Posted in Blog, DIY Hints & Tips, House Renovation, Tools & Materials, TUTORIALS

Our Old Flagstones get a New Home

…. from a pile of slabs……. to a classy stone floor ….here’s how…

opus romain patternslabs laid out in the courtyard
We laid these flagstones in an “Opus Romain” pattern — laying the flags in regular rows,  but varying the row-width across adjacent rows.

You need to decide beforehand on which widths you are going to use. Commercially available flooring in this pattern usually come in 3 widths; for example, 60cm, 45cm and 30cm. The lengths of the individual slabs will vary so that each width will have say a couple of rectangular sizes and maybe a square size.

“Sounds complicated?” “Not really, once you see a picture or two of how the pattern works, it all pretty obvious.”

Opus Romain stone flooring

…….so onto a few ‘Tips & Tricks’…….

  • Sizing  the Flagstones : This is perhaps the trickiest part of the job! There are no hard and fast rules—you need to assess what you have to work with and try and work out the best width options to choose—to achieve a pleasing pattern without undue waste.
  • Essential Tools — Angle Grinder (preferably with a diamond/carbide disc), club hammer and bolster cold chisel, eye protectors, ear protectors and face mask, tape measure, T-square and marking chalk or pencil.
  • Cutting stone with the grinder – make the straight cuts with the grinder steadily and evenly, letting the machine cut gradually to its maximum depth, around a few cms or so. It isn’t necessary to cut a stone “all-the-way-through.” Then with the bolster chisel inserted around the middle of the cut, give it a few sharp blows with the club hammer—and it should split away cleanly and easily.
  • As you can see in one of the images above, I’ve angled the grinder slightly “off-vertical” — undercutting the edge. This is a little trick to make it easier to lay the cut edges of the flags closer to each other, avoiding the chances of odd lumpy bits left after breaking stopping the close fitting of two adjacent flags.
  • Then carefully and gently tap along the top of the cut edges with the club hammer, chipping little fragments away to leave a more natural looking stone
  • Finally, should it be necessary to remove some stone from the underside of a particularly thick slab, make a series of close parallel cuts, and repeat again at 90°, and then chip these away carefully with the hammer and chisel. (A great way, incidentally, to make your own stone dice!).

"Opus Romain" style of laying paving
You may then decide whether to grout the spaces between the stone with a lime mortar — or simply brush in some sand or fine gravel. Depends on what look you’re after.

And if the floor is exposed to light and rain, then you’ll need to weed the cracks from time to time if they haven’t been grouted.

So give it a try and “Bonne Chance!”

Posted in Blog, HOUSE & GARDEN, House Renovation, Tools & Materials

My Hemp Porridge — another great material for the DIY builder.

The wet gluey porridge that is hemp renderI happen to have a Scottish surname — and I do like porridge – but even I would baulk at a bowl of this for breakfast !

What is it?  —  It’s a mix of industrial grade vegetal HEMP fibre, (Cannabis sativa) — (Not to be confused with Indian Hemp — Cannabis Indica), LIME and WATER. We’ve used this material extensively as —

  • floor insulation
  • as rough render on open, porous stone walls to plug all the draughts and prevent rodent activity
  • and as a easy way to fill all those awkward places before starting the decorating stage.

DOWNLOAD OUR PDF for all the details:  Hemp Vegetal Fibre pdf

Posted in Blog, DÉCORATION, Inspirations, Let's Be Creative!, MACKENZIE FRAMES, Wall Displays

Work In Progress – Hand Painted Frames For A Collection Of Mirrors

The summer season of craft shows is upon us, and although I don’t do many of them these days, whenever the ladies of Varen phone me  to participate in their annual summer craft show – I usually say yes.

hand painted mirror frames

Varen (zip code – 82330) is a very pleasant village near St. Antonin Noble Val, in the Tarn-et-Garonne about 15 minutes drive from where I live here in the Midi-Pyrenees region of South West France. The good ladies of Varen, take it upon themselves to manage ‘La Shoppe’ every summer in the hope of luring tourists and locals alike into their little stone clad den below the ‘mairie’ (the mayor’s office) which is full of hand made delights from local artisans.

hand painted mirror frames 1

The theme this year is ‘Reverie’ – a very subjective word  that summons different things to different people. Well, to my mind, in the realm of interior decor, this means ‘The House of my Dreams’ and as Marie-Claude (chief lady in charge) specifically asked me to provide some of my Hand Painted Framed Mirrors, this is what I had in mind.

