were beautiful but chopped and nailed every couple of feet after centuries of plumbing work.  We took one up and I sanded it to a smooth finish before buffing it with a waterproof white wax, and it holds all the clutter one might need for an extended soak.  This, by the way, is the carefully edited artistic shot (below); usually you will find it piled high with a glass of wine, a slightly damp novel, a random toy that Harry has helpfully supplied me with ‘in case you get bored in the bath’, my phone, razor etc – you can imagine.

dream bathroom

We added a HUGE radiator-come-towel rail, which turned out to weigh 90 kilos (a lesson in reading the small print online), but looks magnificent and keeps the room toasty warm; in a house like ours that is not to be under-estimated, and I can imagine many a winter’s night where we will all just gather in the bathroom to socialise and eat dinner, rather than shuffling around in 8 layers of clothing downstairs like usual.

Bathroom radiator

The floor is made of engineered-oak boards and is coping wonderfully well with the nightly drenching it receives.  As a bathmat, I’ve repurposed a beautiful felted pebble rug that we were given a couple of years ago, which feels lovely underfoot as you step out of the water…

Felted pebble rub

We’ve gone for an understated look elsewhere, with simple wall lights which can be used in the evenings as a softer alternative to the ceiling lights, and a concealed cistern and boxed-in pipes to continue the flow of the panelled walls.  A laundry sack hangs on the door for all the clothes that are randomly scattered in the haste to clamber into the tub, and a tree-slice stool like those we chose for the guest room stands just where you need it to hold a glass or a book when the bath board gets too full (or just plain too far away when you’re lying back and relaxing).

Bathroom makeover

The room is still gradually taking shape as we complete the snag list, neatening paintwork and considering pictures and other accents for the walls and windowsills – but that final refining is a gradual process, and one best considered from the scented depths of the tub.  Bliss.

Now, where is that towel?

Towel hook

Bathroom window

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

Welcome to the Starlight Puppet Theatre!

It’s funny how randomly some childhood passions are created.  Whilst every small boy seems to go through phases where the world revolves around dinosaurs, superheroes, and Lego, other obsessions are decidedly more unique and less predictable.  This one began with a bell.

We were sitting in the park this Summer, pondering whether the ducks would find our stale, greenish bread crusts anymore attractive than we did, when a lady walked past swinging a bell and calling for all the children in the park to follow her for the puppet show.  Obedient as ever, we joined her Pied Piper-like chain and ended up in front of a vintage Punch and Judy stall, where we watched, gripped, as the show unfolded.  It was little-boy heaven, involving as it did lots of audience participation and bad behaviour from the puppets, who variously whacked each other with sticks, threw Judy’s baby in the rubbish bin and got arrested by the local policeman.  There was nothing politically-correct about it, causing delighted shock in the rapturous audience of under-1os.

Harry talked about the puppet theatre for days, re-enacting it to try to describe to visitors just how funny it was (which in turn was very funny to watch..).  I decided to turn Harry’s old play shop into a puppet theatre – and here’s how we did it. The shop was originally made from a junk-find bookcase, which I painted and then stocked to create the original shop (here and below).

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The bookcase proved endlessly adaptable for our new project.  I enlisted help to cut an opening from the back of the bookcase, and then much of the rest was achieved with paint and scraps of fabric and trim…

DIY bookcase into a Puppet Theatre

Harry and I painted the shelves with chalk paint, which I love because you don’t need to do any sanding or stripping before you begin.  A tester-sized pot of black and red gave us the coverage we needed; Harry joined in with the painting with great enthusiasm which was lovely – as was the fact that chalk paint is very washable; a highly relevant factor..).  The bottom section I sprayed with some leftover gold craft paint for a bit of showbiz sparkle.

chalk paint

For the curtains I used a remnant length of pinky-red velvet and trimmed it with braid (my sewing skills are rudimentary, which was fortunately all that this required).  They’re threaded onto a length of wooden dowel which rests on cup hooks inside the theatre nook.  I later tacked a length of sparkly dark net fabric to the back to help disguise the young puppeteers too.

sewing closeups

Every puppet show needs a sign to let the audience know when the show is due to begin; I designed one in Powerpoint and then glued it to a piece of foam board.  The clock hands are cut from cardstock and secured with a brass paper-fastener, allowing them to be easily repositioned by small hands.  I tied a couple of inexpensive tassels to a length of red ribbon and threaded them through two punched holes to allow the sign the be hung.  A re-purposed doorknob is screwed into the top of the bookcase to hang it on.

