Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Winter update from the 1930s house

Happy Xmas from the 1930s House!

It has been a busy summer for us and a busy autumn too as our daughter started school. Work on the house has slowed down as work commitments and colder weather took their toll on our renovation project. Hopefully I will have more updates next year! Aside some shelving, garden/garage clearance and general maintenance we have not changed much. The idea is to live in the house for a bit before deciding on major and costly remodelling. So it has been minimal tinkering really - we know we need an extension, while the bathroom and kitchen are dated. See it for yourself in the pic on the left. Despite some modern fittings this is an original 1930s bathroom. A tradesman who came to disconnect the electric fire upstairs (we kept it as it's original but made it safe) confirmed this. The bath is made of iron and has been re-enamelled at some point. The window is original, in metal with recentish secondary glazing. The toilet is in another little room. There is a big airing cupboard in the corridor, just behind the bath. We are thinking of getting rid of that and put the WC back in the bathroom, thus opening up the toilet's room into a small bedroom. Nothing planned yet, just we are thinking about it! 

One job that got done is stripping the doors. The original 1930s doors have been stripped by a professional (too much lead paint to make it safe for us to do) and they displayed a wavy pattern, a bit like tiger bread! We don't have all the original handles, but here is one. My partner went for a protective matt varnish in this light colour, I'd have preferred something darker as it's more 1930.

I hope I can bring more news and pictures next year. For now, I wish you all a Happy Holiday.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Crafty corner - vintage style

As the days grow shorter and the weather turns cold and damp, I usually turn my hand to crafts. In the past few years I spent October and November making Christmas cards, embroidered scented cushions, Christmas baskets and tree decorations. One year I even took a stall at a craft market to sell some surplus. And yes, I did have an Etsy account for a while.

Having moved house in July, the focus has been on making our property into a home, which has meant more gardening and DIY than needlecrafts, despite the fact that I need to re-upholster some chairs and would love to make new curtains for our house. Being short of time and having more pressing jobs to do, I'm compromising on the crafty front and making do with the fittings and soft furnishings the house came with for the time being.

Being of a hopeful nature, I have been gathering a few craft kits for making various things, which I'm hoping to have a go at when the dust settles. Among these there is a more unusual kit I'd like to mention, with an apology for having not done so before. I requested a vintage-style knicker kit in the summer and have been holding onto it hoping to make it at some point and display it on the blog, but with the house demanding a lot of our time, my daughter starting school and work this pretty kit has been languishing in a drawer.

This fancy pants kit does deserve a mention, not only for its vintagey feel but because it could make a very original Christmas pressie. A handmade present is so much nicer and unique or you if you are not into needlecrafts, you could wrap it up and gift it to a crafty friend. Devised by Flo-Jo Boutique, this knicker kit (£13.50 plus p&p, sizes 8-18) is sold alongside several vintage-inspired goodies. Have a peek on, where you can also find out about their craft workshops - popular with hen parties.
The romantic kit I was sent by Flo-Jo Boutique

A flirty knicker making kit by Flo-Jo Boutique
The great thing about this knicker kit is that all you need is basic sewing skills, a sewing machine, some scissors and thread! And if you get stuck, check out their workshops at

Monday, 31 October 2011

Haynes Women's Home DIY

Haynes Women's Home DIY

In the past few years, countless pink tool sets and DIY gizmos have been launched to target the female market - it was only a question of time before a reputable book was published to address the growing number of women who have given up nagging their partner to take matters into their hands on the homefront.

Haynes Women's Home DIY (RRP £19.99) claims to be a 'multi-tasker's guide to home DIY including decorating, plumbing and electrics'. Having browsed it countless times in the past month and even caught my partner leafing through it, I can confirm that as a famous ad says, 'it does exactly what is says on the tin' - and more!

