House Tour: The Lounge

Being from Australia it’s very difficult to know what the correct name for this room is in the UK. We would call it the lounge but here I have heard it referred to as a sitting room and sometimes a living room. My grandad would have called it the front room but I think that’s a working-class London thing. Parlour? Drawing room? Too affected? I kept referring to it as the ‘front living room’ with our architect just to be sure. The first plans he drew up referred to it as…the lounge.

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This is the picture of the lounge that appeared in the brochure for the house sale.

Screen shot 2013-06-10 at 1.08.30 PM copy This was the web photo taken after all the furniture had been cleared out. It already looks sadder and colder, doesn’t it? It’s partly because the first picture was taken in the afternoon when the light streams in (the front of the house faces west). The second picture looks like morning (the sun is reflecting off the neighbours’ windows across the road). I think it will be important to use warm colours in this room.

IMG_2709 - 2013-06-11 at 17-14-08I took this photo on my first viewing. The fireplace surround is original as it matches the neighbour’s but I suspect the tiles are later. Certainly the tin hearth in front is modern as I removed that on the day we moved in when I lifted the carpets. I want to try to clean the tiles as that will tell me if they are original – on close inspection they look like they have been painted and that they might be green underneath, which would make more sense.

IMG_1357A cabinet maker told me that the mantel is boxwood. The carvings have a very Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts style, in keeping with the rest of the house, which our architect has referred to in our planning documents as “Arts and Crafts English Domestic Revival”.

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The centre carving is of fruit trees, perhaps apple? Pomegranate? I will have to take a closer look. Note the servant’s bell to the left. Originally this would have been a coal fire but it has been used for wood more recently. I love fires but I don’t enjoy cleaning fireplaces so I want to install a very tasteful gas log fire here, keeping the original surround. We are also in a Smoke Control Zone, so we are technically not allowed to burn wood but this doesn’t seem to stop people – the wood-burning stove is extremely popular in the UK right now.

IMG_0854This is the rug that was nailed to the floor in front of the fireplace. I am tempted to get it cleaned and repaired as it is quite a lovely hand-woven woollen tapestry from India featuring birds and acanthus leaves.

038ff4f96c00f0a424c6a7be7bd0a9680edc7465 copyThis is our neighbour’s lounge. Once again I have flipped the image in Photoshop for a direct comparison.

IMG_0824This is how the lounge looks with all our furniture stored in it.

IMG_1333The window with the droopy curtains that Ruby loves. In many ways this is Ruby’s room as it is the one she comes to in order to snooze and get away from her brother and sister.

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Neighbours have also reported that she spends a lot of time on the window sill staring outside at her domain.

IMG_1331Today I have just finished knocking out these old built-in bookcases. They were made of a mixture of cheap timber and plywood, so my guess is that they are a post-war addition.

IMG_1328As I removed the bookcase on the right it became clear that we have some penetrating damp. The plaster felt cold and little damp and crumbled in places, the wallpaper just came away. There was also a telltale musty smell like wet earth. There are two types of damp: rising damp and penetrating damp. Rising damp is the worse one to have as it means the ground beneath your house is wet and the damp gets sucked up your walls via a capillary action. To fix it you would probably need damp-proofing, which is either a physical or chemical barrier to stop the damp rising.  Penetrating damp is water getting into the walls because of leaks from gutters, rain against walls, worn pointing (the mortar between bricks) and things like that. The culprit in this case is a rusted cast iron down-pipe on the wall outside. When it rains the water trickles out against the brickwork. As soon as we have the down-pipe fixed, the source of the water will be removed. Then it’s just a case of letting the wall dry naturally, repairing the plaster and redecorating.

IMG_1329Behind the bookcase, under all the layers of paint and more modern wallpaper I found a sample of what I think is the original Edwardian textured wallpaper. It seems to have a trellis pattern. While it appears brown now it was probably white or cream. Sometimes textured wallpaper is designed to be painted, so perhaps it was hung and then painted over.


Here are my assistants Ruby and Rose.

IMG_1335The view towards the door.

