Dealing with Damp

We have had an ongoing issue with  damp in our study near the roof level around the chimney which has been a low level annoyance for about a year and a half now. In investigating the potential cause, we discovered that our shared rear chimney was in a pretty sorry state in terms of one particular area of lead flashing around the base which was missed in an earlier inspection back in June 2016, the brick pointing, the bricks themselves (some of which were split), and some areas of the parapet capping (which you can see here).  While rectifying these issues, we ended up rebuilding the whole chimney and reducing it in height (as many had already done on our street) to minimise future risk of collapse (they were all built just a bit too high!).

As a belt and braces approach, we also added chimney caps to all pots (our neighbours kindly agreed to let us put temporary caps on theirs as they aren’t using their rear fireplaces at the moment), and also added in a pair of cast iron air bricks in our 2 flues to allow for some air movement (which I bought from ebay here as they have lots of fancy Victorian patterns!), so if any moisture got in, it could dry out. We couldn’t obviously put air bricks in our two neighbour’s flues as then our house would fill up with smoke if they every used their fireplaces – but as their flues are still open internally – there would still be the opportunity for air movement in all 4 flues.

Well… unfortunately, despite roughly 11 coats of paint being applied over the course of a year and a half, including the initial base coat and 3 top coats to provide sufficient coverage over the existing masonry,  two different brands of stainblock paint, and more top coats in between, we still seem to have some discolouration at high level. It doesn’t look like mould luckily… but we are stumped!

We’ve recently had a desk top and shelf built in as part of the nursery/study/ guest room swap around (pics later once we eventually get around to painting them!), and the carpenter who helped us out recommended this Zinsser BullsEye 1-2-3-Primer. Apparently in the building industry it is the go-to solution – so we are giving this one last chance.  If this fails, then we’ll call the builder back who did the chimney re-build to see if perhaps a bit of flashing has fallen loose… ooof.

I’m not suggesting this stain block will solve all your damp issues – its always best to find the source of the problem (not always so easy as moisture can track for quite a distance before manifesting) – but apparently this is the best stuff for dealing with the aftermath of staining that keeps grinning through.




Nursery – Material Board

As most of you know, Alex and I are expecting a new little family member to join us in about 2 weeks time.  So, with that in mind, we needed to make a few adjustments to our current room arrangement. We’ve been told by our good friends Claire and Sam (whose beautiful home in Manchester you may remember here) that when you have a baby you should psychologically prepare for your room plan and sleeping locations to all change… but for now, this is what we are doing:

  •  The guest room will remain as a spare bedroom (for the time being) so that our family can come and visit, and so that when Alex goes back to work he has somewhere where he might be able to get a full night’s sleep.
  • We will add a small desk in guest room in the niche beside the fireplace to serve as our ‘study corner’ and a place for our computer.
  • Our study will be turned into the nursery

The above material board is our aspiration and plan for the nursery:

  • Leander Cot – Sold to us second hand by some friends of friends. This white washed birch plywood cot is a classic ‘architect’s’ choice, and can adapt and extend into a junior bed to suit the child up to the age of 5.  More details here. You can buy them second hand on ebay for half the price, and then get a new mattress.
  • White-washed floorboards – Already done as you can see in progress here and finished here.
  • Black and white rug – As we don’t  know whether we are having a girl or a boy, (and also because I’m an architect, so the nursery was never going to be pink or blue anyway), we thought we’d keep the rug we only just bought this year for the study and go for a gender neutral ‘Black, White and Whitewashed Wood‘ theme.
  • IKEA Nordli drawer units – As children’s rooms need to change frequently to accommodate their changing needs over time (bigger beds, desks etc.) we didn’t want to spend a fortune on storage that may not be suitable later. The Nordli range is great as you can group units in many different configurations. So with two new £20 tops and plinths, a 3 unit chest of drawers can be broken apart into 2 smaller units. Plus I didn’t really like their children’s STUVA equivalent range, which is a lot less adaptable.  Our space saving IKEA hack is that we intend to use the top of this low chest of drawers as a changing table!
  • IKEA Mosslander picture ledge – Used as book shelves for outward facing books. I can’t take credit for this super cute IKEA hack (its all over Pinterest and the internet), but I really love the idea of these bargain £4.95 picture shelves being used as book shelves.
  • Hanging clothes rod – Most of the baby clothes will go into the Nordli drawer units, but some are just too cute to hide away. I thought I could also hang other bits and pieces from a rod too, which I intend to hang from our exposed rafters.
  • Swan Mobile – White and elegant… I couldn’t resist buying one of these inexpensive paper mobiles from Trouva for £13.95.
  • Black with white crosses fabric – I love this fabric from Robert Kauffman (£6.31/lm), which you can buy here on Etsy. I’m thinking it would be perfect for black out blinds.
  • White Eames rocking chair –  A design classic, and one of those ubiquitous luxury nursery items.  Certainly an ‘aspiration’, rather than a necessity!
  • Penguin Print – The Etsy store TinyKiwi sells inexpensive prints of all sorts of animals in this minimal geometric style. I can’t decide!
  • Picture frames – IKEA sells both the HOVSTA and the BREDARYD picture frame ranges in light toned wood for low prices.

