Thursday, 17 February 2011

Smoke and soot!

Yesterday was a terrible day here at the Hilltop House – we almost had a fire.
The redecorated and refurnished TV-room was pretty well finished, we had moved in the furniture, placed everything on the shelves and hung lamps and pictures. Then suddenly, less than an hour after I hung up the brand new white curtains, the furnace exploded. We had just sat down with a coffee to enjoy the sight of our new room, when there was an ear-deafening bang. Black smoke and soot belched out of the furnace and filled up the entire house. Hubby ran as fast as he could to close the tap to the oil tank, and we just had time to call the fire brigade before we fled the building that was fast filling up with smoke.
The fire brigade arrived quickly together with the police, but fortunately the fire had not spread. The furnace room has a steel door, which contained the flames, and when the oil supply had been turned off it burned out by itself. Judging by the sound of the blast, we imagined a ruin inside the furnace room, but the furnace was basically all right, the air vent was bent and a few other parts were blown off, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed.

The furnace looked surprisingly good after the explosion. Thankfully, the steel door managed to contain the flames. 
All is not well however in the rest of the house. The warmth from the furnace is distributed around the house via ducts, and the explosion had pushed huge amounts of soot through these ducts, which settled over everything. After the initial chaos was over and we could walk around the house again, we quickly realized that everything was covered with a fine layer of greasy, pitch-black soot. Furniture and curtains, walls and ceilings, books and pictures - all are sooty.

This is the state of our window sills - and of everything else too. 
Obviously, the TV room was worst affected. The nice new carpet is a sorry sight after the police officers and firemen have trodden the soot into it with their big boots.
Another thing is the smell - the stink of smoke and oil. Two huge extractor fans have been humming away since yesterday, it is starting to become liveable here, but it is not possible to sit down anywhere without getting dirty. The greasy soot sticks to clothes and skin and is difficult to wash away. It seems that rubbing it only smears it around, so we have a serious cleaning job this here.
The insurance assessor has visited us and believes that it should be possible to wash and clean almost everything. Fortunately there seems to be very few items that can’t be saved. Our problem is that we have the building and contents insured with two different companies. This means of course that we would have to pay an excess to both insurers, and it would cost us almost ten thousand kroner (1000 £) to have the house cleaned (in addition to the repair of the furnace of course). This is so expensive that we are considering cleaning the house ourselves. Spring cleaning will be coming early for us this year.

The surfaces may not look too bad, but at the slightest touch your hand becomes all sooty. It is simply terrible.
Fortunately, the doors to the bedroom and bathroom were closed when this happened, so there are at least two rooms that are not so critically affected. The kitchen also got less soot than the rest of the house. There is obviously a bit here as well, but it does not seem to have penetrated the cupboards and drawers. So it is habitable here and at least we do not have to move out while the washing is taking place.

All surfaces are covered in the awful greasy soot.
Of course we are glad that it did not go worse than it did, but I must admit that I think the whole thing is tragic. There have been many times during this past day that we have looked at each other and asked - "Why now, and not three weeks ago, before we started to redecorate?” It would not have been so bad then when we were going to clean everything anyway, but no, it had to happen less than an hour after we had finished refurnishing.
I guess all we can do is to roll up our sleeves and start again, but right now there is no joy to be had from the work.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Happy Valentine's!

It is just past midnight on Valentine's Day, but the romance still lingers.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Carpet capers

At last the TV-room is starting to resemble our original plan for the room. Today we laid the new carpet. Wall-to-wall carpeting is not very popular in Norway so the choice of carpets is limited and they are expensive. We wondered for a while if we should have parquet floors, but in the end we decided that we wanted the warm and cosy feel a carpet provides. The room is, after all, a basement, and there’s a concrete floor underneath.

We brought a number of carpet samples home with us to find the right one, and we were quite pleased when the one we liked best also turned out to be the cheapest. That doesn’t seem to happen too often for us.
It was a real hassle just to get the carpet into the room and more or less in place. None of us had any experience with laying carpets, and just to make the job extra difficult the skirting boards are flush with the paneled wall so the carpet is lying against them instead of underneath requiring precision cutting in order for the edges to look good.

Hubby managed the job well, and the carpet was cut to perfection.

Isn’t it nice? I feel that the whole room has been totally renewed.
We have already carried in the TV and two armchairs, so that we can use the room tonight. The rest of the furniture has to wait until the electrician is finished. He should have been here this week, but we haven’t seen hide nor hair of him. It is perhaps unfair of me to complain, but I feel that it's the same thing every time we need a craftsman for our house. They never arrive when agreed. The electrician has now promised to come here on Monday, so we hope that nothing happens to delay him.

This dodgy old lamp is causing the problem as all the electricity in the room passes through it. Actually I think that it is a bit cool in its uncompromising seventies style, but it does not fit in with the room’s new look. Maybe I should advertise "Original orange retro lamps" on the internet, though I doubt if anyone would be interested in the pair of them. However, I may be surprised.

Now, we are about to settle down and enjoy the evening in our new TV-room. Enjoy yourselves tonight too!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Watching paint dry…

… is a seriously underrated pastime. As I have discovered over the past couple of days, it isn’t as mind-numbingly dull as some would have it. In fact, I have found it positively stimulating.

