Following on from my confession about being obsessed with mouldings, I have been taking snaps of both good and bad examples that I see out and about. Here are some real howlers.
This example is kind of excusable since it was part of a quirky shop fitting in York, rather than a permanent house fixture. So it’s just a warning: If you’re going to use plinth blocks make sure they are wider than the architrave and are sanded good and smooth. Otherwise you get this, i.e. badly painted firewood.
Spotted in a holiday cottage in Salcombe. To quote Herodotus; “…for great Caesars of antiquity had sowed Torus upton Torus yet reaped only sorrow. So too their descendants”. Honestly, this is all kinds of wrong. Even if there weren’t two inexplicably stacked bits of Torus the doorway would still need a plinth block since even one piece of skirting sticks out beyond the architrave. But look! They mitred the end of one of the bits of skirting! Phew. It would have looked like a bag of shite if they hadn’t done that.
This was in a house I viewed before buying mine. The owners said it was very ‘dated’ when they bought it but they had ‘renovated it’. Hmm… this qualifies as something, but it ain’t renovation… Tragedy maybe. Ignoring the six panel door which is completely wrong for a Victorian house, why does this doorway not have proper architrave? Why does the piece at the side extend out beyond the corner of the wall? Why does the top piece not at least match the side? Were they going for an American Craftsman trim but never finished? What was the story here??
Dado rails are perhaps the easiest thing to get badly wrong. There was a fad for them in the 1990s and almost everyone placed them too high up the wall, which has a foreshortening effect that makes the ceiling look lower. This is a particularly bad move in modern houses where the ceilings already are low. Worse still, this one not only placed it too high, but someone didn’t plan ahead. Right into the window sill, doh! Just saw it off… no one will notice. Well I noticed.
Oh, come on. Terminating something is easy. There is no reason for this to happen. You either return mitre it onto the wall or, in this case, interrupt it with a block or other orthogonal object for it to butt up against. This looks like a botched Isis beheading. Plus it’s Torus. *does a bit of sick in mouth*.
OK I’ll let you in on a secret: Torus is dull as skirting, ugly as architrave, but a total eyesore as dado rail. This example is outside the mens toilet at Preston station. Talk about making a depressing location even worse. It doesn’t even match the dado rail around the rest of the corridor, which is Ogee. Could they really not be arsed to go and buy an extra bit of Ogee? And where the hell is the architrave on the left side of the door?? I should have paid more attention but I was self-conscious about taking photos right outside the gents… ahem.
I have a mouldings problem. I have become obsessed with them -skirting, architrave, coving, panelling, pilasters… I have started to irritate strangers and loved ones alike by commenting on them wherever I see them. “What are you watching?” “19 Kids and Counting.” “Huh. I wouldn’t have expected rednecks to have such a nice entablature.”“WTF are you talking about?” They don’t seem to notice or care about them the way I do. Sometimes I feel alone.
Almost alone, that is. My one consolation is the second greatest website of all time: TheJoyOfMoldings.com (even though it’s American and therefore misses out the ‘u’). It has inspired me to fill my house with wicked cool mouldings, on a shoestring of course. It’s amazing what you can make with a bit of MDF and some creative thinking!
The hallway is the most important room in the house for wowing guests, and mine has a rather fine original staircase, but it is let down by the other mouldings in the room that have been abused over the years. The Coving is fine, and I improved the archway, but most of the architrave has been badly damaged and even more badly filled and painted. The original picture rail is gone and and various bits of the skirting have been replaced with generic Torus stuff (and then badly painted. Bad painting is a theme in my house, yeah?). Also the wall had been reskimmed after wiring had been chased into the wall, creating a raggedy plaster edge along the top of the skirting. As much as I like to preserve original features, most of it is beyond redemption. Luckily, Victorian mouldings are one of those original features that are not sacrosanct; they’re just milled timber. There’s noting especially unique or different about a bit of pine skirting from 1879 versus one from 2016, so there’s no sacrilege in removing it, as long as you replace it with something as good or better. Torus won’t do.
