Monday, 10 December 2018

Room Tour: The Hallway

Oh my goodness, I've looked forward to this moment for so long. Finally, the project that was only supposed to take "a couple of weeks" is finished, after almost four months and a lot of hard work, a lot, and the kindness and generosity of family who gave up their free time to help us when they could. I always knew that my parents were handy with a paintbrush, but I never knew my brother in law could lay a floor like a professional. 

It all started back in August with the removal of the door and window between our hall and porch:

and opening out the enclosed staircase:

This was disruptive, messy work and meant that we had to change the flooring in the hallway and there was a fair amount of plastering, levelling of floors, filling and decorating to be done too. It's basically taken up every free weekend we've had this autumn, but yes if was definitely worth it and we are so glad we did it. 

The sense of light and space now is just wonderful. Our hallway is long and dark and needs every bit of brightness it can get, and the new flooring bounces so much more light around. I am in love with the floor (Quick-Step Impressive Soft Oak Natural) and while engineered oak would have been our preferred choice, there wasn't the budget and we are very happy with this. Sometimes you just have to compromise, and that's fine.

John made the most beautiful bench to sit by the front door from a couple of planks of ash from our local wood yard and some hairpin legs from eBay. I'm so proud of what he's achieved in this project, especially the carpentry. He can do so much more than he realises. The bench is part of my on-going quest to stop everyone trying to sit on the bottom step of the stairs when they put their shoes on, myself included, causing no end of traffic jams as we are all trying to get out of the door at the same time.

I thought the removal of the door to the old porch would make the most difference, and it certainly gives us a much bigger space when people are coming and going.

But actually it's the restoration of the original 1960's staircase that has had the most impact. It's the most striking feature in the room and the first thing you see when you open the front door. I love it a little bit more every day.

Once the panelling around the stairs had been removed, we had to remove paint from the metalwork and varnish from the wooden stair treads, and make good the plastering on the wall. We painted the metal a pale blue-grey which works with the warmth of all those wood tones, and gave the stairs two coats of Osmo Polyx-Oil in Transparent. After a lot of research John chose this oil because of it's chalky finish which slightly lightens the wood and is very non-slip. The absolute last thing we wanted was a highly polished surface - mostly for safety but also because I didn't want to see every speck of dust and dog hair every time I climbed the stairs - and I was going to buy non-slip strips to stick on to the stairs, but the finish of this oil is chalky to the point of feeling almost rough when you run your hand over it so there is no need.

I wondered if I would miss the old under-stairs cupboard at all, and I really don't. It was awkward to access and had become a dumping ground for all sorts of things. After a good sort out, I moved various things to either the office (sewing machine), the loft (spare picture frames) or the garage (the vacuum cleaner), and the space now holds our shoe rack, which previously lived in the porch. 

We have a good amount of storage in the ground floor of this house, with a large internal garage which acts as my utility room among other things, plus a large coat cupboard in the hall. I hadn't really anticipated doing much to this hall cupboard but while we were ripping out everything else, and while it was all chaos, I looked at the old louvred doors, which for some reason were three-quarters height, so that you always had to duck your head to get in and out of the cupboard, and next thing you know they were in the car boot waiting to go the the tip.

John and my dad built these gorgeous doors from plywood and I adore them. They were, I am told, a pain to fit, but I am so grateful. As they are now normal height doors, we no longer have to duck our heads to get in and out of the coat cupboard. A small thing, yes, but when you use this cupboard multiple times a day, things like this matter. The copper door handles were from here.

Other than things like flooring, paint and building materials, the only items we bought for this space were a new mirror to hang above the console table, and another lampshade for the light in the porch to match the two we already have hanging in the hall. Everything else was moved from another room in the house.

There we have it. Thank you for sharing this particular renovation journey with us. Our house is still very much a work in progress and there is always something to do (our horrible, leaky bathroom!), but this particular project has been more challenging - but also more rewarding - than we ever could have imagined. 


Thank you for sharing your favourite traditions with me in the comments on my last post, I really enjoyed reading them. Christmas has well and truly arrived in our house and I will be back with a more festive post soon. Have a lovely week. 

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The comfort of tradition

I was thinking last weekend, as I was rummaging around in the loft for some Christmas bits and pieces, about our ramshackle collection of festive decorations and how, if I were to go shopping tomorrow and spend £100 on beautiful baubles and lights how tasteful and coordinated our house would look, but how it would all feel a bit wrong to me. Because the best bit about this time of year, for me anyway, is the comforting repetition of the same things; the same handmade decorations on the tree (even the glitter-covered ones from nursery), the nativity set I bought when Bella was one, the same stockings I made, the knowledge that we'll be doing and eating similar things this year to last year, and hopefully next year too. Of course we have the same traditions most of you do - hanging stockings, roasting a turkey, advent calendars etc - but I have been thinking a lot about what things are particularly special to us as a family. I asked Bella and Angus what their favourite Christmas traditions are, and they provided me with: watching Christmas films or tv (The Box of Delights, Home Alone and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation being particular favourites here), unwrapping the homemade toy I always make them, new pyjamas on Christmas Eve and going for a walk on Christmas Day. I was pleasantly surprised and also touched by what they value, what is dear to them.

