Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Bathroom update March 31, 2008

Filed under: Interiors — lauravw @ 8:16 pm

There’s not been much of an update on the bathroom because for about a week, no progress was made. But things have swung back into life again now, and there is at last some action.

On Thursday last week the plasterers arrived, and within a couple of hours had turned the swirly ceiling into a smooth flat ceiling.

The following day, the new window went in. The window people were not the nicest, but they have done a good job (as well they should, given what they charge!). This is, you may recall, the window that has a blind inside it, between the two panes of glass.  You can see it here. By the time the window and the plastering had been done, I was fed up with having to stay in the house all day during noisy and messy works and so was quite relieved that today I could go to work while the tiling was done. By the time I got home, all the mess of the day had been tidied away, and I could see the progress that had been made. The new tiles are mostly in position, and tomorrow they will be grouted. The bathroom cabinet may also go up tomorrow.

So once that’s done, there’s only the floor and the painting left. Overall this has been a fairly easy process – we had our kitchen replaced two years ago and that was a nightmare from start to finish, but we’ve really not been inconvenienced too much this time. I certainly expected worse!

I’m still adding pictures to this set on Flickr.


Tuesday Night Craft Club: Invitations March 27, 2008

Filed under: Crafts,Food,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 9:21 am

InvitationsI turn 30 in a few weeks, and am planning a small party. So for this week’s craft club I made some invitations. I used some pretty patterned card, which I trimmed so that it would fit inside some blue envelopes I had. I printed out the details of the party and then attached those with eyelets to the cards. On the envelopes I stamped little chickens.

That leaves the catering to think about. There will be around a dozen people in total, coming to our house on a Saturday afternoon – for tea and birthday cake. This means I don’t have to do too much in the way of catering: I’m making myself a big chocolate birthday cake, and I think I’ll also do rice crispie treats and millionaire’s shortbread.

There will be several kinds of tea on offer, plus coffee and soft drinks. I was also wondering about making mint juleps – not that they would go particularly well with the food, but simply because I’ve never tried one and thought it might be fun. Most guests will be driving though, and so wouldn’t be able to have one – so perhaps I’ll make myself one for when everyone goes home.

I’m hoping the weather will be decent enough that we can play croquet and boules on the lawn, but I’m not going to count on that – especially given the Easter weekend wash-out we’ve just had.


The new bathroom: in progress March 19, 2008

Filed under: Interiors — lauravw @ 8:11 pm

Work on our bathroom is now well and truly underway. The plumber arrived first thing on Monday morning, and within minutes was dismantling the old bathroom. I quickly gathered up the kitten and bundled her into her cat transporter, ready to take her to a cattery for the rest of the week – where she is safely away from all the noise and disruption.

When we got home from work on Monday evening, nothing remained of the existing bathroom: the tiles were all ripped from the walls (leaving a mess of crumbling plaster, which will be fixed up next week, when the plasterer is coming to re-do our ceiling); the bath, sink, toilet and broken shower were gone; the carpet was up; and the wonky old cabinet that was there when we arrived had been taken down.

It remains a mystery how the plumber, working on his own, managed to get our old bathtub out of the bathroom, down the stairs and out of the house without destroying everything in its path – but he did.

Already in place by the end of day one were the new toilet and bathtub. The surroundings they are in may look worse than messy, but they work and can be used, which means the inconvenience has been kept to a minimum. By the end of day two, he’d done the basin (I love the basin! Pictures coming soon!), and put up the new heated towel rail and radiator.

Today – day three – he has almost finished, and an electrician he employs will be there tomorrow doing the new light and electric fan. When we spoke to the plumber earlier he said the project had been more straightforward than he anticipated, and that as such he would send us a revised, lower bill. I have never heard of this happening before and
am astounded!

So what’s next? Well, once the electrician has been, the walls and ceiling can be plastered. We expect that the electrician will have to drill out a big channel for wires either in the wall or the ceiling, so that’ll get fixed up, plus the hideous swirly ceiling itself needs smoothing. In just over a week the new window goes in – once that’s done, the tiler can put the tiles up. And once that’s done, the floor can go in, followed by painting. This means it will look like a big old mess for a good few weeks yet, but it was unpleasant even before work started, so we’re no worse off. And did I mention just how nice the basin is?

I’m uploading pictures to this Flickr set, so you can see our progress on there.


The new bathroom: work starts March 16, 2008

Filed under: Interiors — lauravw @ 6:40 pm

Tomorrow morning the plumber arrives to start work on our bathroom renovations. I’ve taken plenty of ‘before’ shots of what the room looks like, but they were so shameful that I think I won’t share them until I can also post a few of the work in progress.

It has taken a very long time to get to this point, so here’s a summary of what we’ve been through.

