recent posts

social media menu

How to make your home smell good

In case you missed my little box of tips on this topic in last week's Independent on Sunday (part of a regular series), here is the extended version. 

Diptyque candles (above) smell divine. So do Jo Malone’s. These are the staples of the home scent arena – but, at £38 a pop, as a daily option and in more than one room (especially with festive credit card bills lurking) perhaps not the most realistic. What else is there? 

The base for every sweet smelling home is cleanliness and you can’t beat freshly polished furniture. But an all-time top tip comes via a documentary about slack cleaners tricking clients into thinking they’d been busy by spraying Mr Sheen behind the radiators in winter. Genius. 

On a less slovenly note, I have fond memories of my father buffing 70s pine floors with Johnson’s floor wax. The heavenly, comforting, smell lasted for days.

A Rebel Rebel creation (not one
of their most fragrant)
Flowers, of course, do the trick – the right ones. Mairead Curtin of celebrity-loved florist, Rebel Rebel, loves Scilly Isles scented narcissi. But “plain daffodils have a lovely fragrance,” she adds. “Try also mimosa, genista, lilac, scented roses.” Some scented plants can be grown indoors, too. 

She also suggests using herbs as part of a floral display. "Rosemary and Sage are particularly fragrant and available now. They are long lasting and inexpensive which is always a bonus! As the season progresses try Dill and Lavender." And for summer, Mairead says: "Stocks smell fantastic , English snapdragons have a totally unexpected and delightful scent, peonies smell of little old ladies gently dusted in talcum powder and sweet peas just smell gorgeous. You could also try Mock Orange Blossom and Wisteria."

Febreze is dreadful, dreadful stinking stuff. Buy, instead, fabric softener and dilute it in a water spray bottle for proper eau de fresh laundry. 

On that tip, while air freshener is generally vile, I was shocked to fall for Glade’s ‘Clean Linen’ after discovering why a friend’s bathroom was always so seductive.

Activate scents with heat: One friend drapes a perfume-doused cloth over radiators, while another is evangelical about dabbing spa-favoured Aromatherapy Associates oils onto lightbulbs (while cold). 

Bruce, meanwhile, swears by his food dehydrator: “do fruit in it: the house smells delicious all day”.

Man up. I had to be forcibly removed from a True Grace ‘Library’ candle last year – all beeswax and peppery leather-bound books. Most masculine. Invest in the pricey room diffuser version – lasts for ages. 

Chappier still, the afore-mentioned Bruce loves the smell of sailing and the sea. We worked out that hemp rope, yacht varnish and unwashed seashells could do the trick. 

A Demeter cologne was one of the best things I last left New York with. 

Their affordable fragrances – for body and home – come in weird but wonderful flavours including Rain, Bonfire and Dirt. Got friends visiting the US? Suck up.

Can’t kick the candle habit? As a general rule of thumb when going off the pricey piste, avoid anything sweet. Classy cheapies include Muji’s glass candles (£10.95) and St Eval’s lovely Victorian Herb range (£8.95), my favourite (out of the four I've tried) is Celery & Herb. My very discerning friend Vic also recommends Betty Jackson's candle trio for Debenhams: "three scents in neat box for £18". Burn generously.

Arno Maasdorp's super cool supper club home

Last week I interviewed the very creative Arno Maasdorp, who runs the renowned Saltoun Supper Club in Brixton. 

It's for the Independent and is part of a bigger piece about people who change their homes around a lot – it's not published until next Friday. Meanwhile, when I was over there I couldn't resist taking some snaps of his incredible flat. He has a really unique style and his creativity really inspired me. Have a look around...

Rattan bowls are pinned all over one of his dining room walls. Such a simple, and affordable, idea – but really clever thinking, and it looks so cool.


Love Arno's display of antique teacups – if you've got enough of anything, creating a little collection of whatever it is is a great way to decorate – and best of all you can use things you already have. Arno is planning to swap the cups for glass domes filled with all sorts of different geometric shaped things soon.

Who needs huge works of art to fill a big blank space? I love this display of quirky little objects pinned to the wall.

I have this fantastic Gilbert & George swear box too. Mine isn't signed by the artists though...

So bold to paint the stairs black. I love it. And these bright giant jelly baby dolls are a great touch. Repetition can work wonders.

