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If it’s broke, try to fix it

Posted on April 04, 2018 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

Thanks to Joanne Priest, a regular organiser of Repair Cafes for this Months blog post. You can read Jo's Wordpress Blog

Question: What’s free, helps the environment, helps you to meet people and make new friends, skills you up, let’s you have interesting philosophical chats (or is that just me?), drink tea and eat biscuits, and saves you money?

Answer: The Repair Café.

I can’t remember when I first heard of the Repair Café phenomenon sweeping the globe, but I do remember the first time I went to one. It was held at the St Paul’s Learning Centre one Saturday morning in November, and I went along clutching a non-functioning blender and low expectations. I remember approaching the group of friendly volunteers, busily unscrewing things with screwdrivers, sewing things up and generally being industrious and convivial. I was encouraged to take my blender apart and given advice on what to look for, and then shown that my blender had worked all along, and it was just an attachment that was at fault. I remember my sense of wonderment. After all, this was happening in my ‘hood, for free, no charge, gratis, and with free tea, and plenty of smiles. Awesome. It seems that there IS such a thing as a free lunch, or at least, a free fix of a household appliance otherwise destined for landfill from a person who is just doing it for the love of it. It’s striking that in our modern society where everything has a price tag, that this is such an alien concept.

So when they told me that there was another one opening up in my local library, about 1 minute’s walk from where I live in Easton, I went along. More fixing successes followed; a vacuum cleaner unblocked and a zip replaced on a favourite dress. And because things happen organically in a totally cooperative organisation with no hierarchy and no constituted structure and absolutely no profit involved, I ended up being a co-host for my local café. Although I have no particular fixing expertise beyond sewing on the odd button, I am good at talking to people and organising and things, so I just let the very capable volunteer fixers do their own thing and hope to absorb some of their skills and knowhow by osmosis. I am woefully underskilled in practical matters, and the repairs café gives me a great opportunity to take things to bits (fun) and put them back together again (satisfying). I also learn about how things are made, what bits can be replaced, what can’t, and what to buy in future so that I don’t end up with an item that’s likely to go wrong, and end up in landfill within a year or two. And like so many others who end up volunteering at the Repair Café, I have a newfound confidence about my ability to solve simple household or gadgetry issues. Confidence – you can’t put a price on that!

There’s nothing quite like the buzz of a successful café, with lots of happy people taking their mended possessions home with them, or with tips and knowledge on how to fix their item, even if it hasn’t been successful on the day. I have really enjoyed being a part of it, not least because I have met lots of pleasant, interesting people who are as keen as I am to end the consumerist cycle of constantly replacing broken items with new. But more importantly, it reminds me that I am part of a wider community. That people, even complete strangers, are approachable and kind. And this is an incredibly valuable and potent thing to know, especially in a fractured society where we are separate and encouraged to remain so.

A society made up of the fearful and the un-trusting is a society that is easy to manipulate, either into spending more money on crap we don’t need, or into supporting suspect political causes that result in the election of governments which operate in the service of big business, banks and corporations rather than ordinary people like us, living in ordinary communities like ours.

The Repair Café phenomenon is just that. Started in Amsterdam in 2007 by Martine Postma and with over 1500 cafes globally, and currently four in Bristol (St Pauls, Fishponds, Bedminster, and Horfield) it is an idea that has captured the public imagination and taken off in ways that no one had imagined. But perhaps we should be less surprised. After all, it is a common sense solution to so many of our collective woes: it helps people save their money, helps to keep the environment clean and safe, helps to promote community and cohesion, and counter loneliness and isolation. It also encourages skill sharing, problem solving, team work and the sense of a good job well done. The importance of the ethos of the Repair Café cannot be overstated AND if everything operated along similar lines, we would have a more equal, happier society. We’d be living in a world where we are truly mindful of the consequences of unimpeded waste and environmental destruction. Essentially, this is one idea where we are sticking it squarely to ‘the man’ and having a jolly good time while we’re going about it.

