Alcoves and Decorative effects

It is worth taking extra trouble when you have an alcove with a window. Many people simply curtain off the whole area by running a rail or rod across the front of the alcove, thus cutting it off from the rest of the room at night. This is a waste of both space and decorative potential. Curtain tracks are available which can be bent by hand around the insides of the alcove so that the curtains can be pulled back around the walls by day.

chimney alcoves

Alternatively, you could fit a simple roller blind which would not cut the alcove off from the rest of the room when pulled down at night. Alcoves are especially good for creating decorative effects a little out of the ordinary. You could decorate the alcove in a different wallcovering from the rest of the room—perhaps using something special such as paperbacked silk, grasscloth or metallic paper. This could then be used as a backdrop for shelving and to enhance any decorative objects on display. A less expensive—but equally effective— method is to paint the alcove walls a tone or two deeper than the colour chosen for the rest of the room.

Mirrors, too, can be used to enhance an alcove, and they will give a feeling of extra space in the rest of the room. You can buy the mirror in a large piece and fix it to the wall with mirror-screws with domed chrome heads; or you could cover the wall with mirror tiles, fixed with self- adhesive pads. Bronzed mirrors are more sophisticated, and perhaps less disturbing for people in the room as their reflections are dimmed. In all these arrangements, whether with shelves or mirrors, a grander, ‘period’ effect can be created by building arches over the tops of the alcoves adding plaster mouldings if desired. Painting and Decorating the alcove should be done in theme with the decor.

Where two alcoves flank a chimney breast, remember that there is no need for each to be treated in the same way. In fact it often looks better if the shelf arrangements do not exactly match, although they should balance each other. If the fireplace has been removed, it is possible to treat one alcove and the chimney breast as a unit, leaving the other alcove mostly empty. You can build deep shelves projecting from one alcove and continue shallower shelves across the face of the chimney breast, with perhaps one deep shelf at seating height across the remaining alcove. Now that you have taken the trouble to give your alcoves a special decorative treatment, make sure that the possessions you put on display do your ideas justice.

An alcove is the perfect place to show off a treasured collection of old glass, silver, or a particular colour or make of china, or carved ivory animals, painted eggs or wooden boxes. Consider using glass or mirrored shelves for added glamour. Or use an alcove for a stunning display of leafy plants, or vases of fresh or dried flowers, When setting up alcove displays, pay particular attention to lighting. Slim, fluorescent strips can be used to provide lighting at the front or back of alcove shelving and the lamp can be concealed with a narrow strip of wood. If a gap is left between the back of the shelves and the walls, lighting can be used very effectively to flood the back of the wall.
You can also light an alcove from the front, using a spotlight trained on the objects you wish to highlight. Finally, a word of warning. If you do not want to fill in an alcove with built-in storage spaces or shelving, but prefer to use it to set off an interesting piece of furniture, be sure to take the alcove measurements with you when you go hunting around furniture or junk shops. Remember that alcoves on either side of a fireplace are not necessarily exactly the same size, particularly in old houses. Measure the alcove at the skirting board, and again further up the wall. And, when shopping, beware of furniture which may have a projecting piece around the top which might prevent it from fitting into an alcove: always measure furniture at its widest point.

Decorating with cork

• Cork tiles
• Cork sheeting
• Colours and finishes
• Preparing surfaces for cork
• Working with cork
• Tiling walls and floors
• Hanging sheeting
• Protective finishes for cork
• Finishing the surface

cork tiles

Cork is one of the most versatile of all home decorating products. It gives a hardwearing finish to floors, walls and ceilings, yet looks equally good covering furniture or small household ornaments. And few materials can reproduce the look and feel of a natural material combined with a range of subtle textures and colours in the same way that cork can.

