Architectural drawings: and a historical find! Tuesday, Aug 31 2010 

Recycled print roomI’ve long been a fan of using architectural drawings to furnish a room.  I love their geometric and graphic quality.  I love the fact that they go with any colour scheme (being entirely neutral).  I love their almost scientific quality.

recycled plans

So when I came across a load in an auction this weekend, crumbling at the edges and beginning to yellow with age, I snapped them up!

recycled architectural drawing

I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with them yet but I do have several ideas:

1. the obvious: frame them and hang them.

2. less obvious: embed one into a table-top, well varnished or glazed for protection

3. possibly a bit crazy (and therefore most likely) incorporate one into a faux finish on a wall so it appears to be revealed beneath crumbling plaster.

antique drawing

One or two of them have dates on which are ’15’ and ’16’.  At first I thought that’s 1915, not 1815…  But actually, World War One was raging exactly at that point and I’m not sure that young men (obviously not young ladies in those days) were off in Malta and Italy drawing architecture.

signature and date

It was indeed a century earlier that the Palladian style (which these drawings represent) was in high fashion, and it was in that period that the ‘Grand Tour’ was in vogue – and everyone who was anyone (or at least, who could afford it) popped off to Europe to draw a few churches.

So maybe these are two hundred years old?

doesn't cost the earth antique drawing

They are all from Europe – the one below is the church from Montepulciano – an absolutely divine Tuscan village.

Montepulciano church

On an old brick wall the simplicity of these prints really stands out.  (in this case you get it complete with your own vintage architect Peter Trapolin)

But they look equally fab in a sleek modern interior

Watch this space for where my new acquisitions end up!


Inspirations from Abroad: embroidery, beading and textiles Monday, Aug 30 2010 

doesnt cost the earth velvet cushion

I would have really struggled had I been born a century or so ago – the thought of endless evenings of embroidery and needlework fill me with the immediate and urgent need to go for a long run.  I do, however, covet the output of all this painstaking labour.

A few carefully selected textiles can make a world of difference to a room, particularly antique or vintage fabrics, and those with texture.  So much is written about colour for interiors, and yet for me, the lack of texture can render a space totally flat.

The exquisite bedspread below is several hundred years old.  What dreams must have been dreamed here?  What plans hatched and what sorrows wept into the pillows?

Antique embroidered bedspread

Antique textiles

I love using touches of this forgotten world to soften the edges of our technological age. 

Samarkand embroidered recycled cushions

These exquisite cushions are made from pieces of embroidery from Samarkand – that ancient and mysterious city.  They would look beautiful in so many contemporary homes and summon memories of times long past.  The saddle cloth below is lavished with gold thread: its workmanship and intricacy are breathtaking.

Antique embroidered saddle cloth

So how to work these into today’s homes?  The most obvious and easy way is through cushions – a little bit of texture is easily added that way.  In addition, you can hunt out your own exquisite pieces while you travel and then make them up when you get back.

Fabric can look great on walls and I have successfully framed pieces of textile before.  This is cut from an antique Indian sari, embellished with beads and metallic gold thread.  It looks magnificent in almost any room.  Make sure you find a good framer who is prepared to stretch the fabric evenly and preserve the embroidered pattern.

framed recycled sari

Alternatively, you can scour antique shops and auctions for old tapestries: straight away you can be transported to European castles, hunting parties and fairy tales…  The older ones are much more desirable as they are dyed with vegetable colours, meaning the palette is much softer.

recycled tapestry

Tapestries, when hung on the wall, also perform an important acoustic function.  I find that today’s homes are often designed with hard floors and surfaces, so that sound bounces in a very aggravating way.  It can sound as though you are in a gallery, not a comfortable home.  Tapestries absorb the noise wonderfully and soften all those echoes and clatters.

sequinned cushion

For an injection of high-octane glamour, this sequined cushion is hard to beat.  It is actually from Zara Home, but in Australia, Country Road has an almost identical one, unfortunately at three times the price.  However – you don’t need an airfare…

I have also used the trim from vintage saris to edge blinds:

Antique sari trim

You can see more on this older post:

I do have some more sari trim that I’m just waiting for the perfect project….  The Indians are so fabulously talented with their embroidery and fabrics.

