Deck the halls with indecision

Hola mis bellezas, mis peanut sellers and usherettes,

Firstly, a slight digression if I may (if indeed it’s possible to digress from what you haven’t yet begun).  A visit to my stats page recently revealed that someone arrived at this blog via, of all things in this vast and crazy universe, a search for “in my country we smoke lion fur”.  Not once, I hasten to add, but twice.  The mind fair boggles, so it does.  And to compound the mystery further, I could not see how that got them here because when I also typed the same thing into google it didn’t lead me home.  In fact it didn’t lead me anywhere in particular.  Which actually was a shame, because stress is currently so great on the house (and several other) fronts that I was hoping to find a bit of a ‘how to’ on smoking lion fur.  Maybe even a u tube video or two – you know, a sort of wildlife Mrs Beeton.  “Firstly,  trim the manes of two dozen lions…”   But maybe it’s not quite as strange as it first appears because we did, after all, as undergraduates, used to hang our old banana skins over radiators in the vain hope that they might produce datura-esque effects.  Alas, all it ever did was add to the squalor.  And what can I say in our defence?  – nothing, other than that we were all lost to Mr Ginsberg at the time.  Khaddish and all that.  I even used to wear an old 50s leather jacket which moaned and split every time I moved.

So anyway.  Let us begin. Recently we had a demand from the builder for all of the ceiling colours.  All of them! A bit of a surprise, I can tell you, because some rooms don’t even have ceilings.   But I hopped to it and by the skin of my teeth (and a leaking paint pot which erupted all over my hands as I was transporting it to the house) I made the delivery on time.  Cue scenes of builder and painters at the front door tapping their waiting toes, consulting their time pieces – you get the gist, minus a bit of hyperbole if you’re feeling pedantic.   All of which has served as a warning that wall colours might also be demanded with menaces at any unpredictable time and that I must, to put it bluntly, shift my arse accordingly.

Now I love colour.  Love it with a pash.  But my usual MO when choosing it is to take forever, pottering and pondering, doing little pigment mixings, taking note of how the light falls on it,  thinking for a month or two, having a crisis or three, and then finally deciding.  It ain’t gonna happen like that in this house.  We’ve paid for the house to be painted, and painted it will damned well be. But oh!  I deflate like an elderly balloon at the prospect of having to specify all that colour!  And all at once!  Because in so doing we’re back to that great imponderable – what ‘mood’ does the RW want to be captured in?  A rather plain and sober mood that shows off its beautiful classical proportions?  Something a little more Rococo and playful?   Something feminine?  Masculine? Eclectic?  Contemporary? Moody and dark?  Light and airy?  Egads, Sirrah, you do tax me most unfair.

A friend and I were talking recently and one thing we felt was that the house would not look good dressed all in unadorned white.  Not unless we had a vast collection of vast artworks, which, alas, we do not.  Without the vast artwork, we felt, it would be a little boring. Like someone left standing in their petticoats, awaiting the maid to dress them. So colour it must be!  But what?  And where? And how?  My friend suggested I gather together a palette of colours that I like, which all harmonise well. She is right, of course.  I know she is absolutely right, but I am dragging my little hooves to the task like that proverbial horse…  Instead I find myself concentrating on individual areas, hoping they will somehow all end up speaking to one another. Willy nilly and without any help from me. Never ask me to match-make your aunty, or do the seating arrangements for dinner parties. (Did you know, bee tee dubs, that some people do colour boards for their seasonal entertaining? I discovered this quite by chance recently and was aghast but unrepentant about my own failings).

So anyway anyway.  Back to business. My area du jour is the hallway and staircases.  Which are built to a large scale, but which, because we have the extra ‘wing’ at the back, lack light at the ground floor (though it is bright above). I have been playing housey dress-up and fished a few things out of the box.

Firstly, this is the hallway, to remind you.  Or rather, this is the hallway as was, before the builder set about it.  It now sports a bath, a mountain of wood and a very racy (actually mind bogglingly depressing) earlier colour scheme in death-by-yew green and dried blood:


Now then.  The sober mood. I have a great love for Farrow and Ball’s Elephant Breath, not only because of the name (and I must say that when in Zimbabwe and surrounded by elephants I didn’t so much notice the colour of their breath as their propensity to tiptoe.  Have you noticed that about them?):

In this sober mode, I’ve wondered about  adding a bit of Grisaille on the right hand wall as you come in, just up to the arch.  I’ve been out and about (digitally) visiting Zuber and de Gournay and the like, but a conversation about money yesterday (conversation would be the polite word for it anyway)  has seen me scuttling from their front doors like a mouse in plain worsted.  This, though, is a manageable version from G&W:

Or this from Cole and Son, but mucho more coconuts:

So that’s one option, and quite sober it is too.

