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Worst Christmas decorations ever (or the best?)

Our Christmas tree is looking far too sparse. So sparse it could be mistaken for a deliberate attempt at stylishness, which I think is a shame this time of the year when you can get away with so much more. 

Last year we had these chaps as our tree topper. This year... any suggestions? While I was searching for inspiration (OK, while I was procrastinating about doing my tax return) I found some truly excellent festive decor ideas.

What could give you a warmer festive glow than a framed Christmas selfie on the mantlepiece? Especially if you wear a bow or tinsel garland as well as these chaps, spotted in the window of my local photographic portrait studio.

And while we're on the sexy Christmas theme...

I love this room arrangement, from the excellent Ugly Houses blog. Perhaps our tree isn't so sparse after all.

This is more like it.

Last year, I thought I'd found the world's scariest Christmas bauble ever. Apparently not. Get your handmade festive foetal twins from Etsy.

Then again, vintage is always so tasteful...

And bravo for the Etsy maker behind this 'Hangover Santa' bauble.

Do not try these at home.

Not on the High Street sell some lovely things. But enough already with the personalised decorations. Just me?

This, on the other hand, from the same stable... an 80s miserablist indy themed tree? (That is the theme, right?) Nice.

And with that, I'm off to find something even better than Run DMC for our Christmas tree, finish my shopping and stop putting off the tax return. Do have a marvellous one, and don't forget to share the kitschest thing in your home on the Facebook page for the chance to win a lava lamp worth £100. And I'd love to see your Christmas decorations too.

Meanwhile, merry festivities! See you back here on 6 January, bright and early.

Post by Kate

On the last* day of Christmas... Matthias Heiderich's photography

Aren't these vivid photographs of Berlin architecture fantastic? They are the work German photographer, Matthias Heiderich.

They remind me a little of Slim Aarons' 70s beach photography – the colours, at least, as Aarons' work is full of people. But Heiderich's work is a bit more financially accessible – and one of his pictures would make an amazing gift, don't you think?

© Matthias Heiderich, 2013
Heiderich has also turned his lens on the gleaming, crazy-looking towers of Dubai too which, like the Berlin ones, pare down a city's skyline to just one striking detail (see them lower down this post). These are now available to buy through a great new online store from just £25.

© Matthias Heiderich, 2013

© Matthias Heiderich, 2013

Fifty50Art is how I discovered Heiderich's work in the first place, and it is selling a set of the self-taught 31-year-old's work. Not mass-produced or flimsily printed copies, either. For £25, you get a numbered 20cm x 25cm print from a strictly limited edition run, which comes on high quality thick matt stock (Hahnemuhle's German Etching, for the paper nerds out there).

Fifty50Art Co-founder, Ben Golik, sent me this beautiful photograph – left – from Heiderich's Dubai set, by way of introduction. Below you can see how the print looks now, framed in black and on a shelf in the kitchen.

Photo: Kate Burt
Heiderich, who was born in Hamburg but recently moved to Berlin, cites artistic influences as including electronic musician, Tim Hecker and fellow German architectural photographers Christoph Morlinghaus and Joseph Schultz.

"Berlin is the city where I started to photograph and all the Berlin sets reflect my evolution as a photographer," said Heiderich by email earlier today. "Berlin is my favourite city and for the past few years I have been out almost everyday trying to collect as many souvenirs as possible – and also trying to find my own photographic language and my own interpretation of the city and my surroundings."

Now he is casting his lens farther from home. Here are the other Dubai images in the set.

Matthias Heiderich via
Fifty50 is one of a growing number of places specialising in affordable art, but without going down the depressing mass-production route to make it viable. I recently wrote about Fenton Art, which has an unusual and creative way of marketing the artists it showcases, while Outline Editions, which I love, has had big success by promoting the work of magazine and graphic illustrators as artworks.

Matthias Heiderich via

Each champions its artists rather than selling them out – and Fifty50 are working to a similar model: the limited editions (just 50 of each print in any size are ever produced) mean artists aren't over-exposed and, thus, devalued. Fifty per cent of the profit also goes direct to the artist. There is also a constantly evolving roster to discover too, with new names and fresh artworks launching on the site each week and more sizes available priced between £10 and £200.

