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Reinvent your fairy lights

Earlier this year, in the aftermath of Christmas, I wrote about the joy of fairy lights and string garlands all year round – and shared some ideas on how to get creative with them – for my column in the Independent on Sunday. 

I've been meaning to post up the extended version here for a while – then, yesterday, I saw this beautiful picture on Canadian blog, Poppytalk, and it spurred me into action...

images: Pony Rider via Poppytalk
Looks good, don't you think? I did a similar thing in my hallway, which has limited powerpoints and not great overhead lighting; I trailed a garland just like this (see below for where to find these giant fairy light strings) up near the ceiling, the length of one of the walls. It looked amazing, until all the bulbs started popping and I realised there was something wrong with the REALLY old bulb-holders. When I get a new one I will post up pictures because it really gave the hall a totally new atmosphere and was really welcoming for anyone coming in the front door.

Another idea is to pimp some regular sized fairy lights. Via the medium of Google Translate (and looking hard at the pictures in case of confusion), you can make like Swedish blogger Rebecca and create some really sweet decoupage “lampshades” (see above) for your fairy light bulbs, out of plastic cups and some old scraps of nice fabric. Read her how-to here. Personally I'd go for non-florals and go as un-girlie as possible to avoid it looking twee (or new-age fun with a vintage feel).

You could do the same with all sorts of things – cupcake holders, paper cups, even Quality Street wrappers (the coloured bits), which my friend Holly has done (see above): she arranged her newly multicoloured lights on the wall in a heart-shape above her bed (mould some wire, then just wind your lights around it – see more detail in the post I wrote on it here).

If you have any giant jam jars lying around (the sort you get pickled vegetables in from Lidl), stuff your fairy lights inside and put the jar on a shelf or in a corner that could do with a glow.

Alternatively, if – like me – you have a box of old-school light bulbs you haven’t quite got around to recycling… chuck them in something fruit bowl-sized (glass, ideally), put it in a fireplace or somewhere prominent, and bury your fairies underneath. The effect when you turn them on is beautiful – and that’s because I nicked this one from a friend who’s a lighting designer.

This is what I first attempted to do with my giant fairy lights – known as a festoon lights (about £30, Amazon): hang them from a single hook on a clean, white wall (this idea is from the lovely Norwegian blog, Brigg). If you try it, be warned that you get one massive blast of light, so choose your bulbs carefully, as well as the position on your wall.

I also love the really simple ways my stylish neighbours Emma and Sarah (whose flat I will be featuring in full very soon) have used red fairly lights, above. I get a glimpse of these through their window whenever I leave the house after dark and the twinkly glow they cast always makes me want to go back indoors and stay warm.

The same neighbours also did this, above, to their old-school luggage rack saucepan holder over the sink. The sturdy enclosed type of lights they've used means they can withstand quite a bit of bashing around and the odd splash of water. Again, after dark these make for a very cosy kitchen table.

At the Two Puddings:
an exhibition

Some of you may know that in my pre-YHIL life I wrote a blog called Save the Boozer, celebrating Britain's old-school pubs. It was a style blog of sorts – if you like dodgy jukeboxes, patterned carpet, photos of the Queen Mum pulling a pint...

You can see a few highlights in this post from last year. Possibly not everyone's cup of tea – but what I love most about such establishments is the sense of community, of history – and that, since there isn't just one demographic drinking in there – you're likely to hear some of the juiciest tales from someone's granddad sitting at the bar. Which brings me to this exhibition, all about a now-vanished pub in east London.

The Two Puddings, above, was taken over in 1962 by Eddie Johnson, father of TheThe singer, Matt Johnson – on whose website I read about it (a little too late for the talk by Robert Elms to launch it, alas, but the show runs in London until the end of March, details below).

The Two Puddings held ground-breaking music and dance nights – and claims to be not only to have been London's first disco but also the first venue to have UV lights. Love it.

