Temporary Measures

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve never shown pictures of the bathroom or ensuite. There is a good reason for that, they’re both hideous. And this isn’t just a matter of taste, it’s much more to do with the fact that whoever did the work in the first place was quite happy to go for the cheapest method possible, so the ensuite is carved out of the bathroom – which would have been a really rather lovely bedroom at some point in the building’s history. But now that all the pipework is in that part of the house, there’s really no point in me relocating the bathroom anywhere else, so I am left with two rooms that are ugly and vulnerable – both have issues with leaks because the work has been done so poorly – (which doesn’t show in a building survey because a new mastic run makes it look like it’s in good repair) until such a time as the builder can put me on his schedule. It looks like February… but holding my breath would be a mistake…

The textured plaster effect is actually wallpaper, so it’s coming away at the joins of the strips and in the corners. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you, the high steam levels in a bathroom will make wallpaper come away from the walls. I mean, my old friend the wallpaper steamer uses exactly that method to encourage wallpaper to part company with the wall, so even modern ready-mixed wallpaper paste will eventually succumb to the invasive nature of steam. See what I mean about the cheapest method of updating? This was done so they didn’t have to do a skim of plaster to the walls. You’ve probably guessed by now that I won’t be keeping this wallpaper…

I won’t be keeping that bathroom suite either. The loo cistern has a big crack across the top and the hand basin is too deep for the plans I’ve drawn up for the new ensuite (hoorah.) And now you can see the full extend of the mosaic tiles. They are the cause of the leaks in this shower. Whoever did the tiling has stretched the mesh backing to the mosaics, which come in squares of about 300mm. The adhesive can’t grip onto something that is stretched because the tension of the mesh won’t bond and this has made the grout lines crack…

Don’t get me wrong, I like mosaics. I love the Mediterranean but loving the Med is no excuse for slapping every wall with textured effects because guess what? All it really is is a cover up for laziness. Beware. Mosaic tiles are tricky to install, if the grout lines aren’t straight, this is how you can tell that the adhesive bond is likely to be substandard and there will be issues where water penetration is concerned. You will also have quite a job to make good walls that have been covered by this type of textured wallpaper – it is used as a disguise. In this case though, I knew I would be changing the bathrooms as soon as I could, so I took that on board…

To get me to that point I decided that as shiny paint is my pet hate, (and even worse, shiny Magnolia paint) it had to go. So enter the ‘what colour will make fake Mediterranean mosaic tiles look less fake?’ dilemma. I considered greens and browns that would tone with those in the tiles and then came unstuck because my bedroom is blues and greys. I considered various blues and found that they changed colour in the lighting so much that I really didn’t like them in situ. I really don’t like yellows… not that keen on terracotta in this space either… Step forward good old navy blue, or Stiffkey Blue by Farrow and Ball to be precise.

And then I had the ‘exciting’ idea of painting the tiles in a metallic paint to disguise them. Disguising the disguise, hmmm, good thing this is temporary. I settled on a bronze colour and then went off to get my preparation layers. The tiles need to be primed.

I looked at various options and felt my brain glazing over. This is temporary, how much prep did I really want to do? In a nutshell, the shiny surface of tiles requires preparation for paint to adhere successfully. There are different formulations, either oil based or water based will work, but in a bathroom I was best off using an oil based primer. Most primers are coloured and generally have to be brushed on. I didn’t want brush marks, so I selected a spray primer that was colourless and just about asphyxiated myself applying it. Blimey o’riley, I had to go off and have a little sit down.

Then I cut a sponge into a square much the same size as the tiles and started by sponging the bronze onto the mirror frame. The grout lines on this were so wide that I did get quite a bit of paint on the grout, oh boo! Repairs were done with an off white eggshell paint, so again I was disguising the disguise, something that I wasn’t all that happy with.

Initially I was thinking I would paint the tiles in the shower enclosure as well, but having done the frame and splash backs, I’m not so sure now. And this area is constantly wet, so I really don’t know how long the paint will adhere. I think I’ll live with it a few weeks and see what I think. Right now, I’m mildly pleased with the results, not sure if that’s quite enough to want to do more.

The moral of the story is when someone tells you not to bother painting the tiles because you won’t like the effect – and if that someone is a professional decorator who knows you well – they’re probably right!