Curtain Rail Solved

In recent posts, I have vaguely alluded to the fact that despite quite a lot of research into DIY bay window curtain poles,  our final installation of the new pole in our front living room was less than satisfactory.

In fact, to be perfectly honest, it was so frustrating to open and close the curtains that I couldn’t bring myself to do it on a daily basis and would just leave the curtains open, or leave Alex to the task. (He has significantly more patience than me!).

The main issue was that the passing hooks just frankly didn’t work. Its a nice idea in principle, but the hooks would constantly catch on the support brackets or the segmented corners, requiring significant jiggling and yanking to get the curtains to open and close.  We even tried different curtain hook positions to see if that would alleviate the issue by shifting the position of the passing hook gap, but to no avail.

It was time to take radical action. Life is just too short to be irritated by something that you do every day!

I spoke again to the professionals at John Lewis (who unfortunately recommended the DIY curtain poles in the first place) to arrange for someone to come and measure up for a custom made curtain pole without the segmented corners and less brackets. After speaking with the installer (who I think must be an independent body who is employed by John Lewis), I learnt that a ceiling hung Silent Gliss curtain track  was really the way to go.  He commented that the curtain pole systems are ‘entirely rubbish’ and he doesn’t know why John Lewis even stock them! I had resisted this approach initially as I felt it might look too contemporary for the room, but was at my wits end.

For what turned out to be only slightly more cost than the curtain pole system, John Lewis measured up our bay window, made a custom bent curtain track to fit perfectly and installed the system. We had to wait 3 weeks for an installation slot – but after just 1.5 hours the job was done.

And… now our curtains slide open and closed effortlessly and with ease and grace!

Well, lesson learned… and hopefully I can save you the trouble!

Now I just need to get the curtains re-hemmed, as being hung from the ceiling now, they are now too short!

P.S. The Silent Gliss track they installed for our heavy weight curtains was the Silent Gliss 1280 system.






Living Room Curtains – Another (longer than anticipated) side diversion

For three and a half years we have been ‘making do’ in our living room with our previous owner’s too short but delightfully Christmas themed red and gold ‘Winter Curtains‘, and their equally too short white and green pattered ‘Summer Curtains‘. (I think you’ve probably really ‘made it’ when you have both summer and winter curtains… see the ones our previous owner’s kindly left us here).

I have endured countless (friendly) sarcastic comments from my dearest friends, about the state of our curtains, so when the opportunity came to get a trade discount on some fabric, I decided it was time to address the matter head on.

But first a bit of the back story about why it has taken so long…

In the first few years of living here, I wavered back and forth on the idea of solid shutters.  (I’m sure I have mentioned how much I loved the built-in Georgian shutters in my old flat).  However,  after much research and finally some firm consultation with the shutter professionals at the amazingly named ‘Shutterly Fabulous‘ when we got our guest room shutters installed – I came to accept that retrofitted solid shutters just don’t really work in a bay window.  The issue is that unlike louvered plantation style shutters that stay closed all the time – you need to open and close solid shutters on a daily basis. (Regular daylight is generally quite a nice thing after all). Retrofitted shutters alas typically have no where to stack, and so although shutters for the two side windows can fold back neatly onto the adjacent wall (if there is enough space, in our case there wasn’t) – the central window pane shutters would need to stick out perpendicular to the wall when open – not exactly the look we were after.

