Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Before & After: the dark grey hallway takeover continues

I've been banging on about my hall sporadically over the past couple of months. The entryway part of it got quite a major overhaul to boost light and declutter it. 

But leftover was this little understairs nook. Which I sort of liked as it was...


But since we'd painted a wall in the top part of the hall dark grey, there was an argument that the new wall needed a same-coloured buddy to balance things out (you can check out the other wall here, where I also asked your advice about whether or not to repaint the stairs nook dark grey too).

Apart from the untidy lighting wire I need to find a solution to, the area looked OK. But because there's no natural light, the white never really looked especially white...

Though it still was a vast improvement from what it had been previously...

...somewhat cluttered. It was my workspace for a while when I had lodgers, and I'm not sure now what those charts were stuck up on that shelf, but seeing them every time I came in and out of the neighbouring kitchen can't have been relaxing.

Even tidy it looked pretty busy.

But then this scary giant clear-out happened, and I moved my workspace upstairs and out of sight from day-to-day living.


But in the end, I was seduced by dark paint. And things went from this...

...to this...

...and this...



I'm kind of over dark grey, but – like its wall partner up the stairs – the understairs area had to blend with the floor to visually create more space rather than being chopped up with colour changes (and the floor isn't due for a change for a good while yet). And the other point was to make it dark so it was cosy rather than grubby looking. I think it's better. Do you?

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Object of the day: new Muji shelving

I can lose hours going into a branch of Muji. All those satisfyingly minimal solutions for storage you never knew you needed...

Sometimes I just like to imagine I'm really organised and, if I was, what I'd put in all those little acrylic containers. But this season it's Muji's wood that's got me going. And since last week was all about beautiful Japanese things that are hard to buy, it only seems right to share.

The new shelving range (on sale n the flagship London branch, Tottenham Court Road, and online) is beautiful in its simplicity. It's also designed to be configured to your space, so the wall beam above (these start at £12.95, depending on length) works well alone or in a long line or in any arrangement you fancy.

I really love these shelves and might have considered them for the bit of my living room revamp I have yet to polish and unveil (a long shelf along one wall for, well, that's what I'm working on). As it was I went for painted MDF but this would have added a nice warm feature.

So often, when people come over to the house they comment on the wall hooks I have up in the hall. They're really simple wooden ones that I bought in bulk in Ikea a few years ago (I now have lots of them lined up for coat and bag storage, as well as one on the back of each bedroom door and in the bathroom). Last time I went to the great Swedish megastore I didn't see them and am not sure they're still available there. But these understated hooks from Muji are a good second best. Unlike the Ikea ones, they only come as singles, but you might not feel the need to put them everywhere in your house as I have.

The range comes in this finish – natural – and also in a darker wood. I love this one the best.

The box shelf is £29.95. Wall beam as before.

A couple of years ago, when my house looked quite different, I photographed it for the Muji newsletter (I really am a superfan) and the focus of that was also storage. For a bit of a Throwback Tuesday, you can nose at it in this previous post if you're interested (please forgive the typo).

Find the new range here at the Muji website.

I'm up for doing the newsletter sort of thing for any other brands I love and have featured on this blog (or would happily feature on it), so do get in touch if of interest.




Monday, 16 March 2015

Object of the Day: Japanese Kihara Komon porcelain

I stumbled across these Japanese plates a few weeks ago and can't for the life of me remember how or where. But I bookmarked them because they are so very appealing.

However, like many things worth having, they're not that easy to get hold of.

The range is called Komon, which is the Japanese for "eblem" and, from my research, the plates only appear to be available in their country of origin – Japan.

They are by the Japanese brand, Kihara which designed them for the almost 400-year-old Aritaware Porcelain Lab, and each plate depicts a different good luck symbol.

The circles design in the foreground signifies infinity, and is said to bring luck for relationships and properties, while the net design, behind it, symbolises scooping up happiness.

I seem to have a habit of falling for plates that play hard-to-get (you may have seen my mournful ode to these out-of-reach 1980s Studio Nova beauties a few weeks ago), and so apologies for burdening you with the same pain. On the plus side, you can buy these online from the Japanese shop Kiraha (have fun with Google Translate) or through these Japanese eBay shops, where the postage seems to be unnervingly reasonable and prices for a set of five start at around £55 – scroll right down the list – though there are potential customs charges to consider (you can probably work those out from this guide). Just be careful not to think you've landed an incredible bargain only to have bought and had shipped a set of chopstick holders by mistake like that woman who bought the dining table in the eBay episode of This American Life.

