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

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?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ilse Crawford vs Ikea + cork

In case you hadn't heard this deeply exciting design news: Ilse Crawford is launching a collection of rather beautiful looking nature-inspired furniture at Ikea this August.

In line with the slow-burn 1970s revival that's been bubbling under for a few years, cork features heavily as a material.

The range has been called Sinnerlig and will feature more than 30 pieces, which look as if they've been beautifully designed with a heavy Crawford stamp on the details. (The Ikea press info alludes, intriguingly, to the "challenging" creative journey Ikea and Crawford have been on together, as two different approaches to the design process have slowly had to find a way to come together.)

Cork, I am reminded by the Ikea blurb about this newsflash, is "renewable, durable, an acoustic softener, waterproof and easy to clean". And terribly cool. But how to choose just one piece from this collection? I foresee a cork overload coming to my gaff this summer...

Loosely connected fact: Crawford's design company, Studioilse, was one of the trio of creative collaborators with Air BnB during last year's London Design Festival to produce an installation in London's Trafalgar Square. The Studioilse construction was an empty shed, inside which the words "what does home mean to you?" were painted on the floor. The many answers – from cups of tea to messy shelves – were flashed up on the walls in giant tweets and in photographic form, and I spent a strangely comforting few minutes gazing through the windows. You can read more about that and more Air BnB niceness here.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Spotlight on... Australian ceramicist, Gail CC

It's not long since I was in Australia, and while there I coincidentally stumbled across my favourite new Australian designer, the Brisbane-based ceramicist Gail CC.

Regular readers may be aware of my fondness for an animal-shaped bit of crockery, and I make no apologies for featuring some more.

Worldwide shipping is available at around £10 for smaller pieces. Check the import taxes situation before buying.

I can't tell you much about Gail, except that I hope to feature some more of her here soon, and that she cites one of her inspirations as the Japanese ceramicist Makoto Kagoshima, a plate of whose you can see below.

Above: a plate by one of Gail's inspirations, Makoto Kagoshima

Also most appealing and his work may be – though it's hard to tell – available in the UK from the Eclectic 66 Gallery in London, in person (somebody please build these guys a new website). 

But back to Gail. So she doesn't only do animals. 

A little reminiscent of the Kinska designs I wrote about late last year.

This fox spoon is currently my favourite piece. I love that his rosy cheek makes him look like he's just been on a huge run, chasing a cat or the scent of a stinking bin a few streets away, but is trying not to appear puffed out.

Gail's designs start at around £11 and are for sale at her Etsy shop.

Little and large. Ahhhh.

Browse more animal-themed ceramics and things in these previous posts and see Gail's latest creations via her Instagram.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Real homes: shoe storage for untidy people

A few weeks ago, I shared my hall update. 

One of the ugly parts of the old hallway was the abundance of footwear scattered about the place: mine, largely – I am untidy, and also a shoe hoarder, which was bad news for my hallway.

This is my hall shoe pile on an uncharacteristically tidy day, with only horrid-looking running shoes and dog-walking boots lying about, rather than nearly all the shoes I own, tried on in haste as I vacillated about my outfit on the way out. Some people, I know, store their shoes in their wardrobes. Or line them up nicely on special shoe shelves. Or in labelled boxes (!!). I am not that tidy or disciplined.

When I come in, I like to hurl off whatever I've got on my feet immediately, which means the only place it'll wind up is close to the front door. I tried for years storing my prettier shoes on the stairs, but there were too many, or at least too unpretty shoes for the system to work. Plus the stairs are at least five paces from the front door, which proved to be just a little too far. So next came the first giant box. I loved that box. I rescued it when it got chucked out of my old office. It's a wall cupboard from the 1980s with a satisfying pull out and up door. Satisfying until it broke. I painstakingly fixed it, and even installed a shelf inside the box to encourage my shoes to like living in there. The combination of the door falling off several times a day, and having to wedge shoes in by force because the box was always full, meant my shoes mainly wound up on the floor. The giant box was just too small.

But now, after numerous efforts to contain my shoe mountain, I have found my solution. I stopped fighting my own laziness and accepted that the only workable solution would be a box large enough to contain all my shoes at once, with no arduous arranging needed to get them inside, and it had to be easy to open.

Since that didn't exist, I asked the clever builder who was fixing some other stuff late last year to make one. And here it is.

It is made of plywood which I painted apart from the front parts, because I think plywood looks nice with all its stripes. I was inspired by these coat hooks, which you can find at This Modern Life, for £15 each.

It's hard to explain quite how large the box it. To give you a little idea, it's almost too tall to sit on (to put on your shoes, but you can't have everything). Here's a photo of it before the paint, sitting on top of its predecessor.