However, my pink furnace is still burning away and I’m thinking possibly this, on the same wall:

but in this colour way, with splashes of a similar hue on various landings:

But having tipped my cap at pink,  I also have to say that a certain blue persistently tugs at me.  Tugs and tugs and won’t leave me alone. There is this, by Axel Vervoordt (stolen from a waiting room mag – you can still see the fold lines):

I like the broken quality of the colour and the way it wraps onto the ceilings.  There is also this:

and even this:

or a pale and interesting version (on seeing this was a pub in London I thought to hasten me back to Blighty where I could sit lose hours (weeks!) with my G&T in a narcotic blue haze):

On other days, however,  a bit of pattern seems to float the boat:

or this (but probs not):

and I positively love this, but wouldn’t do it (or would I?):

This one I pledged my troth to some years ago:

So how to choose?  Sober? Pink? Patterned? Blue?  All or none of the above?

And here are a few more miscellaneous hallways, just for good measure (and further confusion):


And before I go,  let me just slide in one last digression, which is slightly more admissible on a housey blog than lion fur and banana skins – I’ve had a few requests for progress shots of the Regency Wreck and they are imminent (honest),  but I am rusticating at the farm for a few days and hope (hope!  what an expensive commodity!) that vast swathes of tiling await my return, photos of which I will then plaster liberally all over t’t blog.


29 Responses to “Deck the halls with indecision”

  1. Blues are terribly difficult, it’s so easy for them to end up looking cheap and nasty. I like the brown (with darkest charcoal and bone as accents), and I love a warm, stormy gray. Whatever colour you chose for the walls, remember to add a slosh of it to the ceiling white, so they are related.
    Farrow and Ball are a good starting point as they look expensive, but the Lime White which transformed my Sussex house just looked grubby in sunny California. There really is no substitute for your preferred method of long pondering – good luck! I’m glad miserliness has kept this problem from me!
    (My sister was going to throw in the towel in her heritage house in Johnston Street and paint it all vanilla – I talked her into a deep pinky-red for her double-volume dining room and she has never looked back. It was having the painters WAITING that unnerved her).

    • Hi Tricia. I love a good stormy grey too, though I find greys so hard to choose. I hadn’t come across blue as a troublesome colour (probably because I haven’t used it much) so I’ll keep that in mind if I do succumb to the blue hallway. And I know what you mean about transporting colours from one set of light conditions to another. When we came to Australia all our furniture that was upholstered at the time in lovely, subtle, tea-stained fabrics suddenly looked drab and grubby. I still don’t think I’ve re-learned how to use colour here. Some F&B paints work well here – down pipe in a darker setting looks great but in full sun – ghastly. I’m hoping some of the off-whites will transfer, but you have reminded me to be extra careful.

  2. penelopebianchi Says:

    There are way too many fabulous color combinations!

    You didn’t ask me (I don’t think) my opinion! But I am offering one

    Here it is!

    First of all; I am assuming you are using “drywall; not lath and plaster!

    If not…erase and do not publish this! Thank you!

    Moving right along; when the drywall is completed; do yourselves an enormous favor; and go find a “plasterer” to do a “skim coat” of plaster over the drywall! Real plaster! skim coat maybe 1/8 of an inch thick! (do not be talked into thicker !)

    You want small and subtle “cat’s paws”! (If he looks blank when you say I want “subtle “cats paws” ; Get rid of him and move on.

    the right plasterer will know what this all means.

    (you will save yourselves heartache and money!) Drywall looks fake; it gets cracks in its seems (making it more fake) and it has no redeeming aesthetic features. A skim coat of plaster is not expensive; and will make everything instantly authentic !

    Do not seal it; ignore all warnings…….seriously; ignore all warnings Do not do one thing until the whole thing is finished! cabinets…everything..finished. Done. Some will try to scare you that blah blah blah will happen! (the worst that can happen is if something happens to some part of the drywall; the guy sticks some more plaster as a skim coat on top!

    This is very, very, inexpensive!!

    (The people I have advised to do this have practically kissed my feet for convincing them to do this!)

    You move everything in; you live there for three months……with your furniture (you have white plaster walls)!

    Then you will know the colors you want!

    My next suggestion is to look into “lime wash” walls……they are so soft and organic or something!

    We bought our pigments in France; and brought them back to mix with the lime; They have them in Porters Paint”s!

    (Porter’s Paints in Santa Barbara!)

    (they even tell you to ‘prime” the walls before the limewashing.)…..NO!!