After seriously long hours of painting every day, I have flopped down on the floor, stretching my aching neck, arms and back, staring up at the ceiling and admiring the results of our handy-work. Revelling in the effects of an increasingly lighter and brighter room, I have found inspiration. Would one go as far as calling it epiphanies, or just the confused imagination of an exhausted anaemic?  Who cares? I have had ideas - good ideas. At least I think so, and so does Hubby, or at least he will when he’s had time to reconsider after the first reaction I predict he’ll have when he hears them.

However, before I tell him, and you, here are a few pictures of the work in progress.

The sun shining in through the small windows finally had something to reflect from, and what a difference it made.

We used the colour “Classic White” from Jotun. The Sens paint is fantastic to work with,  as it is water-based there is hardly any smell at all, and that is obviously a great advantage at this time of the year when we can’t leave the windows open for too long.
Around the windows and on the mouldings and skirting boards we used the same colour but in a glossier oil-based paint, to create a contrast. I know that glossy is "out" these days, but I think that having everything matt is just too dull. 

We didn’t want to paint the walls white too, as that would have simply been too monotonous. We considered some sort of beige but Hubby wanted to try and preserve the texture of the wood underneath. Whereas the planks in the ceiling are just plain and drab, the wall panelling is actually rather nice. The only thing wrong with it was it’s dark colour. We thought about whitewashing it, but ended up with a thin water based lacquer with white pigment. 

I have to admit we were a bit apprehensive about it after painting the first wall. The effect was not quite as we had imagined, but we decided to carry on, and after a bit of sitting and staring the effect started to grow on us.

By the way, watching this paint dry is certainly not boring. We have never worked with anything that dries so quickly. In fact, you can only paint one plank at a time because by the time you have reached the end of the plank the beginning is already drying.  And the thing is, it changes appearance as it dries, so it is rather exciting really. 

There was a bit of discussion about whether or not to put on a second coat, but we decided we wanted to try and get it one shade whiter.

 As for my ideas – well, there’s one concerning an 80’s pinkish (oh yes!) sofa that the previous owner of the house left behind. Could it possibly be given a renaissance? Since we are on a strict budget, buying new furniture is out of the question, and I really don’t fancy bringing that tartan sofa back in the room.
While the new colours of the room have gradually emerged, I have given a lot of thought to the colours of furniture and fabrics. Although this renovation is basically a quest for light, just painting all the furniture white is not an option. I am much too fond of dark wood to do that, so I have decided to accentuate the pinkish beige and white with a very dark brown, and hope I don’t ruin our quest.
Moreover, I have an idea that I wonder if I dare to put on the table, so to speak. It involves Hubby’s old coffee-table and dark brown Hammerite paint. O-o, I can just imagine what sort of reaction that will provoke. After all, the poor man nearly fainted when I suggested putting the white lacquer we used on the walls on his pine lamp-holders as well.
I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Miss Spring Fever

The garden blog Moseplassen has a competition on for this year's Miss Sun, and I've browsed through our photo archive to find something to contribute with. I had quite a few nice pictures of beautiful summer flowers basking in the sun, but concluded that I would rather show you these modest but utterly divine blue anemones.

The photo was taken on my paradise island Jomfruland outside the south coast of Norway a few years ago. For years I have been going there every spring with two old friends to see the indescribably lovely wood anemones (also known as thimbleweed) blooming in the oak forest.
On this particular year we were a little early. The white anemones were still only in bud, but the blue ones are a bit earlier. There are not as many of these beautiful flowers, so it feels like a privilege to see the tiny blue petals pushing their way up through dry leaves and twigs, stretching towards the sun.
There are not many other flowers that give me the exhilarating feeling that now - now - spring is truly here.

Oh, how I'm looking forward to that feeling this year too.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Give Away - Ramsign Classic Enamel Signs

Oh, you lucky people! I'm almost envious of you all, because you have the opportunity to win one of these beautiful classic enamel signs from the Danish manufacturer Ramsign.

These are genuine old fashioned, hand stencilled signs, featuring original design and thick glossy enamel.

The lucky winner gets to choose his or her favourite design.

To try your luck in this contest, you must go into Ramsign's website and pick your favourite design.
You'll get one ticket for leaving a comment, telling me which design you like best. You can have one more ticket for becoming a follower of the Hilltop House blog, and one more for linking to this Give Away from your own blog or from Facebook.
Remember to write in your comment how many tickets you want.

Anyone can participate in this contest, including those living outside Europe as Ramsign delivers worldwide. Of course you can also join if you do not have your own blog, just remember to enter your e-mail address so that I can reach you.

The deadline for participating in this contest is the 10th of March.

Good luck!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

It's the little things in life ...

... that makes it worth living, they say. I'm sure we all agree that they're right about that.

This week Petunia has put "little things" as the theme for her photo challenge. The prize is a gift card from the lovely shop Anglofilia, and I found I had to try my luck with this one, since I'm such an Anglophile that I even married an Englishman.

My photo is about Hubby and one of the most important little things there is - caring for each other.

