Art For Art’s Sake

So what does your run of the mill Art Deco enthusiast hang on the walls of their humble abode? Vintage travel posters? A Chinese reproduction canvas of a Tamara de Lempicka painting?.. or perhaps a framed and mounted period advertisement featuring a stylized sketch of a dashing couple enjoying a glass of a trendy French liqueur! All have their place, and yes, like many others we too have examples of all of these gracing our home. Sometimes however, none of these options seem to fit the bill. Sometimes you find yourself with a very big blank wall requiring eye candy and no budget to commission a suitable piece. Its on these very dangerous, and thankfully very rare occasions I go rummaging and dig out my beret, easel and £1.99 set of acrylic paints!

The project has been a long time coming. I spotted an image online a couple of years ago while googling The Grosvener School of Modern Art. We’ve got some prints by Cyril Power and i was keen to see more of his work when I stumbled on a random image of some birds in flight. It was by Edward (“Ted”) McKnight Kauffer, “one of Europe’s most prolific and influential advertising poster artists during the twenties and thirties”.MD_KaufferEM_Flight_640

The image hit me in the face with a double whammy of admiration and inspiration. Not only was it strikingly original, extremely clever and utterly beautiful, but it looked to my naive eyes that it could easily be copied by an amateur such as myself. I saved the image, logged it on my mental rainy day ‘to do list’ and got on with life.

Cue the completion of our new kitchen. If you look back through some of my previous blogs you’ll see the  lengthy transformation of a huge derelict room into our dream modernist food prep and eating area. An area that came complete with one big blank wall! I could stand it no longer, a trip to The Works stationary emporium was made, and coins exchanged for the biggest budget canvas that they had kicking around.

Phase one included a long length of wood, a pencil and a jpg. I sketched it by eye, not worrying too much about accuracy. With one eye on the Eurovision song contest (A dreadful guilty pleasure the wife and I always watch!) and one on the canvas I was off. Phase 2 included several rolls of masking tape, hole re-enforcers and some sponge brushes borrowed from my 3 year old. Frankly I underestimated the complicated nature of the intersecting lines and it grew ever more mind numbing trying to work out which bit should be which colour. If it wasn’t for the fear of them showing through I would have turned it into a giant paint-by-numbers!

Each stage required the removal of some tape and application of further strips in different areas. The reveal was always a rewarding and exciting moment. Much like on the silver screen with the tense removal of bandages from a beauty queens face after major surgery. Will she look as foxy as she once did? Will the black have leaked under the 50p masking tape ruining the perfectly straight lines? Yes & yes.. she’s still a honey, but nooooo, I knew I should have invested in proper frog tape!

Nevertheless, after a month or so my opus was complete. Some light touching up was required to  improve bleed, but from a distance its not at all bad. I’ll construct a frame of some kind when I get a chance, but for now the naked canvas hangs in the kitchen, adding some drama to the rather plain walls. And here she is…




Well it was a long time coming but on Saturday February 13th we moved into our kitchen. Key utensils, bags of saucepans and cans of miscellaneous grub were whisked from one end of the flat to the other as efficiently as we could manage. This all happened in a frantic rush after work as I simultaneously tried to clear an air lock in the central heating and cook a romantic Valentines meal. A candlelit food shoveling exercise followed while baby Beatrice balled away in her bouncy chair, making the most of the cavernous acoustics of the new room. Bliss!

new kitchen 001

The weeks leading up to ‘the big move’ had proved full of ups and downs. Our lavish plan of numerous bands of sweeping colour on the walls had been thwarted by paint adhesion failure (the low tack frog tape removed all paint back to the bare plaster even when only lightly applied). After much head scratching I opted for a simple two tone effect of grey and white. The black band provided by carefully stuck electrical tape running around the room! It sounds a bit Heath Robinson admittedly, but it’s actually quite effective and shows no signs of pealing some two months on.

