Saturday, July 14, 2012

clay and wood on the walls and birds in the trees

One of the things I'm loving most about building our house slowly, by hand, with a variety of unusual and recycled materials is the intimacy that comes from sometimes spending painstaking hours on restoring or preparing something. Yesterday I sealed the gable end that will form the bed head in our sleeping loft. I used fence palings I got at the tip. I don't want to speak too soon, or talk it up too much, but the internal gable ends could well be my favourite part of the house. 
I'm in love with them. I'm in love with their roughness, their character, their colours and textures. I'm in love with the fact that they had a life before they came to live with us in our little strawbs, and they are all different. Because I hand cut and de-nailed them all, I feel like I came to know them. I picked out my favourites (often involving extra-special knots, lichen or moss), and saw where insects and other creatures had made their homes and tracks. 
Knots and ever-so-light-green moss. This moss colour is the colour we've chosen to paint the lining of our ceiling
There's a part of me that would like to make a whole house from them, but I know that their beauty is in the detail, which is better appreciated on a small, cozy scale at the head of our bed.
This morning I was at the land at daybreak - my favourite time of day on this little block of ours. A flock of rosellas and rainbow lorikeets and galahs were hanging out on our dam wall, eating the grass seeds we'd scattered for them (not really - they were part of our revegetative soil stabilisation efforts, but I can understand why the birds thought it was a smorgasbord put there just for them) and one or 2 were already trying out the bare-rooted fruit trees that Olive and I planted last week in our orchard. 

My task today was to mix up some lime wash to paint downstairs. Yes, the clay was a beautiful colour. It was warm and textured and so so earthy. But in a space as small as our tiny cottage, it was also kind of overwhelming. 

Bare clay (left) and new softened whitewashed clay (right)
If you've ever been to any of our houses, you'll know that Pearl and I are partial to bright and bold house-decoration stuff. We have lots of pictures and artworks. We have bright woollen rugs on everything. Even our foods and cooking tools are brightly coloured. And in our little strawbs, with its limited storage space, most of this will be on display in some form or another. We were nervous about how it would all look against the warm but dominating clay of the walls. So we decided to limewash. 
As I brushed it on I felt almost a sense of betrayal, altering the clay walls we'd worked so hard on (this probably gives an indication of just how attached I am to every aspect of our little house). But I'm so glad we're limewashing rather than painting. Limewash is both transparent and opaque, it's textured, it's uneven (a prerequisite for this house of ours), it highlights, rather than disguises, the undulations in our walls and, because it has thin spots, the warmth of the clay still shines through. And, as an added bonus, the wash is binding any loose sand on the surface of the wall, which will help our house be less dusty. 
The recipe for the wash came from The Cob Builder's Handbook, a resource I discovered only recently, but which has been super-helpful and inspiring. It's super-easy: mix hydrated lime (the stuff we've been using for our external walls) with water to a 'sour-cream' consistency, then let it sit for 2 weeks. This does something scientific (a chemical reaction of some kind?) that was lost on me, but apparently it's imposrant. Then once it's been all scientifically-altered, you mix it with water to a 'skim milk' consistency then paint it on. I had toyed with the idea of using a roller, but painting it, like all the other labour-intensive hand-made-y things about this house, is kind of rewarding. I'm up close and personal, smoothing things out and appreciating each and every nook, cranny and bump.
As the morning sun streamed through our northern windows and hit the newly-washed wall, I knew that we'd made the right choice.


  1. looking great girls. Matt XX

  2. Looks amazing!
    Mer xx

  3. Love the lime washed look. Gorgeous. And the palings look so lovely and rustic. Great idea doubling them as a bedhead! xx