recent posts

social media menu

Out of office

Hello! Except I'm not really here. All being well, I'm on my way here...

Yep. I'm off for the longest holiday I've had in years, on a road trip from Nashville Tennessee, down through the Mississippi Delta and then up for some luxury and a family reunion in New York City. We are actually staying in the place pictured above for a few days, even though (to my urban, British eyes, it doesn't look as it it can possibly be anything other than a film set). It's called the Shack Up Inn. It looks amazing.

I shall take many photos. You shall see the good ones.

Meanwhile, happy May and see you towards the end of the month. Yee-haw!

Giving good gift

It was my birthday this week. My friends are very kind. I have already shared the beautiful early birthday present I got from Abi in this previous post...

...and now a few other very nice surprises (and this isn't even including the hugely surprising and marvellously great bicycle that came careering down the hill in the park at me, festive ribbons flying from the handlebars – but a photo of that is probably for a different blog entirely).

The beautiful print on the left is of the Crystal Palace tower, in south London. I live in south London – not right by the tower, but near enough that it's always visible on the skyline when you look south. Which is because it's the fourth tallest structure in the capital, and it has been providing Londoners with a TV signal since it went up amid the ruins of the former Crystal Palace in 1956. What a lovely present for a south Londoner. Or maybe just for a TV fan. Ha. Anyway, if you like it, the sticker on the back of the print say it's from Sold by Sold, where I see they have had these prints in stock but are currently out, and waiting for a new colourway.

The plate is by Carly Dodsley, whose crockery is made in England's traditional ceramics epicentre, Stoke-on-Trent. It all has a nice hint of midcentury about it, and I love those late 50s colours.

The "K" in this great font comes from Tiger, which is a favourite shop of the lovely friend who gave it to me. Be warned, its website will absorb much of your morning.

Loveliest of all, of course, is the beautiful cake card drawn by my boyfriend's very small and very excellent niece, Isabella. She's two. And she is very good at drawing!

I also got this...

 ...which came from a charity shop. Who could throw Luther out? And a gift that inspires a spontaneous 80s disco (and a surprise martini) is surely a gift that keeps giving.

Finally, a sweet ending. Beautiful old French plates, which arrived bearing extra gifts in the form of these beautiful muffins. They look pretty, but my god you should have tasted them: blueberries, lemon zest and almonds. They didn't last long.

Thank you friends. You are great.

One-bedroom? No problem. My stylish neighbours' bijou flat

My neighbours have style. And I've been meaning to commit their flat to this blog for several years. Finally, I coerced them into inviting me over and got in there with my camera.

I first encountered one half of Emma and Sarah (the Emma half) the day I moved in. I was hauling furniture across the threshold when she appeared, explaining she'd been watching out of her window  to see what sort of furniture I had before introducing herself. You've got to warm to someone who shamelessly tells you it was the sight of your coffee table that made them want to say hello.

Emma is a hugely talented sculptor (she was part of the team that made the figues on the Queen's Jubilee barge, to give you an idea...), while Sarah is a hugely terrifying barrister for the CPS (well, I imagine she's scary in court, though not at all alarming outside of work).

They have lived in their one-bedroom flat for 15 years – during which time they've transformed it from a leaky two-bedroomed space with broken gas bar fires into a sleek but homely, open-plan apartment, packed with interesting and beautiful things, including the gleaming pair of Tom Dixon ceiling pendants you can see above. I have spent a lot of time drinking tea or wine at that gorgeous kitchen table, feeling like I should go home and finish all those lingering odd-jobs around my own house. And it all shows how much you can do with a small space, if you do it well...

Love how this battered, over-size leather chair looks draped in clashing patterns and in front of the flat's clean white walls.

"We have read all of the books but love them for their orange bindings," they say.

The open-plan living room/kitchen as seen from the other end of the flat.

"This is a cast of Michelangelo’s ‘David’," explains Emma. "The two long figures and the tea caddy came from our local Barnardos and the hare was a gift from a very generous friend, Belinda and the chocolate mould of a rabbit was from a flea market in Brooklyn. The wire 3D triangle thing was from San Francisco."

The office corner. Love the red fairy lights. You can't go wrong with fairy lights – they add sparkle to anything. (And if you were to look out of that window, you might see me taking the rubbish out.)

