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How to be minimal – without getting clinical

When I moved from a place that looked like a Victorian pawn shop to a clean-lined Sixties house, it was the chance to embrace the sort of minimalism I’d always admired. Not stark – but calm, considered and classy. The result? Cold, uninteresting and clearly lacking something. Where was I going wrong?
Clean and lean: (clockwise from top left) interior designer Staffan Tollgard's stunning London flat (via Living Etc.); a vintage chandelier from eBay Abbey Chandeliers; clean citrus lines from Coastal magazineClarkeDesai architects 

Interior define What exactly is minimalism? “It is simplicity,” explains George Clarke, architect, Ideal Home Show ambassador and fan of pared down interiors. “It is quality not quantity; design stripped to its most fundamental features; maximizing your living space so that your home doesn’t look cluttered; it is calming.”

Opposites attract Minimalism does not need to look like a sleek white box (or, in my case, a half-furnished room). Soften empty spaces with warmth – like a sofa full of velvets and fake furs in a sparse, industrial setting. “Minimalism’s power,” says Alan Hughes of the Inchbald School of Design, “is based on juxtaposition … light against shadow, wool against leather, reflective against matte.”

United colours “There is also a control over the colour palette, adds Hughes. “Usually a single pale or neutral hue,” which brings varied textures to the fore as a way of adding interest and depth. But you can still be minimal-ish with brights, by picking just one.
The relaxed, homely vibe of this kitchen proves minimalist can be cosy, too. The image is from Pale and Interesting, the gorgeous online store run by stylist, designer and author, Atlanta Bartlett, 
Shine a light Switch clutter for bulbs: “Clever lighting can turn a boring space into an extraordinary piece of architecture after dark,” says George Clarke. “I like recessed architectural feature lights – especially low-level ones in halls or on stairs.” While visual artist, Claire Heafford, who hosts interior workshops at Papered Parlour, lights her studio with salvaged antique chandeliers (from Arch Source). “They scatter kaleidoscopic patterns across bare walls, the pretty effect is always admired by visitors yet involves no added ornamentation.”Want to know more about chandeliers - or spot a real bargain but it's a bit knackered: Abbey Chandeliers in Derby - full of useful info to help you find the right lights for you.

Bin there Clutter can be a hard habit to kick. Try the two-stage trick: tear yourself away from useless objects by storing in the attic/garage/self-storage unit. Make a six-month date: anything you haven’t missed – charity charity shop, or rotate it with objects from home. Try also the Clutter Clinic book.

Shelve it Clear kitchen surfaces for smooth lines: Lakeland’s under-shelf baskets (£11.99) for cupboards and under-sink shelves are pure genius.

In-store Kate Mooney, interior designer and Occa-Home MD suggests decorative storage trunks (this is one of Occa Home's, above) or any dual-purpose furniture with a secret niche) and keeping corners visible to enhance an air of space. Floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall mirrors are magic too.

Loose Fit Floundering? I like the sentiment Kelly Hoppen expresses in her book Close up: Attention to Detail in Design (Quadrille): “A room that is over-disciplined is in danger of becoming boring," she writes. "And a space punctuated with too many ingredients will have the awkwardness of a badly composed sentence.” I may have to focus on writing.

Money for... old bus tickets: Mini Moderns' new wallpaper

For everyone old enough to remember Routemaster buses as more than just novelty wedding transportation, 'Hold Tight', the new wallpaper design from Mini Moderns will spark some nostalgia. 
Photo by Josh Love at Vintage Furniture

Look closely and you'll see that as well as being a cool graphic repeat in pleasantly muddy tones, the design is made up of old-school bus tickets. Mini Moderns worked closely with the London Transport Museum, employing an original Gibson ticket machine that bus conductors used to use.

Part of the 'Day Tripper' range, it costs £45 per roll (10metres x 52cm) and comes in three colourways. Harvest Orange, Lichen (above) and Mustard. The new line launches at Tent London this September.

Here are a couple of other Day Tripper goodies:
The Whitby 'Lido' cushion (possibly my favourite cushion design ever - check out the matching wallpaper too, most striking). £35.

Fayre Wallpaper, £45 per roll (measurements as above).