The handle is a kitchen cupboard handle I bought in Ikea years ago, and I have a few around the house (you can see its partner on the louvred loo door in the background). I painted the box the same grey colour as the wall opposite (Dulux's Bowler Hat, which I had colour-matched and turned into a water-based satinwood finish for the wood). You can't see the wall above, but you can see here, and it gives the space a nice balance I think – as well as space for about a zillion shoes and various other bits of hall crap that no one now has to look at. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

80s ceramics: Studio Nova

I'll put money on the 80s coming around again soon in interiors. 

Not like this...

...more like this. Boxy shapes (like shoulder pads) and in-yer-face primary colours.

This is a plate and cup I stumbled across in a junk shop on my recent trip to Sydney. There was an entire dinner set of the stuff (below) for around £75. I fell in love with it.

It broke my heart to leave it there. I am still at the stage where I think about it a little bit every day. But I couldn't imagine how I could feasibly haul an entire dinner set back to London in my luggage. I now wish I'd given it a go but, alas, too late. This is the shop I found it in.

The bird is called Oscar and he lives out the front. It was the sort of junk shop you rarely see today, at least not in big cities where everything is pre-sorted and styled up for premium prices. This was a  rummage-hard gem.

So I went in twice because after the first time I kept thinking about the china set – which had "Studio Nova" stamped on the undersides of each piece – as I knew there were a couple of plates and bowls surplus to the set for sale. And these I could squeeze in a suitcase. The shop owner, a lovely old guy, had told me the plates were 1980s Japanese and hard to find. On my second trip, the guy manning the shop for the owner explained it was a rare Art Deco set and tried to charge me more than the first guy had asked for. We negotiated and my foursome made it back to London for about £20. Those colours couldn't be anything but 1980s.

All the same, I Googled when I got back home to try to find out more. Various eBay listings suggested that Studio Nova was from Thailand. Others said the brand was Indonesian. Another confidently claimed Portugal was behind these beauties. In fact, Studio Nova was a line produced by Mikasa, a California firm founded in 1948 by George Aratani, a Japanese-American farmer who lost the family business when he was evacuated during the Second World War and started, with an entirely new direction, from scratch when it was over. Mikasa was the result, though Aratani also went on to own Kenwood Electronics. He became famously philanthropic and died just two years ago. Mikasa is still going strong in the States and produces – has always produced – some pretty dodgy designs.

Lots of 90s farmhouse florals... but several other interesting designs, like these.

But I think my 80s plates – 1984 to be precise – are the best. I am pretty sure the dining set is still in the shop. Am I mad to be considering getting it shipped over?

Images, where not my own:;

Monday, 19 January 2015

Out of the flames of Ferguson

Since Christmas, I've been to Sydney and back, started a shiny new job (more of which shortly), grappled with alien spreadsheets to do my new year accounts – fellow self-employeds will feel my pain – and been floored by a hideous seasonal lurgy. 

I've kept posting throughout, but have much newness to share. Soon come. But please bear with me as I have a little catching up to do. And while you're bearing, do enjoy this cockle-warming story I bookmarked on The Daily Good back before Christmas.

Ferguson, Missouri, is sadly now on that list of place-names famous by sad association, since one of its police shot 18-year-old Michael Brown there and riots ensued.

When charges were dropped against said cop in November, rioting erupted once more and one of the areas hit was the nearby South Grand business district which, the Daily Good describes as a "vibrant, diverse pocket of Vietnamese eateries, black beauty shops, an LGBT-friendly tattoo-and-porn parlor, and dozens of other restaurants and boutiques...joined in a funky family vibe". 17 of its shops were vandalised, and in the aftermath a community art project has sprung up around South Grand's boarded up shops.

You can read the full story and see more images over at The Daily Good.

If you missed the original post, I also think you'll like this colourful bit of street art near my house in south London, which has entirely peaceful origins.

Oh yes, my new job! I'm very excited to say that I am now a full-time staff writer and editor at the very cool interiors website, It's pretty much the dream job for a design and DIY nerd like me. In case you don't know the US-founded site (there were Skype job interviews with Palo Alto, which I found deeply glamorous) it's a daily online magazine full of ideas for improving your home, with an emphasis on expert insight into the gritty details of glamorous things like loft conversions and kitchen planning, as well as plenty of pretty interiors porn. You can save and share images, post DIY or design dilemmas in the forum, interact with builders and designers and all sorts of other good stuff. Sort of Pinterest crossed with Sarah Beeny and one of those nice experienced old chaps who work at B&Q. Not the official line, of course, just my personal opinion.

I shan't be abandoning this little blog, of course, and hope you'll stick with me. I aim to continue to post at least once a week, more if you're lucky. So I'll be seeing you soon.

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