Antique sari trim

Other fertile hunting grounds in Asia include Japan: an Obi can make a fabulous border for a blind or curtains.  They are so long that they can also be hung either side of a doorway to give it focus and zing.  Here is one that I’m just dying to use – cream and black woven into a coral-red.

Recycled Japanese Obi

You can find pieces all over Asia: small fragments or even whole coats and kimonos that can be hung or framed.  You might have linens passed through the family that are sitting in a drawer.  Don’t let them rot unseen!  Frame them or include them in a cushion so that you can enjoy them every day.

Otherwise, you can buy fabrics that look as though they have provenance.  I’m a sucker for silk velvet, with softness and amazing lustre.  Some fabric houses are now also producing intricate textiles with the patina of age.

recycled silk velvet

What ever it is that you love and treasure – make sure you inject some of it into your home.

Colour wash wall: before and after Wednesday, Aug 25 2010 

Phew – a major disaster (not quite the BP oil spill, more like the SoB paint spill), and a little while later, it’s done!

Colourwash dining room after

I’ve got just the mottled, aged effect I was after, although I had to resort to unorthodox methods (what’s new?).  The colour wash (which you paint on, and then blot off with a muslin rag) didn’t quite give the drama I was after.  So I made a much deeper colour up and rubbed it into the corners and edges that would get aged.  I polished it on with fabric, spreading out the paint as thinly as possible until it was the barest glaze.  I had to spray water on the lower bits of the wall so I could blend it in more easily.

Faux paint effects

I love the way it looks dark and moody without it actually making the room dark.  Admittedly, I felt pretty dark and moody myself when I spilled all that paint (see previous post), but I’m back to feeling light and sunny again now this is coming out so well.

Just a reminder of what it looked like before….

Dining room before

But we’re not done yet.  There is still the panelling below, not to mention, some fabulous finishing touches.  Gosh – doesn’t it look DEAD before!  How did I live with it??!!

Hmmm…. just had another thought.  The plane arrives tomorrow night.  Hope the ‘man’ doesn’t mind…..

Colourwashing: how to; and a misplaced step results in disaster Tuesday, Aug 24 2010 


I really like the antiqued look that colourwashing a wall can give.  I must admit, I don’t always like the decor that is then added, but the effect itself can be gorgeous.

Lusterstone and Metallic blue wash

So I’ve decided (while the ‘man’ isn’t here to either see (tee hee) or to live through the mess) to have a go…!!

test patch colour wash

I did a test patch of colour wash to see how it went.  I’m not sure if you can see from this photo?  it’s kind of cloudy, shadowy – not flat.  Which is the look I’m hoping for.

So now, I’ve masked everything, covered all surfaces (cos its going to get v messy) and am mixing up the colour I want –  a soft grey, not too blue.  In the photo below I’m exactly half way across the wall – you do have to look carefully, but you can see a vertical line where the left hand side looks more ‘dirty’ and cloudy, and the right hand side looks very flat.

half distressed wall

I think it’s best if the effect is subtle.  I’d already decided to do two coats so didn’t want too much drama in the first one.  You can’t see it too well, but it’s starting to look soft, aged, interesting, without being too obvious.

colour washed wall

After 24 hours drying time (so that the second coat doesn’t end up washing the first off), I was ready for coat number two.

Colour wash second coat

Now the photo shows the effect much better.  I really like the way that it makes the wall looked antiqued, although it’s really hard to get this to show in the photo.

Colourwashed distressed wall

If you’re thinking that it looks like the area from the little cupboard door and below hasn’t been done, you’re right.  I’m going to be putting fake wainscotting or batten and board over this bit!