    Then they look like dumb painted walls!

    Get a big wide brush ; slather that limewash mixed with g right over that rap plaster!

    Our house looks like it has been here hundreds of years!


    • Firstly, Penelope, please take it as read that your advice is always very happily received. Secondly, toodlepip is completely franchisable, so it’s yours! Thirdly – new plasterwork. I am so with you on this. A very clever plasterer has done a few walls in the house and they are so beautiful that I’ve been plotting to keep them as they are. Sadly, something leaked through one, and another is to be covered up by cupboards. But I have been speaking to him about tinting the plaster in another room so that the colour is all soft and broken. And then I’ll wax it. I just have to work out what colour I want and where to buy oxides. I’m not sure if you’ll come back and read this, but if you do, let me ask you something: new plaster that has been left unsealed and then lime washed – do you know whether that’s roughly the same effect as tinting the plaster itself?

      The house will be an odd jumble of old lathe and plaster walls which won’t be re-skimmed, and some which have been dry walled and skim coated. Hardly any rooms will be totally one or the other, sadly. I love your idea of lime washing. And I’m very glad you mentioned not sealing the new plaster before sloshing it on – I’m going to experiment.

      Thanks for the link to your house – it’s very beautiful.

      • Pink plaster – as we have in England – is so delicious that I have not painted or sealed my plaster skimmed walls for 5 years – or is it 6… The plaster is standard variety and comes in a dusky powdery pink colour and I adore it so. But I am told you can stop it from deteriorating if you paint it with a thin glue/water mix.

      • Hi Anna. I think that pink plaster is what I have at the back of my mind – that pale, powdery, softness. Here, though, plaster is white, but I’m thinking of asking the plasterer to just mix in some colour and see if we can approximate what’s in my mind.

  3. penelopebianchi Says:

    all those typos! last sentence…mixed with the lime and pigment slather it right over that unsealed raw plaster!

    to see it:! our house we built in Montecito, Ca.

    If you wait until you live in the house; you cannot make a mistake!

    If I had to pick a color for ceilings… Farrow and Ball “borrowed light” you could never go wrong.

    However; lime wash is so much better than any kind of paint in an old house!

    Good luck!!


  4. penelopebianchi Says:

    I forgot to thank you for my new favorite salutation!

    “toodlepip” May I copy you! It is delightful!



  5. Rachel McElhinney Says:

    As long as we’re pondering murals, I have to cast my vote for something along the lines of the Rex Whistler dining room mural at Plas Newydd. Ah, if I had world enough and time, and deep pockets.
    Toodlepip Too

  6. Some sound advice in the comments. I must admit that a lot of it is fijian to me however it looked good, I am convinced.

    Soooooo many fun choices in the photos, one seems spoilt for choice.

    Now Pimpy wouldnt you prefer someone to simply say 4 rooms like this and 4 rooms like that? 😉

    Personally making all the decisions before the furniture has been factored into the equation is daunting indeedy. Moving furniture in and then moving it all out again, can’t say that tempts me either.

    Time to roll myself a sample of the furry stuff while I ponder some of those hallway options.

    toodlepip… er um…. I mean Laters

    • But you’d be okay with a bit of Fijian, wouldn’t you Chris?

      And if you roll yourself some furry stuff, it won’t matter much whether it’s Fijian or Pharsi! Though if you find a good supplier, let me know.

      Laters, Potaters.

  7. Margaret Bishop Says:

    Colour play is probably the one area where you really need time, space and your house as well as lots of little pots and brushes to try out your ideas. What does a builder know about such personal things.

    I had been thinking that Farrow and Ball “Elephants Breathe” is probably a great neutral for you to start with and paint all your walls and ceilings. I still think the idea of a continuous colour up the wall and onto the ceilings is a great way to go. Most of the reviews of this colour on the Farrow and Ball web site try to describe it as a bit warmish, grey beige with a mauve tinge depending upon the time and light of the day. Although most of the people using it had partnered it with white. I think is probably a great colour to use with lots of other strong colours. I can see it with pink, blue, brown or mauve, charcoal, brown or orange, aqua, duck egg blue and red. I even think feature walls of a strong but dirty mix of colour would work as a play against “Elephants Breathe”.

    I could help you paint your hall like one of the illusionary landscapes images in your blog. I feel confident that we could, if we plan it well make an enchanting Arcadian entrance hall. One thing about such a project it is easy to removed if it does not live up to expectations.

    I also love Penelope’s ideas which would really work if the house had a new skin of plaster. What she suggests sounds very sensuous.