Written by Kerrie Hanafin, the MD of building company A Woman's Touch, it is a remarkable book that really boosts your DIY confidence with its step-by-step photography and easy-to-follow instructions. It certainly goes beyond what I would be comfortable to take on (ie plumbing and electrics), but its chatty tone and down-to-earth advice are certainly encouraging. And considering my partner's and a male guest's interest in the book, it can be quite helpful for men too.... (in my male guest's words: "It's a pity it's so pink and aimed at women as some men would be put off buying it"). 

Yes, the fact is that there are men out there who don't have fully-fledged DIY skills and many books 'aimed at males' are not as explanatory and always assume a certain knowledge or a degree of handiness.... So if you are a male novice DIYer, don't let the pink cover put you off - you can always buy it for your girlfriend and share it.


Here's the table of contents, so you can judge for yourself:

Getting Started

Know your Home



Windows & Doors



Other DIY Jobs

Solving Problems


PS Happy Halloween everybody! Today is the last day to enter the competition to win The Eco-Friendly Home glossy book - a winner will be selected tomorrow by an impartial party, my four-year-old daughter Michela! 

Monday, 3 October 2011

A very unusual start for autumn!

Apple cup cakes
The past week has been unsually warm, which meant my grapes are maturing nicely and nearly all the apples have been harvested. I have been making jam with apple and bramble (I picked the berries and froze them in boxes, then combined them with the apple mush (see previous post for recipe).

Another use for windfall apples was the lovely cupcakes pictured above, which I made adding grated peeled apples to my usual recipe. I placed the nice, undamaged apples in a big glass bowl (not many of them, though) and have preserved the rest by cutting them into pieces and storing them in food bags, which were then frozen. Perhaps I can do apple pancakes with them, here is my recipe.

Hopefully we will have less waste next year (we threw away lots of rotten apples). We have pruned the overgrown apple trees a bit and will need to treat them soon as they are diseased. Yesterday my partner spend some time cutting dead branches, so we have a big pile of those at the back. We will need to dispose of them, perhaps hire a chipper?

With my partner back at work and me dealing with work, my daughter and lots of stuff cropping up, I had less time to devote to the house. We attempted to strip the original doors but they have proved a hard task despite having bought tools and chemicals. We also find out that they contained a layer of lead paint, thanks to a tester we bought at B&Q. So the doors will be done by a professional - I will post a photo when the first door is back. We had a sneek preview and it looks great.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Living in a flat, 1930s style - and an appeal to save historic buildings

By kind permission of

Some weeks ago I heard about a 1930s enclave of flats called Northview that risked being blighted by a hideous extra storey built on top of the roof. Last week I was informed that in spite of residents' opposition, this might go ahead, despite being refused planning permission in the past. This new build on top of a characterful period building is bound to destroy original features, including parapets and deco banisters.

The residents are trying to get as much support from local councillors, amenity and other local groups, so if you can help, please get in touch. also has a very interesting article called Living in a flat, 1930s style, which might be of interest to those of you who live in a 1930s apartment. Famous fans include world-famous detective Hercule Poirot, who lives in an Art-Deco apartment in central London.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Best 1930s books and Eco-Friendly Home giveaway

The 1930s House Manual, Haynes
The 1930s House Explained, Countryside Books
After researching books and manuals on 1930s houses, these two are the best books I have sourced on houses of this decade. At a first glance you'd think they cover the same ground, but they complement each other beautifully.

The 1930s House Manual (RRP 19.99) by chartered surveyor Ian Alistar Rock  is part of the famous Haynes range of practical, DIY manuals that cover anything from car maintenance to military aviation aircraft. There are several titles in the Home DIY section, including a manual on Victorian houses (it would have been useful in my previous house). The 1930s House Manual also includes extra technical data for houses built from the 1920s to the 1950s, which is a bonus as many houses tend to have older-style features (for instance in our house the front room fireplace is 1930s, but the wooden surround is more Victorian in style - I had the same one but painted white in a Victorian flat I used to rent - and the 1960s house I used to rent had a reproduction 1930s tiled fireplace).