Whitby mix n match porcelain £83 for a set (coming soon)

Fresh fonts

Just when you think you're over a fashion – as I did with the trend for typographical art – along come some new ones you just can't resist.

Oh, and (in the case of "gin" down below) some oldies that just don't fade.

I'd quite like this quote from Coco Chanel to be the first thing I see when I wake up. It's by illustrator Ros Shiers and costs just £20 (A3 size) from A Little Bit of Art.

La Di Dada is by Robert Rubbish. Kinda joyful isn't it? £50, also from A Little Bit of Art

Try looking at this without singing along. Go on. This comes printed on recycled board, using one of the last-remaining vintage Heidleberg letter presses. It costs £38 (A3 size), made by Wasted and Wounded Letterpress and available from Made By Hands of Britain. They do Bob Dylan and the Beatles too – look.  

I've long loved the simple message on this print by Robert Rubbish (see above). £50 (48cm x 64cm) from A Little Bit of Art. You could also try the lovely Outline Editions, which sells it in black; they have all sorts of other goodies by exciting illustrators on sale too. It's where I bought my cherished tower block squirrel print by Claire Scully.

Another good message, strengthened by the simple illustration, that would be good in a child's room (unlike, of course, "Drink More Gin"). Start em thinking as you hope they'll go on etc. It's 40cm x 50cm (nice standard Ikea frame size...), is printed on heavy paper and there are only 100 of each colour (yellow, blue and black) and costs £47.50. Find it at the Keep Calm gallery.

And why say "bye" when you can say "hi"? 40cm x 50cm print also from the Keep Calm Gallery – and a snip at just £20.

More leonine loveliness

Only time for a quick post today as I'm off to a metal festival in east London. Slightly scary – but a good friend's boyfriend is in a (very non-metal) band tipped for big things, called St Jude – “a modern day Janis Joplin fronting the Faces” says one reviewer. I'm dying to see them: here they are covering the Temptations' I know I'm losing you. Pretty amazing, and well worth braving the metallers for, I think...

Anyway. As a result of all of that, I'll just briefly share something else lovely and leonine that caught my eye this week (in the same old-school style way as the Muji stone lion below).

Isn't he gorgeous?

He's by illustrator Chris Rain, who was inspired to create him by a trip to London Zoo – where all the lions were asleep, and is on sale for just £40 at the super cool Airside shop.

The screenprint is A2 size and one of a very limited edition of just 30. So get in there quick.

It'd look lovely on a child's bedroom wall, or to give a bright welcome in the hall.

Muji goodies for Christmas

Muji's Christmas range always excites me – as they introduce new lines exclusive to that time of the year. I bought a rather lovely ceramic Battersea Power Station incense burner for a friend (plain white, very simple, totally beautiful) and last year I was given a sweet ceramic bunny rabbit moneybox, again in simple white ceramic. 

OK, so it's only July... a bit premature. But there are "Christmas in July" preview shows a-go-go on the industry side of things at the moment – so as I've got the photos, I thought I'd share my pick from the December range right now. Now all you have to do is wait...

Soap stone animals, £6.95
These soap stone animals come in many more varieties and subtly different shades beyond these four staples.

I love the retro stylings – particularly the lion, which reminds me of the supercool Benny Casa version by Marilyn Neuhart, contemporary of and collaborator with Eames and Alexander Girard.

Apple puzzle, £12.95
If you're a wooden-toys-only-idealist, this is a great kids' present. In fact, it's almost too good for the littl'uns.

You can either hang it in a frame, or allow sticky fingers to peel off the outer layer to reveal a worm inside...

Aroma diffuser, £45
The sleek design of this unobtrusive room fragrance dispenser is so Japanese. And to go in it, choose from Muji's range of scented essential oils – bergamot, grapefruit, eucalyptus, rosemary and more (£3.95 each). Beats a sickly Glade Plug-in, eh?

Cityscape letter and pen stand, £9.95
The cards Muji do in this design are also lovely – I have one displayed in a perspex box on my desk. But this one is eminently more practical, particularly on a desk. Choose from London, Pris, Tokyo and New York. Perfect present for someone homesick and far away.

History in a box, £14.95
Again, if children's stuff makes you happiest when it's made of wood this should do the trick. The theme is transport and there's aviation, nautical and automobile history to choose from. Great for learning. Even better looking stylish on a shelf.

