Now the ladies are acclimatised I’ve started to let them out into the garden. On their first outing I spent most of the time trying to keep them from transferring all of the soil from my raised flower beds to the path…On their second outing I managed to herd them up onto the lawn. When I checked on them a few hours later they were behind the summer house digging like their lives depended on it. Clearly they hadn’t realised that if they wanted to escape they could just walk down the drive and across the neighbouring fields. Getting them in this afternoon so I could go out proved to be a little challenging. The phrase ‘herding cats’ should really be replaced with ‘herding chickens’ I’m convinced it would be easier with cats. My former workmates would have laughed their socks off if they’d seen me chasing Agata across the garden when she tried to make a break for it, while shouting “go to the hen house” to the rest of them….20 minutes it took me. Thank god I only have 7 chickens. I keep telling myself the eggs will be worth it (possibly prize winning my exceptionally competitive side says….)
I may not be a natural chicken herder but I’m definitely happier since I started my new life in Cumbria. It was a year ago when I realised I wanted to do something different with my life. I just couldn’t work out what I wanted to do. My friends often complimented me on my homes but it was only after the third visitor to Holly Cottage suggested I consider designing homes for a living that I started to wonder if this was something I really could do. When I thought back it was always something I’d been passionate about. I used to drive my mum crazy reorganising my bedroom and begging for it to be decorated again. I bought my first house very young and decorated it myself, stripping floorboards and filling it with second hand furniture I’d salvaged from friends and relatives. This trend continued throughout my 20’s and 30’s, experimenting with different styles and designs. One of my favourite being the uber-modern apartment in Greenwich that came with 1000 sq. foot of roof terrace. I grew the most beautiful roof garden that lit up at night. I was devastated when we sold it and the buyer insisted I remove it before the sale completed. I cried when I came home to bare concrete 2 days before we moved out. I kept telling myself it was just a garden, but it wasn’t, it was a little slice of paradise 6 floors above the streets of London.
So after discussing it with Mr W I decided to explore the idea of a new career. I signed up for a Diploma in Interior Design that I could do remotely with the British Academy of Interior Design, and started two night school courses, one in upholstery and one in furniture restoration. Within a week I was hooked and realised I wanted to follow my passion. I continued to work on personal projects, and took some other courses at weekends; curtain making, furniture painting. I even signed up for a second term of upholstery and furniture restoration. I didn’t see myself becoming a full time upholsterer or restorer but I enjoyed learning the skills and it was great to meet people that had similar interests. The multitude of courses available is one of the things I loved about London.
It all came to a head when changes at work put me in a position where I had to make a choice. I knew it was time to move on and try something completely new, and although they didn’t want me to leave my boss and the management team were exceptionally supportive. I had worked there for 20 years and given it everything I had. I knew they recognised this but I still didn’t expect the amount of support I got. It was a very emotional last day and there were a few tears in the pub that night.
So here I am in Cumbria. When we bought Holly Cottage we decorated it as a second home, with cheap furniture and some basic upgrading. Now this was going to be my permanent residence and where Mr W would also retire to we decided to give it a proper make over. So that was to be my focus for the first few months, while I also finished my diploma. My plan being to set up the interior design business in the 2nd quarter of 2015.
That still is the plan and as you’ll have seen from my previous posts the renovations are keeping me busy. But anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn I’m also working on an idea for a new online retail business, and I have recently accepted my first interior design customer! I’ll be working for a friend and former colleague who is returning from Australia to the house she was letting out while she and her husband were out there. I haven’t seen the house yet, or heard what plans she has if any, I just know she wants a major overhaul and would like some help with creativity and project management. I’m excited and dying to get started. Unfortunately for my builders it means extra pressure on them to get my work completed. I’m an extremely “efficient” project manager when there are no time pressures, so god help them now…..
