recent posts

social media menu

Presents on the mind...
Alice Melvin's books

I love buying presents, so even though I hate the fact that the Christmas machine appears to get cranked up earlier and earlier each year, I do like thinking of nice little things I'd like to buy for friends and family. 

And on the gorgeous gift mental list so far this year, are two new books by Alice Melvin, whose illustrations – I think – are utterly charming.

The award-winning young illustrator based in Edinburgh has done a few children's books; you may have come across them in a nice art gallery shops, as she's stocked in lots of them (including the various Tates; her first book An A-Z Treasure Hunt came out through Tate Publishing). Well now there are a couple of Alice Melvin goodies for grown-ups too (though you'll have to wait until the end of November to buy them, when Ms M returns from maternity leave and re-opens her online shop. But you can have a peek right now...).

Fancy a Brew?, £9 (see top picture, as well as an inside image above), is a gorgeously illustrated little tome, dedicated to the art of making the perfect cup of tea in eight, cute pages. The book comes in various colour choices – and even arrives with a free teabag to get you in the mood while you read. A perfect present for the cuppa addict in your life.

And if you know someone moving home, Melvin's concertina-shaped book, Moving In (above), £25, would make a very sweet and memorable gift. Alice has designed the book to unfold as it does "to reflect the chaos as you unpack endless boxes...discovering that your new home boasts no less than four teapots, endless drawers of cutlery but not a lightbulb that works!" The screenprinted book also comes in various colours and is packaged inside a handmade slipcase.

Lovely literary prints

Just discovered Lucy Loves This, a very nice Etsy store run by book cover designer, Lucy Stephens, whose work reflects her love of words...

It was her Brixton print (see below) that led me to her as my local friend Talya emailed me a link (thank you T) but, looking around her shopfront I fell for these clean, stylish pared down portraits of classic authors, including Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath. They're priced just £13 each and come unframed, A4 size – so peasy to frame in a ready-made. What do you think?

But back to Brixton, a phrase I use whenever possible, as it's my neighbourhood. And if you know a Londoner who loves their area, or you live in the capital and want to celebrate your spot in the city, Lucy is selling mementoes of various areas along the lines of this black and white beauty, above. You can buy this print on Etsy, for £28 unframed (it measures 21cm x 29.7cm).

But if you don't live – or love – the capital, but like Lucy's style, do check out her shop for other non-area-specific goodies. Her simple, graphical Christmas cards are rather lovely, too (they come in packs of three, priced £6.50; the others read 'ho, ho, ho' and 'noel', but Frosty – above – is my favourite).

See more of Lucy's work and interests on her website and blog.

Sweet upcycled children's quilts

Don't you just love these upcycled children's quilts, screen-printed by hand and made – believe it or not – from barely used, 600 thread count Virgin Atlantic first class duvet covers? I think they'd make a beautiful present for a beloved god-child...

They're made by a cool, new company called Old Threads, one half of which is Lisa Wrake, the stylish designer-and-some behind this blog's beautiful layout.

I featured them a while back, before their official launch, in the Independent on Sunday's New Review in a piece about upcycling without too much effort (in case you're interested to read more tips on that front). And if you're interested in buying one of the quilts, they cost £135 each and are available online in three different colours.

Classy flooring on the cheap

Flooring is one of those big outlays that often eats into (or simply swallows whole) the budget you have for doing up a place.

Coloured parquet, another of the innovative new floorings mentioned on the Floorcrunch blog (see below)
So I was very excited to find a couple of really clever and creative – but simple and affordable – alternatives at the Floorcrunch blog, edited by flooring enthusiast Richard McKay, of McKay Flooring in Scotland. I wrote about the topic in my Insider column in the Independent on Sunday magazine last week, but there wasn't space to show off these inspiring images of what Richard is on about on his blog.

So first up, check out the super cool paper flooring (above). The people who did this in their bathroom are clearly artsy types as they printed their own bespoke paper before sealing with PVA at as described on the blog. However, you could use any kind of paper – wallpaper, decoupage, lining paper, the Financial Times stocks and shares pages, squares of patterned craft paper used as tiles... If you try it yourself, or already have something similar in your home, do send me some snaps as I'd love to see some other ways of doing it in action. I think it looks brilliant, do you?

