Yesterday late afternoon I got a message from Builder Men to say that Francine’s replacement kitchen window was in and they’d be here at 08:30 to fit it. The weather forecast did not look particularly favourable for ripping out an old window and standing outside fitting a new one. Good old Sod’s Law strikes again.

Sure enough, Builder Men pitched up on schedule, did a swift bit of preparation then Man #1 left to collect said window.

Our kitchen units, from the Chippendale range, were also due to be delivered today, Wednesday being their day for servicing this area. The units were coming from up north so we thought they would get here a little later in day.

Wrong. Francine took a phone call at 09:00 saying Mr. Chippendale was just finishing his first drop and was 30 minutes away. His truck, with Doncaster written on the back, drew up at 09:35. He’d apparently started his journey shortly after 05:00.

Our instructions were to have the longer pieces stored in our garage while the shorter components were to be stashed in the newly painted kitchen/diner. I hadn’t really given this any thought, but I was surprised to find that everything but our larder unit (largely to house the central heating boiler) came flat-packed.

Chippendale, flat-packed? Whatever next? Our other option at the start of this process would have been Sheraton units; I presume they also come flat-packed. Chippendale and Sheraton are two of the finest, most traditional names in British furniture and their stuff now gets delivered flat-packed. How the mighty have fallen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe component boxes seemed endless. I remembered assembling the furniture for Casa Libélule which came in 16 boxes and that was puzzle enough.  I’ve counted the items on the delivery note; trying to make sense of this 163-piece 3D Jigsaw looks like an absolute nightmare.

I’m very glad it’s not going to be me doing it.

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

The Colour Merry-go-round

I think we’ve both lost track of the colours that we have (temporarily) settled on for the walls. Holding a tiny colour swatch up against a cupboard door just doesn’t do it. Neither, it seems, does painting a piece of lining paper with a matchpot and propping the cupboard door up against that. In both cases, slapping the colour on a wall and switching to a large expanse makes things look very different.

We discarded the options we had after our 50 Shades of White lining paper test [actually it was five different colours]. We settled on a Laura Ashley colour called Pearl, a bit like a very light grey.

More head scratching; trying mentally to extend my test patch, pearl began to look a bit dull. We [that’s the royal we] wanted something a bit more chirpy. Moving our sample of Dulux Morning Light [one of those initial 5 samples] around into different lights it seemed fine with the cupboard door and did look chirpy. It’s one of the Dulux “Light & Space” range which is supposed to micro thingies that reflect more light.

OK, I should be able to get it mixed up in Dulux’s “Kitchen” paint to resist grease. We could do with the Light & Space micro thingies in the hall which has now lost some of its light. On Saturday, I high-tailed it to the Dulux trade centre in Bletchley.

I muttered “Morning Light” along with “Light & Space” and the lady looked bemused. She’d never heard of either the colour or the finish. This was odd; it’s the only paint type that this colour is available in off the shelf.

“What about Kitchen?”, I rejoined. More bemused looks ensued. She consulted the infernal computer and reeled off a few finishes that she thought she could manage. None sounded familiar. If I went back with the wrong finishes, I’d be for the high jump. I told her so and left.

I went to the trade paint supplier back near home and told the helpful chap there my sad story. He said he could mix me a Morning Light facsimile in a Johnstone’s washable base. He could also do it in a Dulux “Diamond” base … but that’d be £85 for 5 litres, enough to make Farrow & Ball prices look quite reasonable. I bought 10 litres of Johnstone’s.

I slapped some on one wall of our hallway. Francine’s face was less than promising. I covered a large, mainly plain wall in the dining area. Francine’s face remained less than promising. It seemed quite sunny to me, though I was in a minority, but I had to agree that it didn’t look right with the cupboard door. What completely sunk it was that it didn’t look right with one of Francine’s photos, destined to hang on it. [I’ll use it to paint my office, when I get it.]

Losing the will to live, we decided to try good old Brilliant White. Casa Libélula had been white head to toe, as is quite usual in Spain, and we liked the airy feel it gave in an essentially open plan space. I smothered a few walls in Brilliant White. It looked OK and Francine’s photograph looked fine.

If anything was wrong, it was that the bright white made our Ivory cupboard door look a little drab. This was a bit of a shame ‘cos the ivory counterpoint to an Oxford blue island unit was supposed to be something of a feature.