Living and working in London made it pretty easy to visit the west end and catch a show. I often went mid-week with friends, buying the cheap tickets if we weren’t sure how good it would be. I’ll watch most things for under £20 if the company’s good! Living in West Cumbria I now have a different style of show on offer and they typically only run for the summer season. This week I attended two; the Keswick show and Ennerdale show. OK so they weren’t preceded by cocktails and a pre-show dinner but they beat the west end hands down for variety. It seems you can enter just about anything in these shows to try for a prize; cattle, sheep, poultry, dogs, pets, eggs, vegetables, fruit, plants, flower arrangements, cakes, biscuits….the list is endless. One lady who shall remain nameless seemed to have an entry in just about every category at the Keswick show. They both had exhibitions of vintage cars and vintage agricultural machinery and the Keswick show had a display of quad bikes that gave Mr W high expectations for Christmas. They also go all out on the entertainment. In Keswick I watched champion sheep shearer Peter claim 1st prize for manually shearing 3 sheep with the biggest sharpest looking shears I have ever seen. You can watch (or participate in!) cumberland wrestling. You can enter a fell run (running up and down very steep hills for those that are unfamiliar). You can also shop – with local farm produce, plants, arts and crafts all on offer. Not a bad way to while away a few hours for less than £10 entry (£7 Keswick and £5 Ennerdale).
There’s even something for interior design fanatics like me at these shows. At Keswick I met a very talented lady called Mel who is a traditional woodturner and produces beautiful lamps, tableware and other items in her workshop in Egremont. I bought one of her paraffin lamps as I really liked the combination of the old fashioned method with the modern design.
At the Ennerdale show I met another very talented lady, Vivienne Coleman. Vivienne is a professional artist who specialises in pencil drawings. Her drawings of sheep really caught my eye, and I will be ordering some of her work for my new staircase. You can see her work on her website http://www.pencil-drawing.co.uk, and she has a gallery on Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/vivienne-c/sets/72157625020434836/
I have one other show in my diary that I’ve been wanting to attend ever since I bought our place in Cumbria but haven’t been able too make so far. This one includes….wait for it….the world gurning championships! Visit http://www.egremontcrabfair.com if you’re not familiar with this particular sport and would like to see last years winner and runners up…..And maybe next year my chickens eggs will be good enough to beat the multi-talented lady from Keswick…
Beate is still with us so I’m starting to think she’s just more like her namesake (my friend Beate Schmitt) than I realised. Both ladies are smart, (chicken Beate was the first to find the water butt). Both like to avoid the crowds, (chicken Beate prefers the nesting box to the perch at night). Both enjoy a quiet moment, (chicken Beate sometimes like to stand quietly in the corner of the pen). Perhaps I have an uncanny knack to spot a chickens character traits early on. I wonder if there is a market for this unusual skill – Mrs W, chicken whisperer?
Turns out my chickens also provide great party entertainment as my weekend guests spent hours trying to outwit each other with new chicken names. The clear winners being Margaret Hatcher, Yolko Ono and Princess Lay-er.
We had fabulous weather for the BBQ yesterday and when the sun finally went down we lit the fire pit, the chimnea and the stove in the summer house so the festivities could continue in the garden until after midnight. The garden was one of the things that attracted me to Holly Cottage when we viewed it. But only because of the size and the views of the fells; thankfully I could see the potential, Mr W couldn’t. The former owners had made some disastrous design choices including rows of fruit bushes mid garden, a huge potato field in one corner which I think was once a compost heap, and randomly placed fences. They had also neglected some areas completely, leaving me with mounds of brambles and weeds to deal with. Every year for the last 4 years I have tackled a new area with the help of Alan my local landscaper, and the major re-modelling is now complete. I describe myself as an interior design fanatic, but perhaps I should drop the ‘interior’ as I don’t limit myself to the house. Rooms should be designed to be both beautiful and functional and the same principle applies to gardens. I have a particular fondness for incorporating unusual articles into my garden design. Currently these include a mangle, old pot manholes, and cable reels.