Habitat's floating frames (above left) are my favourite. So classy. I love how the landing becomes a work of art (by the way, on top of the little child-size chair is a tray of fake grass and a glass dome filled with little dolls).

Kenneth Cole launches homewares at House of Fraser

Brights with a muted backdrop. It works, doesn't it? 

I'm looking forward to the launch of this colourful Kenneth Cole homewares range at House of Fraser this Spring. The range, the fashion designer's first foray into interiors, is called New York Home (What is it about a bare brick wall that conjures up Manhattan? We have them here too... though they probably always look very New York.) It's kinda masculine, but I like it. 

Can't tell you about the price range as the launch isn't until tomorrow... Will keep you posted.

New "how-to" spot in Independent on Sunday

Following on from the post below, I shall be covering the issue of large, empty walls and small budgets as an topic next week in my new little 'how-to' slot, 'The Insider' in the Independent on Sunday magazine. Do have a read...

This week's is on surprising ways to make your home smell sweet without blowing the budget on Jo Malone candles (though, just to be contrary, this option on the left which is included – the True Grace 'Library' room diffuser, which I discovered at the wonderful Brixton Market shop, Circus – costs more than a Malone, but it lasts forever and is the fragrance equivalent of crack. Can't get enough of it). I shall post up a few goodies I didn't have space for in the newspaper later in the week...

My big blank wall

I'm in love with this beautiful horse painting, from the National Gallery.

And I'm hankering after it because of of the big, blank wall dominating my sitting room (image at bottom of this post) which has been neglected since I moved into my house, over three years ago.

Various things have hung on the wall, none has looked right. Then, after interviewing Tricia Guild, famous for her bold use of colour, I was inspired to paint it – but only got as far as a lot of tester pots, none of which quite worked. Then I bought a new sofa that threw a spanner in the whole works by being green. So I've just tried to avert my eyes amid the indecision. And then I found this horse. It is a reproduction of the stunning 1762 painting 'Whistlejacket', by George Stubbs – the original of which hangs in the National Gallery. 

You can buy this and all sorts of other wonderful treasures in print form, as a canvas, or as a paste-to-the-wall mural from Surface View. I think a huge version (around 1.5m x 1.5m) would look stunning on the aforementioned troublesome wall. I'd like a framed print. Can't afford that right now (it's a few hundred in the size I want). Not sure the mural option (under £100) would quite work as it won't fill the entire wall... I shall investigate further. Meanwhile, what do you think? Here is the wall...

And do have a browse at Surface View's spectacular collection for yourselves...

Interiors-mad? Can you help?

I'm still urgently on the hunt for compulsive decorators to interview for a piece I'm writing.

Do you repaint or paper more than the average person? Or rearrange rooms on a very regular basis? Drop me a line ASAP if so! Contact me via Facebook

g-plan... g-nius

This wall space was previously dead. Or, perhaps, alive with the groaning of badly folded bedclothes and towels, piled high on a too-small Ikea cupboard (see inset, below). Now... it is full of the most spectacular piece of G-Plan kitsch I have seen in a long time (in my humble opinion). Scroll down to see more of this fabulous tallboy, which I found for £120 on eBay a few weeks ago...

This, left, is the sad state of this corner of the landing... before. But below, marvel at the wondrous beauty of the tapering drawers (thinner at the top than the bottom); the old-gold coloured knobs (see how they match with the strange geometric light I also found on eBay a few years ago from Rupert Blanchard, who now runs the rather brilliant "upcycling" site, Styling and Salvage.

What a beauty.

I remember my mum's version of upcycling in the Eighties - she had all our old Bentwood dining chairs painted in Laura Ashley green, and adorned with garlands of painted flowers. Ditto the piano. I must find some pictures - a family friend was bequeathed one of the chairs when my parents moved house. But I digress...

And check out those feet. Nice.