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The severely damaged original floor is still in place and has been buffed, sealed and waxed within an inch of its life. Not that you’d notice, it’s still rather rough and ready, but exudes plenty of character. new kitchen 003

The gloss white kitchen units from Diy-Kitchens were delivered on time and proved extremely easy to fit together. I wrestled with kick boards, handles and the integrated dishwasher but ultimately emerged victorious. The ‘Maron Jupiter’ (dark brown) quartz worktop arrived a couple of weeks later and was swiftly fitted by the suppliers, Natural Stone.

Last job was a spot of tiling. The choice of a combination of large slabs of gloss black with mosaic counterparts on top was a last minute decision but proved fairly quick and easy for the enthusiastic amateur to fit. I personally think the final result looks rather nifty, if perhaps a bit more 21stC modern than 20thC Modernist.

Above the mighty fireplace hangs a modern deco-inspired beveled mirror mounted on an angle so that you can see yourself stood in the room below. new kitchen 006The beautiful veneered larder is a tall boy I managed to extract from a full suite advertised new kitchen 018on ebay. The clothes rail was removed, shelves fitted, a charity shop spice rack hung on the inside door and obligatory Robertson’s Golly Enamel attached to the other.

The delightful table and chairs are were a donation from my aunt and uncle. This original mid 30s ‘magi-cube’ set was the very same suite that my mother dined at as a child. A light new kitchen 010sanding and varnish plus new seat coverings were all it needed to restore it to its former glory.

In one last act of total indulgence we treated ourselves to a new fridge, toaster, kettle and microwave all in gloss white. But what should we sit our precious new Akai microwave on? The plan was always to have it separate from the worktops next to the fridge. The answer presented itself on Valentines day as we strolled around the huge Malvern Flea Fair. A totally dilapidated early Bush television (Some later internet investigation dated to 1951) presented itself with a £20 price tag. It quickly found its way into my workshop and 7 days later I’d sanded, varnished and moved the rather heavy fellow into its new home.

new kitchen 007new kitchen 008

So 12 months in the planning and about 5 in the making we’ve got ourselves a splendid room the whole family are in love with. The only problem now is my lack of motivation for converting the old kitchen into Dorothy’s new bedroom! In my world, the winter is for interior design stuff and the summer is for playing with old cars.. the summer is on its way so I better get a wriggle on!

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The Reshuffle Part 3: Go Progress Chrome

Earlier in the year I published a few posts concerning a significant reshuffle of our home layout; ultimately leading to us creating a kitchen/diner at the opposite end of our garden flat (the existing kitchen then being converted to a bedroom/nursery for our new edition ‘Beatrice’). The summer months yielded hardly any progress thanks to unreliable tradesmen. By September, in a fit of frustration we changed contractors and have watched things progress at rapid speed since then.

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October – only first fix pipework in

The flat sits within a large 1860s property, but with the new project we have completely disregarded all rules of period correctness and have heavily indulged our interwar design fantasies.

The room is a very generous space, but is not without its problems. The walls were a mixture of bare brick and crumbling plaster, with numerous steel pipe brackets seemly growing like grass out of the walls. The original Victorian terracotta tile floor (which runs throughout most of the flat) was very dirty and poorly repaired with concrete in places. The high ceilings gave little heat or acoustic insulation from the heavy footed residents upstairs, and there was little to no natural light.

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November – battening and joists going in.

To counteract these we fitted a false ceiling crammed with rockwool, batton and boarded all the walls, knocked out a bricked up window and fitted a double glazed sash, and gave the floor some much needed TLC repairing the damaged sections with coloured cement and buffing the whole thing. All wiring and pipework has neatly been hidden behind the new walls and ceiling.

Late November – freshly plastered with ‘Sunstorm’ air vent

After much searching and deliberation I had to abandon my hunt for lights that mimic those in the Cafe Zedel (see my previous blog) and do the obvious thing, ship a bunch of matching reproduction light fittings from Australia!  I would have loved to use original period fittings, but finding items that matched in our chosen chrome scheme was near impossible. So in one of chr20astoria203lt20detroit20sml20copythe most extravagant & indulgent purchases I’ve ever made I found myself placing an order for some beautiful wares at Restoration Online. A three branch chandelier, large pendant and two wall lights from the Astoria range found themselves heading in my direction, arriving with a nasty customs bill to keep them company. They’ll be mounted on ‘Miami’ roses from Classic Ceiling and should look fantastic.

