sitting on the fence

We spent the bank holiday weekend painting the garden fence.

I say we. It’s not easy painting a fence with one arm in a sling… so booyaa did the vast majority of the work. I don’t know where he finds the energy, but I’m grateful for it nonetheless.

We’ve been putting up with a very un-boolou garden for a year, and this year we’ve decided that it’s going to get done. Partly it stems from when we were painting the dining room and we took it in turns to keep Betsy entertained in the garden. Sitting out in the sunshine next to the small flower bed we created last year was really very pleasant and we’d both love to use the garden more than we do (which is barely at all). Between the uneven surface, the skiddy gravel, the trip hazard manhole covers, the slope upwards to the back, and the overhanging trees full of shade and pigeons*… well, it’s not a very welcoming space.

We now have a quote for landscaping that’s affordable, and are pencilled in for the last week of June for the work to happen. Between now and then we need to clear out the junk that’s accumulated at the back of the garden, paint the fence, pot up the plants we’ve not long since put in the ground (hugely nervous about that) and grow some annuals to fill out what will be about ten times our current growing space.

So this weekend we tackled the fence. I faffed about choosing the colour using the Cuprinol website colour tester. My first choice was ash black, which mimics the scorched weatherboard of the local (well, Suffolk) architecture, but decided it would be too strong a look for our small garden, and certainly wouldn’t look very urban Victorian terrace. I couldn’t possibly go ‘Forest Green’ or ‘Conker’ or whatever those fake-natural dark shades are, so I chose “Muted Clay” which looked modern and fresh, and a mid-tone greige (that’s grey-beige to the non-initiated). I hoped the ugly concrete fence posts would blend in a little, as they really stand out against the orangey-brown colour we started with and guessed that the green of the plants would stand out nicely against a light, neutral colour.

The weather was forecast to be dry but cloudy, so we thought we’d get the whole fence painted once round. We were even optimistic enough to think we might get both coats done. Ha ha ha. How naive we were. Rain stopped play after 3 panels on the first coat. It dried up again later and while I was cooking dinner booyaa went and stormed through to the end of one side. We got one coat on half of the fence done by the end of the day.

Orange-greige side-by-side comparison

Orange-greige side-by-side comparison

We think the fence was all replaced at the same time, but because it’s weathered differently in places the paint has changed the colour in a subtly different way too. The gate at the back, which is a better quality finish than the fence, has a much stronger colour. The barely touched by sun panels along the side return have changed the least. I mean, they’re not orange any more, but they’re not as strongly coloured as other parts of the fence. After just one coat the fence looked like it had had all the colour bleached out of it. It was a ghost fence.

Shades of greige

Different finish on different wood

Thank heavens for bank holidays, eh? Monday was forecast cloudy with possible showers in the afternoon. We got started after breakfast and finished the first coat on the rest of the fence and started on the second coat by early afternoon. We ran out of paint halfway through the second coat. With no more of our chosen colour in the local Wilko’s, and neither of us fancying a trip to B&Q on a bank holiday Monday, we’re hoping Wilko’s will have more in stock during the week so we can finish off next weekend. But for now, we’ve re-Betsy-proofed the garden and called it a day.

Where the second coat has dried it still looks like we’ve got a ghost fence. The plants show up really well against it, both of us are pleased to see the back of the orangey-brown colour we had before, and it achieves the aim of drowning out the otherwise really noticeable concrete fence posts. The fresh green plants look great against it, and I can’t wait for something blue to flower because I think that’s going to look really vibrant. But on its own it’s a bit meh. Lucky we’ll have a garden full of cosmos and cornflowers in a couple of months.

Side return

The Ghost Fence in all its glory

*Dad says they’re collared doves. They look like what most of us heathens think of as wood pigeons. They’re big, noisy things, that’s the important point.

kitchens of distinction

We’ve got a new kitchen!

We haven’t bought a new kitchen. We’ve upcycled what we had.

We renovated one worktop and installed one new worktop which we needed in order to fit the dishwasher. Then we had the cupboard doors painted and added new handles.

The kitchen is from Ikea, I believe. A bit of detective work shows up Ikea stickers here and there and I recognised the handles. So it’s not going to last forever. I think Ikea is brilliant at getting you a well-furnished, good-looking home on a tight budget. Most of their cheaper stuff doesn’t last and the more substantial stuff fails on the surfaces. Things tarnish and scuff easily. At least, that’s my experience. This kitchen is sturdy enough. The soft-close mechanisms have failed. The paint finish has worn or cracked in a number of places. What looks like steam damage had made the cabinet above the cooker swell. One of the drawers looked to have swollen in a similar way, making the edge all wavy.