There is a New Zealand shop selling them too, An Astute Assembly, which is so nice it could make a person want to move to Auckland. And Monocle sell a slightly different design which, personally, I'm not so keen on but you can have a look here.

And look, there's even a range for children.

I'm so smitten.

Is anyone out there lucky enough to own some of these sweet ceramics? Or are any UK shops tempted to start importing them...?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Homes: our most excellent holiday house swap

I've posted a few design highlights from my trip to Sydney at Christmas here, here and over on Instagram already, but have finally got my photos in order to share the biggest of them all: the house we stayed in.

It was my first experience of a house swap, and I think we got pretty lucky...


Above: the front living room at our holiday home, with gravity-defying Sapiens bookcase and armchair covered in Timorous Beasties' London Toile, a nod to the owners' London connection

I have brothers who live in the city, and the house belongs to the neighbours of one of them; a family of three, including one Brit expat who happened to be over in London for Christmas and was looking for a place to stay while we were going to be in Sydney.

After I'd nosed around their house virtually – it is on the website of MAC Interactive Architects, who designed it (some of whose photos I've used, where my own were too shoddy) – I went into a finishing-the-house-DIY-frenzy in preparaton. Scroll through the photos and you can perhaps see why...

This hanging seat, on the balcony outside the master bedroom where we slept (I know...) was pretty much my spot for our two-week holiday. I think I got through five books in it, and a few beers.

It's a pretty unusual looking building. So I asked how it came about: the family had returned to Sydney after a few years living in London and felt they'd already lived in a typical Victorian Sydney terrace – like the neighbouring houses above, with wrought iron balconies, you see them all over the city – and though they loved them, wanted something different. They'd also been to Japan and visited Tokyo and Hokkaido, an island in the north, where they discovered some very different looking sort of a houses, made from concrete and wood – like this house in snowy Hirafu (which you can see over at Architizer).

But back to Sydney...

Above: the back view of the house just after it was finished, and before that hanging chair made its way onto the balcony at the top (photo: MAC Interactive)

The owners decided to "live the Grand Designs dream" and build their own house inspired by the Japanese architecture they'd loved, plus a moodboard including music and films they both like. "Our lovely architect came up with barn idea – a big wood box – and we took it from there," they told me.

Above: the house from the side. The tall window in the middle is, I think, the bathroom, which there's a photo of shortly (photo: MAC Interactive)

The owners say they love the house because it's versatile and they can use the rooms in different ways. "It's not a show-off mansion," they told me, "It's enigmatic... It's good for all sorts of situations. Kids' parties. Friend get-togethers. We have even had mariachis using the kitchen/courtyard seat as a stage for a surprise show..."

Above: the living/dining/courtyard area, and sometime mariachi stage (photo: MAC Interactive)

Above: The view into the kitchen from the courtyard (photo: MAC Interactive)



The house, the owners continue, "is clever in terms of heat and cooling, and it uses the limited space – for Sydney – well especially volume; high ceilings make it all seem bigger."

Unusually for a new house in hot city like Sydney, it has no air conditioning yet is very cool, thanks to its clever design. It also has photovoltaic panels; a fireplace that pumps hot air around the upstairs rooms in cooler weather and a 10,000 litre rainwater tank that supplies the loos and washing machine.

One of the many details I thought was really clever was the way the back doors opened: they recede into niches and so when they're completely open you don't see them, and the garden becomes part of the interior.



I also really loved the view as you come in the front door: straight ahead you have the staircase with a glass panel overlooking the kitchen. The shelves are on the kitchen side. Below is the architect's photo, showing this from a different angle.

The shelves are home to the owners' Chinese communist figurines; they're modern replicas bought in Beijing, apart from the car which is an original, picked up in an antique shop in New York.

There are a few more looking out of one of the tall windows. 

They have so much great stuff...




The shape-throwing lampshade is a nice touch.

Above: a Thorsten van Elten bowl, made from toy soldiers


The family are all big fans of Toy Story and Pixar – and this green soldier is just one piece of Pixar merchandise dotted around the house.

Above: The lusciously orange-tiled bathroom, with a walk-in shower, was our en-suite (photo: MAC Interactive)

And I loved the painting above our bed, which made me think of an Indian night market on the beach. It's by Emma Walker and you can see more of it on her website.

But even better than the house was the house cat, Briefcase. Bullishly friendly like a dog, he was a big, soppy superstar. All in all, a pretty incredible house-swap.

Read about the house and see more photos at MAC Interactive Architects, in Sydney


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