Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Courgettes Planted

Well, the courgette seeds are in the ground. I'd take a picture, but really, it doesn't look any different yet, apart from being a bit darker from the compost that's dug through it. I also have my computer set up again, in one of the rooms that faces onto the back garden, so if any of the plants suddenly decide to head for the sky, Beanstalk style, I'll know immediately. More usefully, I can keep an eye out for neighbourhood cats going digging.

In the other, smaller bed, the experimental potatoes are starting to leaf properly, and the spring onions are just barely coming up. I was about to pull out what look like some very un-onion-like little double leaves, but then remembered secondary school science telling me that all plants start off with those two little round leaves. So I'll leave them until they turn into onions or something else before they come out or stay in. The recognisable onions have very thin stalks (leaves?), some of which have odd angles in them, or fall over at the ends. I'm not sure if that's expected, or if they want more water - but considering the rain yesterday and some of today, I can't think they could. There'll be pictures of them when there's enough there to pick out from the background.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Man at Work

So, this courgette bed still hasn't been planted, because we've been busy with moving stuff. I'm hopeful of getting to it this evening, because otherwise it'll be Monday. We've a guest coming to stay, though, so unless he's entertained by watching me fork over clayish soil and dig compost in before I plant, they may just have to wait.

Here are some pictures of the progress so far, though. This is the area where I want to put in three beds, roughly clipped with a shears:

And this is me, digging like mad:

And this is me again, contemplating the cleared bed:

(Pictures by Sorcha O'Brien)

It has since been forked over initially, and while the soil there is slightly more clay-ish than I'd really like, I think some compost will open it up. It's certainly nice and easy to dig, and there are few stones, no bits of glass or metal, and no roots worth speaking of.

I'm planning to do something about edging, or maybe putting some paving stones or something between the beds - to neaten up the look of it, if nothing else. If I'm planting more in this area, it'll be to the left on the first picture. The long term plan involves some small buildings there - a sauna and some decking - so I don't want to put anything too permanent in. Fruit bushes are a possiblity, fruit trees are probably not.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Courgettes, Squashes & Pumpkins

I was talking to an Australian friend yesterday about growing courgettes and pumpkins. I remarked that I'd had trouble getting pumpkins to actually fruit when I've tried to grow them before, until I pinched out the growing tip. Apparently, in warmer climates like Australia, you don't need to do this. I did some digging around on the 'net today, and found an excellent guide to growing gourds on And pinching out the the tip when the vine hits about 60cm is definitely recommended.

I cleared ground to plant courgettes on Sunday, and if all goes to plan, I'll be planting the seeds this evening. I might look for a few ornamental pumpkins to go in around the edges of that plot, too, more for fun than for real eating.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Antique & Vintage Furniture

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, antiques are out of style in the US (thanks to Claris of Talk to the Clouds for the tip). This is something I'd be happy with myself, as I like antiques and have no regard for style in furniture beyond my own taste. There's one line that's particularly interesting, though:

"The '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s is the hottest market going right now," said Jerry Goldman, of the monthly Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire. "People are buying their childhood. Designers are snapping up the mid-Modern stuff."

That's very clear from any of the design sites I've been watching - the strange, streamlined shapes of the 60s and 70s are very much in vogue, along with colours that in many cases, I've only seen in photographs.

Yet there's another trend mixed in there that I haven't seen anyone draw attention to - wire. Birdcages, metal framework furniture, spindly lampshades, and so forth. Those, together with light colours, painted wood, and the flash-animation-derived patterning of fabrics, really comprise the look of the current era for me. And yes, it definitely looks 70s:


I've been poking across the web at various aspects of kitchens. There's a kitchen shelves post here by Holly of Haus Maus, which illustrates a concept she's looking at for her new kitchen in Germany.

There's also a set of scans of kitchens from an old issue of Marie Claire Maison from Automatism.

There are a few things in common between these - open storage being a big one. But I don't think it'd work for us; it's very easy for open shelved storage to get messy, and I suspect it means cleaning everything on a regular basis, even if it's just because of dust. I'd rather the dishes not get dusty.

There's also a lot of light in those designs, which is another argument for letting light in from the south side of the house to the kitchen. I expect the computer room door to be open a lot, which will let in some, but I'm going to have to look at the actual light fittings as well. The current ones are a set of three small directed shades, which aren't nearly bright enough as they are. I'm thinking spotlights pointed at the counter-tops and tables would be very useful.