The only other alternative that I have seen to overcome this frustrating issue is demonstrated in the cafe of the South London Gallery nearby. Instead of fixed hinged shutters, they have a series of solid panels that every day one manually slides onto little ‘shelves’ in front of each window. (They are stopped from falling from the top by a timber angle fixed to the top of the windows).  When I ran the idea by Alex he just laughed.  (I rely on him to bring me back to the practicality of daily living when I get these hair-brained ideas!) In fairness, the idea of in essence boarding up a window with 6 panels of wood every evening is ok if you are paying a waitress to do it at the end of her shift,  but not ideal if its your own house. That would get boring pretty quickly!

So, I parked the shutter idea, and kept my eyes open for curtains and bay window treatments wherever I went, keeping the problem rolling around in my subconscious.

Well,  I was at a friend’s home (with a bay window) for our book club dinner last December and lo and behold – a solution presented itself.  My friend had fantastic dark grey felt curtains that looked not only warm and cosy, but also very contemporary and stylish.  My bay window problem was solved.

But I was supposed to be in the middle of our master bedroom refurbishment! So I put the curtain solution on hold… for a little while.

In January, the opportunity arose to get a trade discount on some lovely grey wool felt from Kvadrat. I needed to act.  In a somewhat spontaneous decision, I ordered the same light grey fabric I got my Hay About a Lounge Chair upholstered in.   Generally I don’t like to be so matchy-matchy – but once I got the idea of light grey wool curtains into my head, nothing else seemed right. The light grey isn’t so overbearing, looks good with the dark blue walls, and if I ever change colour scheme, light grey goes with pretty much anything.

The fabric was ordered… but that is just the beginning of the story…



Radiator Valves

As a side diversion from pink plaster coloured wall photos, I thought I’d show you the radiator valves we ended up buying for our Victorian Radiators.

You may remember that 2 years ago we purchased some gunmetal grey non-thermostatic for our ground floor hallway radiators (refresh your memory here if you are really bored/ interested).   We opted for these ones because not only were they economical and aesthetically simple, but because we didn’t feel we would need to be adjusting the temperature on those radiators at all. As they were hallway radiators they would either be on, or off, as instructed by our Nest thermostat . It was generally always on the cold side in our single glazed Victorian terrace so we’d have only ever used them on ‘max’.  Having had the radiators installed now for 2 winters, we haven’t regretted our choice to forgo that finer level of temperature control. We have never felt the desire to turn the hallway radiators off completely either while the rest of the system is on (as we have done in the guest bedroom to save energy) as we always use the space.

In our master bedroom however, we like to sleep in slightly cooler temperatures than the rest of the house, so we did want to be able to turn them radiators down, or off.

So, having conveniently done the research previously, we splurged on the Bently radiator valves in black nickle. Two years on, the Cast Iron Radiator Centre, was still the best deal on the internet to get them from.



Plastering in Master Bedroom Complete!

After two days of work, the plastering in our master bedroom was complete. Luckily, (and I say ‘luckily’ because the weather over the weekend was a gorgeous sunny 23C), there wasn’t any progress we could make in the bedroom over the weekend as the plaster was still damp – so we could enjoy the warm weather instead.

I have planned most of our refurbishment projects over the winter months as it isn’t really too depressing to be stuck indoors working on DIY projects when it is grey, cold and rainy outside. Refurbishing a simple bedroom really shouldn’t take this long, but things slipped this year because of The Unexpected Chimney Re-build Diversion and having to spend more of my free time than anticipated sorting out the scaffold agreement with our neighbours at the bottom of our garden earlier this year.  (Now up, and not affecting our garden as much as expected, so that’s good news!)

In any case, things are coming together nicely now and once the walls have dried out completely we will paint and get the plumber in to adjust the radiator pipework so that our two salvaged Victorian radiators can be installed beneath the windows.  I have arranged for the plumber we used previously to come in this week to quote for the works, so with any luck we will be able to get him lined up to come in after the Easter weekend.