I completed a new project just in time for the party – a bar table made from an old oak whiskey barrel and a table top I salvaged from the local tip. (The guys at the tip recognise me now and let me take items that catch my eye). I sanded, aged and waxed the table top using a homemade oxidising solution and liming wax. I did the same with the barrel and then painted the iron hoops with black Hammerite. The result is a beautiful soft blue-grey finish that blends into its surroundings.
So I just need some bar stools to go with my new bar table. I have the bases, as I bought a set of 6 in a junk shop in Greenwich. I’m now on the hunt for the perfect seats. I’ve toyed with tractor seats and sanded tree stumps but I think I can do better than that. If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!
Apparently yes. This isn’t a bizarre experiment to see what I can get my ladies to eat, we just had some left over last night after dinner. I have replaced a house full of contractors with a house full of family and friends, with numbers increasing as the weekend goes on, reaching its peak on Sunday when we have our annual summer BBQ. An event we started in Leeds, continued in London and have now located to Cumbria. It usually starts around 2pm and finishes approx. 12 hours later when nobody can stand anymore – literally.
In the meantime I am a little concerned about Beate (white chicken number 2). She is displaying some of the symptoms Hyacinth had, i.e. standing around listlessly and not eating much. I am keeping a close eye on her, but I may need to report back to the supplier if we lose another girl as I could have an epidemic on my hands…..
The renovations are progressing nicely. Peter the magician from Back from Black Beam Renovations completed his work and the beams in our house now look like aged oak. Goodbye dark brown gloss paint. Hello beautiful beams. I wanted to share some before and after pictures so you can see for yourself. The cost of the work was approx. £4000 including VAT which included the beams in 5 rooms, plus the stairs and landing. It took Peter 3.5 days, and he worked with me to get the colour finish I wanted. I am a very satisfied customer.
In addition to being a magician turns out Peter is also a sculptor and showed me photographs of some of the metal pieces he has made. I will share when he sends me them. Very talented. He explained that he often works with a weathering steel known under the trademark COR-TEN steel. This metal naturally weathers into a beautiful bright orange rust colour, which he then seals with a rust inhibitor called Owatrol oil to maintain the finish. I plan to finish my newly landscaped front garden with arched trellis between the raised beds, and love the rusty look so will be looking out for a blacksmith that can work with these materials. I’ll let you know how it pans out.
In the meantime please pray for Beate…..and the weather, a BBQ is a lot less fun in the rain.
This week I’ve been spending a lot of time with Peter, Barry, Mike, Kurtis and Steve. Kevin was here last week and returns in the morning. No I’m not cheating on Mr W its just that unfortunately female contractors are virtually unheard of, particularly in Cumbria, and we have a lot of work being done on the house to transform it from holiday home to permanent residence. In my former life I have been a project manager but its been a while since I produced a Gantt chart. With this many plates spinning I’m starting to think I might need one.
The main job to finish tomorrow is being undertaken by Peter from Back from Black Beam Renovation. The house is full of exposed beams, many of them original. However, one of the former owners decided to paint them all with gloss paint…..I know, they should be hunted down and shot. Having had the original red sandstone fireplace grit blasted a few years ago when we discovered it behind a plaster board wall (I know, another crime someone should be held accountable for), I have experienced the mess this creates and couldn’t face it again. So I tried to pretend the beams weren’t irritating the hell out of me, until one day I stumbled across an ad for Back from Black in an interior design magazine. The pictures and case studies on their website were impressive but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they managed to create what appeared to be beautifully restored beams without any chemical stripping or sandblasting. After speaking with them I was none the wiser. They explain the process, but how it works is a closely guarded secret. Despite this I decided to give it a shot, on the basis the beams couldn’t look any worse. So Peter the magician has been here all week and has been steadily working his way through the house. It really is quite fascinating to see the transformation. I’ll share the before and after pictures tomorrow.
