Thursday, 4 February 2016

I'm dreaming of a zen bedroom

This has to be the most drawn out room pimp ever – and the changes weren't even that dramatic. But it's done, and our sleep space now feels calmer, zenner and softer underfoot.

Here's how it looked before:

Kind of busy, right? It was always a temporary arrangement; the bridge between the long period when the room – the biggest in the house, and an ensuite – was rented out, and the period when it would be transformed into something new when my boyfriend moved in, the lodgers moved out and everything got switched around.

I liked it as it was and I was always sad that the most interesting headboard in the house didn't fit in the dinky mezzanine room I slept in – it was a £10 find on eBay. 

A bargain, especially with built-in bedside lighting and a shelf across the top I thought. 

And probably, were I less of a clutter hoarder, and had stuck to all-white bedding and less stuff on the walls, it might have remained. But I was yearning for a bedroom clear of as much clutter as would be possible for someone like me. I wanted a headboard you wouldn't see, and an air of peace all around it.

So here's how it looks now.

We had a false half-wall built behind the bed, and treated ourselves to a luxury new kingsize mattress. As for the bed, more of that in a minute.

The whole room feels calmer, though I think something still needs to happen to that bookshelf, it's not relaxing to look at.

Excuse the not great photography, by the way – my camera has been out of action for weeks and so these are phone snaps.

The small, paint-splattered step ladder is the most last-minute Christmas gift I think I've ever bought – I was walking the dog at around 5pm on Christmas Eve and the walk takes us past a friendly junk shop.

This was outside and I thought my boyfriend might like it, as he was short of a bedside table now that the built-in ones had vanished. I was egged on by a cool young American mum with small children who had interesting names who seemed to think it was an amazing idea and called her to her husband inside the shop to tell him my plan. I couldn't really go back with this audience anticipation, and luckily the gift was well-received. Very useful it is too. And an improvement, I think, on this:

On the other side, this is how the upgrade looks:

I'd been fantasising about a floating shelf for months, to elevate and quantity-control the erstwhile floor pile.

The old china seagulls were a present from my brother and sister-in-law years ago.

Here's the other side of the room, which had a bit of a declutter and a fresh coat of paint.

The small drawers are Ikea, and you can see the revamp they had here. The chair was my grandma's and the lampshade was an eBay find. A bit trashy retro, but I think it works in this setting. (Much as I try to escape trashy retro, it seems I am just not that sophisticated.)

The photograph on the wall features my great grandmother and great grandfather, along with my grandma as a toddler with all her siblings. It's a nice thing to look at as I get ready in the mornings.

The little silver pot, another of the many things salvaged from her home after she died, has her name engraved on it, and the date of 1942. In fact, the chest of drawers and mirror were hers too, and the silver mirror and hairbrush, engraved with my name, were 21st birthday gifts to me which she must have bought when I was little and forgotten about, as I found them in a plastic bag, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, with a note in my grandma's handwriting which read 'For Kate's 21st birthday'.

We bought two of these rugs from Ikea to make one big one. Having something warming and soft underfoot when I get out of bed now is SO nice.

The wardrobe, you may have read, dominated one of our August bank holidays.

Ah, yes and the bed. This has also been a challenge.

I couldn't find many non-divan-style bed bases without headboards, and so we decided to get the builder to make one. We bought a whole load of birch ply and some cute legs from Pretty Pegs and a slatted mattress support from Ikea and asked the builder to put everything together. Part of the motivation was also that bed frames are expensive and we'd blown our budget on the mattress, figuring that was more important. Sadly it didn't work out quite as bargainous as we'd hoped.

The plan had been to have the slats far lower down in the base but he built it while we were at work and, well, that didn't happen. As such it was all way higher than anticipated.

This meant that the lovely – and not, I should add, especially cheap – legs had to be brutally chopped down. I painted the sides of the bed white (and, oops, some of the legs too). At some point, I will treat the bare wood showing at the top, which I like. Due to the leg issue there's no storage underneath, and due to the choice of ply and the method of construction, it weighs a tonne. (It took about an hour and a half and two people to lift it enough to get the rugs underneath.) But it feels amazing to sleep in and huge compared to the double we had before, with a very tired mattress. And I guess have learnt a lot for the next time I get a bed made... I'll go for this upscale pallet design, as seen in the incredibly cool Casa Helsinki guesthouse in Argentina, as spotted on Remodelista.

Have any of you had a bedroom makeover recently, or decided to DIY something that didn't quite turn out as you expected? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Christmas lights – should they stay or should they go?

Every year we seem to accumulate more fairy lights – this year we acquired some gloriously garish multi-coloured ones from an ancient box of Christmas decorations that belonged to my gran.

And, every year, as the decorations come down, I find it hard to part with the joyful sparkle of a string of festive bulbs. Well... should these ones stay or go back in the box until December 2016?

