What’s behind a door?

The usual answer to that question might be ‘a room’ or ‘a corridor’, or perhaps ‘a cupboard’, but since writing about Christmas wreaths, I’ve been noticing the doors behind the wreaths, and started to wonder what we might do to improve the state of ours.

Our new house was built between the wars, a design era I’ve always been fond of, as it brings to mind my granny’s house in the Wirral, which was a rather grand example of the style. It had garden on all sides, parquet floors, and Granny’s handsome Arts and Crafts furniture (to which small hands were well suited for polishing, in return for pocket money). It felt like a good, solid house, what a child would draw if you asked them what a house looked like – door in the middle, chimney on the roof, like the Playschool house.

In our part of London, you can track the expansion of the city by monitoring the housing stock as you go further up and away from genteel Dulwich, which must have been a village before being swallowed by the sprawl of urban growth.

Plaster moulding above bay window

Plaster moulding above bay window

At the bottom of the hill, there are large, grand Victorian houses, most double-fronted with sweeping drives. A little further up the hill, the streets become terraced but even the most ordinary Victorian house is embellished with plaster mouldings and decorative tiles (see examples above and below).

I love the fact that somebody bothered to make these houses attractive, when it probably wasn’t at all necessary – yet someone took the time to add the mouldings and balconies and glazed tiles. Just a pity that so many of these houses are now in a shabby state, some ruined by pebble-dash – but you can see there’s a beautiful house crying to get out underneath it all.

Victorian tiles

Beautiful Victorian tiles alongside the less lovely pebble-dash.

However, the house we’ve just moved from, in a terrace dating from around 1905, had no attractive decoration inside or out – clearly by then, houses were being built quickly, to meet the demand as London spread outwards, with no pretence towards gentility.

Even moving up the street, you have a sense of builders running out of money and time, as houses further down are of lovely London stock brick, a soft golden yellow, but my old house was red brick, with a narrower frontage and looked decidedly shabbier.

Old house

Our unpretty old house

Nobody took much trouble to make that house attractive – which made it an ideal blank canvas for renovation, as there were no original features to start with, I had no need to agonise over whether or not to take them out.

Now we are on top of the hill, surrounded by post-WWI housing, which perhaps lacks the grandeur of the Victorian mansions, but also lacks pretension – and compared to the poky two-up two-down, we have gained rooms with elegant proportions, even if they are missing the fancy decoration.

Our house had the heart ripped out of it some time in the 60s or 70s. It has no fireplaces, no parquet floor, no picture rails, no ceiling roses. Instead, it has woodchip on the walls, avocado tiles in the bathroom and PVC windows – and as I noticed as I walked along the road, ours seems to be the only house where the original door has been removed.

Art Deco style door

Art Deco style door

Most of the houses on our street have doors with stained glass roundels and matching side windows in a beautiful Art Deco style (see above). On the neighbouring street the doors are more rustic with arched windows and leaded panels, influenced perhaps by the Arts and Crafts aesthetic (see below).

Arts and Crafts style door

Arts and Crafts style door

Our door is a 1960s glass panelled job, and to add insult to injury, a PVC porch was added more recently. This leaves us with a dilemma – the porch is showing signs of wear and will need replacing eventually, a chance to get rid of a nasty 80s addition, but as a buffer to keep cold air out, and for security, it IS practical.

So what would be the point of replacing a 60s door with a 1920s repro, or an original even, if we can find one in a salvage yard, if we are going to stick another glass porch on the front to obscure it?

The 60s door may not be as nice as our neighbours’ doors, but it has a retro charm of its own – I especially like the textured glass panels which resemble tree bark.

Textured glass door

Textured glass, 1960s classic, or horror, based on your preference.

I think I am resigned, then, to letting our house keep its 60s and 80s additions, and enjoy what we have gained – high ceilings, wide corridors, bay windows, and a dogleg staircase which lets light flood down into the hall from a picture window. In any case, I am convinced there is plenty of scope to make this house attractive, without having to buy a facsimile of an Edwardian front door or fireplace.

Footnote: I was mid-way through my first draft of this blog when I spotted that BBC4 were showing John Betjeman’s film ‘Metro-land’, in honour of the 150th anniversary of the Tube. I sat down to watch it, and realised Betj had pretty much already said all the things I wanted to say, only better. It’s still on the BBC iPlayer for a few days, although you can also watch the entire film on YouTube, apparently.



Wreathed in glory

We moved into our new house on 18th December, and on the 22nd, the Christmas tree went up. I was determined that no matter what state the rest of the house was in, we’d have a tree and a wreath on the door in time for Christmas.

