recent posts

social media menu

Cheery African inspired fabric

It was still dark – and bloody freezing – when I sat at my desk this morning. But luckily, I'm writing about sunshine-y African wax print textiles (more of which soon) and wanted to share the chirpy designs I came across the other day, by the Californian Alexander Henry Fabrics, new at Fancy Moon, heavily inspired by that style. What do you think?

Djada Border is cotton, and costs £13 per metre and comes in these two colourways.

Old-school sewing stuff

While browsing the Fancy Moon website, to ogle their new fabric arrivals, I spotted all their new range of beautifully old-school craft kit by Merchant & Mills. Very Labour & Wait

Above: buttons, £4 and safety pins, £4.50 and sewing tools kit, £42. Below, bone china mugs, £8.50 each. What brilliant presents for a sewing friend. 

In a bid to prolong my learning-to-sew-cushion-covers procrastination a little longer, I think I will now have to wait until I've stocked my sewing kit box stylishly before I even think about dusting off that machine.

Tidy house, empty mind

I seem to be spending every weekend sorting through a long-built-up collection of mess, chaos and junk at the moment. And while my motivation is that I'll feel cleansed and zen when it's done... I know it'll swiftly slide back towards chaos in time. Which is why I think I need this on a prominent wall. Comforting, no?

"Tidy house, empty mind" costs £30, including the gold frame; it measures 6" x 8" and is available from Culture Label (again, I know, I've just become a little obsessed with their amazing online shop this week... do check it out).

Vintage Pat Albeck tray

Staying on the animal tip (see post below), I couldn't resist sharing this sweet vintage tiger tray, by the textile designer Pat Albeck. 

It would look beautiful mounted on a wall in child's bedroom (you'd need to use these sorts of plate hangers, rather than the hook-around ones). Or in the kitchen. or, of course, you could use it as an actual tray (but you'd have to use a tray very regularly to get the most out of it, I think...). There is just one of them, and it costs £16 (plus p&p) from Winter's Moon, a gorgeous shop that I spend far too long window shopping at.

The design is by Pat Albeck, whose career started in the 1950s and who is still going strong (she has a brilliant website with a photographic history of her work through the decades – some highlights below).

From left to right, Pat Albeck's designs from the fiftiessixties and seventies

Animal egg cups

I think these egg cups are brilliant. Not ones to hide away in the cupboard, they'd quirk up a kitchen shelf very nicely. Good gifts for home-loving friends with off-beat taste (or just big animal love).

Pug egg cupWolf egg cupSwan egg cupOwl egg cup

The egg cups are available from Culture Label, a great organisation that puts its profit back into the arts to support new talent. They sell a lovely rabbit egg cup, too, in the same range. And they're just £7.50 a-piece. RBS's Stephen Hester really should start reading this blog.

Homepsun Style

I've just interviewed stylist, Selina Lake, about her new book Homespun Style (Ryland Peters & Small). It is a bundle of beautifully wonky, cheerfully bright and often handmade or revamped loveliness and is out next month (but available to pre-order now).

Florals aren't particularly my thing, but I could move into that kitchen right now. The particular shade of blue on the walls is gorgeous and I love the artful mish mash of pattern and colour that characterises Selina's style. And those cushions in the image on the right are so striking. I think they are 1970s Heals fabric – are any vintage textiles addicts out there able to verify? I'd love to know.

I will save any more for the interview (watch this space) but enjoy this tiny preview of what's to come. You can read a bit more about the book (and many other exciting things too) on Selina's inspiring blog.

Abigail Ahern gets cosy

As promised. A bit more from Abigail Ahern on how to create the perfect retreat from this grim old weather...

"Now more than ever," says Abigail, "we want our homes to be a sanctuary from the outside world; not just a place that’s practical and functional but a refuge. People don’t just want a living room in order to watch TV or hang out they want something that feels  unique and personal. Awful as the economy is, I think it’s been great for interiors because people are moving less and thinking about their interiors more."

Abigail has up to ten lights, even in small rooms. The more levels and layers of lighting,
the cosier and more "intriguing" a space becomes (all photos: Graham Atkins-Hughes)

Abigail's top tips for creating your own "refuge"...

