Painting the fireplace white

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The living room before we moved in.

The fireplace was actually one of the first things I did, so details may be a bit sketchy. When I first moved in to the house the fireplace was a little off putting. Mum said it was like a pub fireplace. It was very dark, but also white in places, it was as if someone had painted each brick in a different colour, and really was a bit of an eyesore. Inside it was an old tacky electric fire. Next to the yellow walls and the artex ceiling, it didn’t feel very homely at all.

Simon wanted to tackle the living room first, as it would be one of the rooms we use the most and the room most likely to be seen by other people. I agreed and was happy to get on with the fireplace.

I wanted to paint the fireplace white, my Mum suggested just doing a thin coat of white paint and she demonstrated this by rubbing chalk on it. I wasn’t convinced. It had to be all or nothing.

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I realised the electric fireplace was loose and managed to pull it out fairly easily and then I managed to give it away on freecycle. But then I noticed the bricks on the fireplace were not symmetrical. Mum and Dad had some fancy Portuguese tiles that I could have, so I decided to get on with the painting and worry about the asymmetrical nature of the fireplace later. They’d bring the tiles on their next visit.

The inner layer was very uneven.

The inner layer was very uneven.

I gave the fireplace a good dust and then a hoover and a clean. It’s amazing how dirty it had gotten.

Bye to the horrible dark fireplace.

Bye to the horrible dark fireplace.

The previous owner had left some paint, it was the dreaded satin paint, but it was white so I thought what the hell and I got on and painted over the horrible fireplace. It went on fairly easily with a brush. I made sure to protect the mantle from any paint. In the end I decided the satin was too shiny and I bought some matt and painted over. I also bought some blue paint for the walls.

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So the fireplace had been brick, but then the previous people added to it and put the painted brick affect tiles over it. This meant there was several “layers” to the fireplace and is also probably why it’s not symmetrical. It was the inner layer of fireplace that was not symmetrical, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I hoped the tiles would work. I should have painted it white, but instead I used some sticky teal paper over it, looked rubbish, but I knew it was temporary.

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We left it like that for a bit and I painted the wall blue, the other walls in beige, though I was tempted to paint them blue too.

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My parents came and brought the tiles and tile cement, we had a go at doing it, but in the end I decided I didn’t like it and took it all down. I’m afraid as my phone crashed I don’t have a picture of this stage. But these are the tiles. They are lovely, but looked very busy and made the fireplace look even more uneven.

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Anyway with the tile cement I was able to even out the surface of the inner bit, and then I decided to try and even out the 2 sides, so they’d be roughly the same width. I found some wood in the garden and basically I wedged it into position and then covered it with tile cement. Once dried I did another layer and eventually it looked more or less convincing. It wouldn’t be safe as a fire any more, but at least it was more even.

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I then couldn’t decide what colour to paint the inner layer. So in the end I ordered some different tiles, in a bluey turquoise colour. They come with paper on the back, which makes in theory application easy. Though in practice it was a bit fiddly and I still had to cut some to size, which was not easy. I shattered various tiles, instead of cutting them in half. Also not all of them stuck the first time.

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Once they were all properly attached I gave them a good clean. A damp cloth helped remove the paper. I didn’t grout them as the tile cement showed through a lot. I used some coffee to stain it, as it did look a bit “swimming pool.” As the edges showed up a bit, I painted them black.

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I’m now really pleased with the result. It’s been several months and it’s stayed more or less the same. We now have a fire affect light in it. But this is how it looked at christmas.

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Doing up the big shed part 1

One of the things that attracted us to the house we nearly bought was the shed. The log cabin to be more exact, it was big, it was cosy, it had storage and a log burning stove. It felt like having an extra garden room and we loved that. But that house wasn’t to be (as we discovered a house we liked more)

The shed- before

The shed- before

When I first looked round the garden of the house we ended up buying, the number of sheds was overwhelming. There was 7 garden structures in total, this includes the wendy house, chicken shed and the greenhouse. But this blog is about the big shed. The big shed is roughly about 8ft by 10ft so it’s smaller than the other one, but still not too bad a size. The reason we overlooked it was as it was full of junk. It was full of junk when we had the viewings and the previous owner did mostly clear it out, but it still had a lot of junk and of course our junk ended up in there too. Not only was it full of junk, but it was also covered in pink fabric, the pink fabric on every wall and the ceiling and some horrible carpet stapled to the floor. And not only was the fabric pink, but dirty too and also covered in holes, from which poked the insulation. It also had a hole in the floor near the door and a bit of dampness.

