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Wooden walls and other uses
for old planks

I have written before about how much I love the Retrouvius approach to decor. 

The salvage-focused company has two halves: a shop, selling well chosen, rescued furniture and lighting, storage accessories and more, while their architectural interior design arm, puts their talent for reusing old things to practical use. They are particularly good with wood.

Their latest design project was a Swiss mountain chalet. You can see it above and below. Those kitchen walls – a creative twist on the traditional use of parquet flooring, wire brushed to buff them to their prime – look spectacular. And I love the contrast with the paler, smoother panelling on the near wall to the left of the image.

The glass-fronted old shop display cabinet is an idea I recently saw in a beautiful flat around the corner from where I live. There, the owner had taken pretty much the entire interior of a former pharmacy, and turned it into a kitchen. The glass displays (tall and narrow, in this case) became wall-panels with room for storing well-arranged things. The counter, where the till would once have sat, had had a cavity cut-out to house the oven, and a hob built into the top. The history of the internal architecture gave the room a wonderful, warm feel. And you can get a sniff of how it looked from the island above.

Here's a closer look at that dining area, lit by the cosy glow of an over-table lamp.

And here's a closer look at what they've done with the parquet, this time in the bedroom. It gives just the right whiff of Alpine rustic retreat without being a cliche. And the indented shelving nook is nice and keeps the walls clear. All the better for unhindered wood admiration.

The image below is from a different Retrouvius-designed property but, again, it makes excellent use of beautiful, old wooden planks. Here they've used some to make sliding cupboard doors to conceal the practical drawers inside a kitchen unit. The spark of a nice idea for a kitchen revamp – without ripping out all the old and replacing everything.

Love the palette of colours in those floor tiles too.

The USB typewriter: would you?

Well, would you?

Old typewriters are beautiful things. And recycling beautiful old things is a beautiful thing. And this Smith Corona Sterling isn't the only old-school machine that Pennsylvanian techy inventor, Jack Zylkin, has transformed into a fully-functioning USB keyboard for any PC, Mac or iPad.

Look, here's another one he's pimped.

They go for around £400-700, depending on the vintage of the typewriter. "People love typewriters," Zylkin says in his Etsy shop profile, "and lots of people have them on their mantle or in their attic. But there is just no place for them on a modern computer desk. So, with the USB Typewriter project I am trying to rescue typewriters from garages and attics and put them to use again." He also sells DIY kits at $74 (around £48) so you can convert your own old typewriter at home.

The conversion is all about attention to detail: Zylkin has devised ways to incorporate non-standard keys such as F1-F12, and the Esc and Ctrl keys. On request, he'll also fix the typewriter's carriage return key (post-typewriter generation: that's the big key that goes "ping" in the office scenes in Mad Men, and moves you onto the next line on the paper) to work as a modern keyboard's enter key. The old machines will also work computer-less, for an extra vintage sheen, and can be used as iPod docks too.

It's a totally brilliant idea. Just like those old-fashioned telephone receivers you can get to plug into your mobile. But the only people who used those were fashion show front-rowers and early east London adopters – and as soon as the fad lost its new sheen, landfill was surely hit with a heavy load of bakelite and moulded plastic. So are these keyboards different? Would you use one?

Find the USB Typewriter shop on Etsy.

Small luxuries: Robert Shadbolt
postcard set

I've just found these very nice limited edition postcards by illustrator, Robert Shadbolt. They're gocco (a Japanese technique, sort of a cross between screen-printing and rubber stamping) and are themed around the artist's impressions of Tokyo.

They will set you back the grand sum of a fiver for the set – a special yet marvellously affordable present, especially as each is numbered and initialled.

Robert Shadbolt, aside from having his work in various magazines and adverts and things, also teaches illustration at Salford University. You can see some results of his teaching methods on his totally absorbing Flickr stream – including the project looking at the way we draw the human head, which resulted in more than 6000 images. He also has a whole line of work devoted to Manchester.

According to Shadbolt's biog: "Because his work still predominantly relies on drawing, he's on a constant search for the perfect drawing implement. He used to buy pens and get advice from Philip Pool (1909-1999) the legendary pen expert of Drury Lane, London. Time is now spent trawling eBay looking for nibs and pens like Sommerville's Alfred and the Pelican Graphos." I like that. His trademark is the smiling face you'll see recurring in many of his drawings.

Each pack contains four weird and friendly-looking postcard-sized prints: Godzilla Face; (burgundy); Happy Faces (red); Rabbit Face (blue); Space Face (lime). Buy them from Mr PS, £5 the set.

I discovered the cards and Robert's work thanks to last week's reacquaintence with Mr PS – aka Megan Price – when I wrote about the excellent Poundshop (a design shop where everything is really cheap but still really good) where Mr PS had some designs on sale.

Mr PS creates some really lovely, bold, colourful and graphic things – printed onto tea-towels, cards and tote bags. Check out the shop (I love this nice cat and the Tip Top card, particularly – as well as the chirpy Eggs, Chips & Beans print I've mentioned before).