The bedroom. The matching red letters (S and E) either side of the bed were a gift from Emma and Sarah's friend, Devan. They think the letters were originally on the front of an old carpet shop in the area.

The wallpaper is Silver Birch from Cole & Sons. "We could only  afford one roll," they say.

That is one serious bath. I really like how plain the bathroom is, letting the colourful old signage on the wall stand out. The brick-formation tiles are plain as can be too – the lack of decorative bevelled edges is what gives them that nice, crisp, clinical look.

Sarah and Emma’s beautiful fish plates are a set of six, all different colours. They are 1960s English Ironstone, and the range is called ‘Aquarius’. They also come in a ‘Beefeater’ range (the design is psychedelic cows rather than the tourist burger chain). You can read about those, here.

This is Emma’s latest piece of work, they are a portrait of Zoe, a model from the college where Emma studied. They are cast in cement fondue and mounted on a piece of marble from the altar at Westminster Cathedral, which was salvaged by Emma after the altar was moved two feet when the Pope visited a year or so ago. Next to the portrait are some stones with holes through them collected from a beach in Norfolk.

The wig is in regular use as is the law book. And the sheep/rabbit was given to Sarah by Emma when she was called to the bar because the symbol of her Inn is is lamb and it looks like a barrister’s wig.

All that, and I got a delicious lunch...

Read more about Emma and Sarah – and see more images of their place – over here.

Find out more about Emma's stone carving and sculpting work at her website

Fuck your piles of books with
things on top...

Hello, it's Abi posting today. Kate's recent post on colour-themed shelves (and the nod to the witty FYNC website that knowingly mocks such interiors mag leanings) got lots of "yep, guilty as charged" reactions. Including my own. 

With permission, we'll post up some of your own excellent over-stylings shortly (so keep them coming) but meanwhile, browsing through FYNC again, I was reminded that, yes, I spend far too much time artfully arranging piles of books with a small objet (do omit the "c" for extra design-led twatness) on top. And that – just sometimes – perhaps I can take things a bit too seriously. So I've rounded up some of the most sublime and ridiculous design moments in our house. Do have a look-see...

Look at all our cool old LPs!

Hey, why not display your books as artworks!

I have an uncomfortable amount of 1970s coffee pots!

Yes, I have made these decisions and I stand by them. But I also laugh long and hard at me too.

And I know my printer's tray jewellery holder should score top marks for total Noguchi Table fuck-offery, but I also absolutely know it's the best way to store tiny stuff that gets tangled, lost, scratched and broken. One point back to me.

But I leave the prize for the most design-ridiculous thing we've done to our house to the infamous Golden Nook. Yes, this tantalisingly named area (already qualifying for having a title) is a tiny corner of our house in our spare bedroom. A tiny pointless corner fit only for displaying marvellous things in. "I know," says the husband, "let's gold leaf it so it reflects and shimmies and oscillates" and several other wildly eloquent things. "OK," I say.

The nook is TINY. But gold leaf comes in even tinier packets costing, well, a packet. So... many hours of artisanal dabbing from the husband later, we got our golden nook. One that cost the GDP of Bulgaria. "It's very lovely," I say to the husband, "but, um, can't you get tins of gold paint from, oh I don't know, B&Q, that cost about ten quid?" I shan't repeat his reply.

So come on, 'fess up and share your own over-styling shames with us. Look, even Kate has shared her own "thing on a pile of books". You're among friends...

Introducing... Objects of Use

If you like the long-standing utilitarian London shop, Labour & Wait, you'll love Objects of Use. The shop has both a physical presence (in Oxford) and a cleanly designed online shop.

I came across the shop while writing my monthly page for (gorgeous) magazine The Simple Things, all about slowing down to enjoy... you guessed it. It's about as different from your average women's magazine as you could get, so if you don't already know it and that sounds like it would appeal – do give it a go. Meanwhile...

Objects of Use sells “enduring household tools and functional items". The shop aims to source “the best versions” of everything it sells – and its concept sprang, partly, from co-founder, Alex Dexter’s growing disdain for a ubiquitous brand of plastic floor mop. “It annoyed me that everyone had stopped selling what was clearly a better product,” he explains, “and replaced it with these plastic things.” As such, the shop sells “proper” cotton mops and metal buckets.