IMG_4507Like the dining room, there is a copper doorknob on the outside of the door.

IMG_4513Inside is a brass knob that I will replace with the doorknobs I bought the other day. There is also an escutcheon missing and I have managed to source reproductions of the oval teardrop design.

IMG_1358When I ripped out the bookcases, underneath I found a razor blade.

IMG_1360A button.

IMG_1359A South African stamp.

IMG_1362And two Edwardian playing cards.

IMG_1363I still live in hope of discovering some secret treasure but nothing of value has turned up yet.1555481_209361452600327_763093140_nAs I have a very skewed sense of priorities, today I took delivery of the light fittings I have selected for the lounge. This is the five light bronze pendant with crystal sconces and drops.

1606916_209361585933647_1847592559_nAnd I have two pairs of these wall lights. The floors will be sanded and polished and the walls will have a warm neutral tone.

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This is a Farrow and Ball colour I have my eye on called, appropriately enough, Cat’s Paw.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 20.34.32If that tests too dark I will go with String.

The windows will probably have my old standby, used in two of our houses already so far, deep maroon Roman blinds to match the shades of the light fittings.

House Tour: Dining Room

IMG_2702 - 2013-06-11 at 17-12-56This is a picture I took of the dining room on the day of my first viewing of the house. One of the things I loved about the house was that it had a separate formal dining room. People ask whether we will knock through into the lounge room to open up the space but my answer is no – this is the first house where we have had a completely separate room for formal entertaining. I can also imagine Mark seated by the french windows reading the newspaper. Also, if we knocked through I would lose the wall where I need to put the piano!

IMG_4544The garden needs work but the dining room has a lovely aspect and it gets morning sun.

IMG_1222The french windows themselves need to restored but everything original is there.

IMG_4543The original lever handle on the door.

IMG_1218The dining room is currently a store room – most of our possessions are still in boxes. A lot of furniture is in rented storage space in Liverpool but these are particularly precious items. There are breakables that we didn’t want to entrust with strangers, also sentimental items, for instance Doris and Orlando’s ashes are in one of these boxes – we weren’t going to let them out of our sight! All the things stored here are light enough for Mark and I to move about the house when builders need access to this room. It may well be that the builder will want everything out for a couple of weeks, in which case most things are still packed and ready to go.

2013-09-24 10.13.21Ruby is self-proclaimed queen of the boxes.

IMG_0828Rose gives her a run for her money though.

IMG_1221Many of the rooms in the house have ceilings that will need to be repaired.

IMG_1220We also need to have the copper heating pipes re-routed.

IMG_2703 - 2013-06-11 at 17-13-08Paddy had the heating and boiler upgraded about four years ago and I think she just wanted the plumbers to take the path of least resistance with the piping – straight up the dining room wall! They simply cannot stay.

IMG_0937Mark and I have been slowly removing carpets in all the rooms. Ideally we would have lifted the carpet in the dining room before all the boxes went in but there wasn’t time on moving day. We spent and hour or so a couple of weeks back shifting all the boxes about and taking up the carpet as we went.

IMG_0940The fireplace in this room is long gone but I was  curious to see whether there were hearth tiles under the carpet.

IMG_0944They need a good clean but they are still there! One of the things I want to do is reinstate the fireplace here. Note the original servant’s bell push on the right. The floorboards are in pretty good condition too. I want them repaired and polished.

IMG_8497I have my eye on this fireplace surround but I don’t want to commit to buying until we are sure we can afford it! It may have to wait until later.

IMG_4516There is a beautiful copper door handle on the hallway side of the dining room door.

IMG_4517On the inside though is this rather ugly handle.

IMG_1223Searching online I managed to find a matching pair of door handles. The site I bought them off said they were 1920s but I suspect they are Edwardian as we have the same doorknobs on the lounge door as well. The spare handle will go in the lounge as the inside of that door has an odd handle as well.

IMG_0951Rosie looking beautiful on the chair. They love it when I go down into the unused rooms in the house. It makes them bold and they love exploring.

The room will be beautiful when it’s finished.