If it wasn’t enough to have a house full of contractors I also had a friend and her two children stay for a few days this week. Being the good host I had a list of suggestions to keep the children (aged 11 and 13) entertained. When I suggested Go Ape, the outdoor ‘tree top adventure’ I stupidly hadn’t done my homework. Turns out children must be accompanied by an adult and there was no way my friend was climbing any trees so I got roped in, literally. 2 hours of hauling myself across rope bridges, climbing up nets, balancing on wire cables and planks of wood 30 feet in the air and hurtling down zip lines, all while trying to overcome my fear of heights was not my idea of fun. Mr W though it was hysterical when I complained to him last night that my hands hurt like hell. Turns out I can’t support my own body weight with my arms, not for long anyway. My former employees would laugh their socks off if they knew that ‘their tough as nails boss’ had to be coaxed along a rope bridge by two small children while trembling and close to tears…..oh how my life is changing.
Now that I no longer have a city salary I need to be a little less frivolous, if only to keep myself in Bobby Brown eye cream. I will continue to support my local charity shops with donations and purchases but as I clear our house of unwanted goods my first thought should be whether I can sell them. Following the success at the auction I decided to give a car boot a go this morning. I spent Saturday rounding up as much random paraphernalia as I could. Nothing was ruled out. I then packed it all in the car on Saturday night to save time on Sunday morning. The gates of my local car boot opens to stall holders at 6am so I wanted to get their early to get a good pitch. Mr W kindly offered to come with me to set up, so at 5.30am this morning we both dragged ourselves out of bed and set off. It was a bit of a free for all when I got there but I managed to secure a pitch right in the centre of the action. The venue hosts livestock auctions during the week so thankfully its covered, as we had howling wind and rain all day. This at least brought us a lot of customers who had nothing better to do on a wet Sunday morning.
I thought I was prepared, but I was a naive rookie. This is what I learned….
Dress like a true Brit, i.e. layers. Better to strip than shiver. Mr W had to leave me his coat.
Take a decorating table and/or pack your things in boxes which you can then use as tables. I at least got this right.
Take change, carrier bags, bubble wrap, paper, pens and sellotape. It might be a car boot but car booters expect the same service they’d get at John Lewis.
Take a chair. Do not forget the chair. Remember a chair. God I wish I’d taken a chair.
Know the measurements, sizes, functionality, origin, history and future potential of every product. Car booters ask a lot of questions.
Always quote a higher price than you want. Car booters always make a counter offer.
Smile at all the passers buy and invite conversation as this will encourage them to stop and look at your goods. Though in Cumbria this does have its risks as the Cumbrians are a chatty bunch and you could easily miss a sale shooting the breeze with some old dear about the weather.
Make friends with your neighbours so they will watch your pitch when you need the loo, lend you pen and paper which you forgot to bring, and let you sit on their chair…..
Favourite comment of the day; Customer – ooh that’s lovely bedding. Me – its £10 for the set. Customer – oh no I don’t buy bedding. Me – (in my head) so why are you looking at it then!
I also loved the banter with the guy that came back to collect the fan that his wife had paid for earlier. I insisted he describe her in case he was just stealing my fan. I quote, “short with dark hair and a bit of a big lass, actually a lot of a big lass”. He then made me promise I wouldn’t tell her what he’d said if she came back. To be fair to him the girl had curves.
The result – £106 net after the £8 fee for the pitch which will keep me in Bobby Brown eye cream for the rest of the year. Macklemore was right (in the song Thrift Shop). One man’s trash is another man’s come-up, and if you’ve got goods to clear when you’re updating your home you should give it a shot. You will always sell something.
So despite the cold and the backache from standing it was a lot of fun. As a teenager I used to work on a market stall at weekends and always loved the banter and the bartering. I had a few things left at the end which will now go to charity. I’m not ready to make this a weekly event…..
Success at Mitchell’s Auctions means I am abandoning eBay as a seller and going old school from now on. My net profit after their 17.5% commission was £221 which was more than I would have expected to make on eBay. I didn’t incur any listing fees as I gave them my own list which they just photocopied. I didn’t have to answer any questions from prospective buyers, and I didn’t have the hassle of couriers or collection. Last time I sold stuff on eBay 2 buyers bought and then didn’t pay, 1 demanded a discount when she said the item wasn’t as I described (it was), and I lost money when I made a mistake calculating the postage costs of one item. I will continue to buy from eBay because you can still pick up bargains and unique items but my days of selling on eBay are gone, unless I open an online retail business (I have an idea in the works) as I can see the value in combining this with an eBay shop. If you want to give an old school auction a try but don’t know where your nearest one is just get online as they all have websites these days, and many even sell online with live audio and video feeds. Check out i-Bidder.com, they hosted over 2000 live auctions and sold £45m online in 2013. Not so old school after all.
If old school means going back to the old ways of doing things then I am also embracing this for my house renovation. Furniture is getting cheaper and cheaper as businesses offshore to lower cost markets and find new ways of automating processes. But if you want good quality wooden furniture it can still be quite pricey. I wanted 2 large wardrobes for my bedroom that would fill the alcoves either side of the chimney to make best use of this space. But finding the right size was proving tricky and was starting to look like it could be very costly too. So I decided to look at custom built. I wanted a Georgian style that would look like freestanding furniture. Using photos I found online, and a drawing, I explained this to my joiner, and he worked with the same small business that made my staircase to produce the facades which he then fitted over the internal shells he created. The result is stunning as you can see from the photos below. Georgian townhouses typically had their living rooms on the 1st floor so the windows were larger than the other floors. This effect was often replicated in panelled furniture with the middle panels being larger. The panelled doors you can buy from places like Howdens all have equal sized panels so I knew I would need to have them made if I wanted to create this effect in my Georgian cottage. I have also seen many examples in Georgian homes of fitted cupboards which don’t reach to the ceiling, which creates the illusion of freestanding furniture. This is what convinced me to have them made. The final cost including fitting was under £2000 which is less than I would have paid for freestanding furniture, they make full use of the space, and I could decide on the internal layout. I encourage you to explore this as an option if you’re looking at bedroom furniture.
One area where I think it’s difficult to be old school is soft furnishings. There is so much choice these days, and the standard sizes for curtains, bedding and cushions can accommodate most needs. I compared the cost earlier this week for a pair of standard curtains versus custom made. John Lewis offer 2 services; a 7 day service which delivers factory made curtains for certain fabrics and styles, or a 3 week handmade service. For the fabric I’d chosen the cost was either £281 or £340. They had a pair of ready made curtains in a similar fabric for £70. The fabric was so similar I went for the ready mades and had them make matching cushions at £60 for 2 which included a make up charge of £17.50 per cushion. I have employed a seamstress to make curtains for my office though. Largely because I wanted them to match a chair I had upholstered (see the Edwardian chair on my projects page). It is much more expensive but I can understand why having been on a one day curtain making course at The Goodlife Centre in South East London. Even if you’re an expert it takes time, particularly if you don’t want standard pencil pleats. The make up cost for the 2 sets of curtains is approx. £275 but considering this is 2-3 days work I don’t think that’s unreasonable. It all comes down to whether you want something special or not. Curtain making was great fun, but now I’ve seen what goes into it I’m going to leave difficult jobs to the experts and wait until I have a small unimportant window before I try myself…
Harold (next door neighbour/farmer/friend) came round today to see Hyacinth and diagnosed “egg bound”. He prescribed a spoonful of olive oil (orally thankfully) and isolation for 24hrs as apparently hens pick on the weak. So with help from Harold she has been oiled and is tucked up in the cat carrier for the night. Fingers crossed she will lay in the morning and return to her former plucky self. On the plus side the rest of the ladies (Agata, Beate, Monique, Margo, Phyllis, Harriet and Victoria Peckham took themselves to bed tonight! I went out just after 9pm to round them up and they were already in the hen house snuggled up – very impressed.
More good news; I discovered today that the monthly allowance I set myself before my new business is up and running should be more than sufficient. For example, the hairdressers this morning cost £60. Same colour, cut and blow dry in London – £130. My hairdresser also recommended a private dentist. Her last check up and clean cost £17 my last one cost £110. I dropped into the leisure centre this afternoon to check out the gym, swimming pool and class timetable. Monthly membership £28 with a 6 week trial offer for £35. The only gym near my office in London with a pool cost over £100 a month. I’m going to Glasgow tomorrow to hunt for soft furnishings for the bedrooms, maybe I can afford a few personal treats after all….
Today was also a good day for treasure hunting. I spotted a small shop opposite the hairdressers called Bitter Beck Pottery which was run by a lovely lady called Joan Hardie who makes beautiful and unique ceramics inspired by the countryside. I didn’t purchase today but may go back for one of her fern lights when I decorate my new office.
Next to the hairdressers is Castle Antiques and Curios which delivers exactly what it says on the tin, an eclectic mix of antiques and curios. I often have a nosy round there when I’m in Cockermouth and this time I picked up two quirky framed cow prints for the landing. They reminded me a little of Nicky Harwood’s cow paintings and have lovely wooden frames. At £15 for the pair they were a bargain.
Finally, I have been looking for some vintage china plates to hang on the bedroom walls. You see a lot of blue willow pattern and similar crockery but very little pink or green which is what I was looking for. But as I was in Keswick to meet my lovely friend Karen and her partner Matt for lunch I called into my favourite charity shop (Oxfam), and it didn’t let me down with two of these beauties at £2.99 each – another bargain.
So a productive day; progress on the chicken front, a cheap haircut and the promise of more savings, a 6 week trial membership at the leisure centre and some new treasures. I also managed to sign up with a doctor!
When I decided to move to Cumbria I did worry about the impact it would have on my marriage. I’ve stopped worrying since my call last night with Mr W who informed me that coming home to an empty house….without the cat…felt strange. Apparently I was never at home but the cat always greeted him at the door when he got in. Clearly I was worrying too much I was already neglecting him. So now I have something new to worry about; Hyacinth, aka brown chicken number 2. She has been acting very strangely today. She stayed in the hen house when I opened the door this morning and the others shot out, and this afternoon she was standing in the same place for ages when the other chickens were running around….like headless chickens for want of a better phrase. I shall discuss it with Harold my next door neighbour/farmer/friend tomorrow as he is an authority on all things animal, vegetable and probably mineral.
In the meantime I have spent all day today treating wood and I am delighted with the results. The house was built in 1756 and still has many of the original features but as always some have disappeared and not all the replacement features are good quality. The house also used to be 2 houses so we have two staircases. One of these needed replacing completely as a previous owner had installed a very cheap and very illegal staircase (very few bannisters with huge gaps between). The other staircase still had original treads and risers but the bannisters were also cheap replacements which we have done away with. Two of the bedrooms have the original floorboards but with a few bits of replacement wood here and there. All the original wood is pitch pine which contains a lot of red pigment so I have used clear Osmo oil as anything with a tint would have made them turn very dark red which I didn’t want. I used Osmo Amber tinted oil for the light oak skirting boards to get them closer to the pitch pine floors, and to match the new pine floorboards with the pitch pine I first treated it with antique pine wood stain and then applied the oil. The new staircase was done entirely in Osmo clear oil. In most places you wouldn’t know it was different wood unless you looked really hard. So here are some photos, if anyone is tackling a similar project and would like some tips let me know. If wood finishes is your thing I’ve also added some new info to my project page, which includes a table I treated with lime wax so take a look and let me know if you want any more details. Tomorrow I’m having a day off from hard labour and venturing out for the day. Although I may wax the floors before bed, since I haven’t got round to checking out swimming pools, yoga classes and book clubs yet…