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Period Property Makeover

When decorating becomes as much about solving problems as aesthetics. This project took a while to complete, but it was important to follow the correct process in order to achieve not only the look that the customer wanted, but also to make it work from a practical perspective.

The front room of this period property is a decent size and had bags of potential, but being an older building the walls are poorly insulated, and were papered with a textured liner.  When it was cold outside moisture condensed on the walls, soaked into the paper, and became a magnet for mould. So I stripped off the paper, only to find that the plaster beneath wasn't the best (no big surprise there!).

So I filled it, rubbed it down and sealed it, so at least we had a decent starting point, and then applied a thermal liner to the exterior walls. This acts like a thin layer of insulation, making the walls feel warmer and so hopefully stopping the condensation problem. I then re-applied the textured paper over the top of this to recreate the period look and feel.


Finally the room was painted (ceiling, walls and woodwork). A real "labour of love", but at last this lovely room is beginning to live up to its potential, but still feels very much "in keeping" with the rest of the property.

Colours used on walls: Dulux Trade Vinyl Matt in Cornish Clay (main walls) and Sage Green (chimney breast), both from the Dulux Heritage collection.

Simple Stairs Trick

Sometimes when space is limited, keeping the colour scheme on the walls fairly straightforward is a good idea. But that doesn't mean you can't add a little sophistication to an otherwise simple colour scheme. 

In this stairway we painted the walls in a neutral colour, but brought the space to life by applying a clear satin varnish to the handrail and spindles, and then clean white gloss to the remaining woodwork.  It gives it a really modern, elegant feel without having to spend a fortune.

Bedroom Refresh

My customer had had some fitted wardrobes removed from her bedroom, which left the walls and ceiling in a bit of a mess.  After some repair work by a local plasterer, I was called in to finish off the job.

Mirror Makeover

Bathroom Ceiling Problem-Solution

Sharing a house with a lot of other people has its problems. Not just the "who used the last of the milk?" or "who ate my biscuits?" type of problems. The more people you have in a house, the more everything in the house is subjected to wear and tear.  Often the bathroom can be the biggest problem area. Apart from the difficulties of booking a time in the shower so you're not late for work in the morning, if you have a lot of people sharing one bathroom/shower room, the steam and condensation can lead to all sorts of problems. Unprotected wood and mdf can act like a sponge and absorb moisture from the air, causing them to swell and expand. Walls and ceilings are permanently damp, often leading to unsightly stains and mould.

It was just this type of situation that I was called in to deal with recently.  Sorting it out is actually relatively simple, but not as simple as just trying to paint over it with ordinary emulsion. But taking the correct, simple steps (in the right order) can make a dramatic (and long lasting) difference.

The first thing to say is that these problems often occur when there is inadequate ventilation in the room. A good quality, high capacity extractor fan is designed to pump all the warm, damp air out of your bathroom, which will go a long way towards reducing the problems.  Prevention is always better than cure. I don't have the necessary qualifications or insurance to start installing electrical items in bathrooms, but my first recommendation would always be to look into a good extractor if you have a damp/mould problem caused by too much atmospheric moisture in your bathroom.

The first step is to kill off the mould. Mould is a living organic organism, and simply painting over it will not get rid of it - it will come back. Mould treatments are affordable and easy to get hold of.  They used to be of the "apply with a brush and then wipe off" variety, which inevitably meant, if you were working on a ceiling, that at least half of the chemical treatment ended up running down the brush, over your hand, down your sleeve.... Fortunately, many are now available in a pump-action spray pack, which makes life much less messy. So simply spray on the mould treatment, wait (if/as specified in the instructions), and then wipe off. When I say "wipe off", I would use a damp cloth, and apply a reasonable amount of elbow grease, rinsing the cloth regularly, to try  to get the area as clean as possible.

After the mould treatment has been applied and cleaned off, you should see a dramatic difference, but there will probably still be some staining present caused by the mould. Again, unfortunately simply painting over this will not solve the problem - the stains will almost certainly bleed back through your paint.  So the next stage is to block them out with a stain-blocking primer. The two most widely used in my experience are Polycell Stain Block, which comes in a handy aerosol, which is great for small areas but can get expensive if you are covering a larger area (and you have to be careful where the spray is going!), and Zinsser B-I-N, which all decorators love!

B-I-N is applied with a brush, dries quickly and covers really effectively. It's great stuff - the only thing to be aware of is that nothing will get your brush clean afterwards apart from meths, so make sure you have some in before you use the product.

