One impulsive weekend away, a few years ago, we fell in love with (and bought) a dilapidated bed and breakfast by the sea. Husband and I packed up our city lives and packed in our TV jobs to move lock, dog and cat to a small coastal village in Australia. The plan was to live in a corner of the house, renovate, recycle, redecorate, write, take photos, make films, blog, and of course, welcome our special B&B guests. So easy...
Welcome to Makeover Monday. I think I will (try to) dedicate my post every Monday to all kinds of makeover pictures and stories for those followers and readers who love this stuff (as I do) - and until the 'before' pictures run out.
When we walked into this room for the first time it had a lot of dark wood and tartan furniture in it (not our kind of furniture) and there were dried flowers and lace fripperies everywhere, but we could see the great bone structure of the house: the panelling and floorboards underneath. The height of the ceilings blew us away.
The first shot was obviously taken in the daytime and not on a very good camera - the colour of the walls used to be a pinkish-cream magnolia and now they are antique white.
We ripped up the carpet almost straight away to reveal the wide Baltic pine floorboards, but we still haven't had them sanded back because they would be too blonde and perfect, and I love the slightly scruffy honeyed patina (also, I never have to worry about them getting scratched or marked or covered in sand).
I will post close-ups of our favourite objects (and the stories that go with them) down the line. Don't you just love the macramé wall-hanging?
Apart from hot-cross buns for breakfast and chocolate bunnies on guests' pillows, Easter is just another busy weekend here in the B&B.
With no children of our own (a long story and one that might be told), neither of us see it as a huge sacrifice to work through long weekends and public holidays, after all, there are people all around us running cafes, waiting in restaurants, crewing the dolphin boats, campsites and supermarket checkouts.
In a village like this there is a great camaraderie with other 'tourist operators' many of whom, like us, put their shoulders to the wheel right through the season, but we all know that in a few weeks when the bay is less busy, we will catch up over coffee and catch up on lost sleep. Maybe even take a few days off and stay in a B&B ourselves.
It's a strange way to earn a living but in many ways it's like other jobs I've done (and sometimes still do) - especially making TV and attempting to write. It's all about connecting with people, drawing them into your version of the world - giving them a fantasy place to dream, escape and recharge - and maybe even inspiring them with a glimpse into a life lived slightly differently.
There is plenty of job satisfaction too. We actually see people soften. Often quite fractious and stressed on arrival, their whole demeanour changes visibly by the time they leave: they're smiling, refreshed and grateful, and that feels good, it really does.
So have a wonderful Easter weekend everyone, whatever you are doing...
As I mentioned in my last post we have a good collection of 'before', 'during' and 'after' photos, and I intend to put some of the better B and B makeover comparisons up here.
There is nothing quite like the idea of 'Before and After': it's like a peek into the possibility of time travel.
The device is used so much on TV and in magazines because it's very effective. On video, of course, you can dissolve between images taken across hours, days, years or even decades.
We used to spend ages matching old photos (and footage) of war-torn French villages, overgrown gardens, passe bathrooms and wannabe models - carefully lining up perspectives, noses and eye-lines - with the exact frame we were filming so we'd be able to dissolve seamlessly into the 'how-they-look-now' shots in the edit.
To aid absolute perfection there were all kinds of industry tricks involving blue-tack, tracing paper, gaffer tape, monitors and black marker pens.
Anyway, no such complexity here. These are two shots of the main room in the B&B taken a few months apart. This is the first room we renovated and I think it shows just how transformative a coat of white paint can be. We call it the Verandah room.
We're renovating our Bed and Breakfast on the smell of an oily rag. By that I mean we're not spending serious amounts of money paying someone else to transform our house into an architectural magazine marvel (I wish). No, we're doing it DIY, one room at a time, at the rate of approximately one room a year.
Using recycled materials where ever possible, we're renovating, decorating, furnishing and styling everything ourselves - juggling the ever-growing B&B business, our freelance work, family, pets and other commitments behind-the-scenes.
It can be pretty daunting living in a house as you recreate it around yourself and we have been doing this for a few years now. Sometimes I get the panicky heebie-jeebies and have to breathe slowly, close my eyes and try to picture just how fabulous I know the outcome will be. Luckily, I'm good at imagining the mind's-eye 'after' pictures and there is no shortage of scary 'before and during' photos to remind me how grim it all looked to begin with.
Apart from the trusty plumber and electrician, Handy Husband does almost everything (I mostly sand, paint and point), so not an evening goes by when I don't thank the milky-way that I was lucky enough to find such a wonderful, generous, practical man - even if he does, quite often, smell like an oily rag.
Please don't assume I am one of those whingeing Poms or Sydney city-slickers who moves to the Australian countryside and then endlessly complains about everything.
I actually love the roo poo on the grass verge in the morning; the friendly orb spiders who spin their webs across the garden; the possums who dance on the tin roof. Even the kookaburras' chuckles are a comforting sound from my slightly aussie childhood, but please Mr Neighbour, I do have one polite question:
How long is Mr Cockerel going to be staying with his new hen harem just outside our bedroom window?
I grew up visiting villages and farms from rural Greece to Devon, where the distant dawn cockcrow was all part of the charm, so to start with I told myself that Mr Cockerel's morning boasting was adding to the rustic ambience of life in the B&B.
But that was a few weeks ago, and now it seems that the more Mr Cockerel is successful in his service, the earlier his crowing begins and the longer and louder he likes to shout about it.
While five-am might be the perfect time to rise for some, it doesn't work for me, so please Mr Neighbour, do let me ask you this one polite question: When is Mr Cockerel going back home to his chook-farm family?
Coq au vin anyone?
Update June 2011: The cockerel has gone home and we are all sleeping well again...
Every time we pull a section of wall down or some floorboards up, my secret hope is that we will find a time capsule. Maybe I read too many 'Famous Five' books as a child, but whenever we reveal a new void I am bitterly disappointed that it contains only carpentry, cobwebs and musty emptiness.
I know there are unlikely to be trapdoors behind bookshelves or secret chambers filled with decaying diaries, but surely a nearly-one-hundred-year-old house should have a decent discovery somewhere in its innards?
We once found a yellowing newspaper stuffed into a roof cavity and fell on it with glee. Would it be from the day they landed on the moon? The day Kennedy died or Diana got married? But no, it was just a dull TV guide from a few years ago.
Seeing my overly romantic hopes so regularly dashed, Husband suggested we create some excitement for future renovators and seal the occasional item of curiosity between our newly insulated, sound-proofed walls. And no - I'm not telling you what or where - but I will say that it makes me feel strangely delighted to think that one day there could be a couple like us, punching out walls and pulling down ceilings, who might be intrigued by the odd surprise we have stashed.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved a good verandah. Preferably deep, cool verandah with lots of ferns, palms and well-loved cane.
Whenever I find myself in one of those nasty situations, the ones where you're meant to close your eyes and imagine a beautiful, calm place to alleviate physical or emotional discomfort (think dentist's chair; stuck in traffic; anything to do with hospitals or long-haul economy travel), I try to dream myself into a relaxing space like this. Ideally in a hammock.
When I successfully made it through my fourth Glaswegian winter, many moons ago, I promised myself that one day I would have a sunny, green verandah to sit on. Now I like it shady.