How to find inspiration

After moving from a flat to a house, I panicked: I had little furniture, no budget and zero direction. Inspiration was clouded by the threat of expensive mistakes and “blank canvas” panic. It is around this vulnerable state-of-mind that Ikea’s entire marketing strategy is built. Equally, interiors magazines are great, but can exacerbate the panic with their unattainable chic. Where else can one turn?
  1. Inspiration is everywhere, if you’re tuned in. One friend took layout tips from the kitchens in Desperate Housewives, while a bachelor colleague made manly shelves after seeing Steve McQueen’s bedroom in Bullitt.
  2. For cold, hard design tricks – from one-room living to how to arrange “things” on shelves and walls – Conran’s Seventies interiors bible The House Book (Mitchell Beazley; originals and reprints via Amazon) is invaluable and most comforting.
  3. Make a mood board of photos, fabric scraps and magazine pages. A bit sixth-form media project, maybe, but when you’re overwhelmed it can provide focus. Broad themes should gradually emerge (vintage, minimal, lavish, practical, bright, muted, classic?). If not, ask a friend to edit.
  4. Handy with the sticky-backed-plastic? Try the Design*Sponge blog. Even the DIY-shy can get ideas – the box file shelving is a personal favourite, and demonstrates innovative use for the results of a panicky Ikea binge.
  5. Take a favourite picture, object or cushion and build a room around its colours, period detail, or simply a feeling it evokes – it’s easier than starting with infinite choice. Similarly, follow at least a loose theme through all rooms (also helpful for reducing blank-canvas-panic). I got boxy window pelmets from postcards of 1960s American motels, while my mum designed my entire childhood home around a Swedish 19th century artist called Karl Larsson. And Tricia Guild’s book, A Certain Style (Quadrille), is full of clever ways to do this.
  6. Clever storage can free up whole new chunks of room – so don’t underestimate the creative boost of a flick through the Lakeland catalogue. This above-sink shelf, £22.99, is surely absolute genius, no?
  7. Kevin McCloud’s books on colour, divided into sections according to periods, styles and palettes, are immensely practical. Buy at Amazon
  8. Fear of making mistakes can be paralysing. It’s often easier to know what works when faced with something that doesn’t (and that’s what eBay’s for). That said…
  9. Don’t rush things – one stylish acquaintance swears by the picture-heavy Architectural Digest. Not as scary as it sounds, its ‘Inspired by You’ section, where designers answer questions, is fantastic. Soothing sample quote: “The best rooms evolve over time. It is better to have one fabulous chair or table or rug than a whole room of mediocre pieces.” Most comforting.
  10. Tune into your reactions to a space – and that goes for the smallest and least glamorous details: my sitting room used to make me feel strangely on edge. It took months to work out the door opened the wrong way and made one feel claustrophobic whenever it was opened.
  11. Go next door: if you’ve just moved – or even if you haven’t – knock on amenable neighbours’ doors, especially if you’re in a terrace or flat surrounded by similarly laid out homes. Someone will have done something you’d never thought of that may set off a whole room plan.
  12. For major reconfigurations, and pointers on them, big changes, Architect Your Home is a useful service – a four-hour no-strings consultation costs from £599. Cheaper, is to offer dinner in return for your most creative friends’ tips. Get them over, walk them round, and ask everyone ‘what would you do?’ I doubled the size of a bedroom after a friend suggested I have a mezzanine built in the high ceiling.
  13. Far more useful than the magazine, I think, is the gallery – libraries full of images, helpfully subdivided to death: the bathroom gallery has five themed mini galleries according to style/type of room.
  14. And if you do get sucked into Ikea, at least try to stick by the 1-for-3 rule (for every three things you like, buy only one – list all the things you wanted to get, and hunt for them elsewhere). If all else fails, try

Lovely presents

A slightly belated round-up of some of the great homes-y gifts I was given this Christmas...

My bro and sister-in-law got me some old printing blocks spelling out my name. 
I added them to a few presents I accidentally bought for myself before Christmas (yellow jug, blue vase, bright green jug – £25-ish the lot from a local non junky junk shop). You can find your own wooden letterpress letters at Not On The High Street, from £4.50

A charity shop find from my neighbours, Emma and Sarah. "It's quite disgusting, you'll probably hate it," said Emma. Perhaps it is a bit love or hate, but I find it beautiful, especially against the blue kitchen walls. Rummagers may find similar gems at Oxfam's online store.

The picture on the left is actually a tapestry – the frame is vile, but that will go. My friend Holly bought it for me (after we spotted it out shopping together in a secondhand store in my local Brixton market for £20). The one on the right was another present for me, from me. Oops. I found it at The OK Corral - it was a series of three, and - last look - there was one left (filed under "miscellaneous"). £20.