A word on paint coverage: the decorators I’ve worked with over the years have often mentioned that they don’t like working with Farrow and Ball paints because they’re a thin consistency. What that means is you can build up layers which is fine if you want a chalky finish, but not fine if you need to touch up the paintwork or if you’re painting over a dramatically different colour. To get around that it is very common for decorators to get colours mixed into trade paint bases – because they know the performance will be better and more reliable. Having moved recently I don’t have a decorators merchants around the corner the way I used to so on this occasion I did buy the Farrow and Ball paint from the shelf. And guess what, it is thin and it doesn’t cover well. Going from magnolia to dark blue was three coats. No wonder decorators don’t like it, when time equals money having to do three coats is another half day or more on the same job. Sorry Farrow and Ball, much as I love the colour, I was disappointed with the coverage.

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A Small Room Reveal

On the top floor of my house there are three bedrooms; the two belonging to the children and a tiny single room that I thought they could use as a study – the room with the mango custard floor. It was relined at the same time as the children’s rooms were redecorated and rewired, so technically it is finished.

lined and rewired

preparing the walls

Except that I couldn’t decide how I wanted to decorate it. Other than painting the walls an off white, I hand’t given it much thought! Except for getting rid of the mango custard floor, of course. You will have heard designers say this before “it’s really hard being the client,” there’s so much choice and I can be decisive for my clients in a way that I can’t be for myself. So the decision making process has been slow for this little room. That and the fact that I didn’t really want to spend any real money on it. Then we had a string of guests and needed an extra bed, so a sofa chair was purchased to be housed in the little room. The desk that had been in my daughters room at the previous house also needed a home, so that too is in the little room. Then we needed some shelving (thank heavens for the summer sales) and all of a sudden this little space was getting dangerously close to becoming the unwanted objects corner.

A decision had to be made because the more stuff going in there meant the less space to manoeuvre when the decorating was finally planned. So while the children were on holiday I moved everything out into their bedrooms and got cracking.

My guilty pleasure over the summer of house moving and unpacking has been a programme called ‘Escape to the Chateau.’ Oh how I love Angel’s decorative style – and it got me thinking, I’d thought of doing something very similar to one of her schemes, but had never had the right space to do it in…

Enter the box of wallpaper samples.

Over the years I’ve amassed hundreds of wallpaper samples for clients and the rejected ones all ended up back in my studio. In the moving process I had gotten rid of quite a few samples that I knew I would never use (dated, not to my taste and probably discontinued by now anyway) but none-the-less there was a sizeable collection of many different colours and patterns. I started sifting through and found that I could gather a collection of blue/grey samples that was a good start to a feature wall. I calculated that the wall was twelve samples wide and seven samples high, but here’s the annoying thing, they’re not all the same size, even a standard A4 varies from one supplier to another. Was I going to cut each one so it was exact? Groan.

As I pondered this I realised that the walls weren’t in any way regular; neither the ceiling nor the floor were level, so I decided I would just go with it… and cover up any messy joins if I needed to.

The tools I used were a cutting mat and Stanley knife, wallpaper paste and a brush, a damp sponge and a printing roller to smooth out any air bubbles. I also used a spirit level to set my plumb line and I did this one column into the wall. I decided not to start in the middle because of the varying sizes of the samples and felt that there was enough going on for it not to look anything other than a part of the design to have a narrower column at the window end. This will also be covered by a curtain in time, so I really didn’t focus on that the way a professional decorator would have done.

I pasted each sample individually and worked two at a time so that one was softening while the other was being put up. The paste allows for quite a bit of repositioning and straightening, so any real unevenness could be moved gently. I then sponged each piece to get it smooth and rollered from the centre out to remove air bubbles. There were some joins that were really off which I could do nothing about, so I cut out flowers from other scraps I had kept and used those to cover the gaps.

It’s a very bold wall. But now this tiny room has an identity and is the patchwork room, it’s a bit of a time capsule too because papers that we’ve used in other homes are also on this wall and various childhood books and some toys have also found their way in there. The colours have been the unifying link and that’s fun as well, because I’ve popped in to find that the children have added a few things to the space. The curtain will finish it in the same faded blues and greys – but I have to get out the sewing machine yet!