The Hazy Days of Winter


The lazy, wet, dark days of winter have enveloped us and we have acted accordingly… like slugs. No more workers around the house after the New Year, no pressing projects to get finished, and generally little interest in doing much! So not too much to report.

Although, at my own pace, I’m moving forward with some smaller undertakings and am tackling them one by one. Mostly I’m down to the picky little finishing details that only make ME happy (and the ongoing decorating projects).

I bought this armoire sight unseen. A friend called me when she found it at a ‘vide grenier’ (literally an ’emptying of the attic,’ or as we know it, a garage sale). The lady selling it really needed for it to go. My friend knew I was looking for an armoire for the entry that could house our coats, hats, and some shoes. She sent me a photo, negotiated an unbelievable deal for me, and even arranged for it to be delivered! It arrived quite tired, but I liked it—the right height, had some character, and would certainly fit our needs functionally. And so I began to clean her up. After a full bath, I massaged her with linseed oil. Three coats to be exact—and she started to smile. I scrubbed the ancient iron hardware and it started to look happy again, too. I’ve since installed a rod, some smell-good shelf paper, and we’re in business.

My great bargain armoire for the entry.

First coat of linseed oil…half done.

Much better…

Hardware closeup. The burle wood is amazing—the real deal—despite the ‘patches.’

Next, I started on the cabinets in the master bathroom that we had custom-made in Portugal. I had asked the cabinetmaker to give them a brown glaze, but instead of admitting they didn’t know how to do it, they simply delivered them stained in the paint color I provided (instead of painting them entirely). And so I had my first go at glazing. The French don’t seem to have anything resembling glaze compound (and probably the Portuguese too), and so I searched on the internet until I found the “General Finishes” website in the UK, one of the premiere makers of faux finishing products. Ordered 4 liters of clear glaze, figuring I’d decide on a color when the time came. Brave me! (aka stupid me???) It came out way more interesting-looking, topped it off with a mat varnish, and ordered new metal knobs to replace the painted wood ones provided with the cabinet.

Master bath vanity. Glazing half finished.

The finished master bath vanity with new knobs and glaze.

Forgot to mention I glazed the second bath vanity and mirror as well. Still need to haul out the epoxy for that middle new knob…

There there’s the saga of my dining table, also custom made by our wood-working wonders in Portugal. I wanted a comfortable table for six, with the flexibility of seating 8 when needed. I PhotoShopped a conglomeration of a Restoration Hardware-inspired wood pedestal dining table, except with a more ball-shaped pedestal and ‘feet’ applied for stability. Made (of course) to my size specification and from solid oak.

Raw dining table.

Starting to stain the feet.

I had worked it out on my floor plan and finally told the contractor that I wanted it 160 cm round (about 63″). He said, “You’ve got plenty of room, you should go 180.” I said, “No, 180 is too big. I want 160.” And so the ‘commande’ for the table was executed. A couple of weeks later it arrived. Base plus top. It seemed enormous and I immediately started to second guess what I had done. The guys wrestled the beast inside and put it together. It was HUGE. Finally, I got out the measure tape and the dummies had made it 180! Again, someone in this Portuguese pack thought they knew better than me. My frustration had to show in my facial expressions and my screaming in English, because I have yet to perfect yelling at someone in French! And so, back it went, on another road trip to Portugal. They had to do it over. The top could be cut down, but the apron had to be totally remade. A few weeks later, with many miles under it’s belt, it arrived again, at 160 cm, and it was perfect…except it was raw wood ( I had asked for a medium stain finish).

And so I set out to figure how to finish the monster. Every French person told me to use d’huile de lin, or linseed oil. I knew I could tint it with brois de noix, an inexpensive stain made from the hulls of walnuts (have I mentioned how many walnuts are grown in southwest France???) I figured that would be pretty foolproof, so in my ever-so-practiced over-the-top, over-researched, over-thought approach, I hit the internet looking for the best advice for finishing a raw oak dining table. Of course searching in English, I got lots of American and British hits advising to NOT use raw linseed oil, but seek out boiled linseed oil. Yeah, right. After making a fool of myself at several bricos, I finally realized why everyone told me to use the raw linseed oil…because that is all they have here, stupid!

