Ask Alice: About cast iron guttering and decorating tips

Do you have an interiors dilemma? Consult our resident specialist
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The Independent Online

Q. Our Victorian house still has its original cast-iron guttering and downpipes. They seem in reasonable condition, but we have some internal damp which, our builder suspects, is caused by a crack in the guttering on the third floor. His advice is to replace the gutter with a plastic alternative, as cast-iron is heavy and difficult to mend. I would like to keep it, if possible. What do you think?
R Bates, by e-mail

A. Cast-iron pipes and guttering can spring a leak when rust sets in, but unless the corrosion is severe, they should be treatable. A piece of sheet aluminium can be fixed across the hole using a non-hardening mastic, and the repair filled from the outside using car body-filler. When this has been rubbed down with sand-paper and painted, the gutter should be as good as new.

Q. I am preparing an anniversary party for my parents in August. I have a spacious double reception room, but it needs spicing up for the occasion, and I would welcome some decorating tips.
Rick Lewis, North Somerset

A. In terms of atmosphere, lighting is probably the most important consideration for a party.

From around £350, you can hire wash lights to totally transform your room. Otherwise, Shreyas Decor (; 0870 080 2342) can light your party, both inside and out, for about £1,000, using a choice of clever effects including roof washes, oil projectors, silk flames and pin lights to create a variety of moods.

For instant decoration of bare walls, Blik ( produces self-adhesive graphic wall stickers in a range of fun designs in brilliant colours from floral, flock and paisley to Keith Haring dogs and dancing figures.

It ships worldwide from its online store. A pack of eight dancing men, 33cm high, for example, costs $56 (about £30). It also offers a custom service and can produce lettering to order - you could cover the walls with one of your parents' favourite poems, say. The stickers are easily removable after the event.

Q. I'm having a bench built for two sides of my patio. In the meantime, I want to make flat cushions to sit on and bolsters as arm supports, in weatherproof fabric. Do you know who makes them, please?
Gaby Lucas, by e-mail

The outdoor-fabrics specialist Point North (; 01407 760 195) has a wide range of suitable materials, including canvas, sailcloth, waxed cotton, ventile and cotton drill, as well as man-made fabrics with UV- and mildew-resistant properties.

For something striking, take a look at Missoni's new range of weatherproof fabrics in its big, bold "Dahlia" print from Interdesign (; 020-376 5272) from £76 per metre.

Alternatively, Nikwax (; 01892 786 400) makes weatherproofing fabric treatment products that you could use to protect standard fabric.

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