Sadly, builder’s merchants universally stock only three kinds of moulding: Torus (ugly and ubiquitous), Ogee (dull and ubiquitous), and Pencil round (why bother). Anything fancier than that and you have to find a specialist supplier, which will cost considerably more. But there is a Third Way, as proven by TheJoyOfMoldings.com: make your own mouldings from bits and pieces. That’s what I did.
I removing all the existing skirting and architrave (except around the front door which was in tolerable condition). Trivia: underneath I found some numbers inked on the door frame -I think it may be the date, as the house was built in 1879. I kept the only piece of original skirting, which I will use to fix a missing section of stair stringer later.
I made plinth blocks by chamfering a bit of ordinary 6×2 pine with a hand plane. As I’ve mentioned before, plinth blocks are architecturally essential for a high-status appearance and for harmonising the junction between architrave and skirting. I nailed them to the door frames with a couple of oval nails (I was interested to find that the original plinth blocks were carefully rebated to fit over the skirting which must have been fitted first; seems like needless extra work?)
The architrave I made out of two layers of 4mm MDF, with dado rail glued on top. The dado rail is made at my local timber yard, Wilsons (£2.57 a metre). I was later pleased to find the profile is not unlike some I saw at the local stately home, Towneley Hall, albeit on a grander scale. By doing it this way I could tailor the overal width of the architrave to fit the unplastered space left by the old architrave. The edges are simply smeared with white filler and sanded -you can’t see the layer cake once painted! By the way, a top tip from TheJoyOfMoldings is you must glue every joint otherwise gaps will open up as the wood shrinks.
The skirting required more thinking. I wanted it to be in keeping with the stair stringer, and it had to be at least 11 inches high to cover the bottom of the wall. The original stuff was attached to the nailer at the bottom of the plaster, and to a batten nailed to the floor. I instead screwed a new nailer (made from some old bed slats again…) to the bottom of the wall. Next I nailed on a strip of 4mm MDF (with expanding foam behind for good measure) followed by a couple more 10mm MDF nailers, glued on. This allowed me to use the same dado rail moulding as before, and nail/glue a sheet of 10mm MDF on top, covering up part of the dado profile. I primed the bottom edge of the MDF before installing to keep floor moisture out of it. Finally I added some slim panel moulding (also from Wilsons) along the very top, which hides the raggedy bottom of the plaster and completes a rather nice overall skirting profile with hardly any gap to fill. In the photo below you can see what I mean in cross section. Pro tip: Use 22.5 degree scarf joints not 45 degree scarfs. This wastes less material and avoids chipping and over-sanding of the thin edge.
Victorian skirtings were often made this way -from multiple pieces- and you could pick and choose how many layers you added, depending on the status of the room. The original skirting in my house was two-piece. Multiple pieces make it far easier to accommodate obstructions and defects in the walls. It’s sad that the building trade no longer uses this ‘lego’ approach. Incidentally, I used some cereal box card as a spacer to ensure that was a small gap between the skirting and the floor so the vinyl isn’t trapped, and so I can slide paper underneath when painting.
Not satisfied with just architrave I just had to add cornice too (thanks, JoyOfMoldings). This I made from some proper cornice from DresserMouldings, topped with another layer of 50x25mm pine that I routed into a cavetto, and finished off with an abacus made from leftover MDF. The cornice is fixed to the wall with a single screw in the centre, plus Instant Nails (pound shop version) at the ends. The whole lot rather conveniently covers some really ugly plaster defects above the doorways.
The house was originally built with picture rails downstairs, but they’re all gone. I always fancied having picture rail, so I bought some panel moulding from Wilsons (they only charged me £5 for 18 feet!) because I wanted something a little more unique than the more commonly stocked type. (Even B&Q sell at least two types of picture rail even though few houses must need it (?), yet they stock only the three ordinary boring skirting and architrave profiles, even though every house needs them. World, you make no sense.) I routed a curve along the back edge so picture hooks can be hung from it. Each length is held to the wall with a single screw and some Instant Nails. I have some heavy pictures so I didn’t trust the glue alone, even though I scored the plaster with a Stanley knife first.