So now the prep stage is complete, and it's time to paint the ceiling. Zinsser, the makers of B-I-N, have now brought out mould-inhibiting paint. Many other manufacturers do them too, but being a big Zinsser fan I was keen to give theirs a try. It's called Perma-White, and it just goes on like regular emulsion. Two coats and you're done - problem solved!

One note of apology about the photos - when I took the "after" shots, the light was very different, which makes the ceiling look grey. It really wasn't, it was crisp white, but unfortunately my photographic skills aren't as good as my decorating ones!

Bedroom Makeover

This was a fun project that resulted in quite a transformation for the clients' bedroom.

The biggest challenge was the fact that the wall that was destined to be the feature wall, with the clients' carefully chosen wallpaper, was in a bit of a state, due to there having been fitted wardrobes fixed to it in the past. So a lot of filling and sanding down and general making good was needed before we got to the wallpaper.

But once the prep was done, the real transformation started with new doors, a nice neutral shade on the non-feature walls, crisp white paint on the ceiling and woodwork, and then the wallpaper to finish off the room. This is why I love my job - being able to look at the "before" and "after" shots and thinking, "Wow, I did that!".

Coving-Boxing Problem

This is not a general rant against builders! There are some excellent builders around who do a really professional job and take a lot of pride in their work. I'm delighted to have worked with some of them. But on this particular job I was meant to be decorating after a builder (who, let's just say, didn't quite fit into the "excellent and professional" category) had supposedly finished.

This is just one small example of what I had to deal with, which is why the prep on this job took longer than the actual painting. He'd boxed some central heating pipes in to hide them. He'd also put new coving up round the ceiling (much of which I had to take down and re-do, but anyway). Both of these are good things to do. The problem was, he wasn't sure quite what to do when the two elements came together. Or rather, where they were meant to come together. So he just left it...

Now, there's no simple solution to magically make this look beautiful. It takes time and effort, some offcuts of coving, some filler, a bit of elbow grease and a fair amount of patience. And while the finished result isn't 100% perfect, it's pretty close. and certainly a lot closer than where we started from!


Fifty Shades of Grey

OK, now I've got your attention(!), what's it all about? Surely greys are too dull and drab to be much use in home decorating?

Actually, greys can be very effective as neutral colours in a room, acting as a great "foil" for a feature wall or coloured furnishings. As a result they have been very much in fashion over the last few years - just have a flick through something like the Next catalogue, for example, and see how many of the rooms in the home furnishings sections have grey walls. Last time I checked I think it was more than 50%, and almost without exception they make all the sofas, cushions , curtains etc look great.

However, there are pitfalls to avoid when choosing greys, and not all greys are created equal...

Robin's Tips for Choosing & Using Greys

1) Come In From The Cold

Mixing greys with blues can be problematic. While the colours don't actually clash, it can result in what I call "North Sea Syndrome". You know what I mean. Think of how the colour of the North Sea on a cold January morning would make you feel, and then imagine painting your bedroom using the same colour scheme. Unless you choose a really bright, fresh blue, it's going to feel at best cool, and at worst cold and depressing. Crown have a colour called "Arctic Grey" which for me epitomises this problem - it's a mid-grey with a hint of cold blue-green to it, and every time I see it I think of Navy ships battling through a North Sea storm...


Greys can even make other colours in the room look "colder".  Look at the two boxes below - the cream squares in the middle of each box don't appear to be the same colour (but I can assure you, they are).  The one with the white border appears to be slightly "warmer", with a fractionally more orange-peach hue to it, compared to the one with the grey border, which feels a little less vibrant and "colder".


None of this need be a problem - this may be the look and feel you are trying to achieve, but it's certainly something to be aware of, and a reason why I personally don't like combining greys with creams (but this is just my personal taste - you may love it).  If you are using greys and want to avoid "North Sea Syndrome", think about warming up the other colours in the room a shade...

2) Too Much of a Good Thing...

Grey as a neutral is great at "showing off" other colours, particularly strong, vibrant tones (teal, lime green, fuchsia pink etc). Use it with "weaker" colours, and it can suck the warmth out of them (see above). So if you're going to paint your whole room grey (rather than having a strong feature wall in an otherwise grey room), make sure you have some strongly coloured furnishings. Even if you like the whole monotone idea - which can look really striking - think about including some pure white or pure black, so the whole room isn't just various shades of grey. 

3) Pure is the Cure - a Cautionary Tale

"Not all greys are created equal", I said earlier in this post. The problem is that many aren't "pure" greys, i.e. they are not just a blend of black and white. Many have a hint of blue in, or a hint of khaki or yellow ochre. "Warm greys" (greys with a little - or even a lot - of beige-brown mixed in) are forecast to become really popular. These can all be fabulous colours in their own right, but you have to be careful where you use them. Remember our old friend Crown Arctic Grey (the one that has some blue-green tones to it)? It's a great colour (see below) if that steely, cold blue-grey is what you are looking for. The trouble with greys is, they can be "colour chameleons"...

