Here We Go Again..


 

The Dining Room chez duck.. barely a week ago. It is almost unrecognisable now.

The plan here, as with every other room in the house so far, is to strip back to the original features (where they still exist) and then refresh the fixtures and fittings to give a more contemporary feel. In this room, and the Sitting Room next door, one of the first priorities will be to renew our acquaintance with the beam stripping man. I can never understand why beams were painted black. Even less so with a fireplace. To me it looks so very oppressive and sucks away the light. So much does it resemble a Black Hole the fireplace is probably more than capable of bending time itself. Well no more. It too is going to have a blast. Thankfully these days there are gentler methods of stripping than the old fashioned sand blasting but the principle remains the same. And it’s going to make a mess.

 
 

 

Already there have been exciting finds.

Many times over the years I have tentatively picked at a corner of the old carpet to see what’s underneath. In some places there were bricks. But until last week, when the carpet made its way ceremoniously down to the local tip, we’d never seen the whole floor. Miraculously, given that so much has been changed in this house, we are indeed the proud owners of an old brick floor. In less good news, at some point in time a large portion of it has been covered over with a concrete screed.

For the last three days Mike has been chip-chipping away. Slowly but surely the cement is coming off, revealing more and more of the lovely old bricks. It’s a soul destroying job but what a difference it has made. The bricks would have been made locally and have a pale honey colour.

 
 

 

At some point in time the floor was painted red, all round the outside of the room with presumably a rug over the centre. The red paint can be scratched off with a fingernail but given that gardening has already claimed most of mine we shall leave the task of removal to the blasting man. On one of his gentler settings, of course.

As a break from chip-chipping Mike has been doing some stripping of his own. Woodchip wallpaper.  There is even woodchip on the ceiling. Dreadful stuff. Up to three layers of it in places. I know this because for one afternoon Mike had an assistant. I wouldn’t want you thinking that I’ve been just sitting with my feet up while all this is going on. Not that I could if I wanted to. There’s no place left to sit!

 
 

 

For those new to the blog, the walls of the cottage are made of cob. This is basically subsoil dug up from the land surrounding the building, bound together with straw. I wonder how old that straw actually is. Wouldn’t it be great to know?

The walls would then have been finished with lime plaster. To make lime, limestone, chalks or seashells formed of calcium carbonate are burned to form quick lime. Evidence of this process dates back to prehistoric times and lime kilns were once a common sight in most villages. The quick lime is then mixed with water, or slaked, and left to mature. Lime putty, with a consistency of cottage cheese, can be extracted from the mix three months later. Combine the putty with sand, maybe throw in some horse hair to bind it, and you have lime plaster.

Inevitably lime plaster will weaken over the hundreds of years it has remained on the walls. However carefully one tries to remove the woodchip paper some of the old plaster beneath it is going to come off. As ever, we’ll be repairing the plaster with the same traditional materials and employing craftsmen skilled in the restoration of ancient buildings to do the work.

 
 

 

The Sitting Room chez duck… only a week ago!

The furniture is now all in store. The sofas have moved houses with us for 20 years, bought in the days when William Morris was enjoying something of a revival. But the upholstery is still sound so the plan, when the sofas come back, is to get them recovered in a plainer fabric more aligned to the New England style I have stuck in the back of my mind.

The fireplace in this room somehow escaped the dreaded black paint treatment but it has its own cross to bear.

 
 
 

 

The beam across the top of the fireplace is fake.. it’s actually an old railway sleeper! Stripping back the wallpaper has revealed a tantalising glimpse of the original beam still in situ just above it, albeit plastered over now apart from the chamfered lower edge.

 
 

 

Sideways on we can see the cut end of the original fireplace beam, the entire trunk of a tree!

This may be more of a challenge to restore because the fireplace itself has been so altered. The metal plate, or register plate, which separates the chimney from the fireplace below was fitted at a level more in keeping with the fake beam and would therefore need to be raised. I don’t know at this point how practical a proposition that is. But we shall try.

 
 

 

More replastering for the builders.

I am at a loss to know why Mike has the box from the new bathroom loo roll holder in here.. there will be a logical reason I have no doubt. He is a logical sort of person.

 
 

 

We had hoped there might be something interesting to discover on this wall too and there still might be, if we delve deeper. See the shape of the wall and what could be the protrusion of an old window sill, about 18ins up from the floor?

An alternative and intriguing explanation for the strange shape of the wall was suggested by one of the builders. In days of olde it would not have been unusual to have animals sheltering in one of the ‘rooms’ of a rustic country cottage and concave walls such as the above can often be found as a result. Cob walls and their lime plaster render are relatively soft, so if a hay trough were to be placed up against the wall the heads of the animals constantly pushing against it while feeding could easily, over time, be enough to wear away the wall. Note that the wall on the other side of the doorway has the same shape.

 
 

 

And so we’ve made a start. It’s March. Or at least it was when I started on the post.

Surely, surely, it might be realistic to hope it could all be done by Christmas? It’s just that I know how these projects tend to go…