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Merry stylish (but
affordable) Christmas...

Right. That's me for Christmas. So I'll leave you with some of my favourite festive ideas for the big day... Merry feasting and jolly holidays to you all. See you in the new year x

Above: some things I'll be doing on Sunday (the easy ones) and some I'll be wishing I could be bothered to do (the hard ones)... Including (clockwise from top left): Artemis "Junkaholique" Russell's sweet, simple DIY gift tags (newspaper, particularly the stocks and shares pages of the Financial Times, makes marvellous wrapping); Jamie Oliver's no-effort frozen grape, dark chocolate and grappa after-dinner treat (frozen grapes are my favourite discovery this year, thanks to my friend Holly's introduction); Donna Hay's make-your-own-multi-level-platter (try sprouts on one layer, carrots on the other, and leave a gap for mini bowls of cranberry sauce and a pretty gravy jug; it'd make a great cheese platter, too); Martha Stewart's paper doily wreath (this kind of crafting is way out of my league, but maybe I'll put improvement on my resolutions list... The sewing machine is edging closer towards the front of the garage and everything.)

I also wanted to share some of the creatively inspiring and non bank-breaking ideas I came across when researching my Insider column last week, all about DIY Christmas table decor (I've added the ones there weren't room for in the paper, plus some more general last-minute decorating ideas too). 

Stretch your table-space by building up, rather than across. You could use a multi-tiered cake stand, but if you don't happen to have one lying around (like most of us), I love this tip from Australian food writer Donna Hay, whose clean, minimalist styling I have loved for years. "Stack platters on upturned bowls or glasses. Secure the platters to the glasses with reusable adhesive." Ingenious. (See the image at the top of the post.)

A cloche poshes anything up (try Laura Ashley). Use it to frame quirky objects, toys perhaps, like’s ‘lamb on wheels’ (above, inset) or ‘kissing Romeo and Juliet’. Try it on a one-level cake stand for max theatricality. A row of matching jam jars is a sweet substitute (and tiny, potted succulents, or green hydrangea clusters in them work, too).

Remember Ross in Friends when he had to be the 'holiday armadillo'? Well the sparkly plastic animal toys (above, bottom right) remind me of that glorious incongruity. Find out how to make them over at the hugely inspiring Curbly.

But decorations don't have to be shiny or twinkly. A craft-y friend had these clean, hint-of-Scandi paper decorations up in her window a few years ago, and I’ve always remembered them. I found some similar ones on Etsy (main image, above) to give you the idea. For each, you’ll need a strong piece of good quality card in festive colour of your choice. Cut it into five strips at least 5cm wide and 20cm long (but double will work too, they’ll just be bigger). Now lob 5cm off two of the strips and 10cm off the other two. Stack like playing cards: the shortest piece must be in the middle, with the others ascending in size either side. Staple the bottoms together, and then the top – but so the card bends outwards creating a 2-D onion effect. Staple the other end when you’re happy, leaving room to hole punch the top so you can hang. A collection of different sized ones would look lovely in a window.

For frill-free place settings, Jane Toft, editor of cool craft magazine, Mollie Makes, suggests a brown paper tablecloth (WHSmith sells rolls; you may need to tape strips together on the underside). With a black marker, draw outlines of cutlery and plates for each guest (a cardboard template for your fork might help). Illuminate with tealights in mismatched glasses. Très utility chic.

Make use of stray baubles. Jane’s centrepiece tip is simple, too: fill large glass jars or vases with same-coloured decorations. They shouldn’t match: mix round, squiggly, odd, chic, giant and mini. Line jars in a row (different colours in each?) for max impact.

Striking, but stupidly simple: buy a big reel of broad, black ribbon and tie a bow around plate, napkin and cutlery for each place setting. (Not great with red – be bold with un-clichéd monochrome; it’d work equally well with random vintage crockery, as black is a great anchor.) 

Put leftover scraps of swish wrapping paper to good use by using double-sided sticky tape to turn neat strips of it into homemade one-use napkin rings.