My partner and I are hands on, so a lot of the advice contained in this manual will be really useful. Of course we cannot tackle all repairs ourselves, but it's handy to know how our house was built and how it can be fixed and maintained. There are lots of colour illustrations, which are great to date features. We found photos of our front door (so it's original then), brick fireplace, staircase and even the electric fire in one of the bedrooms (minus the tiles). There is even a chapter on garden history, including pictures of garages, gates... you name it. 

The 1930s House Explained (RRP £7.99 - £6.99 online from publisher) by author and illustrator Trevor Yorke has a social history slant while still offering information on 1930s houses. Illustration and black and white photography cover materials, features and architectural details. The Interior Fittings section offers interesting pointers on interior decoration and style. Our mismatched front room fireplace is thus explained: "...eclectic mixes of traditional surround and modern tiling were not unusual". 

Its budget price might make it attractive for those who just want to know more about their home without going into much technical detail. For me, it's a good addiction to the Haynes Manual because I do love history and it has a bit more about interior decoration (furniture and decorating styles).

The EcoFriendly Home
Last but not least, here is a fascinating book about green living. The Eco-Friendly Home (RRP 14.99) by Dan Phillips is an easy-to-read but well informed book on "living the natural life". I loved the no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach and there are gold nuggets of advice for period homeowners too. 

The photography is stunning, so plenty of interior ideas to be inspired by. I love the detailed advice, down to choosing the perfect plate! Babies, children, teenagers and pets are all taken into account. There are plenty of cheap and cheerful tips too, so it's purse friendly too. 

Free competition - win The Eco-Friendly Home, worth £14.99!
I have a copy of this insightful book to give away to a lucky reader (you might want it for yourself or to give as a present). All you need to do is leave a comment using your blog name or online profile. Competition closes on 30 October 2011 and is open to UK mainland only. Only one entry per household please.

PS: In my quest for books on 1930s house I have drawn a blank on books specialising on interiors... so any suggestion is welcome. Please leave a comment even if that book is out of print, I can try the library or buy it second hand.

PS. If you are into DIY and female, there's a Haynes manual for us ladies... Tips on those niggling jobs and a few 'man' jokes thrown in! Click here for more info.

UPDATE: Many congrats to Piper & Daisy who won the Eco-Friendly Home. It's now in the hands of Royal Mail (fingers crossed!).

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Light fittings, storage and preserves

In the past weeks we had mixed weather, which meant doing more work inside the house. There have been a few changes indoors and with the wardrobes now located in the bedroom after a painful disassembling and reassembling process (they wouldn't go up the stairs unless taken completely apart), most of our belongings are finding a place out of the moving boxes.

Storage boxes from Argos
The garage has been cleared of all the junk left over - we only kept some gardening tools, sundry DIY bits and pieces and a few deck chairs - and storage shelving has been erected to hold plastic boxes. I stored my big collection of fabrics, craft materials and various tools in these plastic lidded boxes. All the storage kit came from Argos, including my daughter's toy storage, which she requested in pink. It was quite a big outlay as we bought various sets of each product, but it was worth it (click on links for photos and prices). I have a smaller set of translucent boxes on standby for storing other items in the house (couldn't find the link for these ones but they are from Argos too).

Growing my own in the greenhouse, plus garden updates

The rainy weather didn't stop me sewing in the greenhouse. This is how the greenhouse looked when we moved in, it is old and needing replacing but it's still serviceable now that the weather is not too cold. The cracks and ill-fitting glass don't matter right now. I put some tomato plants we bought at a school fete, which were planted in gro-bags (bought at B&Q, four for £5!) alongside some broccoli plants offered by a lady who lives a few streets away.
They are not impressive but are making quite a few tomatoes. The yellow strip is a pest catcher as the broccoli plants are infested by critters. I found these gluey strips in the garage and have been using them instead of pesticides.