Actually, I had a total disaster while I was doing this.  I was just congratulating myself on how well it was going, and stepped back to take a better look at the overall effect and my wonderful work…..  and trod in my paint tray.  Which split.  And a lake of paint wash rushed across the floor as my drop sheets became paint logged and overflowed.  And I lost all my carefully mixed and matched colour. 

I thought about sitting in the lake and crying (a la Alice in Wonderland).  But as there is noone to rescue me (the ‘man’ still being in India), I mopped up the paint, remixed a new batch, matching it carefully to the stains on the drop sheets (they had some use) and kept on going.  And now, I’m kind of OK.

I’m not happy yet though.  It’s going to need more thin glazes to get the look I want… I’ll get back to you!

Inspirations from abroad: pattern Sunday, Aug 22 2010 

I have very mixed feelings about pattern.  I mean, I don’t really have a lot of it in my house as I sometimes find it overwhelming.  And then I see those designer rooms enveloped in chintz: wallpaper, curtains, bedspread, everything!  And even though I don’t really like chintz, I think it looks amazing. 

But could I live with it?

It surprised me that one of the things I loved about some of the Spanish architecture I’ve seen recently, has been the pattern.  Much of this is Moorish in origin and originates from 700AD.

moorish pattern interiors

I love the absolute dreamy pearl colour of the plaster.  And for me, that means the pattern is uplifting rather than oppressing.

Some of the most magical of this is in plasterwork, and is without any additional colour.  The intricate designs are fabulously mesmerising as there is repetition and symmetry – but these are used in a way that intrigues the eye.  I love the little ‘puffs’ in the one above.

Some of these designs had arches built into them.  This utterly breathtaking design is over 1000 years old.  And yet how fabulous would it look even in one of today’s modern and spare interiors?

Doesn't cost the earth

Islam prohibits the representation of any living thing so none of these patterns can be figurative – which for me, makes them all the more amazing.   The stone pillar below is from a Mosque in Spain, built in 700.  The combination of geometrical patterns is crazy but beautiful.  (in fact, if you ever get the chance to go, this is the Mezquita in Cordoba which is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been in my life ).

stonework: recycling ideas

Sometimes the colour combinations are just gorgeous.  I wanted to put this pattern all over everywhere – I wanted to wear it, drape my house in it – even eat it!  The teal with the gold and taupe… the curves with the geometry.  The colours don’t jar at all and the gold swirls just look utterly joyous.

recycling ideas: moorish pattern

Even the floors were amazing – simple terracotta tiles had patterns of ceramics created within them.  I can imagine this in a conservatory today – with some beautiful blue and white pots to pick up the design.

organic ideas: moorish pattern

Sometimes words were incorporated into the design – these were usually religious words from the Koran – as in the border below.  I love the way that space is used in this one – the emptiness of the circle gives the mind pause and sets the carving into relief. I’d love to translate this into a wonderful wide border for curtains – maybe in slate grey on pale linen drapes.  I’m not sure my ceilings are high enough to cope though…

recycling ideas on pattern

Eventually, the Catholics reconquered Southern Spain – thankfully they didn’t destry the wonderful work of the Moors, but built alongside it.  Here is a gorgeous Spanish Catholic take on the moorish plasterwork.  This is from around 1400-1500 – but again has a modernity in its sparse use of colour.  If only I had a house grand enough for this….  Maybe a smaller version for cornices?

monochrome pattern

These ideas have been recycled repeatedly: Lord Leighton – who hung out with the pre-raphaelites at the end of the 19th century – was so taken with moorish designs that his house in London is a veritable feast of them.  He built a dome which he tiled with as many patterns as he could fit, all inspired by these ancient islamic ideas.

Pattern doesn't cost the earth

You can see on closer examination how they must have inspired even the great William Morris:

London tiles inspired by Islam

Here figurative elements join with the geometrical.  I just love the crazy cobalt blue grapes.  The whole effect of the dome is dramatic and moody and utterly incongruous for a London house.  It just goes to show that you can do in your own home whatever you damn well please!