On Monday morning, clearly much refreshed, Francine came up with another option: Farrow& Ball “Wimbourne White” – white with just a touch of yellow-ish. Running short of time to finish before the units arrived on Wednesday, I high-tailed it to our local trade retailed for a matchpot. It looked great with the door and all our other bits. I went and bought another 10 litres of Johnstone’s facsimile and set about over-painting all the mist coat in the entire kitchen and dining area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe like it and so does Francine’s photograph. We may be in business. Let’s hope this is the very last change of mind and colour.

Did you know that “mist” in German can be translated as shit? I’m going to redefine “mist coat” as a coat of paint that you thought would be OK but that just doesn’t work.

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

Mist Coat

… or is that mist overall?

If I said I’d never had to deal with raw plaster walls before it would be a bit of a porky.

Many years ago, when we moved into our house, the end wall of the dining room was a single door with floor to ceiling obscured glass panels. It looked bloody awful. So, we had double doors put in with a proper wall. When I say “proper”, it wasn’t, it was a plasterboard stud partition wall – the only one in the house, all other walls, even upstairs, being real blockwork. [I should’ve insisted on a block wall – 20/20 hindsight.] Whatever it was, it was a nice new smooth wall so I just slapped on vinyl emulsion in our chosen colour. All was well.

The two long walls of the dining room were covered with lining paper before being painted because, once a wall is emulsioned, then papered, you are consigned to papering it from then on ‘cos some paint remains but some comes off, leaving a patchwork of ridges. In preparing for this major project, I had to strip the lining paper from the walls. What a fun job that was … NOT!

I was surprised when, reaching the corner with the plasterboard wall, whatever was on the plasterboard wall began pulling off in sizable chunks. Much wine has flowed over my tongue since then and I assumed I’d papered it. Wrong. What was coming off was elastic chunks of vinyl emulsion. It was coming off because I hadn’t done the old job quite properly; I had not applied an initial mist coat. [Actually, I was glad I hadn’t because I was now able to strip a painted wall.]

A mist coat is a cheapo non-vinyl emulsion, usually white, thinned by about 20% with water. The idea is that, being quite thin, it soaks into the plaster providing a good base for the colour you actually want. I set about thinning 10 litres of cheap white emulsion down to about 13 litres.

I spent 90 minutes or so masking off new copper pipework, all Sparky’s wonderful electrical switched and sockets, and the brackets for the raunchy radiators. I made little skirts for Sparky’s protruding downlighters, too.

Gnome SuitRollering regular emulsion spatters a bit anyway. Rollering cheap, thinned emulsion was going to spray like buggery so I’d invested a princely £3 in a disposable white gnome suit, a.k.a. coverall complete with hoody. I’d never used one before but, when I climbed into it, I was really quite impressed – it was papery, lightweight and breathable so I didn’t get too hot.

I set about applying my mist coat, dressed in my gnome coat, to both ceilings, all the walls in the kitchen/diner, and the hall, which was now missing a kitchen door so had been re-plastered.

This was laborious work and took about 5 hours. It also took about 12 of my 13 litres of thinned emulsion. And there was me thinking I’d been forced into buying too much [10 litres is the only size they do]. I retired not so much hurt as achy. My neck is the worst from staring up at two ceilings. I’m lucky, though, with my height I can reach the ceiling without artificial aids.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt looks much brighter now.

A little less impressed with my gnome suit which evidently protects you from spatter but not from gobs of emulsion which soak through and get on your clothes. The crops I’d worn beneath may never be the same again. Little matter.

Tomorrow, I may go commando. Surprised smile

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

Welcome to the 21C

Sparky was back again, this time mainly to tackle our fuse box.

The house is c. 1980 but the electrical system seems to have been c. 1960 – we are equipped with real wire fuses [no nails or paper clips, honest] and only six of ‘em, all of which were used. We need additional circuits for an extra oven and the induction hob, which, incidentally, will consign my beloved collection of expensive, stainless steel, French Cuisinox pans to the metaphorical bin ‘cos their aluminium sandwich base doesn’t fly on induction. [Grump!] Anyway, ‘t is time to switch to a modern circuit breaker device.

Sparky began by removing the old fuse box and set about threading new, thicker uprated cables through the cavity to the main meter box. He was a bit concerned about this operation but hoped that, by taping the new to the old, he could pull the new cables into place. Things were tight; it took him pulling and me pushing but eventually they were through.