The kitchen units are on order fromh601128sstz_l_2 DIYkitchens and should arrive early in the new year. We’ve gone for a fairly predictable (but thoroughly appropriate) curved white high gloss ‘Livorna’ range with rusty black quartz worktop and bow handles.

Between now and then I’ve got to paint the room. After dismissing large mock up copyblocks of green in our original plan as being too imposing we’ve opted for a more radical scheme. Thick bands of white, grey and ‘twisted turquoise’ with a 30mm black line will run from the worktop around the whole space. The turquoise will stay 300mm from the black line, but climb up and over doorways and other features. It’ll test my frogtape abilities to the max, but should hopefully be worth the trouble and strife in the long run.

Knocked up over my cornflakes. “What are you drawing daddy?”


12 White Roses

In the hunt for beautiful Art Deco features to add to our current kitchen fantailrenovation project I stumbled across the fantastic Birmingham based firm Classic Ceilings. This small enterprise run by Marc Newey creates high quality period plaster ceiling roses, coving corners, overdoors, light switch surrounds and air bricks. He personally designs and manufactures pieces in Arts & Crafts and English & French Revival styles, but its his love for Art Deco that made my jaw drop. His attention to detail and eye for multi layered design really captures the period beautifully and the execution is perfect.

sunstorm209x8plaJust browsing the site gave me a deep yearning to be renovating a modernist interwar property. Sadly there’s no sign of that opportunity presenting itself in the near future, so until then I’ll make do with my current project.
Marc has supplied me a ‘Sunstorm’ vent cover which I’ve installed over an airbrick on a chimney breast, and two ‘Miami’ ceiling roses that echo the appearance of an old cinema clock that will hang at one of the room.

The Reshuffle Pt1 – A Study in Grey

2015 is going to yield some fairly major changes in art deco magpie hq. The forthcoming arrival of our second bright young thing has required us to have a rethink about the layout of the flat and presented a September deadline. The plan is to convert a huge dark cellar room currently used for logs and garden tools into a stylish 30’s inspired kitchen diner, transform our existing kitchen (at the other end of the property) into a third bedroom and use the dining room as an office/study. It may all sound a bit extreme, but trust me.. it’s the only way we can get an extra bedroom in a sensible location. It’s bound to end up being a tedious and expensive project, but should be a huge improvement in the long run.

Old Dining RoomNo major work can be undertaken until I’ve had a massive disused oil tank removed. So in the meantime I decided to work backwards by creating my dream study in what was a rarely used dining room.

The walls were previously decorated with a bland pale pastel green emulsion. I had planned to give the room a somber 1940’s austerity feel with some light grey paint, but after a successful pre-Christmas experiment with wallpaper in the lounge I opted continue along a similar path with the study. The chosen design is Cavern in Dove Grey, once again by Graham and Brown. The sample looked great, the first few lengths applied… less so. It’s a very angular geometric pattern that when presented in its full glory is perhaps more suited to a brutalist mid-60’s inspired theme. However, we’d committed so it seemed churlish to back out and rip it off. Papering continued, and as we completed each wall and tested pictures and bits of furniture against it the design rapidly grew on us.

study 005I’ve already got a few decent bits and pieces to use in the room, which I’ve split diagonally to create two areas. One half centered around a burr walnut veneered desk (an up-cycled dressing table) and filing cabinet (will probably be replaced with an oak one when acquired), the opposite side a reading area with a 1930’s Globe Wernike stacking bookcase and a club chair liberated from our bedroom. Everything sits on an original handwoven Chinese Art Deco rug bought on the cheap a few years ago. It’s got a whopping great stain in the middle, hence the bargain price, so I’ve booked some professionals to clean it in a few weeks.

