Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Object of the day: new Muji shelving

I can lose hours going into a branch of Muji. All those satisfyingly minimal solutions for storage you never knew you needed...

Sometimes I just like to imagine I'm really organised and, if I was, what I'd put in all those little acrylic containers. But this season it's Muji's wood that's got me going. And since last week was all about beautiful Japanese things that are hard to buy, it only seems right to share.

The new shelving range (on sale n the flagship London branch, Tottenham Court Road, and online) is beautiful in its simplicity. It's also designed to be configured to your space, so the wall beam above (these start at £12.95, depending on length) works well alone or in a long line or in any arrangement you fancy.

I really love these shelves and might have considered them for the bit of my living room revamp I have yet to polish and unveil (a long shelf along one wall for, well, that's what I'm working on). As it was I went for painted MDF but this would have added a nice warm feature.

So often, when people come over to the house they comment on the wall hooks I have up in the hall. They're really simple wooden ones that I bought in bulk in Ikea a few years ago (I now have lots of them lined up for coat and bag storage, as well as one on the back of each bedroom door and in the bathroom). Last time I went to the great Swedish megastore I didn't see them and am not sure they're still available there. But these understated hooks from Muji are a good second best. Unlike the Ikea ones, they only come as singles, but you might not feel the need to put them everywhere in your house as I have.

The range comes in this finish – natural – and also in a darker wood. I love this one the best.

The box shelf is £29.95. Wall beam as before.

A couple of years ago, when my house looked quite different, I photographed it for the Muji newsletter (I really am a superfan) and the focus of that was also storage. For a bit of a Throwback Tuesday, you can nose at it in this previous post if you're interested (please forgive the typo).

Find the new range here at the Muji website.

I'm up for doing the newsletter sort of thing for any other brands I love and have featured on this blog (or would happily feature on it), so do get in touch if of interest.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Object of the Day: Japanese Kihara Komon porcelain

I stumbled across these Japanese plates a few weeks ago and can't for the life of me remember how or where. But I bookmarked them because they are so very appealing.

However, like many things worth having, they're not that easy to get hold of.

The range is called Komon, which is the Japanese for "eblem" and, from my research, the plates only appear to be available in their country of origin – Japan.

They are by the Japanese brand, Kihara which designed them for the almost 400-year-old Aritaware Porcelain Lab, and each plate depicts a different good luck symbol.

The circles design in the foreground signifies infinity, and is said to bring luck for relationships and properties, while the net design, behind it, symbolises scooping up happiness.

I seem to have a habit of falling for plates that play hard-to-get (you may have seen my mournful ode to these out-of-reach 1980s Studio Nova beauties a few weeks ago), and so apologies for burdening you with the same pain. On the plus side, you can buy these online from the Japanese shop Kiraha (have fun with Google Translate) or through these Japanese eBay shops, where the postage seems to be unnervingly reasonable and prices for a set of five start at around £55 – scroll right down the list – though there are potential customs charges to consider (you can probably work those out from this guide). Just be careful not to think you've landed an incredible bargain only to have bought and had shipped a set of chopstick holders by mistake like that woman who bought the dining table in the eBay episode of This American Life.

There is a New Zealand shop selling them too, An Astute Assembly, which is so nice it could make a person want to move to Auckland. And Monocle sell a slightly different design which, personally, I'm not so keen on but you can have a look here.

And look, there's even a range for children.

I'm so smitten.

Is anyone out there lucky enough to own some of these sweet ceramics? Or are any UK shops tempted to start importing them...?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Homes: our most excellent holiday house swap

I've posted a few design highlights from my trip to Sydney at Christmas here, here and over on Instagram already, but have finally got my photos in order to share the biggest of them all: the house we stayed in.

It was my first experience of a house swap, and I think we got pretty lucky...

Above: the front living room at our holiday home, with gravity-defying Sapiens bookcase and armchair covered in Timorous Beasties' London Toile, a nod to the owners' London connection

I have brothers who live in the city, and the house belongs to the neighbours of one of them; a family of three, including one Brit expat who happened to be over in London for Christmas and was looking for a place to stay while we were going to be in Sydney.

After I'd nosed around their house virtually – it is on the website of MAC Interactive Architects, who designed it (some of whose photos I've used, where my own were too shoddy) – I went into a finishing-the-house-DIY-frenzy in preparaton. Scroll through the photos and you can perhaps see why...

This hanging seat, on the balcony outside the master bedroom where we slept (I know...) was pretty much my spot for our two-week holiday. I think I got through five books in it, and a few beers.