Friday, May 16, 2008


The way the front of the house is set up, the first thing you see stepping in the door is the stairs. That's all well and good, but it's rather dull, even with a set of bookshelves at the top.

Those bookshelves are now filled with books, of course - we've been moving books since we got the keys, since they're the largest single category of stuff we own. I've been looking for a few ideas on what we can do with the stairs. The first idea was from my wife, rather than me, and that was to put bookshelves up along the right-hand side. Busyboo has a very good example of staircase-with-bookshelves, (with a great idea about drawers in steps, too) but that's not going to work for us, at least not on both sides. And the staircase is already narrow, so shelves might reduce it too much. On the other hand, it'd look great, and it's not really a public-use staircase, being as the only room up there is the master bedroom. So as long as they were only one paperback deep, we might be ok.

There's plenty of advice out there as to what to do with the space under the stairs, but very little on what you can do with the stairs themselves. One of the long-term proposals is to put a porch on the front of the house, and remove the wall between the hall and sitting-room, and that would allow us to do a bit more with the steps themselves.

The stairs are carpetted at the minute. Ordinarily, I'm much more in favour of wooden steps, but in this case, they're quite steep, so the carpet allows a bit more grip for the feet. Finally, the dark wooden bannisters may need replacing with something a bit lighter in colour, or possibly even painting. I'm starting to be greatly in favour of painted wood; it reminds me of a lot of old country houses I saw as a kid.

Gervais Apartment

This practice of looking at design sites and magazines is actually changing the things I like. I've always gone, before, for darker colours, and Victorian/Edwardian looks. Now I find myself drifting toward lighter colours, Scandinavian lines, and an emphasis on natural light. This French apartment, for instance, looks fantastic, and I've spent some time trying to figure out what it is about it that appeals. The first three pictures on that article are the main attraction; the fourth less so. So it's definitely something to do with the light colours.

Second is the fact that none of it looks actually white. That seems to make a difference. There's a definite eclecticism about the furniture and wall items, which also appeals to me. And finally, you can see under a lot of the furniture, and while I wouldn't in a million years have thought of that as being an important aspect of room design, it definitely seems to be a common theme in these; it makes the rooms look a lot more open. Stuff to consider...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Push Lawn Mowers

I'd like to claim that our decision to get a push lawn mower was driven by environmental considerations, but really, it came down to price. We could shell out for an electric mower - which I consider to be dangerous buggers at the best of time, owing to the risk of running over the cord, and also adds to the electricity bill - or get an "ordinary" petrol one. Which would mean paying for petrol for its entire lifetime. And then the local Lidl had a push mower for the princely sum of €40.

I'm finding it to be pretty nearly perfect. It's going to need weekly use during the summer, because otherwise the grass will simply get too long for it, but that's not a problem. A quick trial has shown that I can mow the area of the back lawn that we're cutting, and the entire, much smaller, front lawn, in about fifteen minutes - and that's taking it easy. It has the added benefit of getting me some exercise, which will certainly do no harm. It's a lot better for the environment, and best of all, it makes a very pleasing thukka-thukka-thukka sound. It's all about the little things, right?

House on Arrival

So that was the garden. The house itself is in good repair, but we're going to have to redecorate. The existing wallpaper and colours aren't the kind of thing that would drive you completely insane, but they're not exactly us either - mostly fairly bland, and where there are stronger colours, they're not ones we'd choose.

This is the kitchen:

(Photography by Niall Murphy)

The house came with the white goods and some furniture - all three bedrooms have beds, there's a kitchen table and six chairs, a desk, some shelves and a dresser, and there's a three-piece suite in the sitting room. Of all of them except the bed in the master bedroom, it might truthfully be said that they've seen better days. Although I'm not entirely sure the couch and armchairs ever had good days; they're a style of hard, spindly wooden furniture with cushions, which I can't even pin on the taste of a given decade. The fifties, perhaps, although the house was only built in the seventies. I suspect they were brought in to have something in the house while it was up for sale, rather than having seen much real use.

It's a dormer bungalow, so there's only one room upstairs, and that's the master bedroom. It has an ensuite shower and loo, and there's access to the attic space as well - to the front and back of the bedroom, rather than above it.