Today I'm loving...
Howkapow's new stuff

I've mentioned Howkapow a few times here already. And when I got their latest newsletter, packed with fresh-in-store goodies, I thought I'd do a little spotlight on the company. 

Run by Cat and Rog How (see what they've done there?), a young and very cool looking pair whose aim is to bring colourful designs and fresh young talent with "smile inducing style" (nice!) to a wider audience through their shop. Here are some of my current favourite Howkapow things...

Tea-towel, £9
Love the word order of this 100% linen tea-towel – because it's correct. Those pedantic about tea-making (like me) will either be raging at their screens or quietly cheering. The rest of of you will, hopefully, just be thinking, "That's a nice tea-towel".

But back to pedantsville, briefly: milk-in-first is often argued to be correct. But unless you're doing things properly with a teapot, in which case the rule is reversed it should be the other way around. Why? Cold milk + boiling water = not-quite-boiling-water-temperature. And tea needs water to be boiling to brew beautifully. When that's done, as the tea-towel says, you can put in your milk (and sugar). In fact, the tea-towel is inspired by Indian chai, which clearly has its own gloriously pedantic rituals...

Set of four mugs, £35
These bold, geometrically patterned mugs are perfect for a splash of colour in an understated kitchen. Equally good for indecisive types who change the colour of their walls as often as I'd like to (if only someone would come and paint them for me every six months). And if you like these, you might just love the striking Katy Binks pop print also on offer (I'm slightly obsessed with its mesmerising colour co-ordination).

Leaning Man side table, £175
I love the simplicity of design in this handsome little side table/cupboard – it needs no fixing as the wall holds it in place just by being there. It's by up and coming young company, &Then Design, which consists of 20-somethings, Jamie Bowler and Samuel Wright. They have all sorts of other goodies for sale on their own website (the 'Thought Jar' light is totally fantastic) as well as a coming-soon gifts and accessories range.

Desk print, £50
The clean lines and air of functionality expressed in this print through the shape of the uncluttered desk and unfussy colours inspires me to finish off my own office. A project that started with a bang, and then turned into a damp squib as work and life took over my grand plans for a serene place to sit every day. Soon... soon... And meanwhile, I can look at this.

The limited edition print is by designer and illustrator, Tom Rowe, who loves a bit of obsolete machinery. See more of his work here.

Four-pack of cards, £12
It's the expressions on the faces of these fishy fancy dress costumes I particularly love – they just look so endearingly baffled.

They're far too good to send: a foursome, framed, in the bathroom would look lovely.

Today I'm loving... the Robin & Lucienne Day exhibition

Calling all Robin and Lucienne Day fans who didn't make it to the recent exhibition of the legendary mid-century design couple's work in Chichester's Pallant House Gallery... If you are in or near west London, you can now catch the show at the PM Gallery and House in Ealing. 

Find out a bit more about the show on the Gallery's own page and see a nice slideshow of highlights in at the Independent's website.

How to... get the coastal look (minus the cliches)

Can’t afford a holiday? A home by the sea is the next best thing. Can’t afford that either? Then fake it – by bringing a bit of the seaside into your home.

Think “coastal style” interiors, however, and a few clichés may come to mind: faux-distressed white woodwork, nautical accessories, driftwood furniture… But it doesn’t have to be thus. To create something stylish, rather than tweely themed, it’s important to think beyond the obvious – and to work it in moderation. 

Do check the wonderful images (numbers 1, 2 & 3) taken by Wendy Goodman in Provincetown for her brilliant NY Magazine blog. Images 4 & 5 are from stylist and writer, Atlanta Bartlett's luscious Beach Studios location hire company (the site is stuffed with inspiring images). Seriously stylish.

I just love the 70s-tinged boat look (see 1), and the compact arrangement of space and dinky cubby holes (2). The light colours and weatherbeaten textures keep things feeling airy. And the colours (especially in 3) show that coastal colours don't need to be twee bright blue and white, with contrived nautical accessories hanging from the walls.

