Reclaimed Renovation – Terracotta floor tiles

Reclaimed terracotta herringbone parquet tiles reclaimed renovation

“Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” a friend messaged me in response to my “weekend working on the floor with my husband.” Despite distractions, including mould and moths, our renovation is moving along. We now have reclaimed terracotta roof tiles for flooring in a parquet pattern in our kitchen and hall. 

The floor before
Reclaimed terracotta herringbone parquet tiles
The floor after

If like me, you’re also struggling with moths – have you tried essential oils or filling sachets with dried mint or lavender?

© Matchesfashion.com

Before herringbone terracotta started tiling up everywhere, including a Matchesfashion.com newsletter this week, I first fell for them when Salvo Code member Natural Stone Consulting listed them on SalvoWEB a few years ago. I adored the raw elegance of the colours and textural story hinting at their past life as roof tiles. One of the many benefits of designing with reclaimed materials is even when something is trending, your iteration will still stand out from the crowd. The finish you want to achieve can be equally unique, so after having the tiles laid we are gradually finishing the job ourselves.

Living in our London flat whilst starting our reclaimed renovation
We lived in the flat whilst renovating

Step one was sealing them. We were ready to say goodbye to brick dust, as we were living in the flat throughout the project, yet we wanted to maintain the dusty pink shade of the tiles in their natural state, so we opted for a barely-there sealant. But it was there and we did the water dropper test – where you check that the liquid remains on the surface rather than seeping in to prove it. The terracotta tiles from Natural Stone Consulting were salvaged from derelict rural farmhouses and outhouses in Europe so we wanted to show off the time-worn character which dates back to around 1860. If you choose terracotta or another porous stone then it’s worth doing a quick water drop test every year or so in areas like kitchens to check that your protection is still holding up.

Reclaiming terracotta tiles
Typical farmhouse where the terracotta tiles are reclaimed © Courtesy of Natural Stone consulting
Sorting reclaimed terracotta tiles
Sorting reclaimed terracotta tiles © Courtesy of Natural Stone consulting

Step two was mixing the subtlest sandy grout before applying a second coat of sealer. We had the tiles laid as close as possible, as initially, we were considering going groutless. However, reclaimed terracotta tiles aren’t like laying traditional timber parquet, and they varied in size, so we made a high sand content grout that would blend well with the warm tones of the terracotta. 

I’m not going to lie, tilers were in high demand when we embarked on the project, and ours wasn’t attracting the same quantity of interest as quick regular tiling jobs. So although we didn’t lay the tiles, our hours spent on the floor are totting up to more than our builders’. Step three was sourcing a model makers’ kit of tiny tools to attach to our drill and smooth out signs of our floor layers’ learning curve. It was their first time working with reclaimed tiles.

Model makers' kit to finished our reclaimed stone floor
Our model makers’ kit

So my friend wasn’t wrong, my husband and I are sharing bonding sessions on our floor, and the earplugs he bought us for raves have come in handy to drown out the drilling. I hear that’s what the kids are using them for these days; house music. 

© Photographs Reclaimed Woman & courtesy of Natural Stone Consulting

Rainbows & Tiles

My new flat is the equivalent of workout leggings. It’s comfortable and a little styling goes a long way, but I am anxious that renovating at a slow pace will be the home equivalent of a hard transition out of trousers with an elasticated waist. 

My current sense of urgency is fighting my better judgment and past experience, which proves that slow design enables more reuse because it gives you time to see existing potential and consider possibilities that you might have otherwise missed. To reuse as much as possible and work with antique and salvaged materials is our priority, but this reclaimed reno is more intensive than my last and includes a big (by London standards) bathroom, a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, floors and a possible extension to do.

We need to pace ourselves budget-wise so we just started with the flooring in the hall and kitchen. This was good because consciously planning an area at a time was conducive to more reuse. However, a delay in work on our kitchen means that most of this space will take shape in phase two, which means our flat is starting to look like a salvage yard with a sink here, a copper fire hood there… But as Dolly Parton put it “if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”

The trouble with not doing everything at once is that your memory is fresh enough to remember the dust that comes with a renovation. We are still discovering dust inside cupboards that we didn’t know existed from reno round one. I’m excited to share our reclaimed herringbone terracotta tiled floor once we have finished grinding and sealing, but I need to work on our lighting because the cold coloured surgical-like kitchen downlighters are countering what should be a characterful floor of pink and orange tones. With the kitchen as it is our vegetables aren’t so much chopped but dissected. 

There has been a flurry of home renovations over the last two years, so I am curious to hear your experiences. Has the WFH lifestyle made it easier to keep a closer eye on your design projects or have you found the lack of opportunity to escape ongoing building work more challenging? 

Six Items Challenge : Two weeks in

Two weeks into six weeks wearing the same six items of clothes, I am tongue twisting and definitely compensating with shoes.