Scroll down and you will see a few trays on the greenhouse's table. They contain modular pots in which cress, rocket salad, pak choi and beetroot are growing. Another yellow strip hangs from the ceiling of the greenhouse, catching a few flying pests.

I know it's not much but we were too late for the growing season when we got the keys in July. I have a big collection of seeds, which will be used next year.

I'm still doing a lot of clearing in the garden and trimming overgrown trees. We found a vine and had to disentagle it from a huge tree and then train it behind the summerhouse using some hooks and wire. It's too early to prune it and we want to see if the grapes will ripen. The picture shows the vine before we got it down from the tree, using a ladder and lots of patience (pulling too hard would have broken it). You can see a bunch of green, unripe grapes in the middle of the photo.
My friend Robin

When I'm gardening, this friendly robin keeps coming to see me. He is not easily scared and will come quite close. A siamese cat visits too but we are trying to discourage it as it comes to frighten the birds and poo.

I sowed a lot of seeds I had collected in London and Rugby, I do hope they will grow next year! Some needs sorting as they were still in their pods - a rainy afternoon was spent going through my collection of seeds and group them according to time of planting. Most will be planted next year.
Seed sorting: honesty and sage

Let's go back indoor, away from the showers! I have taken a few photos to show you some changes and perhaps you can help me decide what to do with some old (but not antique) light fittings.

But first, step into the kitchen. Here is what the fitted units looked like with the wooden handles (one was missing at the top). Scroll down and see what it looks like now - we only changed the handles (bought from Screwfix) and it has made quite a difference! The lino needs addressing at some point, but at least the kitchen looks a bit more modern. I have always wanted a country kitchen but I will have to make do with what we have got for the time being. The bathroom is more in need of replacing and we are considering an extension so most money is earmarked for other rooms.

And this is the photo of the solid wood bookshelf my dad made. It goes from floor to (nearly) ceiling and is located in the hallway. I have omitted the bottom two shelves but even so it's really messy right now, storing a jumble of books and ornaments. I will need to sort things out. The brown oversize volumes are of an Italian encyclopedia from the 1960s, which covers anything from food to house management, makeup, domestic activities... The two reddish volumes sandwiched between are from the 1920s (in English) and are mostly about household management (they are fascinating, full of weird and wonderful tips).

And from shelving to light fittings. Only two old ones were left in the house (all the others are contemporary and plain), one from the 1930s and the other... well, it looks like 1970s but it could be older or more recent... (see pics below). I haven't found any similar example online to date it. The kitchen had some dreadful neon lights, which were replaced with contemporary moveable spot lights (a great bargain from B&Q, £9.99 each including bulbs). Having good lighting in the kitchen is sensible and safer, so they will have to do. I don't have the resources for a period kitchen...
1970s or 1980s?

Back to these light fittings, I am keeping them for the time being. I like the 1930s one but its wiring is dodgy. The more recent one I am not sure about so do let me know what you think.
Jam time!
In an earlier post I mentioned clearing large patches of bramble and freezing the fruit, well, here is my first batch of jam. I added windfall apples from the bottom of our garden and lots of sugar. In separate lidded pans I boiled the apples (peeled and chopped with a tiny bit of water) and the berries (from frozen) till they were pulp. Then I weighed them and added 60 per cent of their weight in white sugar. I put the lids in hot water from the kettle while sterilising the jars in the microwave for about 10 minutes (on high). I poured the jam into the jars (oven glove, mittens and tea towels were necessary to handle all the hot things), screwed the lids on, put the jars upside down for a while and let them cool. This system worked well last year, so I repeated the process.
I used recycled jars, as you can see... My first batch came from Freecycle, but have since saved a lot of jars and given away some too.