Grandure restored! In my next post I’ll cover how I finished and painted it all.
I hate laminate fooring. It reminds me of all the rented flats I’ve lived in. It’s hard, fairly cold, and looks totally fake -just a photograph of wood printed onto MDF or whatever, no texture at all. It’s also throughout the ground floor of my house. I’ve been desperate to start improving the flooring, and the hall is a good place to start since it creates the best impression!
I was fortunate to have spent a lot of my childhood in my grandparents’ Victorian mansion in Shropshire, which had a fantastic tiled hall floor (below). Consequently I think of this as the quintessential hall floor, so when I lifted my laminate I was rather hoping to find something similar:
No such luck, just floorboards. Now, it’s become super fashionable to strip old floorboards. I read a lot of DIY blogs and I think every single one of them has spent a fortune on stripping back floorboards. I dont buy into this. Pine floorboards are like decking; a modern affectation that seems like a good idea and looks great for six months, until the high-traffic areas wear through and turn into rough, dirty grey patches (or in the case of decking into one big, green, slimy slip hazard). At this point people discover why our forebares went out of their way to cover up floorboards with rugs: pine just isn’t hard-wearing enough for bare flooring.
Back on topic. I considered real tiles but after weighing up the pros and cons they fell heavily on cons. They’re cold; hard; expensive (for nice ones); hard work to lay; hard work to change in the future; and the subfloor must be super stiff. Vinyl wins on all these things. The only disadvantage to vinyl is the lack of decent tile designs -nearly all vinyl seems to be wood effect (which admittedly is VERY convincing) or big, pastel-colour tiles. I searched for hours all over the net hoping to find something like the tile pattern of my youth. I tried every search term I could think of, but couldn’t find what I was looking for.
I was about to give up and settle for a black-and-white chequer pattern when I tried searching for ‘geometric tile vinyl’ on eBay and stumbled upon something interesting. A reverse-image-search then led me to something I really liked -the closest thing I’ve found to a Victorian tile pattern. It’s called Lisbon 761 by Lifestyle Floors. I found it for sale at Burts.co.uk for just £7.99 per square metre, which I think is amazing value. I like that it has grout lines and a slightly rough texture embossed onto it. I ordered some Sticktak spray adhesive and two rolls of double-sided tape at the same time. Before that arrived I bought four sheets of 5.5mm standard plywood from the local timber yard for about £14.50 each (cut to size too) and somehow managed to get it into the KA, and a roll of 2mm ‘acousic’ underlay from eBay (£8.99). I’m not sure what is acoustic about it, as far as I can tell it’s packing foam! It’s good though -feels super warm. I layed the underlay over the floorboards to even out the bumps, and nailed the plywood over the top with 25mm ringshank nails every 8 inches, except in the doorways where I used individual rectangles of ply screwed down since these will suffer the most traffic. The plywood is so thin that it is very easy to handle and can be cut with a Stanley knife, unlike the subfloor that would be needed for real tiles. Its thin-ness also means there was no need to shave any off the bottoms of the doors. Although there is plenty of expansion room around the edges of the floor (which will be hidden by skirting) I didn’t leave any gap between the ply sheets themselves. I hope this doesn’t matter since they’re thoroughly nailed down (I did dampen them before I nailed them down). I guess I’ll have to wait until summer to see…
For laying the vinyl I basically followed a B&Q video. Cutting it was very tricky in a space like this, especially as I had to cut out a big piece where the staircase was, before I could even get it into the hall. I think I measured it about ten times before daring to cut. I did end up with some small tears around the newel post, but you can’t easily see them (and they just look like cracks in the ’tiles’). The job was made a lot easier by the fact that I removed all the skirting board first, so most of the egdes didn’t need to be precise. The few visible edges between the vinyl and staircase I filled with acrylic bathroom sealant. Top tip: Use a stanley knife to cut the basic outline, then use big dressmakers’ scissors to do a fine ‘shave’ and get a really smooth edge.
