Monday, 24 August 2015


One day when it’s looking all tidy and beautiful, I will show you the work our Hebe did on her room.

When we came to this house, her room had 1970s floral wallpaper, dark russet nylon carpet tiles, a sink set in a fitted pine vanity unit coated thickly with that de rigeur orange 1970s varnish, a humungous fitted wardrobe made of melamine with fancy gilt handles and containing a huge hot water cylinder; and plenty of damp stains in the corners.

That was nearly six years ago. We’ve done a lot of work on the house since then.

When we first moved in, we tossed out the ghastly floor tiles and re-carpeted, and Hebe painted the walls. At the time we put the solar panels and solar tubes on the roof, Hebe had to accommodate an even larger hot water cylinder – so big that one of the awful melamine doors had to come off her wardrobe and be replaced by a blanket hung on a net curtain stretcher, even with some of the cylinder insulation shaved off.

So. Time went on.

One of the things we did was create a boiler room up in our attic. We laid a floor, and there re-located the boiler and hot water cylinder to join the inverter for the solar tubes that heat our water. So now it’s all easily accessible for servicing and not occupying rooms in the main house. The boiler with its penetrating blue lights used to be in Alice and Hebe’s art studio. Not any more.

Then we fixed the problems with the roof, left us as a legacy by the first men who fixed the roof, and finally stopped the ingress of damp, from the initial buckets-in-the-attic and the later slow seepage, to zero water. Glad of that. It’s raining.

When these changes happened Hebe, now water-cylinder-less, took the opportunity to have the wardrobe and plumbed-in vanity unit removed. She tore up the carpet – now a few years old and well-trodden. She had the room re-plastered so all the dodgy bits resulting from age and long damp were sorted. Into the gaps between the old Victorian floorboards she hammered wood slivers to give a gapless floor. Then she had a man with a machine sand it for her. She chose a beautiful white stain through which you can still see the wood grain, and a white wax finish. The floor man didn’t do a brilliant job, but okay. She wished she’d done it herself, but at least this is one more bit of evidence that one need never be daunted by the hallowed territory of Professionals.

She replaced the original eBay curtains, now rotted by sunlight and torn by agile cats, with white linen lined curtains over finest white linen nets, through which sunlight filters like fairyland.

A floor sleeper, she got huge and beautiful beanbags for herself and visiting family members to relax on, and the Badger built her a low-level unit out of old sanded gravel boards, to store her clothes. She got a set of ladder shelves for her books.

The whole room is now airy, peaceful, calm, pale, light-filled, elegant and Zen.

Egged on by her example, I have begun the much needed work on my own little room. The carpet that was new when we came was now stained, grubby and trodden. And I prefer floorboards because I hate vacuum cleaners with a passion. The old over-painted wallpaper and the polystyrene coving (Yes. Why?) need to come off, but I don’t feel up to that yet. So I just started with the floor.

The Badger took up the carpet for me and the underlay and hardboard and gripper rods, and took it all to the tip. I pulled up staples until my hands were all blistered, then Hebe and Fi pulled out the rest (ie most of them). Then I scrubbed the floor with sugar soap and bleach to get out all the dirt accumulated there since 1910.

The Badger is going to sand it for me too, and then I’ll rub wood balsam into it, and buff it, to get a rich protected well-fed finish.

But all that was just me getting round to what I really wanted to tell you – well, show you really.

While we were doing all this I found two things.

Digging out the impacted dirt of aeons from between the floorboards, I excavated this old rusty hairpin.

This room of mine was most likely a maid’s room for the original Victorian family. I wonder who she was – pinning up her hair early in the morning by the light of the rising sun through the window, dropping a hairpin that fell down between the floor boards to be lost for a hundred years.

She had another mishap.

The floor had a dark stain I originally took for the remains of dark varnish inadequately sanded off.

Then I realized as I looked at it carefully, having scrubbed the surface dirt away, this floor had never been varnished or stained – the boards were in their original condition (apart from all the dirt). The stain was where the hairpin owner had another accident. She knocked over an oil lamp. The dark patch is where the oil caught fire and nearly set the house alight. You can see, if you look at it, how it splashed and puddled and ran – all alight.

Someone put that out mighty quick – or maybe it fell onto a rug and set it alight, so the patches are where it burned through.

When the Badger sands the floor for me, I’ll ask him to sand round that patch. That’s precious. Along with the hairpin, it’s part of my room’s history, silently waiting there in its bones, undiscovered until now.


Rebecca said...

Ah, yes. History... Happily you are not a revisionist (as many are these days).

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Suze said...

I am glad to see that you are eager to preserve history. We live in a home built in the 1970's and sadly much of the mission brown stain that was used on every door, window sill and cupboard remains. It is extremely difficult to remove this stain and only two of the cupboards have been treated successfully. So the solid wood remains as it is probably better than more recent stuff. I am so glad you have chosen simple and relaxinf xolour palettes.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Anonymous said...

I love this. I've renovated several old houses (1890-1906) and these kinds of things are absolute delight to me. :) My own people were not yet in the states in those years, our old country history all lost to us, so encountering and living with the history in my adopted houses was an intimacy I treasured.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) The memory of a house is a wonderful thing to encounter. x

Rapunzel said...

Sugar soap????????

Please tell me more about this.

I'm moving to a house built in 1926, and probably not cleaned thoroughly in the last decade from the look of things. (The last tenants were not into cleaning or fixing things)
Once the bathroom repairs are done and the nasty old kitchen floor is replaced I'll be taking up my new hobby: Scrubbing. I'll be cleaning only with things that aren't all chemically and nasty, because after all, my creatures and I will be breathing in this house.
Sugar soap sounds wholesome ;) like something the fairies scrub their wee little floors with. Is it something you buy, or make or what?

I LOVE it that you're keeping the fire scar. When my landlord asked me what I'd like to do with the floor of the house I know he was thinking lino? Carpet? refinishing with a nice modern stain and liquid plastic clear coating?
I told him, since he'd said I can do whatever I want, that "What I want is to sweep the dirt away, give the floors a good hard scrubbing..."
"And then? he asked
"And then I want to let it be a floor." I told him. It's served quite well for 89 years and looks to me like it has at least that much more life left in it.

Pen Wilcock said...

In England, sugar soap is what our painters and decorators use to scrub down grimy surfaces in preparation for decorating. It is extremely effective.
You can see it in action here:

And here, prepping for decorating:

If you Google on 'sugar soap recipe', you can see a) how to make it if it isn't available in the US and b) what the ingredients are to help you decide if it's something you're happy using.

You can buy it on Amazon, here:
I expect they'll ship to the US.

US Amazon also have it ready mixed in liquid form, here:

I like to feed the wood once clean, and I rub wood balsam into it for a beautiful finish (just needs buffing) and a lovely smell. I like this one:

Excellent stuff.


And - oh, look - here it is on US Amazon too:

Rapunzel said...

Thank you for all the links Pen, you are such a lovely source of useful information--I will think fondly of you as I scrub ;)

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Sandra Ann said...

Beautiful story and a rememberance of times past x

Pen Wilcock said...

:00 xx