Last but not least it's my partner's shelfing project. He is trying to replicate the shelving unit on the other side of the fireplace and it's nearly there, except for the doors at the top. It will need a coat of paint to match the one on the other side. The wood came from Ridgeons and B&Q. This shelf unit won't go down all the way (like the other side) as we need to put the TV there.

That's it for now... I will be back with more updates. I am open to testing products, so if any PR reads this blog and has something vintage or DIY related to test, please get in touch.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Gardening leave

Hello there, we have been working hard inside and outside the house. The garden was so overgrown it has taken me weeks to tidy but despite lots of hours spent outdoors it's not finished yet! My partner has been busy indoors devising storage solutions as we have much less storage than in our previous house - the downstairs toilet is very nice to have but I miss the understairs cupboard!

How to plant when your soil is as hard as rock

The soil in my garden is not poor but it's hard to dig as it has been drier than usual and there is a congestion of roots of trees, ivy and various shrubs. After clearing and trimming various shrubs and trees, I dampened the soil for a few days then deployed a pickaxe to break the earth and roots. I dug holes for small plants with one of those toothed metal funnels you normally use for planting bulbs and used a sharp-end spade for digging bigger holes. The pickaxe worked a treat, I'm not provided with good muscles like Charlie Dimmock but I am getting some!

Garden makeover - phase one

Here are five photos of what the garden looked like. The grass was quite tall as you can see and the summer house was chocked by various trees and shrubs.

Below, a butterfly bush is dominating the border. As I have discovered at my other house, if you don't trim your buddleia, it grows to six foot tall in a summer!

Opposite the buddleia is a photo of the back garden, the bit after that nice arch I showed on a previous post. It's not as pretty as the first half and it was seriously overgrown with less attractive specimens (bramble, creepers, ivy, the lot!). You can just spot some espalier apple trees chocked by greenery.

We go back to the front with the next picture, which is quite close to the house on the garage's side. Another fast grower is taking lots of space here, it's an elderflower tree in the making. I had a huge one in my previous house and I'm not letting this one grow like a monster.

This last pic is by the greenhouse. There a few attractive plants at the front but the rest is bramble and nettles. Keep scrolling and you will see a transformation!

First of all, see below a picture of the whole first half of the garden, now a great space for entertaining. The greenhouse will be tackled next year (it needs re-roofing, painting and making into a pretty place to while away sunny days!).

The overall garden, trimmed, planted and grass cut

I might have to trim the tops of some trees in winter but most of the hard work is done. After the greenhouse there is the other half of the garden, which was designed as kitchen garden and has been the greatest challenge due to widespread bramble and nettles - I can understand why people ran away after a quick look at it.

The next photo shows some young plants I planted after pickaxing a very congested area full of brambles. These were the only brambles in the first half of the garden. I let the fruit ripen, picked it then cut the plants down. The blackberries that were not eaten are in the freezer, earmarked for jam.  I planted two butterfly bushes, one with purple and one with yellow flowers. They will fill the gap and I can control them through pruning. There are also a fern, some primroses and sundry other small plants at the front of the flower bed.

The next photo is of the bit near the house, where an elderflower and some weeds lorded over the flower bed. Again, a few pretty plants, including some pelargonium, violets and a forsythia.

Next to that flower bed was one with two huge bushes, they were so overgrown that one had a bird's nest inside, complete with pretty but empty blue egg.

And the photo with the fence shows the espalier apples free from all climbers and invasive bushes... There is even a pear tree among them.

And the last photo of the garden (below) is opposite the apples, by the greenhouse. The bramble has been cut back so it is trailing along the fence again, as the previous owner intended. It also climbs one side of the greenhouse but it's much neater and contained. The blackberries were so delicious I decided to keep some of the bramble bushes. It's a good complement to the blackcurrant and raspberries bushes I found among the bramble and planted myself.

In this photo you can see one of the two big apple trees, which are a bit diseased but laden with fruit. You can also spot a rhododendron just after the currant bush, there are several all over the gardens, which alongside plenty of bulbs I have found means the garden will look wonderful in spring.