So, I mixed the cold-pressed pure linseed oil with my natural walnut coloring agent. Kept applying coats every couple of days after letting her dry between, until she got to the color I wanted (can’t quite remember, but think it was three coats). Then I applied god-only-knows how many coats of wax, again waiting for them to dry between painfully thin applications. She is exquisite. Now all I needed was the chandelier and some chairs…

The stained and waxed table.



Dining table. Done. (Hey Chris, recognize the stuff on the candlesticks?)

The chandelier that I had fallen in love with months ago finally arrived. They make them on demand, so there is a 4-6 month lag between deliveries. I’ve been SO patient. But it finally came. Then we sweet-talked our wonderful French plumber, Sébastien, to help us heft it up to our 11-foot ceilings. I knew it would be the ‘pièce de résistance’ for the room and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s right down my alley mimicking a classic chandelier shape, with multiple arms and ‘crystal’ bobbles, all done in a non-traditional material of bent iron. Now we’re FINALLY ready for a dinner party!

Dining chandelier going up.

Dining area with chandelier installed and Henri the pelican awaiting his frame to be fashioned from crown molding. (Don’t mind those cords hanging down…long story for another day!)

Somewhere between all these projects, I woke up one morning with extra energy and decided to finally hang the mural I had purchased for the master bedroom. We had just purchased a 2.5 meter ladder (yeah), so I was all set. I actually ordered the entire paint color for the master wing of the house from a 2″x2″ chip! I knew it was do or die, as the walls and cabinets were already painted, so if the mural didn’t match at this point, it would have to be ‘bye-bye mural.’ Again, I couldn’t be happier with the result. Very cozy. And different. Now we wait for the new nightstands (promised to arrive before the end of March), then I can source some table lamps, and I have an upholsterer to make the padded headboard. Oh, I just love this part…

Starting on the feature wall in the master bedroom.

Feature wall done. Now we need to push the bed back…

Next, I tackled the huge bookcase/tv unit in Theo’s man cave (made by you-know-who in you-know-where). It also arrived with some surprises, but in the end, it’s beautiful. But he didn’t like the color. With the walls a medium blue, (going for a ‘Ralph Lauren’ club room feel), I wanted to keep it light, but it was too blandy-schmandy. And so I set to glazing this monolith (now that I was a self-proclaimed expert)! It was a lot of work, but I got ‘er done. And he likes it.

Naked man cave bookcases.

Still to be organized, but here is the large unit after glazing and new knobs.

But we had more books. And more toys. So we’ve been looking for twin vintage vitrines for months, to no avail. And so I caved in and simply ordered new ones. They were on a super post-Christmas sale, so what’s not to like? We were teased with 3 different delivery days/times, each resulting in us waiting around all day and ending up with nothing. Then when they finally arrived without a phone call or text or any warning at all, the guy was driving a small van. In my mind, I’m thinking, uh-oh, two large bookcases would never fit in that little truck. Sure enough, they were flat-packed. Damn! At least they arrived without breakage and, with my aptitude at assembling those crazy things, we now have two new bookcases crammed into the room.

The, as yet, unfilled bookcases. I painted the back panels in linen to lighten them up.

To round out the seating arrangement in the living room, we’ve been looking for twin chairs. We’ve found that antique French chairs, while cute, are often very low to the ground and very narrow (for the French, obviously). And the majority of new furniture available here is modern. We still had the furniture we brought from Theo’s parent’s place in Germany, including matching club chairs, all custom made probably 50 years ago. ‘They don’t make them like that any more,’ the upholsterers kept telling us, as we nearly fainted at the cost of recovering them. I found some chairs that might have worked from England (but who knows when we could make that shopping trip), and so we decided to recover these chairs.