Matt's publishing company, Fifty First State Press, is putting out his dad's memoir Tales From the Two Puddings, which you can find out more about here. By way of teaser, Matt explains a bit about the pub: "Due to a combination of its cream-tiled walls and the volume of blood spilt, it was also known locally as the ‘Butcher’s Shop’. It became one of London’s busiest and most fashionable pubs of that era, attracting a large, colourful cast of disparate characters including renowned actors, writers, singers, musicians, champion boxers, infamous gangsters, television personalities and World Cup-winning footballers. By the time the Puddings closed its doors for the last time, nearly four decades later, my dad was the longest serving licensee in London." But the best introduction is to watch this video...

You can also read an interview with Eddie at the excellent Spitalfields Life site, which has profiles of several other classic old boozers to enjoy too.

The audio/visual exhibition about the Two Puddings is on until 31 March at the Bishopsgate Institute in London. 

Excellent upholstery

This chair, which I posted on Facebook yesterday after lusting over it on Etsy got a lot of love.

So I thought I'd share it here for anyone who didn't see it (not in the YHIL Facebook loop? Want to be?). And for the sheer celebration of brilliant furniture re-invention, here are a few more too (and don't miss the wonderful job Out of the Dark did for me on a Parker Knoll a few months back, either, posted here). It all makes me wish I had the patience to upholster. Maybe I do... maybe one day, anyway.

African wax cloth armchair Here she is again. You can buy the beauty if you are in the States. Or, like me, you can dream of learning to make one yourself. What makes this chair so glorious is the zingy nature of the fabric combined with the age of the original chair (check out those brass-tipped, tapered feet... beautiful), and the almost obscenity of its depth. It looks extremely comfortable.

A floral flash This sofa is made by a cool Dutch company I have just discovered and which I will be writing more about soon. I love peach and emerald green together, and that the floral cushion is so small; it really stands out. Good sofa for resting your mug of tea on, too, with those arms – though not sure how comfortable it'd be in a sitting room. If you like the walls, by the way, did you see the amazing room I featured a while back where they'd used plywood to clad the whole room, including the floor? It was – surprisingly – beautiful. See it here.

Tasty Peruvian pair These two upright chairs have been tarted up with a Peruvian fabric. If you want to have a look at the transformation taking place, check out the blog post about it on the website of another new shop, A Rum Fellow.

Monochrome marvel This stunning fabric is the work of a South African graphic and textile designer called Sera Holland in her Cape Town studio. There's also a version of this chair with black woodwork, which looks striking; I like how modern the effect is. Black and white do create a very crisp finish. Sera does this design in different colours and on wallpapers and tea-towels and other accessories, in case you are local. See Sera's other designs at her blog, Handmade by Me.

'Mum, I'm on the PHONE!' Oh, those were the days. Telephone in the hall on a special table/stool thingamy. Well, I can't remember them, but I like to imagine that's what it was like in my house anyway. This beautifully olivey design is by one of my favourite re-people who make things, Heather Linnett, aka Eclectic Chair. She is based in Yorkshire and makes stunning antique kimono-covered cushions as well as reinventing pieces of furniture with panache. Her Facebook page is a good bookmark too, if you are an upholstery fancier. Which, if you've got this far, you probably are. Find out more at the Eclectic Chair website.

Modern family portraits

What a funny lot of little people. I love these odd little dolls, which are handmade in Israel from recycled fabric by Timor Cohen, aka Timo Handmade.

One, a pair – or a whole clan – would make a really lovely wedding present, a mother's day gift or something for a new family, however unconventional the set-up. Timor will even personalise them to resemble the recipients if you give her enough notice...

Whole family of dolls, around £108. Adult dolls measure 20cm x 8cm and children are8cm x 5cm.

