Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sitting room reveal

There were times when we couldn’t see beyond all that needed doing in this room – the old dining room – to turn it into a lovely living space. To be honest, sometimes it was overwhelming to complete novices like us. But here’s the treatment this room got:

  • Full damp proof course
  • Rewiring
  • Replastering
  • New skirting (the old stuff was rotten and full of weevils)
  • New picture rail
  • New carpet and underlay (it now feels like you’re walking on clouds despite the concrete floor)
  • Fireplace renovation
  • New central heating and piping
  • Paint job
  • New blinds and soft furnishings
  • New furniture  (and a few fairly old bits too)
  • A whole lotta love

But it’s been worth it.

Here’s the obligatory before and after:



Edwardian Farrow and ball pigeon blue gray off white pointing


A bit different, eh?! Of all the rooms in the house this one probably has the most objects that have stories. So I’ll tell these stories in future posts.

But for now, go on, take a closer look at the room itself. Push the door……..

Farrow and Ball Slipper Satin woodwork


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How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 3, the reveal!

Stubborn AND scary

Stubborn AND scary

Parts 1 and 2 of this tale may have had you crying – why didn’t you just get it blasted?

Well, we did consider it. But actually, the metal isn’t in the best of shapes in places – My Love has dimples – so, blasting it ran the risk of these worsening. There was also the cost to consider.

There’s also the fact that I am exceedingly stubborn. If I start something, I finish it.

And finish it I did. The (perfect) timing of finishing getting all the paint off meant we could get a fire installed before the plasterer turned up.

Choosing an actual fire was a pretty dull process which I won’t bore you with. But after many hours of research and show-room wanderings we went with a Gazco and a vented flue (cheaper and more effective than sorting the chimney out. And, no, we didn’t consider a wood burner, we’re way too lazy……)

So, when the gas man turned up with his pneumatic drill, here’s the moment the bricks came tumbling out:


There was a lot of dust…..

We later returned from work to find the fire in place. Hurrah!

With the fire installed the plastering could start. The filthy dirty messy plasterer. Now, he was actually (shock horror!) pretty good at covering the fireplace as we nagged him constantly. But we then neglected to put the dehumidifier in that room whilst the plaster dried. So days later when we took off the covers:

Rust on a cast iron period fireplace

Rust central

Yep, that baby can RUST. Unprotected, it can rust up in just a couple of days like a good’un. I won’t lie, this reduced me to tears. Actual real big ploppy tears.

But I pulled myself together and began mournfully scrubbing My Love with my wire brush and wire wool. Scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing. To little avail:

Rust on a cast iron period fireplace

Oh! My Love!

(True facts:

  • Constant rust dust in the air tastes just like blood.
  • Your bogeys will go an interesting maroon colour.)

And then one day on a chance visit to Screw Fix my glorious hubbie came home with these:

wire brush drill bits

This is quite possibly the best thing he has EVER bought me (and he’s bought me Tiffanys diamonds…..)

You pop one of these little darlings on a drill and away you go! You gotta be careful not to overdo it or press too hard so’s not to damage the metal but gradually you can not only get rid of the rust and any pesky paint chips but also bring up a beautiful sheen to the metal.

It still took HOURS, so don’t be fooled, but it was exceedingly satisfying.

And then finally, we were ready for the last stage. And, strangely, the quickest.

All you do is smear on grate polish (which costs just a couple of quid) and then buff it off:

cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Dot it on….

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Rub it in….

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish


At the bottom of the fireplace I hadn’t bothered to remove all the rust, knowing this would be covered up by the carpet. But I thought I’d give the grate polish a go and see how it fared. Result: pretty good!

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Hiding the rust

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

The end.

And, that was it. Done. My long-running affair finally over.

Thanks for sticking with these blog posts but I hope they’ve been interesting and – importantly – may one day be of use to someone else.

Oh, you want to see the finished thing in all its glory? I thought you’d never ask! Go on then, take a peek!


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How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 2

So, we left off with the beginning of elbow grease on the central part of the fireplace. This got me to this stage:

cast iron paint chips

So nearly there

Do you see the tiny chips of paint? To the right of the pic and in amongst the detail? These were the bane of my life! From a distance it was looking great but get up close to My Love and these remained, needing careful chipping off bit by bit. I knew if I didn’t do it meticulously then at the final stage the grate polish wouldn’t cover them.