We’re going to TRANSFORM these chairs!

Finally found a local upholsterer, English, that not only does beautiful work, but is a wonderful human being, and doesn’t charge an overblown price for her labor. The hunt for fabric has been an ordeal. Simply said, fabric choices in France suck. Even the upholsterers agree with that. We thought of embracing the ‘club chair-i-ness’ of them and use a menswear fabric like a herringbone, or houndstooth, or pinstripe. But after ordering samples, these were simply too ‘serious’ for me (and too expensive at up to €150/m).

After obsessing on it for a couple of weeks, decided to go with this super Robert Allen fabric from the states. The chairs are destined to become large, bold, statement pieces…to break up the monotony of the linen sofa and leather chair/ottoman in the room.

The repeat on this fabric is 9″, so the chairs are bound to be eye-catching!

Remember I needed dining chairs? Well they fell into our laps, and I have Theo to thank for that! Our antique buddy in Eymet knew I loved clocks and suggested I rush over to look at a grandfather clock at a brocante that was closing, thinking I could get it for €40 or so. Don’t have to tell me twice!!! Off we go. The clock was not what I wanted, but Theo eyed these ‘os de mouton’ chairs in the corner in a hideous 80’s fabric. They were marked €70. Theo asked how much and the guy said €50—for all six chairs! Into the car they went!

Bargain of the century…

Next up, finding fabric for the dining chairs. Looked and looked and looked—in stores, in outlets, online, more online, and even more online. Wanted something maybe in a tone-on-tone black or dark gray, to enhance Henri, our huge pelican art piece on the dining room wall (as a nod to Theo’s love for the pelicans of the California coast). Didn’t want anything too wild to detract from Henri, but also didn’t want anything too serious. And so I hit a fantastic sale in the US and ordered this black-on-gray fabric for a whopping $60 for all six chairs (plus shipping, of course)!

This is the gorgeous fabric going on the dining chairs, lending a contemporary bent to the vintage chairs.

Now I’m realizing I shouldn’t procrastinate so long on posting. My little projects that fill my days and weeks really DO add up to something! Hope you enjoyed following along.

As the song says, “It’s the springtime of my life!”

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7 Responses to The Hazy Days of Winter

  1. Göllner says:

    there are some rumours that Queen Elizabeth is on her way to visit your castle in France, above all your master bathroom.
    Then you have to return with her Majesty to Buckingham Palace in order to make live there more comfortable!

  2. says:

    Hahaha!!! Oh dear, better do the dishes in the sink and pick up the dirt bombs on the floor that fall out of the doggie’s paws! Would love to get my hands on Buckingham Palace!!!

  3. Bracey Tiede says:

    Wow! Things are really shaping up. Love the pelican. We have a large print of a hand drawn Opah ( in our living room now. Enjoying your posts very much.

    • says:

      Love the color of your Opah. Stunning! We are settling in nicely. The little things drive me crazy with my lack of speaking French, but I don’t get in a hurry and everything is progressing slowly now. Thanks for staying in touch!

  4. Roark says:

    I’m exhausted and I only read about it. Any Winchester heritage in your genes? I so enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for sharing it.


    • says:

      Hilarious! Everyone keeps asking, “What have you been up to?” And I keep answering “Nothing at all.” Then when I stop and write about it, I’ve been crazy busy!!! I know it seems Winchesterish, but I do so little every day. Mostly just enjoying life…good food, good friends, good books, good wine, and great fires in the fire cave!

  5. Chris Lane says:

    OMG!! Blown Away!! Love the bathroom stain/finishes to bits! Great new table & chairs too. And that Chandelier (quite the tribute to gardens with elaborate hanging baskets 😉 So thrilled you could use the little bits of silk decor XOXOXOXOXOXOX

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