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Beefeater plates

I was very excited to find these psychedelic plates (£65 for the six-part set) on sale in my favourite new shop, H is for Home (warning: you will waste hours ogling the lovely, random but well organised and affordable vintage goodies here)

Why? Because I already have two of them and wasn't sure if they were just a bit weird – I found them in a junk shop in west London and no one else took much of a shine to them. I don't even eat meat – so it seemed perhaps bizarre that I'd picked up a pair of steak plates (the stamp underneath is "Beefeater" by English Ironstone Pottery). I had swooped on them purely because they are bulls and I am a Taurus by star sign. (And a shopaholic who needs very little excuse to buy anything homes-y at all.)

The only people who shared my enthusiasm were (luckily) my deeply stylish neighbours, Emma and Sarah, who couldn't wait to show me their collection of fish plates from the same range.

If you miss out on these ones, there are lots more going on eBay.

How to... live with
kids in style

Ferm Living's Aristo Cats cushion at Skandivis
Kids: can’t live with them – well, not in a stylish home. Or can you? I once interviewed a couple with a – chic, all-white – house full of sticky littl'uns. Their secret? Brilliant white walls – all the cheaper for touching up handprints, and a wipe-clean eggshell finish (bounced heaps of light around, too). What do other stylish parents suggest?

Toy Store-y "There will be mess," says Poppy Norton, of swish kiddie stuff shopping guide and discount hub Babystylefile, "so make it pretty by choosing nicely designed toys. And low-level storage means kids can help themselves." She favours the felt tub from Nubie (above, top left). Cheap, no (at £73). Chic, yes. Or tuck toys into a trio of Habitat's hot pink or beige laundry bags, £10, in bathrooms (or on any tiled surfaces as they come with wall suckers) or hang their recycled rice bag versions on hooks (both above, bottom right and left respectively) or try Ikea's Nasum baskets (£15.31).

Love the one you're with “Use what's there: an old dresser or a Victorian cold cupboard make good toy storage,” suggests Lucy Inskip of, a national network of designers. "Anything that's beautiful on the outside. One client had built in storage made in the dining room, an otherwise under-used area (with a view to reclaiming it for her dinner service eventually)."

Mini moderns The modernist look of Bloom Baby products (above, top and bottom left: the Alma Mini Crib, £300; and the Coco Plexistyle , £195, bottom right) is good enough for adults and I love the Hippie Tipis at Scandavis £140.

Everything in its place "Make tidy-up time part of the children’s routine," Inskip continues. "Involve them by having storage boxes which they can throw everything in and do it to music to make it fun. But don’t keep all playthings in one space: it can be overwhelming for you and them.Books and soft toys can live in bedrooms, play-dough and paints in the utility or under-sink, outside toys in a playhouse or garden store and only a selection of toys at one time in your main day to day play area.”

A vintage year "Don't rule out mixing in vintage pieces," says Poppy Norton. "I think people rush out to get everything new for their bundle of new, but a well-loved piece of furniture can soften a room.

People in glass houses "If you are desperate for more space consider a conservatory," adds Lucy Inskip. "A lovely light daytime play area – and by night a candle-lit retreat... if you can stay awake that long. A conservatory doesn't usually need planning permission and is much cheaper than an extension or moving."

Grow up “Providing the children a table area doesn’t have to mean coloured plastic and Ikea chairs.  A large coffee table with an old school bench alongside provides a perfect perch for little bottoms. Having a vintage look for furniture in those pre-school years means any imperfections blend in. Antique trunks also make great toy storage”. As per images above, The Peanut Vendor has a gorgeous trunk  and this old factory trolley base, £185, which could work as a kid-proof coffee table.

The clean-up woman“Banishing valuable or potentially dangerous ornaments can lead to a dull looking room," adds Lucy Inskip. "Instead, add interest with child-friendly touches such as throws, cushions, rugs, wall art and beautifully accessorised shelving that little hands can’t reach.”

