It snowed yesterday in the Pyrenees! A coating of brilliant white, having lightly brushed the peaks of the distant grey-blue mountains, is today reflecting the clear September sun.
Today is a remarkably beautiful day.
The barn has been tidied; old bits of furniture have been moved to one side, logs piled neatly, the floor brushed, garden furniture stacked. A battered dining room table, once white, now splattered with water colours, acrylics, furniture paint and inks, is moved centre stage. Canvas chairs are unfolded and sit expectantly either side of the table. A large workbench has been cleared, the windows are flung open onto the back garden which is shaded by fig trees.
Paint brushes are positioned, alongside protective gloves, sandpaper, and pots and tins of furniture paint; ochres and greys, pale French blues and creamy whites.
In the kitchen, cooked and prepared first thing this morning and now covered and ready – tortilla, bowls of salads of broad beans, sweet peppers, herbs and cheeses, fresh carrots, mint and almonds. The white wine is chilling, the bread lies plump and crisp on the board. Nectarines, dark red and pale yellow, alongside ruby-coloured pears, sit next to the crumbly speckled Roquefort. The table is laid with platters, side plates, cutlery and water glasses. The grapes still hang on the vine, plump and waiting to be snipped and served, adding pale shades of soft greens to the colourful fruity dessert.
It’s almost 10 o’clock, and I’m waiting for my workshop to begin. Just two women today; the third woman sadly unable to make it after all, because of family challenges. (We’re arranging a future date!)
The first woman arrives, carrying a large piece of furniture, the base once a wash-stand with turned legs and a shelf underneath, the top – a new addition – pine, unmatched. A piece of furniture left in the house when acquired by the now new owners. We carry it, giggling, up the open, ladder-like, rickety, wooden stairs of the barn, above the bike and tool cellar beneath, to the big, open, creative space, flooded with light from the three side windows and from extra standard lamps, strategically placed to help us work on our projects.
Another woman arrives, carrying an old rusty lamp, dishevelled, a little broken and rather fragile.
We set to work.
Settling into our creative area, I begin to explain the basics of restoring, refreshing and embellishing forgotten, ageing, seemingly invisible furniture with chalk paint. I demonstrate simple techniques, having previously prepared pieces of wood – smooth and textured finishes, clear and dark waxes.
They tentatively have a go.
My husband appears with a tray of coffee, tea and pastries from the local bakery for us! We take off our gloves and taste and sip and chat whilst the first coat of the try-out pieces dry, ready for texturing, waxing, and exploring different finishes.
Satisfied and more confident now, they move on to the pieces they have brought with them. A first coat of paint is applied, using brush strokes every which way, to achieve the desired effect. Stubborn areas are dried with a hair-dryer and a crackle-look appears! A new and exciting discovery which is then carefully repeated and built upon.
We pause for an hour for lunch; enjoying each other’s company, the food, the wine, and finishing off with fruit and a square of dark chocolate and cups of coffee or tea. (I forgot to pick the grapes!)
Returning to the barn, with renewed energy and excitement, we continue with our creations. The old wash-stand, which had been left and unused for so long, is now being transformed into something quite outstanding. The lantern, discarded, left to rust and on its way to the tip, will soon be ready to light up a niche or corner of a terrace, or to stand proudly once more, adorning a stone shelf.
A little stool, purchased from a local Brocante has changed from a stained and spoiled insignificant item, into a soft pink place to rest, embellished with decoupage, paint and print. It has once again found it’s purpose – carrying, holding or supporting, and being admired for its simplicity and beauty.
More tea is drunk, but concentration and focus quickly returns with gathered excitement and determination. Finishing touches – crackling, splattering, overlaying, styling, waxing, and buffing; a few changes here and there – a surprise twist to the table, a second colour added to the lantern, its glass washed, dried and carefully replaced.
And it is suddenly the end of the workshop and of the day!
Two pieces are completed and mine requires a little more work!
Our focus has been on the process; of changing, developing and creating. Turning something forgotten, or a little old and tired, into its former glory with added charm and individuality.
Something quite beautiful and renewed, with a purpose and a place.
The moment is perfect!
Now, the evening light is soft. I stand at the top of the house and look out at the shadows of the mountains; at the snow, now tinged pink by the setting sun. I think about this day, before I go to bed … the delightful company of other women, the creations we made together, the conversations we had and the stories we shared … and I am thankful.