It's a pretty unusual looking building. So I asked how it came about: the family had returned to Sydney after a few years living in London and felt they'd already lived in a typical Victorian Sydney terrace – like the neighbouring houses above, with wrought iron balconies, you see them all over the city – and though they loved them, wanted something different. They'd also been to Japan and visited Tokyo and Hokkaido, an island in the north, where they discovered some very different looking sort of a houses, made from concrete and wood – like this house in snowy Hirafu (which you can see over at Architizer).

But back to Sydney...

Above: the back view of the house just after it was finished, and before that hanging chair made its way onto the balcony at the top (photo: MAC Interactive)

The owners decided to "live the Grand Designs dream" and build their own house inspired by the Japanese architecture they'd loved, plus a moodboard including music and films they both like. "Our lovely architect came up with barn idea – a big wood box – and we took it from there," they told me.

Above: the house from the side. The tall window in the middle is, I think, the bathroom, which there's a photo of shortly (photo: MAC Interactive)

The owners say they love the house because it's versatile and they can use the rooms in different ways. "It's not a show-off mansion," they told me, "It's enigmatic... It's good for all sorts of situations. Kids' parties. Friend get-togethers. We have even had mariachis using the kitchen/courtyard seat as a stage for a surprise show..."

Above: the living/dining/courtyard area, and sometime mariachi stage (photo: MAC Interactive)

Above: The view into the kitchen from the courtyard (photo: MAC Interactive)

The house, the owners continue, "is clever in terms of heat and cooling, and it uses the limited space – for Sydney – well especially volume; high ceilings make it all seem bigger."

Unusually for a new house in hot city like Sydney, it has no air conditioning yet is very cool, thanks to its clever design. It also has photovoltaic panels; a fireplace that pumps hot air around the upstairs rooms in cooler weather and a 10,000 litre rainwater tank that supplies the loos and washing machine.

One of the many details I thought was really clever was the way the back doors opened: they recede into niches and so when they're completely open you don't see them, and the garden becomes part of the interior.

I also really loved the view as you come in the front door: straight ahead you have the staircase with a glass panel overlooking the kitchen. The shelves are on the kitchen side. Below is the architect's photo, showing this from a different angle.

The shelves are home to the owners' Chinese communist figurines; they're modern replicas bought in Beijing, apart from the car which is an original, picked up in an antique shop in New York.

There are a few more looking out of one of the tall windows. 

They have so much great stuff...

The shape-throwing lampshade is a nice touch.

Above: a Thorsten van Elten bowl, made from toy soldiers

The family are all big fans of Toy Story and Pixar – and this green soldier is just one piece of Pixar merchandise dotted around the house.

Above: The lusciously orange-tiled bathroom, with a walk-in shower, was our en-suite (photo: MAC Interactive)

And I loved the painting above our bed, which made me think of an Indian night market on the beach. It's by Emma Walker and you can see more of it on her website.

But even better than the house was the house cat, Briefcase. Bullishly friendly like a dog, he was a big, soppy superstar. All in all, a pretty incredible house-swap.

Read about the house and see more photos at MAC Interactive Architects, in Sydney

Monday, 2 March 2015

Object of the day: lovely lampshades from Chocolate Creative

Margarita Lorenzo, the stylist behind my new favourite shop, Chocolate Creative, has very good taste.

I discovered her thanks to a tip-off from a friend, the ever-inspiring Sinead Koehler, who runs south London's Crafty Fox Markets.

There are so many things on sale at CC I'd like to own. But I have especially fallen for these lampshades, whose designs are reprinted old postcards. Aren't they nice?

Lampshades are never especially cheap, and so I'd find it hard to part with money for one that wasn't extraordinary in some way. I think these fit the bill, and the slim version is not too bad at £45 (they go up to £90, depending on the size). The lamp bases aren't included but if you can't stretch to one of those too you might get lucky with a nice old one on eBay or at a car boot – though these, especially the low-slung one in the first image, for me, are rather chic. Or go for a pendant, instead.

Find them all and more at Chocolatecreative.co.uk

Monday, 23 February 2015

Sophie Ellis Bextor, Scary Danes and Elephant's Breath

There seems to be a trend right now for artsy interiors videos, evoking rather than openly advertising brands. 

I say a trend, I've come across two but one more and it'll be a trend (for this is the founding tenet of lifestyle media) so it's near enough. And I must say I'm finding them perplexing. But that's probably just me. You can decide for yourself.

First up, we have the silky collision of an Emily Dickinson poem, a sleeping Sophie Ellis Bextor and a global paint brand. Here's SEB, stirring from a meaningful sleep and artfully bathed in a particularly mesmerising dawn light. It's sort of golden, or is it pink, maybe a bit apricot-y... Or maybe it's Copper Blush, Dulux's Colour of the Year... See what they've done there?

Next, enjoy the Bo Concept short Nordic Noir movie (be prepared, it's quite a bit longer...).