Nice things all.

Storage as art, by Note for Seletti

I'm in the middle of an extended spring clean... Actually, I'm always in the middle of an extended spring clean. Where does all the mess and clutter come from? It's not me. Definitely not me.

So on that theme, do you ever fantasise that a new thing for your home will change your life? I get it lots about things from Lakeland. But today I'm having it about this.

As far as I can tell, this ingenious – and very beautiful – piece of clutter collecting storage isn't yet for sale in the UK. It's made by Italian company Seletti, who Abi was getting excited about in a recent post. The designers are a company called Note, who make some other very good-looking and useful objects.

It's called Suburbia – because as well as hiding or beautifying all sorts of old crap that's normally spilling off surfaces in the average house, or lingering redundantly in top drawers – if you look at it empty, you can see it's designed to resemble a little town, as seen from above. The inspiration was the marvellous Uten.Silo, a pleasing plastic holder of things designed in the 1960s by Dorothee Becker that you can see here. Bodie & Fou also do something similar in a metal finish, but nothing like as art-like as this.

Seletti sell in places such as Heal's, Pedlar's and SCP so, when it's launched into shops, it's unlikely to be cheap. But think how happy it will make you.

A 1950s colour palette
in Memphis

Just been trying to file the rest of my holiday photos from the epic US road trip we did last month. The filing has been as epic as the trip, as I'd just bought a new camera – new toy and all that. 

Anyway, just came across the photos of the 1950s interior at a cafe we went to in Memphis. The Arcade Cafe is the oldest in the city, so the menu informed us (relatively modern by British standards, it was built in 1919). And seeing the images again, the colour palette really struck me as very lovely.

All that sludgy mustard and terracotta, shot through with worn-in turquoise: it's very retro but not in a shouty way. And the colours aren't a combination I'd naturally have put together – the more obvious 50s nod would probably include yellower yellows, and the terracotta is a surprise. But it's a marvellous mix, don't you think?

And that's probably because the interior features the original 1950s decor, as installed by Harry Zepatos – relative of the current owners and son of the founder, Speros Zepatos  (yes, Elvis was once a regular). Speros refurbed the place drastically six years after acquiring it as a low-rise wooden building, rebuilding and decorating it in his 1925 version of "Greek Revival Style". (I'd have loved to have seen that, sounds insane.)
When Speros' son took over, Harry gave the 1920s architecture and stylings the mid-century update that remains today, under the care of third-generation Zepatos, Harry and Karan. I like that they didn't obliterate the previous decorative incarnation entirely – a few details, such as the metalwork you can see below, remain in situ.

Arcade's exterior: the neon signage is the original 1950s stuff.

The Arcade's cinematic claims to fame.

Yep, we gained some hearty holiday weight on our trip (and amazingly, not solely from this meal).

If you recognise the cafe, you might have seen it in films including Great Balls of Fire, Walk the Line and 21 Grams.


You might have read about Poundshop before – this brilliant design initiative, where new and established talent create bespoke items to be sold at £1, £5, and £10 in a temporary shop – has been going since 2010.

And there are just two days left of Poundshop 7, at the Chinese Art Centre, Manchester  – as it ends on 22 June. There's also an online version of the shop if you're not local. I think it's great.

Poundshop's founders – George Wu, Sarah Gottlieb (no longer involved in the project) and Sara Melin – met at the Royal College of Art. "The idea was born during a discussion about love for design shops, but as the recession just hit, not having the capital to set one up ourselves," they explain on the website. "A friend who works for Croydon council, suggested we set up one in Croydon as there are many disused shops, and thought we should set up a poundshop. What started as a joke, turned into a real exhibition as we set ourselves the challenge to create the first design poundshop."

The aim of the project, which has since partnered with The Shoreditch Trust, Somerset House and The Architecture Foundation among many more, is to spread design to a wider audience by making it accessible. And on the designer side, many of those who take part are new to selling products – and so Poundshop provides a platform with low overheads and minimal risk to try out something new. All the products for sale are created specially for Poundshop events – the next of which will be at Selfridges.

Designers involved this time include: Custhom, whose wonderful digital embroidery I've featured here before; Yorkshire-based surface designer, Laura SlaterMarmaduke Marmalade, aka Maybelle Peters whose character-driven stationery and card designs you may have come across at Not on the High Street; there's Elle, Living Etc and Vogue feted Mr PS, whose spectacular Egg, Bacon, Sausage tea-towels I've written about here before too as well as geometric embroiderer, Ness Donnelly and monster lover, Rachel Edwards.

Assemble/ Configure tea-towel, £10

Gift wrap, £1
Motivational monster stickers, £1

Hand-stitched embroidered cards, £1

Poundshop runs until 22 Jun (opening times, 10-5pm) at the Chinese Arts Centre, Market Buildings, 13 Thomas Street, Manchester M4 1EU

Excellently unusual portraits

This morning I saw a particularly brilliant Facebook post by Emma and Sarah, my lovely neighbours that they have kindly given me permission to share.