One of the least bad holes!

One of the least bad holes!

On the plus side it did have insulation, and it did have electricty and lighting. Okay the lighting is strip lights, but that’s okay for now. And we thought to do it up, would be a lot cheaper than starting a fresh.

So on the first few days in the house the carpet was ripped up, so we could check the floor. It was okay, but a bit damp in patches. So my Dad invented a way to lift the shed up, using a car jack. I don’t really know how he did it, other than using some shelf brackets, but he lifted an entire shed on his own, and it seems to have fixed it. Amazing. Shame no one was looking.

We then left the shed for a bit to get on with other things. Then Simon got really keen to do it up. He could use it to study in, it could be a summer room, and if we make it good enough, it could be used on occasion as a guest room. So we cleared out all the junk to other sheds. We unscrewed the various shelves and brackets and hammered out any nails and random bits of wood stuck to the walls. My Dad said plaster board may be hard to put up in a shed, as you don’t have much to hammer against. My brother suggested we painted the fabric, I thought he was a bit crazy, but decided to have a go anyway. We’d simply staple more fabrc over the holes.

Fabric stapled over hole- what a bodge!

Fabric stapled over hole- what a bodge!

The paint went on, but took about 3 coats and I used a full tin of paint on a small corner of the shed. It took an age to do. And the stapled on fabric looked like a complete botch.

The paint, not really working!

The paint, not really working!

Simon’s mum suggested fixing MDF onto the walls. So I decided I could do the wooden planking idea that I’ve seen mentioned in various blogs. So we were passing a DIY shop anyway, I thought I’d show Simon the wood, and to my surprise the store offered a woodcutting service. I knew some stores would, but I didn’t think this one would. We were underprepared but decided to get a couple of small pieces to see if it works. We found a small cheap bit of hardwood and noticed the sign saying 2 free cuts per piece of wood. As the wood was 60cm wide we decdied to cut it into 20cm pieces. We bought a nail gun and a saw and we were off.

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The wood attached easily. As it’s a shed, we didn’t worry too much about making it level or if pieces had to overlap. In the end I think we had 3 more trips to get more wood, as we never measured it up and at one point we thought we would stop 3/4 of the way up the wall, to avoid having to go into the apex.

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But I wanted to do it properly. And it turns out a piece of wood I took down had the right angle on it, so  just had to cut the hardwood to this and it fitted perfectly.

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We’re hoping to change the strip lights for something else, so at the moment we’re not doing the ceiling, I’ve edged it in with some white paint, so hopefully once we put either wood or fabric on the ceiling it will be okay. So for now we’ve not put wood up around the sockets or light switch. I’ve cut out pieces of wood to fit here.

Wood cut to fit in, once any wiring is done.

Wood cut to fit in, once any wiring is done.

We bought the cheapest white home brand paint we could and it went on so much easier than onto the fabric. It took 2 coats and I painted “roughly” so it would make it look more wood like. One tin did 2 coats everywhere and had some left over. I did like the look of the wood before, though it looked like cardboard. The white paint makes it look a lot nicer though and more like a room.

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My parents were throwing an old carpet out, so we are using that for now. I want to put of sealant in a few gaps to neaten it off, but all in all it’s a huge improvement. Simon has already started using it for his studies and meditation. Hopefully we will get the rest done soon and also paint the outside. I’m really happy with the way it has turned out and I can’t wait to finish it off!

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Asparagus bed update

To give adage to the whole “if a jobs worth doing it’s worth doing properly” school of thought, let me tell you about the asparagus bed. Well firstly the bed was a raised area full of rocks and stones and weeds, must have been some sort of rockery in the past. I got carried away on ebay and ordered some asparagus at they had only 30 seconds left and were going for a good price. Unfortunately when they arrived it was a really busy period, I’d not had chance to prepare the bed properly. And on the day they arrived a friend showed up, who was staying at mine and we had a 3 day conference we were all working at. So the crowns had to go in there and then.

