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The Simple Things: new magazine launch

At last, I'm allowed to talk about a beautiful and refreshingly different new magazine that I've known about for a while, and to which I'm going to be contributing. It is published by the people behind the excellent craft magazine, Mollie Makes.

The Simple Things is not an interiors magazine, but home is a big theme – along with topics including gardens, food, walks, pottering and friends – and there are some lovely spaces and home-y things featured. One of the things I love about it is that it features real people of all ages who don't all look like they've been styled in borrowed clothes for a glossy shoot, and are all the more interesting to look at as a result. It also rejects the idea that spending is the answer – hence the title: life's best pleasures are often very simple.

It launches in print form on September 6, but you can check a digital preview of the magazine here.

What do you think?

The Vintage Store St Ives

If you saw Friday's post, you'll know I was St Ives, Cornwall, for the weekend. 

I've been going there since I was tiny, as my grandma lives still there and my great grandmother grew up there (some cousins also used to run Hart's Ice Cream parlour, on the harbour, which looked like this – visiting the factory as a kid with one of them was possibly the most exciting moment of my entire childhood. I can still smell the intoxicating vanilla-y Cornish cream vats). But I digress. St Ives is a spectacularly beautiful part of the UK and although there are the obvious downsides of the place being gentrified and rammed with tourists year-round, the town's reinvention is a great improvement on the rather dismal seaside town of the 1980s, when there were about three, not very good, places to eat and only the tacky amusement arcade to play in when it was raining. And this weekend was the first time I'd seen this new shop, The Vintage Store St Ives...

That Depeche Mode poster, £265 (framed – I think) looks fantastic. I love how the 1980s are creeping into fashion again (minus the dodgier elements – you can keep your black leather sofas and red/blue/yellow/monochrome mix duvet covers). You could also try 55 Max, which sells a range of originals in a similar price bracket: I love this King Tubby one.

This gorgeous Ercol love seat is £650. Nest do some interesting variations – unusual paint effects and different colours as well as original plain wooden ones. They are out of my current price range at £665-700. But they are worth a look for inspiration and general awe.  Even eBay isn't giving them up for under £600, but it is a beautifully compact and unique design and a classic that won't lose value.

The 1983 Max Bill lithographic print costs £160, framed.

Solid granite characterises the architecture of much of this part of Cornwall (and the town has strict building restrictions to protect the uniformity of the buildings, including a rule banning anyone from deviating from traditional grey slate roofs – which makes the place ridiculously pretty). And, here, the stone looks just as good raw on the inside. If you fancy faking the effect, check out Dreamwalls.

Loved the excellent bathroom door sign. And a big bathroom clock is an unusual touch that really works, especially with the gentle railway theme.

What a satisfying alcove – a great idea to turn it into a little seat as well as shelving, rather than – more obviously – just the latter. A little clamp-on lamp attached to one shelf and an extra cushion and you'd get the perfect cosy evening reading nook.

Old exhibition promo posters like this lovely 1988 Joan Brossa one look best and most authentic framed without a border or a mount – as they would have been displayed at the time they were in use. There are lots of places to find original posters of this ilk, if you have £100+ to spend. Otherwise, eBay is worth a punt for the odd bargain. There's currently a good 1978 Miro poster for under £40. With a little sifting, you might also find some affordable gems here, too.

Oh Lloyd Cole. How nice to see you. And what excellent use of album covers as decor. A super cheap idea to copy if you are still in possession of some retro vinyl.

We nearly snapped up the print shown here, which is not listed on the shop's website but is for sale for £45.

He has a great collection of industrial clocks for sale, which you can see better in the very top image. London Timepiece, which I discovered at last year's Tent, part of the London Design Festival, is a rich source of similar styles – very well priced, too.

The fantastic beer advertisingsign/light is not listed on the website – so contact the shop if you are interested. The spectacular view of St Ives harbour is free.

St Ives

I'm off to the seaside. To a place I've been going since I was tiny, and where my 100-year-old grandma still lives, with a view a just like the one below, top right...