How brilliant that I have friends who see stuff like this dinky rabbit moneybox (£7 from Muji) and buy it for me. Hurrah! The cards of birds in the background are, left, by Sara Nester (who also happens to work in the same studio as me, at Iliffe Yard, and she printed up some of her lovely illustrations to sell at the Pullens Yard Open Studios. A friend bought it for me there; and the one on the right, Blue Tit, £4, comes from Shop Jill – I found it at the brilliant Our Workshop Christmas fair. Yes, another present for myself. Oh dear...

My crafty and talented friend, Holly Atkins, made a whole extended family of these owl doorstops to give away as Christmas presents. I love mine. I've called him Alfred.

Another crafty friend (lucky, aren't I? I'm useless with a needle and thread) – Rose Skelton, also a genius photographer and clever journalist, gave me the left-hand one of these rather chic lavender bags.

Christmas after-glow

It's been a bit of an extended festive break (mainly due to it not being a break but full of work, but hey-ho, spring holidays beckon...). 

But we're back - with a round-up of some of my Christmas homes-y highlights for starters, and lots more exciting stuff in the pipeline.

I'd love to hear (and see) everyone else's festive highlights too –whether a great recipe, beautifully set table, moment of tree brilliance, inspired gifts, pretty wrapping... Why not get in touch via Facebook? In the meantime, here are some of mine:

Yummy five-spice beetroot/vodka soup I adapted a couple of recipes to come up with my best ever beetroot based soup. In a nutshell - garlic, lots of ginger, some red chilli - dried or fresh, and Chinese five-spice, fried gently with an onion; raw, chopped and peeled beetroot and potatoes and a carrot or two if you have some (about a 3/2 ratio for the first two respectively) chucked in the pan for a few minutes; add some vegetable stock, boil then simmer until the veg is cooked. Season and blitz. Squeeze in some lemon juice before serving in bowls over a small shot of vodka. I swirled yoghurt on top, sprinkled with fresh coriander, and made garlic pitta bread strips for dipping. So, so good.

Bargain candles The tacky, panic-bought cinnamon-scented candles from the pound shop actually smelled rather delicious. Just goes to show it's sometimes worth a punt. But a safer bet is this Celery & Herb tin, £8.65, which created a surprisingly sophisticated, unsweet scent (the antidote to the cinnamon ones). The St Eval candle also comes in other lovely non-sickly flavours - such as Bay & Rosemary, Thyme & Mint and Bergamot & Nettle.

My new sofa The pre-Christmas sale at DFS was GREAT (and that's a place I never imagined I'd shop having only ever seen scary looking leather contraptions that move or seem to be designed with aesthetics as the last consideration in their adverts). Having only ever had second-hand and not very comfortable lounging options, this has been a revelation - and was perfect for the festive flu and Poirot marathon I had just after Christmas. Yes, I was shamelessly seduced by the idea of paying a around a tenner a month for pretty much the rest of my life to get my hands on the beautiful, rather Fifties-ish corner sofa you can see my father modelling (left) on Christmas day as he opened his presents from Action Posters. The Candice corner sofa is still available, though (sorry!) the price has gone up again, quite a lot (it's now £1558). But their interest-free credit is quite something - and the next sale is surely just around the corner.

New bowls LOVE these small wooden bowls (left) I found in a charity shop last Autumn for about £2 each. They remind me of the comforting wooden plates my parents had when I was little and I finally got them out at Christmas (to serve the beetroot soup in). I have hunted around and can't find anything quite the same (unless it's really expensive) but I did find these gorgeous mango wood bowls (above) with colourful exteriors (£13 each) from OurWorkshop (a brilliant, brilliant online store where the stylish wares are lovingly handmade).

Simple new year pleasures

One of my new year's resolutions is to stop forgetting to drink enough water while I'm working. Luckily I rediscovered this pretty water jug with matching glass - from the 1930s I think, possibly older - and got it back in action to inspire my virtue on the first day proper back at the computer. It's funny how tiny the glass is, just 5.5cm across compared to my 7.5cm Ikea regulars. I must perfect the art of daintier drinking as well as more drinking. A good start...