“Take a more natural approach to that beach idea,” says Atlanta Bartlett, an interiors stylist and author who also runs Beach Studios, a locations agency which includes her own coast-side property in Kent. “There are lots of other colours associated with the seaside. What about the beach in winter? My local, Camber Sands, is almost more beautiful then than in summer – all those sandy beiges, charcoals, off-whites and greys – it’s breathtaking.” To keep darker colours reminiscent of the beach, use deeper shades for accessories and smaller details.

As this look is all about the big outdoors, a good shortcut is to incorporate items you’d normally find outside. A simple way to do this is with furniture: a vintage deckchair in the bathroom, or a white painted folding garden chair at a desk can give a hint of beach life without overdoing it.  You can also incorporate typically external materials; rough natural floor tiles in a bedroom or living room, where you’d least expect them – rather than just the traditional locations of a kitchen or bathroom – can be effective for conjuring up a hint of the wild and rugged.

1.There’s something about antique pieces or reclaimed things that evokes the coast and inspires a sense of relaxation. I love the dark, battered wood at one of the many gorgeous properties you can browse for inspiration at Atlanta Bartlett's Beach Studios location hire. “It’s about not having something that looks too precious,” says Atlanta Bartlett. By using lots of whites, you could potentially create something that looks slick and minimal, so to avoid it looking clinical or deliberately designer-y, rough it up a bit." 

2: Pale colours best evoke the coast but, says Bartlee: "Be careful to mix up your whites. All brilliant white will look very cold. Go for lots of different shades, and add as much textural variety as possible to create definition and not just have one big white mass.” This large ceramic cake stand £44.95 from Pale and Interesting (a smaller size is available for £18.95) is a lovely, simple way to do just that, and to make more of those seaside finds. Think too of white-painted, nautical-evoking tongue and groove cladding on walls (“doesn’t have to be vertical, try horizontal too,” suggests Bartlett), sheepskin throws over armchairs and sisal rugs for breaking up a pale and potentially too-smooth backdrop. 

3. Find well worn trunks for storage from salvage outlet, Lassco in London, for a couple of hundred quid. They have a whole ship/nautical section online to browse which currently has a lovely pair of aged oars for sale that would look beautiful leaning against a wall. A battered leather armchair would do a similar job of softening pale, clean lines if you don't need the storage.

4. Framed bus blinds have been a growing trend for a while now – I love getting them out of the obvious urban context and going for seaside-themed locations. Retrophenia sells individual locations for £255, all originals. 

1. Reflective surfaces, say glass panels in a door, lots of mirrors – ideally vintage finds – and accessories such as these numbered glass bottles are £59 for a set of four from Pale and Interesting will also boost whatever level of natural light you’re working with as well as provide textural contrast. 

2. There is also an alternative approach: to take things tropical. In his book, The Way we Live by the Sea, by Stafford Cliff (£19.95, Thames & Hudson), the former Conran creative director, Stafford Cliff, includes luscious shots of colourful beachside rooms in exotic locations including Mexico, Mauritius and Kenya: think bold print fabrics, bamboo walls and rattan flooring. Without tropical sunshine to set it off, however, colour overload risks creating a cluttered looking space at odds with the desired airy, relaxed effect – so, again, keep the backdrop pale, using jungle-y touches for selected accents. 

3. Type ‘St Ives’ into the search box for prints, cards and picture books ripe for framing by local artists old and new from the famously arty Cornish seaside town, including Patrick Heron, Ben Nicholson  and Alfred Wallis.  Ben Nicholson from the Tate shop online.

4. “The interiors of houses by the sea, wherever they are located, often seem to have a design vocabulary in common,” says Stafford Cliff, “and colours tend to be light and reflective.” Describing the bathroom in a London house which has been subtly styled to hint at the seaside – all shades of white, tongue and groove panelling, and natural wood – he says: “[This] is a good example of how materials, colours and design can evoke the feeling of freshness and openness normally associated with life on the coast or even at sea.” Give it a go with something like this feminine white framed Augusta mirror, which is pricey at £500-odd from New England Lifestyle. But Not on the High Street sell a plainer but more purse-friendly range from £69.99. 

5. Beach up the garden with a bamboo lantern from Pebbles to Sand for £25. They also sell a sexy mohair and wool throw in charcoal for just £40, that would look good draped over the end of a pale sofa.