On a side note, these 1940s pigeon holes make perfect shoe storage   (complete with drawn-on letters, this piece was reclaimed from the post room at Kings Cross Station).

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

 

Recipe for a reclaimed kitchen – my kitchen after

I recently transformed my kitchen into a walk-in wardrobe and my living room into my kitchen, so I thought this was a recipe worth sharing.

My kitchen before

Tiny kitchens are the norm in flats in London and although at one stage I merely used mine to reheat or “cook” salad, this was my chance to make a space I wanted to spend time in.  The original kitchen was a cavelike windowless room, far more suited to clothing than cooking.

Materials

cooker hood –  organ pipes salvaged from a church in east London by The Architectural Forum with an Arts & Crafts fireplace from Haes  to house an extractor fan and spotlights

wall cabinet – 1940s staff noticeboard salvaged from Kings Cross station on SalvoWEB with gold knobs saved from a built-in wardrobe that was in my bedroom.  The back of the noticeboard was removed so the glass doors could be mounted in front of shelves made of reclaimed wood from Pine Supplies

lights – Deco lampshades from The Architectural Forum

radiator – old panel radiator, reclaimed, restored and painted black by The Architectural Forum

cooker and dishwasher – reused from the old kitchen with a new gas hob to replace the old electric hot plates

splashback – reclaimed marble scraps from sculptor John Joekes 

cabinets – reused carcasses from the old kitchen with doors made of gymnasium floorboards salvaged from a school near Berlin by Historische Bauelemente

worktop – reclaimed wood lab top salvaged from a school by Source Antiques

sink – Armitage Shanks butler sink salvaged from a local yard with brass bib taps from Catchpole & Rye

vintage glass – Libbey Glass tumblers from Olde Good Things

accessories – church pew umbrella drip trays styled as worktop trays from Church Antiques and old kilner jars from Metroretro

vintage crockery – including green Beryl Ware plates and bowls from Insitu

original oak floor

Method

I spent over seven months sourcing salvage.  Designing a kitchen with reused and reclaimed materials doesn’t require such a long cooking time, but I wanted the chance to get to know the space.  Although the old kitchen was dingy and dated, it was fine for my first months in the flat.

Consulting SalvoWEB throughout the journey, I set about realising the reclaimed dream I sketched on a napkin in New York.  I rarely found what I imagined, but one ingredient led to the next and my taste matured.  I originally envisaged a glamorous kitchen to prove that salvage could look polished, but I fell for honest materials and I wanted to feel their provenance.  I love the fact that girls were playing games back in 1910 on floorboards that now front my kitchen doors.  What could be more glamorous than that?

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

Reclaimed interiors and renovating the Wabi-Sabi way

I recently discovered that my nickname at university was the swan. Okay so I have a long neck, but my friend suggested that it was more likely to do with my perfect hair. Rest assured, I also dislike the woman with the “perfect hair” my friend described, as perfectionists never see perfect in themselves. Nor am I a fan of people referring to themselves as perfectionists, but before I hit the back bar on this whole paragraph, I’ll get to the point. Renovating my flat with reclaimed materials gave way to a total mind shift. From perfection seeker to imperfection appreciator. When you buy new, the shine often fades with the first scratch or signs or wear.  However, buying reclaimed pieces and reusing old materials freed me to be less precious, knowing that loving signs of use would only add to their characterful beauty.

Born from Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi cannot be bought. Your appreciation might start with a single chipped vase you have had forever. Rather than discarding it, the Japanese philosophy encourages you to accept things as they are. Wabi-sabi is the wonky, handmade, home-grown and weathered with age. A u-turn from the mass-produced, single-use society, it teaches us to be content and cherish what we have.

I am not pretending to have found zen, I still fuss with my hair for about fifteen minutes every morning. But through reuse and renovating my home with natural materials, I am making a more genuine environment that will continue to get better with age.

Difficult to translate into words, I am still working at my definition of a wabi-sabi way of life.  However, I think I am close when I appreciate the imperfect pattern of white ceramic tiles at the back of my wardrobe (that was once the kitchen).  Rather than sending the tiles to landfill, they live with my clothes and accessories as an accepted part of my home’s history.

 

Reclaimed doors and sanitary ware at V&V Reclamation  /  my irregular wardrobe tiles

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

Reclaimed Kitchen Before and (almost) After

Transforming my kitchen into a walk-in wardrobe might sound crazy, but as you can see above, my windowless eighties kitchen was destined for new life.   I reused bits from the old kitchen and moved it to the back of the living room to make the most of the biggest room in my flat.

Sourcing inspiration and materials took me from my mum’s shed to New York where the sketching started.  This is my photo diary.

Sketching my kitchen at The Butcher’s Daughter a.k.a the vegetable slaughter house of New York City.