Twins, £27

Granny/aunt/mother, around £24

Two guys, about £50

Older couple, around £47

Timor lives and makes her dolls at her studio in the port city of Jaffa. She began making the dolls after finding a box full of "a shirt I loved but could no longer wear (or dispose of), a jar of buttons with no apparent relation to one another, a handkerchief with my grandfather’s initials, an embroidered pillow cover, hole included, and so on…"

This formed the ethos for the dollmaking: "My materials are mostly recycled," says Timor, "some comes from other local businesses and designers that pass cloth scraps on to me. Some I buy as fabric scraps. Some comes from friends and family, since there isn't a home without a box of buttons and unused textiles pieces. And I live right next to the Jaffa flea market, which for me is like living near a wishing well.

The 'Family Dolls' she makes are designed as many different individual characters that can be put together as families. Timor continues: "They come in all skin tones, ages and genders, so that people can assemble any family they please. I really like to see how they are being bought for every family model that you can possibly think of. Sometimes people write me asking for very special families, and it’s a delight to see what a variety of shapes and colours there are for love and togetherness."

Timo HandmadeTimo Handmade website

House porn Friday

Well... it is almost the weekend. Why not ogle some gratuitous, unattainable architecture? Here are a few highlights from the new Taschen 'Architecture Now!' book (it's volume three, and is out next month). 

And, as you'd expect if you're familiar with other marvellously eye-popping buildings books by Taschen, the houses featured are insane. What I like about these, even though they are all new designs, is the way a lot of them so unashamedly reference the Modernist 50s and 60s. Like this concrete-wooden beauty, for starters...

Really love the bookshelves here, which turn a whole section of wall into a feature. And one that you don't need a Taschen house budget to copy...

Ooh. Wood panelling (above left) makes me dizzy in a good way. And what about that coffee table?
There are also just some really nuts houses. Like this, above, a whole new take on (beautiful) brutalism.

And this mad, multi-balconied building...
Architecture Now! Houses. Vol. 3, by Philip Jodidio is published in English, French and German, by Taschen in March 2013 and costs £34.99.

Toucan if you want to

Rockett St George has some new stock. There are some lovely things (hello 'Bear' side table and 'Forest Feel' wallpaper). But, among it, all I could see was this glorious little toucan.

He's remarkably real looking, but is in fact a fake creation, rather than a taxidermic recreation. RSG reckon that he is perfect "for adding personality to a room" and I agree (but then I have ancient creepy doll heads adorning my living room shelves, what do I know?). What one thing, for under £20, would you add to an under-performing room to give it instant personality?

Fake Toucan, £14, Rockett St George

Looking for a good, British sofa? (Or lamp... or blanket...?)

I've been meaning to post about for a while. The company, formerly known as The Sleep Room, relaunched in October last year and I've seen their ads all over the place...

In case you haven't, or haven't made the connection, they're the ones featuring a couple with smug-looking feet poking out of soft, neutral hued blankets, as they lie about all over some rather nice looking unbleached linen sofas and pleasantly battered looking wooden beds.

So far, it probably sounds like I hate them. I kind of wanted to, but the new range of products include some amazingly beautiful pieces – as you can see above, and I'm actually just quite impressed.

Especially by the ethos behind it all: everything is well-made, much of it in Britain, tapping into some serious manufacturing heritage. Most amazing of all is the cost; the company only sells online (though you can go and see the stuff in person if you fancy a trip to west London) and I guess that's what allows them to sell at such many of their things at reasonable prices.

Though the lamps, like my favourite, the Little Dane (top right) and the Teardrop (bottom left), are not totally bargain basement prices – they £95 each – they are a feel-good buy, rare in a high-street-ish context, and also thoughtfully designed, down to the twisted fabric cables. The Little Dane is based on a pair of old lamps found in Copenhagen and the shades are made in Dorset, with the ceramic bases hand-made in Stoke-on-Trent by a man called Andrew. (See also my recent post on the beautiful ceramics by Katy Leigh, who is also passionate about preserving the heritage of Stoke-on-Trent's famous 'Potteries'.)