Their friend's mum – Bath-based Liz Ladd (contact details below) – has knitted them a pair of dolls in their images. Sarah, on the left in the photo below, is a barrister – and so is knitted wearing her courtroom wig and gown. Emma has a swish of bright, bleached hair and massive glasses. Aren't they brilliant?

The Emma doll was made a while back – the FB post was to show off her newly woven partner. Now here are the neighbours in the flesh (you'll have to imagine Sarah in her work-gear). Spot the difference – haha.

I've written about unusually executed portraits before, but this got me looking for even more alternatives, which I'll come back in a sec – but first, if you didn't nose around Emma and Sarah's very beautiful little flat first time around, see it here – and see Emma's amazing stone carving and sculpting work at her website

Right then. Now for some more excellently crazy portraits, all of which you can commission from the artists in your own likeness. And I must make an advance apology for any non-Etsy shoppers reading (though if you don't, do! God it's brilliant): this is a shameless Etsy bonanza.

Ximena Carreira – or Zine – is an Argentinian-based artist, from C√≥rdoba (but she ships worldwide). These teeny, tiny hand-painted dolls are around £16 for a child or pet and the adult figures are around £23 – they come in any configuration you like. Just send her a photo. Zine

"I can do beards, glasses, guinea pigs, plaits … you name it," says Sonia Lyne aka Dandelyne, who makes these miniature embroidery hoops – below – in Melbourne, Australia (if that's not your neck of the woods, her postage fees outside the country are very reasonable).

They come in 10cm, 12.5cm or 15cm in diameter, depending how many people and pets you want to squeeze in – and she has a check-list of information she'll need from you before she goes ahead (details of the beards, glasses, guinea pigs and so on). The portraits start at $45 Australian dollars (just under £30) for a wall hanging hoop – you can also get littler ones as necklaces and brooches... but that would surely be taking the weirdness a bit too far, no? Dandelyon
Now this, above, is the kind of thing I'd totally get a couple as an unsolicited wedding present. Only I'd probably choose the wrong sort of couple to give it to and they'd be really freaked out and cursing me for deviating from their wedding list instructions... do you think? Surely anyone would love to receive a pair of these, with their faces on them, freaky or not? Mm. Well. Watch out soon-to-marry-couples I know – these have your faces on them. They're made by North Carolina-based illustrator, Jordan Grace Owens, whose other work – for example – you can see on the left.

I like her. We might revisit and give her work a stand-alone post shortly. Meanwhile, find the dolls at Jordan Grace Owens

I'm a sucker for anything animal related. I love how the dog portrait, above, really captures that pathetic glimmer dogs give off when they want something. (It's working even in canvas form isn't it?) I've covered some different pet portraits before that you might like (and which deliver to more destinations), and these ones start at around £100 but they can only take US orders/delivery addresses. Red Tile Studio

Finally, a great gift for a girlie teenage girl? I reckon. But she'd have to be very special, because they're also around £100 a pop (no postage though – as the designs are emailed to you unless you want paper versions posted – $15 extra if so). These digitally designed 2D dolls are made to order by Kate Gabrielle in Princeton, USA, and she says she's "not great yet at doing guys" so won't yet recreate chaps (in case the budding David Beckham in your life was springing to mind). Sweet & Lovely 

If you'd like your own knitted doll portrait, please contact Liz at

Rop van Mierlo's animals

Cheapskate decorators never waste a good postcard. And these unusual and endearing animal watercolours, by Dutch graphic designer Rop van Mierlo, would make a lovely collection of framed prints for a child's bedroom wall. 

Don't you think? Or just a wall in the room of someone who likes nice depictions of animals – and from the number of animal-themed items that crop up here, you may rightly conclude I am a person of that persuasion. 
I came across them at one of my favourite online shops, Fine Little Day. A set of 10 cards cost £20 (and shipping worldwide is free – woo!). Find the cards here.

You can also buy full-size prints (70cm x 50cm, in limited editions of 50) direct from Rop van Mierlo's webstore, for 150 Euros.

The large version of the donkey, above, would be pretty good.

Van Mierlo also has a book of his animal illustrations, which are painted onto wet paper to create the special splodgy effect. The book, simply called Wild Animals, comes in either Dutch or English and also available on van Mierlo's website for 18-20 Euros.

Off the wall

A mini post from Abi today.

Remember my zingy apple green kitchen makeover? Well thanks to the lovely Kate giving me this rather splendid Hatch print poster for my birthday...

...I now have another print to put up on the walls. I had it framed and it's going to look lovely in there don't you think?

And another ace birthday present came courtesy of my fabulous husband – also for the kitchen and finally a partner for the massive vintage "M"; soon to both be installed on the wall (just as soon as we've worked out how to light up the M... expect Frank Spencer tales of electrocuted stylings).

It's from Seletti which, I've discovered, sell all sorts of weird and wonderful homewares (including these design-your-own neon illuminated lights we recently featured in another post). Ooh, I can feel a post coming on Kate...