Colour me bad “Don't fear going ‘too dark’,” says Poppy Norton. “My son’s room is Farrow and Ball Charleston Gray – a great backdrop for bright artwork and a bold, feature wallpaper.”

Doodle do Murals can be cool (just don’t invest too much – they’ll hate it next year). One artistic friend painted her son a Super Mario; you could go ready-made at, as seen above: right 'Birdies' £60 per 100cm square; Lost Garden Wallscene ™, £165 for 2.44m x 2.75m; World Champions bespoke mural (price according to size/design).

Without walls “Open plan is great for families,” says architect Krystyna Brooks of “Add an island unit to cook while watching the children play.” She also suggests underfloor heating and hiding homework in a fold-away computer corner. See her site for details of suppliers.

Ditch the deep pile At least downstairs. Mop-able vinyl now comes in fashionable brights. Try Colour Flooring (seen above) which comes in 18 gorgeous colours and costs just £19 per square metre.

Hipsters’ delight Nippaz With Attitude’s A-Z print , £34.99, includes Stevie Wonder and Malcolm X. Love their personalised 'Monster' posters, too, £49.99 (above)  They also do Ibiza and hip hop lullaby CDs. Who said having kids meant growing up?

* A longer version of these tips was first printed in the Independent on Sunday

Vintage desk accessories
from ebay

I'm trying to find a little desk for my new home office at the moment. Which, because I probably spend too much time at a desk, is happening via the medium of eBay. I'm not having much luck. But while looking (procrastinatingly, under some rather broad search terms) I came across all sorts of gorgeous desk accessory goodies. They're all still for sale for a little while... let me know if anyone buys any of them.

How cute is this quirky, fold-out toucan desk lamp? He's on sale until Sunday, with a starting bid of £60. 

This 1950s Smiths Sectra desk clock is an absolute classic piece of design. 19cm high, it is in full working order and also auctioning on Sunday. The current bid is £34.99.

Love this elegant but dinky-sized 1970s table lamp, which measures just 27cm high. It needs a little electrical tinkering (it is currently wired to run from a car lighter) which is why the price is currently just £12.99.

This is an unusual design for a desktop perpetual calendar.

Love the funny Art Deco-y font on the month cards – though the seller reckons it's 1940s or 50s rather than older. It's made from brass and bakelite.

It measures 9cm high and is on sale until 31 May, currently priced at £49.99.

This unusual vintage Mura desk set – containing a rubber, ink, labels and a tape measure – would make a good gift for a stylish student-to-be, or someone with stylish home office about to launch into a life of self-employment doing something arty. It's a Sunday auction and the current price is £8.99.

How to... fill a big blank wall

Alun is a man. And his flat has been declared “too manly” by his
new flatmate, who is very female in her 
Calamity Jane makeover
scene urges (Doris Day’s spartan cowgirl shack gets a girlie gingham 
spruce-up). The main concern? Bare walls. BIG bare
walls. Small budget. Tips?

Wall of me Wall of me: clockwise from top left: the home-made art at the Saltoun Supper Club; BHS's chic, cheap standard lamp;  a V&A botanical prints; Deborah Bowness 'Books' wallpaper; 'Pottery' wall stickers from John Lewis; Scandivis 'Raven' clothes hangers.

Stand tall Forget attaching things to your walls. A giant plant and a stylish standard lamp (to create interesting shadows) will go a long way. Love the Elin floor lamp, just £35 from BHS (top right in collage image above).

Stick 'em up I've gone off wall stickers a bit, on the whole I think they've jumped the shark. However, I have long loved the shades-of-green vase-shaped 'Pottery' ones from John Lewis, £19.
Shelve it To fill a whole bare corner in my house I had some wonky box shelves built – different sizes and depths (there they are, above). Painted to match the wall the effect is quite sculptural and, MDF-made by a builder (not a specialist), cheap too. Or try Cubit.

Portraits of you Think you can’t afford a huge portrait? Try Paperface – from £299 for a quirky collaged commission.

