Monday, 9 July 2007

Whitewashing Visitors

My sister and her family are staying in our Czech home at the moment. They have been there for a week, having spent a fortnight there last August/September. Just as last year the weather until the day they arrived was perfect - sunny and dry as is normal at this time of year. But, as has become a standing family joke, they brought English rain with them.

The advantage of that for us is they need something to do to pass the time and so last year we got a large chunk of whitewashing done for us! My sister wanted to be an art restorer when she was younger, but was denied by having done the wrong exams. So her art restoration skills were put into practice on the decorations in the house. In the old days the whitewashed walls of the houses in the area were decorated using coloured paint on rollers. The rollers produced a regular pattern on the walls similar to wallpaper. When the decoration grew old and tired, it was whitewashed over and a new pattern applied. Thus on the walls of our old house there were layers of decoration stretching back through many years and generations of house-proud German families. My sister painstakingly removed the layers and counted ten before hitting the stone wall.

The problem with these decorations is unless you know to apply a coat of stabiliser to the wall before applying the whitewash, the paint of previous decorators will appear like a ghostly signature on the wall. Not having any experience of whitewash (to those Czechs reading this, we use emulsion paint in the UK) I wasted a whole day painting a room, only to wake up the following morning to see the paint coming through. Whitewash has other disadvantages not least being the fact that it comes off on your clothes if you lean against it - so don't put coat hooks on the wall - but on the upside it does allow the old walls to breathe. What with the ghostly hand of past decorators and breathing walls this house has a life of its own.

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