So, we sanded off the swollen bits, took off the very boring handles and polyfilla-ed the resulting holes. There’s a small cabinet without a door where the microwave sits, so we filled in the spare holes there, too. It looks much neater.

Then Mr joiner-painter came and did the painting. The original colour was a light cream, and the top cabinets have been repainted in a warm white. That needed one coat of primer and two top coats. The bottom cupboards were painted dark grey so that took two coats of primer and two top coats.


Top cabinets are painted in Farrow and Ball Wimborne White.
Lower cabinets are painted in Farrow and Ball Down Pipe.
Cupboard handles are large ceramic knobs in Lime Zest from


We could have had new doors made fairly cheaply, so was it worth it to do it this way?
Paint. There’s still plenty of primer and paint left over, and it will get used on other projects. It’s already earmarked and was planned in advance to keep costs down. But still, it was £74 for the two cans of primer and two cans of paint.
Mr joiner-painter charged us £140 for a day and a half of work.
The new handles cost £33 (we needed 11).
The new worktop, joinery and oil all together came to £220.
So, not quite a new kitchen but it certainly looks like it, and all for under £470.


The colour of the lower cabinets is just stunning. On the website the paint colour looks like a darkish, dull grey. In real life it’s a beautiful, rich colour. It changes depending on the light — I’m finding this is a speciality of F&B paints — from a greenish grey to a deep bluish grey to almost black. The top cabinets are a warm white colour. They don’t change as much as the lower cupboards, but the overall effect is a clean, bright not-quite-white.

This is the kitchen on the day we moved in.

Day 0: kitchen

Day 0: kitchen

This is the kitchen this morning (I was going to wait until the kitchen was clean and tidy, and the shelf next to the microwave needs putting back…. but you might never get a photo if I wait until it’s perfect.)


You’d think we’d had a new kitchen fitted.

Close up of the drawers with their new shiny handles.

drawers smoothed, painted and sporting their new handles

drawers smoothed, painted and sporting their new handles

sticky fingers

The kitchen worktops feel permanently sticky. If you touch them nothing comes off on to your fingers but there’s this annoying tackiness. I think it’s probably down to a badly implemented combo of Danish oil and varnish. We had a new worktop fitted along one side, so that we could move the sink and fit a dishwasher, and we decided to sand off the surface of the old worktop and then oil them both. Hopefully this way they’ll match by the time we’ve finished. The old worktop obviously is ‘seasoned’ now, so there might be a slight difference in colour, but we’re giving it a go.

So over the long weekend me and my hangover (so unfair! I had all of two glasses of wine last night) got out the little mouse sander and went to work. If you want to do this here are the things I learnt.

  • Whatever it was coating the worktop, there was a lot of it and it clogged up the sandpaper really quickly. booyaa suggested using a stiff brush to get rid of the build-up. That worked a treat. The layers of gunk weren’t wearing the sandpaper sheets out, it was just clog.
  • My secondary school woodwork teacher sat on my shoulder and reminded my to sand with the grain for the entire duration of the task. So that was nice.
  • Use the mouse’s nose to get into corners. If you have a nose extension (apparently it’s called a ‘detail finger attachment’ but we all know it’s a nose extension) you might find that useful for going over edges and corners. You’ll work out for yourself that the way you hold the mouse affects the range of sanding, and the little nose might help you even things up.
  • You’re going to get very dusty. It’s quite noisy and not really the ideal hangover activity. I used a very lightly dampened cloth to wipe away some of the dust so I could see where I needed to go over. A hoover is also a handy ally.
  • Sand until there’s not a single bit of sheen left. If it’s shiny, your oil won’t take. Since you’re going to all this effort you might as well get the best surface you can.
  • I used loose sandpaper and a sanding block to finish off the last few bits.

Oiling. This is not as messy as you might think, but I do recommend you do this once you’ve tidied up after dinner and leave it to dry overnight. You’ll need three coats before you can start using your worktop with gay abandon. In between, put all your trays on the worktop and use them. We had one for the kettle and tea-making gear. Another next to the sink for the compost caddy and soaps. The last one was for dirty dishes which don’t go in the dishwasher. That will save your sanity.

