Mud Wall

Let's begin with a random photo of Bella, just because she's nicer than any of the photos that follow - you can really see her age in this photo as although her fur looks quite plentiful, it also like that of an older, shaggier cat, which I find endearing. She's been acting quite strangely since Honey died and I think she may suspect Nell of having eaten her (a not unreasonable assumption from one who saw Honey was there one moment and then gone the next. Although they never actually spent much time together, so it would be a belated loyalty on Bella's part), as the dynamic between them seems to have changed and now when Nell walks past, Bella has begun punching at her with a curled paw, or worse, swiping with claws out. Nell is terrified and we have twice discovered her whimpering in the utility room, too scared to walk past Bella, who seems to enjoy blocking her way like a school bully (as well as drinking from Nell's water bowl, which is like a great lake compared to Bella's own and so is quite a funny sight). It's odd how utterly defenceless Nell seems in the face of an animal that's less than a quarter of her size - there must be much animal messaging between them goes undetected by humans. This is the problem with starting with a random photo...this post was actually meant to be about paint colours.

Finally fully recovered from flu, last weekend I decided to repaint a wall in the kitchen I've always disliked. Most of our walls are very light, but that one was a curious colour I'd mixed up from odds and ends of paint in our garage. Once I'd created my special shade, I enthusiastically daubed it on without waiting around between coats for things to dry, deciding that was probably just one of those tedious things manufacturers like to tell you to do unnecessarily. I was rewarded with a colour that was curiously patchy and later, the effect of two coats of paint drying at different rates meant it actually began to splinter into tiny cracks like baked mud in summer. Essentially, my painting style is the exact opposite to that of my approach to English paper's as though the EPP has gobbled up all the patience and care and left me with nothing to offer to a paintbrush. For this reason, I've always left most of the painting to my husband as he is awesome at it, although he refuses to be drawn into anything that doesn't involve cream paint on the grounds that I could change my mind once the colour is on the wall*.

I imagine without evidence you may feel I am hamming up my wall for dramatic effect, so I thought I'd share a photo, even though it pains me. When I showed it to the man in the paint shop he said, 'Oh, I see! You're painting on wood - I'd misunderstood and thought it was a wall,' to which I had to confess that it was actually a wall and that I'd somehow created a cracked woodgrain effect on it. Do feel free to click to enlarge it if you'd like to admire it in its full glory.

Whenever I pondered the problem of the patchy, cracked wall in my head - about once a week for 18 months - I could only see four options: get the wall freshly plastered, tile over the wall, knock the wall down, or move house. But should you ever find yourself in a similar situation (I can't imagine the person who would, but it would be so nice to know of a kindred spirit if that's you), there's a fifth option that costs barely anything: you can sand the entire wall by hand with some 120-grit sandpaper wrapped around a woodblock and you'll end up with the something similar to a freshly plastered wall and feel immeasurably proud of yourself. It took me three hours of intensive sanding and an unbelievable amount of dust to smooth the wall back, but it worked. I was so grateful much of the wall is covered by cupboards, reducing the area that needed sanding.

The other suggestion my paint shop made to me is that you can get a really smooth line between colours if you use non-bleed masking tape, rather than just regular masking tape - it's much more expensive, but I can now see definitely worth it. I also watched a wonderful YouTube video that said sometimes you can get a little channel where two walls meet (we have one of those) and if you paint along that it will stop you from achieving a crisp wall (very true - the cracked mud was far from crisp in this area), so the trick is to actually paint an 1/8" onto the adjoining wall and paint a little way around the corner, in this case onto the cream wall (see the below photo). Anyway, after all that preparation and study, I found myself turning over a brand new leaf and took extreme care with my painting and even enjoyed it. My entire family offered surprised congratulations on its successful completion.

With the relative triumph of the green wall still fresh in his mind, my husband felt it was safe to risk buying me two thick Farrow & Ball books all about painting and decorating for my birthday last week and they are things of wonder. I actually read both of them cover to cover, rather than just looking at the pictures, and learnt so much. They are really nicely written - not prescriptive or rule-based, but full of inspiration and encouragement. I liked also that although they take their paints seriously, they don't seem to take the act of decorating itself seriously and see it more as grounds to have fun and play with colour, confessing to pretty much redecorating their own homes once a month.

While I really loved neutral colours like the ones above and use them pretty much everywhere, my heart does do a little leap every time I see a photo of a room with intense, saturated colour or a beautiful wallpaper and what I learnt while reading these books is that if you have a really tiny room, painting it in neutrals may only draw attention to its smallness or make it feel a bit nothingy, where using a lot of delicious colour and pattern will make that the thing that people notice. This really reminded me of the way my mum decorated when I was growing up, where a small downstairs loo was always an excuse for her to use some crazy riotous wallpaper - I particularly remember her using this red Laura Ashley Floribunda wallpaper when I was a teenager (curiously, my parents now live in a house where every wall is painted white as it suits their architecture best that way, although my mum is still quite dramatic with upholstery and fabrics). But anyway, my thoughts have turned to decorating my own downstairs loo and possibly my husband's small office too, which feel like contained areas to unleash some colour, so I've been having fun ordering wallpaper samples and thinking about paint colours.

