Ask Alice

Do you have an interiors dilemma? Consult our resident specialist

Q. I'm trying to create a Fifties interior in my new flat, and I am finding it hard to source retro curtain fabric from that decade. Do you have any suggestions?
Angela Evans, north London

A. One of my favourite fabric designers is Lucienne Day, whose career in design has spanned almost 60 years since the launch of her best-known textile design, "Calyx", at the Festival of Britain in 1951. Still as fresh and original as they were back then, 12 of her witty and evocative designs are available through Classic Textiles (0141 353 4742;, of which my personal favourites are Larch, Spectators and Flotilla (£75 per metre on a linen/cotton fabric). If your budget won't stretch that far, visit the Battersea Vintage Fair (, which is being held on 29 May at the Battersea Arts Centre, where you will be able to find some cheaper retro textile bargains.

Q. I have been struggling to construct some flat-packed furniture for my daughter's new room, but have hit my thumb with the hammer so many times that I have abandoned my project. Can you help?
Sophie Earl, south-east London

A. Here's a great trick for anyone suffering from "cobbler's thumb". Simply hold the panel pin between the teeth of an ordinary plastic hair comb, and you'll be able to whack away at it without any risk of bludgeoning yourself.

Q. Having converted my front garden into a driveway for my two cars, I've now got a problem with exhaust smoke staining the front of my white painted house. Apart from repainting it, is there anything I can do to get rid of the stains on the walls?
Fred Hurst, by e-mail

A. Oh, Fred. I'm afraid I'm one of those people who despises the growing trend to turn perfectly good front gardens into car parks, so I'm tempted to say it serves you right. But I'm still going to let you into one of my little secrets, which is a very good anti-graffiti paint made by Coo-Var. It provides an impenetrable coating to anything from fumes to spray paints, which can then be removed with conventional cleaning solutions. Contact The Colour Centre in Islington (020-7609 1164), which can supply you with a 2.5 litre Coo-Var kit for £25.99, in a gloss finish, in a range of colours. Or contact Coo-Var ( for stockists in your area.

Q. We've just bought a loft apartment in a converted warehouse, and would like to strip the paintwork from an interior brick wall. How would one go about doing this?
Majka Kaiser, e-mail

A. Strippers Pain Removers ( sells a range of products that can remove almost any substance from a variety of different materials, depending on the type of paint that has been used in your apartment. Applying it is the easy bit; but removing the slurry is another story. This is a job most effectively performed using a pressure cleaner, which could produce a lot of grubby spray.

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