It is St Ives, in Cornwall, home of the Tate Gallery and a place with a rich artistic history. But as far as modern artistic endeavour goes, I love this set of Lydia Stanwix postcards, depicting the place on a sunny day. Beautiful, isn't it?

I have a set hanging on my wall, so I think about my grandma and the sea whenever I pass.

Have a good  weekend.

Eames: the movie

Anyone who likes midcentury design, and browses it on eBay, will be familiar with the ubiquitous phrase "Eames era". In that context, of course, it has become quite meaningless...

...suggesting only a vague 1950s or 60s aesthetic (and hopes for higher bids) rather than any genuine connection to Charles and Ray Eames, the brilliant and pioneering American post-war husband-and-wife design team who started the real Eames era. 

So what was the genuine Eames era like? ("Disneyland," says one former employee); where did the duo come from? (California via Michigan); how did they meet? (while he was married to someone else); were they just about chairs? (far from it).

As revealed in a fantastic new documentary, Eames: The Architect & The Painter, hitting UK cinemas August 3.

The film's name references the fact that Charles was an "architecture school drop-out who never got his licence" and Ray was "a painter who never painted". These skills, however, shaped the way they saw the world – in which they took the sharp, grey edges off Modernism, made multi-media exhibits with political intent, toys, military splints and, of course, reinvented the chair.

The Eames' House.

The film begins with the story of the classic moulded plywood chair, above. And how – co-designed by Charles and his friend, Eero Saarinen, and a problematic contraption they called "the kazam machine", operated with a bicycle pump – the revolutionary design very nearly failed, as the pair couldn't crack how to mould the plywood without it cracking. Manufacturing 150,000 moulded plywood splints for US forces taught the Eames there was a better way...

The couple's relationship remained behind closed doors while they were alive, but the film digs out love letters and interviews relatives and former employees at their Venice Beach studio which, according to one, was "like walking into a circus".

The documentary, made by Emmy-winning filmmaker, Bill Jersey, is narrated by James Franco, who states that Charles and Ray Eames "gave shape to the American 20th century".

Check out the trailer...

London Style Guide

London is starting to fill up with visitors to the Games. But there is (and it's hard to remember right now) more to London than special traffic lanes about which to build local news vox pops and giant Olympic banners everywhere. Perfect timing for an antidote: here's a beautiful new book full of London's most stylish shops, bars, restaurants and hotels to ogle. 

Even if you can't visit, there's lots of inspiration to be had from some of these interiors... The London Style Guide (Murdoch Books), by Saska Graville, is out now.

Image from The London Style Guide
The Cross, Holland Park
Love the simplicity of the pale walls, the great dresses and this beautiful portrait. (If you are in the market for an affordable portrait to buy, check out this previous post about an excellent Etsy shop.)
Image from The London Style Guide
The Book Club, Shoreditch
The London bar/arts venue takes a pared down – and pretty achievable – approach to the idea of a living wall. I like it.

Image from The London Style Guide
Bohemia, NW1
As Saska Greville writes in her description of this place, "Eclectic doesn't really cover it...less of a shop than a garage sale..." Marvellous.

Below, a couple more of the places featured in the book...

The Zetter Townhouse, Clerkenwell

See more of Abigail's style in this interview with her accompanied by images of her wonderful home

Drink, Shop & Do, King's Cross
This shop/cafe/craft activity hang-out with a dancefloor in the basement is a fantastic place. Read more about it here.

Dog dinner

Pug salt and pepper pots: what's not to love?

They are £20 from CultureLabel, and designed by Maiden, whose weird but (I think) wonderful animal egg-cups I've previously featured.

Ugly house photos

In moments of procrastination lately I've found myself scrolling through the images on the Ugly Houses blog. I'm a little ambivalent about the judgemental snob factor – but the guy behind it posts for a worthy – rather than patronising and gratuitously scornful – reason...