After making all the connections in the new distribution board it was time to test our new electrical system. Sparky’s tester seemed to be playing up. After 10 minutes of head scratching he dove into the meter box. Lo and behold, the probable cause of all our electrical interruptions earlier on in the project was revealed. The bozo who had recently swapped us over onto a smart meter had not tightened the cable clamp onto the neutral wire; the cable was flopping about in the terminal. Sparky did it up and his circuit tester was happy. Mystery solved.

Not out of the woods quite yet. When Sparky tried our garden lights, the circuit breaker popped. This was a repeatable error, of course. Undoing one of the garden light pedestals from the brick base revealed a colony of woodlice and wire connections caked in what is best described as damp soil. Circuit breakers are a lot more sensitive than fuses and a bit of leakage across damp soil was enough to make ‘em complain. The garden lights are not a high priority item and will remain disconnected until I can work up the enthusiasm to do something about them. Doubtless all four are home to similar colonies of wildlife.

With everything else working as advertised, we got our certificates and are cleared for take-off.

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

Let There be Light

… the return of Sparky.

Plaster drying nicely, our serenading electrician returned for his round #2. Our newly embedded cabling and pattress boxes got dressed in sockets and switches.

This man is so precise; he first went around the area armed with a Stanley knife trimming away any small amounts of plaster that had overflowed the edges of his neat handwork. Then sang his accompaniment to the radio as he fitted all the hardware.

Francine has bought a design statement for a light over the dining table. She didn’t want him to fit that until the cabinet work had been done just in case it got clonked, so he rigged up a temporary ceiling rose for the interim.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATime for Sparky to test his map of the eight downlighter positions, now covered by new ceiling, in the kitchen area. Out came his hole saw revealing wires in all the right places as hoped. In went the downlighters. Well, mostly in – he asked if I’d like him to leave them protruding, rather than flush as yet, so I could paint the ceiling without worrying about getting paint on them. Of course.

I am going to have to release his switches and sockets, of course, and I just hope I can screw them back as precisely as he did. You-know-who will be checking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve taken the opportunity also to have a power socket placed over the patio outside. This is just a regular double socket (Sparky doesn’t use singles at all) in a waterproof housing. That should make Francine’s job of mowing the grass easier – no more need to run the extension lead out through the back door. Woman’s work, gardening. Surprised smile

I may have been doing it for 40+ years but I’ve also learnt a bit about decorating. I’ve not had to deal with very much raw plaster before; I’m supposed to apply a so-called mist coat – regular emulsion thinned down so it soaks into the plaster better. The smallest quantity of cheap trade white emulsion our local professional paint supplier sells is a 10-litre tub. I’ve got plenty, then, but it was only £20.

The plaster is nearly dry enough.

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

Raunchy Radiators

No huge visible change yesterday (day #11 , incidentally): the main work was a final skimming of plaster so its ready for painting – or it will be when the plaster has dried out properly.

The main trenches in the floor, for radiator pipework and power to the island unit, have also been filled. The floor will need levelling off with screed to make a seamless single floor between what were two separate rooms, presumably before the units are fitted.

We did have another glitch. Francine noticed that the new central heating controller was off again, yet we still had power to all circuits. I had pulled a fuse to fit a USB charging socket in our bedroom so I wondered if refitting the fuse had caused the problem; damn sensitive it it had been that and I‘d done similar things plenty of times before with no problem on its forerunner.

I left a message for Plumbers Mate, who’d be hanging radiators on the morrow, to let him know. He soon arrived with a smirk on his face. As they had drained the heating system down again after their pipework test, he’d taken power away from the system “so you couldn’t accidentally turn the heating on”.

Egg on face – better than a real glitch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday was more interesting in that Plumbers Mate returned to fit our sexy new radiators, the ones you can see through so the walls need painting behind them Winking smile [That was just for Steve.] We’ve got three of them, one in the hall, one in the kitchen and a slightly narrower one in the dining area. These look so much better than our old conventional  radiators that I can see us wanting one in the lounge to match.

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

Plastered Again

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis morning was quite busy once more with our jolly Plumbers Mates in to test their new underfloor pipework. A damn good idea before burying it in flooring compound, I thought. That meant them filing the system and then firing up the boiler. [Our hot water has been via an immersion heater for the duration.]