I like to fill this silly little jar from Tiger with the chocolate coins that will go into the advent calendar.

I like that the children still get really excited about looking for their coins and being allowed to eat chocolate before breakfast.

I like to recycle last year's Christmas cards into this year's gift tags. My mum always used to do this when we were little, and it's such a fun thing to do. Reading the cards again too is nice, it reminds me why I bother to send them.

I like to wrap my gifts in brown paper. I always keep a roll in the house, largely because I am lazy and disorganised, so if you have a roll of brown paper, you can wrap a gift for Christmas, birthday, wedding, anniversary, but it can be recycled too providing you tear off the bits of sellotape. Mainly I just like the look of it.

Time permitting, I like to make some Christmas cards. 

 I like to read some seasonal books, for the same reason that I like to watch Christmas films - it just adds to the whole feeling of festive cosiness. 

And I always, always, like to faff around with Christmassy things on the mantel. I haven't gone all-out with the decs yet, as we're not putting the tree up until this weekend, but there's a shift from autumn to winter on that big old piece of oak.

How about you? What do you like to do to build a feeling of festive excitement and anticipation?

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge: November

November's chosen cookery book was Jamie's Dinners, quite an old one of mine which was published in 2004. The torn-out title page tells me that it must have been from the damaged book shelf in the staff room when I worked at Waterstones in a different life, one of the perks of working in a book shop. This book reminded me how much, and how quickly, cookery books can date if they try to be too much on trend. The tone of this book is irritatingly jokey and blokey, with recipes called "the ultimate" this and that, but it is also friendly and very accessible and that's why I like it. 

The book is simply broken down into chapters like meat, fish, vegetables etc but there are some really nice touches, like the "Family Tree" chapter, where one starter recipe (pesto, tomato sauce, slow cooked lamb) is taken in lots of directions providing lots of meal ideas which is big on using up leftovers, so I approve of this.

The first recipe I tried was The Ultimate Onion Soup, something I've never made but always fancied. It involves peeling and slicing one kilogramme of onions which takes longer than you might think, and this very nearly tipped me over the edge. You see, I wear contact lenses and hadn't realised quite how much they protect my eyes from the fumes from chopped onions. That day, however, I was wearing my glasses and oh my goodness, I was in a world of pain. I had to keep taking breaks. I had to go outside for fresh air. I had to get John to come and help, until he was gasping too. 

Once I could see again, I put the onions in a pan and started the slow cooking process, until they were lovely and gooey.

Then you turn up the heat until they start to darken a little before adding stock and simmering.

You serve with a slice of toast covered in melted gruyere cheese, a kind of giant crouton. I couldn't really see the point of this, since it made the bread scalding hot, soggy and impossible to eat, ruining a very nice piece of cheese on toast.

Don't get me wrong, it was nice, but not worth nearly choking to death for.

The next recipe, The Ultimate Burger, was a much calmer affair. Angus, always on hand to chop or stir something in an endearing yet unhelpful fashion, mixed the ingredients together before forming them into patties which we chilled.

The burger recipe is fairly standard apart from a lot of grated parmesan which is a magic touch, adding flavour and making the burgers extra juicy and less likely to dry out. Even Bella, who had stroppily informed me all afternoon that she hates burger now, actually, said they were the nicest burger she'd ever eaten. 

The last recipe from this book was a bit of an indulgence, in that it involved a leg of lamb, normally a treat reserved for Easter, but it was on offer and I was intrigued to see quite how far I could stretch this meal.

You place the meat, seasoned and stuffed with sliced garlic and rosemary, on top of a bed of chopped vegetables, cover with foil, and bake slowly for about three hours.

When it's done you remove the meat, stripping it from the bone and shredding it, while pureeing the roasted vegetables, before mixing the whole thing together until it's like a cross between a stew and a ragu sauce.

It produced a huge amount of food, enough for three meals for the four of us, easily. We ate it that night topped with sliced potatoes and baked, a kind of Shepherd's Pie with a difference, and then later in the week again but this time stirred through pasta, and there was still loads left. I think we just had the rest with a baked potato and some vegetables, a speedy weeknight dinner.

But I'd never cooked lamb this way and I really enjoyed it, it was delicious and not that expensive when I think how many meals we got from one joint of meat.


Cooking aside, little signs of Christmas are creeping into the house here and there. I had a lovely time this morning with the children, doing a little festive crafting. The advent calendar is hung, the nativity scene is out of it's box, and the odd wreath or garland has started to appear here and there. We'll choose our tree next weekend, when John is off, and then that's when it will all start properly for us.

Wishing you all a happy and fulfilling week ahead.