"Not everyone wants to live with 'open editions' from department stores or home stores," says Ben Golick, Fifty50Art co-founder, along with Clare Clarke. "And we think there's a gap in the market for truly affordable art that still feels special."

Matthias Heiderich via
Matthias Heiderich's Dubai set comes in three sizes – the other two are priced at £50 (30cm x 40cm) and £75 (40cm x 50cm). Nose around, where you can also browse works by Super Future Kid, Rose Sanderson and Harriet Russell. For more of Matthias Heiderich's work:

You might also like some of these previous posts under the photography tab – whether it's of brutalist buildings, deserted houses, or is printed onto plates or wallpaper, or available to buy, frame and hang on a wall.

Post by Kate

*This is the last of my affordable Christmas gift idea posts (as I don't post at weekends, the 12 Days of Christmas theme has helpfully run entirely out of sync with the actual date). But I will be back later this week with a festive finale, featuring a spectacularly decorated home to inspire you instead. If you are still on the hunt for presents, do cast an eye over this lot you might have missed. I might feature a couple of bonus gifts this week too, so watch out. Now I'd better get on with my own Christmas shopping...

Competition: win a limited edition lava lamp in time for Christmas

While we're on the Christmas present tip (I've been posting a different, affordable gift idea a day all month in case you've missed them), this could be the solution for that teenage niece, just-out-of-home-er, or godson on the list. 

A lava lamp: what do you think?

While I probably wouldn't have a lava lamp at home myself these days, I do have a very soft spot for the things, as illustrated in my scary student bedroom photos posted earlier this year. And the 1960s-designed lamps are a bit of a design classic – they certainly have a colourful back-story, one that takes in nudist camps, Barbarella and egg-timers. You can read all about it here.

One of these limited edition lamps – released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Mathmos, the company behind them and worth one hundred pounds! – could be yours, for absolutely nada, by next week. It comes with a numbered, signed certificate from Christine Craven-Walker, wife of the lava lamp's late inventor (he of the nudist camps) and a "made in Britain since 1963" stamp. So quite the collector's item, really.

The company have offered one to us to give away because, no doubt, they were so dazzled by my younger self's Fresh Meat-esque interiors.

If you want win one, just go to the Facebook page and post a photo of the most kitsch thing you have in your own home (just look for the post about this competition and post it underneath).

Failing that, if you are more stylish than I am and gave all your kitsch things to charity shops when you were still a student, you can just drop me a line with 'I want a lava lamp' in the subject, at:

I'll pick the winner at random on Wednesday 20th December at midday.  So email or Facebook before that. Your lamp will be dispatched pronto, with guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas.

And we have a winner! Well done to everyone who showed off a bit of kitschery from their homes. I shall compile a gallery to do them full justice - marvellous stuff! The winner, picked at random from photo posters, private messengers and emailers alike has been announced. Is it you? Find out here.

Post by Kate

On the 11th* day of Christmas... old-school tea-towels

Have you ever not loved getting a tea-towel as a present? I like a gift that you can use every day – and I know that each time I use one of my own tea-towels, given as a gift, I also think of the person who gave it to me. Which is nice.

Tea-towels are also an excellently easy way to revamp a kitchen: instant (and practical) art. Who will you give yours to – and will it be one of these heavily 50s and 60s inspired designs, from one of my favourite eBay shops, Meggy Magpie?

You can also buy similarly themed coaster sets. 

Sweet, aren't they?

Tea-towels from £7.50 to £13.95. Coasters, £12 for a set of four (these also come in a couple of different designs), all from Meggy Magpie.

* We're lagging on purpose to make up for post-free weekends, so you get more gift inspiration

Post by Kate

On the tenth* day of Christmas... Future & Found's enamel vases

Good for toothbrushes, small bunches of flowers, planting hyacinth bulbs in, worktop cutlery, pencils... or just for looking at, lined up on a nice shelf.

Enamel vase, £15, Future & Found

And if these float your boat, you might also love these graphic Polish bar mugs, two of which I recently bought to display (and use) in the kitchen.