Dexter, runs the beautifully old-school Oxford shop with his wife Hazel and, alongside good mops, they sell – for example (as there is lots of stock to browse) – beautifully sturdy pieces of Austrian enamelware, beechwood and horsehair mushroom brushes, and classic rattan carpet beaters. All are typically made (and made to last) by family-run firms using generations-old traditional manufacturing methods. It is a proud rejection of what the couple call "throwawayism". Besides, as they say, “Having the right tool for the job vastly improves the experience of completing our daily tasks.” Quite.

Table dustpan and brush, £25
Swedish-made oiled beech and horsehair dustpan/ brush set for sweeping crumbs from the table. Look how neatly it fits together, and note the satisfyingly designed hanging hole. The set is made in a studio where visually impaired craftsmen have been hand making brushes since the late 1800s.

Mariskooli bowls, £16-49
These classic Finnish sweet, snack or ice-cream bowls were designed by Maija Isola of Marimekko in 1960, but are said to have been based upon a traditional bowl she had found and fallen in love with at a flea market. Comes in two sizes.

Knitted linen towels, £25-£50
Hand and bath towels knitted from natural un-dyed linen yarn. The loose knitted structure apparently increases surface area whilst drying and allows better air circulation during airing. Made by the same Swedish studio behind the dustpan and brush set above.

Spun aluminium food containers/lunch-pails, £11-£15
Nice red lids, tight rubber rubber seals, and a simple bar and snap closure, these containers are made by a small metalworks on the Iberian peninsular. Pretty up the inside of your fridge or cupboard – better still, they're perfect to take on outings if today's glorious picnic weather prevails.oss by 5.5cm deep.

Shop online at Objects of Use

Colour-themed shelves part II

My good friend Vinnie has just moved into a new house. She's just assembled and arranged her new shelves there, to decorate a large blank wall. 

Our mutual friend Paul used to be my lodger; he's good at order (I'm less good) and so while he lived with me he was the technician behind my colour-co-ordinated shelves. So Vinnie heard about the shelves and decided to give the idea a go too. Here's how it went...

"As you'll see," she says, "I took colour coordination to a whole new level, matching vases and random stones and artwork to the different book coloured sections. Utterly ridic, but oh so fun."

Then I sent her a link to this page on the excellent Fuck Your Noguchi Table blog, and we congratulated ourselves on being total interiors wankers. 

What's the most design-ridiculous thing you've done to your home? 

My boyfriend saw a shop display that had books all facing the wrong way round – so you just see the pages end not the spine with the book name, and therefore can't find any books. He copied it. (He's a graphic designer. He liked the way the colour and texture looked.) What with my own occasional propensity for aesthetics-over-practicality, I do fear for the dignity of the house once he moves in... next week. I shall keep you posted with highlights. 

Man gifts and Swedish illustration

I've only recently discovered the Hambledon. It's an online shop that sells old and new things, and it is reasonably priced and well curated. 

I was going to write about their rather good fake green hydrangeas (oops, I have). I want some of those. They are my favourite ever flower to look at in a vase – so elegant. Abigail Ahern does them too, and John Lewis as well. But instead, I thought I'd man-up for today.

You don't have to get these for a chap you want to present with a present. I'm not big on gender-specific gifts. But. They are nice things for the man who likes his smart clothes, his bathroom to look nice or (like me) can't resist a hearty dose of 90s hip hop and RnB.

The stylish Marvis toothpaste is £5.50 (so tell him not to actually use it, just accessorise with it). If you like this, you'll love the bathroom department at Labour & Wait. Packaging-tastic. The 90s colouring book, £7.50 (very much along the lines of the legendary Ryan Gosling colouring book) is just a joyful thing to behold. You might even be able to decorate your walls with it after the colouring-in bit is done. Yeah, no probably not. Un Senor Elegante measures 50cm x 70cm (nice for a good old off-the-shelf frame) and just £19.50. All available from The Hambledon

The Senor print is by Swedish illustrator, Ingela Arrhenius, whose other work I recognised when I went to her website. She does lots of lovely prints and books for children...

...and also a few of these very good travel posters. Right from the 1960s...