As it happens, Husfruen has felt rather pale and tired for a good while now. It's all to do with anaemia, which makes you so exhausted sometimes that the only thing you can do is lie down and rest. At such times Hubby brings me a blanket and a hot water bottle, and so that I shan't lie there alone and feel sorry for myself, he fetches my sleepy teddy Basse to keep me company. 
- It's just a little thing, he says, but to me it feels like a big thing to have someone who cares.

Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. 

We have started!

Yesterday we really put some elbow grease into the TV-room. We carried the furniture out and put it temporarily in the library, which incidentally will be the next room to be renovated.
Fortunately, it was quite easy to remove the nasty tartan carpet, as it was only taped at the edges, and since it has been down for at least thirty years, the tape had dried out. The carpet itself on the other hand was actually in surprisingly good condition, so it was obviously good quality. Well, that doesn’t matter much when it looks horrible so it was unceremoniously dumped at the rubbish tip.
After emptying the room, we scrubbed the ceiling and walls with a strong detergent. Good heavens, how dirty it was! As far as we know, there haven’t been any smokers living in the house for at least twenty years, but judging by the colour of the water in the bucket one would think otherwise. We scrubbed off decades of accumulated dust and dirt.
After several hours of airing the room, it smelled really clean and fresh down there so we couldn’t resist the temptation of starting to paint.

Look how incredibly dark the pine is against the white paint. This first coat is just a primer designed to seal the wood, so that no sap will leak through the paint.

Actually we hadn’t planned to put the primer on until today, but we were so eager to see results that we couldn’t wait to put the first coat on the ceiling, skirting boards and windowsills. On the rare occasions you get an overwhelming desire to work, you don’t want to lose your momentum, do you?

Well, here’s the result of many hours of work. We think it already looks brighter and nicer. 

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Room for Improvement

Here at Hilltop House there is a downstairs room that has many names: "The Cellar room" is pretty obvious, "The TV room"  because the television is there; "The Boy’s Room" because Hubby is allowed to play to his heart’s content with technical gadgets and other man stuff; "The Tartan room" because both the carpet and the couch is in Scottish plaid – albeit not matching; and last but not least, my personal favourite "The Room for Improvement", because Oh My God! There is plenty that needs improving here. Just have a look:

What on earth possesses people to think that it is a good idea to paint window ledges dark brown is beyond my comprehension, especially in a gloomy basement room. As if that wasn’t enough, there were thick dark green curtains hanging here, effectively blocking out what little daylight penetrated the small windows. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long before they were given the heave-ho.
The cupboard in the corner is the furnace room. Burning oil is an effective way to keep the house warm, but is neither cheap, nor eco-friendly. It takes forever to regulate the temperature, if you want the house to be warm tomorrow you had better turn up the furnace today. We would like to have installed under-floor heating cables, but because the electricity supply to the house is severely limited we can’t. We have installed two heat pumps and they just about manage to keep going without blowing fuses all the time. When it’s really cold though, we have no choice but to light the furnace.

The walls and ceiling of ”Norwegian Wood” were both light and fashonable and when they were fitted, but after forty years of darkening they seem to absorb all the light in the room. No matter how many lamps we use, this room always seems to be dark and gloomy.

Speaking of lamps, what do you think about this one? It was left behind by the previous owner. Probably it has been both fashionable and expensive once, so I've been a little reluctant to throw it out. It’s not pretty but I like the size of it. I wonder if it is possible to change the colour of it somehow. Can porcelain like this be painted?

And here is a lamp that is really dodgy. The retro style is one thing, but to our great dismay, we discovered that all electric power to this room goes via this lamp. Unless it is turned on, none of the other electrical appliances in the room work. To have the power to both heating and the TV going through a thin wire is hardly in accordance with regulations, so next week an electrician will come to ensure that we get earthed sockets throughout the room.
We have found many of these odd solutions since we moved into Hilltop House and have concluded that the previous owner probably had more enthusiasm than common sense when it comes to renovation and maintenance of the house.

And here is the carpet in all its lack of grandeur. There is really only one thing to say: H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E!
The heat pump is not exactly an object of beauty either, but I must just learn to live with that. Or is there anyone out there that has found a good way to camouflage a heat pump?

Hubby’s tam-o-shanter hat is another element that contributes to the Scottish plaid image. He has also been allowed to give his trophies the place of honour here. Are there other housewives out there who are struggling with husbands who desperately want to show off old third-place trophies from obscure championships? Is there a gentle way of persuading them that such things really would be better off in a box in the attic?
Believe it or not, it is actually Hubby himself who has suggested that we’d give this room a complete makeover. I think it was sheer frustration over the lack of light that made him willing to swing a paintbrush. As you can well imagine, my response was enthusiastic.

So here we have the challenge - how can we turn this shabby room into something chic? Obviously, if we had enough enough money it wouldn’t be a problem, but since the budget is stretched a little thin post-Christmas, we must do what we can with what we have. This will be redecorating on a tight budget. We'll have to see what we can manage.
Tomorrow, we begin carrying out the furniture and tearing up the carpet. I look forward to getting started! :-)