Conversely, it seems that our institutions and governments are less taken with it. For example, while individual people within local government here in Bristol might see the merit in what we are doing, the machinery of our bureaucratic institutions are creating obstacles, and in some cases, there is suspicion and downright hostility from certain quarters. It seems that there is still some misunderstanding about what the Repair Café does and does not do. For example, we don’t take revenue from charity shops, since charity shops don’t sell broken goods or clothes. And we’re not a charity ourselves, and so we don’t take any money from anyone. We are not professional fixers, and so if you take something to a Repair Café and it subsequently breaks, we are not liable, but since no money has exchanged hands, nobody feels cheated. However, we do have an approximate success rate of 85%, in line with the international average of Repair Cafes, and that’s surely something to be proud of.

I think it’s important for us that we leave money out of the equation, since it turns something that is done out of a genuine desire for good - a purer motive - into something where somebody somewhere has a vested interest. Much has been made of ‘sustainability’ but I would argue that money does not necessarily equate to sustainability. In fact, it often stifles it. There are many among us who want to show that it’s possible to do something differently, without money and price tags muddying the waters. Perhaps this makes the Repair Café unique, but surely that’s the point. I fervently hope that in time it will prove to be a less unique model.

Sadly in Easton, we lost our place at the local library with a casual email sent with less than 24 hours’ notice of the commencement of the café. We only have one a month, so the timing really could have been better, particularly as we had made an effort to promote it locally. Posters up, flyers sent, social media invites out and…sorry, no café. I don’t want to be negative or turn this blog post into a rant about Bristol City Council, except to say that there are better, more courteous, ways to deal with the citizens of this fair city. Instead, I would extend an invitation outwards to any member of any government institution or political party, and ask them to come to a Repair Café themselves. Come along, have a cup of tea, get something fixed, see what we do, and then decide whether or not it’s a good thing for Bristol and what you can do to help us. Be part of the change we so desperately need to see.

In the meantime, after some further discussions with BCC who did offer an apology or two, we are on the lookout for another venue for Easton as it would be a shame not to have one here. We have had some initial offers and will be looking into these, but if anyone has any further suggestions, we would be grateful. Please check out our Facebook page for the Bristol Repair Café network to find out when and where they are happening.

If you’re reading this from further afield, perhaps there is one happening near you? I’d really like to hear from anyone who has a positive story to share about their local café, so please feel free to comment!

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5 Tips Buying Antique Door Furniture

Posted on September 17, 2017 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

If you're refurbishing your property or just decided to put some originally back in, buying antique and original door furniture can be a little daunting. We might be a bit biased but it's really just as easy as buying new. We speak to customers everyday looking to do just that so below are some brief answers to the questions we get asked. Luckily we're also just a phone call or an email away if you want some specific advice.

Period - Getting your period right isn’t necessarily that important, most of the popular styles ran right through the main periods of our housing stock, but there a few specifics, Art Nouveau, Deco etc. However it isn't unusual to find something like an 1820s beehive handle being almost identical to a 1920s one.  

Fitting  - Most antique items have identical fittings as their modern counterparts, obviously antique fittings aren't security rated for insurance purposes. 

Material - Brass being by far the most popular, as the 1800s wore on more brass items were being produced with copper and bronze finishes and then into the 1900s electroplating came into use producing cheap and hardwearing chromes and nickel. 

Colour/Shade - Antique door furniture comes in different shades of brass from the very Yellow brass through to the Pink brass popular in the Edwardian period and into the 1930s. I wouldn't overly worry about matching it exactly as antique brass will tarnish down very quickly to a matching shade, but we would try and avoid ones that are very different i.e. very Yellow & Pink brass.

Lacquered/Unlacquered - Unless otherwise specified all antique door furniture will be unlacquered so will tarnish. If you've purchased the item already polished it's easy to keep it shiny with a brasso product. If you buy an item from an auction or similar it might need to be professionally machine polished.   

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Choosing Period Front Door Furniture

Posted on April 11, 2017 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

The First Impression

Choosing the right front door furniture for your period home can be a little tricky, luckily in our experience there aren’t really any hard and fast rules. The vast majority of inquiries we have are about Victorian, Edwardian and 1920’s and 30’s front doors which isn’t that unusual as these houses make up the vast majority of the UK’s housing stock. There are architectural styles of front door furniture such as Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts which would have originated when the style was born but as they were revivals of all these styles right through to the 1950’s, you’re likely to see an Arts & Crafts knocker on an 1880 house and the exact same one on a late 1930’s property.

As a general rule there doesn’t seem to be a particular style for a particular period.

Front door pulls – The most common piece of front door furniture, the classic shape is the octagonal which we’ve seen on doors from 1800 to 1930 (and beyond), likewise bun and beehive shapes also span the same long period of time.  

Letterboxes and plates – Letterboxes started to become common on front doors around 1840 (the classic Red pillar box started life around 1850).  We’ve found that allot of letterboxes from Georgian doors were in fact fitted in the later Victorian period.  Victorian letterboxes tended to be smaller than ones you get today, so again quite a few letterboxes off Victorian doors were fitted in the early part of the 20th Century but as the styles were very similar its not obvious. Letterboxes with integrated knockers started to become popular in the late Victorian period, as sending post became cheaper and more common, smaller houses (with smaller doors so not enough room for a knocker and letterbox and no servants) started to receive post, by the 1930’s most letterboxes have an integrated knocker.

Knockers – The door knocker is the oldest form of front door furniture, these date e classic shape is the back to the Roman period and beyond, we have short blog piece on the History of the Door Knocker. As we’re looking at the Georgian period and onwards, most doors would have a front door knocker. Like the pull there doesn’t seem to be any rules, you’re as likely to see a lions head/mask knocker on an 1800’s door as you are to see one on a late 1930’s door.

Bell pulls & bell pushes – From our experience the bell pull started life in the early 1800’s and the first ones would have been on back doors and tradesman entrances to call the relevant servant. As the 1800’s housing boom took hold you started to see them on allot of Victorian front doors, but your standard terrace house would have kept with the knocker (you need quite a wide hallway and entry to have a bell pull). As electricity started to become more common, allot of people switched to having electric bells, in some ways it was a way to show neighbours and visitors that you had the latest technology. By the 1920’s when we had we had what we recognise as mains electricity pretty much every house would have had an electric bell.

Brass/Plated Chrome, Nickel & Copper/Black Iron - Most pre 1920’s front door furniture would have been brass or Black iron, even though some late Victorian and Edwardian items would have been plated (electro plating was relatively expensive until around 1918/20). Plated items don’t tarnish like un lacquered brass but it will dull down, easily polished with a chrome or nickel cleaner.

Lacquered/unlacquered - Original and antique front door furniture would traditionally be un lacquered so it tarnishes down quite quickly (goes Browner)but can always be polished back to shiny. One of the advantages of un lacquered door furniture is that its allot easier to match in old and new as they tarnish to a very similar shade. Lacquered door furniture has the advantage of staying shiny and not having to be polished. However if you live near the sea or your front door is extremely exposed to the weather the lacquer can degrade and can go a bit streaky.

Tips – A good way to try and identify what type of door furniture you may have had is to have a look at other houses in your area. The chances are your house was built by a developer who built all the neighbouring houses. What they tended to do was order all the door furniture from the same company in a number of different styles so neighbouring houses didn’t have identical door furniture but the house 5 doors down did. We like to think we have more choice in hardware than ever before but in the late 1800’s there were over 3,000 manufacturers of brass hardware in Birmingham alone.  

Please take a moment to browse our current stock of Antique front door furniture & Period front door furniture

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Choosing Antique Door Handles for Your Period Home

Posted on September 19, 2016 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

Styles of Antique door handles

A common inquiry we have here at Architectural Décor is which style of antique door handle is right for a home of a particular period.

Most of our inquiries about 1860 into the 1930’s and most customers are looking for a pair of handles to operate either a mortice or rim lock or latch. This guide is only based on what we’ve picked up over the years from removing door handles from houses and commercial buildings. From our experience when it comes to vast amount of property’s there seems to be very few hard and fast rules.

Mortice or rim latch

Both were quite common to around 1900 when the mortice lock became more popular.

Knobs or levers

Most definitely knobs up until around 1900, the story goes that if you had knobs you had to have at least two servants to open the door. Levers started to come into fashion in the early 1900’s and by the 1930’s were more common than traditional knobs.

Victorian

It was quite common in larger Villa type house to have a more decorative door handles downstairs (so visitors could see them), plainer versions on the 1st floor and plain handles on the servants quarters on the top floors. By the late Victorian period there were 1000’s of different manufacturers producing 1000’s of different styles of door knobs.

Edwardian

What we call the Edwardian period goes from about 1900 to around 1920, generally the style became a bit plainer than the Victorian, but still retained some simple decoration.

Edwardian door handles

1920’s & 30’s

With another building boom in this period a huge range of door handles were produced in both knobs and levers, everything from traditional Victorian, the revival of Arts & Crafts/Woodsman/Tudorbethan, sleek Art Deco and an even more plainer handles. 

1920's and 1930's door handles   

Brass, Glass, Wood, Chrome, Copper?

Solid brass, wooden and glass handles were common across all the periods, sometimes iron handles on the top floors of Victorian houses as well as in workers cottages. We’ve also seen iron handles in original Arts & Crafts buildings as well as the periods mentioned above.  As electroplating became more common around 1900 (maybe slightly earlier) it became popular to chrome and copper plate allot of Edwardian door furniture. Oak, ebony & mahogany were popular throughout the 1800's and as the hardwoods became rarer and more expensive you started to see ebonised pine, teak and European oak. 

You can check our latest stock of antique door handles.

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History of the Servants Bell & Callbox

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

With the growing fashion to display antique servants call bell systems in our homes as decorative pieces, we often get asked about the history.

Call bell systems certainly existed in grand country estates and large city houses from the mid 1700’s but probably weren’t as organised and regimented as the style we associate with today from TV shows such as Downton Abbey. As the 17th Century turned to the 18th what later became known as the ‘Middle Class’ started to expand into the booming Georgian Cities. The large Georgian Villa’s we still see today in Cities like London and Bristol were purpose built with servants quarters on the top floors and working rooms on the ground and In the basement. Here we start to see a change in social attitudes towards servants as perhaps the class system starts to become more defined. The innovation of the call bells and levers serves the process of keeping the servants at an arms length as well as ensuring they are on hand at all times, whereas previously your servants would have been present.

As the Georgian’s made way to the Victorians and the British economic boom continued it was now more possible than ever to climb the class ladder and what better way to show you’ve arrived then servants and a call lever in every room. Of course just like today property developers were quick to cash in, even the most modest semi-detached Victorian Villa was constructed with all the wire built into the fabric of the property and the bell systems picked from a vast array of catalogues of brassware and ironmongery. Until the advent of the Internet the late Victorians probably had the widest choice of consumer goods, obviously as long as you could afford them.

As technology moved on so did the call system, as early electricity made its way in the grander homes and battery’s became more efficient and cheaper the bells and pulley systems became electric bell pushes and wooden box’s with flags connected to something we’d recognise as a door bell. I’ve personally noticed another change, the electrical systems seem to be mainly replacing the manual systems (in average houses) rather than being built into new houses, possibly as having servants became more expensive as well as the rigid lines between the Victorian classes started to blur. More social changes were afoot in the early 1900’s a combination of changes in the workforce following WW1, changes in legislation and the first Labour Govt further diluted the class system making servants a relative rarity rather than the norm. Its noticeable how the range of new servants call systems really started to decline following the end of WW1.

We do see the very occasional electric call box from the 1920’s and 30’s it’s interesting how they become less formal and the room names start to change.

Here you can see our current range of servant call boxes

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