31721505c5a3f46c5c959586cb68ee8cec114afbHere’s one I prepared earlier! Only kidding. Our neighbour’s “twin” house was up for sale last year and this is a picture of their dining room – I flipped it in Photoshop so it looks like ours. I really like their mantelpiece and I wonder if it’s the original.

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.29.33House of Fraser were having a sale so I bought this chandelier to hang above the dining table. We will have picture wall lights installed as well. At some point I will also need to think about colours for this room.

House Tour: The Coal Store and Service Courtyard

courtyardAt the rear of the house to one side is the small service courtyard. I took this photo before that white gate outside on the left started to collapse from rot. The window you are looking out is in the breakfast room, which would have originally been the kitchen. There is a door from the scullery into the courtyard that then leads to the coal store, the servants’ toilet and to the side access of the house. In an earlier post I described how we were planning to change this area.

existingThe existing floorplan.

futureWhat we intend to do.  Sorry it’s a bit blurry. As I mentioned before, we decided to do away completely with the small sunroom we planned at the back of the house (not pictured but would have been to the left on the plan above), instead opting to build a larger extension later, perhaps in the form of an orangery where those double doors lead out from the kitchen. To be true to the original structure of the house, and to save money, we are using the much of the current footprint of the house as well as some of the walls. Hopefully this will save on foundation and construction costs. Of course, they may dig and find that the current foundations are inadequate but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

IMG_2666 - 2013-06-11 at 17-05-02This is what the back of the house looks like at the moment. Note the lack of windows and doors – this back half of the house was the servants’ area, so there was no peering out into the garden for them. The family’s entry to the garden is via the french doors in the dining room. The coal store is in the right hand side of the single story part of the building. The tall chimney you can see served the scullery’s ‘copper’ and the fireplace in the servants’ bedroom above.

IMG_1216This is the future rear elevation.

IMG_1217Future side elevation with service courtyard rebuilt as utility room, pantry and WC.

IMG_2684 - 2013-06-11 at 17-08-59The coal store door. If you look carefully you will see that the wall to the right hand side of the door has quite a bow to it. This current external structure will be demolished and then rebuilt utilising as many of the original bricks and roof tiles as possible.

IMG_4580A close up of the handle.

IMG_2680 - 2013-06-11 at 17-08-20Inside the coal store it is still black with coal dust and smells strongly of coal. You can also see the colour of the inside of the door – I suspect this was the original external colour before the Tardis-like royal blue.

IMG_2681 - 2013-06-11 at 17-08-25All of these walls will be rebuilt. My cooker and oven will be about here.

IMG_2682 - 2013-06-11 at 17-08-28The roof structure and lath and plaster ceiling.

IMG_4593A decorative air vent on the wall in the service courtyard. We are hoping we can keep the brickwork on this wall exposed (it will form the inside wall of the future utility room) with a sloping ceiling.

IMG_4588The breakfast room window and the collapsing gate. This will be the pantry with the window and brickwork still exposed but the glass replaced with patterned obscure glazing.

IMG_4595The handle of the collapsing gate.

The specification and plans have now gone out to tender with six builders. They will have 30 days to visit the house and quote for the job if they are interested. Mark and I fear ours will be the only building job never to have anyone visit or quote. At the end of that time we will have a much better idea of what the renovation will cost and whether we need to divide the build and refurbishment into stages – or, preferably, whether I will have some extra money to spend on fittings and decor!

House History #3 The Rutherfords

In the last instalment of House History I told you about the Fraser family who lived in this house between 1958 and 2013. Paddy Fraser holds the record for the person who has lived in this house for the longest amount of time – 55 years – a record I don’t think we will beat!