Lighting This is top of the list. The more lighting, and the more different heights you can add, the more intriguing you can make a space… and intriguing is cosy. I have quite small Victorian standard rooms and I have ten lights going on – even more in some rooms. It sounds like a shed-load and ridiculous – but they’re all on very low wattage and create interesting and beautiful glows. Shadows should never be eliminated; they create drama. And a brightly over-lit space just looks like a hospital.

Layers and accessories – and by that I mean stuff" – vases, ornaments, flowers, scented candles, pictures on walls – the more you add to mantles and shelves, the more interesting, beautiful and dimensional your home will be. It also just kind of makes a place feel slightly more lived in and loved – and in order to make it feel cosy it’s got to look and feel lived in and loved. And you can’t do that if you don’t have stuff, or it'll just look like a showroom. But do leave some negative space – a bit with nothing in it – so that, say, a shelf or coffee table doesn't look crowded out with stuff. The objects should look as though they have room to move.

"You can never overdo texture," believes Abigail

Texture is huge. It's quite neglected oftentimes but once you start adding texture it really softens up a space. My trick is to create as much visual friction as possible by pairing things that don’t necessarily go  together – metallic shiny leather with a really slubby wool, for example. Or a seagrass matting on a really shiny floor. Unlike pattern, where to much can look over the top, with texture you can almost never have too much. It's the easiest way to add cosiness.

Embrace small rooms Even in big rooms I try to make them small. Place furniture on an angle, layer pillows, add side-tables... just not having stuff on the perimeter of a room will automatically make a space feel more inviting. Having everyone lined up and sitting around the edges, to me feels like a doctor’s waiting room. It’s so dull. So I’d prefer to bring the sofa right in front of the fireplace, as I have done at home. Then the traffic flows either way around it and the room just breathes more. I design rooms whereby you can never walk in a straight line from one side of the room to the other and I do that purposely because I want to trick the eye of the person coming in the door. It always freaks clients out until I make them come to my house and have a look. People often  think that putting furniture around a room's edges will maximise the space. It really doesn't. It’s a bit like being in a forest – if you take a walk through a forest your senses are automatically activated because you can’t automatically see what’s in front of you, nor a straight path. So if you can create a room where you have to kind of meander, it will look more interesting.

Don't shy away from giant mirrors and a a multitude of different textures, even in a small space
Mirrors are such a key tool in design because they broaden a space's horizons: over-sized mirrors over small walls reflect the room right back at you, adding immediate cosiness. 

Ditch pastels for sophistication and a cocooning atmosphere: "You can paint a wall in half a
day and transform a room," says Abigail
Colour Inky, dark, sludgy, beautiful hues make a room so cosy. Summer or winter. I just don’t think you get that feeling with white and pastel shades, whereas greys and charcoals and slates and taupes just look phenomenally beautiful. And it’s so easy; you can paint your walls grey in half a day and it automatically feels really cosy and sophisticated. My favourites are Farrow & Ball's 'Down Pipe' and 'Railings'; 'Teal’ by the Paint Library and 'Dusted Moss' by Dulux (see below).

Some of Abigail's favourite colours: from left to right – Teal, Railings, Down Pipe and Dusted Moss
Scent is a huge one for adding cosyness. I am obsessed with Santa Maria Novella pot pourri after I walked into Rita Konig's apartment in New York and instantly asked: 'What is that smell?!' I have decanted it all around the house in tiny tea-light holders so that this really gentle, beautiful perfume permeates the space – you come through the door and immediately feel relaxed. Pot Pourri has a bit of a 90s reputation and gets a bad rap – like fake flowers, which I'm also trying to change – but this stuff smells phenomenal and it's all organic and collected in the Florentine hills, then aged for ten months. It is beautiful.

Abigail’s book ‘A Girl’s Guide
to Decorating’ (Quadrille, £12.99),
is out in paperback on 16 February.

Abigail Ahern's tips
for getting cosy

I love Abigail Ahern's style – this is her house, below. I asked her for her tips on making home a cosy space for today's edition of the New Review, in the Independent on Sunday.

Do check them out – and check in later this week, when I'll be posting up more Ahern-esque images and the full interview, which is bursting with inspiring ideas.