Puppet Show Welcome Sign

To the shelf fronts I glued lengths of coppery and red ribbon from my ribbons box (whenever we’re given gifts I keep any ribbons and scraps; they invariably come in useful for projects).  I used regular all-purpose glue, but if you have one then a hot-glue glue gun would give great results.  On the shelves we arranged popcorn holders and borrowed play ice-creams and other food from Harry’s kitchen; something for everyone who comes to the show!

Play Popcorn and other theatre treats

The programmes were made by folding sheets of regular paper in half and tying them to a cover sheet of red cardstock; no trimming or gluing needed.  I made a cover for the programmes, but it was Harry who provided the content, welcoming the audience and drawing pictures of some of the cast of characters to create anticipation for the show ahead.  We made a few spare programmes so that Harry and his friends can make new programmes over time as they plan shows and come up with new stories to tell.

Starlight Programmes

The puppets are stored in an old silk-covered suitcase which I found cheaply at a local antiques barn.  I stencilled a star on the lid by drawing around a decorative 5-point star shape and then carefully filling inside the shape with a tester of dark blue-grey paint.  I used masking tape along the sides of the drawn star to give me a sharp, clean shape.

Stencilled stars

Stencilled star case

The puppets themselves were a combination of eBay and thrift store finds.  If you’re a Brit living in the south-east it’s worth looking out for FARA, a chain of charity shops which deal mostly in children’s clothes and toys; I found 4 puppets there which will help us complete the cast of Little Red Riding Hood; and for a bargain price, too!

Starlight Puppet Collection

chairty shop puppets

And as a finishing touch, I updated the former shop bell… because every performer needs to be able to summon a good audience quickly!

Audience bell

Have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  I’ll be having a weekend treat of open-air cinema and picnicking, watching George Clooney Gravity under the stars.  The forecast is good, the picnic blanket ready… fingers crossed!

handbag logo

 

p.s. And if you see Mr Punch anywhere near the baby, don’t forget to SHOUT!!

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The Little House

The Little House in Winter

House-painting can be a relentless, unforgiving task.  Slaving away in the burning sun and occasional rain, painting never-ending woodwork atop a wobbly ladder.  My advice?  Buy yourself a house that’s all of 8 foot high and you’ll find you can paint it in approximately an hour, including varnishing.  Trust me; it’s enormously satisfying.  A little small, perhaps, for the whole family, but perfectly proportioned for a 3yr old.

You may remember we bought a second-hand playhouse (above) for Harry’s birthday last winter, and it has sat looking picturesque but slightly weary through the harsh winter months.  Soon after buying it I added curtains made from tea towels and a slate ‘Little House’ sign, but we waited until the Springtime before tackling the interior.  Last weekend I gave it a proper overhaul, painting sills and gables, planting up hanging baskets and turning the bare interior into a proper bachelor pad. If you’ve time for a cup of pretend tea and a plastic cake, come on inside and have the tour…

the little house sign

When the playhouse was delivered, the inside was bare wood – and somewhat battered from having legions of small feet pattering in and out over the years in its former home.

playhouse renovation

We gave it a couple of coats of whitewash and glued inexpensive carpet tiles to the floor, and then decked out the interior with Harry’s play BBQ, table and chairs…

playhouse interior

harrys kitchen diner

All of these furnishings have simply been moved out from the playroom for the summer, freeing up some valuable space indoors.

Here’s the ‘loft’ sleeping platform before….

harrys loft before

And after…

little house loft

Above the sleeping platform hangs – securely –  a watchful angel; in reality a photograph I took of a folk-art Christmas decoration I bought years ago in New England.

little house angel

There’s enough space to hang your hat above your pillow, and a clock to wake you from a nap, should the bird chorus outside fail.  A decorative driftwood garland hangs by the ladder, and some well-worn old linens make for a comfortable den to retire to with a favourite book.  The paper animal garland was leftover from Harry’s first birthday party a couple of years ago and has found renewed purpose in bedecking the playhouse walls – I give it a few more months before it is declared too babyish and relegated to the (real) loft.