I’m guilty of injecting a pretty eclectic mix of 20th century items with my pre-war paraphernalia here. A 1958 Encyclopedia Britannica globe (originally free when signing up for the complete set), 1960’s Poole Pottery Helios lamp & drinks cabinet along with contemporary artworks, but I’d like to think they sit fairly comfortably together.  In addition to the filing cabinet, my wish list includes an original Herbert Terry Anglepoise lamp, an old glazed notice board & a groovy swivel chair of some kind. Other than that I think we’re done here.

s 008Filing Cabinet with globes 005

study 001

Parallel Lines

If there’s better way to spend down time during the festive season than painting lines on a wall, then I’m not aware of it! The inspiration for this genius idea came from a photo of the inside of the ‘watch room’ at Duxford Air Base. A broad grey stripe sweeps around the entire room, echoing the runway it overlooks.

The Watch Office, the forerunner to the Control Tower, as it might have been during the late 1930s.
Yellow 'Frog' tape - a must
Yellow ‘Frog’ tape – a must

Alas, I don’t have a watch room, but I do have a porch that was in need of a bit of a spruce up. A splash of white on the walls provided a good base for some masking tape based experimentation. With the help of a laser level I taped a border around the whole room, then another, and then another (lines – they’re a bit moreish).

After some photoshop mock ups, a black and goldebay 001 colour scheme was decided on and several coats of acrylic paint were duly rolled on. I was reliably informed that black is a good undercoat for gold paint, giving a deep bright shine. Good advice it would seem. On removing the tape I was so darn pleased with the effect I threw caution to the wind and painted some intersecting verticals in celebration. The finished product evokes thoughts of  vintage railway carriage livery, or perhaps a more glitzy section (I refuse to use the word ‘bling’) of a London Underground map.

The icing on the cake was to replace the standard pendant light fitting with a reproduction Bakelite job and throw down a new rug. One revamped porch, done! What a fine place to remove ones shoes, even if I do say so myself.


Cinema Style – Fin

After two weeks of evenings spent scaling the heady heights of our lounge on a wobbly ladder we have completion in the Graham & Brown Cinema wallpaper project. It’s subtle but very effective, even if it doesn’t exactly dazzle in the photos. Pattern matching in the corners wasn’t even remotely easy considering the uneven nature of our aged walls, but as long as you don’t look too closely.. it’s passable.

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Cinema style

Tonight I find myself at the top of a ladder trying to hang some wallpaper in the lounge. It’s going relatively we’ll, but my paste covered fingers are struggling to grip the shiny surface to ensure perfect pattern match. “I don’t remember it being this blimin’ tricky” I yell down to Tash who’s hovering with tea, brownies and encouragement, but even after two lengths, I can tell it’s going to be worth the strife.

The lounge, pre-wall paper.
The lounge, pre-wall paper.

Until now we’ve had perfectly serviceable walls dressed in a matt emulsion  called ‘vintage white’. A generous assortment of paintings cheered up the blank slabs and injected welcome bursts of colour. We had no reason to alter this happy arrangement until I became aware of the ‘Cinema’ range of wallpapers from Graham & Brown. In the past I’ve occasionally stumbled across some 30s or deco influenced papers, but they’re usually either pretty naff with excess glitter that rubs off with the lightest of touches, or full on 30’s reprints that tend to look a bit oppressive and loud.

Graham and Brown Cinema in cream and gold
Graham and Brown Cinema in cream and gold

A sample in cream and gold was duly ordered, and it became clear that this was a bit of winner. We could add a touch of silver screen glamour to our lives, and cover the whole living room for less than £200. It’s a superfresco vinyl paper, so slightly embossed and pretty easy to work with. It also means you can paste the wall rather than the paper, which is new to me (but seems to work OK).

So here I am trying to hang the stuff… Which may take several evenings, but will hopefully be well worth it.

A work in progress
A work in progress