Living It Up

One thing I’ve not done much of so far is talk about whole rooms. If I’m honest that’s a lot to do with the limitations of iPhone photography, and the challenge of getting a picture which properly illustrates the layout. But we get a lot of compliments about the loft so I thought it would be worth talking how we planned it and what we were hoping to achieve.

 

A lot of the deliberations I touch on here actually took place at the old house, as we pretty much replicated the design from one house to another. And they were also informed by some sage advice from the company we used, Bespoke Lofts.

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The first decision we was whether to just convert the loft at the front of the house, or to go for an L-shape which maximised the space allowable under permitted development. The latter option was about 30% more expensive but would give us  nearly double the space. It seemed worthwhile on that basis alone, but became more so with the realisation that since the rear could be built out as a dormer box it would all be full height, whereas the front section would necessarily have a sloping ceiling.

Many people who go for this larger option aim to boost resale value by incorporating two bedrooms and a bathroom, and if you have a large family that obviously makes sense. But we knew we were sticking at two kids, so our aim was to free up a spare bedroom downstairs, and make ourselves a sanctuary up top.

Key ingredients included a space to sit and read, a bath for the occasional luxury soak and a decent amount of wardrobe space. Previously the downstairs front room had been our bedroom and like many people we’d improvised wardrobes from the alcoves, but it had always felt like a slightly cramped compromise.

img_3450I also hankered after beautiful cedar-lined fitted wardrobes, but the budget didn’t allow. So rather than making the wardrobes to fit the space I made the space to fit the wardrobes. In this case asking our very patient Bespoke joiner and foreman Bradley to make sure that we had exactly 3 metres available between the front of the room and the half wall that shields the loo so that a run of PAX cupboards would squeeze in as if specially fitted. Then we improvised the shoe cubbies ourselves, from some cut down shelves. And, should we ever win the Lottery, I can still commission the cedar to fit the space we’ve got.

The one big change from the old house was the layout of the windows in the rear dormer, which needed some thinking through. Previously we’d looked out over rooftops, and had windows above our shower and loo, with an inset mirrored cabinet over the basin.

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This time though Mark was keen to maximise our views of the Flats, which meant windows all the way along, and two problems. The first being to preserve my modesty, since if I could see out to the Flats then…you get my drift. We addressed this with very some careful measurements and calculations before ordering the windows.

The second was where to store all our bathroom junk. Again, planning ahead was key, with built in alcoves for the things we needed always to hand (shampoo, loo roll, toothbrush (and charging socket)) and an inset cabinet in the far wall for the other bits.

It’s an unexpected bonus that the extra mirror helps bounce light (and views) around the room.

 

Old Patterns Die Hard

This post was inspired by @forestgatebijou (fellow Forest Gate house restorers) who Instagrammed a pic of some wallpaper they’d uncovered while renovating. Which set me off on a nostalgia trip, lamenting the lost patterns of yesteryear.

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First up is this gem which we found behind the radiator in the back bedroom. I really wanted to try and save a section for framing, but the message didn’t get through to the crew, so this photo is my sole memento. I love to imagine the excitement of the little boy  whose room it was (given the era I’m assuming it was a boy), when it first went up.

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And, with apologies for the terrible resolution, (it was taken several phones ago) there’s this. We found it under the floor at our old house when taking up a carpet, sadly too brittle to save.

I also love my collection of Midwinter Madeira pattern crockery, which called to me from a Columbia Road shop window just as we were buying the house, and this little Llangolen dish picked up in a charity shop in Rye.

 

Plus of course everything ever designed by Lucienne Day.  Still saving up for some Calyx Curtains.

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Not quite sure what it is about mid-century pattern – it might be to do with the use of colour, or maybe the (deliberate?) imprecision of the shapes. Whatever it is, for me it has a verve which contemporary work struggles to match.

 

 

 

 

Two for Joy

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Exciting news on The Last House today – we’re announcing a collaboration.

Many of you will already know about the work of Forest Gate’s own fabulous Magpie Project which supports under-fives in temporary accommodation. You can read about the challenges Magpie mums and minis are facing and the great work the project does here. I’ve contributed to the project in the past but wanted to do more – loving my home as much as I do, it’s horrible to think of others in such cramped and difficult circumstances.

