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.