Crown Arctic Grey

The first time I came across Arctic Grey - and I should stress, I am not in any way trying to say it's a colour to avoid, or to imply any dislike for Crown Paints at all - a customer had chosen it from the Crown web site. At the time, the Crown web site had a blue background, and the little colour swatch of Arctic Grey (like the one above) looked like a pure, soft dove grey. However, the room I was painting didn't have a blue background. It had a bright red feature wall and furnishings.

Against the blue colour on the web page, the colour looked "non-blue" - by comparison with its blue surroundings, it looked anything but blue. But when you put it against a contrasting colour such as the scarlet feature wall, the hint of blue in Arctic Grey really came out, and it felt as if we were standing not in a grey and red room, but in a blue and red room. No grey at all, and definitely NOT what the customer had imagined when she'd seen the colour on the web site.

The moral of the tale? Greys are fashionable, greys are useful, greys are cool, in more than one sense. But you need to be careful where you use them, especially when they are not pure greys. So get a sample or matchpot and.... no, don't paint it on the wall. Paint it on some lining paper or white card, which you can then stick up in different places around the room to see how the grey works with the other colours you have, and with different lighting levels, and so on.  Then get in touch, and I'll come and paint it on the walls for you!



2015 Fashion Colours

There is a certain amount of truth in the thought that colours come and go, in and out of fashion. But equally, there are classic colour schemes which always seem to work. And some modern colour schemes would look out of place in a Victorian property, just as some Victorian colour schemes wouldn't work in a modern flat.  Whether or not any of that matters to you is entirely down to you; just as in clothing, music and many other fields, some people are totally obsessed with the latest fashions, others are mildly interested, and some just stick to what they have always liked.

Personally I fall into the "mildly interested" group when it comes to colour fashion, or fashion colours. I'm fascinated by colour, especially its role in home décor, but not to the extent that I repaint my house every time a particular paint manufacturer or celebrity interior designer declares that such-and-such is this year's "must have" shade.

According to Dulux, many of the top shades for 2015 are very "earthy". Neutrals fall into two groups:

Browns are blended with ochres, sepia tones and terracotta, all colours which work well with natural woods, canvas and stone.  Combining these colours with these natural materials will create a natural, outdoors, "earthy" fell. For me, it makes me think of the Mediterranean, Tuscany, sun-baked hillsides and so on. Maybe it's the terracotta thing. 


Greys, on the other hand, while still very much in fashion, are moving away from pure greys, and being blended with hints of either blue (making them colder) or khaki shades (making them either colder or warmer, depending on how green or brown the khaki is). Given greys are so popular at the moment, it will be interesting to see how this trend develops in coming months and years.


Accent colours, according to Dulux, include oranges, berry reds (reds with hints of pink and purple shades), and yellow ochre.  These are bold, strong colours which may not be to everybody's taste, but please remember:

  1. These are fashion colours - not everyone is obsessed with being at the cutting edge of fashion
  2. They are accent colours, designed to act as highlights in a room, not to be used to paint the entire room with!


Dulux's Colour of the Year is Copper Blush.

They describe it as being subtle and versatile, and given their other thoughts on fashionable colours, I can see where they're coming from.  It could be combined with earthy browns for a warm, Mediterranean feel, or I could see it working well with berry reds, or as highlight colour when combined with the right shade of grey.  So, if you buy into their other thoughts on colour fashion at the moment, I can see how Copper Blush could fit into those trends very well.

I guess the big question is whether or not it will prove popular.  For me personally, I've always liked terracotta shades in the right setting, but their popularity peaked in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I honestly can't remember the last time I painted anything using a colour that could be classified in the "orange" segment of the colour wheel. Maybe it's coming back in - that happens all the time, colours and styles that were in vogue 20 years ago suddenly make a reappearance. Maybe Dulux have got it right, maybe not. Personally I'm not convinced yet, but time will tell...

I do think they've got it pretty right with the trends in the neutral colours though. Greys are still hugely popular and are so versatile. And now people have got used to the idea of brown shades being acceptable as neutrals, I am seeing people being willing to experiment with stronger, darker shades.  Not everyone, and that's the point.  There will always be the "dedicated followers of fashion", those who seize the latest trends and adopt them instantly.  Just as there will always be those who take their time before accepting changing fashions, and those who are happy with their own sense of style, and remain content doing their own thing.

And the good news?  On this occasion, everyone's right!  It's your home, decorate it the way you want to!





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