Hand Painted Mirror Frames 03

I hope there are a few people passing through Varen this summer who have the same taste in colors and framed mirrors as I have!

Hand painted Mirror Frames 05

So I thought you would like to see the ‘Work In Progress’ of the hand painted frames at the moment. As you see, my color theme is very neutral – white, taupe and beige. A variety of sizes and styles from my ‘odd box’ of moldings that we seem to collect over the years in our Framing Workshop. Any one who has been following my blog here only has to to go to the DIY Tutorials to see that I love ‘Up-cycling’ old frames to make them into objects of desire once again!

Small White Mirror Frames 06

Well, Martin has just cut the individual pieces of mirror for each frame. He still needs to cut the backing boards and then I can finish the transformation of these frames into the mirrors of your dreams.

When they are ready, I’ll give you an update. And if you are on holiday here in our corner of South West France this summer, perhaps you can come and visit Varen and have a little peak into ‘La Shoppe’!

Posted in Blog, HOUSE & GARDEN, Pool Project, The Garden

Pool Project part 1 — hole, sketch, and a little bit of philosophy.

Patrick – Friend, Neighbour, Electrician, Electronic Engineer, Guru……..called in yesterday to disconnect the 3-Phase circuit breaker at the main supply box (le tableau) — no longer needed now that the crane was down and away. That only took 5 minutes so then I asked him about the electrics for our new pool and this is what he left me with.

Patrick pool schema

The ONE thing that I have learnt over the 20 odd years of house improvement and renovation is this.  

Every minute spent thinking, researching and planning before starting the work is worth a year’s peace of mind after the job’s finished”.

Of course, we’re not professionals, and we won’t get everything 100% perfect — but don’t let that put you off. I’m often asked how we’ve got the courage, the confidence, even the stamina to do all this — a total remake of an old stone house. I suppose for me, it’s a challenge that I never tire of — creating something worth having out of something that’s been neglected and left fallow. And when you’re motivated and truly involved in any project, you’ll get results in the end. Patience, steady application, — Oh, and keep fit and healthy. Ask advice at every opportunity and don’t take risks trying stuff that could be really dangerous — for instance, I do 95% of all the new electrical work BUT I always get Patrick around periodically to finally connect a section to the “tableau” and to verify that everything is kosher.

So, the next stage for me, whilst Ed the diggerman is completing the excavation, will be to prepare a drawing/plan of the pool and terrace areas with all the “bits” in place — pool, pump-house, rainwater tank, and lighting circuits — so that all the pipework and electrical cabling is in the correct place and can be “buried” and lost under the future landscaping.

Posted in Blog, Framed Images, Inspirations, Let's Be Creative!, Wall Displays

Shabby White Frames and Vintage Lithographs – the Perfect Combination

Well creative people – what did you do with your shabby chic up-cycled frames that I hope you made after following my three part blog post last year? My frames were hanging about the workshop for months waitng patiently for me to find the right images. AT LAST – I found the perfect solution!

The images are from a 19th century book of  lithographs. The book was too damaged to keep as a whole, and I bought it with wall art in mind – the book may be damaged, but the images were hiding there ready to see the light of day.

My plan is to a grouping of these shabby white frames and their lithographs ready for a wall hanging. What a difference to see these bits of Victoriana in nice light pale frames, such a difference to the thin black narrow frames that you normally see these black and white images in. Up-cycling is the name of the game in today’s modern interior decor.

Here are a few more of my Shabby Chic DIY Frames that have received the same treatment. Now, Which wall to use?

Posted in DIY Hints & Tips, MACKENZIE FRAMES, Photo Frames

DIY How to Hang a Picture Frame

Frame Hanging Hints – Let’s Be Crafty!

Most of the photo frames we sell come complete with a “standing back with strut” ( for standing horizontally and/or vertically) and a zip-lock sachet containing screw-eyes and cord if you prefer to wall hang the frame. We recommend making a small hole with a fine pointed bradawl * into the back of the wooden frame moulding to take the screw eye – you should then have no difficulty screwing the fixing into the frame.  Place the two screw-eyes opposite each other, and about one-third (of the total height of the

frame) down from the top of the frame.
On small to medium sized frames one wall fixing is sufficient and the cord may be tied to come tight centre top and a couple of inches below the top edge of the frame.
However, on larger frames, it is worth considering using two wall fixings and tying the cord to form a “roof” shape ( see image B) . The frame will hang closer to the wall and not lean outwards from the top, and in addition, will remain more stable  — there is always a tendency for single-point hung frames to “swing” off vertical from time to time which can be annoying. Here are a few images by way of illustration.