The Frasers purchased the house in August 1958 from Mark Rutherford. They paid £2,500. Mark Rutherford had bought the house in 1952 for the same price. I gathered much of the following information about the Rutherfords from


Mark Rutherford was born around 1910 in Cumberworth, Yorkshire. He was the son of the Reverend William Gladstone Rutherford, a Primitive Methodist Minister, and his wife Emily Elizabeth. At the age of 24, Mark married Annie Gwendoline Lyversage in Basford, Nottingham in 1934. It appears that they had two children – Andrew and Richenda born in 1940 and 1946 respectively. Given the birth dates of his children he may have served in the Second World War. He was in his early forties when he purchased this house. He is noted in the 1952 sale documents as a School Master from Aldborough Grange, Boroughbridge, Yorkshire. I gather he had found work at a Leicester school.

Mark and Annie lived here for 6 years before moving just down the road to the village of Oadby. Mark died in Leicester in 1983 at the age of 73.

Annie Gwendoline Lyversage was born in Basford, Nottingham in 1909. She was the daughter Oliver Lyversage, a scientific instrument maker and his wife Julia. Annie died in 1993 at the age of 84 in Ledbury Herefordshire after having been a widow for 10 years.

The children Andrew and Richenda would have been 12 and 6 when they moved into the house. If they are still living they will be 74 and 68. Andrew married Juliet Gilford in 1963 but I can’t find any more information about Richenda.

UPDATE: I found some more information about Mark Rutherford. He attended a number of secondary schools: Ramsey Secondary School, Isle of Man (1922 – 1923); Exmouth Secondary School (1923 – 1925), High Pavement School, Nottingham (1925). He completed the following exams at London School General (Jun. 1926): English, French, Elementary, Mathematics, Latin and Geography. In September 1927 he applied for a four year course at Nottingham University and I assume that is where he gained his teaching qualification. He may have also met his future wife at this time as Annie was born in Nottingham and they married in 1934.



IMG_0652Until Andrew left a comment yesterday I hadn’t made the connection between our front door and Dr Who’s Tardis. The resemblance is uncanny – partly the colour and also the leadlight windows. The house is a bit like a Tardis too: it looks relatively small from the front but then keeps going back and back.

I plan to change the external Royal Blue to Broom Yellow, or something like it:

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 11.00.16There is a row of houses at Port Sunlight with a colour I am trying to match:

Screen shot 2013-08-04 at 2.42.04 PM copyNot only do I have to be sympathetic to the colours of other houses on the street, our semi-detatched “twin” house next door has forest green accents, so I don’t want to clash with them.

Upstairs Downstairs

IMG_0834Our architect tells us that the house’s main staircase is quite unusual and that he has never seen such a layout. The stairs are situated on the outer wall of the house and are lit by six large leadlight windows, three on each flight. Usually the stairs would be situated on the inner wall adjoining the neighbouring (semi-detached) house. The Edwardians designed houses to let in as much  light and air as possible.

IMG_0807The three windows on the upper flight of stairs. A cabinet maker who was preparing a kitchen quote for us told me that the banisters and newel caps are made of Cuban Mahogany (unfortunately harvested to the point of complete depletion a century ago). The newel posts may also be made of this wood but we will need to strip the paint to find out. The cabinet maker said that these would have been supplied by a specialist and that they would have been French polished … we will probably have to get an expert in to restore them properly.

IMG_0787Ruby on the Cuban Mahogany. She has a habit of trying to scare us with her balancing act.

IMG_0788Her view from the top floor. We’re glad she is nimble and has a level head. Oliver tried it once, slipped and landed one floor down. He’s never been tempted to try it again.

IMG_0835The house also has a concealed servant’s staircase, which leads from the breakfast room (originally the kitchen) to the rear landing and servants’ bedroom. The inside of the door still has the original wood-grain paint effect designed to mimic a more expensive wood. I think the carpet may be original too.

IMG_0808From the rear landing there is a door to the main first floor hallway so that the servants didn’t use the main stairs when tending to the family’s needs. Ruby was the first to make the link between the two staircases. I once shut the door into the breakfast room with her on the servant’s side. She knew to go up the servant staircase, along the first floor hall and then down the main staircase to get back to me. She’s a clever girl.



IMG_4574The doorbell at the front door has been lost but this is the bell press for the door to the old scullery at the side of the house. The coal man and perhaps the rag and bone man would have used this bell. Mark also suspects that other servants would have used this door as well.