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The bed in the foreground, before it had asparagus in it.

Luckily the friend was into gardening, so Lucia, Simon and I set too at weeding the bed and removing as many stones and rocks as we could. It was early march so it got dark early and was dark when we were finishing off. We put sticks to mark were the asparagus went and a bit of straw to keep the weeds at bay.

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The asparagus bed is behind the tree, to the right of the path.

Anyway not many of the asparagus came through, 2 actually went in upside down, which I’ve since put right and strangely they are are the ones that are growing. Also as the rocks were still around the edge of the bed, it somehow meant mud fell through them onto the path when it rains, also the weeds were able to grow in amongst the rocks, and were hard to pull out. Also some people stepped on it, as they didn’t realise it was a bed. So all in all it wasn’t much of a success.

Laying the path,

Laying the path,

So I decided to take the rocks out and make it into a raised brick bed. Much like the other one I made before here. First I laid the rest of the path leading to the main allotment area. I added in a small bed between the path and the back of the fruit corner. I dug over this small bed and added straw, fresh grass and compost. I decided the path was a bit narrow for a wheelbarrow, so I added a few bits of paving to widen it near the raised bed.

Digging over and adding grass and straw to small bed.

Digging over and adding grass and straw to small bed.

To make the brick raised bed, I dug a trench and put the bricks in on their end, so one side was pressed against the paving slab. The other side I back filled with soil from the bed and pressed it down. I later back filled it the height of the brick, but to get it to stand up, and inch or so seemed enough. I carefully carried on edging the bed with bricks, removing and stones or rocks as I went. This took me the best part of 2 days to do. There was various stones and slabs hidden under the earth, and I also weeded as I went. The far side was the hardest, as there wasn’t really a path and young sweetcorn plants are planted quite close to the edge of bed.

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The bricks were all left by the previous owner in a big pile, glad to have almost used them up now! The paving slabs that I dug up, have now been reused as a path down the far side of the bed. It’s very narrow and a bit like using a type rope, but at least it gives access to the area.

First part finished, note the rocks on the side of the bed!

First part finished, note the rocks on the side of the bed!

Once I had tidied up the area, it was time to fill the bed back up. The middle section where the asparagus still (hopefully) is was still high and then the edges tapered off towards the bricks. I carefully tried to loosen the middle section, avoiding the sticks which mark out where the asparagus should be. Then I sieved the compost to add it into the bed and level it all off. As I put some soil over the middle it still tapers a bit, which should help the drainage.

Before tidying the path and filling up the bed, I weeded the bed and loosened the soil.

Before tidying the path and filling up the bed, I weeded the bed and loosened the soil.

As the bricks go right up to the path, it’s actually created a bigger growing space, without taking up any extra space. With the extra space, I’ll add some salald plants this year. We seem a bit behind on the salad plants this year, so desperately trying to get some going! This project took a few days to do, but very happy with the results and I do wish we did it properly the first time round. There may still be a few large stones in there, but I don’t want to disturb the asparagus any more than I may have done already.

The bed ready to be filled.

The bed ready to be filled.

Elsewhere in the garden I’ve been adding in a few plants, some grown from seed and some I’ve bought in shops. I’m hoping not to always have to buy things from shops, but as we’re trying to get everything established this year, it means we’re a bit behind on the seed sowing. In the picture above check out the chimney sweep wig wam!

Weeding an overgrown flower bed

I have to confess, I’m not much of a flower gardener, and can’t always tell a weed from a flower. And I’ve not yet got big plans for our front garden. I did want to use some blue slate and make it as care free as possible. But Simon vetoed that. So for now we put some alliums in and will just go with how it is.

 

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This is the day after we moved in, my mum looks on at the central flowerbed, and goes to show it was full of weeds even then. Mum thankfully tackled it then, as I was still unpacking everything. Simon cut the hedge and my Dad did the lawn. So it looked respectable. But still in need of a bit more TLC.