*And when the bradawl has mysteriously disappeared ( malappropriated by your eight yr old to help thread together his string of decaying newts ) then the fine point of the scissors or a skewer can suffice – but please be careful – don’t force it – only a small hole is necessary – just enough to locate the tip of the screw-eye – the thread should then wind into the wood easily enough.

Posted in Blog, Color Shape Space, House Renovation

Swedish Falu Rödfärg Red Paint in SW France!

When Sweden comes to mind, what do you think of? Yes, I know what you are going to say – ABBA or IKEA, but I would like to introduce you to FALU RÖDFÄRG, Sweden’s beautiful natural red paint!

In the Swedish countryside, many of the wooden houses are painted in this glorious intense red that seems to ‘glow’ in the evening sunshine. The pigment to make the paint is found in the copper mine of Falun, Sweden, giving it a unique composition which includes iron ochre, silicon dioxide, copper and zinc which help to preserve and protect wood and gives the distinctive natural color of Falu Rödfärg paint.

I had a few outdoor projects here at our house in SW France that I thought were ideal for this paint. It is a natural water based paint and best on rough, unplanned timber, but it does work on smoother wood too. I decided to do two coats, the first being diluted about 10% and use a wide flat brush to apply the paint.

Painting the Court Yard Doors Red!

Glowing Swedish Red in SW France

Well, our new court yard is coming on a treat – the enclosed dry stone wall is finished and Martin even made some wooden doors to make a completely private little hot spot. So, after all his hard work (yes, he did build the wall himself – stone by agonizing stone!),  it was time to think of a color to compliment the stone and plants that surround the doors and also protect the wood from the elements. I’d wanted to try the Falu Rödfärg Red paint for some time and I thought the doors would be a good place to start.

This is how it comes, or you can buy the pigment and mix your own.


First Coat – diluted 10%
Finished and I even painted the sun chair!
A little glimpse of Martin’s Dry Stone Wall
I did the two coats over a couple of days, but with smaller projects you could easily finish in a day, as the paint is dry after one hour, so plenty of time to apply the second coat.
If you want more information on Falu Rödfärg Swedish Red Paint – here is the main websitewhere you will find where to buy the paint in your country and lots of other interesting facts about this gorgeous glowing red paint!


Posted in Color Shape Space, Let's Be Creative!

Pages From My Sketch Book

Thought you might like to see a few pages of my color doodles which I use to work out new color ways for my frames, but they could be used for all sorts of projects, from a new painting to restoring an old piece of furniture that you have found in the local ‘brocante’ (garage sale, car boot etc.)swatchbook09


Posted in Color Shape Space, Let's Be Creative!

The Colors I Used For My Red Frames

For true feelings of depth and quality in any form of art from painting a masterpiece to a picture frame, it is essential to create layers of color. You may not see them all in the finished work – BUT – they are there and it does make the difference to the feel and quality of the piece.

Posted in Let's Be Creative!

DIY Shabby Chic White Frame For Wall Display Part 3



Adding a Little Extra How did you get on with renovating your frame? Love to know, do leave a comment if you have time! Anyway, at the end of PART TWO I mentioned that I wanted to do a little more work on the other frame I was ‘shabby chicing’, so here we go if you want to follow along.

Next coat of paint – White I think – I’ve used a basic Liquitex artists acrylic that I first sponged lightly on the frame, and then applied a little more with a small (1/4 inch) flat brush to give a stippling effect which adds more texture on the flatter sections of the frame. This soon dries and is ready to have it’s ‘splatter’ spots.  Mix a little of the first color that we used in Part Two, and with a dry hard brush, start splattering the paint onto the frame with your finger (practice a bit first on some paper). All you need to do now is add a little bees wax and buff to a soft sheen, or apply an acrylic mat varnish to give your finish some protection.  And there you have it – another shabby chic frame to add to your collection of empty frames to display on the wall!

Hope you have fun with your DIY Projects. If you REALLY haven’t the time to DIY, but would still like to collect some Shabby Chic Frames, then I am selling these pieces in my new ARTFIRE STORE, so go have a look!