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Colour co-ordinated books:
never thought I would

It's been a productive bank holiday. Time at home to hang around at home, tidying, sorting and making things look pretty. Last weekend I finally painted the shelves I had built in my hall over two years ago. When it came to filling them with books, I was inspired by a book that recently arrived through my door...

At first glance, Books Make a Home, by Damian Thompson (Ryland Peters & Small, see left) seemed a bit extra. A whole book about, well, books, and how to display them... really?

But it's quite a nice book, in fact – with some inspiring ideas, such as using salvaged doors, halved, as shelves, making book 'blocks' (four towers of tomes, pushed together and positioned at 90-degree angles to show off the spines), and books used as a prop for a battered old wooden drawer to sit on top of, with colourful jewellery spilling out. However...

... there was one page that kept catching my eye (right): colour co-ordinated books were something other people, more disciplined and design purist than me did. But I kept flicking back to the page... and finally committed to the idea. It just looks so slick, it seemed worth the effort.

So over a couple of days, I went from this:

To this!

And it was HARD work. First, there's the issue of categorising your books. Elsewhere in the house, books are sorted – very loosely – by type. All those old literary theory textbooks from college that I might just need again (but let's skip over my hoarding issues for now) would be grouped together; books by the same author; vintage Penguins (actually, they'd still work in the orange section if they weren't happily living on some other shelves). But with colour co-ordination, you have to let go of all that, and it feels a bit wrong.

One nice surprise was that in mixing things up so radically, I re-discovered heaps of beloved books I'd forgotten I had (like the only other Iris Murdoch book I own, which I'm looking forward to reading for the first time, and the book about the French wind artist, ahem, Le Petomene (if you speak the language you'll understand his unusual instrument).

Sorting which colours went next to which was tricky. In the end I went for a rainbow theme at the top; moving from violets (and some gratuitous pinks) into greys, whites, off-whites and – for the bottom shelf – a row of neat, anchoring black.

Unusually, I have a very ancient light-switch on the side of the shelves (I got the electrician to move it there from the wall rather than put it on another wall when the shelves were built because I like it so much and wanted it to stand out). Now the wood is all freshly painted, it's come into its own – so I thought I'd decorate it with this lovely lead horse, below, that my friend Camilla gave me last week.

And books alone, I think, are dull. I always like to throw in some ornaments. The ones above are probably a bit more sophisticated than this one (though, admittedly, there is a twee, technicolour picture of a dog...). But I love my mini Run DMC!

Hapshash takes a trip – Nigel Waymouth exhibition

I appropriated this love-it-hate-it Sixties print from my parents' house many years ago. It's the most unlikely thing for them to ever have owned – but I guess even parents were young once. I've always had it on the wall in my bedrooms because it's a bit saucy – though it took a while to notice quite how suggestive it was. 

Strange and kinky as it is, I've really grown to love it. This week, I got sent some preview images from a new exhibition of Sixties art at the Idea Generation Gallery; Hapshash Takes a Trip, featuring the work of Nigel Waymouth. 

Waymouth was one half of the legendary design duo Hapshash & the Coloured Coat (the other half was Michael English). The duo's psychedelic posters were commissioned by the music venue the UFO Club, to promote live performances by the likes of Pink Floyd, Procol Harum and Jeff Beck. The pair met when Waymouth designed the shop-front for English's Granny Takes a Trip boutique on the King's Road. They also famously designed record covers for the Who, among others.

Scroll down to see why I made the connection with the print that hangs above the stairs in my bedroom (see again, in situ, below). I don't know who the artist behind mine is, and my parents don't remember where it came from. If any readers can shed any light – I'd love to know... 

According to the exhibition notes, each poster often contained, "subversive content such as mystical symbols, sexually explicit elements and dissenting messages hidden within their psychedelic swirls." I wish I knew the history of my own print, which does exactly that (as you'll see the longer you look at it).

Meanwhile, from the show...

Tomorrow - My White Bicycles (silkscreen), 1967 A promotion for their 1967 single which was inspired, according to their drummer John ‘Twink” Alder, by the Amsterdam Provos who began a programme of free white painted bicycles long before Mayor Boris Johnson’s idea. They played regularly at UFO. It was one of the very first Hapshash posters. (From exhibition notes)
The Soft Machine Turns On A Canterbury band, consisting of Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, David Allen and Mike Rattlidge. The band was named after the William Burroughs novel of the same name. Like the Pink Floyd they were a much enjoyed UFO house band that also went on to further success, particularly in France where their early Prog Rock/Jazz style played well to the french appreciation for the avante garde.

Crazy world of Arthur Brown (silkscreen), 1967 Another regular performer at the UFO club., Arthur Brown had studied philosophy and law at London University and Reading University before developing his wild act of coming on stage with a blazing brazier on his head and singing his hit song, “FIRE”. The performances owed something to Screaming Jay Hawkins but was way ahead of Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson.


The designs were heavily inspired by the San Francisco psychedelia of the era, and the Art Deco artists who inspired that – such as Alphonso Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley. The V&A Museum shop has a good collection of prints by both artists, from £15 (A4 size). 