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So then we concentrated on the house and made a start on the back garden. And feeling like a game of whack a mole the weeds started to come up again here. So I weeded and they came back, mum visited and weeded some and they still came back. Soon everyday was a fresh crop of dandelions, smiling away. Now I like dandelions, but just not in a flower bed. I don’t want them to spread and annoy my neighbours, and already a lot in mine. Everyday I would run out and behead the poor things, and attempt to pull up leaves and roots if I had time.

The weeds growing amongst the flowers.

The weeds growing amongst the flowers.

Then I found the dandelion weeder. This narrow tool with 2 sharp prongs that tilt up at the end. I’d compare it to the fine brush an artist uses, as not only can you get dandelions out, but also other weeds, and as it’s narrow, it’s less likely to cause damage to other plants. The soil in this bed also seems poor, we’ve loosely dug it over, but most of its in fist sized lumps or bigger. It’s hard to do too much now, as some lovely alliums are growing in it. I decided the best way to help was to do a generous mulch of compost.

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To begin, I held back the leaves of any plants I wanted to keep and used the weeder to carefully pull out the dandelion roots. It worked wonders and in most cases brought out complete roots. A few bits did break off, so I got most of those out by a second pass with the weeder.

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The robin supervised me and made sure that I got the other weeds too. There was plenty of them. I was able to gently weed around most the plants. I then broke the clods of soil.

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I had a nice pile of weeds, at the moment we have so many weeds, that we can’t keep them here. Normally I would drown them before adding them to the compost, which lessons the risk of them growing back, but these will just have to go to the council compost bin.

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Next up I watered the plants, as some of their roots may have been disturbed from weeding around them. The rose is upside down, as it  is slightly gentler on the plants.

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Once I watered, I added a generous amount of compost, from our heap. I added at least an inch of thickness, and tried to even out the lumpy ground as I did it. Using this little plastic shovel, I was able to carefully put it around the plants,

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The bed now looks much healthier. The mulch will discourage more weeds from growing back and will add much needed nutrition to the bed. Any weeds now should be easy to tackle as the soil should be looser, and hopefully there will be fewer of them. The mulch will also help keep the water in for the plants. I will probably top it up in a year or so.

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Just harvested our first radishes from the veg garden, looking forward to some more. Still have a lot of work to do at the back. I’ll write about our mulching technique soon.

 

CD rack into food storage shelf.

I bought these wooden CD shelves from a charity shop as I was moving into my flat. I think at the time I was just excitedly buying stuff, rather than seeing what I could use it for. They cost about £2 each, so it wasn’t a big splurge.

In a former life at the flat.

In a former life at the flat.

It turned out they fitted perfectly under the kitchen cupboards in the flat. They added some much needed storage space and each compartment could hold a cup. They worked well for my 4 years in the flat, and moved with me to the new place.

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After doing lots of painting and decorating within a month, I was eager to find new projects. I’d just discovered chalk paint. Chalk paint doesn’t have all the harmful chemicals of normal paint, you mix it up yourself and you can wax afterwards to finish it, if painting wood. Some chalk paint comes ready mixed, but its interesting to mix it yourself. The type I have is so safe you can add the unused paint to your compost heap. So its got a good feel good factor. It has a similar finish to matt paint if used on a wall.

Mixing chalk paint for the kitchen cupboards.

Mixing chalk paint for the kitchen cupboards.

So I decided to paint the CD racks with chalk paint. I used an off white colour, the same I used on my kitchen walls. The CD racks were fiddly to paint as so many surfaces. I worked out a system of painting the bottom of each one, then rotating it 90 degress and then painting the side of each, and rotating it again, until each side was covered. I then painted the outside and left it to dry. It took about 3 coats, I think I’d mixed the paint a little bit thin.

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Once dried I had to decide what to put in it. The cups now fitted in my cupboard. I bought some cheap glass containers that fitted in each compartment and stored grains, nuts and dry fruit in them. I added chalk labels. The other shelf has herb and spice jars as well as a few decorative bits. I may arrange it better later, as we do have a spice rack too, but for now this works.

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It was a very easy project and used objects I already had, other than the jars. The jars make it easier to find things and leads to less cluttered cupboards. You could easily make from scratch some similar shelves, or keep an eye out in charity shops for something similar. Glass jars can be bought in various sizes, so hopefully you can get ones that fit. For bigger shelves baskets look great, or a mixture of glasses and baskets.

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