A moorish interior in London

How to: strip wood or furniture Friday, Aug 20 2010 

It’s hard to remember that twenty years ago I couldn’t even put up a shelf.  The very first house I bought in my twenties I decided to paint the pine doors.  And as I didn’t know about primer and undercoats, seven coats of enamel later I wondered what the problem was.  I laugh when I think of this!  How much water (and paint) has gone under the bridge since then…

I used to really hate ‘prep work’ – I always want to just get on and finish a job so I can see the wonderful transformation I’m so excited about.  I’ve learned through mistakes and trial and error that if you put in some work at the beginning, the outcome really is so much better.  And believe me, I’m always sceptical about this – I’m Mrs Shortcut herself.

So when I recently acquired a table where the top has been wrecked by stripping it the wrong way, I thought I’d mention it.  This antique table has lost its patina and character.  The chap I picked it up from had attacked it with a belt sander, and sanded off all the paint (imagine the dust!) and all the character…  In fact, he was selling it as he didn’t know how to get the paint off the carving.  At least he hadn’t sanded this off too…

how not to strip woodInstead, paint stripper or a heat gun are the tools you need.  Paint stripper is most commonly used.  It’s evil stuff – get it on your skin and it burns.  Get it on anything you value – oh dear.  Basically, you paint it on thickly, wait until it bubbles (or at least the surface below bubbles) and then scrape it off.  If the piece is carved, it’s harder work.  But done well, all of the patina will be preserved.

Below, you can see some detailed carving half way through being stripped with paint stripper.

half stripped furniture

See how all the lovely patina is preserved?  In fact, often you get such a nice result that you could just leave it (if that’s your taste).  Many an antique shop does exactly that.

A heat gun is better for thick paint – I’ve used it on an old mantelpiece where it lifted the old layers of paint and varnish in a deliciously satisfying peel.  In fact, I got quite addicted to this and was sorry to finish the mantle!  With this, you just have to be careful not to hold it too long in one place and burn the wood.

stripped mantlepiece

Even though I was going to paint this white, the old paint was coming off in chunks, so it had to be stripped. I actually like the way it looks, but I needed to build it in with other wood that would never have matched, so I had to paint it.  In addition, the decorative corbels are plaster, so I would not be able to get them to match the wood.

Sustainable interiors

Dining table: from revolting to quite nice actually Thursday, Aug 19 2010 

The ‘man’ is in India for ten days, and I did say to him, that if he wanted to know how I was (or how his home was looking) to check my blog.  Poor chap – every time he goes away he comes back to a completely different look.  I think I go slightly manic without his calming influence.  Plus there is no reason to wind down at night so I get through a crazy amount of transformation…

Dining table before

This sad little patient came from eBay.  See the following post to see why (together with some notes on how not to sand the bejeezus out of a beautiful old table top).

The top has been sanded into the next millennium (and boy that’s a long way off) and the base was one of the most ghastly shades of green – a kind of dirty avocado.  It just looked drab.  But it had good bones, some nice carving round the edges and a sturdiness that I like.  It also doesn’t have any legs on which to bang your knees (or snag your expensive stockings).

unstripped table edge

So it had everything I love – potential with some sad injury.  Time for some TLC.

First I stripped the edges with the carving (see next post on how to do this) – I did this as I was worried that if I painted over it again, it would be lost, as the layers of paint gradually filled in the beautiful detailing.

Then I started with gesso on the top.  This is the first time I’ve used this and supposedly it’s good for priming and filling wood surfaces simultaneously (artists use it to prime their canvases).  Plus it’s completely non-toxic.

The first coat of gesso on recycled table

Every time I put on a layer, I allowed it to dry (another benefit of gesso – only about 40 minutes), sanded it back and applied another.

gesso first coat

I wish I could do time-lapse photography here – but you get the idea…

second coat gesso

third coat gesso

And eventually I got round to painting the thing!  The paint is still wet here.

wet paint on table

After the first coat of paint I had hope – it was going to look stunning.  In the end it took three coats to cover up the green paint.