I’m pleased with the result. I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to bold colours and patterns (which is why the whole house is still magnolia), but I like where this is going. I think it passes for suitably Victorian, and the whole lot cost only about £200 which is less than half what it would have cost to do in real tiles. Plus I can easily change it if I get bored!
Having cut a dirty great hole in the wall between the back room and kitchen, it needed to be lined. Off-the-peg door linings appear to be designed only for thin stud walls, and in any case I already had a door in mind which is not a standard size. I therefore had to make my own lining. By a lucky coincidence the total thickness of the wall including plasterboard is 200mm, and I know I can buy 195mm pine boards as standard from Jewsons (£5.17 per metre). I was even able to find a length that was completely knot free! OK, this means the lining won’t be exactly flush with the plaster but I can hide the gap with architrave. I already have plenty of experience in this area from the wild and wonderful door-meets-wall variations elsewhere in the house, of which more in a later post.
Normally you would make the entire lining on the floor and get it perfectly square, then slide it into the aperture and drive shims and wedges in at the sides to hold it in place before screwing into the walls (but then how do you get the wall plugs in? I haven’t figured that out). However, owing to poor planning on my part I had only made the aperture barely wide enough to suit my door, so I knew the jambs would have to be right up against the masonry -it wouldn’t be possible to slide the whole thing in pre-made. Meh, you live and learn. At least this way I could hold the jambs in place and drill through them into the brick to mark the fixing points, then remove the jambs and drill out the holes and insert wall plugs ready for final fix.
The pine boards are only 22mm thick (they’re advertised as 25 x 200mm). Even though off-the-peg door lining seem to be about the same thickness, I think this is too thin to hang a heavy door off (the original linings in my house are at least 1 inch thick). The next size of timber up is 32mm which was too thick for me as it would have narrowered the door aperture too much, so I considered glueing an extra layer of plywood onto the 22mm jamb to increase the thickness. However, before I got this far I saw this image from an old handbook which pointed out that you could just glue small pieces of wood exactly where the hinges will go. Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? I even had some 6mm strip wood already saved up -removed from some ill-conceived bit of joinery done by the previous owner.
Having found old dry rot in the walls I decided it would be a good idea to prime the back of the lining to protect against any possible future dampness. I used some Wilko water-based exterior primer that I had left over from painting the guttering (wooden guttering is very common in Burnley). I then screwed the jambs directly to the brick using 2.5″ screws and my favourite cut-to-lenth wall plugs, and I also put some thick polythene sheet (which my mattress came wrapped in!) around the bottom of the jambs to protect them from any possible damp rising through the bricks at floor level. I then cut some shims from scrap wood and wedged them in behind the jambs until they were as square and plumb as I could get them.
Next I added the header. I cut rebates in each end so it sits down on the jambs and will prevent them from cupping or trying to pull away from the wall. I nailed the header down onto the jambs and also drove some wedges in against the lintel for added rigidity against years of door banging. I then emptied an entire can of Screwfix expanding foam (£3.99) into the gaps between the jambs and the brick. With the casing complete I stained and waxed the door as per usual, and hung it. I have yet to add the planted door stops and architrave, and I have a lot to say about that so I am saving it all up for a big post.
The layout of this house is exemplary of Victorian design. There are two reception rooms, and the kitchen is accessed down a passageway. We don’t want servants forever traipsing coal dust and offal through the good rooms, after all. How times have changed. I mostly live in the front room, which means the back reception room gets very little use while the passageway is basically a pointless bypass. An obvious modification is therefore to put a door between the back room and the kitchen and to turn the passageway into a big useful cupboard. I know at least two nextdoor houses that have done this already.