He is an estate agent based in Arizona, and knows what sells – the houses featured on his blog don't, and he hopes that by illustrating them in this way, people will gather tips on how better to market their homes to sell. Doesn't stop him from inserting some very funny captions and section heads (including sections on 'taxidermy', 'knives' and '1990s decor', for example). Perversely, I am quite drawn to a few of them, especially in the 1970s section... but the wrong definitely outweigh the so-wrong-it's-rights. Here are some of my favourite recent posts (do not click on the links if you have a work deadline looming, you will be doomed).

I love these, above, from the post "five ugly couches"

And this trio, above, "sponsored by" – on the perils of inadvertently going in for some product placement in your estate agent photos...

He has a whole post of images featuring pets on furniture.

...and dodgy home bars.

From his post on "three inspiring basements", above.

But I could definitely work with those tongue and groove walls....

How to freshen up your
second-hand buys

If you like your homewares pre-loved, you’ll know how expensive secondhand stuff can be when a stylish shop-owner has already done the sifting and buffing. 

So flea markets and charity shops are worth the effort – but how to do a Cinderella on scabby, shabby or stinky secondhand finds? I asked the pros…*

And here's some they prepared earlier... pre-spruced seconds, from top left, clockwise: 1960s Whitefriars glass vases, in dark blue and olive, £35 the pair, Pip's Tripgreen 50s tub chair, newly reupholstered, £375, The Peanut Vendor1950s modular Cado storage unit in teak, £225, The Peanut Vendor; turquoise rose vintage fabric cushion, £20 each, Eclectic Chair; coffee table footstool reupholstered in vintage Welsh tapestry fabric, £250, Eclectic Chair

Hit the balls Pip Harris's secondhand homewares shop,, specialises in glass and pottery. Her tip for cleaning hard-to-reach spots in, say, the bottom of a thin-necked glass vase or decanter is Magic Balls (try Lakeland): “You just pop a few into the vase with a drop of water and swirl them round – they're brilliant.”

Inners peace "In terms of fabric," says Becky Nolan of vintage furniture shop,, "if there is a whiff factor, we look out for anything detachable that can be put in the wash. But with cushions it’s usually the inners carrying the smell; new inners are really cheap from online haberdashers. Failing that, vacuum upholstered furniture, then lightly spritz with 1 part lemon juice, 9 parts soda. Repeat a few times if necessary.”

Fairy nice “We find that the best way to freshen musty furniture a freshen is good old Fairy Liquid," continues Becky. "Diluted and with a damp cloth it removes grime and will freshen a bit. And after that, if it’s wood, nothing beats the smell of beeswax.”

Musty try harder, clockwise from top left: crochet cushion with multi coloured pompoms, £40, Eclectic Chair; vintage Welsh tapestry pegbag, £15, Eclectic Chair; blanket, £25, The Peanut Vendor; vintage kimono cushion with multi-coloured pompoms, £30, Eclectic Chair

Nice one sun "For wood that’s faded in the sun, use a scratch cover from a DIY store," Becky adds, "it’s an oil with a stain in it but is great for faded furniture too, really warms it up - especially the likes of teak. Leave it to set for a while and then wax over it."

Burning issue Becky also suggests unsticking sticky drawers by rubbing a candle on them. "And very fine wire wool and wax is great for bringing weathered metal furniture and cast iron back to life.” 

Staining manual  Heather Linnitt, who makes and sells cushions made from antique fabric at, says: “For spot stains I use a little diluted biological washing liquid. It works on my vintage kimonos, which I don't like to launder; it gets rid of stubborn stains and gives it a nice scent. For heavier, all-over soiling, put a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda in a pint of water in a spray bottle. Apply to the fabric and leave it to dry. Follow with a vacuum.”

Going for smoke "Remove the smell of smoke in upholstered furniture using undiluted white vinegar in a spray bottle, which destroys it on a molecular level rather than just covering it up like air fresheners do,” Heather continues. “Yes, vinegar stinks, too, but unlike cigarette smell, it dissipates within hours. And once it does, the cigarette smell will be gone, too. This also works on smells in wooden furniture like drawers or cupboards.”