Hang up Dangling pretty dresses or giant bits of jewellery from your walls is instant and free (if you already own them, of course). Love the Raven wooden bird clothes hangers, £39 a piece, at Scandivis (see collage image at top).
On the tiles Away from the kitchen/bathroom, tiled walls are a striking statement. Mismatched = more affordable, so pick odd tiles (one colour but different thicknesses) or mix patterns in the same palette. The floral Welbeck Tiles vintage range (above) is gorgeous (thanks, Flowerona, for the tip-off).

Wall for one A papered “feature wall” can look passé. The “books” wallpaper from Deborah Bowness, however… wow. £173 per (generous) drop. Or make a patchwork of favourite samples – again, limit the palette. If you're crafty – or inclined to become so – the lovely, and super stylish Papered Parlour in south London do screen-print-your-own-wallpaper classes. You can see their own design in the PP studio, above. 
Collage days Use what you have: Odd plates, favourite old record sleeves, or cherished postcards and photos. For the latter, frame them using the same types or colours of frame for cohesion, and build a grown-up collage. Love the wicker baskets (above) covering a brick wall at the chic Saltoun Supper Club.

Take art Paint your own: Stylist Pippa Jameson suggests using a giant canvas and painting a loose, random pattern in favourite colours. “The bigger the better: this type of painterly effect looks great in really large spaces,” says Jameson.

Flower power V&A Prints sell gorgeous repro antique botanical prints from £15-£100. Create your own wallpaper by pasting a selection to your wall for the ultimate girlie makeover (see collage image at top). 

How to… find up-and-coming designers

Talent spotting: Giles Miller (gold vase, below right) of Farm Designs and one of Design Museum's Designers in Residence 2010 who has already been commissioned by Stella McCartney; the 'Roll' desk (bottom left) by David Horne, a student at Nottingham Trent exhibiting at this year's Free Range show; the work of Sophia Stock (top image), who is studying Surface Design will also be at this year's Free Range

I got a little thrill when a printmaker I’d bought from on Ebay went on to design for Habitat, while an upcycler I’d bought a quirky lamp from was featured in Elle Deco. But spotting talent before it hits the mainstream is not just an abstract thrill – it could lead to snapping up a bargain from the next Tom Dixon, or simply finding something unique for your home. But where are these creative upstarts hiding?

Start name-shopping Discover designers and discounts at the online shops showcasing new talent. My faves are Bouf, Our Workshop and Made.

Pre-picked The Design Museum’s prestigious Designers in Residence programme nurtures just five or so talented types. Names are on their website, watch ’em. From the last batch, Farm Designs’s Giles Miller has already been commissioned by Stella Mcartney.

Show off Design Shows – try those under the annual London Design Festival umbrella (September) – are of course fertile ground. Habitat talent spot at New Designers (the cream of new graduates, happens in June). Not in London? Stalk the websites for names, track the designers’ own sites/blogs for stockists and news.

Rising to the top But how to sort the crème de la crème from the cream? Look for “a passionate designer who knows his materials, ideas and influences,” says Alan Hughes, VP of the Inchbald School of Design. His current tip from New Designers is Morven Strachen who won the textile section. He also recommends Designers Block (“great for the unexpected”) and Free Range, which starts 31 May (“great energy”).

Follow the leaders If Twitter baffles you, think of it merely as a personalised newsfeed. Who to follow? Find an interiors Tweeter whose style you rate (a favourite shop or magazine?) and copy who they follow and who follows them. Find another: repeat. Soon your Twitter homepage will be dotted with nuggets of insider design tips as they spot and name drop.

Blog on Camron PR agency does all the big style names (Anouska Hempel, Liberty, B&B Italia…). As well as writing their own nugget packed blog, they swear by the hugely influential Dezeen and Mocoloco. I also love Décor8.

A shorter version of these tips was originally published in the Independent on Sunday's New Review

Industrial house tuning

Sticking with the industrial theme (see post below), I have been poring over the luscious new images illustrating French company, Bodie & Fou's new range by the Danish design firm, House Doctor (love their blog). 