The Mexico floor cushion, £95, is hand-embroidered wool/linen and, confusingly, made in India. And the sofas – that's the Pompidou, above – come in really lovely shapes and aren't bad value, starting at £995. Prices vary according to size (there are four for each design) and the fabric chosen, which includes cotton, velvet, wool and linen. There's also the 'house' fabric – the neutral one from the adverts – which is a linen mix made, apparently, at one of Britain's last remaining mills. Which is nice.

Some of it is totally luxury when it comes to price (like the linen bed-linen bundles of sheet, pillowcases and duvet cover: soft, muted and beautiful but over £200); the giant lambswool blankets which, at 220cm x 240cm, are massive, and probably massively soft, but at £150 also out of reach for modest budgets. The oak Campaign bedside table, inspired by a French 1940s market find, is also pretty beautiful, but £225 on a bedside table...? Nope.

Still, on a more enthusiastic note, they are also launching a rather nice bathroom range – above – next month, all of it made from hand-beaten metal, heavy-duty hand-welded wire, reclaimed pine and sustainable, weathered mango wood. Prices for this lot begin at £95. What do you reckon?

Megan Morton's book

I love this book. It isn't published until April, but here 
is a very small teaser.

It is, appropriately, called 'Things I Love', and is by Sydney-based interiors stylist
Megan Morton.

Megan's philosophy is that rooms are made beautiful – chiefly – by the 'human element'; the 'interest in and love of the things in them', which no amount of skilful styling can fake. True, of course. Though good styling can make those things sparkle – and Megan's style here is pleasingly un-contrived. (Well, as un-contrived as a book by an interiors stylist could be – it might not pass the Fuck Your Noguchi Table test... but almost. Anyway, you can't do this job without loving some gratuitous positioning – or colour-themed bookshelves – in this job).

The book is pretty different to your average interiors book: it's divided into four sections – one about inspiring creative people (just nice Q&As with them and photos of stuff that shows their taste)...

...another includes tear-out postcards with image that might spark a copycat idea – flower oil painting 'portraits', cheese grater candle holders – or simply some text, as with the one that begins 'Four brave decorating moves'.

It also – of course – shows off lots of interesting real homes – including Megan's own, above and this, below, which appeals to my wooden cladding obsession.

The best bit of this unconventional and idea-inspiring book, maybe, is the back section, which includes (illustrated!) gems such as 'how to communicate with visual people' (using a shoebox)... Megan's take on what makes 'good' clutter, and what is 'bad' clutter – and 'how to fold a fitted sheet.' I have for years accepted there was no way to do the latter... but now I know.

I also can't hate the gatefold 'Home Love Manifesto' section, and not only because of its disdain for feature walls, but also for nuggets such as: 'A mobile is a lot cheaper to replace than a chandelier','Turn your clock radio to the salsa station for a change' and, hear hear, 'Even if something is expensive, it only has value if you love it'.

'Things I Love' is published by Conran Octopus, at £25 

Nice presents for
nice small people

It's been a while since I featured any kid-specific stuff here (rather than just stealing children's things and appropriating them for adult use). 

But with my best buddy* shaping up to pop a little'un out in a couple of months, I have babies – and baby presents the parents will approve of – on the brain. Here are some of my favourite finds...

Clockwise, from left

'Have a nice day!' bear poster, from the Hambledon, £14.95. That's what the text – which is Swedish – means. Even though the print is Japanese. It measures a handy 50cm x 70cm, so fits into a standard, off-the-shelf frame.

Nanuk lamp, from a friendly-sounding Dutch company, Mr Maria, £149. No, it's not cheap. But LOOK AT HIS FACE. He also measures a sturdy 41cm, in case that helps justify a purchase. There is also a very lovely story about the glowing bear's origins on the website, which will make little ones love it even more. (Thanks, by the way, to my friend Vinnie, a big kid, who pointed me at Mr Maria through her love of their Floating Miffy lamp.) See some of the other designs, below...