play loft

Do you remember Harry’s Hardware Store (below)?  With the advent of warm weather this has found a natural home inside the playhouse, where young drivers can park their scooters, pedal cars and balance bikes at the door and come in for tools, coffee or petrol.  It does a roaring trade..

harry store main shot

playhouse with built in store

Externally, The Little House is ready for summer; I exchanged the faux-topiary balls of winter for some low hanging baskets which Harry and I planted up with strawberries; they are just reachable for 3yr old hands, but tantalisingly out of reach for slugs.  Geraniums burst from the window box, mirroring those of the main house, and a passion flower climbs alongside the door.   A bird box mounted near the eaves will hopefully attract residents next winter, and a brightly painted cockerel weather vane adds a distinctive finishing touch.  And finally, I can’t forget our sunflowers, which now sit along the side of the Little House, where they can turn to the late afternoon sun, protected from the mayhem of small people crashing in and out of the playhouse itself.

The Little House in Springtime

the little house exterior

Work over, we all hunched inside for a celebratory cup of tea, served up with a hard, wooden play sausage and half a head of garlic.  Whatever else Harry does in his life, I doubt that a future in the kitchen beckons.

amish star

And finally, before I go; this week Pinterest is launching formally here in the UK, to great excitement.  For those who haven’t yet come across it, Pinterest is a very visual way of collecting together all the things you love, by ‘pinning’ images to your boards from all across the wide world of the web.  For those who are already converts, you can find me (and images from all of the projects on my site) here, or by searching under pinners  for ‘Kate Curates’; for those who are new and want to explore for the first time, you can register using the link here.  One word of advice; don’t do this if you have a deadline looming, or a child soon to wake from a nap, or indeed anything which requires your undivided attention for some time; it can be absolutely, deliciously addictive…

Dream Home Restoration Part III: The Playroom and Book Nook

I’ve talked before about the life’s-work that is our home restoration project (if you’re a newish visitor, you can read about it here and here).  We’re probably about 10% through our list of projects, having tackled the kitchen and the more pressing – and depressing – stuff like turfing out the mouse population and reducing the bracing fresh air which gusts through every seemingly-closed window.

Next on our list was a play space for Harry; we’re lucky enough to have a perfect room for this, sandwiched between the kitchen and Snug, and featuring an ancient but very cool wrought-iron spiral staircase which leads straight upto his bedroom.  When the last owners lived here, the playroom was used as a games zone by their sons, complete with black walls, slightly crusty green carpets (let’s not consider that further), a myriad of sockets and cables, and wall-to-wall posters.  What little natural light there was had been blocked with heavy curtains, gloom being the preferred natural habitat of the teenage male.

Painting walls and replacing the carpet was an immediate priority, but the rest we’ve done gradually, adding homemade furniture and toys here and there, and evolving the space as Harry’s grown from a wobbly toddler into a little boy.

Playroom Stairs

The original fireplace appears to have had its legs sawn off at some point in the last 300yrs, but we decorate it nonetheless with string ball lights, garlands and bunting, depending on the season; at Christmas it had a curtain of cotton wool snowballs, and a vintage glitter ball currently sits in the grate waiting for us to find a new home for it (though I think it’s pretty settled at this point).

Playroom with fireplace

Nooks and crannies are used for storage; these sturdy chairs fit around the art table when we’re painting, but then retire, Shaker-style, to the peg rail to free up floor space

Playroom Chairs

A giant bookcase found on Ebay houses toyboxes, Lego and other treasures like the animals from Harry’s Ark and his collection of fireman helmets (one for each of us; teamwork is everything).

Playroom shelves

A ratty sofa allows shoppers to queue in comfort when waiting to be served at Harry’s store, and doubles up as a boat, life-raft, island, den or car depending on what game we’re playing.  One of the first things I ever made for Harry, his family tree, hangs on the wall and is regularly updated when family members are matched or hatched.

Playroom wall with shop

My favourite part of the playroom is the newest; a former cloakroom was awkwardly squeezed into a corner of the room and hoarded the only precious direct natural light.  We knocked down the wall and ripped it out to extend the main room and create a small reading area with books and cushions.