Have a drawer harbouring languishing paper doilies? If you have some to hand, make snowflake-y flowers by folding them into quarters, unfolding a little, then pinching the centre point and tying with cotton (or shocking pink craft tape – try Present & Correct). Make a bundle, then artfully fill a cloche or large glass vase with them for an unusual centrepiece. Or, if you are Martha Stewart-esque in your crafting abilities, the woman herself's paper doily wreath (top of this post) is stunning.

Please your inner child by making pasta snowflakes: surprisingly swish with the right shapes (something holey, like wagon wheels, tips the blog, – her creations are pictured above, bottom left). Bond your designs using strong PVA glue (cling film stops them sticking to the table). When dry, paint each with watered down glue all over and coat in chunky silver glitter, then hang with ribbon in groups at the window, or or turn into garlands. 

Heart of glass Empty wine bottle overload? Choose leftover – quality – wrapping or coloured craft paper: layer two or three shades, in random-width strips and wrap around the bottles’ middles, securing with double-sided tape. Add candles. Voila.

A shorter version of this piece appeared in last week's Independent on Sunday magazine

Bright cushion covers
for wintry weather

If you're in Britain, you'll know how damn cold it is right now. And if you're further east or north in Europe, or in New York, you'll think we're wusses for even noticing. Either way, in these climes it's nice to have a reminder of what sunshine looks like. And this, I think, is just that...

I love the fabrics used to make cushions and bags at this beautifully bright Etsy store, based in Madrid (but UK p&p is very reasonable). It's called Thegretest. Her charmingly idiosyncratic spelling is down to her name – Grete, a Spanish designer. The 'Happy 2' cushion cover, above, is £23-ish (the original price is in Euros). Delivery to the UK is under £5. A small price to pay for such joy. But don't take my word for it; the 'Red Bubble Happy Cushion', below, priced just £10-ish, tells you just how things are.

The cushions are 16" x16" and come without the filling (for easy postage). Here are some more 'happy' goodies...

Clockwise from top left: one, 'Spring Has Sprung Happy Cushion', £23.08; two, 'Black Leaves Happy Cushion': £12.50; three, 'Snake Handbag': £25.80; four, Dog cushion (there's a cat equivalent, too):£23.08.

Most of all, I love the 'testimonials' Grete has added to her wares. After her lovely item description ("This is a great Happy Cushion for you," it reads on one listing. "It has the power to make any room shine and make people happy. Guaranteed!") proof comes from some fans: "When I put my Happy Cushion in my living-room everyone who comes to visit me seems to be always full of joy. It was magical! Now I don't know how to tell them to leave me alone... :D" says 'Ann'. And 'David' says: "I was a little depressed but when my cushion came to my life I began to sing and smile all of the time..."

And you can't ask for more than that from a cushion, can you?

Falcon Enamelware:
a design classic

Falcon Enamelware seems to be everywhere stylish right now. Which is good, because it is a thing of sturdy, British-made, 1920s-born beauty. A total design classic.

So I was very pleased to pick up some classic blue and white Falcon rice plates (left) in my local market, for just £1.75 a-piece. I think I have used them every day since – they are the perfect size and shape for pretty much any meal, rice or no. Not to mention making it more aesthetically pleasing.

The company is based in Sheffield, and the products – made from porcelaine fused onto heavy-gauge steel – are ridiculously hardy: you can even cook on the hob with them (with a good oven glove). They're virtually indestructible, too, though a chip is the end, as you'll have opened a gateway to rust.

Next on my Enamelware list is a pie dish. I think the shape is so satisfying. It might even inspire me to start making pies. It would have to.

You can buy a whole pie set (above left) direct from Falcon; five different sized dishes for £44.99 (it comes in blue/white or red/white). And they come in a lovely box. A very good Christmas present for the keen, stylish baker in your life. You can also buy beakers (above right) in different colours, for £4.99 each. And on Amazon, there is every piece of Falcon Enamelware you could wish for – including my rice plates.