B&Q's bright new collection

I've looked at these photos loads, and I still can't quite believe all this beautiful stuff is from B&Q. Nice, isn't it?

(Roughly) clockwise from far left: 
Zircon circle scribble applique cushion £7.98
Ceres floor lamp (pole) £49.99
Ceres floor lamp (shade & base) £49.99
Muralis animal skin print eyelet curtain from £26.98
Morganitee suede 3D loop cushion £14.98
Legacy rattan pendant £39.98
Larimar woven cushion £8.98
Eyelet curtains: Zircon circle scribble print and Samphire bright skin printfrom £26.98; Zen eyelet curtain from £14.98
Scilla knitted floor cushion £39.98

I really love the colours of these desk lamps, £29.98 each. The yellow and the teal are colours that feature big in my home, so one of these (at least) may sneak its way in...

What a lot of luscious brights to perk up your January. Shame none of this stuff will be in the shop for a few weeks (its launched in Feb). But not long to wait. meanwhile, it gives to time to decide what to buy (particularly love the pink/gold cushion, bottom left, and the squishy pink floor cushion)...

(again, roughly) clockwise from bottom left:
Pinnule faux silk button cushion 
Agate Square Button Cushion £8.98
Colours Isaac desk lamp £29.98 each
Haymarket shades in various colours £6.98
Colours Zen Floor Cushion £24.98
Petal Floral eyelet curtains from £26.98
Adnate cotton sateen eyelet curtains from £26.98
Russica large flower cushion £19.98
Apomixis mini piped cushion £7.98
Sphene two colour woven cushion (fuschia and Hawaii ) £9.98
Two colour woven tassle throw £19.98

Vintage luggage racks from the London Transport Museum

I've just developed a very passionate crush on some storage hitting the shelves at the beginning of February. These cute, curved metal shelves are, in fact, the luggage racks from London Underground's recently decommissioned 1960s Metropolitan Line trains.  

The strictly limited collection, comes in two sizes: the large ones (101cm x 23cm x cost £250 x 33.5cm) cost £250, and the small ones (45cm x 26cm x 32cm) are £150.

I'd like one of these next to my sofa, which is up against a wall and so has nowhere to put books, the remote control (which, brilliantly, the gentle bucket shape of these things would hide) and a glass of wine.

I'd have another small one by the door to hide just-got-in paraphernalia (keys, pocket chaff, dog lead etc.) and a large one in the kitchen, with pots and pans hanging underneath it.

You can buy them from next month at the London Transport Museum Shop.

Eclectic interior

I spotted this flat on the brilliant Etsy blog, and was drawn to its many and wonderfully odd objects. It takes a bold style to go with this sort of look – and I'm all for bold. What do you think?

I love how the owner has filled the place with colour and flea market finds, and yet managed to retain a clean, airy feel. All about restraint and careful positioning.

Although it looks like the best vintage shop you could hope to stumble into, in fact the reason this place looks so sleek is because the colour palette is pretty limited. Green, cream, orange and wood are the core colours, with restraint on accents such as the turquoise glassware on the shelf. Very clever.

The designer, Abigail Ahern, who I recently interviewed (watch this space) is all about filling homes with "stuff" – and her top tip for keeping things feeling un-claustrophobic and ordered, is to be sure to leave empty space between objects so that they can breathe.

Groupings of three things that work together also look sleek rather than mish-mash; a clean way to add a homely vibe and show off your personality. Right now, as more of us cherish the homes we're in because we can't afford to go out, let alone move, this personalised look is – Gok Wan-ism alert (apologies) – bang on trend.

I do like a mannequin in an interior. And this is a particularly good one, hanging as it does, fully clothed in an elegant outfit. Find a selection of secondhand shop dummies on eBay. The room is helped to feel light with touches such as objects you can see through – the chair at the window, and the glass and wrought iron table. 

You can see more of this chic, quirky great space on the Etsy blog, and also get some recommendations of how to get the look with products on sale on the website. 

Songlines streetmap print

Thank you to my friend Abi for pointing me not only at a gorgeous print, but also to a very good shop and design mecca that I didn't know about. Always a joyous thing to disover.

So at first glance this looks like an urban street map, albeit in a rather nice frame. 

Look more closely, and you will see that the streets have in fact been renamed after various legendary (and some very random) song lyrics. 