Inside the 1930s house - where to hang coats...

We had a lovely coat rack in our previous house, which we left behind and now they don't sell that model anymore! We soon realised that the choice of coat racks and coat stands is very limited. If you don't want to pay over the odds, what is up for sale in most stores is just hideous or inadequate!

As my partner was buying some wood to increase storage in our alcoves and bedroom closets, he came up with the idea of buying a piece of wood and attaching the 1930s hook we found in the bedroom closets. The top rack is for us, the lower one is for our daughter. We plan to stain them dark to match the wooden bookshelf opposite. I must take a photo as it's a really impressive piece of furniture my dad made for me. The hooks had a brass coating but it has been eroded, so after we removed years of grime, we ended up with this kind of hook....

Last but not least, here are some apples from our big trees, one is a quaint golden variety I have never seen, check out the oval shape... They will be used to make bramble and apple jam, which I have already made when living in Rugby where we had brambles at the bottom of the garden and two apple trees.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Slow progress at the 1930s house

Hello again... Before we venture inside, do visit my overgrown but charming garden. Here are a few before photos - I will keep you posted on my progress with the mower, secateurs and loppers.
Long grass, extra long branches and a weedy pond

A big pine dwarfing the shed, which needs re-roofing

Bold and beautiful, I don't have the heart to cut this down or reduce its height

The greenhouse at the back - 'has seen better days' in the words of the surveyor

The summerhouse, needs painting and re-roofing, a project for next year

The weedy, smelly pond, awaiting cleaning - the previous owner left me a sieve with long handle!


Please wipe your feet and come in! I have been asked to post more photos of the house, so below are a few. Apologies about the gap between the first hopeful post and this one - we have been massively delayed by an unforeseen problem. Despite measuring and remeasuring to reassure ourselves that all our bedroom furniture would go upstairs, the removal men couldn't get two wardrobes and a double bed up the stairs. So instead of getting on with the many jobs that need doing, my partner has been dismantling the wardrobes bit by bit. One has been rebuilt upstairs and another one is awaiting in the garage. We are talking old wardrobes, not flat-pack furniture, so it has been a labour of love. A rather smelly labour of love as I had to paint them with Cuprinol woodworm before they entered the house. I do this every few years to keep the woodworm under control... Oh, the joys of antiques and vintage pieces!

Above is the photo of the staircase, you can see that the turn is not helpful and because two of the steps were broken (notice the dip in the carpet), we had to wait until a carpenter fixed them before taking heavy stuff upstairs. Of course whatever the age of a house, you are bound to find a few things that need fixing, so we had the wiring checked and an old electric fire disconnected, which turned out to be an original feature (so it's still in situ). We also disconnected (and removed) a dodgy gas fireplace and discovered we had an original fireplace behind. Looking at the before and after pictures you'd notice a change of paint on the walls and bookcase. My partner found a killer deal at B&Q for Dulux Magic White, a paint that fades from pink to white so you can easily spot where you missed a bit! One coat was enough as the walls were magnolia (the choice paint of rental houses).

The surround of the fireplace looks like green marble and there is a chrome trim, very 1930s! We were lucky that behind the panel and ugly gas fire the original fireplace had not been ripped out. The bookshelf was painted with Dulux white eggshell, which is less shiny than gloss and easier to deal with. We are keeping the walls plain for the time being as I have a lot of dark furniture, but will mention the 1930s colour palette at some point.

We have a second original fireplace in the dining room. The before and after picture show a change of paint, again Dulux Magic White. How do I know that this fireplace is original? Because I have a few reference books at hand and I found this fireplace photographed in one. I will be mentioning my reference books for this exciting renovation project in a future post and there will be a book up for grabs for a lucky reader.

Come back to see me, for more photos, the chance of winning a beautiful book and a few tips!