Post by Kate

* It's the tenth day in (this) blog's world, where there are leap weekends

On the ninth* day of Christmas... Ikea butcher's block

I featured the new and stylish Ikea Trendig range when it came out a couple of months ago. 

And one of the standouts for me (among some really great bowls and unusual tea-towels) was this chunky bamboo chopping board. A good unisex present for anyone who enjoys their time in the kitchen.

Trendig butcher's block, £16, Ikea

Bamboo is hardwearing, so it should last the distance too – which is not always the case with items from the Swedish mega-brand. (I was sad to throw away two nice Ikea metal lamps in recent weeks after the electrician deemed them unfixable.) But this handsome chap looks pretty robust.

Post by Kate

* See this previous post

On the eighth* day of Christmas... give the gift of copper

Its price makes it a little tricky to place as a festive gift: the £60 mark puts a present into the upper bracket of other halves, "big" birthdays and family (or is that just me?). 

So I imagine there may be more of you who'd fancy this for yourselves than have someone in that category on the present list who'd appreciate a beautiful, shiny copper mirror. But do let me know if I'm wrong.

Bonlina copper circular mirror on a chain, £62, Rockett St George

So this tasty reflector may just be gratuitous homewares porn (but with all that thoughful, thrifty shopping, surely you've earned a reward for yourself?). If it is, check out the alternative, below, also suitable for fans of 2013's hottest hue.

Copper cards, £2 each, Lovely Pigeon

Lovely Pigeon, a small Scottish brand I really love, have a set of stunning copper tinged cards: buy a pair – or even just one (and open it out, as the print covers both sides) – and put it into a small, off-the-shelf white picture frame (Habitat's "floating picture" Bacall is good, £15 for this sort of size, as it doesn't require a perfect fit). A very good gift for under £20 (or go for this Ikea Ribba frame, which would require a 1/2cm trim, and you have a very good gift for just over a fiver).

They also sell larger prints with the same designs. Alternatively, get some of LP's copper tape for £4.50 and create your own metallic design...

* see yesterday's post

Post by Kate

On the seventh* (blogging) day of Christmas... Vanja Bazdulj cups

This weekend in south London the HQ of Cavaliero Finn, dealers in well-curated yet affordable art and art-driven homewares, threw open their doors to host a festive open house/festive shop. 

I was gutted not to be able to make it, but was out of town at two massive car boot sales out of town (more of which to come) and didn't get back in time, alas. Next best thing, I thought, would be to pick my favourite gift-size artwork from the CF stable to share with you. I'll have to have that mince pie and glass of fizz later, and imagine I was there...

Vanja Bazdulj Naive mug, £25, from Cavaliero Finn

These very unusual clay cups are the work of architecturally-trained designer, Vanja Bazdulj. And her Naive Tableware set, as it is called, has an early 1950s thing going on, don't you think?

I can picture these texturally interesting, simply shaped mugs on the sideboard at the home of, say, DD and Leslie Tillett, or round at Barbara Hepworth's studio. However, east London-based Vanja says her ceramics are inspired largely by the graffiti she observes in her area.

"Simple forms are highlighted by exposing raw materials, their irregularities and patinas," say Cavaliero Finn of Vanja's work, "providing amazing textures, a transparency of working process and an honesty to the finished pieces."
We like.

Want to see more of what Cavaliero Finn have to offer? I have also covered Alice Mara's special synchronised swimmer-adored ceramics and her urban architecture vases. I also love Richard Brendon's spectacular monochrome striped cups and saucers  – though these are not cheap at around £80. But see his pieces as art, and the price gains a different context. (Though if you're after everyday stripey cups, try this enamel version from Future & Found for £6, which I spotted on the excellent Daisy Fay Interiors blog – check it out for more gift inspiration, the girl has fine taste.)

* Oh, and yes – and of course it is the ninth today, not the seventh. But we're only on gift number seven in this guide because I don't post at weekends and didn't want to cut short the list. So I hope you'll bear with me while I entirely ignore the date.

Post by Kate

On the sixth day of Christmas... Will Patrons Kindly Refrain print

For readers who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, here's some shameless nostalgia porn...