I also love tinkering with houses, but I’m trying to be sustainable, and I don’t want to become one of those people who changes things for the sake of it. And since starting the blog several people have been in touch to see if I could offer some suggestions for their homes.

So here’s the idea…

(With all appropriate disclaimers about taking proper professional advice before embarking on major projects),  if you live in Forest Gate, Leyton or Leytonstone and would like some advice on furniture, layouts or anything interiors, The Last House will be offering consultations in return for a donation to the Magpie Project. You can get in touch via the contact page and I’ll try and get back to you within 48 hours. Look forward to working with you…

Black Is The New Brown (and Chrome and White)

I’m surprised I’ve not covered this before now, as it’s one of the main themes of the house. In fact I toyed with The House in Black (or similar) as a name for the blog. But much as I love him I didn’t want to be mistaken for a Johnny Cash tribute site.

 

It was a bit to do with Pinterest , in part inspired by the glam anthracite grey exterior of a friend’s house,  and a lot to do with rejecting white plastic and chrome. But basically a really high proportion of the core fixtures and fittings are black.

For the floors, the driver was that we wanted boards rather than carpet, we wanted them to be affordable (so pine not hardwood) but we didn’t want that nasty orangey yellow tone that pine is prone to take. The options were a limewash (which felt impractically pale), paint or a black stain. I’d had black painted floors in my old flat so I knew they didn’t darken a space in the way you might expect. In fact they act a little like a mirror and also provide a very effective frame for a pale toned rug.

Continuing the framing theme, the windows are also black. Black windows are all over the interiors media right now: they’re meant to make more of a feature out of the views.

Once I’d started I couldn’t stop, and radiators, curtain rails, sockets and light switches all followed. Some things were easier to source than others – it’s very hard to find a non-antiqued img_3316black door handle, but a company called Atlantic make a decent range of modern designs.Curtain rails were another challenge. Too many had some bits in black but with brackets, or stops only available in white or metal. In the end I bought a Silent Gliss range from The Curtain Pole & Track Company who also custom cut and bent the tracks to measurements I supplied for the bays – all turned around within a week.

In the bathrooms shelves, soap dispensers, loo roll holders, brushes and bins all follow the theme.

I love it, and it feels absolutely right for the space. But, given it’s also “on trend”, I’d love to know now whether I’ll still be loving it in ten or twenty years time.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Foxhole

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A big moment for the Last House last week, when it started to earn its keep. A referral from a friend (thanks Suz!) led to the kitchen and sitting room starring in a photo shoot for Foxhole Spirits, makers of the delicious Foxhole Gin.

I was at work so Mark was on camera duty for the blog, taking photos of photographers. This shoot was for their new product launch – in March – so I can’t share any shots of the bottle as yet.

We had wondered about putting the house to work as a location for a while – I’d read good things about it, but also nightmare stories of people scraping inch thick layers of paint from particularly popular homes.

I’m pleased to say that the team (including Foxhole’s James and Donna and specialist drinks photographer Rob Lawson) were lovely and the  house survived the experience unscathed, but it was interesting how different this was to the KBB shoot. This time the product was the star rather than the house, and it was all about using aspects of our space to show it to best advantage. This led to some temporary reconfiguration – regular readers will recall that the sofa isn’t usually located immediately behind our desk!

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Some quite unexpected things were pressed into service, including this table which usually serves as our bedroom phone charging stand. It’s lovely but tiny  – the chap we bought it from 20 years ago thought it was probably an exam piece for someone’s joinery apprenticeship. By contrast my cocktail cabinet, which I thought would be the star of the show, didn’t get a look in.

It was great to dip our toe into the water of this world without having to register with an agency,  which begs the big question – would we do it again? And yes I think we probably would. It’s a relatively painless way to earn some extra money (not forgetting that it will need to go on the tax return), and a fun way to get an insight into a more creative world.

