Sunday, 22 January 2017

Spotlight on... Naomi Vona, vintage photo artist

Aren't these beautiful? They were a Christmas present to Declan and me from his sister, and I absolutely love them.

They are collages created on original old black and white photos, and are the work of Dublin-based Italian artist Naomi Vona.

Vona uses different materials to create her doctored photos; these use stickers and washi tape. But she also uses pens, acrylics, highlighters, paper and found materials to alter the vintage snaps she collects.

Here are some more of her pieces, which you can find for sale on Etsy, as well as other art sites including Rise Art and Art Finder. She's prolific, it was hard to choose just a few favourites. I love this one.

A lot of the old photos have scribbles on them, and even dates, like this one, which is also excellently surreal.

It's such a simple idea, but executed with such imagination.

I scouted about for more information about Vona and liked this quote from an interview she did with the Australian magazine, Frankie: "I try to play around with these materials but I am also open to experimenting with new materials. I am not patient, so I want to use materials that are easy to apply and you don’t have to wait hours to make them dry. That’s really childish, but I cannot wait!"

Of her work, and in the same interview mentioned above, she says: "The fascination for the past is the key, the flashing colours are the portal. I like to imagine that I have an imaginary portal that brings me into the past."

She also makes bigger artworks in the same style.

But back to our pair. They're not yet on the wall, because we can't decide how best to frame them.

Initially I thought of getting one of these sorts of frames, which you can pick up all over the place, including on Not on the High Street.

I love them, but I'm not sure it'd do the photo justice: vintage style frame + vintage style photo might reduce the impact. What do you think?

Alternatively, this is the style of frame Vona has on her own site, by way of example. Nice and simple.

But I'm also fond of Habitat's floating Bacall frames. This is how that style looks, I've used it for my Claire Scully print, which you can read about here.

But the smallest Bacall isn't quite small enough.

So I think I'm veering towards this kind of thing, below.

It's an old contact sheet of photos my brother took of me and my mum when I was little. He used to be a photographer and is now a pretty swishy art picture framer, and did this himself as a pretty amazing present.

I love the way the edges of the sheet stick up, and how the inside of the box frame appears seamless.

It's a shame that my brother lives and works in Sydney, but perhaps we can get our local picture framer to approximate the effect.

Which type of frame do you think I should pick? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

You can also chip in over on Instagram or Facebook.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Before & after: garden makeover

It's been a very long time since my last post, for which apologies. In the interim, I've got married and done up a house, as well as generally working full-time. 

I'll dig out some suitable wedding pix and post those soon, but meanwhile – there was also the garden makeover, which came about thanks to the wedding generosity of our friends and family. I'm going to start with the (almost) finished version.

It started life as a to-scale drawing done by clever Declan, my now husband.

Our brief – to ourselves – was to turn it into a garden we might use even in chillier or wetter weather. We wanted to get rid of the crazy paving (which you'll see further down) and have some grass, but also wanted somewhere solid to put a small compost bin (I have my heart set on the Alys Fowler-tipped Hotbin). The gravel comes in handy for that, and for the tiny shed, which has been bumped closer to the new patio; the composter will hide behind that when we buy it in the spring. 

Somewhat reluctantly, we went for artificial grass. It's such a small patch that having to get a mower just wasn't worth it, plus it's another thing to find space to store. It's actually a brilliant fake, though we might get something thicker and tuftier down the line to help soften the edges between lawn and path. If anyone has any extra suggestions for breaking up that line, I'd be very happy to hear them, in the comments below.

One of the unfinished elements is the lone raised bed, on the left here. We had this expanded from the even weenier little square it was previously, which you can just see in the last before photo. It's still not much of an area for planting, but in any small garden compromises have to be made; we wanted to use the garden for hanging out in, having people over in, and I'd love to lie on the new lawn in the summer to read a book. 

We also didn't go for a complete overhaul: the decking platform was already there and rather than demolish it we just reconfigured it. We had a fantastic garden builder called Allen who is the most thorough contractor I've ever worked with, and was full of clever solutions to all sorts of unexpected issues.

This is the original plan. There were a few changes from this along the way, but it's broadly the same.
And here's how it looked just before work started, hence all the piles of things everywhere.

The main part of the project was to build a waterproof pergola coming out from the back of the house. So the lovely scented jasmine and honeysuckle that were growing between the roof and the windows had to go. The plants remain, but now just stop at the start of the new pergola. Once we've figured out how to make it work with the drainpipe that runs across it (we did that after the photos, since the first time it rained it was very splashy underneath), hopefully it can grow across the front of the sheltered area. We're also training scented climbers up the vertical posts.

I convinced myself for a long time that the crazy paving had a sort of 70s charm (the same era as the house), but looking at these photos again, I'd forgotten quite how urban and grey the whole effect was. We had a round table in the middle of the paving but it was a pretty unwelcoming space.