We have plans for most of the rooms, short and long term, but these may well change as we get more ideas. Our short term plans go like this:

The sitting room will be becoming a library - we'll be putting shelves all along one of the long walls, and in the alcoves to either side of the fireplace, or possibly only one, because there's a display cabinet in the other, which we might keep. The fireplace itself may have to be replaced - the hearth is fine, and even has a boiler at the back, although we've yet to discover whether or not it's hooked up to anything. I can't imagine why anyone would disconnect it, but then again, people board up fireplaces these days. Nutters. We'll get at least a couch and an armchair in there. Possibly a three-seater sofa, a chaise-longue, and an armchair.

The kitchen will have to stay as it is for now, although getting a dishwasher in there will probably be a priority. I don't mind washing up - I do it in the morning, and find it meditative - but the other occupants of the house are in favour of the mechanical option. The table is big enough to play games at, which I approve of. We'll put our own dresser in here alongside the existing one, and we've added a microwave to the other goods there already. The door between the entrance hall and the kitchen may need to be replaced with a sliding door - it's rather in the way as it is.

Of the two back bedrooms, one will go to The Lodger, who has some crazy ideas about painting all the walls white, except for one which will have floor to ceiling blackboard paint. He's liable to change his mind, though. The other will become the War Room - containing enough desks to support the computer habits of three fairly technical people. It's on the south side of the house, so we'll actually see some natural light in there as well.

There's a bathroom downstairs, with a bath in. I don't think there are any plans to change anything in there in short term, beyond making the hotpress accessible for the cats.

Upstairs, the master bedroom will see some more furniture that we already own brought in - a big, old wardrobe, a dressing-table/chest of drawers affair, and a linen chest. This should realistically provide us with enough storage space. The floorboards on the window side of the room creak something awful, so I'm going to have to have a word with them in the reasonably near future. Again, there's not a huge amount that can be done with the ensuite in the short term.

The back door will need a cat-door put in. We might need to consider cat doors in some internal doors as well, but that will come as we get used to the layout of the place, and what doors need to be open. Outside, the shed that's not in the main part of the garden contains a freezer and a clothes dryer, and has enough room to do a fair bit of storage, or possibly be fitted with a bench and enough shelves to work as a small workshop for the moment. The other shed is really suitable only as a garden shed, although if it can be stabilised a bit, I'd consider a green-house lean-to on the south side of it.

Discussion of further plans will appear on a room by room basis, and probably spin off into wild fantasies more suitable for castle restoration than a seventies dormer bungalow.

Intention to Garden

So this is the back garden as it was when we got the keys. There's a wooden shed out of view to the right, and a paved/patio style bit to the left - you can just see the corner.

(Photography by Niall Murphy)

I have plans for this place, but they're not terribly well formed yet. My main aim is to grow vegetables and fruits out here, while leaving some of the lawn there. I like daisies, so I won't be trying to eliminate them.

Since this picture was taken, we've mowed the lawn back as far as the ash tree in the middle. I'm thinking that the area beyond that will probably become the main vegetable patch - although I've dug a test bed off to the right in front of the shed, planted some sprouting potatoes as an experiment, and some spring onion seeds as... another experiment. It's all a bit experimental at the moment, to be honest, since I've never done much in the way of real gardening before - just a lot of reading.

I'm probably not going to do a great deal with it this year, other than watch it and think carefully. The intention is to get a good bit in the way of vegetables, some fruit bushes, and fruit trees in there next year, when we know where's shady and where's not. As it stands, it look like the west side - on the right in the picture - is the shadiest, being out of direct sun for about a third of the day due to trees there. The wall at the south end doesn't provide nearly as much shade as I first expected - at least, not in summer. On the other hand, I'd imagine that with the sun lower in the sky in winter, there'll be quite a long shadow from it.

House In Ireland

Hi. I'm Drew. My wife and I have just bought our first house. Because I'm a geek of the worst and highest order, the first thing I do with any new project is to create a website about it. Hence, welcome to House In Ireland.

In these pages, I'll be providing you with a riveting, blow-by-blow account of our efforts to redecorate, garden, and otherwise do all those things we haven't been able to do while renting. It will also serve as a bit of an online scrapbook, because I constantly see things on design sites, home improvement pages, and gardening blogs that I like the look of, and want to remember for my own later use.

I'll attempt to provide pictures, when I can. Some of these I'll take myself, and I apologise in advance for their quality. The better pictures you'll see have been taken by my wife, or by friends skilled in the use of these exotic "camera" devices.