There is a vogue (fashion, compulsion, illness) amongst New Zealanders renovating old villas and bungalows that leads them to buy them ‘because they love old houses,’ and then to relentlessly remove all trace of old or original surfaces from the house in question.
There is nothing more disheartening than visiting an open home for a property featuring attractive old paintwork and wallpapers and then to see that property back on the market a couple of years later with every individualised character moment stripped away in a hurricane of dopey, thoughtless, decorating.
It comes of course from upbringings in the outer suburbs were anti bacterial sprays, wipe clean surfaces and plastic paints (“Sandfly point, Pencarrow, Sandfly point”) still hold sway and where if its not new, it’s on the curb awaiting recycle. So when you move into an older house a period of attitude adjustment is required while you realise that dirt is just dirt – removable not life threatening.
Having said that, there are plenty of times that an old surface needs to go. I understand the desire to eliminate worn 1970s wallpaper or an old vinyl floor covering from a house the architectural style of which, seriously predates the invention of either. However every now and then the past throws up a challenge around original surfaces that really does require some thought.
In this project a combination of good luck and fate has delivered us a number of original surfaces that belong to the original decorating scheme first conceived in 1906.
This first occurred in the Studio. A large room, it had been divided into three, one of which had been painted an unattractive midnight blue. The one thing we knew is that the reinstated Studio wasn’t going to be painted dark blue. Once the more recent partition wall came down and the first of the wall linings came off – what was revelled was a horizontal match-lined wall surface – painted midnight blue.
The difference between the horrible painted surface of the demolished bedroom and that of the original studio walls, was that the original studio paint has deteriorated to a point where its colour was uneven – a series of dark and light patches and some sort of bloom. Either that or it is one of the old washes that decorators try so hard to emulate (it has a translucent quality). either way it has a worn attractiveness that can not be achieved with one coat of plastic paint – no matter how nice the colour seems on the paint chart.
Add to that a few tack holes and a bruise here and there and you have a surface that works wonderfully with older furniture and faded carpets. It has even encouraged us to leave the old pox-marked and paint splattered shellac floor finish. In the end the finish suits an old house (even if people do ask if “We’re going to do the floors”) in the way that a new coat of Polymethyl methacrylate (acrylic paint) could never do.
The effect in the Studio is certainly individual and in a colour we would never have chosen but it is unmistakeably a gift from the past – one to be respected – not least of all because it looks fabulous at night under candlelight.