Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Change ... but no decay, yet.

We've got the decorators in at the moment. The contents of our biggest room - except for the piano and the harpsichord - are crammed into the spare room, the stairs (each step a bookcase), the landing (where I keep walking into a sharp-cornered carry-box full of pictures). We've discovered that the gable end is bone dry (cheers) and today I've been relieved to find that the paint I chose for the walls is indeed a pleasantly warm neutral shade and I won't have to sell the house after all. So far so good.

But stripping your house back to the basics reveals much of what has been before. As a Victorian semi, the original house had ceiling roses, picture rails, dado rails, tall fireplaces and panelled doors, and our bedroom retains much of what it must have had over a hundred years ago - even the fireplace, though we lack the maid to light our fire in the morning. Downstairs, however, is another matter. At some point in, I imagine, the 60s, the then owner succumbed to the desire for modernisation and DIY, with the removal of the ceiling rose from the sitting room and the covering of the panelled doors with hardboard - remember 'flush panelling'? - and plastic lever handles. (I suspect that the dado and picture rails went earlier - you can still see their brown varnish outlines on the plaster.) We removed the hardboard from the doors in the '80s, though not before we'd lived with their white glossiness for 10 years or so. It was fortuitous that at that time we were able to use the resulting sheets of white board to make the most wonderful CND placards of varying shapes and sizes and outstanding durability for our usually rain-soaked demos.

So every panelled door had its silver lining, though we cursed the imbeciles who had roughly chiselled off the original mouldings to accomodate the hardboard. We put new mouldings on the doors, or simply painted over the ruination. We ripped down the hardboard pelmets above the windows. Now we can see what was previously hidden - that someone had also ripped off the facings of a cupboard to create a tasteful alcove with gently curved top trim and painted its interior a strange violet colour. (Evidence suggests that the body of the room was green at the time. With a floral pattern.)

We've found a wooden plug in the wall, which had left a bump we'd always wondered about. It's above head height, in the middle of the wall facing the window. I imagine perhaps a dresser with a tendency to topple, steadied with a nail into the wood. I imagine a Victorian family, down from Glasgow for their holidays, with the range in the back room which would be the kitchen, the sink in the window, the cludgie in the back garden and the wash-house where we park the car. In the main bedroom there are still the wooden supports for an extra bed in the walk-in cupboard, though heaven knows who would sleep there. It's our house, but there are ghosts ...

Today we've put back the ceiling rose in the sitting-room. It's not really big enough - the one in the bedroom measures 3' in diameter - but we'd have had to wait too long for the bigger one to be delivered, and the slightly lesser one looks jolly good and matches the cornice quite well. The ceiling is painted, and the walls half done with the first coat - enough to tell me how it will look. The painter pronounced it 'warm and light', which reassured Mr B, and I'm already wondering if we should replace the curtains or not bother. I might even move away from a paper globe for a lampshade ... but then, I might not. Change, yes - but not too much!


  1. I'm so glad you don't have to move....I once had to change countries after a mistake with paint! Looking forward to seeing it.

  2. Pronoun question: When you say "we" do you mean you or he or they? I only ask.

  3. Oh well - if you must be so precise: we bought a ceiling rose and brought it to the men who called their boss who came with the appropriate equipment and attached it to the ceiling. So we caused it to be put back; they carried out our instructions, without which the ceiling would be roseless still.

  4. I am relieved. The thought of you and Mr B clambering around on ladders at your time of life is unsettling. Carry on being simply prime movers!

  5. Ahem! I personally am still quite happy to climb ladders (and mountains, come to that) - I just have a fear of the ceiling coming down!

  6. Ah! The Chicken Little Syndrome. (Or should that be Chicken Licken?)
    Alternatively - the Abraracourcix Syndrome (if you don't know, ask your East Coast daughter-in-law).