We were reluctant to waste the paving stones and luckily our neighbour saw them piling up outside the back gate while we tried to find a good place to recycle them and decided she wanted to build a rock garden. We can now look out of the upper windows of the house down onto her garden and see all the old slabs housing a lovely rocky raised bed next door.

This is a shot taken before it was completely finished, but we had guests and so tried to make it useable.

The concrete tiles – madly shipped from this place, in Ireland, in a misguided attempt at economising – were a nightmare for many reasons. The main issue with them now is that, despite having sealed them, they are filth magnets and seem to pick up every stain going. On the plus side, they did look a little too pristine and gleaming when they were first laid, so they at least look lived-in now.

We'll put a vegetable bed on wheels parallel with the table once Declan makes it, too. So a bit more growing space. Talking of DIY – what do you think of the table? It's two Ikea tables with timber strips (wider versions of the horizontals under the pergola roof) laid across them. It's a temporary measure – I'm going to get some hairpin legs and we'll lash the planks together so it's more sturdy – but it's fared us well for a good few dinners and a lively Christmas do.

We really wanted it to be a space where we could sit in the evening and so lighting and heating were key elements.

The light over the table (excuse the dangling wires – sorting out the electrics is also something we've postponed until spring) is actually a halogen heater. It's absolutely brilliant and super warm. The festoon lights have LED bulbs and don't provide much light, but look nice and twinkly after dark.

We picked up the blue kitchen cupboard on the left on eBay. The top drawer is actually a flap-down surface, so it's perfect for light potting. It also boosts storage, very useful since the shed doesn't hold much.

The flowerbed is another project for spring. It has a few more things growing in it now, but it's still only a third full.

Any suggestions (it's a pretty sunny spot) please suggest them in the comments below!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

I'm dreaming of a zen bedroom

This has to be the most drawn out room pimp ever – and the changes weren't even that dramatic. But it's done, and our sleep space now feels calmer, zenner and softer underfoot.

Here's how it looked before:

Kind of busy, right? It was always a temporary arrangement; the bridge between the long period when the room – the biggest in the house, and an ensuite – was rented out, and the period when it would be transformed into something new when my boyfriend moved in, the lodgers moved out and everything got switched around.

I liked it as it was and I was always sad that the most interesting headboard in the house didn't fit in the dinky mezzanine room I slept in – it was a £10 find on eBay. 

A bargain, especially with built-in bedside lighting and a shelf across the top I thought. 

And probably, were I less of a clutter hoarder, and had stuck to all-white bedding and less stuff on the walls, it might have remained. But I was yearning for a bedroom clear of as much clutter as would be possible for someone like me. I wanted a headboard you wouldn't see, and an air of peace all around it.

So here's how it looks now.

We had a false half-wall built behind the bed, and treated ourselves to a luxury new kingsize mattress. As for the bed, more of that in a minute.

The whole room feels calmer, though I think something still needs to happen to that bookshelf, it's not relaxing to look at.

Excuse the not great photography, by the way – my camera has been out of action for weeks and so these are phone snaps.

The small, paint-splattered step ladder is the most last-minute Christmas gift I think I've ever bought – I was walking the dog at around 5pm on Christmas Eve and the walk takes us past a friendly junk shop.

This was outside and I thought my boyfriend might like it, as he was short of a bedside table now that the built-in ones had vanished. I was egged on by a cool young American mum with small children who had interesting names who seemed to think it was an amazing idea and called her to her husband inside the shop to tell him my plan. I couldn't really go back with this audience anticipation, and luckily the gift was well-received. Very useful it is too. And an improvement, I think, on this:

On the other side, this is how the upgrade looks:

I'd been fantasising about a floating shelf for months, to elevate and quantity-control the erstwhile floor pile.

The old china seagulls were a present from my brother and sister-in-law years ago.

Here's the other side of the room, which had a bit of a declutter and a fresh coat of paint.

The small drawers are Ikea, and you can see the revamp they had here. The chair was my grandma's and the lampshade was an eBay find. A bit trashy retro, but I think it works in this setting. (Much as I try to escape trashy retro, it seems I am just not that sophisticated.)

The photograph on the wall features my great grandmother and great grandfather, along with my grandma as a toddler with all her siblings. It's a nice thing to look at as I get ready in the mornings.

The little silver pot, another of the many things salvaged from her home after she died, has her name engraved on it, and the date of 1942. In fact, the chest of drawers and mirror were hers too, and the silver mirror and hairbrush, engraved with my name, were 21st birthday gifts to me which she must have bought when I was little and forgotten about, as I found them in a plastic bag, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, with a note in my grandma's handwriting which read 'For Kate's 21st birthday'.

