Rubicon crossed

No, it’s not a dog breed.

Damian Clarke
Nov 28, 2019 · 5 min read

We have crossed a rubicon, of sorts.

When we bought the house, the lounge room was a pleasant space decorated unwisely with a very nicely done faux timber floor (plastic), strange half-paneling around the wall and patches of bare wall where the old wallpaper had been removed but no paint had been applied. The decor was unwise, but the light that streamed through the huge windows at each end of the room more than compensated. And when we were finished it would be the most beautiful room in England, we thought, with the confidence of an ugly child’s parents.

So, of course, we tore it to pieces. We filled a skip with the plastic strips from the floor, the three-ply that was under the plastic strips, with the paneling we tore from the walls and the ugly brackets that held-up the curtain poles. As we drove home to leave the floor sanders to their work, I was quite despondent. It was August.

We tore it to pieces! (Photo Damian Clarke)

“We have just spent a fortune on a house, taken its most visible, valuable feature room and destroyed it. In my mind I know it will be gorgeous when we are done, but right now I can’t help but feel that we’ve just dug ourselves into a disaster.”

We had the floors sanded and varnished and then we set-to on the walls. Doing the floors before the walls was a mistake — in fact working in any order other then top-down is a mistake in this sort of house — but we had to do the floors while the house was empty. The walls were going to take longer.

So we sanded the floors. Our floor sanding men crawled across the floor for a day removing the hundreds of nails and screws that we had not been able to get to. They sanded, they varnished, they hand-sanded, they stained the 1960s boards to match their 1830s neighbours, they replaced the single mahogany board near the front door with a pine one, and stained that too. They quoted for three days and worked for nearly a week transforming our grey dusty floors into honey coloured, sealed, clean floors that you could walk on without shoes.

Then we started on the walls.

By this time I was back at work and Mrs Albion was on her own, just a girl and her wallpaper stripper, quietly bubbling and scraping for days, scraping back generations of forgotten home decoration trends to the bare walls. Then I came home and started tearing off the paneling. At the chimney breast I hefted my jemmy and felt the familiar thunk as timber parted from the screws and jerked away from the wall. Then I felt an unfamiliar thud, and vibration through the floor. One of the screws further down the panel, instead of staying in the wall and pulling through the timber, had stayed in the timber and pulled off the wall. A great chunk of render and brick lay on the floor, gently rocking from side to side. A great hole in the side of the chimney breast stared out at me.

And when you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.


There were other incidents — mainly divots from the walls when dado rails, panels or skirting boards held strongly to their fastenings, but also rough walls hidden behind paper and patches where the old render crumbled away leaving a ragged gash, exposing the horse hair they used in the 1830s to fatten out the mix, or the 1962 newspaper behind the more recent repairs.

We hired Paul the Rasta to fill the holes and skim coat the walls, and we made the place habitable. Then Mrs Albion scrubbed the leftover render and plaster off the freshly varnished floor, and we vacuumed, and mopped and vacuumed again. Then we hired a carpenter to replace all the skirting boards, and we vacuumed and mopped again. Then I installed the shelves between the chimney breasts.

The shelves should have been easy. Cut the timber to size, drill some holes, hide the brackets between each shelf and the wall. Except the walls are not square. And the floor is not level. And the ceilings are two different heights on either side of the room. I had to measure and cut each shelf to fit the contour of the walls. I had to find a common measuring point for each of the 72 holes in the walls. I had to re-drill 12 of the holes because I had measured them from a starting point exactly one shelf width too low. Each shelf took around an hour. There are eighteen shelves.

We vacuumed and mopped again.

And then I painted them. Sixteen hours drying time between coats for professional gloss. And then I decided to paint the windows too — because they looked tatty compared to the other glossy white timberwork.

And we began the curtains. I vacuumed, but we didn’t mop. We just laid all the clean bedlinnen on the floor and cut the curtains on top of it.

We crossed the rubicon on Saturday when I hung Lizzy’s painting (our house is never a home until a particular Lizzy Simunovic painting is on the wall) before collecting Natalie the Christian Radio Star [she’s gone on to bigger and better things] from Liverpool Street. By the time we returned Mrs Albion had put books, ornaments and family photos onto the shelves and space was transformed from a clean looking building site to a messy looking room.

On Sunday evening I shifted a pile of mess off the sofa and we sat down, surrounded by our mess, Mrs Albion’s legs in my lap, Bec and Jen’s blanket over us both, and clicked on the TV.

We have a lounge room.

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Copyright © Damian Clarke. Original post first published on the Our Albion blog, 28 November 2006.

Damian Clarke

Written by

I’m a writer and publisher working in Sydney, Australia and London, UK. I specialise in finance, technology, insurance, property, medicine and sustainability.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old house to use them on.

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