Ask Alice: About conservatories, mirrors and courtyard gardens

Do you have an interiors dilemma? Consult our resident specialist
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Q. We have recently built a conservatory extension to the living room and would like to find some way of stopping our cats getting through the double doorway (5ft wide) without having to close the doors in warm weather. We don't want permanent screen doors and were wondering if you could suggest any attractive solutions; one idea we had was something like a spring-loaded trellis to fit in the doorway.
Mary Alexander, by e-mail

A. That sounds like a good idea and would be fairly easy to achieve. Just Grilles (01564 776624; can make trellis to a specified size in several designs. The problem I anticipate, though, is storing such a large piece of trellis when you're not using it. Have you thought about investing in a pair of wrought-iron gates? The Village Forge (01580 764875; makes gates to order, prices start at around £400 for a pair of 2ft 6in x 7ft gates. The bespoke service would allow the gates to be of a design that the cats cannot crawl through and they could be painted, too, in a lighter colour, to fit in with your conservatory's colour scheme.

Q. I have an old - not very valuable - dressing table that belonged to my grandmother. Unfortunately, my son has just smashed the mirror while holding a tennis tournament in my bedroom. The mirror was in an oval frame and speckled with age, and I do not want to replace it with a new glass as this will look out of place. Where shall I look for an antique replacement, please?
Jodie Fernandez, by e-mail.

A. Antique mirrors have a soft patina that reflects light more gently than a new mirror and you are right to avoid a modern replacement. Why not have a go at the fun and simple technique of glass-gilding and make your own, using silver leaf? Ask a glazier to cut a replica for you, using the frame as a guide. Make a "size" from gelatine granules dissolved in distilled water. This will be used to stick the silver leaf on to the back of the glass. Silver leaf, available from good art shops, comes in square sheets. Using a paintbrush, apply your size to an area a little bit bigger than the square and, using a brush, pick up one sheet of silver leaf and slide it onto the sized area. When you have covered the surface, overlapping each square to avoid gaps, you will probably need to fill in little holes here and there, using a small brush to apply the size. Let it dry for an hour and insert it into the frame. And keep your son in the garden.

Q. The courtyard garden in my basement flat is dark, and I can't get anything to grow there. How can I cheer it up?
David Jones, Maida Vale

A. Why not give it a magical makeover? My inspiration is a scene I remember in one of the front gardens of Eel Pie Island in Twickenham. It was a kitsch fantasy which featured plastic dolls artfully placed in the garden. While I wouldn't necessarily suggest going that far, you could spruce up your dark back yard with a selection of bright plastic flowers, windmills, and even some sparkly outside lights for the evenings. You could finish it all off with a gnome (£7.99 each at Homebase, ). I hope that gnomes are going to make a big comeback this season.