I’ve been remiss

My plan was to regularly update this blog, but juggling working in Cornwall with alternate weekends of renovation in Wales has taken its toll. It’s been a long old Autumn of frustrations with gas fitters and British telecom, a leak in the utility and tiles off the tenement at the back of the house.

Old houses, throw up constant issues, but also constant joy especially now that we have dissuaded rats from visiting the garden and replaced them with House Sparrows and Blue Tits.

Another issue that always seems to raise its head is our willingness for distraction. As the nights draw in the dark terracotta paint in the hall, which would probably look ok in a bright situation, just made walking in totally depressing – so out has come the undercoat and all three floors of rouge just have to go

Fit for purpose

I’ve always envied those large walk in store cupboards and so we were delighted that the layout of the house still contains the original pantry. Long ago it had given up its use to become a dumping ground for coats and shoes and instead of the smell of jams and spices it had the aroma of damp trainer!

In many Victorian house the separate pantry, cold larder and scullery have been knocked into one to create a vast open plan kitchen, but we’re lucky that ours retains this Original suite of rooms. we have a decent sized kitchen at the centre which the Victorian’s would have used for preparing and cooking food in the same way as we use a kitchen today . There would be a large cooking range on the back wall complete with a water boiler for the house and to keep the kitchen warm ( long ripped out ) . The household crockery would be stored in a large dresser cupboard but there wouldn’t have been a sink or water in this this room. To either side of the entrance to the kitchen we have two smaller rooms both approximately the same size. The pantry for storing dry foods and a cold larder for meat and cheese. At the back of the kitchen is a large scullery with access to the outside courtyard this is where the sink would have been. Laundry would be washed here plates cleaned and dirty food prepared such as washing veg, cleaning fish or plucking chickens etc the floor would have got incredibly dirty so constantly being sluiced down with water which would have drained into the yard.

Anyway, back to our Pantry we ripped up the carpet, sadly it revealed a concrete floor and not the tiles as I’d hoped – washed down the walls, sent numerous spidered packing, removed the coat hooks and got someone into fix the dodgy wiring.

A few licks of undercoat and some Craig & Rose chalky ‘pantry white’ paint and it’s already looking better

The radiator looked incredibly grubby so I treated it to a spray (gosh that stuff really gets down your throat) too.

We have temporarily moved stuff back in but plans now are to have a floor to ceiling shelves on the left and a row of traditional stripped wood shelving on the back wall supported by cast iron brackets – so watch this space

Unloved

Although I haven’t updated my blog of late, we’ve still been hard at work. The house really had been unloved for years and although we decided to concentrate on certain rooms we’d found we couldn’t ignore at least a little distraction by doing something, no matter how small, to the seriously neglected spaces. Right at the back of the house is a ‘utility room ‘ or that’s how it was described by the estate agent, it was a seriously soul destroying space and smelt of despair and cat wee!!

It was dirty, with a cupboard full of fossilised rat droppings, the remnants of an old Lino floor, and inches of grime encrusting every surface! What to do? I hated walking through this space, it depressed me and was one of the reasons when I first saw the house that caused me doubts about our… …sanity!

I must have liberally showered the room with 3 bottles of bleach, I was like a catholic priest at a particularly stubborn exorcism! We scrubbed every surface and and another thing I learnt was that my partner has an alarming love for the smell of Domestos ).

The old floor tiles were hellish to remove, but brute force produced dividends and a bag for the tip of course. We got to work slapping undercoat on walls and it’s started to feel less oppressive , I don’t even mind going in there now. Future tasks involve getting someone in to rip out the old sink and turning it back into a ‘scullery’ – but that’s for another day!

Uncovering the layers

It’s a messy job, years of grime but there are moments when the house smiles at us and says ‘I kept this for you ‘.

