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Visual Contrast (or how to make like a stylist)

"What makes some visual combinations more exciting and dynamic than others?" asks interiors stylist and graphic design lecturer, Tim Rundle, in his beautiful and inspiring new book Visual Contrast.

And then, with gorgeous images, he fills the pages of it by explaining. I totally love the styling and examples he uses. A bit like the excellent Wonder Walls, by Supermarket Sarah, his book celebrates the slightly weird and off-beat side of display. As you'll see...

The book is divided into four chapters –shape, colour, placement and personality – and enthuses "don't replace, re-arrange" to breathe new life into familiar spaces and objects. It is quite an analytical study: Rundle really dissects the science of display to extract tips with logic. So if this sort of thing doesn't always come intuitively – or even if it does, but you're stuck in a rut of looking at the same things you've had for years, positioned and grouped in the same way they have been for years – bingo: fresh inspiration.

Shape In the image above, for example, Rundle writes about how the repeated triangle motif (in the blue tape on the wall, in the coloured puzzle pieces, the design on the raffia tray, the tops of the containers) links the disparate objects together. And then how the contrast of textures and shift of colours provide "strong visual variety".

He breaks down each of the choices: "Highlighting the edge of the sideboard with tape helps to extend the depth of field, emphasizing the warmth of the wood and creating a link between the wall, the furniture and the objects." It's all kind of obvious in some ways – and yet we don't always break down why something works. But doing so adds new little tricks to one's repertoire, opening new worlds of creativity.

It'll also help you stop getting bored with your house – and you show off by peppering conversations with designery nuggets of wisdom, leaving people to conclude that you must really know your shit.

Shape This arrangement is my favourite in the book for many reasons. For starters, a palette of blues, greens and muddy yellow-browns – shot through with crisp flashes of monochrome to anchor the whole thing – is a favourite. It's something I have a lot of in my own house and I find the cool yet not chilly combination very calming. Along with horses and strange portraits – isn't the guy with the rosette compelling? It is a beautiful painting, though not an obvious choice. And horses always, for me, add a solid sort of elegance. Here's Rundle's breakdown...

"Organic vs Geometric: an artist's articulated model horse sits below an antique drawing of an officer's favourite steed, while the angular shapes of the patchwork cloth are picked up by the three-dimensional hexagonal boxes. The 1960s circular shelf unit provides a strong organic counterpoint to the geometric shapes elsewhere. Likewise, the trio of silhouettes on the shelves balances the black-and-white-striped monochrome print on the left."

Personality "Austere vs Cheeky" kinda speaks for itself. I always warm to a home that mixes up beauty with silliness. As Rundle explains: "The combination of antique oil painting and modern plastic memo board neutralizes any austerity in what might otherwise have been a slightly sombre space. And sparse glimmers of gold and beige add warmth".

Placement "Positive vs Negative: placing a rectangular piece of f white card behind the long wooden boat reinforces the multiple horizontals of this arrangement. The two tall wire candleholders below provide a graphic contrast. This trick is repeated with the dark blue square behind the ceramic sailor at the top of the cabinet, which neatly inverts the dark boat on a light background."

Colour "Icy vs Inky: a dark background allows individual light elements in an arrangement to take centre stage," Rundle explains. And amid all this dark and white, "the iceberg collage provides a small burst of bright colour to contrast with the muddy shades, repeating the strong teal colour of the painted wall." This is something the designer Abigail Ahern is the mistress of.

Visual Contrast by Tim Rundle
(Photography by Polly Wreford)
is published by Ryland Peters 
& Small at £25

On a separate note, you may have noticed I've changed my posting regime. I'm currently experimenting with posting just three times a week (rather than daily), and varying the time of day posts go up. I'd love to know if this makes the slightest difference to your enjoyment of the blog – and, generally, how you read it anyway: do you find posts by chance? By Googling something? Via Twitter? Facebook? Via the newsletter (did you know you can get YHIL in your inbox? Just stick your email in the box at the top of the column on the left).

This info will all help me decided on some changes I'm currently shaping for the future so do, if you have time, let me know via the comments box below, on Twitter (@kate_burt) or by email: Thank you!

Turning Japanese...

Abi here again. I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo last October and came back even more enamoured of Japanese design, culture and general obsession with all things kawaii (that's "cute"). 

I discovered the delights of the 100 Yen shops (or 78p shops if you do the exchange rate thing); nothing like our depressing pound shops they are multi-storey caverns of absolutely everything useful, useless and plain adorable – I had to buy another suitcase (though not only for stuff from all from the 100 Yen shops; I was gifted two full kimonos – these are some heavy garments let me tell you).