So, slowly, I continued. I was determined to get the middle bit perfect, to spur me on as I faced the rest of the challenge. And finally after copious buffing, I got this:

cast iron fireplace detail

What a beauty!

Now, if that wouldn’t spur me on, nothing would!!

After all this detailing I thought I’d treat myself to a nice flat surface and thus turned attention to the top of the mantle.

On went the gunk:

Paint stripping on cast iron with peelaway

Smoothing on the PeelAway with the spatuala

It was covered with the special paper, air bubbles ironed out and then left for 48hours. Here it is being peeled away:

Peelaway on cast iron fireplace

In action!

D’ya see all the liquid? That’s what made this such a messy job. I have no idea how someone would manage if the rest of the room didn’t need renovating cos me and my trusty scrubbing brush got it EVERYWHERE.

You see, by the time you get the gunk off you then need to get rid of the liquid and, supposedly, neutralise it – though I never did as I figured I has yet more buffing to do which would get rid of any residue.

It turned out that the paint came off the top super easy:

Just one application!

Just one application!

I realised there were only a couple of layers of paint here (no gharish mutli-colours) and that’s why the PeelAway was so incredibly effective here.

I think someone had in the past decided to strip the paint – hence the thin layers. There’s also (sad) evidence of some rough chiseling on the edge of the mantelpiece. I guess they realised what a mammoth job it was and couldn’t face all the detailing so they just repainted the top and then another couple of coats on the rest of it to make my RSI so much worse….

I carried on down the fireplace and realised that the longer you left the gunk on for, the better the results. So, I tackled a new bit of detailing and left it for 72hours:

You can really see how it worked on the paint layers and, whilst a lot of mess remained, it was worth leaving it on for the extra time. Patience is a virtue and all that.

You can also see the eventual mess it was leaving behind:


It was clear there was going to be a mega wire scrubbing job ahead and little point doing it as I went along so I concentrated on getting all the paint off first.

There was something strangely compelling about watching the changes over the 72hours of leaving the gunk on:

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Now, there is something worth mentioning. PeelAway is pretty friendly stuff. It doesn’t actually have a smell at all and seems fairly innocuous. But then remember what it is capable of. If I got a bit on my skin then within 15 minutes I’d soon begin to feel the prickly burn – but a quick wash off and it was fine.

So, be warned!

You do not want to be this

You do not want people making assumptions

And, do not, whatever you do, decide to wear vinyl gloves when your index fingernail could do with trimming. Because said nail will split the glove, but you’re too busy scrubbing away for an hour before you even notice.

And it’s that smell you’ll notice first. You know, the wretched smell of burning hair? Or burning nail as it turns out. So, you curiously scrape your nail and layers come off like butter, until you panic and plunge it into icey water to stop the burning process. And then you have a repellent yellow nail for WEEKS that you cannot paint over with nail varnish for fear of making the whole thing fall off. So instead your skanky nail suggests you smoke 40+ woodbines a day. Yeah, that. Don’t do that people.

Still, inch by inch I was making my way across the fire place. Across My Love.

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by inch

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by inch by inch

Will we make it? Will we get to the end, buff it up, install a working fire, smear it in grate polish and happily rejoice? There’s only one way to find out……tune in next time for the final installment!

(You’re on the edge of your seat. Go on, admit it.)

Read on to part 3


Filed under Fireplace

How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 1

It’s probably about time I blogged about our fireplace. There’s a fair bit to say before the reveal, so I’ll split this into parts.

When we bought this house we had no idea we had a stunning original period feature just waiting to be restored.

Original estate agent picture

Original estate agent picture

In fact, it was several months in that we finally clocked that the fireplace that we thought was wooden was cold to the touch, and therefore metal.

Dumb, huh? But seriously – would you have expected that this was an original Edwardian cast iron beauty?


Mmmmmmm, sexy.

Ok, ok, you’d have realised sooner, smartypants. In our defence, when we first moved in we spent very little time in this room (the old dining room destined to be our sitting room). And besides, we were totally distracted by the ugly old fire and green tile hearth – circa 1980 public toilets.

However, within 5 minutes of clocking it was indeed metal we excitedly found the Nitromors and several coats, an hour and a room full of toxic stink we managed this:

Cast iron fireplace nitromors

What the Nitromors revealed

Cast iron, with beautiful detailing lost under layers of paint. And there began my absolute obsession with restoring this poor darling to its original splendour. And boy, was that some challenge.