Below are some favourite shots and products, plus a few cheaper copycat tips...

(C) lifestyle image courtoisy of Johanna Vintage

The 'Have a seat' industrial stools, above, cost £79.99. But what about that great idea on the wall in the background – dinky box shelves, backed with different scraps of wallpaper. Clever.

This Industrial clip-on light, above, would make a great kitchen task light, clipped onto some shelves in your favourite recipe book reading spot: cosy yet no-nonsense. £82.

I've been nurturing a monochrome urge for a while, this look (top) shows just how soft the look can be. I'm inspired. Don't you just want to move in here? I do. Love the cute, white ceramics on the black shelves. The Owl Vase is £22.50. 

As recycling goes, this Pallet Coffee Table (above and below) is a pretty swish version – it costs a whopping £550. But you could knock one up yourself for just a few pounds. There are plenty of sites selling big castors from around £10 a pop. Ideally, find a salvageable pallet that's been chucked out, or sweet-talk your local DIY store for one as they generally come in bulk if you want to buy, or can be expensive. When you have found one, there's even a rather brilliant looking book all about building stuff from pallets to provide the technical tips.

Still on the pallet tip, I thought these cinema seats (below) made for the stylish Deptford Project's Silent Cinema by JailMake last summer were very clever – and beautiful. Let them inspire you into creating your own designer piece.
Nice big red letters. Not cheap (£139). But do check out the inspiring Bodie & Fou blog, which has a long post featuring lots of lovely pictures of variations on these letters, used in various creative ways in nice rooms (see above for starters). 
And for a shabbily chic – and much cheaper – version, try Camel and Yak. While Into The Woodshed has some nice colourful varieties, from around £40.

An industrial revolution

I interviewed the lovely couple behind a very cool company, Urban Cottage Industries the other week. 

They sell pared down, beautifully made – and affordable – vintage industrial lighting to people including Martin Scorsese and Lily Allen. You can read their interesting story in the Independent – while, above, a few teasers from their gorgeous product range.

Shine a light: some utilitarian chic stuff from Urban Cottage Industries – clockwise from top: Elizabeth vintage style festoon, from £4.95; original front and rear bike lights, retrofitted with LEDs, £95; the Maria Light, £79.

Cushions, gadgets, lazy posters and dirty dishcloths

1. Love these two new cushions from Random Retail. The Vaguely Heraldic cushion is a woodblock, two-colour design (and there are other colourways, too, but this one feels nicely late Sixties, which I like). And how sweet is the Alfie & Maud design? This also comes in various different colour options. See all the new cushions at Random Retail.

Both cost £35 (each) and are washable calico covers with feather pads inside. They measure 40cm x 40cm – and have different designs on back and front.

Interesting fact: the site belongs to the mother of the super stylish photographer, Holly Joliffe, who also runs one of my favourite online vintage outlets The OK Corral.

2. Cordless phone by Jasper Morrison: this sleek design, created for the new Swiss brand Punkt, don't come cheap (they're £159 each) but the phones are seriously sexy, aren't they? They have very basic keys (hurrah!) and 10 ring tones "to suit specific environments", whatever that means. Available soon from Skandium.

3. This simply designed Perpetual Calendar, by Sage, is a bargain at just £15 from Not on the High Street.

4. I do love a good vintage poster. This Relax... poster is a reprint, but still ever so chic. Roll on long summer days, eh? £45 from Luna.

5. Oh Colleen Pugh, you are cheeky. The designer's screen-printed tea-towel, called 'Dishes I'd Rather Be Doing', features five hot Hollywood hunks accompanied by Pugh's amusing comments. Machine washable and £10 from HowKapow.

Oh Seamstar, you are spoiling us

Ooh, lots of lovely new things for the Summer from spectacular online fabric store, Seamstar...

(from top down)

1. I love this sexy, retro-tinged African Queen print by California-based designer, Alexander Henry (£3.25 per ¼ metre, from a 110cm wide roll). I'm not sure I'd use it for cushions, but think it would be fantastic for a bit of light upholstery, chair seats perhaps, or as a bed runner or a roman blind in the loo.