Firstly, it is very hard to get a plumber to come over to look at the work that needs doing. To clarify, it’s hard to get a recommended plumber to come over – all the good ones are very busy. This is discouraging as it makes you feel they won’t be willing to turn up to do the work either, but the one we’re using was recommended by some good friends who have had work done by him in the past, and we’re told he’s thorough, tidy and does a good job. Which is obviously important.

Secondly, it’s even harder to try to coordinate all the various workmen and tasks: at the start I made a list of the work that needed doing, and the ideal order in which it would be done. But now things are coming together in a different order, which means we’ll possibly have a couple of weeks when we have the new bath, sink and toilet, but have walls with no tiles on them (and no doubt they will look awful, because the old tiles will have been prised off). This is because we’re having the window replaced, but they can’t do that for a few weeks because we’ve ordered something fancy that has to be made in Italy (more on that below).

The finding and ordering of all the various components has been a complicated business, but everything is now ordered, and in most cases delivered. All we are waiting for is the floor and the tiles, but neither of those can be installed just yet anyway.

what we’ve bought.

We’re having the Java sink and toilet from Wickes, with the Java tap on the sink and the Belmont taps for the bath (I love the Java basin tap, but the bath version would not have worked for us and so I’ve gone for something that’s a similar shape). All of these things were bought during the half-price sale earlier this year, so we paid half of what they are now selling for. (Though the sale period for kitchens and bathrooms seems to be almost neverending, so they will be reduced again in no time.)

The bathtub is by Ideal Standard, and we’re having one of those glass screens rather than a shower curtain – also by Ideal Standard. (Be warned if you are buying fittings for a bathroom that the glass screens cost a lot more than you’d think.)

I searched all over the place for an inoffensive light fitting – the rules on what lights you can have in your bathroom are very strict in this country, and also seem to mean you can only have ugly lights. I’ve gone for this plain but energy-efficient number – I tried to get this one from Habitat but am told it’s discontinued – although it is clearly still listed on their website… I think the one we’re getting will look OK though.

Above the basin I’m having very pale green glass tiles from Fired Earth (these were in the process of being discontinued when I ordered them). They are brick shaped and so should work well with the white ceramic tiles I’m having around the bath/shower area. The ceiling will be plastered over to make it smooth (it is swirly at the moment) and painted white, while the walls will be painted grey.

We’re getting an actual radiator in the bathroom (it gets VERY cold in there), and a little heated towel rail (yay!).

On the floor will be a wood-effect lino – it’s not going to fool anyone into thinking it’s real wood, but I think it will look good, and is a practical choice for bathrooms.

And for the window we are having a blind that fits inside the glass. As in, it’s a double-glazed window, and the blind is between the two panes of glass. This is ideal for us – the window faces the street and so we want to add in as much privacy as possible, but at the same time it’s in direct line of the shower and so any window covering gets covered in water and is vulnerable to mould and damp. The blinds are made by an Italian company, and have not added much to the price (about the same as getting a venetian blind fitted in the normal way). It’s operated by magnets, which sounds very futuristic. We had a play with a couple of window samples and they seem to work well. The window company are currently installing them at a special school for autistic children, who apprently have a habit of grasping at window blinds and pulling them down – so blinds they can’t reach should be safer for them.

We had three window companies come out to do quotes for a new window, and it seems that all opaque glass in the UK comes from one supplier, which means there is a very limited range of designs on offer. (Note to any glass worker people: there is a gap in the market here, people would like opaque windows with nice glass in rather than a choice of 12 different and very dated designs.)

Finally I’ve bought a cabinet, mirror and also a laundry bin (to fit in an awkward space at the end of the bath where there is currently a built-in cupboard) – these are all from John Lewis. The mirror’s not on their website, but the cabinet and laundry bin are.

I have kept track of everything I’ve spent and what all the items and labour costs were – I’m not sure if it’s tacky to mention how much it all cost, but I may share that information in case it’s of use to anyone else planning to replace their bathroom.

So here goes – wish us luck…


100 things March 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — lauravw @ 12:34 pm

Maggie’s list of 100 things to do before you ‘go’ got me thinking about the things I still want to do while on earth. I’ve been lucky and done a good few already – seen the Statue of Liberty, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, seen Sydney Harbour (and swum in a rooftop pool in Sydney – at the youth hostel), seen chalets and waterfalls in rural Switzerland, visited New Zealand… most of the things on my list are travel-related.

There are plenty more things I want to see/visit/experience: very high on the list for me are the Northern Lights, which I suppose I should think about doing in the next few years. I’d like to sit on a porch drinking lemonade and waving at the neighbours; walk across the Golden Gate Bridge; swim in the pool at Hearst Castle; go horseriding on a beach (I do have an old picture of me as a child riding a donkey along the seafront at Scarborough, so I’m half way there); have my own radio show; stay in a chalet in Switzerland; and about half of the things that Maggie’s put on her list (para-sailing in particular is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but on occasions where I’ve been in a suitable location , like Florida, I’ve wimped out).

Maggie’s list is in four installments: one, two, three, four – and an update on the things people suggested in their comments.