It was clear that Nitromors wasn’t going to cut it – not when you look at the size of the fireplace (it’s 1.5m wide by x 1.2m high if you’re wondering) and not when we considered the vast amount of detail on My Love.

Yes, I am calling it My Love, for it was. For 4 months a day would not pass without me spending quality time with My Love. Even when – ironically – we had no heating in the depths of winter, I wrapped up in scarf and hat and My Love got attention. We spent hours and hours together, quietly and methodically strengthening our bond. He gave me a terrible repetitive sprain injury (insert your own mucky undertones here) that sent me to my workplace physio. And yet I continued, hour upon hour on my knees in front of him (yep, go on again). Anyway……

peelaway1Google is a wonderful thing and after much research it seemed that the wonder product I needed was: PeelAway1. (I have since discovered this wonderful post on the process which I so wish I had seen before I had started on ours!) PeelAway is used by the National Trust, so if it’s good enough for them…..

Armed with the instructions on my reassuringly large tub of PeelAway, some rubber gloves and a massive amount of enthusiasm – in I went, concentrating on the central bit of the fire surround.

I assumed that the more of this stuff I used, the better – right? So I happily squidged on huge amounts, smoothed it with the supplied spatula, put the paper on top (endearingly, the manufacturers call this a “blanket”) and waited. No toxic stink whatsoever – a good start.

I waited 24hours, and tugged at the paper expecting it all to come away in one go. To, erm, “peel away” in fact.

Nope, there was a lot of gungy mess and unexpected liquid. So after cleaning, scraping and moaning I had this:

Peel Away 1 on cast iron

Not quite peeled away

Peelaway1 first use on period cast iron fireplace

Let’s take a closer look

What this had revealed was just how many layers of paint there were to get through and – oh! – check out those colours! There was a particularly striking blue, a green and a burgundy. Apparently, the fashion for painting your fireplace in hideous colours was particularly prevalent in the 1960s, so we were looking at at least 50 odd years of paint.

And what paint it was – God only knows what they put in paint back then (oh yeah, lead) – but it was strong stuff made to last. Oh My Love, what had they done to you?

So, next time I used a little less of the PeelAway gunk, tucked in My Love with a new blanket and, this time, waited 48hours. A little improvement, but not much – though all the green paint had gone. (I neglected to take a photo at this stage – sorry) So I went ahead, more gunk, more tucking in and another 48hours.

After more messy cleaning, I got this:

Cast iron fire detail painted

Oh, hello there fine detail!

I tried Nitromors again on these stubborn bits, but nope, it wasn’t shifting it and was instead just doing terrible things to my asthma.

So there was just one thing for it: wire wool, wire brushes, tiny chisels, elbow grease and stubborn perseverance. And you wonder why I got an RSI.

To be continued….

Read on to part 2


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Mexico, househunting and a little shower….

Yes, I know, I promised that when we got back I’d be sharing actual pictures of the house and what we’ve achieved. What can I say, I’m a terrible tease!! But, honestly, since we landed a couple of weeks ago we’ve been really busy and also slightly distracted by house-buying; more on that later.



Mexico,thanks for asking, was absolutely everything we needed it to be. Whilst the poor UK was drowning (literally, in horrendous flooding) we were luxuriating in the glorious Riviera Maya.

Here’s the highlights:

Critter spotting – our resort was set in an ‘eco jungle’ so was alive with critters which we absolutely loved. Every day there was something new to spot or say “hello” to (or “goodnight” as it happened…..every evening on the walk back to our room I insisted on roll calling all the critters we’d seen that day and saying “night” to them. I’d blame the cocktails but the truth is, I’d have done it sober too.)

Not a single mosquito bite – yep, that’s definitely a highlight. I am normally absolutely bitten to shreds despite the strongest tropical repellent. Not this time! Thanks, we think, to the eco balance of the resort and the aforementioned abundance of critters (iguanas and spiders galore) who were no doubt guzzling up the evil mozzies.

Snorkelling with turtles – next to our resort was a small fishing village called Akumal, meaning ‘place of the turtle’ in Mayan because they feed on the sea grass here. We just hired (mandatory) life vests and waded into the water from the beach; within minutes we saw a huge turtle. In just an hour in the water we were joined by 5 turtles and a couple of absolutely huge stingrays. Loved it. Oly did not love the resulting sunburn as much…but guess who advised him to wear a tshirt under his life jacket? This is what happens when I’m not listened to.