For the last fifteen years, I've always used Little Greene's paints - they're deliciously thick and have a nice chalky finish, but after reading Farrow & Ball's books about their use of pigment and the explanation of why their paint is necessarily so thin, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone who has used them has noticed the difference? Is it discernibly more lovely? Does it seem to magically change in different lights in a way that other paints don't?

In the photo above, bottom is Little Greene's paint chart, on top is Farrow & Ball's. I want them all.

Before I go, I want to leave you with a photo of the birthday card made by my daughter - my family always make me handmade cards and its become something of a one-horse competition between them, where every year when my daughter's card is unveiled (it's always made in complete secrecy to increase her chances of winning and avoid any copying, which did happen one year), my husband and son end up laughing as they realise that yet again she has blown them both out of the water.

This year, she'd made a pop up card, where inside a heart sprang out of a 3D I love you. All the colours are hand-painted and the words and heart create beautiful shadows. Their cards are always my favourite part of my birthday and I love that I now have so many years' worth of them. The weather was foul on the actual day, so we met my dad for breakfast, pottered around the old bit of town (the bit you'd go to if you're not buying practical things) and then the garden centre, and later that afternoon, my parents came over for cake once our children were home from school. It was a really lovely day and made me feel sometimes the simplest birthdays can be nicest. Also, my husband asked a local cafe to make a birthday mocha cake that's both gluten-free (me) and vegan (daughter) and it was one of the best I've ever tasted - the effect of a cake to make a day perfect can't be underestimated. Which reminds me of the time several years ago when we were considering moving to Winchelsea, only to return to find the village shop had stopped serving fresh cake and, despite it still being the most glorious place to live, we realised the cake had been the main pull for us and neither of us wanted to move anymore.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

* Frustratingly true - when repainting the mud wall I first used Little Greene's Pearl Colour Dark and that was too minty in the afternoon sun for my purposes, so I then had to tape everything up again and repaint it in Little Greene's Normandy Grey, which is the sage green you can see in the photos above. What's troublesome about that, is that my painting had been perfect the first time and a little less so the next time (not much, but enough to make me feel like I want a framed picture of the first attempt even though the colour wasn't right).


  1. Which Farrow & Ball books? They all look yummy! And your wall is fabulous, you should be proud. Happy belated birthday!

    1. Hello Cheryl, thank you so much :) I got How to Decorate and Recipes for Decorating - if you were only going to go for one of those, I'd make it How to Decorate, but they're both lovely. Here's a link: x

  2. We have just decorated the kitchen and in order to save time chose a colour and slapped it on. I didn’t like it as it looked muddy so decided to change. I thought a deep creM might be better but it was hateful. It was only then that I decided to get a tester pot. The new colour wa just right show the whole kitchen is in Joa’s white (F & B). More very soft mushroom than white and very pretty. An extremely expensive exercise. In our old house the downstairs loo ha been a Malay bungalow, an Egyptian tomb, a wine cellar and a tribute to Mucha!
    Happy belated birthday

    1. Oh, that's really lovely to hear as I've been thinking of Joa's white for my hallway! Just in case you don't know, and would like some geeky paint facts, it's named after Farrow & Ball's head colourist (I'm not sure that's quite the right title, but you get the impression!) Joa Studholme. I loved discovering some of the stories behind the names while I was reading.

      Also, I love that you had the extreme reaction of finding a colour totally hateful - I feel like that about some colours too (or not the colour itself, but feeling like it's in the wrong place - I get that with fabrics in my quilts too). You old house sounds amazing, by the way!

  3. Always lovely to catch up on your posts. I’ve been struck with the flu for about 5 weeks now and it does take so long to get over. I am a total convert to Farrow and Ball and when we moved to this house 2 years ago repainted it all in F&B. I love the effect and depth of colour.

    1. Oh no - I can so identify with that - I still have a cough left over from mine. It's a rotten one, isn't it and I started to feel like I was really quite useless and feeble to not be able to get over it quicker, but it just wouldn't go! Wishing you a speedy recovery starting now, but either way, I hope you're able to lounge around reading books and catching up on sleep until you're better.

      What had your used before Farrow & Ball - I'm really interested to know if it's a big difference between standard makes like Dulux and Crown, or all makes including ones like Little Greene, that I've always thought of as being comparable.

  4. Your hard work and patience truly paid off here! Well done your wall looks beautiful.
    I thought you may want to peek at my very best of shelves blogpost!

  5. Such a wonderful post, Caroline - thank you so much for stopping by to let me know.

    I found it oddly relaxing to be given a tour around the curiosities on your shelves, which left me wondering if Shelf Watch could be a new form of meditation...

    Lovely to have a new-to-me blog to add to my Reader too :) x


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Florence x