I used a fairly cheap own-brand Danish oil. Danish oil is a mix of linseed oil and varnish, and it’s sometimes called ‘wiping varnish’, which is a very accurate description. It’s designed to protect the wooden worktop but without creating a solid coat which varnish would do. I’ve since read up on these things and apparently the Best Ever Worktop Oil is called Osmo Top Oil, so I’ll be swapping to that in future. Here are your steps and recommendations for using standard Danish oil.

  • Make sure the surface is clean and dry. Use a lint-free cloth to spread the oil over the surface of the worktop.
  • Work slowly, apply a thin, even coat. Once you get to the end go back and wipe any excess oil away. There wasn’t any excess in my case, so perhaps I was a little stingy.
  • Make sure you cover the edges of the worktop too.
  • Leave to dry overnight.
  • If the grain lifts then sand lightly before applying another coat the next day.
  • After three coats the wood should be waterproofed and protected. Leave the final coat for 24 hours then, if you want, you can buff the surface to a shine. I chose not to.

(I tried taking before and after photos but you don’t appreciate the difference in a photo. At least, not with my poor photographic skills.)

let there be light

At last, we have lights!

living room light fitting

living room light fitting

The living room light is from Habitat. It’s a plain black fabric shade with a copper lining, plus a replacement rose and cable (the existing light was an all-in-one) which is also black and copper. Looks a bit pants with the blue walls in here, but once we go dark grey I think it will be just perfect.

dining room light

dining room light

The dining room light is a trusty Ikea industrial style metal pendant. It’s huge. The cable is draped over a hook so that the light shines over the dining table. We’ll need a lamp or two in here, though, as the room is quite dark now that the main light is now low and off-centre.

pendant light shade at the top of the stairs

pendant light shade at the top of the stairs

The hallway pendant is one we bought five years ago. It was a treat. It was quite pricey, but we saw it in Heal’s in Kingston and both loved it. It matched the duck egg accessories in our bedroom at the time and, well, we splashed out. The duck egg doesn’t go so well with the colour of the bedroom walls here so we’ve decided to put this up at the top of the stairs where the patterns it casts make quite an impact.

Habitat light fitting is the Pendel in copper with the Grande shade.
The industrial style pendant from Ikea is called Foto and comes in various colours in the smaller size. We opted for the extra large one in dark grey here.

down and out in Paris and Colchester

We’ve become plongeurs. With no dishwasher for the first time in oh-so-many years we’re taking turns with the Marigolds to manage the pile of dirty dishes I magic out of thin air each day.

I love cooking for us, but it’s tempting to choose freezer-to-oven-to-table dishes so that we don’t have piles of utensils, pans and bulky casserole dishes to clean afterwards.

Light, though, at the end of the shift. Today we had a dishwasher installed. Since we’re making do with the kitchen as-is we also have to make do with a freestanding dishwasher. So I bought a black one, perhaps this can be Darth Maul (slender, matt) to accompany our Darth Vader (broad, shiny) fridge-freezer. A local plumber has a handy joiner-painter dad and between the two of them they moved the sink, pulled out one of the cupboards and plumbed in the dishwasher.

dark and moody dishwasher

dark and moody dishwasher

We swapped the stupid tap, too low to rinse a casserole dish under, for a super tall one. Shiny.

tall and shiny

tall and shiny

Next, Mr Joiner-Painter is going to paint the kitchen cupboards for us. This will help mask the bodged cupboard that’s become dishwasher space, and the unorthodox black appliances will blend in, too, since the lower cupboards are going to be dark grey.

Onwards and upwards.

Dishwasher is a slimline Beko DSFS1531B in black. I bought it from Next Domestic Appliances. They’d sold out of the one I wanted in John Lewis… I wouldn’t normally use anyone buy John Lewis for a substantial purchase but buying from Next turned out to be fine. Customer service and delivery process was easy and helpful.
Tap is a Ringskär in chrome finish, £80 from Ikea.
Fitting by Hughes Heating/Hughes Home Improvements, who are super friendly and helpful.

lost weekend

Lost to busy-ness, that is. Though we did manage a sneaky gaming session on Sunday night. But you don’t care about that, do you?

Saturday morning, what was left of it after we had our leisurely hot cross bun breakfast, was spent re-assembling our garden furniture and relocating a few things out of the big shed. One of booyaa’s work friends needs a new shed and the one left here by the previous owner is just too big for us, so that works out. We just need to do some rehoming. I finished painting the bathroom. In the afternoon/early evening we put up the library shelves (see previous post).