Not getting stung by a lionfish – there was great snorkelling right off our resort beach too. One day we spent ages getting incredibly close to a ‘really pretty fish’. I loved watching it, spent ages right by it, getting closer and closer until Oly got bored. We google imaged it later to find out it’s kind of venemous and you shouldn’t really hang around  with it. Ooops.

See how pretty he is? An easy mistake, no?!

See how pretty he is? An easy mistake, no?!

Coba – we’ve done Chichen Itza before and so this time went to the Mayan city of Coba, which was incredible. In a couple of weeks you’ll be no longer able to climb the ruins of the grand pyramid so we’re lucky we made it in time. I say lucky….to be honest, I can see why they’re closing it, it’s pretty unsafe now. I hadn’t realised how absolutely incredibly petrified I am of falling until I had to get back down (my fear stems back to a nasty fall down a fire escape as a 5year old). So, yes, I was the ladylike tourist who bumped my way back down to safety on my ass……

Tulum – not far at all from our resort so we just hopped on a bus and enjoyed the incredible views. Seriously, postcard perfection. And back at the resort in time for lunch and a siesta in the sun, what’s not to like?!

Tulum ruins

Tulum ruins

CocoBongo – that’s a nightclub/show type thing. Check it out. I have never ever seen anything quite so amazing or crazy and we absolutely loved every minute of it. We considered going back a few nights later it was that good. Darling Husband losing our room key at 5am didn’t even dampen it – nor did the stonking hangovers.

Hiring a jeep in Cozumel – a quick ferry ride and we had a day with our own (knackered!) jeep exploring the island. We beat all the cruise tour parties and just did our own thing. There was an embarrassing incident outside Starbucks (yes, we feel the shame, but I so wanted a frappuccino) when Oly couldn’t get the handbrake off. But a friendly local soon came to our rescue.

Oly loved the jeep


Doing nothing – damn, that was good. We did get out and about quite a bit but the rest of the time we just mooched, ate, lay in the sun, drank, played in the waves, listened to audio books (best thing when sun bathing!) and generally relaxed. We even squeezed in a trip to the spa and sat in the jacuzzi watching the sun go down discussing the year that was and how much we’d achieved.



Lizards – a little known fact is that I have a total fascination for lizards (much to Oly’s mum’s disgust – she’s not so keen!). Mexico is a total haven for iguanas and geckos and our resort in particular had tons of them – still very wild so not keen to get too close to humans. I tried, believe me. So, meeting this fella in Cozumel made me especially happy.

We mirrored expressions

We mirrored expressions

So, pretty much – that was Mexico.

We came home to very exciting house buying news. No, we’re not selling ours before you all start putting offers in; not sure we’ll ever sell this house now.

The exciting news was about Oly’s brother who has recently been trying to buy  his first house where he currently lives in Birmingham. His job is now changing which means he is going to be covering the North of the UK now, so he took the only sensible decision – to move to Leeds. Yay!!

Almost as soon as he told us we were on Right Move checking out what he could get. We were privileged that he wanted us to help him with the hunt and we’ve really enjoyed it. A couple of weeks and a  few viewings later (such fun!!) and he’s had an offer accepted on an amazing terrace about 2 minutes walk  from us!

Oly is absolutely over the moon at the thought of it and I’m pretty damn chuffed too; he’s such a lovely guy we’re looking forward to seeing much more of him. But it does help explain my lack of  recent blog progress.

Once again, I promise to get taking photos and showing you what we’ve actually done with the rest of the house. So, stay tuned. Yeah, yeah, I know – you’ve heard that before……….



Oh, I almost forgot about Him. He had a lovely holiday in a luxury cattery whilst we were away, you’d think he would’ve been grateful……….

Oly went to pick him up and on the drive home (about 20mins) suspected he may have had a little accident in the car (Humph, not Ol).

On putting his cage down in the hallway and lifting off the lid Oly said, “I think he may have weed himself”, just as Humph dramatically leapt from his cage and little poos went flying about 10 feet all over our lovely new 100% wool carpet. Quite literally a shit shower. Or a dirty protest.

Thankfully we own a carpet cleaner but it wasn’t quite what I wanted to be doing after a night flight. So he is currently referred to as The Little Shitbag who is capable of concealing a dozen poos in his little fluffy trousers until it is time to unleash them. He’s still damn cute though.


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