Friday, 07 August 2015

To woodchip or not to woodchip?

It’s the 1970s decor craze that refuses to go away. Should VG Lee learn to love it and leave it all over her new house?

Written by VG Lee
Recently I moved into a bijou Victorian midterrace only to realise there is a serious problem that somehow I overlooked when viewing the property. Not the floorboards that dip downwards, enabling me to scrutinise the ceiling rather than making eye contact with my neighbour Ted (who is now no longer my neighbour). Nor the damp patches on the bedroom ceiling, or the back door that is too large for its frame and never completely closes. Yes, I may have subsidence, a leaking roof, be a prime candidate to be burgled, but these anxieties pale into insignificance next to my beautifully painted and papered walls. Someone has done an admirable job, impossible to fault, and yet…

‘That’s a fine example of 1970s woodchip,’ my builder says, stroking the uneven surface.

‘Will it come off easily?’ I’d asked. ‘Even the bathroom’s covered in it.’

Builder whistles through his teeth. ‘It’s lasted 40 years; you won’t get rid of it without a fight on your hands.’

‘Ted’s going to lend me his steamer.’

I might add that I have no true idea as to what a ‘steamer’ might be. In my head is an image of me wearing a fetching pair of dungarees going over the walls with an apparatus resembling an iron as the wallpaper miraculously peels off in our wake.

Builder assesses me. ‘No offence meant, but I can’t imagine you’re up to the job.’

I jut out my chin. I am not my aunt’s niece for nothing. Her motto was ‘little and regularly’ for almost any task, including building a lean-to – sorry, Aunty: conservatory – and painting every room in her bungalow orange, a homage to the setting sun she’d seen one evening from the beach at Worthing.

‘I’d cut your losses and keep it,’ builder says. ‘You don’t get work of this quality any more.’

I allow a glimmer of woodchip pride to enter my soul. Look it up on the internet – apparently woodchip was invented in 1864 by German pharmacist Hugo Erfurt. It is older than the house! I imagine myself flinging open not to woodchip? the front door to laughingly welcome in guests: ‘Fabulous, isn’t it? So art deco – first used as wallpaper in the 1920s!’

Later, over tea and sticky buns, I ask Ted for his opinion. He agrees that it has a charm. ‘Anyway, you’ll cover everything with books, pictures and knick-knacks.’

I take umbrage. ‘I don’t have knickknacks.’

‘All women have knick-knacks.’

‘Not this one.’

Actually, I am aware that there are boxes of knick-knacks still unpacked – resolve to send them immediately to the local charity shop.

Deirdre, arriving late to the discussion as she’s been searching unsuccessfully for a particular euphorbia to use as a ‘statement plant’, looks round the room and hallway before bounding upstairs. ‘Good God, it’s everywhere. Whatever possessed you to buy a house embalmed in the stuff?’

‘But it’s done very well,’ I bleat. ‘Perhaps painted a more contemporary shade?’

‘Silk purse, sow’s ear! You do realise that 39 per cent of potential buyers find woodchip an absolute no-no?’

‘But I’m not selling the house.’

‘You couldn’t even if you wanted to.’

She makes herself comfortable next to Ted on the sofa and frowns. ‘Should the sofa be sloping backwards towards your front window?’

I can’t help but laugh – from amusement as well as nerves. ‘I think the floorboards have sunk.’

‘I’ll say they have, but a spot of subsidence in a house this old isn’t a major issue, whereas…’ She adjusts her gaze to take in the immediate wall and shudders.

I have now lived here for nearly a month. Opinions have been varied, but the anti-woodchip brigade led by Deirdre remains adamant.

‘No matter what alterations you make, however you… jazz the place up… the stuff shrieks bad taste,’ she insists. ‘You must have it removed and get the walls replastered. In fact, you should probably demolish the walls and start afresh.’

But I’m growing fond of it. I have a woodchip memory of my very first flat in Harlesden at least 30 years ago. The kitchen walls had all been uneven, but replastering never entered my head. Instead, I filled, sandpapered and, with much enjoyment, slapped on medium-grade woodchip paper. I think my decorating budget was £50, and that included a bright blue blind from Habitat, which accompanied me on several further moves. I loved that kitchen – it cost so little in money, but quite a bit in thought, time and hard work.

I ask myself the question: Val, whatever anyone else thinks, does having woodchip wallpaper matter to you?

Answer: Not really.

Question: So it matters a bit?

Answer: Well, there is a lovely curve to the living-room wall that, when I first saw the house, completely distracted me from noticing anything else. That one original feature deserves something better.

It is another day. Ted comes in bearing mugs of powdered soup. He thumps them down on the coffee table and they begin to slide slowly towards the window. ‘You need to sort this floor out.’

‘Eventually.’

‘You’re not still fretting over your bloody wallpaper, are you?’

‘No.’

Ted halts the mugs’ progress with a couple of books before saying sternly, ‘If you lived in a cave, you’d make it welcoming!’

I am touched and pleased.

‘Although to tell the truth’ – he looks round the room – ‘whatever I said about charm, the woodchip is ruddy awful!’

Always You, Edina, by VG Lee, is published by Ward Wood Publishing, priced £9.99.



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