Japanese paper balloons, from Papermash, £2.75. These are inflated by blowing through a hole, and will withstand being deflated and blown back up a few times. Perfect for party bags or for making a brightly coloured mobile. Papermash is a fantastic stationery shop that I have only just discovered, but which I will be writing more about because it sells so much good, colourful stuff to make presents look lovely.

Creative Creatures Activity Book for Children (Macmillan), by Donna Wilson, £12.99. My friend's eight-year-old loved making a sew-it-yourself stuffed owl when she came to visit a couple of months back. And this book is full of such projects, but with Donna W's excellently stylish and quirky take on what makes a good creature. Here are a few more images from inside...

'Last' wooden animals (below), from the FAO Shop. These beautifully hand-carved wooden animals, made by the Italian design studio, Alburno, are, arguably too good for sticky little fingers. Nearly forty quid for a toy that's 15cm high could be money better spent if these lovely things were displayed on a grown-up shelf. That said, the sentiment behind them is is perhaps designed with that in mind: each animal is an extinct species, and the idea is that this will help teach the importance of caring for the wooden versions. I think I'd stick to that high shelf.

* In case you remember the cushion sale I was on about last year... which was a fundraiser for my friend who'd had four heartbreakingly unsuccessful rounds of IVF and was selling cushions to earn some funds to help go towards her and her partner's final go... well, that's the same friend who is now sporting a beautiful bump. Isn't that nice?

Ingenious objects

In today's New Review magazine, in the Independent on Sunday, I selected some of the most ingenious objects I've come across lately in doing this job. 

You can read about it in my Insider column in today's paper – but if you've arrived from the Independent website, here are the images and links to illustrate what I'm on about.

Trophy bike rack

Bliss Craft & Brazen sofa arm table (you could also try Vanpey for an alternative design, and for ordering in Europe)

The Alarmdock by Jonas Damon, which you can buy at E-side

Kirath Ghundoo wallpaper

Old & Cold/Augustav peg book hanger

T-shirt lampshades by Belle & Videre

Barbara Hepworth – the
hospital drawings

Over to Abi for today's post... 

When you think of Barbara Hepworth I'm sure you get a headful of smooth, elegant anthropomorphic shapes springing to mind but the new show at the Pallant in Chichester might offer a different perspective on this remarkable artist's talents.

Barbara Hepworth with one of her sculptures, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
Opening tomorrow is the 'Hospital Drawings' exhibition; a series of over 30 drawings and paintings made by Hepworth during the late 1940s depicting surgeons at work in their operating theatres.

Yes, an odd departure for one of our foremost sculptors but by crikey they don't half demonstrate what a skilled draughtswoman she was.

The works came about after the hospitalisation of Hepworth's daughter Sarah in 1944; Norman Capener, the surgeon who treated Sarah at the hospital in Exeter was himself an artist and the subsequent friendship they struck up led to Hepworth being invited to observe several surgical procedures between 1947-49.

And the results are really quite beautiful; the ghostly drapes of the surgeons scrubs give them an ethereal quality that hints at angelic beings as they go about their work; this is offset by the solidity in the hands and fingers – you can see the sculptors eye moving over them and drawing their strength: the scalpel held delicately like a paintbrush, the adjustment of a surgical glove as elegant as a Bronzino portrait.

Hepworth said herself, shortly after completing the series of works: There is, it seems to me, a close affinity between the work and approach both of physicians and surgeons, and painters and sculptors.” These works really do demonstrate an artist's mind at work; drawing inspiration from these unique circumstances she's privy to witnessing; storing them up for future reference in those fantastic sculptures of hers.

The works too, can't fail to, bring to mind Henry Moore's famous underground shelter drawings; extraordinary but nevertheless everyday situations and occurrences rendered with a keen eye for social documentation but executed with an emotional connection they serve as important historical commentary.

It's also rather wonderful that the exhibition coincides with the 65th anniversary of the launch of the NHS in 1948.

Barbara Hepworth – The Hospital Drawings at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester opens tomorrow (16 Feb) and runs until 2 June.