Playroom book nook

book nook montage

The ‘book of the week’ corner utilises the boxed-in plumbing for the former faucet, and holds a rotating series of Harry’s favourite books, accessorised with paintings and pictures we’ve made, or things from the Dressing Up box, like this Halloween Hat and Broom.

harrys book nook 1

Scattered around are some folded books, which I made one evening last week in front of the television, inspired by this amazing window display from US store Anthropologie.

anthropologie book window

I played around with folding a couple of charity shop books which we won’t read again, and had a lot of fun.  Next time I’ll work my way through the whole book and make some over-sized hanging pendants, perhaps at Christmastime.

Playroom Book Art and Stag

book nook 2

I added a junk store vintage sofa which I painted in off-white chalk paint and reupholstered in faux (wipe-clean!) suede; it was previously unfashionable mahogany so I bought it for a song and spent a couple of days overhauling it.  It adds a touch of grace to the playroom and shows you don’t have to be surrounded by plastic-fantastic ‘kids furniture’ all the time.

Upcycled vintage sofa

Elsewhere paper stars & Harry’s artwork adorn the twisting staircase, acting as a height warning for unwitting grown-ups.  The Jeeves & Wooster pendant light is made from a gilded bowler hat and is one of the few light fittings we’ve managed to reuse from our former, very modern house. Two squeezable trumpet horns are used in the summer for garden games and races, and frighten the life out of newcomers with their ear-splitting exuberance.

bowler hat light

trumpets

Old favourites like the cardboard rocket have miraculously managed to survive months of heavy-handed play; the rocket currently houses Harry’s most precious treasures and anything else which catches his eye around the house (car keys, watches, bananas… it’s an eclectic and hazardous mix).

Playroom 5

We’re lucky to have a dedicated playroom, and one which sits so perfectly at the heart of the home, close to the rest of the action.  Its layout and palette gives space for Harry to grow and for his tastes – and stuff – to evolve.  I know that one day I too may be painting the walls in dark and manly teenage colours and shuddering as I peel up the once-oat coloured carpet, but till then we’ll enjoy the space, light and fun of a room filled with the passions of a 3yr old, who I hope will take as long to grow up as is humanly possible…

Welcome to Harry’s Hardware!

Well welcome to the grand opening of Harry’s Hardware, Gas & Auto!  I’m sure you’ll agree it’s about time this small e-neighbourhood had a one-stop shop where you can refuel,  choose a can of flamingo-pink paint for your kitchen and have a cup of the kind of coffee that makes your hair stand on end.  We thought so, anyway….

harry store main photo

This was Harry’s main Christmas present, and is based on an old bookcase I found on ebay for a few pounds.  Like many 3yr old boys, Harry is a devoted petrol-head and delights in all things auto.  Given the domestic backdrop of our home renovation, he’s also a big fan of power tools, screwdrivers, hammers and all other dangerous hardware. Thus, a hardware store and garage seemed like a good idea, and is proving a hit so far.  I was lucky enough to find a second-hand wooden kids’ cupboard in the style of a gas pump, but everything else is customised and made from household junk and recycled bits and bobs.  So park at the rear, would you, and come on inside for the tour.  Let’s start you with a cup of coffee…

harry store coffee machine

Not just any coffee, but Harry’s Coffee, the brand that knocked Starbucks out of town and became a rapid hit with truckers.  The coffee ‘machine’ is an black cardboard jewellery box that housed my Christmas necklace (thank you, Santa!), with two cheap pump dispensers glued onto it (from pound-store pump bottles).  I made branded signage for the coffee machine and cups on my home printer, and then simply glued a sheet of black card stock behind to form the back and tray.  Because the jewellery box is hollow, the pumps do actually press in and out, making for some convincing pretend play and the addition of so many caffeine shots that you’ll be bouncing off the ceiling if Harry has his way. Tiny wooden donuts appropriated from Harry’s play kitchen offer an additional hazard to your teeth.

harry store donuts

Whilst you drink your coffee – carefully – come browse our paint selection, made from portion-sized bean cans covered in a paper wrapper.  Some of these are empty cans, used and washed out, others are still full; my domestic skills are haphazard so it’s quite foreseeable that I’ll be visiting Harry’s hardware store for dinner ingredients before the month is out..

 pretend play paints

Alongside the paints are cans of brushes and ‘wallpaper’ – rolled up offcuts of gift wrap and decorative paper.  Whilst it’s fun to look at, it’s also helping with naming colours, identifying letters and words, and counting.  I fear that Harry is not born to be a customer services professional though; dithering over your choices is not encouraged, and if Harry disapproves of what you’ve chosen, you’ll be given something else entirely and sent on your way.  Such is life.

harry store buckets

Crime can be a problem in any neighbourhood, even one as lovely as ours, so there’s a section of the store dedicated to discouraging robbers.  Harry is passionate about law enforcement, having recently fallen under the spell of Lego City, so most of our games involve Policeman and Naughty Men.  I’m quick to assure callers to the house that the various sets of handcuffs left lying around are all from Harry’s toy box and absolutely nothing to do with me or the global phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey.  The store offers sliding locks to try out, and a set of devilishly small padlocks and keys that test Harry’s dexterity and patience to their limit and beyond.  They do also bounce, when hurled to the floor dismissively. The glued-on keys come from an embarrassingly large bowl in our house which stores all unidentifiable keys from our last 5 house moves and the myriad of lost bicycle locks and chains – no doubt one of them will prove to be crucial, and I will have to chip it off from the board – but until then, they serve a more decorative purpose.

harry store security

I used a jumble of small cardboard boxes to make these faux wooden draws – most are boxes from candles or the lids of various things.  I found a graphic of an old shop chest and simply printed and glued the images to the front of each box, adding text for the contents.  Once again, the contents have simply been borrowed from elsewhere in our house, but are satisfying to play with and count out.  A small set of nesting zinc boxes from our shed completes the selection of handyman bits ‘n bobs.

harry store string

harry store wooden boxes

harry store zinc boxes

In other parts of the store you can buy birdseed, choosing amongst varieties depending on which birds you want to attract to your garden, and even find pocket-sized birdhouses to house them (these came straight from the Christmas tree…).

harry store birdseed

Budding gardeners can choose real seeds from our store list, and Harry’s own tools hang alongside.  Pint-sized bundles of firewood and a couple of Halloween-costume prop brooms complete the outdoor maintenance section.

harry store dig it sign

harry store topiary

The ‘Parking’ sign rests on two miniature tyres which are actually dog chew toys, found cheap at our local DIY store – we’ll use these in all kinds of projects come the Summertime, I’m sure.

harry store parking

I made the main store sign using off-cuts of skirting board and pasting on home-printed signs.  If you look closely, you can see the joins where I’ve pasted pieces of regular-sized paper together to make the super-sized  storefront sign.

harry store main sign

And finally of course, you can fill up with gas from the pump.  Harry’s pedal car has been regularly topped up, as has everything that moves in the household, and many things which do not.

harry store gas pump

So, a Christmas hit, for now at least, appealing to all of Harry’s manly instincts and providing lots of opportunity for play and interaction – and when the attraction begins to fade, I can simply return the bookcase to its component parts and reinvent it again.  Or maybe – and here’s a novel thought – actually place some books on it, who knows?

If you’re new-ish to the blog and like this project, you might also enjoy Harry’s kitchen and shop (note to self: stop buying junk furniture on ebay…).

The Dream House Part 1: Kitchen restoration

Whilst most of my creative projects involve paper, glue, baking or clay, there’s one big – nay, HUGE, project keeping me busy in the background, and that’s the renovation of our new house; a crumbling yet beautiful pile that we moved into just before Christmas.  We were looking for somewhere big and vaguely unkempt, where Harry could run amok without it mattering, and where adventures could be had and memories created over many years. My husband saw it first, and it’s a testament to the magic of the house that he, ever practical and sensible, was captivated. Windows rattled, mice fled for cover, plaster dust quietly settled around us but still, we decided, it had to be ours.  Madness, of the very best possible kind…

So here we are, 6 months in and with no money left, neat fingernails a distant memory and a complete and profound happiness about having found Home.  Our first big project was to convert the formal living room into a family kitchen/dining space, where we now spend almost all of our waking hours.  This is what it looked like before:

And now after…


The room – like the rest of the house – has some beautiful features we were keen to keep,  like the panelling, bay windows and ornate coving from when the house was built in the 1750s. We had an imprint made of this, so we could continue it around the new in-built range cooker and cupboards.  A lime-washed, engineered oak floor replaced the old pink carpet (you can see now where all our money has gone…), and is living up to the promise of being hard-wearing and resistant to everything a two year old can drop on it.  Much of the space in the l-shaped room was under-utilised before, as the previous owners had understandably clustered sofas round the fireplace and left the far end alone. Instead, we added our main kitchen area here, working with Martin Moore to design a layout which maximises the space, and centres around a large Cook’s Table and chairs which we perch on whilst dinner bubbles away on the stove. (Alright, alright I confess; whilst dinner pings in the microwave).

And after….

The fireplace (below) was original to the property but very ornate and rather too heavy with bunches of grapes and dancing maidens for our taste; we replaced it with this simple yet majestic stone surround slate hearth, and retained the original backplate.  The fireplace is an object of fascination for Harry, who is convinced the chimney is home to a family of owls, ever since I hooted down from an upstairs fireplace when he was standing below.

By the time we’d finished the kitchen and floor, our collective money boxes were nearly empty, so we bought these two dressers relatively cheaply and painted them to tone with the kitchen at the other end.  Random objects gathered at junk sales and flea markets over the years have finally found a home on top (I knew that 3ft wide vintage Ukranian dough bowl would look good somewhere…), and our mismatched white china is stored inside.  Our melamine Disney plates and chipped mugs are still around, of course, we just hide them in our new cupboards..

Finally we added a squashy cream Chesterfield sofa in the bay window; the perfect place to read Sunday papers (though the relaxed reading of newspapers is a distant memory, in truth).  Cream sofas may seem like another act of insanity, but this one is steeped in industrial strength stain-guard, which so far is doing a magnificent job.

So; Phase 1 is now complete, and the memories of months of rubble, chaos and the Electrician-Who-Fell-Through-The-Ceiling are rapidly fading and being converted into cheery anecdotes.  The electrician, I hasten to add, is fine; he stepped off a beam upstairs and went straight through the lathe and plaster ceiling below; fortunately a lifetime of eating Cornish pasties for lunch ensured he simply became wedged between joists and suffered an uncomfortable hour in mid-air, and mid-floor, whilst reinforcements – and a ladder – arrived.

Happiness is: A Man and his Grill

It has to be said; I’ve taken full advantage so far of the fact that Harry, at 2, is happy pottering around in a play kitchen and keeping shop, oblivious to the fact that these will rapidly become activities associated with girls, and swiftly abandoned in favour of games requiring bravery, danger and copious amounts of dirt. Still, there’s one form of cooking that seems to unite men the world over, and that’s ownership of the BBQ; a testosterone-fuelled activity if ever there was one.


With that in mind, I’ve repurposed a small thrift shop table into a brand new grill for Harry (see below for the Before pics and stages).  With build-your-own kebabs that double as weapons, a hodgepodge of food made from salt dough and FIMO, and grocery-store paper plates and cups, it’s proving to be a big hit as you can see.  Leftover household items like an air vent, silver spray paint and a cheap baking tray gave the semblance of a gas BBQ, and a hefty dose of imagination from Harry has filled in all the gaps…

This was the starting point; a small wooden table I picked up for £8 at a charity shop.  It looks like it was once a play worktable, but came with no accessories other than a broken shelf, which I repaired and restored.

I painted the surface with black gloss paint and sprayed the legs and shelf silver, before nailing on a louvred air vent for the grill itself.  A sheet of dolls house stone-effect wallpaper provides the backdrop; I used PVA to apply this then varnished for longevity and to ward off wear and tear.

The kebabs are made from a cheap skipping rope; I unscrewed the heads, removed the rope and glued in lengths of dowel which I again sprayed silver (our whole garden has little patches of silver spray across it – I’m hoping my husband hasn’t noticed..).  I used a mixture of painted salt dough and FIMO for my kebab food, wiggling each onto the dowel before baking to ensure an easy fit.  These have been the biggest draw of all for Harry; the art of slipping them on and off, rearranging and – yes – tasting each piece, can be lots of fun.  Here’s a tip; if you ever decide to make a corn-on-the-cob using salt dough, find a good movie and arm yourself with a glass of chardonnay before you settle down to roll a hundred individual kernels…

Finally, how to fill the myriad of pre-drilled holes? Luckily I found this set of four thin-handled cooking implements in our local pound shop, and rolled each in brightly coloured gift wrap before varnishing. Hey presto, now Harry and his father can grill side by side this weekend (it’s a toss up whose food will be more edible!).