Anyways, to cut a long story short (believe me, I could wax on about Tokyo brilliance for days) most of what I brought back was gifts for friends and family but I vowed to return one day. That day is yet to come but my jet-setting husband has just returned from a three-week work trip there and, by crikey I'm a lucky wife, he's brought me back some fine, fine things which I have to share with you...

These Edo Kiriko glasses, above top, were gifts – beautiful coloured glass tumblers that look lovely on the kitchen windowsill, they are beautiful examples of the 180-year-old tradition of glass cutting started during the Edo period in Japan. 

The dinky pink and blue twins, middle picture above, are wooden, hand painted ornaments and look equally at home in our kitchen. 

Another gift (there is a huge and ancient tradition of gift-giving in Japan; it is fascinating and steeped in context and history) is this beautiful trio of Mame-Zara dishes, above; hand painted and perfectly formed Mame-Zara means, literally, "beans-dish" and can be used for serving small sweets etc or displaying as the lovely things they are. I can't find anywhere selling them in the UK which is a shame.

A special mention must go to the packaging of things in Japan; I love all the tiny paper bags and wooden boxes everything seems to come in. I just can't recycle the gingham bag, above top, it's too pretty and the wooden boxes, above, will make stylish storage.

Muji – ah, Muji. I love Muji – and I especially love Muji in Tokyo, where you can personalise any notebook you buy with a choice of rubber stamps for no extra charge. The husband chose two for me – a little dog, because we love dogs and are currently searching for a rescue Fido, and this one with a stripey breton top on it – a more perfect stamp for me could not possibly be found (ask Kate about my inability to wear anything other than stripes; I think it's a disease).

The short Kimono jacket, top, is going to be worn but I have seen Kimonos displayed on walls like this and think they make beautiful wall art. And I just had to show you this packaging: Hiyoko cakes ("bird" cakes; famous Japanese confections in the shape of birds and almost too cute too bear); a gift for the parents but I think you'll agree the wrapping is a mid-century dream and I will be sneaking that away from my folks once they've unwrapped it.

And finally some pure squeak-aloud-it's-so-cute Japan tat: my two new phone charms – a squishy strawberry and a ladybug. Of course. And these two craft kits of a carrot pant -wearing chicken and a slightly disapproving lamb which I can't wait to make and foist on a certain soon-to-be-mum friend...

All in all a feast of everything that is beautifully designed, infuriatingly cute, historically inspiring and just plain bonkers from Japan. I can't wait to go back!

The Japan Centre has a limited selection of Japanese goods which you can buy online and they also have a store on Regent's Street, London.

Lovely Pigeon

Hello there; it's Abi posting today while Kate's still dusting off her her stetson and catching up after her recent trip to Mississippi. It's all about the very lovely Lovely Pigeon today though.

Lovely Pigeon is one of my favourite websites and it's not hard to see why. There are gorgeous prints, delightful stationery and even a smattering of vintage wares for sale. I found Lovely Pigeon when I was searching for Christmas presents for friends of a design persuasion and came across these pretty prints of birds and other things.

There's also a small but perfectly formed range of stationery featuring the eponymous lovely pigeons but also cute animal sets and a newly introduced range of geometrically influenced notebooks.

Lovely Pigeon is the creation of Kirsty Thomas who started producing the Mr Pigeon lino prints in 2009 from a studio in her home in Cellardyke on the East Coast of Scotland. Kirsty is a designer, illustrator and, as she puts it "an occasional shopkeeper". She makes all these lovely things (and jewellery too) and sometimes opens a shop to sell her wares and showcase the work of other Scottish and UK makers.

Kirsty is inspired by many things that we here at YHIL also like: “I love block colour and geometry, mid-century design, flea markets and typography," she says. "I am inspired by people like Charles and Ray Eames, Charlie Harper and Lucienne Day and their eclectic and inclusive approach to design. I am also passionate about interiors and my house and studio sees an ever-changing collection of vintage chairs and weird ceramic dogs.” And, below, you can see the space where she channels her inspirations...

But why the name Lovely Pigeon? “I didn't really have an opinion on pigeons until I set up the company," she explains. "But I've since developed a fondness for them – there are some good-looking country pigeons round here! The Mr Pigeon lino print was one of the first pieces to be launched and I still love it – he has a twinkle in his eye and is now the 'face' of the Lovely Pigeon brand.”

My favourites are these gorgeous blue bear and balloon set of two prints (£14) and the copper foiled Anstruther limited edition prints (£40). In fact, many of Kirsty's hand-pulled prints are produced in limited edition runs and are a very affordable way to kick start your own artcollection. There's also some brilliant upcycled teatowel cushions featuring holiday destinations that are as bright and bubbly as a pitcher of sangria (£18-£25)

And Kirsty tells me: “Lovely Pigeon is all about making people smile." I think this is probably why I want pretty much everything that's for sale at Lovely Pigeon...