There's 'Highway to Hell', 'Itchycoo Park', 'Alphabet Street', 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams'... and, ahem, 'Love House' –from the Sam Fox back catalogue. It comes with an A-Z guide to every song on the map and who sang it. What a great present for an aesthetically led muso. Ideally one that likes singing 1980s Page Three stunnas. 

You can buy one of the limited edition, signed and stamped prints for £100 at We Are Dorothy... but you can also buy it in an unlimited edition format for just £20. How marvellous.

We Are Dorothy is a collective of designers and creative types, and they're up to all sorts of interesting stuff, including some quirky prototypes I really wish they were selling. There are some more, often quite enjoyably dark, things to buy at their shop though. I quite love and hate in equal measure the 'Big Society' print, which gives the twee 'What would the Harpers do?' style of typographic print a run for its money. (It starts 'Cokesnortinmoneylaunderinstreetmuggin...' and you can see the rest here.)

More upcycling ingenuity

So many of you have said nice things about last week's 'Reuse, recycle, reclaim' post, featuring brilliantly creative ideas from stylist, Jasmine Orchard, that I thought I'd post up some more overs from the piece I wrote in the Independent on the topic. But this time from bar owner, Ferdie Ahmed.

Ferdie owns – and designed – the Latin American tinged London bars, Barrio North and Barrio Central. And it was the Islington branch that gave me the idea for the piece in the first place, when I went to a party there before Christmas. The bar is bursting with unusual, resourceful and affordable decorating ideas, from umbrellas and builders' buckets for lampshades, to tiles put on back to front. Some of it might only work in a bar context, maybe. I don't know. Either way, I thought it was very inspiring. Here are some visual highlights...

Ferdie was inspired for the decor by his travels in Latin America and "the ingenuity people showed in reclaiming, reappropriating and reusing stuff found on the street – scrap metal or colourful old food cans to build shelters or beach carts – and how they made them look cool without a big budget.".

The tiles on the right-hand side of the picture above are, in fact, all from the discount bin and none of them match. They blend together because they're attached to the wall back-to-front, meaning a patchwork of earthy tones and good texture. Ferdie also encourages guests at to personalise a tile. "Some bars have Polaroids, I thought it'd be a bit different."

You can also see the bucket lampshades above the bar, the umbrella ones to the right, wall panels made from old doors and scaffolding planks and suitcases as wall decor.

The tables were made from old pallets. The coloured planks are simply from coloured pallets, rather than painted afterwards. Love the way theyre used diagonally on the walls, too.

Ferdie bought this caravan on eBay and turned it into a little nook for private parties in the bar. It'd be a great idea in a huge, warehouse-y style open plan flat, too.

The cosy, brightly decorated caravan closer up. Love the donkey at the door.

The boat-like ceiling came with the caravan and had been installed by its previous owner.

More pallet coffee tables as well as some stools, too.

This tile-tastic nook is slightly off-brief – but it was too stunning to leave out.

A better look at the back-to-front wall tiles and umbrella lampshades.

Reuse, recycle, reclaim

In today's Independent I wrote about three people who've been really creative in their stylish spaces – but spent virtually nothing doing it because they reused junk, things they already had or stuff found at flea markets or in the street and cleverly found other, new, uses for them.

There wasn't room in the piece for all the pictures and tips, and there were so many great, inspiring ideas I thought I'd stick the overspill here. Below are tips and images from the stylist Jasmine Orchard. Do check out the paper for the full story and tips, but I hope you enjoy this quick fix meanwhile (and I'd love to see snaps of some of your own creative re-appropriations – so send them in).

Why jelly moulds were ever wasted only for making jelly, I can't understand. The jelly mould lampshade is a trend that's been around for a while but stylist, Jasmine Orchard, who I interviewed about her upcycling skills and tips for the piece, has done it beautifully here. Love the way the unruly wire, clamped and looped around simple nails, creates a sculptural effect in its own right.

Isn't this lamp made from an eBay fire engine ingenious? Read Jasmine's step-by-step how-to make your own lamp out of an old toy truck on her blog. The idea sounded really difficult and I imagined electrical skills would be needed. But Jasmine had never done anything like it before and just got lots of tips at her local electrical store – then applied some style and creativity. 

