Make Do and Mend
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Unless we are incredibly rich and/or organized, the things we surround ourselves with are not necessarily only the things we love, but they are things we need, things we might not ideally choose, but they're in our budget and we like them enough. For whatever reasons, there are parts of our living spaces that are a little out of our control. This can be a hindrance... or a starting point.
The room which is now the Kitchen was originally the stable and has quite high vaulted ceilings and a series of arches that support the vaults. We were incredibly lucky that the conversion had been done prior to us getting the house, and although it wasn't quite the way we wanted it, there was electricity, running water and plaster on the walls. There had also been a chimney installed which meant this area of the house downstairs could be heated and there was a big barrel-type stove in the connecting back room which kind of did the trick.
When I was a teenager my father came home one day with a dismantled Yorkshire range which he'd managed to buy from a refuse yard somewhere in England when those places were nowhere near as popular as they are today. It sat in his garage for many years until in the end, he brought it to No 19. It's an amazing piece of cast iron but I often wondered why he'd kept it and never sold or given it away.
As he worked on building it into the kitchen of No 19, he told me that while he had been growing up they had had an almost identical range in their small house in the North of England. During the winter there had been only just enough room for them all to huddle round it to keep warm and when someone left the fireside, the cat would jump into the available space determined to get as cozy as possible.
So now there was a Northern English range in this old farmhouse in North Bohemia, and although it gleamed and was going to look perfect in this large kitchen, it just wouldn't work...it smoked and the fires wouldn't start and for this reason the job was left unfinished.
We later discovered that the new chimney was very small, didn't have any draw and would be no good with any form of open fire. There seemed to be very little we could do and so again, this range sat unused in a cold house far from home.
For the first few months after moving to No 19 I'd been living on milk and rice which is all I could afford after buying Mario his Friskies. This was a perfect time to get a real feeling for the house and start dreaming about what I would do. Then one day I was in the local shop and I had enough money for a jar of raspberry jam. When I sat down that evening with my rice pudding and added a spoon of this deep rich red, sweet, delicious substance, it was like all my dreams had come true. I realized that very moment that my happiness was directly related to my expectations of the world I had created around me and this was something I should never forget. Everything was about how I viewed the world - the glass half full theory basically.
From this moment on I was determined to make the most of what I had and not worry about the things I couldn't afford. This also fed its way into how I was going to renovate the house. I had so many dreams about the things I could do if only I won the lottery; converting the front of the attic into an open traditional style hall with screened passage and open fire, putting in a stone spiral staircase by the hall fireplace up to my bedroom area, installing a heating system, rebuilding the lost cottage that stood by the gate in the garden and connecting it to the house with an underground grotto... but I didn't play the lottery and so I certainly wasn't going to win it! So I started working with what I had with the aim of turning this wonderful house into a beautiful home.
One thing I had discovered here was an amount of materials I could use for building. The garden was full of rocks, there were old bricks and ytong blocks my father had bought, many old wooden beams most probably from the building that had been knocked down, and inspiration everywhere. Local bazaars have endless used and old objects and even building materials. When I couldn't find the things I needed, my resourceful neighbour and friend Dusan, would often help me discover something I could use.
Day after day I thought about the Yorkshire range in the corner of the kitchen wondering how to get it to work. In the end I came to the conclusion that it was never going to work, but it could certainly look nicer than it did.
I built a fire surround out of ytong and bricks creating a kind of inglenook with an old wooden beam supporting the upper wall. I had often gone into a derelict house in the village that had an identical kitchen fire I admired. Sadly this old house is about to fall down, but if nothing else, I've copied its kitchen fireplace. I made a wooden mantel to surround the range and plastered the whole area to fit in with the kitchen walls.
My father's girlfriend had often said she wanted to decorate the area around the range using Delft tiles, but I could find only a handful in the house and there was no way I could buy reproductions let alone original. The only thing to do was to fake it!
So I spent an evening looking up 16th century Delft tiles and saving the designs I particularly liked to my computer. I drew out a grid that fitted the area surrounding the Range and started to painstakingly reproduce these tiles directly onto the plaster using water-based paints I had saved for a moment of creativity.
I'm not going to say it got quicker as I went along or that I even got used to it... but I did manage to listen to almost every audio-book ghost story I could find and when it was finished I felt pretty happy. I recently installed a modern stove where the fire should have been and it kind of blends into the blackness of the range and when it's burning, the whole range heats up and positively radiates.
The rest of the room happened in stages and had to be thought about as it also serves as the meeting place for my German Shepherd Luca, and my eight cats so it all needed to be practical, washable and wipe-down-able. I achieved this using endless tins of my favorite paint from the local shop in black, white and grey, off-cuts of mismatching fabrics and I even made a couple of door-frames and wooden doors to replace the frosted glass ones that were here. The furniture is either 're-fashioned' old IKEA units, or from junk shops. The cutlery is cast offs from my parents and the plates and dishes are English, Czech and German and are from car-boot sales and charity shops.
Now during summers when I see my friends and family using this space I get the feeling it works and seems somehow complete... I'm happy with the progress (even though there are always more things to be done) but I still sometimes get the feeling that it doesn't quite make sense... So I remind myself that it just is what it is; a Yorkshire range that doesn't work in a converted North Bohemian stable decorated with fake painted-on 16th century Delft tiles surrounded by English, Italian and Czech junk shop finds and off-cuts of fabric... it's comfortable, and it sits comfortably with everything else here at No 19.