We have two storage rooms one either side of the kitchen – one the original pantry (that the previous owners had turned into a coat and shoe store) and the second the original larder, complete with its stone table but minus it’s original marble. The previous owners had simply used it as a junk room (and left most of this junk behind ) All we seem to have been doing is running to the Skip with assorted detritus

These Stone larders were designed to keep cold in the hottest of weather (useful now with global warming) and would have had a slate or marble shelf, two or three inches thick. These shelves were wedged into thick stone walls or in our case supported by a brick structure . Fish or vegetables were laid directly onto the shelves and covered with muslin, I don’t think we will be doing that though.

So we skipped all the ex owners crap and ripped up the old Lino flooring where we found these amazing original flagstones

So we’ve decided that we’ll clean and seal them in preparation to turning this room in to a gin bar … more news of that later.

We uncover a changing past

For a house built over 100 years ago it’s probably seen many changes in its life since the first owners stepped over the threshold as confident victorians – the world seemed settled, the country prosperous and welsh coal fuelling the empire. But like most large houses they have also witnessed decades when their layout went out of favour and mouldings, fireplaces and ceiling roses harked back to a fusty restrictive world and so were torn out – the square featureless box was now king!

We had wondered about the master bedrooms layout from the moment we had moved in – overlooking the hideous built in wardrobes and yet another carpet from hell – ankle deep in the previous owners hair, she was either a yeti or suffered from severe alopecia! What we couldn’t overlook was the surface of the wall, it resembled a contour map of the Himalayas and would need to be sorted.

We secured the services of a less than reliable plasterer, whose erratic timekeeping was to be excused by his chaotic private life!

Much to Geoff’s horror he proceeded to pick at the wall, the plaster of which had become completely detached from the frame behind – we expected to find lath and plaster like the rest of the rooms but we discovered tell tale signs that the bedroom had once been linked to the room next door, probably by a connecting door.

Probably the existence of a long ago dressing room, but boarded up so that it became another bedroom for an expanding family – a luxury of space that could no longer have been afforded

It’s going to be an interesting journey – who knows what other secrets the house will give up.

Where there’s muck hopefully there’s brass

I think it was Pope John Paul XXIII that said ” it is by the state of a lavatory that a family is judged”

Well not just the lav in this instance but by the whole house. We’ve gotten through about a dozen packs of cleaning wipes just on the stair spindles alone. I’ve sat on the master bedroom floor unpicking enough long ginger hair from the workings of my blocked hoover, to create a drag queens fright wig. We’ve a disturbing smell in the loft room and rat droppings in the utility! We’ve scrubbed and bleached and removed more cobwebs than a Hammer Horror set dressing and when we did eventually find the loft keys we discovered a plethora of half empty paint cans, with colours such as ‘lilac lethargy’ , ‘terror-cotta’ and ‘midnight in Grimsby ‘ all of which were destined for landfill and wiping from the house’s memory.

It’s already starting to feel brighter and less ‘closed-up’ as it’s been empty since Christmas.

lessons learnt

Never forget to clean your house before selling it or forever hold the label of ‘mucky strumpet’ (gender neutral)

Cleaning a house reveals unknown depths to your partner – In my case that Geoff adores the smell of bleach!

Catch you all later…

What have we done!?

Walking into a house that has been neglected by its previous owners is bitter sweet – we saw its potential but have to live with dark walls, a forest of wires and cabling, and a stair carpet that wouldn’t look amiss in a soviet bunker!

So it’s list time, and as Santa would say “we’re checking it once, we’re checking it twice we’re gonna find out what’s grotty or nice” … however the list of grotty just keeps getting longer and longer.

But there are merits , we fell in love with the hall flooring on our first viewing, sadly not original but luckily so in keeping with a house of this period – although the terracotta walls and the sludge brown doors do suck the life out of you whenever you walk in.

So it’s been a labour of love to scrub the grime off more spindles than I care to remember plus three floors of skirting boards – but currently even a famous brand of Scandinavian hand cream cannot seem to reinvigorate my prune like digits!

First lesson – I’m learning to love deep cleaning, whilst Geoff is becoming the king of double entendres as he finds yet another crack to fill!

Onwards and upwards!