Plant Life (or death)

So this Wednesday we’ve got a before and after post, only the before is the good bit and the after is the bad…Or maybe the after is the middle and we’ve not got to the end yet, because as you know from previous What Went Wrong Wednesdays, there’s always hope.

Basically, I’ve been killing my houseplants. Not intentionally, but with an unhappy  combination of neglect and helicopter nurturing. Plants and I have a checkered history. At the old house I watered our one plant so well that I rotted the carpet – and killed the plant. And that was it for ten years or so.

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So when I reentered the fray with a Madagascar Dragon Tree for the loft bathroom I installed a precautionary ‘plant saucer’ underneath (actually a pizza tray from a hardware store in Ilford). And bless it, it’s doing very well – surviving a full five years and the move over the road. Once a week it gets the leftovers from our bedside glasses of water and by good chance that’s just about the right amount. But of course that convinced me that I had green fingers, and with plant filled houses filling Pinterest just as I was planning the new place that gave me ideas…

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Some have worked really well. This parade of cactuses sit on the shelf above our desk area, and immediately under the skylight. The shelf was a happy accident –  an impromptu solution when the skylights and the steel met somewhere unexpected. I guess it offers a pretty good simulation of desert conditions, and as a bonus these guys tell me when they need watering – they get a good soak whenever the prickly pear starts to lean over.

 

Others less so. I love this spidery thing in our bedroom and two months ago it was looking lush…today not so much. Likewise one of the pair in the hallway has tragically bitten the dust, and, this it the third (or is it fourth) incarnation of Gerry The Cactus in Ben’s bedroom. Pretty certain the problem here is helicoptering. Unlike the shelf cacti these guys are in pots with no drainage, and get overwhelmed if I’m even the slightest bit heavy handed with the watering. I hoped that a spray bottle would solve the problem, but I over-squirted. Clearly need to do some more homework on cactus care.

Whereas the houseplant gang on the kitchen shelf are under-watered I think. Or maybe some under and some over. In any event they’re all but dead. Still, the good thing is that I got to enjoy them for nearly a year. And Molly and Bill Stevens are just down the road – this emergency cactus top-up this afternoon cost me a fiver. And I’ve still not spent my housewarming present from mum so a half term visit to the Camden Garden Centre with their lush houseplant collection, is calling me. Only this time I will read the care labels, I promise.

 

 

 

 

 

Maximum Utility

I was a tiny bit tempted to tidy up before I took these pictures, but I decided against it. Firstly because who wants to tidy their utility room on a gloomy February evening. And secondly because it would be cheating.

The truth is that without this slightly chaotic space, which occupies the other half of the cellar to the man cave, the rest of the house wouldn’t be half so calm. It’s the flapping swan’s legs under the serene glide, the violin virtuoso’s 10,000 hours, the…you get the picture.

It was also our saviour in December 2017 when, three months after moving in, it became our second temporary kitchen. Basic, a little too small for a family of four, but crucially inside the house and with hot running water – a step up from the garage kitchen we’d been occupying for the first onslaught of the Beast from the East. (It was great saying goodbye to the launderette too).

The shelving is the IKEA Algot system which is happily versatile. Once we no longer needed to house our pots, pans and table top oven (a Panasonic, which was brilliant and even served us for roast dinners) we kept the uprights in situ but swapped the shelves for baskets on runners, to help manage the laundry.

The idea is that the baskets live in our upstairs laundry cupboard until washday, when we work our way down the house collecting as we go. The multiple loads can be stored off the floor and sorted by room/owner for the return journey. Ironing (when we do any) hangs on the rail to the right.

The overflow freezer is an important component in our car-free life as it, together with the floor to ceiling cupboards in the kitchen, means we can bulk order all the boring groceries once a month and then top up locally.  The heated airers from Lakeland are great for drying delicates and (I think), greener than the tumble drier – In theory they can be folded away when not in use but in practice…

The rest of the space is storage for tools and cleaning materials and as glamorous as you’d expect. I’ve promised myself not to tinker this year, but I am quite tempted by a sliding screen or panel curtain to reduce the visual chaos. Completing the engine room feel we have our ethernet hub tucked under the stairs.