Next up (above) is my personal favourite, for its sheer simplicity, absolute affordability and minimalist Japanese graphic designer-esqe cool. What's this smooth, pale wooden floor made from? Prepare to be surprised: it's plywood. It needs to be cut into the right size strips (broad planks) but you can request this at the timber yard. It also needs to be sanded heartily, which – if you've ever been there, you'll know is a bastard of a job. But with two pairs of hands to share the load and very solid facemasks (that sawdust will play havoc with your lungs) it's a satisfying job, and easier than sanding old floorboards full of sandpaper-ripping nails and odd boards to even out. Then you need to laquer it with several coats for a final splinter-sweep. I think it'd be worth the effort, and certainly a fraction of the price of a brand new, or even reclaimed wooden floor.

Fabulous formica table

What a very good idea: an old-school Formica table/desk, in that classic 1950s yellow, but newly made and customisable, according to your requirements.

Winter's Moon are the online shop behind it (they're based in gorgeous Chichester where they also exist in a non-virtual fashion, check out their visit-by-appointment details as well as finding out about their upcoming studio sale). They're also one of my favourite places to window shop digitally, they have some brilliant and brilliantly random bits and bobs – all very well edited.

The table has a birch ply top, bare solid European oak legs – unfinished – and it measures 108cm wide x 59cm deep x 74.5cm high. Rather brilliantly, if these dimensions don't suit you, Winter's Moon will organise getting you one made in a different size. Delivery is available nationwide for £20 (the legs  cunningly unscrew) and it costs £255. It's pretty pricey, but for a handcrafted new table I don't think it's bad, especially as Formica tables on  eBay are fewer and farther between, and getting more and more expensive (though there's a good yellow one, currently with no other bids, starting at for £44 and on sale in Norfolk).

My Formica kitchen worktop is exactly this shade of yellow. It was a DIY job, created using a cheap, back-to-front Wickes version (back-to-front so the square, rather than the more modern curved, edge was at the front) and covered – top and front edge – in faintly speckled Formica, bought here. Sadly Formica UK  no longer make the exact shade I bought, and their range is less vintage-looking that it was – but there are still a couple of nice retro styles worth checking out if you want to make your own worktop, or even your own table. Do send me snaps if you do.

Read more about Formica at the Classic Cafes blog, where you can also ogle pictures of some gorgeous tables covered in the stuff in their original settings.

Watch the birdie

Bird prints, bird ceramics, bird fabric, bird lights, even wooden birds on stilts that live in my flowerbeds... I have them all, and more in my house. I have a bit of a thing about birds. 
So I couldn't help be drawn to the bird illustrations of Paul Farrell, above and directly below – named (who knew?) "Flight of Swallows" and "Parcel of Oystercatchers" respectively. (And if you're dying to know the collective nouns to describe other groups of birds... this will tell you.) I heard about Paul via Pedlars, who were at one point selling a lovely garden birds chart by him in their shop. The silkscreen prints – each a limited edition of 30 – measure 320mm wide by 210mm high and cost £55 each, unframed.

While I'm in the bird zone, here are some more feathered friends I've found and loved...

1. Birdpaper print (top), by Paris-based American artist, Matthew Rose at the Keep Calm Gallery, £48 unframed (40cm x 30cm). But what exactly is it? "Rare species of Nepalese birds pause in a forest of antique French wallpaper," explains the artist. He's currently creating a version of the print that can be bought in sections and hung like wallpaper. Find out more at the Keep Calm Gallery

2. Hummingbird cushion covers (middle left), by RVA Pillow Works on Etsy, around £16 ($25) for two. These come as a pair for this price, or you can buy them individually for, uh-huh, exactly half. Postage is about eight quid. Check out RVA's other hand-drawn designs too.

3. Bird print (middle, right), by Bark Design on Etsy,  around £9.50 ($15) or around £22 ($35) for a set of three. Postage is from around £3. I've already featured some beautiful alphabet prints from this environmentally aware company – see what else they do.