Today we also had a brief investigate of what lies beneath the carpet in the hall and dining room. More on that later. We ordered some fancy AV kit so we can shove the cable box and DVD player in the fitted cupboard in the corner of the living room and an infrared doobie to relay the commands from the remote control. That means the lovely AV unit can go next door. Not family pet “next door” but in the next room. It’s going to be set the challenge of being a sideboard in the dining room. It’s far too low and doesn’t have a great deal of storage space to be a sideboard, but it matches the cabinet which stores our plates and glasses and at some point I’ll get a glossy floating shelf to put above it and it will be fine. It will. *determined face*

On Sunday we planned to replace two light fittings (living room and dining room) but our crumbly plaster got the better of us. The fittings just wouldn’t stay put, so we ended up polyfilla-ing as best we could and we’ll try again once that’s set.

Our arty light fitting.

Our arty light fitting.

We put up the towel rail and loo roll holder in the bathroom. Still to do: put up the blind (again, a fail today because the plaster crumbled) and put up the mirror. The fixings are currently MIA so that will have to wait a short while.

I’m not as good as painting straight lines as I used to be. Have invested in blue masking tape.
Walking up and down steep stairs all weekend makes you achey.
120-year old ceiling plaster crumbles as soon as you look at it.

* Internet-speak. Short for “Things I Learned” or “Today I Learned”

white lines (don’t do it)

We’re in the bathroom again.

The grouting between the tiles is an off-white shade. At least, where it isn’t dank and in need of some good old-fashioned bleach, that is.

I can’t bear dank bathrooms. Ours is really uninspiring in the mornings. What with me still faffing over the paint colour and the tester pot blotches of every colour on the wall, well, it’s not the best place for your wake-up shower. So, it’s time to see how well this girl scrubs up.


I washed all the tiles and the grout with bleachy water and let them dry. Then I used Unibond Grout Reviver in Ice White to touch up the grouting. The grout whitener comes in a tube with a sponge applicator, much like the white stuff you used to put on your tennis shoes all those years ago. It’s quite a task to rub the sponge over every line of grout over a wall and a half of tiling, but I put on the radio and listened to Iggy Pop on 6 Music and that kept me focused.

The instructions for the product suggest you leave it to dry for 30 mins before wiping off the excess with a damp cloth. Don’t make me laugh. If you leave it for 30 minutes you need to get a scourer and scrub every single tile. Which is what I did…

I also decided that it needed two coats. Some lines were super white straight away, but others looked a bit cleaner, not white.

bathroom after

The finished look is a vast improvement. The slight grey cast to the tiles seems to have gone since they’re no longer sitting alongside yellowing grout. You can still see where some grout lines are whiter than the others, but it’s still better than before.

My tips:

  • If you have yellowing grout just one light coat of grout reviver will knock back the yellow.
  • If you have frankly manky grout try a good scrub with a bleachy toothbrush then use two coats of the reviver to get your grout sparkling white.
  • Keep your application very even or you’ll end up with bright white blotches here and there, and you’ll have to touch up.
  • Wipe down the tiles within just a few minutes of application using a cloth and a flat hand to take the excess off the tiles but hopefully skim over the grout in between.
  • If like me you end up with dried white stuff all over your tiles use a window scraper to get the worst off and a green kitchen scourer to tidy up the rest.

If I were to do this again I think I’d go for the grout reviver pen, which is a more expensive option (you get less product for your money) but faster. You draw over the grout lines and don’t have to clean up the excess afterwards.

The bathroom is starting to come together. We’re missing a blind and some accessories but we’ll get that done once we’ve painted. What? No. No, I haven’t decided on a paint colour yet.


First change! Within days of moving in we noticed that the fanlight above the front door can be very distracting when you’re sitting in the living room. Although the living room layout will likely change, so it might not always be an issue, we decided to add some privacy film to make it less distracty.

I chose a design with a number eight on a transparent circle, and the rest of the fanlight is etched-look. It looks great, was easy to put up and does stop the play of the light, reflections, birds, whatever it was  that was catching our eye.

We bought this from I’ve used before (I had their lovely “Kiss the cook” on the kitchen window which looked out over a path shared with next door) but this one turned out a little cheaper. I’d recommend either company, it’s mostly about finding the right design for you.

I also put the zinc flower troughs, which used to hang off the railings in our courtyard, onto the front window ledge. The geraniums have been little troopers all winter and are still putting on a good show. The vivid blue anemones have come out to join them and look very pretty bobbing their heads in the breeze.

So we look a tiny bit different from the outside now.