We bought two of these rugs from Ikea to make one big one. Having something warming and soft underfoot when I get out of bed now is SO nice.

The wardrobe, you may have read, dominated one of our August bank holidays.

Ah, yes and the bed. This has also been a challenge.

I couldn't find many non-divan-style bed bases without headboards, and so we decided to get the builder to make one. We bought a whole load of birch ply and some cute legs from Pretty Pegs and a slatted mattress support from Ikea and asked the builder to put everything together. Part of the motivation was also that bed frames are expensive and we'd blown our budget on the mattress, figuring that was more important. Sadly it didn't work out quite as bargainous as we'd hoped.

The plan had been to have the slats far lower down in the base but he built it while we were at work and, well, that didn't happen. As such it was all way higher than anticipated.

This meant that the lovely – and not, I should add, especially cheap – legs had to be brutally chopped down. I painted the sides of the bed white (and, oops, some of the legs too). At some point, I will treat the bare wood showing at the top, which I like. Due to the leg issue there's no storage underneath, and due to the choice of ply and the method of construction, it weighs a tonne. (It took about an hour and a half and two people to lift it enough to get the rugs underneath.) But it feels amazing to sleep in and huge compared to the double we had before, with a very tired mattress. And I guess have learnt a lot for the next time I get a bed made... I'll go for this upscale pallet design, as seen in the incredibly cool Casa Helsinki guesthouse in Argentina, as spotted on Remodelista.

Have any of you had a bedroom makeover recently, or decided to DIY something that didn't quite turn out as you expected? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Christmas lights – should they stay or should they go?

Every year we seem to accumulate more fairy lights – this year we acquired some gloriously garish multi-coloured ones from an ancient box of Christmas decorations that belonged to my gran.

And, every year, as the decorations come down, I find it hard to part with the joyful sparkle of a string of festive bulbs. Well... should these ones stay or go back in the box until December 2016?

They were a cheering antidote to the weather today.

Good for highlighting new wall additions too, like this soothing StoryTile, a beautiful gift from my lovely mother-in-law to be.

These two are definitely taking a sabbatical in the garage though.
After lamenting about my boring bauble selection, the tree got given some good treats, including the Christmas knitted prawn, an inspired gift from the super cool neighbours and a handmade stripy twirl, from my old and ever-creative friend Camilla, who used it as part of her gift wrap.

(Check out my Instagram if you'd like to see what was inside the parcel – as well as the amazing tree topper the neighbours also gave us.)

Are you hanging onto any festive remnants? And shall I keep the 1980s lights up all-year? Your thoughts are most welcome, as ever, in the comments below.

Nb. If you've noticed the layout of the blog has gone a little peculiar, forgive it. A behind-the-scenes facelift is underway but is causing a few glitches along the way. Short-lived ones... bear with me. Oh and happy new year!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Spotlight on... The joy of a chaotic Christmas tree

Good festive baubles aren't cheap. And I'm in awe of my friend who, sensibly, has been treating herself annually to one good Christmas tree decorations for at least a decade. 

The habit has caught on, and friends now buy her additions, too. This is the colourful, shamelessly clashing and gloriously chaotic result (and proof that a good bauble can be a brilliant gift).

She now has an enviable Christmas tree, full of intriguing oddities hanging from its branches – from Mexican Day of the Dead trinkets to neon perspex from Paperchase (she says she's currently very fond of her papier-mâché cows, as well as a string of felt gingerbread men, which you can see here... I'm well jel).

Of course this is no good if you like a colour co-ordinated, so-called tasteful display (and if you saw my Run DMC tree topper a couple of years back, you'll know I don't). But if mix not match appeals, and you're just starting out with an eclectic tree, that first lone bauble seems like a mean and pointless purchase that will be lost in a sea of bare piney branches (or, in my case, branches full of decorations I have acquired directionlessly over the years, but don't really like).

But with interesting decorations costing up to £15 or even £20+ a-piece, one at a time might be the only way to go. With that in mind, I loitered around several different shop bauble displays in my lunch hour yesterday, yet still found it impossible to break in and get that first one. I should have been in West Elm...

I fell for and snapped these strange, papier-mâché creatures when I popped in for a press preview a few weeks ago. Should have snapped them up at the time, but now – even better – they're down from £14 to £11.

I like how West Elm supports up and coming designer-makers and these are created by LA-based artist and Etsy shop owner, Kim Baise aka Jikits. Fair Trade is also one of West Elm's priorities and these baubles, made from recycled materials, were manufactured by Caribbean Craft in Port-au-Prince. AND it's a rollerskating flamingo...

And here's the rainbow tiger in the same range...

Here's the full collection, you can find them all (if you're quick) at West Elm. You can also check out the JiKits Etsy shop.

I quite like their smug kitty, too...

What have you hung on your tree this year?

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