Cheap decorating

Dear Mrs Danvers, I have just bought my first flat and am now penniless. Do you have good ideas for decorating on a pittance?

The places to start are car boot sales, flea markets and antique markets. For furniture, look out for sturdy pieces with good lines. If their condition is dicey, paint thema greyish white is good, and better still if given a coating of bees wax. On the walls, you can put large pieces of fabric instead of pictures distressed toile de Jouy, moth eaten Paisley shawls and so on, which can also be used as throws or, if grotty, cut up into cushion covers.

Paint your floors a slightly darker off white than the furniture so rugs and carpets are hardly needed. Skips can be an amazing source especially in fancy areas such as Chelsea, Edinburgh New Town or Bath. Keep rummaging. Watch out for black and white prints of good quality. You can get whole sets at £1 each, which can be nailed up in groups rather than framed.

It’s a good idea to have a monochrome scheme so everything matches, then add colour for emphasis. Multiples always work: watch out for good labels, such as Worcestershire sauce, Marmite or old fashioned chemists’ bottles, and array them in rows. Pebbles and shells are free and, if well chosen to be similar in size and marking, are wonderful in bowls or shelves.

Start a collection of objects no one wants: sailing ships on fire screens embroidered by great aunts, pictures by amateurs who can’t paint, wonky ceramics: en masse, they become eccentrically pleasing. Decorate with food, such as oranges and lemons, which you can then eat. Carrot leaves look good in glass jars. I hope you’ve got the message: dare to be different, invent your own style, which, if it works, no one will realise is driven by desperation.


Broken glasses

Dear Mrs Danvers, I have a holiday cottage, and I am in despair at the number of wine glasses that get broken. Not even only in orgies, but every day. What’s wrong with these people is it simply that they can’t live without a dishwasher?

I feel sure that people are a lot less clumsy with their own objects than they are with other people’s especially as many will vanish into the night without confessing the damage they have done. We have found, in our holiday lets, smashed casserole dishes pieced together and hidden under others, not to mention chips with everything. With wine glasses, you cannot go wrong with the petit ballon which was used for wine in the Paris bistros of the 1920s. It is heavyweight, machine made and ordinary wine glass shaped. We have tried it out and, so far, have had no chips or breakages. You can buy sets of six (?10.50) from www.manufactum.co.uk, an excellent German firm selling practical and unusual household and other goods.

Selling linen

Dear Mrs Danvers, I would like to know if there is any market for absolutely top-quality table linen (around 1950), lace tablecloths and so on.

I am not clear whether you want to buy or sell table linen, but I have to say that there is a buyer’s market because the best table linen, second hand, is not much sought after. I think it should be, because not only is it far better than most of today’s linen, it is also a great deal cheaper. The trouble is that many people do not use tablecloths, especially lace, which is not fashionable. If you must sell it, try a local antiques market where there may be a specialist fabric stall. But it would be better to keep it in a drawer until prices improve.