6. Frame a trio of 18th century copper engravings of marine life Heatons of Tisbury – they’re just £10 each. 

A natural wooden decorative liner for just £14 Beach Hut does it all – just the one, mind.

John Hinde's postcards:
the back-story

Regular readers may be aware of my John Hinde postcard obsession

The Hinde images, instantly recognisable, highly coloured snapshots of a vanished world (their best cards were produced in the 1960s and 70s), have become collectors' items – with fans including the photographer Martin Parr and designer, Wayne Hemingway, who is hosting an exhibition based around the cards at this year's Vintage Southbank event at the end of this month.

The very nice Edmund Nagele (see his name, above on the right?) told me how easy it was to photograph people in the 1960s and 70s without any trouble. "No one ever wanted any money, and they always said 'yes'," he explained with I interviewed him a few weeks ago. Image via: the John Hinde Collection, copyright John Hinde Ltd.

Aren't the colours extraordinary in this image, part of a big series commissioned by Butlin's in the 60s and early 70s?  If you – like the photographer, Martin Parr – love this picture, do buy the gorgeous book of the series (curated by Parr) , Our True Intent Is All For Your Delight (Chris Boot, around £20 from Amazon). Image via: the John Hinde Collection, copyright John Hinde Ltd.

You can read the interesting backstory of these glorious images in a piece I wrote for today's Independent Magazine, after being lucky enough to be invited to peruse the original prints behind the postcards at the HQ of the brilliant John Hinde Collection in Devon. There, the founders – the lovely Michelle Abadie and Marcus Davies, are painstakingly restoring some of the original transparencies.

The pink of the stone and the pink of the dog-walker's skirt, with the mossy shades of green in the grass just look wonderful together. And it was no accident – John Hinde sought out the best colour house he could find, in Italy. The quality of what they could produce was far superior to anything available in Britain or Ireland at the time and it's what helped the Hinde cards to shift more than 50 million a year at their peak. Image via: the John Hinde Collection, copyright John Hinde Ltd.

I was also very excited to speak to Edmund Nagele, one of the photographers who took some of the now iconic images (such as the one of the Duporth holiday camp, top image, above). He had some marvellous stories to tell – from how he and fellow Hinde photographers cast the "casual" passers by, coloured their clothes more vibrantly during processing, frequently borrowed locals' hydrangea bushes as props and spent five months of the year driving around Great Britain and Ireland in John Hinde's circus caravan to do his job.

The John Hinde Collection showed me the original transparency of this colourful image: without the lush green grass (in reality is was pale and rather patchy); without the stunning skies (they were lifted and pasted from images taken in the Mediterranean); and the chalets and sun lounger weren't quite so vibrant. Image via: the John Hinde Collection, copyright John Hinde Ltd.Buy prints of some of the images from the John Hinde Collection, or go see them en masse at Vintage. Meanwhile, do enjoy some more of this gorgeous and evocative images...

Images via: the John Hinde Collection, copyright John Hinde Ltd.

This week I've loved...

1. Cushions covered in vintage kimonos

Aren't these colourful cushions stunning? I found them while researching fabrics (which I'll be writing about in my next Insider column in the Independent on Sunday). The cushion covers are made, mostly, from vintage kimono fabric or other second-hand finds. The woman behind these beautiful creations is upholster, Heather Linnet, who runs the website Eclectic Chair. These gorgeous things start at £25.

2. Discovering Vivian Maier's photography

© 2011 Maloof Collection, Ltd
I went to the launch of the London Street Photography Festival, where I was mesmerised by the exhibition of images taken by Vivian Maier, above. I've bought three of her postcards to decorate my new office with.

3. Eyeing up office accessories

My new office is slowly coming together. Very slowly. And while I should probably focus on the big things (finessing my desk, which is currently fashioned from a piece of chip-board balanced on some shelves, and sorting out the boxes of stuff I moved from my not-at-home office instead of letting them gather dust in the garage), it's been much more fun window-shopping for the little touches. Like these goodies from Present & Correct: (clockwise from left) good graphic print-covered planning books, £5; a dinky German designed desk calendar, £45 and this prettily patterned masking tape, £8.50 for the set, with which I shall stick up my Vivian Maier postcards.