Because it contains a large number of tiny air pockets, cork also makes a large contribution to insulating your home against cold and helps to cut down noise. A floor covered in 5mm thick cork is 70 per cent more effective in reducing heat loss than a comparable vinyl or quarry tile finish; it is also a lot quieter underfoot. Walls and ceilings are likewise better protected from noise and cold if they are covered in cork—especially the thicker variety of tile.

Types of cork

Cork sheet is manufactured by bonding together granules of the bark of the cork oak tree under heat and pressure. The resulting material is then cut into a number of different forms so that it can be handled and applied more easily.

Tiles: Cork is usually bought in tiles 300mm square which vary in thickness from 4mm to 20mm. Although some builders’ merchants do sell tiles separately, they are usually supplied in packs containing between nine and 20 tiles. The advantage of this form of cork is that it can be applied to all surfaces—some tiles are made especially for floors, others for walls and ceilings—yet can be easily fixed and fitted around awkward corners.

Planks: Many manufacturers now produce a range of rectangular cork tiles—called planks—measuring either 910mm X 300mm or 900mm X 150mm. These can be fixed to give a ‘decking’ effect or laid in patterns similar to those used when laying brick paths.

Sheeting: Cork is often applied to walls and ceilings in the same way as wallpaper and rolls of sheet cork are available to do this. Although great care needs to be taken when fixing this delicate material in place, it is well worth the effort since fewer joints are visible and greater insulation is achieved because of this.

Finishes and colours

Cork tiles, slabs and sheeting are usually bought untreated so that they can be waxed or varnished once they are fixed in place. But all types of cork are available ready-coated in a hard wearing protective layer of PVC, polyurethane or wax. Many of the more expensive sealed tiles and slabs have a second protective layer under the cork—usually made of PVC— which acts as a moisture barrier and helps give added grip and stability to the fitted material. When buying cork you can also choose from a wide variety of shades, textures and patterns. Plain colours range from the classic honey shade most commonly associated with cork to a deep chocolate brown—with practically every shade in between.

Geometric and random patterns are produced by combining accurately cut slivers of different coloured cork and this technique is also used to give a textured finish to the cork. More recent is the production of randomlyspaced cork superimposed on a number of different coloured backgrounds.

Preparing bases

Cork is an absorbent, pliable material and unless it is applied to a perfectly fiat, dry and sound base it will quickly deteriorate. You will greatly extend the life of your surface covering by spending time beforehand in strengthening and preparing the base to which it is to be fixed. The approach you use will vary according to where the cork is to be fitted. Timber floors: This is the best surface of all on which to apply cork—providing you make sure that the surface is perfectly flat.

Hammer any protruding nails into the floor, punching them well below the level of the boards if necessary. Use filler to make good any hollow areas and smooth these level with an abrasive block once the filler has thoroughly hardened. The timber floor you want to cover can often be in very poor condition with broken and splintered timbers and an uneven surface. If this is the case, you must lay sheets of hardboard or plywood over the damaged floor to form a sound base. Cut the sheets so that they cover the whole floor and butt neatly against each other and around the edge of the room.

Fix them securely into place with 20mm galvanized nails randomly spaced at 300mm intervals.

Concrete floors: These must be level, clean and absolutely free of damp before cork is fixed to them. Check the floor carefully, looking for patches of damp or areas where the surface is uneven or crumbling. Floors which do not have an adequate DPC should have one added before work continues, but as an added protection against damp, a coat of sealant will be wise.

Also, keep in mind, cork is extremely flammable.

DIY Painting and Decorating

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) by Elias Garcia Martinez has held pride of place in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church near Zaragoza for more than 100 years. This is the Restoration of a Jesus Christ fresco by an old lady, who decided the masterpiece needed a little refurbishment.

DIY restoration

The 19th century Spanish fresco has been ruined after the old lady attempted a DIY restoration of the artwork.

For people who love art this must feel quite tragic and if it had been done with bad intentions it would be, but I don’t think this was the case. Perhaps it is still a work in progress. Absolutely hilarious.

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