IMG_4576This is the bell at the side door closer to the front of the house at the tradesman’s entrance. The tradesman’s entrance is adjacent to the original kitchen and there is also a door leading from this area into the main part of the house. This was the door for deliveries of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables for the kitchen as well as for use by ‘respectable’ tradesmen who needed access to the house.


As for the front door, this would have only been used for visitors to the house of the same social rank as the middle-class family who lived here in Edwardian times. Of course, in this country, everyone knew which class they belonged to and therefore which doorbell they had to press.

House History #2: George Sutherland Fraser and Eileen “Paddy” Fraser

fraser1G S Fraser, standing, and Paddy, seated, pictured in London in the late 1940s.

George Sutherland Fraser (1915-1980) was a poet, critic and academic who lived in this house from 1958 until his death in 1980. He was a Reader in Poetry at the University of Leicester. His widow Eileen “Paddy” Fraser (1918-2013) continued to reside here for 33 more years until her death. It was the Fraser family from whom we purchased the house in September 2013.

G S Fraser’s Wikipedia entry is here. His Oxford Dictionary of National Biography listing is here.

Paddy’s obituary from The Guardian, written by her daughter Helen is here.

Paddy Fraser’s memoir of her husband can be read here.

A rather uncanny virtual movie of G S Fraser reading his poem “Lean Street”:

And finally here are some excerpts from Richard Hoggart’s autobiography “A Measured Life” mentioning the Frasers and the house:

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Of G S Fraser’s writing of his book on Ezra Pound:

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On Fraser’s death:Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 14.12.57 Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 14.13.36 Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 14.13.48

When we bought the house, we received a card from Helen Fraser expressing how happy the family was that the house was once again going to have an association with the University.

2014 – Happy New Year!

IMG_4592Our first lesson in home renovation has been that everything always takes about twice as long as you think it is going to take. It’s early January (Happy New Year!) and Mark and I thought we would probably have builders signed up by now but we are, in fact, still in the planning stage. We spoke to some neighbours recently about the work they had done and it appears that it’s nothing out of the ordinary for architects to take several months to get to the stage of tendering, so we have stopped panicking about it. Instead I have been taking the opportunity to do some archive work to record the house before the renovation. 183 photos of door knobs so far, for instance. The door handle above is the one on the ledge and brace timber door to the coal store outside. This is where our future utility room and toilet will be…one day.


The benefits of a long planning stage are that you have plenty of time to think things through and make refinements. For instance, we only recently decided to knock through the wall, pictured above, between the entrance hall and the breakfast room. We were originally planning to leave the breakfast room door where it was, to the left under the staircase, but this change will open up the whole space and provide a sight-line all the way to the rear of the house. I was wary for a while about such an idea because it would fundamentally alter the architecture, unifying what were meant to be very separate spaces between the servants’ part of the house and the family’s. The breakfast room was originally the kitchen. Beyond were the scullery, larder, privy and coal store as well as the servants’ staircase leading up to the servants’ bedroom. It made sense though to update the layout and make the house more amenable to modern living. Our architect was also in favour of it and he has a lot of experience with building conservation, so we didn’t feel too bad in the end making such a drastic change. It will also make a great ‘before and after’ photo!

We have also decided to do away completely with the planned sun-room at the back of the house. Over time the planned room was getting smaller and smaller until one day Mark and I mapped out the room with a tape measure and concluded that it was just going to be too small to be of much use. There wasn’t going to be enough new living space to justify the cost. What we plan to do instead is to add an ‘orangery’ in the future. It’s more substantial than a glass conservatory and can be used year-round.

Meanwhile, we continue to rip up carpet and dismantle old shelving units and so on. I have been working with kitchen designers and also planning bathrooms and en suites. I am continuing to work with our architect on services plans (electricity etc.), door and window schedules and the builder’s specification document. Hopefully it will be going out to tender next week, which means it will probably actually go out in two week’s time…

There were also great post-Christmas sales at the House of Fraser and John Lewis so I saved a fortune on lights!