There are also these. Possibly the best salt and pepper pots I've seen since these ones.

Their names are Pablo and Salvador. I don't know which is which. But I love them.

New Pedlars'
procrastination print

In praise of procrastination? Well. Why not? We're all either vastly under-employed, or hugely stretched these days (or, worst-case scenario: both). 

Apart from those clever types who have cracked life's code and got the balance just right, of course. You're out there tending to your chickens, having a non-rushed breakfast (of freshly-laid eggs), spending enough time with loved ones, not getting RSI etc. But if you're already there...

...get this new print from Pedlars. It's not about being lazy or wasting time – well, the latter a bit – but more about allowing the mind to wander, to make it happier because it's not incubating guilt and, in the end, more productive. Inspirational and beautifully designed suggestions include cloud-watching, doing nothing, and making now the time to sort your inbox.

Typographic art is a bit over-exposed, but there are still some un-cliched gems out there and this, for sure, is one. It is part of a tiny, limited edition run (yet more reason you won't be seeing your print on everyone else's wall) and measures 42cm x 42cm and costs £165, unframed. The artist behind it is recent Chelsea art school graduate, Sara Mererid Williams.

Then again, there's the other way of looking at things – and even if you're beating yourself up with guilt about everything you haven't done, at least you'll be laughing too while looking at this rather excellent  Kenneth Williams catchphrase print that I featured a while back. You could always alternate them.

Introducing: Retropolitan

Hello, it's Abi posting today. In case you don't know it, I want to tell you all about Retropolitan, a very fabulous online vintage store my stylish friend Scarlett pointed out to me the other day. 

And I'm very glad she did – it's a feast of unusual vintage pieces with a slant towards glass and vases (but it's by no means only glass and vases). Like these...

Above left, Riihimaki vase by Tamara Aladin, £50. Right, Czech glass by Pavel Hlava, £48

The shop is well stocked with beauties like these totally cute American pressed glass Scottie dog salt dishes, £13.95, above, that I didn't even know I needed, but now have
to have.

It's also got random treats like this gorgeous French botanical poster, above,£150...

...a cool telephone pad, £40 (I am absolutely certain Joan Holloway from Mad Men has one of these) and a slightly sinister ceramic bunny, £29, both above, and this 1950s plastic wine basket, £28, below.

Again, didn't know I needed this, but now can't imagine my life, or kitchen, without it.

But I think my favourite thing is this 1960s neon Emanuelle sign, £150. It's too fabulous for words and would bring a frisson of naughtiness to whichever room it landed in. If you miss buying this one, you can also get new illuminated signs made to order, spelling out whatever you like in a rather lovely font (and not as pricey as you might imagine). Find out more here. Or you could even make your own illuminated letters instead.

But back to Retropolitan. The website was launched six years ago by Lesley McNamee and she reckons her upbringing with antiques dealer mum and step-mum must have given her a taste for it as she says: “I'd work for them from time to time; I had Saturday stalls at Camden Market and Portobello in the early 90s selling vintage when it was called bric-a-brac!”

After working in the media for years Lesley took the plunge and started the site: “It was a big step for me to give up my nice salaried job, but I felt passionate that more people should be buying affordable, stylish and collectable pieces to add to their home. It's been a journey – and now I sell to Selfridges, Paul Smith and plenty of interior designers, but it gives me the most pleasure when someone falls in love with a piece I've chosen.”

So what are Lesley about her favourite finds? “I particularly love mid 20th century glass and European ceramics," she says. "West German ceramics in particular make great decorative statements and have wonderful glazes and bold shapes and colours – now's the time to buy them while they're still affordable.

"There's a great 1960s piece from Duemler & Breiden in at the moment [see left] that shows off the iconic drip lava glaze in a gorgeous yellow set against navy.”

The site has a lovely eclectic feel to it – I like mixing up styles and so does Lesley who's currently doing up her entire house. “I love Midcentury Modern – but I also love Arts & Crafts, and a little bit of Art Deco," she says. "So the clean modernist lines can get a little blurred at the edges. I'm a believer that it's OK to mix styles and periods as long as you have good taste – I'm calling my new kitchen's look vintage butcher shop chic!” 

Time to get collecting those German ceramics...

Visit the Retropolitan website