2.  Or if you can't decide which of the Alexander Henry fabrics to choose, buy a bundle: £26 the lot, and each piece measures ¼ metre square. It looks good as it is – stick it on a prominent shelf and leave the sewing machine under cover.

3.  Circa 60 Beach Mod, £3.90 per ¼ metre for a 116cm wide roll, would make great curtains and quilts for a campervan – or pillow cases for an outdoorsy small person. The designer is another Californian, Jennifer Moore who runs Monaluna.

4. This bundle of vintage-inspired designs is by Heather Moore, from her Cut Out and Keep range. It costs £25.20 (per ¼ metre, from a 110cm wide roll) and would make a gorgeous gift – but hurry, there are just six left in stock.

5. Can't resist one more Alexander Henry. This is Mum in Pink, from the Griffith Park range. Again, it's £3.25 for ¼ metre, on a 110cm roll.

Colourful new arrivals
at Pedlars

Love these new items on the ever stylish Pedlars menu.

Totally can't afford this gorgeous, colourful Folkware crockery (because it's only for sale as a complete set, of 18 pieces, for £245. Sigh.) 

By way of compensation if you, too, can't currently justify a brand new dinner set – equally colourful, and available individually, are these lush POP mugs. They are a whopping half pint size (I have some other Pedlars mugs the same shape and always have the best morning cuppa from them) and have cute slogans on the bases – such as 'Lightbulb', 'Kiss Me' and 'Ice Cream'... yum. Each mug costs £13.95. Build your collection slowly. 

There are lots of other goodies in the new summer range on the Pedlars website, including some lovely retro-style city prints in frames... 

Inspiration from the tropics

Happy sunny Sunday – and sorry for the recent silence. I've been lucky enough to be on holiday in hot, tropical far-off places.

But now I'm back in Blighty, to gorgeous (not to mention tan-sustaining) weather, feeling refreshed, renewed and full of inspiration.

While I was away, I revived my obsession with tropical foliage and am determined to get as much of it as is possible in a semi-shady London garden. Sadly, my quest for the gorgeously fragrant frangipani trees of my dreams has been fruitless, and I fear the search for exotic plants suitable for the southern hemisphere is going to be tough (though when I've spoken to some clever garden-y friends and got their tips, I'll share them). It's a small start, but I'm very happy with the mini magnolia tree I planted in the winter, which has sprung into life during our recent mini heatwave. I searched hard for one that didn't need a proper flower bed and lots of growing space, as I only had a big pot on offer – and if you, like my friend Giles, are also keen on a magnolia that you can grow in a container for a balcony, patio or front doorstep, check out this miniature pink beauty from Van Meuwen, which costs just £17.95 and grows to a manageable 150cm.

Meanwhile, here are some nice jungle-y, planty, flowery things you don't even need a garden for...

1. Cotton Kaveri bedding, designed by artist Rebekah Maysles, who was inspired by a trip to the south of India. Anthropologie, from £38

2. This luscious Green Flower Oilcloth, is one of the new designs at Viva La Frida. Big, bold flowers (the largest white flower measures 20cm square), and just £12 per square metre. Use it as a tablecloth to bring the tropics into your kitchen, or stretch it like a canvas and hang it on a wall. I think it'd look great in a bathroom.

3. This pretty vintage garden print, from The OK Corral is far from tropical – instead it's packed with bluebells. Very English. And very lovely. The artist is Beatrice Parsons (1860-1955) and this 24.5cm x 32cm painting, in its original wooden frame, is a snip at just £12.

4. Good old B&Q. I really like this environmentally friendly wallpaper, which is printed on 100% FSC paper using water based inks. It'd look lovely livening up a wall in a hall or along a staircase, I think. Best of all, it's just £12.98 per 10m roll. (And look out for this wallpaper in next Sunday's green-themed Insider column in the New Review. This week's, in case you're interested, is all about how to pimp your stairs.)