Running around Manhattan, I might as well have been wearing nothing but a fig leaf in the lack of layers I packed for a New York winter.  I finally made it to reclaimed renovation heaven The Demolition Depot. Doors, windows, shutters, sanitaryware, stone, irreplaceable artefacts and cats, lots of cats.

I didn’t go as ornate as this radiator, but my drop-in at Demolition Depot confirmed my preference for black.  Fun rad fact: matt black is one of the best choices for radiant heat (the kind that heats bodies). Can you tell I’m now obsessed with any tricks to keep myself warm…

Remember when I found a Belfast sink sitting in my mum’s back garden?  Well, this time I almost took this wooden sink surround.  I should add, my mum is also in the middle of a renovation, she doesn’t normally store salvage in her shed.  However, I decided my worktop needed to be one long strip of something to avoid overcrowding the small kitchen with too many materials.  That one stays with you ma.

SalvoWEB had me seeing salvage from London’s Kings Cross station and I chose the glazed 1940s staff noticeboard above to fashion as my overhead kitchen cabinets.  I had been eyeing-up vintage English Rose kitchens, but this design decision put me on a different train towards Historische Bauelemente where I found these gymnasium floorboards (circa 1910) salvaged from a school near Berlin.   These will be the doors for my old kitchen carcasses.

Organ pipes from The Architectural Forum salvaged from a church in East London were transformed into a decorative extractor fan pipe for the Arts and Crafts fireplace from Haes that I styled as my cooker hood and splashback.  And breathe.  My most ambitious use of salvage so far…

I will be back with the big (small) reclaimed kitchen reveal soon.

Designing my Reclaimed Kitchen – Practical Vs Pretty

Ever practical, I chose a glazed 1940s staff noticeboard reclaimed from London’s Kings Cross station from SalvoWEB to style as my kitchen cabinet.   Not that I was intending to consume as many tubes of tortilla chip Pringles as the decorators, but soon only pretty foods fitting my colour scheme will be allowed in my kitchen cabinet. Ha. Don’t you just love the unrealistic goals one sets oneself in the middle of a renovation.

When I started designing my kitchen, I envisaged a glamorous throwback, a bit of Disco Deco and pretty brass accents.  I bought glass Art Deco lampshades from The Architectural Forum and had my eye on these Jazz Moderne glass panels salvaged from a French apothecary to finish the sides of my noticeboard cabinet.  I lost them to another bidder, but in hindsight it was a good thing as it forced me into more practical open shelves that show off the reclaimed wood from Pine Supplies and my ’40s noticeboard in full glory.

Art Deco lampshades in The Architectural Forum

Jazz Moderne glass panels

my kitchen (before)

It breaks my heart to see kitchens ripped out with no regard for materials that could have been saved, so I challenged myself to reuse as much of my original kitchen as possible – starting with the white appliances.

Sadly mine didn’t come as cool as the above, but this could be considered another tick in the practical box compared with stainless steel, which is hard to keep finger smudge free.  But white appliances are fashioning an impressive come-back.  When designing a kitchen, you rarely go wrong with classic white.  It is clean and cleverly works with both modern and period interiors and can look more retro according to the style of appliances you choose.  White also tends to change with the light from other colours around it.   I am aiming for warm white, surrounded by reclaimed wood cabinetry.  But avoiding rustic country vibes with black and primary coloured markings that come with choosing floorboards salvaged from a school gymnasium.

I may have diverted from my disco Art Deco design, but I’m feeling the ’80s school disco I ended up at.

Reclaimed gymnasium floorboards from Historischen Bauelemente designed as doors to refresh my original kitchen carcasses.

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

Tossed but not Sunk

Moments of the first half of 2017 brought to mind the Paris motto, Fluctuat nec mergitur, a Latin phrase meaning “Tossed but not sunk.”

At the beginning of the year our boiler broke, whilst having reclaimed wood shelves installed – which turned into a much bigger job as the horrid MDF storage units being replaced turned out to be rather attached. Cutting into the walls, the MDF cupboards finally relented with plenty of plaster to remember us by.  On the positive side, at least we had the entire contents of the living room crammed into our bedroom to avoid the dust and keep us cosy…Who needs central heating. It is however good to be reminded of the things we take for granted. *she types whilst swishing her freshly washed hair, thankful for hot water for evermore*

But all that fades to comparison with the fact my grandad also passed this year.  There is a fine line between how personal one gets online, particularly as I started blogging to share my flat renovation not my family, but one of my grandad John’s sayings seems pertinent.  “It needs a coat of looking at,” he would say.  Therefore, a fair mention for problems relating to life and wall.

I will leave you with my love of the year so far, MyBuilder.com.  You can post a job and find trusted builders and tradesmen in minutes. Plasterer, gas engineer, I almost had them all in one week.

Me in my happy place, Paris  /  Brooklyn Flea Market

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman