Creative home design ideas for fabrics — walls and ceilings

Filed Under: Crafts, Do it yourself, Redecorating, Remodeling    by: ITC

All sorts of textiles can be hung on walls—tapestries, tweed, suede, hessian, silk, flannel and, of course, kilim rugs. Fabric panels can be used to cover one wall or to line a whole room, acting as a kind of insulating wallpaper. Single pieces of fabric look effective hung individually as a feature.

You can use a staple gun to attach fabric directly on the wall but a better method is to fix the fabric to battens. It is hardly worth buying a staple gun for this but they can sometimes be hired from tool hire stores. If the fabric is plain, pictures and prints can be hung on top so you will not have wasted any display space.

Individual hand-woven tapestries can be hung from rods or poles fixed to a picture rail. Kilims make excellent hangings, being weighty and in colors which coordinate with many interior styles. If you have a lighter-weight hanging, such as a batik, you could weight the bottom by sewing small ball bearings in the hem so that it hangs well.

Ceilings can be softened, and ugly ceilings concealed, with looped fabric. This is specially suitable for halls where a very little fabric can conceal a multitude of gas and electric meters and other unfortunate sights. Muslin is cheap and effective because it drapes prettily and is unobtrusive. All you have to do is make a hem at each end wide enough to get a rod (a bamboo or a narrow wooden batten) through and fix the rods to the ceiling. You could perhaps create another channel halfway along the length of fabric for an extra rod, allowing plenty of fabric to loop between them.

Narrow rooms can be treated in the same way, with the fabric caught at intervals to create a scalloped effect. This is very good for concealing unsightly ceiling treatments and for lowering the ceiling to make the space less box-like. It does not matter if the fabric is not quite as wide as the ceiling—a few centimeters each side will not be noticeable.

Gaining access to the pipes

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Plumbing, Remodeling    by: ITC

You might find you need access to a particular part of a pipe. In that case you should cut out a section of the cladding and fit it with screws to create what is in effect a little trap door.

If you’re boxing in a length of pipe that has a stop-valve on it you should again make a little trap door, but this time fix it on with hinges so that access can be immediate. You can fix a small handle or touch latch on to it to facilitate opening.

If you find pipes exposed in a number of rooms in your home, one method of concealing them, which will provide you with extra storage space as well, is to install built-in furniture. An ideal location for this is that living room alcove. The pipes would be largely unnoticed if you fitted a waist-high cupboard with book shelves on top, for example. The construction of such a cupboard is straightforward (for further details see Ready Reference).

If the pipes are on the back wall. the shelves can be supported on an adjustable shelving system in which brackets lock into uprights. The uprights should be fitted to vertical battens; that way the shelves will be thrown well clear of the pipes. Alternatively, if you have the pipes running up the side of the chimney breast, you can carefully cut notches out of a corner of each shelf so you won’t disturb any of the pipes.

The bathroom is an obvious place where unsightly plumbing can be concealed behind built-in furniture. A built-in cupboard, beneath the washbasin, for instance, will provide extra storage space as well as acting as a neat disguise. If you live in a flat that has the upstairs neighbour’s soil pipe passing through your bathroom, you can disguise it neatly with shelves at the end of a built-in washbasin unit or with a built-in vanity unit.

Another way of concealing pipes is to construct a false wall. This is especially useful if your plaster is in very poor condition. You simply fix timber cladding, probably match-boarding or veneered plywood, to battens running down edges of the walls. Water pipes will go conveniently behind such cladding providing you never forget their location and try to drive nails into the timber!

A more sophisticated version of this that is especially suited to the kitchen or living room, is done with timber panelling. However, if the pipes are running up and outside the wall, it would be wise to allow for some air holes or a small gap at both the top and the bottom. This will ensure that warm air can circulate.

If you find that for some reason you cannot conceal your pipes then it’s worth thinking about going to the opposite extreme and making a feature out of them. Pipes that have been painted with bright colors, for example, can look extremely attractive in their own right. And copper pipework, polished and lacquered to stop it tarnishing, can be a really eye-catching feature.

You’ll have to make sure that the pipes are in good condition to warrant either painting or polishing up, and that their new color won’t clash with your existing decor. Ideally they should be lightly rubbed down to clean them before being given a coat of special enamel radiator paint. You should also take care not to apply too thick a coat of paint — especially on any vertical pipes, as you could end up with unsightly drips, which would be difficult to get rid of once the paint has dried.

Simple Boxing in

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Plumbing, Remodeling    by: ITC

For many people a simple boxing-in of their existing pipes to keep them out of sight is all that they require. This is a straightforward task and the materials are easily available.

You’ll need softwood battens, usually 50x25mm (2×1 in), with a cladding of hardboard or 3mm plywood for the simplest job. Before you go ahead. however. you should check whether any hot water passes through the pipes to be hidden.

If this is the case and you’re using hardboard for your cladding, you’ll have to condition it first Of it will warp as the heat in the pipework dries it out. This is riot a difficult technique: all youl have to do is brush water onto the reverse (mesh) side and leave it flat for 48 hours in the room where it is to be fixed. The softwood battens should also be left lying flat in the room for a few days so that they. too. w adjust to the moisture content of the air.

If the wood has been conditioned, the two battens should be screwed to the wall on each side of the pipes and the cladding attached to the battens.

Fixing battens edge-on to the wall is not always the perfect answer but by doing so you’ll be able to cover adequately a few pipes that project up to 25mm (1 in) or so from the wall, and the cladding will, in any case, hold the battens steady.

Remember that you should never use glue to fix the cladding to the battens because you might need access to the pipes for repairs or modification at some stage in the future. Pins punched in at 150mm (6in) centres, with their heads covered with filler, should prove adequate; this way the cladding can be prised off if necessary.

Boxing in pipes running in a corner will require two 25mm (1 in) battens which have been chamfered at the front to provide an angled edge. These are screwed to the two walls and the cladding, also with chamfered edges, is then fixed to the battens. For larger pipes you’ll need just a single larger batten fixed to one of the smaller ones; the cladding will be pinned to this and the smaller batten.

Another method is to use a spring clip attached to a piece of 19mm (s/ain) thick timber. Its edges should be planed and chamfered to allow it to fit neatly into the corner, and the spring clip is then fixed to the pipe itself.

If the pipes are in the alcove of a chimney breast you can box them in and then finish off the boxing so that it looks like an extension of the existing wall (see Ready Reference). The boxing for horizontal pipes down near the floor can often be made to look like wide and deep skirting.

A 25mm (1 in) batten should be fixed to the floor itself and one should also run above, but parallel to, the pipe. To the upper batten an additional 50x25mm (2×1 in) batten should be fixed; the cladding is then attached to this and the batten on the floor.

Screening a solid floor

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Screening your floor gives vital protection to a new layer of damp proofing and is an essential preparation before replacing floor covering.

It can be done in two ways. If the unevenness is slight, or you want to cover the existing flooring without lifting it, the best method to use is a self-leveling flooring compound. Make sure your floor is clean, dry and dust-free. If it is at all dusty, you should treat it with a proprietary concrete sealer before applying the flooring compound.

Mix the compound with water until it has a creamy consistency, and then pours enough on the floor to cover an area just under 1 sq m (1sq yd). Using a steel float smooth it out so that nowhere is the layer thicker than 3mm (Vain).

Then move onto the next square. Remembering that the compound will level itself out, so removing float marks and producing an acceptable finish. Leave it for a week or longer before laying the flooring. A second application, to smooth out slight lumps and bumps, can be applied after two or three days, but no more than three coats should be used otherwise there will be a risk of cracking at a later date.

The second method of leveling, using a mortar screed, is slightly more arduous but it does give the damp-proof membrane greater protection. Working from the far end of the room towards the door, divide the flood into strips about 1m (3ft) wide using 50 25rnrn (2 x line) softwood battens, and use more battens around the walls. Make sure that they are level with a spirit level, and if they aren’t, pack them out with scrap wood.

It is vital that you get all the battens level because they serve to guide you when you start laying the screed. If you don’t have them level, then your screed won’t be true and that’ll cause more problems when you come to lay the final surface. Cover the floor. a section at a time, with a 1:3 cement to sharp sand mortar, mixed with the minimum of water to the consistency of brown sugar_ Using a stiff board, scrape jt level with the battens and tamp it slightly as you go, using a steel float to give it a smooth finish.

To get the best finish to your screed keep the blade damp to stop the surface from dragging, but don’t make it too wet. When you complete each section remove the guide batten furthest from you and fill in the resulting channel before tackling the next section.

If you lay a screed during a warm dry spell it’s advisable to lay a plastic sheet over it for at least three days. This stops the mortar drying out too quickly and lets it cure properly. Even in milder weather it’s still best to sprinkle water gently over it twice a day for a few days. If the mortar dries out too quickly it will be below strength and will probably crack as it dries. Finally make good the walls and replace the skirting.

The big drawback with this method is that it raises the level of the floor by 25mm (1 in). Strictly speaking you should dig out the existing floor to the required level before starting, but this carries the risk of damaging any existing damp-proof membrane. One way of accommodating the extra thickness is to trim the bottom of the doors and build up any existing external doorsteps.

Do make sure that you don’t reduce the floor/ceiling height below the Building Regulations minimum of 2.3m (7ft 6in) and remember to do something about the change in level at the door thresholds: a shallow ramp is better than a shallow step.

There is another option, and that is not to lay a membrane at all. Instead you select flooring that can be laid using cement-based flooring adhesive. The former lets the damp through. so you should choose material that won’t be harmed by it, and the latter acts as a sort of damp-proof membrane itself.

But. as it is a makeshift solution. it will not always work and there is nothing to stop the damp rising through the walls. The floor will therefore be attacked from the edges. which can be just as harmful and the result will be that the whole floor will eventually have to be replaced, not only giving you extra work but also further expense.

Renewing an Area of Slates

Filed Under: DIY Outdoor, Do it yourself, Home repair    by: ITC

Slates are fixed to the roof in rows, or courses, each course overlapping the one below by at least half a slate length. In addition, the joins between slates in adjacent courses are staggered: in this way the joins are always covered by the slates above or below to ensure a water-tight construction.

Where the roof has a gable end, wider than normal slates are fitted to the ends of alternate courses to produce a square edge to the roof (these are known as “slate-and-a-half” slates). In addition, the edge slates at a gable end may be bedded on mortar laid on stacks of narrow slate strips known as creasing slates. These tilt the edges of the slates upwards so that rainwater runs down the roof to the gutters.

In addition to cutting them to size as described opposite, you will also have to make nail holes in them — no closer to the edge than lin. Use an old slate as a template for marking the holes.

Make the nail holes by drilling them or by driving a nail through with the slate supported on a block of wood. For safety and ease of working, do the cutting and drilling on the ground and carry the finished slates up to the roof. You will need 1 ‘Ain copper, zinc or aluminum roofing nails to hold the slates in place.

Remove the old slates from the roof using the slate ripper and starting with the upper courses of the area to be renewed. As you remove these upper slates, you will expose the heads of the nails holding the slates below. Cut these off with a pair of pincers.

Collect the slates and lower them to the ground with a bucket and rope, taking care with whole, undamaged ones, which you will be able to refit.

Having stripped off the old slates, inspect the battens below and if any are broken or rotten cut them out with a saw.

Begin fitting the new slates, starting at the lowest course and nailing them to the battens to recreate the overlapping pattern of the roof. Use two nails per slate and make sure it is fitted with the beveled lower edge uppermost to aid drainage.

Work your way up the roof, nailing the slates in place until the surrounding original slates make this impossible. Then fit the other slates with lead clips or toggle clips (see opposite) to complete the repair.

Renewing an Area of Roof Tiles

Filed Under: DIY Outdoor, Do it yourself, Home repair    by: ITC

If several tiles are damaged over a relatively small area of the roof, it is probably just as easy to re-tile that area than attempt to replace tiles individually. Buy enough tiles to do the job with a few spares in case you break any.

Always stack the tiles out of the way, since they are easily broken and always carry them on edge rather than flat on top of each other — that way they are less likely to break under the weight.

As with renewing an area of slates, you must recreate the original overlapping pattern of the tiles to ensure that the roof retains its strength and is also waterproof.

Unlike slates, you cannot cut tiles to size, so you must make sure you get the right number of special tiles for finishing off courses at gable ends and for making up the eaves course. You will also need a supply of 11/4in copper, zinc or aluminum roofing nails for fixing the tiles to the battens. If the tiles are of the interlocking type held to the battens by clips and nails, you must buy sufficient clips as well.

Wooden wedges, as described opposite, will be needed for lifting the tiles surrounding the repair so that the old tiles can be lifted from underneath them and the new ones hooked in place.

Begin at the top of the damaged area, working downwards and removing tiles as described opposite. Once you have removed a few from the upper courses, you will expose those below so that you can simply lift them off. If they are nailed down, cut off the nail heads with pincers.

The tiles will be heavy and brittle, so handle them with care and lower them to the ground with a bucket and rope. Keep perfectly good tiles for re-use.

Once the tiles have been removed you can inspect the roof structure below. This will comprise the tile battens and, in most cases, below them a layer of roofing felt. Brush off any dirt and dust and pull any remaining nails from the battens with pincers.

Begin fitting the new tiles along the bottom of the repair area, working your way up the roof. Hook the nibs of the tiles over the battens and nail every third or fourth course down for extra security.

As you work, use the wooden wedges to lift the surrounding tiles so that those below can be lifted into place. Make sure any interlocking types are properly linked together and if these are normally held to the battens with clips and nails, fit these to every course.

Continue to the last tile, fitting it in the same way as described opposite. If retaining clips are used on the tiles you will not be able to fit a clip to the last tile, but the weight of its neighbours will hold it down.

Gaps between the overlapping tiles at the edges of the roof should be pointed with mortar. First coat the edges of the tiles with a bonding agent and then mix some more into the mortar before you use it.

Working on the Interior

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Redecorating, Remodeling    by: ITC

Wearing protective clothing, (especially the goggles), carefully cut away the plaster from within the lintel outline to expose the masonry below. Remove the bricks or blocks by cutting through their mortar joints and lifting them out. If any above the slot should drop, remove these and keep them for replacement later. Retain any whole bricks from the slot for possible reuse.

Lift the lintel into place, bedding it on mortar (3 parts soft sand: 1 part masonry cement) laid on the “bearings” at each end of the slot. It is best to get the help of an assistant with lifting the lintel, especially when lifting weights above the head. Make sure the lintel is level and, if necessary, pack it out below the ends with tiles or slates.

Finally, fill any spaces around the lintel with more mortar and replace any bricks or blocks that may have dropped out at the slot-cutting stage. If the wall is constructed of blocks, bring the lintel up to the height of the adjacent blocks by laying a course of bricks on top, and mortering them in place.

Leave the mortar to set for at least 24 hours, and preferably 48. Then remove the needle and wood supports. Fill the needle holes with brick offcuts and mortar. Lever off the baseboard and place it to one side for cutting down later.

Remove the plaster inside the outline of the opening to expose all the masonry below. Using a light sledge hammer and bolster chisel, cut this out by chiseling through the mortar joints, carefully working down the wall one course at a time. Because of the bonding pattern used, you will find that on alternate courses you will have to cut through bricks at the sides of the opening. Do this as you come to them. driving the chisel into their faces and levering them out from below to leave a straight edge to the opening. Remove all the bricks from the opening.

Trim off the masonry flush with a solid floor, or jus: below a wooden one. In the latter case, join the tv,-: floors by screwing battens to the joists then fit a piece of plywood or short pieces of floor-board on top neaten and close the gap.

The frame can be held in place with either galvanized metal ties mortared to the wall, or by screws and wall plugs. If ties are to be used, you need three per side. Cut recesses in the sides of the opening for the ties. If you intend screwing the frame to the wall, drill screw clearance holes in it and offer it up so these can be marked on the wall. Drill and plug the holes.

Set the frame in place, packing out the sides as necessary with wood offcuts to set them vertical. Then either fill the tie recesses with mortar and brick offcuts or insert the screws.

Fill in the gaps round the frame with more mortar and offcuts and trowel a thin layer of mortar over any exposed masonry at the sides and top before refinishing the plaster.

Finally, nail lengths of molding around the frame, mitering the corners, and trim and refit the base boards to the base of the wall.

Laying the Blocks

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Before laying the blocks it is as well to carry out a dummy run on the first two courses, so you will know how best to arrange them to keep the number of cut blocks to a minimum. Set them out along the layer of mortar in line with the scribed mark, spacing them a finger-thickness apart.

If the partition is to have a door in it, now is the time to position the frame. Nail battens across the corners of the frame and across the bottom to hold it square and prop it up with a batten nailed to the top.

Now begin laying the blocks properly. It is best to build up about four courses of blocks at each end of the partition first and then stretch a stringline between them as a guide for the blocks in the middle.

Trowel a layer of mortar onto the original thin layer and “butter” the end of the first block with more mortar. Set the block in place against the scribed line and against the wall to form a neat mortar joint. Tap the block level and upright with the handle of the trowel. Repeat the procedure for the next block in the course and lay two or three more before working back towards the wall with the second, third and fourth courses. Collect the mortar that is squeezed out from between the blocks for reuse.

Make sure the blocks butt up to the guide batten and check them every now and again with a mason’s level to ensure that you are keeping the courses upright and level. Tie each alternate course to the wall with galvanized metal wall ties. Similarly secure the door frame to the blockwork; build up the center of the partition.

If you need to cut any blocks, do this with a bricklayer’s chisel and hammer. Measure up the block and scribe a cutting line on all four sides with the end of the chisel. Then tap gently along this line with the chisel. Finally, lay the block face up, set the chisel in the center of the cutting line and strike it a sharp blow which will separate the two halves of the block.


1. Dry-laying to check for fit; allow a finger-thickness between blocks for mortar. Vertical battens give support until the mortar hardens.

2. Spreading the mortar bed on the floor; scribe the line of one face of the wall in the mortar with the point of the trowel.

3. “Buttering” one end with mortar before laying the block; place this end against the previous block.

4. Laying the block on the mortar bed, flush with the scribed line.

5. Tamping the block level with the adjacent block using the trowel handle; check each block as it is laid with a spirit-level.

6. Securing a metal frame-clamp to the side wall; tie alternate courses in this way.

7. Checking the face of the blockwork for alignment; use a long spirit-level or straight-edge and check in a number of directions.

8. Nail temporary “strainer” battens across a door-frame to keep it square and support it in an upright position with a plank nailed to the top.

9. A door-height opening needs a lintel above it to support the blockwork; a course of bricks on top will align with the blockwork.