Dining table doesnt cost the earth

Originally I was going to inscribe words around the edge of the top.  I do like elegant script:


Maybe words to provoke interesting conversations around the table…  But at the moment the sheer pure white is energising and uplifting.  So I may live with that for a little first.

recycled dining table after

I had been wondering about emphasising the carving by rubbing a slightly darker shade into it, so it catches in the grooves and brings up the relief.  But I’m not sure it needs it?

Carved edge of table

I think it’s looking rather smashing as it is.

Sorry the final photos aren’t yet ultra glam – but the whole room is still undergoing its transformation.  I’m hoping to try the paint wash on the wall behind this weekend…

Dining table after

What’s hot now in paint finishes? Tuesday, Aug 17 2010 

I’m always dreaming of houses that I can’t afford, of castles with thick stone walls, or tuscan villas with fading ancient frescos…

And I guess this is what first drew me to paint finishes – it was a way of having a glimpse of those interiors that I could afford.  You can have a grand effect on a tiny budget – especially if you do it yourself.  In a day’s work you can have marble walls, sandstone cladding or a view that’s out of this world!  A few coats of paint can transform a tired old piece of furniture into something that looks as though it’s had a grand and great history….

mural bedroom

Paint finishes were huge in the 1980’s – remember all that dragging and sponging?   I still recall coveting a neighbour’s house where she had sponged the living room in yellows – something my ‘boring’ parents would never have done.     

Well, paint finishes are about to have a resurgence, but this time the look is far more sophisticated than the brashness of the 80’s. 

One of the most popular new looks is the linen wall.  This is a paint effect that mimics the effect of linen fabric, without all the hassle and expense of applying linen-covered panels to your walls.  Although, it has to be said, that this is so popular that in London and parts of the US that painters are charging a huge amount to apply this finish.

I love this look.  Well, I love linen, so I guess that follows.. 

The colours should be as subtle as the weft of linen cloth, and as natural and soothing.  It’s a triple-layer technique as the base colour must be painted first – usually the paler shade.  Then the first layer of glaze is dragged vertically and allowed to dry.  Finally a second layer is dragged horizontally.  The glaze should be a deeper shade of the base coat, but not too far off (or it will lack the subtlety that the look relies on for success).

doing linen paint effect

Time consuming, but, with the right tools (you need a good wide brush to get a pleasing effect through the glaze) most of us could have a reasonable go.  I just love this – it adds enough texture and interest to a wall without being overwhelming.  I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try this one yet.  Maybe I should do a small portion of a wall or an alcove to see if I can?

If you want to be sure that this is coming back into fashion…  Even Gwyneth Paltrow has a paint finish in her new apartment  – is this spectacular or what??  Silvery trees lining an otherwise featureless corridor – what opulence.  It would be like walking through a fairytale corridor to go to bed. 


Speaking of paint finishes, I met the most wonderful and talented person last week – Mayriel Luke.  She has her own business painting murals and wall finishes that are just spectacular.  She does work all around the world – for the immensely wealthy, for the imaginative, and for large hotels and casinos.

antique finish

This stunning antique finish is the result of over twenty years experience – what a luscious look.  It would add such provenance and importance to the most mundane of walls or furniture.  This is a great way of transforming something that you’re a little tired of… and making it look as though it came from a really expensive antique shop.

Some of her work features in public spaces so you can actually go and look.  The fabulously exotic mural below is in the Observatory Hotel in Sydney.

Observatory Hotel mural

She can take techniques that might seem a little 1980’s, such as stencilling – and re-energise it with the same elegance and beauty it had when used over 100 years ago – but with a modern twist.  The ceiling below is a great example.

ceiling stencilled

You can see more of her work on her website here.

She has some really simple effects that just add depth to walls – beautiful washes and stippling.  I’m so inspired – I’m going to have to have a go at my dining room….

I really want to do a moody wash to create an atmosphere for dining and parties.  Watch this space for how it turns out!