Ikea fabric: curtains and
blinds made easy

Over Christmas I have lots of DIY plans. Like most people, I started decorating when I moved in, did loads and then ran out of steam for about two years. Now I'm back on it, determined to get rid of bare plaster patches, lights hanging in the wrong place, curtains that didn't quite work...

Clockwise from top left: Britten Nummer, £2.99 per metre; Saralisa, £5.99 per metre; Gunvor, £3.99 per metre; Charlotta, £3.99 per metre.

On the last point, my aim is to redistribute as much as possible because I hate waste. And fortunately (which is the only context in which I can say this) I've never managed to organise window coverings for my bedroom and my office (it's blankets pushed through window tops all the way. So classy). But back to the positives: this means those windows are ripe to take the recycled kitchen blinds, which will look much better anywhere but the kitchen. And – ta-da – leaves space for one retail purchasing splash: new blinds. I'd love to be crafty enough to make my own, but sadly my impatience is greater than my ability to measure things properly. So I was looking around for a solution and typed 'Ikea Roman blinds' into Google, just in case it could be that easy. But rather than Ikea, I got directed to Curtains Made Simple.

Clockwise, from top left: Annamoa, £5.99; Solgerd, £5.99; Gullvi, £5.95 per metre; Benzy Skepp, £6.99.

This brilliant company will make bespoke blinds or curtains for you in any fabric but – and this is the clever bit – they stock Ikea. So you don't even need to make a trip to the big blue and yellow vortex of pain on your local ring road and mess around posting it to them. You can do it all via the ridiculously user-friendly website – and as well as Ikea, they also stock ranges from Cath Kidston, Cabbages and Roses and Kai to name but a few. Or you can send them your own. (nb. They don't stock ALL Ikea fabrics; but they do stock some that Ikea have discontinued, which evens things out.)

But I'm definitely going for Ikea: browsing through the range I was reminded just what a spectacular range of Scandi-cool textiles it sells. Now all I need to decide is which one to pick... Hmm.

Pet portraits!

This may be a case of a step too far over the line of loving your pet, but nonetheless I think these bespoke oil paintings are rather lovely simply as pieces of art.

I really like the simple, naive painting style. The artist is the appropriately named Kate Pugsley, who takes around four weeks to complete a commission (though long-haired pets take longer!). See Kate's Etsy shop for more information: a to-order pet portrait costs around £180, plus just over a tenner for postage from the US and comes painted and varnished onto 1/2-inch thick maple, 6x8 inches big. You need to send her a selection of good quality photos to work from.

She also paints and illustrates other things, check out her profile to see the relevant links. I particularly like her people portraits, some of which are rather surreal (though not these ones below; I just like their faces).

Books for lovers of good design

Some gift inspiration for those who take pride in their coffee tables...

For design geeks Stop off at SCP for a trio, or even a quintet, from this small set of gorgeously put-together books collating graphical highlights from, above: Peter Blake, the Festival of Britain and David Mellor cost  £12.50 per book, except the Festival of Britain one, which is £14.95. Titles also feature the best of GPO Designs and the brothers and artists Paul Nash and John Nash.

For foodies with aesthetic appreciation I'm still drooling over this beautiful set of slim, Penguin paperbacks about food since posting about them a month or two ago. Buy individually from Penguin, at £6.99 each or get the whole 20-part set for a ridiculously barginous price of just £15 from the Book People (do it that way and you can give some away – and get to keep a few for yourself). And...
...The Geometry of Pasta, above, by Cas Hildebrand and Jacob Kennedy, £14.99 from Magma, is a stunning paean to the art of ... well, pasta. (Jacob Kennedy is the chef/owner of the spectacular London restaurant, Bocca Di Lupo – where I had one of the best meals of my life.)

For nesters and just-moved-home-ers The three design books of the year for me (above), and (below) a golden oldie worth revisting. Decorate, £16.20, by the Decor8 blogger, Holly Becker, and Joanna Copestick, is fantastically practical and beautifully presented. A perfect present for anyone revamping their home, looking for inspiration or moving house. Ditto, Design Sponge at Home, by Grace Bonney, which also has her trademark craft projects section (which is large and very welcoming even for people as crap at craft as I am). I have been leaning hard on Grace's book for great ideas for a flat I'm currently working on. I really love Caravan Style store, Emily Chalmers', lived-in looks and have also found Modern Vintage Style, £13.36, extremely practical as a resource, and not just full of pretty pictures (though there are certainly lots of those too). The perfect recipe for doing old without looking shabby.