However, I intend to go one better: put a door at both ends of the passageway, and a wall in the middle. That way I get a cloakroom and a pantry. This makes more sense than one absurdly long, thin cupboard that ends up packed with old shopping bags and mops that you can’t really get to without cimbing over everything. A pantry with shelves would be super useful, and a long cloakroom would also be great for keeping my bike in.
But first I need to knock through a door into the kitchen. I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting this project off because the structural factor intimidated me. Like, what if the house falls down? But after reading someone else’s blog about fitting a lintel above a fireplace I decided to stop being such a pussy and just get on with it.
The position of the doorway was constrained by the presence of the radiator in the kitchen. In fact, there wasn’t enough room for a door at all, so I had the radiator swapped with a smaller one in the hall, and instructed the plumber to position it as far over as possible (I firmly believe in working with what you already have rather than wasting gobs of money on rearranging the entire central heating). By my calculations this would create just enough room for the doorway, assuming it was right in the corner of the back room.
Next was the horrible moment when I actually had to start knocking holes in the wall. I hate the point of no return. After making an exploratory hole in the plasterboard I drilled a hole through the brick and was relieved to discover it was only one brick thick. This would make the job considerably easier. Incidentally, I found that a 2.5″ bolster is quite good for cutting neat(ish) seams into plasterboard.
The bricks were covered in browning plaster (I guess somebody had initially intended to plaster onto the brick, but later decided to use plasterboard?) so I chipped it off and eventually found the edge of the first brick. I then drilled lots of little holes around its mortar joints. I could then drive a chisel into the joints to break it up quite easily, especially as it is old and sloppily laid lime mortar. A good whack with a hammer and the first brick was free. I continued with this until I had cleared about a meter of one course. I didn’t completely remove the central brick as the yawning gap gave me the willies, although I don’t really think there was any danger of other bricks falling down.
Next I bought a concrete lintel from Jewson (£7.84). These come in one foot increments -600mm, 900mm, 1200mm, and so on. Except for 1050mm, for some reason. Which is lucky for me as this was pretty much the right size to suit the width of my doorway! I didn’t really want to buy the next size up and then grind a bit off; grinding concrete and rebar must be a bitch. I slid it into place, pushing the last brick out at the same time, then packed pieces of slate underneath to force it up against the underside of the bricks before cementing it in.
With my paranoia of wall collapse now allayed I could open up the rest of the doorway. I had intended to cut down the sides with a Stihl saw, but chickened out with the thought of all the dust. Instead I just used a hammer and chisel to remove them one at a time. The mortar is so soft and these bricks are such low quality that they break into pieces fairly easily. One side of the doorway happened to coincide with a vertical mortar joint, which was handy, but the other side didn’t. Here I ended up with a very jagged edge after bricks shattered or fell out, and where I discovered an old blocked-up serving hatch (weren’t the 1960s great?). The concrete blocks were much harder to break and didn’t go in a nice straight line. No matter. That’s why God invented expanding foam.
Finally I chipped away the bottom row of bricks to get the base level flush with the room floors. I now have eight bags of rubble which I can’t get rid of until January because I’ve already used up my annual 10-bag allowance at the local tip. Stupid by-laws. I put as much as I can in the wheelie bin, but I don’t want to make it so heavy that they refuse to take it!
I was also interested to find dry rot had grown through the air gaps in the mortar beds. It’s clear this house was once poorly maintained and damp. According to the old plans I think there was once a down pipe in the corner of the yard near here,so I suspect this had something to do with it. The fungus is obviously long dead, but in any case I burned it off with a heat gun and squirted polyurethane foam into the gaps.