Unpacking the Christmas decorations always reminds me of past trees, which have always been of their era – our family tree in the ’80s was dominated by hand-made decorations, tinsel, and yards of silver lametta which we threw at the tree until it almost seemed to be drowning in it.

This was replaced in the ’90s by a power struggle between my mum, who favoured natural decorations (mainly from Habitat) of the wicker and pine cone variety, and I, who leaned heavily towards Victorian kitsch with gold cherubs and red ribbons.

At the turn of the century, when I had my own tree for the first time, the decorations were, erm, millennial in style – silver was dominant, with accents of pink and purple, and all from Paperchase. Lots of tiny mirrorballs and glass baubles which I won’t part with even though they are eminently not child-friendly.

By the mid-Noughties, glamorous mirrorballs seemed a bit tawdry in light of the recession, and I yearned for something more traditional and cosy. So my current theme is (I’d like to think) a cross between childhood Christmas (rocking horses, gingerbread men, snowmen) and Scandi style (heart motifs and red felt). Perhaps the kind of tree Sarah Lund would put up, if she did Christmas trees, though I’m sure she wouldn’t.

The second stage of dressing the house for Christmas was the wreath. I usually put up a conventional holly wreath, and in my heart, holly is always my favourite Christmas plant, with its connections to pre-Christian Yuletide rituals (as described in one of my most loved childhood books, The Dark is Rising).

However, holly wreaths do tend to dry out and droop rather sadly by Twelfth Night, so this year I decided I wanted to do something hand-made – and as I got to know my new neighbourhood, I noticed there seem to be lots of styles of wreaths these days.

This was a prime opportunity for some snooping, and I do believe there is a study to be done on class and social status based on peoples’ choice of Christmas wreaths, but I’m not about the judging, I’m just about the nosing around and taking pictures of things I like, so I’ll leave the Marxist analysis to others.

Photos have been cropped to conceal house numbers, so apologies for the rather poor quality in some cases!

Red berry wreath

Plain wreath with red berries

I liked this one for its simplicity, two-tone colour scheme, and the attractive spiral shape. This would work as a door decoration at any time of year, really, not just Christmas.

White wreath with ribbons

White wreath with ribbons

This one is about as far in the opposite direction as possible – positively lavish. This is probably the least to my taste of all the wreaths here, but thought I’d include it for reasons of balance and fairness, cos I’m nice like that.

Pine cones and chilli wreath

Pine cones and chilli wreath

This one is far more my kind of thing – I couldn’t get too close but I think in amongst the pine cones were Scotch Bonnet chillis, which is very cool indeed. Also a well-chosen colour scheme to contrast pleasingly with the smoky blue front door.

Silver thread wreath

Silver thread wreath

Possibly my favourite of the lot – so simple, so beautiful, with the silver of the main wreath so striking against the textured glass, and the bright pink hanging thread leaps out at you too. People from the neighbouring street, I salute your very good taste.

Plain red berry wreath

Plain red berry wreath

Another very simple wreath – this one looking like it could have been woven by hand with a few things picked from the hedgerow, rather than bought at great expense from some garden centre. I also like the low-hanging wreath style, which can look very eye-catching provided you don’t prevent the postman from reaching the letterbox.

Pale wreath with baubles

Pale wreath with baubles

This wreath veers towards the lavish, but I do like this one – the colour scheme is so well-controlled, and I like the mixture of natural textures, with baubles adding a touch of glitz. And the bright turquoise baubles exactly matching the colour of the door is a master stroke.

White wicker wreath

White wicker wreath

A one-colour wicker wreath – very chic. This one looks as if it ought to be on a seaside chalet, rather than south-east London, but it still looked very good where it was, if slightly austere for my tastes.

Our wreath

Our wreath!

Finally, the wreath on our front door. In retrospect, I rather overdid it, (especially putting the tiny stocking in the middle), but as I’d decided to make my own this year, I rather excitedly threw everything I had at it!

I bought a plain wreath from eBay, and added ribbons and cinnamon sticks from my latest Crafty Creatives box (which I will have to blog more about soon), and the pine cones and other bits (from a bag of pot pourri!) were charity shop finds.

The wreath was smaller than I expected, so next year I could take everything off and re-use it on a larger wreath, perhaps with some greenery woven in too. I like the fact I can restyle the wreath, and make it more or less complicated as I please – and of course continue to observe what my neighbours are doing and lift a few ideas along the way.

1st January 2013 has been the first sunny day for weeks and a chance to finally do some work outside – hopefully I’ll have some progress reports from the new garden to blog about soon, but in the mean time, a very Happy New Year!