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…
So after 20+ years in financial services I finally realised what it was that made me happy (aside from Mr W), and it wasn’t my current job or location. So I took the plunge and last week I moved to Cumbria to begin a new career in interior design. More on the build up to this later… Mr W helped me move but this morning he had to return to London so today was really the first day in my new life. And its been a busy one. Today I learned the real difference between a physical versus an online auction experience, which is back ache. Ironically it will take up less of my time selling my old furniture through MItchells auctioneers in Cockermouth that it would if I used eBay, but I’ll let you know on Thursday if it made financial sense. In the meantime I can say that you don’t get back ache using eBay and I may need to factor that in next time. I also learned today that all my years honing my negotiation and influencing skills means nothing when it comes to trying to get chickens back in their hen house. Even trying to bribe them with bread didnt work. So after chasing them around the outside of the hen house more times than I am prepared to admit I finally figured out a blockade was needed. Problem solved. But the most important lesson I learned today is that I need to figure out how I would like to spend my evenings to avoid becoming a workaholic recluse. This might sound crazy but I have come from a life where I was travelling overseas half the time, and when I was home I was either working late or catching up with friends over drinks or dinner. I don’t think I have ever seen the 6 o’clock news. So this evening after an initial ‘OMG what have I done’ moment of panic I used my free time to create this blog. Tomorrow I think I will investigate swimming pools, yoga classes and book clubs. That is of course if I have any energy left as tomorrow I have to treat the staircases and newly stripped bedroom floorboards with oil and I am not used to hard labour. For any other IDF’s (interior design fanatics) I’m using Osmo Polyx Oil and can highly recommend it. It brings out the natural grain on old and new wood, the clear satin matt product creates a beautiful natural finish and it is really easy to work with. But wear gloves if you don’t want to spend hours scrubbing your hands afterwards. Photos to follow. And August was supposed to be my ‘gardening leave’ before work on the new career begins….