Whether you’re embarrassed by dinner-party etiquette or unsure of where to offload your old furniture, advice is on hand from our experts
Q My parents are about to downsize to a retirement home. They have a lot of antiques, particularly brown furniture, and some big pieces. Will anyone buy it? If not, how can they dispose of it? I hear brown furniture is not worth much these days.
A Antiques are indeed affected by the vagaries of fashion. And right now it is extremely hard to sell 19th-century brown furniture unless it is of spectacular quality. The obverse of this is that it is a great time to buy. When we talk about brown furniture, it is mainly mahogany pieces from the Victorian period, made in the provinces.
Large pieces can be even tougher to sell, as we all crave space. And elaborate, deeply carved Victorian furniture jars with more minimalist modern taste. That said, people are looking for small, elegant classical pieces. Furniture by high-quality named makers such as Gillows of Lancaster also bucks the trend.
It is worth approaching a local auction house. It may turn you down, and if it does take the pieces, it may suggest a small or no reserve. There are many excellent provincial ones, including Lyon & Turnbull, in Edinburgh; Woolley & Wallis, in Salisbury; Dreweatts, in Newbury; and Sworders, in Stansted Mountfitchet. In fact, most towns have a good local auction house.
Check whether it accepts internet bids, as that increases your chances of finding a buyer. Take digital pictures of the items you wish to sell and send them to a couple of auction houses to test the market.
You can advertise in local newspapers or on sites such as Gumtree — but that may involve people coming to your home. Websites are tricky for furniture, as you have to consider delivering the piece(s) yourself or insisting that the buyer picks up. A local general dealer may be interested — and the money they offer is cash in hand. With auction houses, you have to pay a vendor’s commission, which can be anywhere between 5% and 20%.
When dealing with my mother’s furniture in the Scottish Borders, I had to pay someone to take it away. The market for unremarkable pieces is just not there. The exception is top-end furniture from an ébéniste such as François Linke — a 19th-century Louis XV-style bronze mounted marquetry bibliothèque sold for nearly £250,000 at Bonhams in 2014. It could fetch more today.
I have heard of charity shops turning down large pieces of Victorian and Edwardian furniture, but some charities will collect from your home. Try the British Heart Foundation, Sue Ryder, British Red Cross, Furniture Donation Network, North London Hospice or Barnardo’s. A couple of councils run similar initiatives. Unsurprisingly, I would also advise to buy an antiques price guide so you can assess the value yourself.
Judith Miller is an antiques expert. Miller’s Collectables Handbook & Price Guide 2016-2017 by Judith Miller and Mark Hill is out now (Octopus £19.99)
Q My floorboards squeak when I walk past a bedroom radiator, and I have been told “packing” is required under the boards, as they are knocking the pipework. But whoever I ask to do this work refuses! What can I do?
MA McLaughlin, via email
We live in a detached house built in 2001 that has developed noisy creaking floors in the upstairs master bedroom and ensuite. I suspect it is due to pipes under the floor. How do we fix this?
Liz Weston, via email
A This is one of the most common problems with a refurb, and it can be due to one of many factors, which is why tradesmen generally refuse to carry out such works. We recently had a problem on a site with squeaky floorboards. We pulled up the whole floor, put in new noggins, insulated and screwed down the subfloor. The floor didn’t squeak. We then put furniture in the room and it squeaked again. We took up the whole floor, strengthened it, fitted it back, then put the furniture back in. No squeaking. But two weeks later, once the heating went on, the floor squeaked again. Unfortunately, it’s a recurring problem that can be almost impossible to fix.
Billy Heyman is managing director of the southwest London design and build company BTL Property; btlpropertyltd.co.uk
Q At a dinner party, I think it is rude if I sit on the left of someone and that person only speaks to the person on their right. And if I invite someone to my house, I expect them to give me some time to talk; I do the same if I go to their house. What is the correct etiquette at the dinner-party table?
Mark Rogers, via email
A A dinner party is all about balance — balanced food, balanced wine and balanced conversation. I agree that it is frustrating when someone hogs the conversation and attention of the hosts and other guests. Traditional etiquette would see a seating plan of man, woman, man, woman (with the same number of each sex in attendance). This enabled the ladies to “turn the table”. They would start by speaking to the man on their left for the first course, then switch to talk to the man on their right for the next, changing with each course. This made sure everyone was spoken to equally. You didn’t talk across the table, as it was probably too wide, or there may have been a centrepiece obscuring the view and conversation.
If you are hosting, you needn’t invite an exact number of men and women; sadly, few know the “turning table” rule these days. If you are a guest, try to keep the principle in mind and speak equally to each person. At more informal gatherings, there may be just one conversation going, involving the entire table. Times have changed and rules have been relaxed. As a host, however, the one that will always apply is that you should think about the mix of personalities. How will they all get along? Some friends are just too draining and gregarious to ask to a dinner party.
William Hanson is a leading etiquette coach; williamhanson.co.uk
Q I have a tiny north-facing lawn and birds keep pulling up the grass. Apparently, I’ve got leatherjackets (daddy longlegs larvae), and the birds are digging up the lawn to get at them. I understand the best way to get rid of them is to apply strong pesticides. What are my options?
Kate Jaffe, via email
A Chemical drenches are a nuclear option for gardeners — expensive and indiscriminate. Sloshing poison on your lawn will kill the leatherjackets, but also beneficial fauna such as worms, which keep the soil below the grass healthy. A more modern approach is to water nematodes (microscopic worms) onto your lawn: they hunt grass-eating leatherjackets, slugs and chafer grubs, and infect them with a natural but deadly bacteria.
The nematodes are available online: you can’t buy them in garden centres because they are a living product with a limited shelf life. They come through the post in sachets of clay (from £15) that you mix in a can and water over the grass. They are too small to see with the naked eye, and you might have them in your lawn already, but not in sufficient quantities to curb the leatherjacket hordes. Watering on more is like releasing ladybirds to eat aphids — a targeted and natural way to cure your infestation.
Toby Buckland is a garden writer and the host of tobygardenfest.co.uk
Good Housekeeping top tips
Our carpets cope with a lot — mud, food, pet hair and worse — and a quick vacuum often isn’t enough. Here’s how to love your pile.
■ Invest in the best vacuum cleaner you can afford. The Sebo Airbelt E3 Premium (£360; johnlewis.com) performed particularly well in our tests.
■ Deep-clean your carpet once or twice a year — this will kill harmful mites and bacteria.
■ If you prefer to call in the professionals, use a cleaner who is a member of the National Carpet Cleaners Association (ncca.co.uk).
■ Deep-cleaning machines such as the Rug Doctor are available to rent from many DIY stores; prices start at £23 a day. To find your local stockist, visit rugdoctor.co.uk/rent. Before you get stuck in, rub a damp white cloth over a hidden spot on your carpet to make sure it’s colourfast.
Do you need help from one of our experts? Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Advice is given without responsibility