If you like the goodies on sale from the Peanut Vendor, here, you'll love Becky Nolan's lovely flat, done up beautifully but rented and with everything spruced on a super tight budget.

* a shorter version of this post appeared as one of my weekly columns in the Independent on Sunday

Paul Catherall exhibition

If you are coming to London for the Olympics (or live here and haven't planned to escape the crowds) take a break from sport to focus on the design side the Games – as interpreted by the London printmaker Paul Catherall.

...Or at least in his newest work, below (more info further down this post). You may have seen Catherall's more familiar lino cuts of urban landmarks such as London's Oxo Tower and Battersea power station, or New York's Flatiron building and the Brooklyn Bridge... (the former are for sale year-round at the shops in the Southbank Centre). They have a very blocky, strong distinctive style about them which I love, but I really like the freer, scratchier-look Orbit, flyer image, below too, Catherall's take on the Anish Kapoor sculpture for the Olympic Park...

Above: Catherall's depiction of London's Southbank Centre.

The show is on near to one of the Olympic sites, in Greenwich, at the Paul Mcpherson Gallery and features limited edition prints of his commissions for the Southbank Centre, House of Commons, Google and Wallpaper* magazine, among others, as well as new work. Beats taking home some fluffy Wenlock and Mandeville mascots as souvenirs...

If you like Catherall's work, but can't afford one of the prints – check out his fantastic book cover illustrations (all listed on his website): prop a few of these face-forward around the house for a fraction of the cost (and you get a free book... kinda).

Melody Rose's naked plates

I love these plates, by Melody Rose – who takes old plates and gives them (in this case) a surreal little twist... 

...Turning each piece (and she does cups and saucers and teapots, too) into an unusual work of art.

'The Models' plate, £48

As such, they are not cheap  – but a lone pair of this naked backview on a wall would be enough, especially as part of a collection of assorted plates. It'd make an unusual wedding present, too.

On the plate topic, I was recently given a brilliant one – a bright yellow fish version of the Ironstone beefeater plates that I've previously featured (see them here). When I've found the right wall for it, I'll post up a photo, and write a little bit about plates on walls generally (a very good alternative to art, often a very cheap one too).

'O Susanna' – salvaged 1960s illustrations

I was nosing around my parents' bookshelves when I went over for dinner last week, and pulled out this rather beautiful book.

It is a 1960-published music book called O Susanna – "a sampler of the richest of American folk music: blues, ballads, jazz, spirituals" by the American jazz critic Rudi Blesh (1899-1985). My mum and dad had no memory of where it came from and pushed it into my hand as I left. How nice. I love it...

Rudi Blesh was also, incongruously, the author of Buster Keaton's biography as well as founder of a record label for ageing jazz musicians. The illustrator, the excellently named Horst Geldmacher, is harder to trace. The only record I have found of him online is with reference to this book. If anyone knows anything more about him, do get in touch – I'd love to see some more of his colourful, graphic drawings... 

The font is fantastic, as well. Or perhaps it was really a copy of Blesh's handwriting, as it is intended to depict.

It is worth a read too: "Here is a book of American folk music that is unusual in several respects. For one thing: it includes jazz. Jazz has never been a favourite of the folk music experts. The trouble seems to be that it is 'urban, a fancy way of swaying that it originated in a city. Therefore, it cannot be folk music. If you ask these people why, they answer patiently, 'Folk music is country music.' I've never agreed with that idea..."

Isn't it amazing? I particularly love the illustrated discography instructions.

If you like the illustrations of this era, there's a great selection of different styles to browse at the Fuel Your Illustration blog, and you might also enjoy two previous posts here, one about a fantastic Fiell book of 1960s lifestyle illustrations, the other about the swirly, psychedelic drawings of Nigel Waymouth.