4. Festive foil-pressed gift tags, by Lucky Bird at Bouf, £6.95. These gift tags are almost too good to tie onto presents – so make sure you give them to someone who'll keep and appreciate theirs. They'd look sweet on an office pinboard, don't you think? I don't reckon, despite the name, they're uniquely festive either – an all-round set of birds! These come in packs of ten, with five different designs. And do check out Lucky Bird's own website, they do lots of other lovely illustrated stuff too.

Luke Stephenson's Showbirds And for something a bit different. I know I've mentioned Luke Stephenson's colour-drenched photographs of showbirds before, on the Facebook page, but they are too gorgeous not to give more space to. This image (above) is part of Stephenson's Incomplete Dictionary of Showbirds collection, and you can buy a print from £400 plus Vat via the Photographers' Gallery (and do check out the brilliant interest-free loans from Own Art to make payment less painful).

Paul Greenleaf's pigeons Differenter still, this isn't anything you can buy. But I came across this weird and oddly compelling project, part of an exhibition a couple of years back, by the photographer Paul Greenleaf and just had to share. It's called DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS and comprises a series of photographs of pigeons, digitally removed from their habitat and then returned to their natural environment – such as the streets of Shoreditch. Aren't they fantastic and funny?

Greenleaf also has a collection of equally urban-centric technicolour images, called Here Today, very much in the vein of John Hinde, who regular readers will know is another of my obsessions. Might have to get hold of some of those images for a future post.

A folksy, Seventies interior

I love the look of this thrift-shop, Seventies-tinged US home, featured on the brilliant Etsy blog.

Bentwood chairs are very much part of that Art Nouveau look revived in the Seventies along with the likes of Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris. And they look great with the bold, black hint-of-stone-cladding partition, don't they?

Totally love the crowded gallery wall, too, and the 1940s naive/folk art horse painting, and the sweet porcelain birds and heavy industrial desk-light.

Get the look: for fabulous but faux wall finishes, I do urge retrophiles and contemporary-heads alike to check out Dreamwall. I have a mini crush on this webshop and dream of emboldening one of my own walls in one of its wares. For vintage nick-nacks online of this ilk, try the OK Corral, run by photographer Holly Joliffe. Reassuringly affordable, and like a flea market minus all the tat no one wants. You can buy Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris prints at the V&A shop.

The Papered Parlour's handmade studio & classes

The Papered Parlour, in Clapham, south London, is a beautiful space that hosts all sorts of cool, creative workshops – and I've been meaning to post up these pictures since I did an inspiring interiors class there, a while back. It's so nice I'd quite like to live in it... don't you think?

I really like the wallpaper. Claire and Louise, the girls who run the place, printed it themselves – and screen-printing, onto lining paper just like this – is just one of the courses they run.

I also love the counter, made of old front doors, left their original colours. Everything in the studio, pretty much, was salvaged, secondhand or upcycled from something else. It's a big part of the PP ethos. More of which you can see in action, below, with vintage tea-cup pin-cushions, using leftover scraps of fabric, utensil jars in the form of old treacle tins (a classic design when you think about it), and wine crates as storage boxes.

The way the light from the 1920s chandlier, below left, scatters across the walls either side looks stunning, don't you think? It's a wallpaper in its own right...

Scour eBay for similar chandeliers (there's a beauty currently going for £7, but you've only got a couple of days left...). Or if you're not an eBayer, Laura Ashley has quite a variety in what they offer: the Misha Ball Pendant, £75 (top, above), is a very contemporary take on the idea but would create equally interesting wall patterns, while the grand multi-tiered Yasmin (top, below), £275 in the sale, takes things to another level (seven, if you count...). 
Above are some snaps from the brilliant class I went to, taught by Cassandra Ellis – quilt- and home-maker extraordinaire. The workshop was called 'Make Your Home a Haven' (did what it said on the tin – and in a a fun, creative and friendly way). It isn't on the upcoming menu at Papered Parlour, but Ellis does run classes from her southeast London home and other venues though, so do check out her website.

As for more on-site Papered Parlour classes, the upcoming screenprinting one is already fully booked, but a special wallpaper one by CUSTHOM, who I posted about a couple of on account of their mind-bendingly brilliant "digitally embroidered" designs. Or if you can't be arsed to craft, the stunning studio is also available to hire for parties...

Read more about craft courses in the UK.