Glitch: the central heating system didn’t fire up. Much head-scratching. The thermostat was live and the boiler electronics were live but there was no glimmer of life from the main central heating controller. All electrical circuits are connected so we had a puzzle. One Plumbers Mate popped out to collect a replacement controller, which is fortunately still current. That fixed it. It seems that all our blipping on and off of power in the earlier days of the project had somehow fried or otherwise buggered the original controller.

Happily the new soon-to-be-underfloor pipework proved sound and all was now well. I popped out to get yet another matchpot of paint.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilder Men were, of course, here as well. Their task today was more plastering; having done the ceilings before the weekend they now attacked the walls. They are plastering down just far enough to disappear behind cabinets, where there are some. I am looking forward to having nice, smooth virgin walls to paint. Given a choice I’d never use paper again. The trouble is, once an emulsioned wall has been papered, you pretty much have to paper it from then on ‘cos some paint sticks to the wall and some comes off with the paper creating a ridged patchwork.

This chap makes plastering look easy. I still say it isn’t.

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

50 Shades of White

We will be having three large vertical radiators fitted: one in the dining area, one in the kitchen area and the third in the hallway, where it will replace two smaller conventional radiators. The two larger ones weigh 40kg so I really don’t want to get involved in hefting them off the wall to paint behind them; I would much prefer to get the walls painted before they get fitted.

I’m also keen to get the other walls painted before our new cupboards are fitted because I’m anxious to avoid having to cut-in around brand new cabinets. So, we’ve been zooming about like BAFs looking at colour cards and buying matchpots to decide on a colour for the walls.

We’d seen a Farrow & Ball colour that appeared to match our Ivory-coloured cabinets. Good ol’ Homebase [I’m lying] didn’t have a matchpot, though. Neither did a larger Homebase in MK. Mind you, at £5 for a matchpot and with a 2.5L tin of Farrow & Ball emulsion costing a stonking £48, I don’t think I’m unhappy about missing out.

Dulux matchpots are a much more reasonable £1.60 and come with a handy-dandy built in mini roller to apply them. We bought 5, I cut 5 pieces of lining paper and started to apply them.

They were all essentially light cream and all looked essentially the same, to me, anyway; differences were subtle to say the least. I wondered if the lining paper, being beige, might be affecting the resultant appearance so I applied more samples to plain white A4 paper. No, they all looked essentially the same. Subtle differences may just about have been discernible as they dried.

Our friendly kitchen supplier said we could have the sample cabinet door, with a chunk of the quartz worktop and our contrasting Oxford Blue island units to stare at and compare. Very helpful.


Stop Press: None of ‘em are right.

Back to the drawing board.

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

Reach for the Ceiling

I frequently refer to plastering as what I consider to be the most skilful job in the building trade [and I just learnt that all my life I’ve been misspelling skilful with a double “L” – live and learn]. So, as well as being surprised that it’s “skilful”, I was surprised when our Builder Man declared plastering to be easy. Right.

Well, he clearly found it easy and set about proving it to me today by plastering our two new ceilings. He’s also done the plaster coat over the roughcast where the kitchen door used to be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost interesting was his special equipment for the task. His special equipment may be necessary to enable quite rapid movement around the room while covering the ceiling, where moving a modest step ladder about might prove too restrictive. He wandered freely about the space walking on what can only be described as stilts. They may have a technical name but I don’t know it. [No, just looked on Amazon and they are, indeed, stilts.]

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown

High and Low

Our building site has been a bit crowded today.

With all the services in the ceiling space now fitted and/or fixed, our Builder Men have been fixing the plasterboard for the new ceiling (which will NOT have bloody Artex on it). The full sheets went up quite quickly but cutting and fitting the smaller fiddly bits, like those covering our steel beam, took a while. It’s beginning to look like a room again, though. I wasn’t expecting plasterboard over the stub walls – maybe that’s because it ties in with the beam, or maybe it’s because roughcast would take a while to dry before it could be plastered.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile, down at floor level, our plumbers were chopping out bits of floor to expose existing pipework and run new pipework for our new radiators. ‘T was both a dusty and very noisy business, chiselling out concrete. Francine and I tried to move the smaller of the two sizes of radiator and it was bloody heavy. That’ll test the brickwork.

Posted in 2020 Covid-19 Knockdown