Grain sack pillows – that don’t cost the earth Monday, Aug 16 2010 

I’ve become rather smitten with the current fashion for grain sack cushions.   They have the wonderful combination of looking vintage but not fussy, recycled but not tired.

recycled grainbag

I don’t know whether I catch on late to these trends, but let me tell you, these grain sacks are not to be had for love nor money.  Actually, that’s not strictly true – you can get them for money – but now it’s an awful lot of money!  Plus, of course, these things don’t exist in Australia, so there is shipping from Romania (where there still seem to be some left).  Or canny dealers will sell you some from France but at an exhorbitant price.

So, as usual, I put my thinking cap on and decided I was going to have one, but one that didn’t cost the earth.

grain sack cushion that doesn't cost the earth

Turns out what DOES exist everywhere are hessian coffee bags.  Apparently coffee is still shipped around the world in old sacks.  I’m sure you can pick these up for free from friendly coffee shops or importers, but I got mine from Reverse Garbage (because I love their philosophy and want to support them, and because, in all honesty, it was easy – they had a huge number I could sort through).  They cost me the princely sum of $2 each…

You may remember the pile from a previous post?  (plus sleeping adorable cat)

Cat on recycled fabric

I picked a couple that I thought would make nice cushions.  I bought some natural linen to back them – I think that to back them with the hessian would look too rough.  I like the combination of rough with smooth, working fabric versus luxury.

how to make recycled grain sack cushions

I cut out the part of the design that I thought would look best on the front, and the popped a hidden zip in the back. 

recycled cushion backed with linen

I made one square with a lovely red circle in the middle.  And the other I just fell for the ‘Wombat Forest’ part.  Even though I’ve lived here 13 years I still can’t get over how cute wombats are, and ‘Wombat Forest’ – well it just doesn’t get better than that!

Yes I did wash them first.  I was quite nervous about how the print would behave as it doesn’t look that colour fast, so I washed them on cool.  I know I only spent $2 but I was still nervous!  I was already in love with them!

Organic wombat hessian pillow

It really doesn’t take that long to make cushion covers.  As with most things it was setting up the sewing machine etc and getting all my stuff together that took longest.

grain sack pillow doesnt cost the earth

I’m really happy with how they’ve come out.  I think they would look great in a kitchen seating area, or even in a luxurious sitting room to throw it a bit ‘off’.  They may not be the worn linen of the European ones, but hey, they didn’t cost the earth.  Have I persuaded you to have a go?

organic grain sack cushions

Coats of arms: I need one! Thursday, Aug 12 2010 

When did coats of arms fall out of fashion?  Once upon a time, anyone who was someone, had a beautiful family crest.  These were wonderful works of art with shields and unicorns, lions and crowns.  They were glamorous, ostentatious and deeply personal.

spanish coat of arms

I guess they were the forerunners of logos.  But I’m afraid that a family crest beats a logo for me any day!

ancient coats of arms

You could have them woven into tapestries, painted on your walls or your furniture, embroidered onto your cushions…. and they always make everything look magnificent.

tiled family crest

The wonderful design above, complete with the motto “Plus Ultre” is done in tiles (this means ‘go further beyond’).  Imagine having that on your kitchen splashback!  That would add a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to your Sunday roasts….

embroidered coat of arms

I wanted to steal this saddle cover from the museum and make it into cushion covers.  It’s almost impossible to source workmanship like this these days!  The texture and richness is stunning.  I love the lions rampant and the castles – it’s so romantic and yet so masculine.

coat of arms

Even in black a white – a coat of arms looks ravishing.  I would frame this or paint it onto an empty wall as a feature.  I’m even tempted to paint it onto the outside of my house.  Then maybe people will think someone important lives here!?

You could even devise your own – like the modern take below.

Coat of arms modern

Whatever style or colour your room is – a coat of arms will give it oomph!  I have the one below hanging in my hallway – it’s beautifully carved from wood.

shield and coat of arms

Even better – look up your ancestors and use one that actually belongs to your family….

final family crest

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