... and a potentially brilliant present. I bought a version of this print a few years ago for my bathroom and I still absolutely love it.

Pedlars, where I bought mine (for quite a lot more money than this, dammit) sold out of their limited stock of the prints pretty swiftly. For ages I couldn't find the print for sale anywhere else to recommend to others. But finally it has reappeared for sale in another shop.

This could be a great gift for anyone who might also have spent one morning a week of their childhood reeking of chlorine at the local swimming pool with their classmates, and gazing idly at this poster while queuing in their PJs to dive for a rubber brick. Oh, you'd muse, if only you were old – or excitingly reckless – enough to get get caught petting, dive-bombing or chuffing on a JPS.

Will Patrons Kindly Refrain print, £20 (for A2 size, unframed), Vintage Industrial Homewares

Post by Kate

On the fifth day of Christmas... Anthropologie monogrammed soaps

If you thought you couldn't afford anything in Anthropologie, try these. 

One – or two? – of these beautifully (and differently) packaged, bright soaps each bearing a lone initial could be a good gift for that extra person at your festive dinner table you don't know that well.

You know, a distant aunt, a relative's non Christmas celebrating foreign friend, a stylish waif and stray, perhaps?

It's thoughtful as it's personalised (but not in a scary Not on the High Street way) and it's little enough to be non-embarrassing in that potentially tricksy gift situation.

Monogrammed soaps, £6, Anthropologie

For more gift ideas, click on the gifts tab on the left-hand side.

Post by Kate

On the fourth day of Christmas... Danish concrete accessories

There's been a leap day: being a day behind made no sense, so there was no third day of Christmas and we're straight onto the fourth to line up with today's date. 

And if you are searching for a gift for lovers of brutalist architecture – this could be the best £7 you spend this Xmas.

This simple concrete house shaped ornament is a very stylish stocking filler or minimalist gift for that person on your list who you want to treat, but can't go overboard with.

It is by Danish design brand, Bloomingville. Love the different finishes – at Selfridges you can also get the black ceramic finish, £5.95 for a small one, or a large marble one for £12.95.

If you have a little more to spend, precisely double in fact, there are also some rather beautiful concrete vases from another Danish design company, House Doctor DK. They are £15 each. They come with a choice of different colours for the bases.

Both the concrete versions are from the scarily addictive online shop Clippings, originally set up for this year's Design Junction.

Bloomingville concrete house, £7 and House Doctor DK 'Betty' concrete vase, £15, both from Clippings

Post by Kate

On the second day of Christmas... Folklore slate supper board

OK. So it's not the second day of Christmas, it's the third day of December. But it's the second item on my gift-idea-a-day bonanza that is running until the big day.

And today's affordable present idea is one for foodies, table-styling supremos or people who just like to eat things off something more interesting than a plate.

Someone in my family is very fond of eating his toast off a nice little slab of wood, for example. And every time he does it, the toast gets elevated into more than just an everyday snack. It becomes a ritual, an occasion, a comfort. So I'd prefer this for breakfast rather than supper, but it'd also spruce up all sorts of other snacks (ones you can eat with your hands, perhaps), from bread and cheese to crudités or some big chunks of chocolate to have with an after-dinner coffee.

Handmade Irish slate supper board (15cm x 40cm), £14.50 from

You can also click on the "gifts" tab on the left for lots of general present inspiration. Or keep checking back on the Christmas gifts 2013 tab, which will appear under each post this month, accumulating ideas.

I'm also about to overhaul the tabs and navigation generally on the blog – if you have any suggestions, ideas, glitches etc. do let me know so I can factor them in.

Post by Kate

On the first day of Christmas... Mia Fleur horse bookends

For the month of December, I'll be doing a Christmas-present-a-day countdown here. 

Partly inspired by writing the Independent on Sunday's home and garden gift guide – and having a zillion lovely extras there wasn't room to include – each day there'll be gifts for him, gifts for her, or maybe a little reward for for the busy shopper. Ahem. Here's number one.

Horse head book-ends, £48, Mia Fleur

And if horses in houses do it for you or someone on your present list, check out this selection of equine excellence from a previous post, with ideas starting at just £7.99.

Post by Kate