It stars the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen and his sinister range of facial expressions, along with the strapline "bringing two Danish style icons together". I couldn't help imagining the marketing team's brainstorm as the short film unfolded. And they were right: when I watched The Bridge, I kept checking out the furniture in the background too! Is this the next logical step? It's solely hosted on the BC website, so to watch it you'll have to go here.

After that, you'll need some light relief. If you get giddy browsing Farrow and Ball paint charts (we've all been there), you'll enjoy this. Meet India and Arabella. You'll never to think of Elephant's Breath in quite the same way again...

Monday, 16 February 2015

Before & After: how to arrange furniture in an L-shaped room (or my living room makeover)

This, below, is how my living room was looking until quite recently. There had been a revamp brewing for some time. I kind of liked it but it had stopped feeling right, somehow. It wasn't happy.

Declan summed it up when he said that it looked pretty, but that 70 percent of the room was unused, dead space. And he was right, because we never ventured far from the green sofa.

Nor did the dog and the cat.

Our reason was that I'd put the TV directly in front of it, and very close, too. Below is an ugly photo from ages ago, which shows just how close it was.

And this is what the d├ęcor in this spot morphed into. An improvement of sorts in that it was warmer, but it always felt – and looked – like a temporary measure.

It was that classic "what do you do with an L-shaped room?" issue. I'd previously gone for a divide and conquer approach, giving the space multi-functional potential – in the second photo down from the top you can see there was a desk bureau in the top right corner, and my lovely yellow "writing chair", pimped by Out of the Dark. Tucked behind the door is the music area with my beloved old flashing light record player.

It all made more sense when I had lodgers and we didn't all want to budge up on the green sofa together (although, actually, we nearly always did because you couldn't see the TV from anywhere else). The idea was that I could be tapping on my laptop at the bureau while the sofas created another zone. But when the lodgers moved out, one-corner room thing became a thing. The rest of the space looked lonely. How could I reunite the two sides of the big "L" and give the room the happy feeling I knew it had the potential for? Months passed. It wasn't obvious. Until a lightbulb moment. Ta da...

The green sofa needed to be what you saw as you came into the room, not to be hiding around the corner – not because it's beautiful (it's not especially) but because it's surely good feng shui or something to be facing a door when it is opened. The old 60s leather sofa, which I had bought on eBay got sold again on eBay. And a cosy rug from the Plantation Rug Company came in.

As did a total bargain new clever coffee table by Leitmotiv (£25 ex-display, should have been around £80) which stops lazybones old me from having to reach too far to put down a glass or a plate when sitting on the sofa, since it has three table tops that swivel around to just where you need them, or stack neatly when you don't. It's very 1980s bachelor pad, or it would be if I had a black leather sofa. I like it.

There was an exciting eBay adventure to get the pink chair. We went on an expedition to Essex to pick it up and the guy who was selling it has a massive couple of barns stuffed with treasures, including some pristine Morris Minors, of which I posted some Instagram pictures. But back to the chair: I had in fact bought two much smaller versions in the same fabric, but when we spotted this one peeking out from behind a pile of chaotic, dusty furniture it was a much better size and he let us have it for £20.

The other L-shaped room revelation was the position of the TV, which I'll come to in a later post as I'm not going to share photos of the whole room now, since there are a couple of parts still under consideration (including the thing the newly well-positioned TV is sitting on). But you've got a little taster of what I think I'm happy with so far.

When the Morris Minor man told me the provenance of the pink chairs, and that he had had a great big job lot of them, I slightly went off the idea. Not because it was anything unsavoury – quite the opposite, they were in pristine condition having been in the lobby of a 1980s hotel that never took off. Too pristine? But I've grown fond of the chair again, and I do love that shade of pink.

And the palm, which is printed onto silk and was falling apart until rescued a few months ago by a frame, had been camping out in the bathroom, but it looked so good here that it had to stay. And don't worry about the fox.

She has been rehomed against the wall behind the dog's bed. They look quite alike, I think. And the monochrome canvas on the wall isn't, in fact, a curly version of the rug but a piece of fabric designed by Australian mid-century textile designer, Florence Broadhurst. It now hangs with much more breathing space outside the bedroom on a big, white hall wall. I've also got some of her Rampaging Horses' fabric as cushion covers.

The stripy fabric is by Sonia Rykiel and was picked up at a sample sale for under a quid. Luckily, a friend introduced me to possibly the friendliest and most affordable picture framer in London, and so having it – and the palm – framed was most manageable.

The Anglepoise was a chuck-out from Declan's old office (you can almost see the health and safety label on the base, must take that off). I quite like the pile of books that were meant to be a temporary prop. And the paint-splattered stool was my gran's.

And it's SO much nicer to be sitting by the window now. More photos of the rest of the room to come once I've finished faffing about it with it.

But, so far, it's an improvement, right?

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