Prints from the exhibition will be, through the Idea Generation Gallery's Culture Label online shop Culture Label shop from Sept 7, earliest, in time for the show.

Vaguely connected, if this era is your kind of thing, you might like the tips in How to get the 70s look (minus the lava lamp). 

Fisherman's Cottage, Deal

Please excuse the extended absence – I've been doing my version of summer holidays, which is a couple of weekends in the country and a bit of pottering about the house, sorting things out, catching up on DIY and forcing myself to focus on much-neglected life-filing. (Self-employed people out there will understand...)

Anyway, on one of my trips away I went to stay at the most adorable cottage on the south coast – in Deal, Kent (above), to be precise. And it was all so beautiful, I wanted to share some snaps.

My two dear, and deeply stylish (as you will see) friends Stephen and Russell own the place – and the best bit? They're now renting out the gorgeous 1850 house as a holiday cottage. Lucky me to have had a sneak preview as their guest... Now you can do the same, photographically at least... (or go straight to the website to book if you're interested in staying at Fisherman's Cottage yourselves).

A cosy reading corner in the sitting room (and read you will – or play card games... Scrabble... Twister – each to their own – as the cottage, blissfully, has no TV).

The other side of the sitting room; yes, that wood-burning stove does work. Deal is definitely a place to go with a van – the vintage shops, where Russell found the gorgeous double lamp behind the chair, are brilliant.

The place has two double bedrooms. This was mine – I didn't want to leave...

Another corner of the bedroom: what a dinky writing desk – love the vintage maps, too.

Old school orange and pale grey: what a colour combination. I loved the mix n match but skillfully co-ordinated arrangement on Stephen and Russell's kitchen dresser. Proof that you can put anything together as long as you find a common theme to highlight (here, colour doing the trick).

Russell bought this tray for a few quid in one of Deal's antique shops earlier that day. I'd been eyeing the olive green goblet with suspicion, not sure it was anything more than a dust-gatherer – until he did this to it.

More orange accents spiking through the neutral grey backdrop. How lovely are the tin toy soldiers on horseback marching along the back of the shelves (left)? Interiors should be personal, not identikit. Even in minimalist homes a small burst of quirky display can add gallons of character. Be playful and break some rules.

Love the luxury of big shelf space so that objects – as here, in the bathroom above the loo – can breathe and be appreciated. Even the loo rolls look almost sculptural!

Isn't this botanical plant chart, from a Deal vintage store, spectacular? 

Deal is jam packed full of vintage shops, some that you could even still get away with calling junk shops (in an affectionate – even reverent – way. TLC and Sarah Hallett on the High Street were particularly good but there are heaps more, and great prices all-round. See some of the goodies I miraculously stopped myself from buying below... 

Woof! I am still kicking myself for not snapping up this little chap, he was only £18. What was I thinking?

Find out more about what the area has to offer from the horse's mouth: Stephen is a travel journalist (among many other things) who has written extensively about this part of Kent, it being close to his heart. Here's where you can read his most recent piece on the south coast.

Stunning coastline, great walking, beach huts (with wild fennel sprouting merrily around them, adding a delicious scent to the air) and a dog-friendly place to stay... Deal definitely did it for me. Again, if you fancy staying at this stylish pad, check out the Fisherman's Cottage website.

Lovely children's shop:
Little Yellow Birds

I just came across Little Yellow Birds, a gorgeous online store specialising in stylish things for small people (though I think bigger people could comfortably commandeer quite a few...). Lots of very sweet stuff, most of which I hadn't come across before (I've slightly fallen in love with the shadow-puppet wallpaper). Here are my own favourite picks...

1. Felt ball 'Freckle' rug, £350 A little pricier than the things I usually feature but the bold colours and tactile texture just seduced me. Great for little – and large – feet to pad about on. It's circular, and measures 120cm across.

2. Little Rabbit Cushion, £30.50 How can you resist those fantastically floppy ears? Backed with red picnic cloth on the back side, this super sweet cotton cushion measures 40cm x 30cm.

3. Fine Little Day: Splash Cushion, £42 This beautifully bright and cheery cushion is by Elisabeth Dunker, the Swedish designer behind the label Studio Violet (check out her cool, quirky illustrations) and Fine Little Day (listed by the Times as one of its top 50 design blogs). The cushion measures 40cm x 40cm.

4. 'Hand Made' Wallpaper, £100 per roll (52cm x10cm) It's the kind of wall covering you can imagine a child happily staring at for hours as they listen to their favourite bedtime stories – and no excuse not to try to make your own shadow shapes the old-fashioned way, too. It's made by a nice little company called Paperboy, check out some of their other designs.

5. Blackboard Bear, £34 A slate wall-sticker for scribbling on in chalk (if you can bear, ahem, to). 50cm x 50cm.

6. Charley Harper ABCs Book, £6.95 I adore Charley Harper's artwork (I've previously featured a memory card game that uses his illustrations). As well as the animal-themed images the book also includes the inspiring (especially for budding young artists) story of how Harper began drawing as a young boy on the farm where he grew up.