I now have a big hole in the wall, ready for lining. Ready-made door linings are completely incompatible with my 40mm doors and this 200mm-thick wall, so I’ll be making my own lining from scratch. What I like about this project is that it’s something I knew I would want to do the very first time I viewed the property. This gives me a self-satisfied sense of continuity and progress.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in the living room when I heard a strange noise. The cat jumped out of her skin, but neither of us could work out where it came from…
A few days later I happened to go into the cellar and all was revealed: part of the lath and plaster ceiling had fallen down! I think it must have soaked up moisture over the years, or maybe there was once a radiator leak or something. Either way it finally collapsed. Curiously, half the ceiling in the cellar was already gone and had been boarded over with the most bizarre mixture of things -bits of plasterboard, plywood, even an old table top! Quite why anyone went to this trouble I can’t imagine. It’s not like the patchwork of random shit was a cosmetic improvement.
I took the fallen bit of ceiling as a sign. It was time to eliminate the rest of it, and the silly patchwork too. This was a most horrible job. Pulling it down with a claw hammer, dust and rubble everywhere. Followed by the annoyance of disposing of it all in a Ford KA, at the local tip which only permits you a small allowance of rubble waste per year (after that you have to pay for a license). Yeesh.
Well, it’s done, and it does at least look neater. I also like being able to see the state of the joists, just in case anything starts rotting one day, y’know? On the other hand there is not much standing between the cold cellar and the living room, so I decided to insulate it with some 100mm mineral wool (£22.80 from Jewsons). Top tip: saw it into segments of the width you need while it’s still in its plastic wrapper!
It’s all held up with chicken wire nailed to the josts with 15mm netting staples. Trying to get the insulation to stay put while simultaneously grappling with wire that wants to coil back on itself, all with goggles that steam up, was an intensely horrible job. Urg. I don’t yet know if it will make a noticeable difference to the warmth in the living room, but it better bloody had do after that ordeal. On the plus side the cellar now looks like the bumper car ride at the funfair. Nostaligic.
One thing I have lacked since infancy is a decent workbench and vice. I have always made do with an ordinary table, or the floor. Since moving to this house I have been using an old dressing table which does at least have a vice attached. It was given to me by a man who was selling an unoccupied house down the road; I spotted the bench and vice in the estate agent photos and offered to buy it off him. He said he was planning to burn it anyway so he gave it to me for nothing. It pays to ask!
The trouble with ordinary tables is twofold: they are too low down and the don’t stay still. I always get an aching back from stooping over a regular table for too long. Perhaps more annoying to me, the table will always rock and slide about when I’m planing or sawing, making the job maddeningly more difficult. Enough is enough.
I recently got hold of something I had stashed away for the last sixteen years: a thick sheet of MDF. I originally bought it with the intention of using it for the bed of a pool table (don’t ask). After that project failed to materialise, ahem, it remained in storage in Shropshire, but I finally got it moved up to Burnley. It’s perfectly flat and weighs a ton, which is exactly what I need from a bench top. I sealed it with some varnish I had lying around. (Ages ago I had needed some clear varnish so I bought some generic yatch varnish. But when I got it home I discovered it was tinted red. WTF does it not say so on the tin FFS srly?!)
To give me the best chance of having a bench that doesn’t walk around, I figured it needs big feet and lots of weight, like your mum. I therefore made the legs from a couple of 100 x 100mm fence posts from Jewsons. I stuck some flashband on the bottom of the feet so they’re not in direct contact with the possible-damp floor.
The frame is made from some 3 x 1 1/2″ CLS timber (£15.55) fixed together with coach screws and penny washers from Wilkos. The top is also screwed into the legs, but I routed some recesses so the heads sit below the surface of the table, so they won’t interfere with anything placed on top. I didn’t use any glue, in case I want to dismantle it to move it to another room/house one day. The lower part of the frame is handy for storing pieces of timber off the cellar floor, which has the added bonus of weighing the table down more.
It’s three feet tall and does not budge an inch, like your mum. Perfect. The weight in this table is like a metaphor for the burden that has been liften from my life, or something. What I’m trying to say is that I finally have a place to work that is actually comfortable (lol) and convenient and makes jobs easier instead of infuriating. Great success!