Clerkenwell Design Week:
last day

If you're in London, and skiving off this afternoon – or around before 9pm this evening in the Clerkenwell vicinity, you still have the chance to check out the CDW exhibitions before they close, tonight.

There are three major ones in different buildings. And if you only do two, I would recommend first, the one in the Farmiloe Building... but mainly for the building itself.

This former glassworks, all brickwork and unusual spaces – from the vast entrance with its arial exhibiting space to the windy corridors a wonderful little rooms with wood and glass panelled doors upstairs, makes for a beautiful and atmospheric backdrop for fresh, gleaming design. If you haven't checked it out before during London Design Festival, when it's also put to good use for Designers Block, it's really worth seeing just for the space itself – in fact, it's one of my favourite interiors in London. This image is from Industri UK, where you can take an online walkthrough tour of this wonderful place (it hires such buildings out for big events).

On show at the Farmiloe are lots of swish design stores and brands – the furniture may be out of range price-wise, but an exhibition environment turns it from a consumer experience to a cultural one, no? Exhibitors include some of my favourites, such as Theo and SCP, as well as the likes of Swedese (pictured above), Dyke and Dean, who have a temporary shop at the event, and Very Good and Proper, who have also designed the event's mobile version of the Canteen restaurant along with Transport for London. Check out the full list of brands on show here.

But if you have already been to the Farmiloe before (it's also been put to use by Designers Block during previous London Design Festivals), then try the exhibition inside a Victorian former prison: House of Detention, pictured above.

This is also where you'll find lots if up-and-coming rather than established designers showing their wares. Check out Irish designer, Donna Bates, aka I Do Cartwheels – her milkshed inspired lighting is brilliantly unusual. While recent graduate, Freyja Sewell's HUSH Chair (pictured below) is something we could all surely do with after long working week, or a big night out. For a full list of exhibitors, click here (once there, click on their logos and you'll get images and links to their individual sites. Be warned, you will lose several hours...).

Brooklyn style

I hope you're up for a few more holiday snaps. As well as seeing so many beautiful things, I also got a new camera... and you know how it is with a new toy. So from Monday's snaps of The Best Hotel in The World, deep down in the Mississippi Delta, to...

...Brooklyn. Yes, we drove like the clappers from Clarksdale up to Nashville (which is a whole other post) and flew to New York for a few days. We had a near-death experience on the plane and a brush with the law on the road, but I think it's best I stick to the design. So here are some highlights from a trip to the Brooklyn Flea, via Vinegar Hill.

We got a rainy ferry from Manhattan over to Dumbo in Brooklyn. Miles from the Brooklyn flea, but with were with a local who wanted us to have a wander and stop for brunch at a very sweet cafe in nearby Vinegar Hill. This tiny little neighbourhood only has a couple of places to eat – we went to Hillside, which made me happy because look at how pretty it is.

I think this  idea for a bar is brilliant. It is made from differently painted, varyingly battered wooden poles, lined up and used as cladding. There's something about it that reminds me of the stairs in my house I arduously painted in different colours a couple of years ago. But these colours area really summery. If I didn't already have a colour explosion of stair risers, I'd be looking around the house thinking about what I could clad with a copy of this. It'd make a great bath panel, in a black painted bathroom, don't you think?

How nice is this circular display of greenery. And I do love a pegboard wall (good for hanging jewellery or kitchen things).

 You can't go wrong with a bit of tonally complementary repetition. The 1950s jugs on the top middle shelf make for a marvellous focal point. Helps that they are a very pleasing shape too. (If anyone knows the type of jug they are, I'd love to know – I have a bright green one in my living room, which I found in a London junk shop and which you can see in the link to my painted stairs above.)

GOOD lampshade.

Another nice jug. What you can't tell from this picture is that both glass and jug are half the size you'd expect. There's always something extra good about very little things.

Hillside from the outside.

Then we hopped in a cab and hit Brooklyn Flea. Because of the dubious weather (a few hours after this photo there was a rampant rain storm) there weren't heaps of stalls. But of those that had turned out, I particularly liked the animal cups, bowls and flour sack tea-towels by Susannah Tisue, aka SKT Ceramics, who also sells her wares in selected Anthropologie stores.

This stall had some beautiful antique postcards and school learning cards. Lovely for a child's bedroom wall, or a home office.

And this stall was like catnip for crafters.

Beautiful ribbons aren't they? They'd make wonderful trim on a plain duvet cover.

A seat for two.

 And some good, old fashioned kitsch. I very nearly bought one of these light-up Miller advertising wall plaques. The more I look back at these photos, the more shopping and less photographing I wish I'd done...

Is there such a thing as a good flea market that doesn't have a fondue set on sale on at least one stall?

Some good old Brooklyn brownstones. Yep, my fantasy double life living in New York is well and truly stoked.