They were a cheering antidote to the weather today.

Good for highlighting new wall additions too, like this soothing StoryTile, a beautiful gift from my lovely mother-in-law to be.

These two are definitely taking a sabbatical in the garage though.
After lamenting about my boring bauble selection, the tree got given some good treats, including the Christmas knitted prawn, an inspired gift from the super cool neighbours and a handmade stripy twirl, from my old and ever-creative friend Camilla, who used it as part of her gift wrap.

(Check out my Instagram if you'd like to see what was inside the parcel – as well as the amazing tree topper the neighbours also gave us.)

Are you hanging onto any festive remnants? And shall I keep the 1980s lights up all-year? Your thoughts are most welcome, as ever, in the comments below.

Nb. If you've noticed the layout of the blog has gone a little peculiar, forgive it. A behind-the-scenes facelift is underway but is causing a few glitches along the way. Short-lived ones... bear with me. Oh and happy new year!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Spotlight on... The joy of a chaotic Christmas tree

Good festive baubles aren't cheap. And I'm in awe of my friend who, sensibly, has been treating herself annually to one good Christmas tree decorations for at least a decade. 

The habit has caught on, and friends now buy her additions, too. This is the colourful, shamelessly clashing and gloriously chaotic result (and proof that a good bauble can be a brilliant gift).

She now has an enviable Christmas tree, full of intriguing oddities hanging from its branches – from Mexican Day of the Dead trinkets to neon perspex from Paperchase (she says she's currently very fond of her papier-mâché cows, as well as a string of felt gingerbread men, which you can see here... I'm well jel).

Of course this is no good if you like a colour co-ordinated, so-called tasteful display (and if you saw my Run DMC tree topper a couple of years back, you'll know I don't). But if mix not match appeals, and you're just starting out with an eclectic tree, that first lone bauble seems like a mean and pointless purchase that will be lost in a sea of bare piney branches (or, in my case, branches full of decorations I have acquired directionlessly over the years, but don't really like).

But with interesting decorations costing up to £15 or even £20+ a-piece, one at a time might be the only way to go. With that in mind, I loitered around several different shop bauble displays in my lunch hour yesterday, yet still found it impossible to break in and get that first one. I should have been in West Elm...

I fell for and snapped these strange, papier-mâché creatures when I popped in for a press preview a few weeks ago. Should have snapped them up at the time, but now – even better – they're down from £14 to £11.

I like how West Elm supports up and coming designer-makers and these are created by LA-based artist and Etsy shop owner, Kim Baise aka Jikits. Fair Trade is also one of West Elm's priorities and these baubles, made from recycled materials, were manufactured by Caribbean Craft in Port-au-Prince. AND it's a rollerskating flamingo...

And here's the rainbow tiger in the same range...

Here's the full collection, you can find them all (if you're quick) at West Elm. You can also check out the JiKits Etsy shop.

I quite like their smug kitty, too...

What have you hung on your tree this year?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Shopping: Embrace your inner geek...

Today – a guest post from Abi... 

I've never been one to fully embrace the total devotion to a 'style'. My natural inclination is towards the mid-century end of things, but I can't help but chuck in a little bit of geek every now and then, which is where this glorious print by new print designer We Love Robots comes in.

Called Tin Men and Iron Giants and printed on A2 Giclee, this is a limited edition run of 100 and features nine fictional trading cards of robots and metal soldiers inspired by modern fiction, TV, movies and comics. A gorgeous piece of geek love to hang on your wall – or the perfect present for a fanboy or girl.

Currently it's only available to buy from Taylor Jones & Son in Deal (details at end of the post) priced at £85 unframed.

We Love Robots also sells open run prints via the new print site EN1. I rather like the Gil Scot Heron 'Lady Day' print (of which there are two versions, see one of them below) and there are two more retro geek appeal prints of a Storm Trooper and (Marvel fans alert) the Sentinel robot. These are all available as either A2 (£50) or A1(£75) prints.

We Love Robots is a slightly mysterious new artist who is quite hard to track down. Preferring their work to speak for itself We Love Robots promise me more prints will be added to EN1 soon. I'm guessing a few more icons of music might appear but personally I'm hoping for a Stepford Wives/Omega Man mash up...

Tin Men and Iron Giants limited edition available from Taylor Jones &Son, 94 Deal High Street, Kent. T: 01304 362671

Monday, 5 October 2015

Spotlight on... a good smell

Ever since I interviewed Abigail Ahern a couple of years ago, and she told me about her secret to a good smelling house, I've been meaning to visit the shop where she gets her secret good house smell. 

The shop is Santa Maria Novella, founded in the 15th century by Dominican friars and one of the world's oldest pharmacies.