    • I know. You and everyone else are right that time and living in the house is the only way to get what you want. It’s just that the way building contracts are organised, we’re paying for the house to be painted before we’re ready. So the best I can think of doing is getting an okay base and then tweaking as we go along. Though even that’s not straightforward. I hadn’t thought of using EB together with bigger colours, but I like the idea now you’ve mentioned it. And as for painting a Grisaille hallway – ooh! I think we should talk about that one X

  8. What would Francis Bacon do ?

    • Well it’s hard to say exactly Suzanne – prolly he’d turn in his grave and then adjourn to the celestial pub. But I’ll be better able to know, maybe, when I’ve been to the exhibition (tomorrow).

  9. will your builder not let you in armed with a gazillion match-pots? How does one choose paint without trying blobs on every wall in the room, to see how the light changes them? The bright sunshine down here always makes the lovely old colours less so. You could blow-up a photo of the lions and have that on your hallway. I like the cloudy cole and son, not sure about the blues, however beautiful they are as colours, they can make the place look cold and a little glum, but maybe that would be good in Sydney amongst all that heat. I like the brown and turquoise paper too and the pictures hung on the wall. Choices, choices. I love your hall-way and I’m sure even a white would look beautiful.

    • Hey Rosa. My hallway thanks you. And yes, choices, choices. Stressful things, choices. We do get access to the house on sundays but getting to the walls is a bit tricky – half the rooms don’t have floors, half of them have boarded-up windows so it’s impossible to see the light levels etc etc. So I’m moving towards delaying the painting until we’ve moved in, if the builder can be persuaded to deduct money from the contract. We’ll see.

  10. Well first of all, I agree with Penny Bianchi. Your builders are bullying you to do something you are not ready for. Ergo, it will be a waste of money either way. Stall!! This sounds boring, but I am quite partial to a classic taupe and white stripe.

  11. penelopebianchi Says:

    HI! First of all; who on earth takes out all their furniture to have the walls painted? Any good painter paints in “inhabited” dwellings!

    Limewash looks different from plaster with pigment. It is kind of a “wash”; I’m doing a post on it!

    An excellent color for all ceilings is “Borrowed Light” by Farrow and Ball. No other paint company can match their colors; and their paint will last 3 times longer than anyone. If you want a “creamy white trim; go with “Pointing”!

    It is absurd that they make you pick out colors. Also, do not wax over lime wash; there is an invisible sealer that is matte finish and does not alter the color. If you wax it; forget ever changing the color!

    If you use lime wash, you will need a skim coat of raw plaster on all walls (even the old plaster ones.

    • Thanks Penelope. I was only going to wax over coloured plaster, not limewash, which I thought you could use over painted walls if you put some sort of special preparation on first. I’m confused! So I’m going to wait for your post on limewash. I’m sure that’ll set me on the straight and narrow.

      • penelopebianchi Says:

        I would stay away from wax! Like on a floor; if you wax it (which I love waxed floors) you cannot put anything on top of it! You would not be able to paint!!!

        There are other things to use. Research online; and Farrow and ball will help you on the phone!!

  12. June last year you posted a wonderful 1930s black-and-white photo of your back lane. Are you still thinking of reproducing it on a wall of the house? Flo, who has lived here all her life, thinks the people in it include Buster Brown, her brother and someone she refers to as “the sailor”. She was pleased to hear some “new people” are interested in the history of this area during her lifetime as well as during colonial times. Have you come across Flo? If not, you have lots to look forward to, especially her stories about the characters who once filled our streets.

    • Yes, still planning to use that picture in the laundry, which will be the other side of the wall against which the children sit in the picture. I’m fascinated to hear that Flo (whom I haven’t met but would like to) thinks one of them might be Mr BB. Whose name is on the piece of card by the side of the bed, waiting to be phoned.

  13. I agree that it all sounds Fijian to me too! Yes, I’d be afraid to commit to colours before actually living in the pimped out regency wreck…but I am so glad that you are choosing to do colour. As much as I like a white interior, regency wrecks need something more. Cannot wait to read your next update. xx
    p.s hope your painters are good. It is a hit or miss trade. They’re all alcoholic so I’ve been told by tradie mates. A massive generalisation which I love to pass on! xx

    • Oh how funny! They are either alcoholic; or, if they didn’t stop painting with lead paint…..they are “brain-damaged”!

      I have the handsomest “surfer” painter……..who is the best of the best!

      If you could give him and his wife……room……he could paint your house and the paint will outlive YOU!!


      • Actually Penelope, my mind has been going down the same road. More along the lines, though, of getting a cabinet maker out here to make us a kitchen which isn’t two pack and chipboard!

    • Heyhey Ms Mod. Thank you for your support of colour – we now have a quorum. X

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