I also love her really simple idea for a magazine rack made from an old cymbal, bent into a new shape.

It's the simplicity of the twist that makes this kind of interiors re-appropriation so satisfying. Here Jasmine has turned her jewellery into art: the rim of a nicely shaped, shiny oil can is perfect for hanging dangly earrings from; the ruler had a hole in the top already (but drilling one would take half a minute if you have a drill or a friendly neighbour with one you could borrow), so Jasmine screwed a lone vintage cupboard door knob she'd found on one of her relentless junk shop/car boot sale excursions. Most door knobs come with ready-attached fixings that will allow this (check before you buy and get all excited). 

And the picture frame, sprayed black, with a scrap of fabric in the same colour but a contrasting pattern, is idiotically simple to do. Choose the sort of fabric, like Jasmine did, that lets you hook lightweight things onto it, and/or use plastic drawing pins that stick out, and choose a colour to work with the fabric.

Proof that you really can find a use for anything: the fire truck came with this chunky orange and red plastic cover as its top. It wasn't needed for the light, so Jasmine turned it upside down and put it to work keeping things tidy, and artfully displayed, on her kitchen worktop. Love it. 

Whenever I get flowers I can never find the right (or any) vase for them. But thinking about what you might have lying around that isn't a vase is a good habit to get into. This gold teapot looks wonderful holding some roses, don't you think? Jasmine also hangs earrings from the rims of other teapots she has.

An easel at a carboot sale is the sort of thing I'd go over and stroke, appreciatively, then walk off and leave because I didn't know what to do with it. But I do love displaying treasured coffee table books (but never on a coffee table). So voila. Love the really simple idea of glass jars as planters – you could repot or, as Jasmine has, just put the plastic pot inside the jar. And any old jam jar of the right size would work. Food cans with their labels peeled off, of course, is another lovely way to avoid buying plant pots.

Jelly moulds also make good soap holders. But anything that you like the look or colour of that will do the job is worth trying.

Jasmine had lots of great tips about this sort of thing. This is an old milk crate. Proof that brightly coloured plastic can look just as good as a (now fairly pricey) vintage wooden version (wine crates look spectacular piled up against a wall on their sides as a DIY shelving unit, or fixed as stand-alone box shelves  – but you'll be lucky to find them cheaply now that people have wised up to how good they look. Which is why I so love this milk crate. Jasmine also suggests looking out for old bread crates or the ones they deliver bottles in in pubs – or anything else of a similar shape that catches your eye.

A table made from crates and a broken mirror
Jasmine says: "I have some old old Britvic crates stacked up as table legs – on top I balanced what was once a mirrored cupboard door. The mirror had broken but instead of throwing it out, I turned it over. The back of the door was really lovely and panelled so I just took out the broken glass flipped it upside down: it made a perfect table on top of the crates."

The crate recycling bins and shelves
"The crates you get with compartments also make really good recycling bins for cans and bottles as that’s what they were designed to hold; so they will keep everything in order rather than you just hurling in glass to crash about. While you could attach castors (from Ikea or a DIY store) to the base of one of the ones without compartments: also great for stashing the recyling and wheeling out of sight under a kitchen counter. You could also use the long plastic crates used for food as drawers inside an old wooden cabinet or shelving unit." Jasmine has a great picture of this last idea on her blog.

So many ideas. Thanks Jasmine! Do check out her website and blog for more inspiration and lovely images. She also provides an affordable styling service if you'd like her to come and do all the thinking for you...

Best of 2011

I meant to collate a selection of some favourite and popular posts from last year as 2012 rolled in. It's been a busy start to the year though (and I STILL haven't finished the decorating!). But, finally, here it is...

There are lots of exciting features coming up in the next few weeks and months: a new how-to slot with a clever new contributor, an inspiring interview with Abigail Ahern, some brilliant images showing you how to get new furniture and accessories for FREE and lots of brilliant guest posts for starters.

And if there are any specific things you'd love to see more of – please do get in touch (the request for more before/afters has been noted and is in progress... watch this space). Anyway, here you go with the highlights meanwhile (just click on the images to go to the original post).

Antoni & Alison's guide to doing up an old house

Fisherman's Cottage, Deal