Santa Maria Novella in Piccadilly, London. Image via The Piccadilly Arcade

The magical scented item Ahern was enthusing about is not quite so old-school as the shop, but to many of us pot pourri (yes, really!) does have quite the 1990s twang about it: dust-laced decorative bowls of dried up lemons and twigs and mysteriously shaped items purportedly gathered from the forest floor. And always dyed a perplexing burgundy hue. (Looked wonderful with all those lively 1990s wall colours...)

Ahern had been inspired in turn about the pot pourri by interior designer and Vogue columnist, Rita Konig's New York apartment, so this stuff had good rep. This weekend, while chaperoning my teenage Australian nephew around the West End on a shopping trip I got a window, while he was trying on most of Lillywhites, to dash down the road to get my hands on this mythical fragrance.

The tiny shop, lined with old glass-fronted shop cabinets full of unostentatiously labelled bottles, smells – well, potent, yet delicate. When I enquire about the fabled pot pourri – there's only one variety – the man behind the full-length counter (what else?) produces a bowl of it, just a fraction of what makes up the shop's dizzyingly good smell. 'This is two years old, it's not so strong now,' he warns.

The soft, woody, unflowery and yet richly sweet little pile of dark green leaves and herbs has a smell like the texture of treacle. It reminds me of country antique shops selling beeswaxed kitchen furniture, but more complex and even better. This bag cost £20. Compared to a good scented candle, which only smells when alight, it's pretty good, especially if it'll still be going strong in two years' time.

The non two-years-old version of Santa Maria Novella's pot pourri is unexpectedly moist when I get it home and the scent easily fills the air uncloyingly. I remember Ahern saying you don't need much of it and that she puts hers in little tea-light holders all over her house; immediately I feel the need to go and find some small and interesting receptacles.

Not far from my house, near the dog's favourite park, is a little shop called The Society for the Protection of Unwanted Objects (could there be a better name for a junk shop?). The man who runs it looks a bit like Jeremy Corbyn might if he wasn't a politician. And, by the way, I recently discovered the shop has a spectacular Facebook page...

At the Society for the Protection of Unwanted Objects, I quickly locate a tiny brass swan with a hollow body, and some former pavement glass in the shape of a small bowl when turned upside down. That was a fiver as it was chipped and the swan was sitting next to a brass rabbit – no pot pourri function at all but irresistible – so I had to buy that, too. £12.50 the pair.

A slightly chipped, satisfyingly heavy piece of glass, originally used as a pavement light/glass block in the street 

So far I've used only about a quarter of the bag, so some more receptacles will be required so I can fragrance-up the entire house. Now as you come in the front door, there's no longer the fleeting thought that perhaps the dog might need a bath, just the hand-picked, soaked-and-aged-for-months Santa Maria Novella flowers. If only the internet had invented scratch and sniff...

The swan and rabbit

Do you have a favourite thing that makes your house smell good?

Friday, 25 September 2015

Spotlight on... Pencils

I've been snooping around the London Design Festival this week, of which there is SO much to see. 

More about that anon, but a quick share to tell you about an exhibition that's part of the event, on this weekend in London, dedicated to the humble pencil.

The Secret Life of Pencils exhibition had its debut earlier this year. But if you, like me, missed it, then do check it out at its second airing at Designersblock, just by the Oxo Tower on London's Southbank. It's wonderful.

From left to right: pencils belonging to Tom Dixon, Julia Quenzler and Posy Simmonds
Pencils belonging to David Bailey

The idea is simple, and came from photographer and Mike Tinney and industrial designer Alex Hammond, who felt saddened at the demise of the "once powerful pencil", particularly in the arts. So they set about showing this humble instrument some love by contacting a number of high-profile pencil users, a rare breed they discovered, and asking them to donate an in-use pencil which Tinney would photograph, quite beautifully, for the show. Pencil owners include David Adjaye, Dame Zandra Rhodes, Celia Birtwell, Sir Peter Blake, Thomas Heatherwick, Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry, Lord Norman Foster and Jay Osgerby and many more (the full list can be found here).

Pencils belonging to Alexander McCall Smith (left) and Julia Quenzler (right)

Collecting said pencils, Tinney told me at the exhibition, was a logistically lengthy process and involved determined chasing of dozens of busy creatives' PAs. Well worth the wait though. If you think portraits, which, effectively, these luscious photographs are, of pencils might be boring and tell you nothing about the people who've used them... well, let this little sample show you otherwise.

Pencils belonging to Stephen Fry (left) and Celia Birtwell (right)

Posters, prints (£20) and postcards (£2 each) are on sale at the show, and on the Secret Pencils website.

Having recently rediscovered the scratchy (or smooth, depending on your preference) joy of pencils and, especially, of rubbing out, I particularly connected to this. Do you use a pencil? Share any pencil thoughts in the comments below.

The exhibition is on at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH and runs until Sunday. Hours 11am to 7pm.

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