Prising open the encrusted paint lid, I get my wooden stirrer (one tip already covered in dry paint from a previous project) and carefully submerge it, all the way to the bottom of the tin where I can feel a thick layer of sediment. In steady slow circular motions the chalk, china clay, titanium dioxide and pigments come together once more turning through the tones of grey to resemble one of the fifty shades with which I have painted our house. I delicately pour it like double cream onto a pudding into my painters tray and carefully climb the step ladder.
It has taken me weeks to get to this point. In fact, it has taken years. 4 in this house, 7 in the previous house and before that several years in flats; each property a challenge and a project. Over 4 years I have eased our current house into our home room by room, wall by wall, door by door. I have not rushed. It must be achieved properly. It also has to be fitted around the school run, and the garden, job commitments and holidays, mealtimes, bedtimes, between life and sleep. This is an old house. I have had to accept its imperfections, its dents and divets are all signs of life lived under its roof. It will never be perfect. There have been as many steps back as there have been forward. Like the three leaks we’ve had. Water damage creating marbled coffee-coloured patterns on the ceiling, beautiful, if I hadn’t just painted there.
My days have been spent emptying the room of all its contents, into boxes or other rooms, I dislike the disruption. It makes me discombobulated but it is a means to an end. My time has been spent laying out dust sheets, poly-fillering, sanding, stripping, re-poly-fillering, sanding again, hoovering and cleaning, sugar soaping, letting the dust settle, then cleaning again. Not just the walls, but each door, window frame and sill, each skirting board and length of coving. I have pulled out wires, ripped off tiles, pulled up carpets, teased out nails and staples, treated the floorboards for woodworm and moths, craned my neck and arms to paint ceilings. I have had dust in my nose, eyes and throat, paint in my hair and a bloodied hands for my efforts. My decorating jeans are now so covered in paint they could probably stand up by themselves. They are the story of my life in this house as told through Farrow and Ball splatters. This house, which I now know so well. I have lived and breathed inches from its walls, from every corner and crevice, from every floorboard. We have become well acquainted in the last 4 years. Up close and personal. I know all its idiosyncrasies. It probably knows mine too.
Finally the time comes to get out the paint and paint brushes. The first dip of synthetic filaments into the luscious liquid is full of hope. I am about to emulsion my first ground floor room in our home. Like me, the paint I use is not big and glossy. It is gentle and understated. It’s not cheap, but I am fussy and I am not charging a daily rate. We have now been here so long I know when and how the light falls through the patio windows and that despite the big glass doors, it remains quite a dark room irrespective of the season.
I do not use the much quicker roller. It doesn’t leave the kind of finish I like. I don’t want bobbles of paint, streaks and runs. As with most girls, I am after a flawless finish. I have spent so long on the preparation it seems only right I should take as much are, if not more on the actual painting. I like straight lines when cutting in. Sharp declarations between the different paint colours of wood and wall. I love the satisfaction of painting over old stains and hawkish clashing colours, mostly varying shades yellow from buttercream to canary. I endlessly check that there are no drips collecting in corners, slowly drying into hardened teardrops.
So I take my time, holding the paint brush as my dad taught me, even though it’s agony on the wrists to start with, soft flowing rhythmic movements, all in the same direction being careful not to flick. I might get one wall done and then have to stop. Perhaps just the undercoat of the side of one door. I carefully wrap my brushes in clingfilm, a neat trick I learned to save washing them out after each use, especially if you have to quickly dash off. Generally speaking two coats are required on the woodwork, one on the walls if possible. Touch ups once everything has dried. Gradually, the room becomes fresh and clean even though it is old and used.
Then I clean and tidy up one final time. I replace the slightly misshapen paint lid onto the pot and push down, knowing that it won’t fit exactly but there’s only a dribble of paint left anyway. I write on the lid which room the colour belongs to. I wash out all the brushes, the water runs thick with paint and then eventually more and more pale and milky, until finally it runs clear. I shake the paint brushes outside and leave them to dry in the garage before wrapping them in polybags and placing them in storage bags. The dust sheets are also shaken and then washed. Finally the door fittings are polished and reattached, light fittings wiped, floors shined and all our belongings are poured back in, turning it from a shell into a room.
Now as I walk around our Victorian house I can see from my critical little eye the minute details which need more work, the bits which I couldn’t get quite right but that no one else cares about or notices. Each room takes months rather than days and the job is never finished. Rooms constantly evolve. I will never be totally content but I can live with that because I also get a huge sense of accomplishment. More than that, it’s actually pride. For once I think I have done an ok job. I am not yet bored of actively looking at the walls and the doors I have revived. I am particularly pleased with the zig zag lines on the stairs where skirting and step meet. I try not to be too precious but, really, I am. I have done it all over 4 years and I have done it my way.
Welcome to the art of slow decorating.