In style March 11, 2008

Filed under: Shopping — lauravw @ 7:52 pm

I have been interested in the discussion about clothing over at Making it Lovely. Nicole asked people whether they go for quantity or quality (I’m summarising here, read her post in full to get a better understanding) when buying clothing.

I certainly don’t buy very cheap clothes (I’ve never bought any from Primark, for example, despite the fact that my friends often have nice things from there): it makes me uneasy to think of what the people who assembled a £2 t-shirt got paid for their trouble. But at the same time I’m not quite at the Boden end of the market, much as I’d like to be.

In the past 12 months or so I have been making a real effort with clothes: I used to buy nice things and save them for special occasions, but now if I buy something nice, I wear it. It’s a simple step, but doesn’t come that easy to me – I would almost rather wrap nice things in tissue paper and hide them in the wardrobe, lest anything be spilled on them, or they get clawed by the kitten.

I’ve also found that the things on sale in stores I used to shop in (Next, for example) are not that appealing these days (I’m not keen on ‘fashionable’ clothing – the trends for drainpipe jeans and oddly shaped cardigans have passed me by). This meant for a long while I bought hardly any clothes at all, but now I’ve found a few new places to shop and am possibly spending a little too much on clothes.

Over the weekend I placed an order at Kew for a few things, and I’m hoping to visit White Stuff soon to see the new season’s stock. I have a couple of skirts from White Stuff that I get asked about every single time I wear them, and they always seem to have something I want to wear. Great Plains is another good option – their clothes this season are lovely, but the colours in the collection would not suit me so well (there are a lot of light, neutral colours, and lots of blue).

I’ve recently ordered a copy of Sew U by Wendy Mullin, so that should give me even more options – the two skirts I made last year get worn regularly, which has given me the confidence to make some more clothes.

But still I think there must be more shops that I don’t know about – so if you know of any online or real clothing shops that you love, please let me know.


Tuesday night craft club: birthday cake March 9, 2008

Filed under: Food,Tuesday Night Craft Club — lauravw @ 3:01 pm

Boston cream pie.I’m happy to report that Tuesday Night Craft Club continues. There’s plenty of variation in the time and date (this was a Saturday morning craft club, if you’re bothered by the details), but the principle remains the same – a few hours doing something creative/reading about other people doing something creative.

It was my dad’s birthday last week so I thought I would make him a birthday cake. I don’t think I’ve made him a birthday cake before as my parents have always lived far away from us, but a week ago they moved to a new home less than half an hour away, so the prospect of making birthday cakes for them is now quite practical.

He requested a vanilla cake with chocolate icing, which immediately made me think of Boston Cream Pie. This is a cake I sampled a few years ago in the US, and love it – it’s vanilla cake, then a layer of thick custardy goodness, then more cake, and then a dark chocolate ganache topping. (I made one last year for my own birthday.)

The recipe I used is from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess – and even them I simplified the whole thing by buying some custard from M&S rather than making my own creme patissiere. You don’t really need a specific recipe: just make two vanilla sponge cakes and layer them with custard, then cover them in a mix of melted chocolate and cream. It’s even better if you have extra custard to serve it with. That said, there’s a Martha Stewart Living recipe here.

I gave the rest of the cake to my parents to take home, and my mum dropped the whole thing as she was getting into the car. Somehow she caught it, but I’ve no idea how.


Secret garden

Filed under: Places to go — lauravw @ 2:21 pm

Quack.The week before last I went to see the Kensington roof gardens in London, and I can certainly recommend a visit.

To get there, take the tube to High Street Kensington, and turn right as you come out of the station (bonus: you’ll pass a branch of Kew). As soon as you pass the Gap, turn right – the gardens are above the building that Gap is in. You’ll walk down that street (Derry Street), thinking you’re in the wrong place because there are no signs up whatsoever. But there is a doorway on the right – you can see a reception desk through it. Go in there, say you’ve come to see the roof garden, and they will let you sign in and take the lift up to the top floor (it’s free!). There are directions here.

The gardens themselves are not the fanciest you’ll ever see, but they are very nice (and will be even nicer – I was there at the very end of February, so there are plenty of things that will grow as Spring moves on). And it’s a real treat to be somewhere so quiet in the middle of a busy part of London – we were the only people up there at first. A woman arrived a little later than us and was also excited to be in on this secret part of London.

There are some mandarin ducks to see, and a couple of flamingoes. If you’re planning a visit, phone ahead to check they are open – if there is a function on, they can close the gardens. It would be a great place to go with a picnic – and the London branch of Wholefoods is just a few yards away, so you could stock up there before going to the gardens.


Martha’s fabric March 6, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — lauravw @ 8:47 am

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that, however much fabric you have hoarded in your home, Martha Stewart has more. Her latest blog post details how they’ve organised the collection – I would have liked to see more pictures of the fabrics themselves too.