Equally, Domino, left, £10, named after the sadly defunct US magazine of the same name, is a mine of accessible ideas for homes on any budget.

For Seventies fans (below) The House Book, by Terence Conran, an early 1970s version if possible, is the ultimate gift for lovers of classic interiors. Go for a modern imprint if Seventies chic is not your recipient's thing; but the rules and ideas are just as good in the original version, which you can find on Amazon. 70s Style and Design, Kirsty Hislop and Dominic Lutyens, £16.10

For textiles magpies (below) Pop Patterns, published by the V&A, is £7.99 and would please retro-loving textiles nuts. I also love the Novelty Patterns version, which was published a couple of years ago, and look out for the stunning Heal's one (centre) is due out in April, and available to pre-order now. Looks wonderful...
For makers (below) The Liberty Book of Home Sewing, £11.38, is so beautiful it almost makes me want to learn to sew. Almost. And ReadyMade, £10.57, is not new but it is totally inspiring and brilliantly illustrated and explained, for those game enough to try to make their own Eames Style shelves out of cheap as chips materials.

Cool laptop trays

These colourful trays are the answer to 'hot-lap' syndrome; that
thing you get when you sit typing on the sofa for too long with
your computer. 

Their stylish skills are also transferable to breakfast in bed; a cup of tea in front of the TV – or just hanging about with nice things on them, looking good.

It's just a shame (for UK readers) that these beauties are on sale (from Etsy shop, Ej Butik) in Latvia. They are orderable from Britain – they're around £30 each (and can be hand made to order, as they come in many different colourways and you can even supply your own fabric) but the postage is pretty chunky, at around £10 a pop.

But perhaps there are people elsewhere making equally ingenious devices, or perhaps seeing these will inspire you to craft your own. Do share some pictures if so...

Three things to hang on a wall

I've been gathering new prints for the last few months, to spruce up some of my home's bare walls. So now what – I have a collection of rolled up posters and a long list of picture frames to find. Hmm.

So I do love the idea of hanging other things on the walls, such as plates... or trays. Much more instant. These three just caught my eye. What do you think?
Black is such a glamorous and cosy colour. This nature-heavy dill tray, made from birch wood by Michael Angove £38.50, would add sexy elegance to a black wall particularly. He also does appealing trays decorated with tarnished silverware, and in tiny sizes that would work well hung in a group. Check his website to see them.

Another strong coloured one. I'd love to see this red strip folk tray, £25.50, by Ary on a wall the colour of the blue that forms one of its circles, or leaping out from neutral mushroom or taupe tones.

This summertime vintage bird plate, £35, plate from Not on the High Street is in fact a Meakin that has been pimped by Smashing Chintz, which specialises in mixing charity shop treasures with contemporary mosaic or stencil. Love the unusual shape. Wall plates aren't just for kitchens; I think this one would look pretty above a bedside table.

Urban Outfitters vintage
camera prints

Wouldn't these simple, appropriately monochrome images of old-school cameras, from Urban Outfitters, make fantastic presents for the keen photographer in your life? 
Clockwise, from top right: Polaroid, camera 4, camera 5, camera 2, all £15 each, including
27cm x 22cm wooden frame.

The series is by the photographer, Antony Nobilo, and is called Beautiful Memories. Isn't it mad to think that just a few decades ago, these were the bread and butter of the camera world?

I'm Berlin-bound...
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I'm signing off for a few days as I'm off to Germany's capital of cool to help a friend design his new flat over there. I've never been and can't wait – I shall (in the course of duty, naturally) be checking out as many design stores and flea markets as humanly possible and report back next week (once we've picked a kitchen, decided on the flooring and worked out where all the electrics need to be of course... necessity before glamour. But it'll all be fun, I know).