Times are challenging for a lot of people right now, and while I’m certain there are some who have made plenty of money out of this pandemic I’m also sure there are many of us for whom times are harder than they were this time last year. Along the way a lot of you will have spent a great deal more time at home than you have in the past and I think all of us are looking at both the way we live and our houses a little differently. For me it’s become a good time to find comfort in surrounding myself with well-loved and well-worn objects, things that have a history behind them and a story to tell. I find that it doesn’t have to be an expensive antique, but perhaps something as simple as a very comfortable old chair that has seen better days, or something that just needs a bit of a makeover to give it a new lease of life. A little touch of TLC is often all that it takes to make something to keep you company for a few more decades.
I’ve often found it’s not just a quick mending with some super glue that’s needed, but sometimes something a little special, a repair or renovation that matches the value of the original workmanship of something and extends its life exponentially. I always think that’s why it pays to buy quality: both new and old. One of the first things I did during ‘lockdown’ in the spring was to repaint all of the garden furniture. Any rusty parts I first did with a coating of anti-rust paint and then I gave everything two coats of Farrow and Ball’s Exterior Eggshell in Wimborne White. I love F&B’s paints as they are eco-friendly and so lovely to use. Now this old garden furniture which has certainly seen better days should last another few decades I hope.
And if you can’t afford good quality new things, then look for second-hand.
Whatever I do, I always add a touch of vintage, a touch of nostalgia, as a nod to the past when many things were made by hand, when a pot was thrown down the road by a local artisan, and if something was bought from the other side of the country it was considered an enormously long way.
I think by surrounding ourself these things like this, it can reassure the soul and comfort the artist that resides in every human. Take, for example, a simple evening weekday meal. You’ve had a long hard day and you’re finally sitting down with your partner or children or a couple of friends. You’ve rustled up a quick supper, maybe just a hearty country vegetable soup that you made over the weekend – all you’ve had to do is heat it up and pick up a crusty baguette or country loaf of bread on the way home. Now you sit down at last, the soup is steaming in the middle of the table in an old French soupier. The bowls are classic French vintage lions head soup bowls, the flatware is heavy and amazing quality and again antique. As you swirl the red wine around in the glass you can admire the pretty crystal. Somehow everything feels right. Even this most casual of meals has an elegant tone to it.
I can’t describe it any other way, using these beautifully made items changes everything. There was a time when the best china stayed in the cupboard only to be used at Christmas or on special occasions. It gathered dust and sometimes was not even seen for a year. I know that was certainly the way in our house. Now, however, we’ve changed all of that; we use it for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner, and if it gets a crack or a chip or the glaze is covered in tiny lines known as crazing, we don’t cry we embrace it, it’s a part of the history, another story in the look book of short verses. At least we enjoyed it.
The photographs below show some of the major renovation of our garden chairs this past month. They were plastic ‘rattan’ and rather expensive, but after eight years the rattan was falling apart, literally disintegrating after so many years exposure to hot sun. However the frames were as solid as a rock, very well made and rigid and we didn’t want to just throw them out, to become another thing in the landfill. But a new pair of similar chairs would have been really expensive here in France and I couldn’t work out how to repair them. Thankfully, someone did – Roddy removed all of the old rattan and put that in the recycling so we were left with just the iron frame.
Then he set to work with some panels of treated outdoor timber fencing panels which are very inexpensive. Some were new and some had been already used for a now ended project – he never throws anything away (which although it drives me crazy, does have its eventual benefits). He took apart the panels and cut the small planks to size, one by one, attaching them directly to the frame with self-tapping screws.
And that was how he remade our chairs, which are now totally unique, bespoke garden chairs, that will hopefully last another decade or more.
I love this sort of thing, the resurrection of goods and chattels that not only reflect the original work that has gone into them, years or sometimes centuries ago, but new love and care that anyone with time and patience can put back into them, too. All of this just enriches the story behind them, and it’s the special care that we put into this resurrection that I think gives us the comfort we need in these troubling times.
I hope you are all safe and sound wherever you are, and manage to find some beauty in the little things this week! I would love to hear about what items bring you special comfort.