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Two bears

Last week, I was at the flat of friend and artist Russell Loughlan, whose poignant animals-thinking-deeply artworks I wrote about recently. He had a new junk market purchase sitting on the kitchen table. 

As you might imagine, Russell's place is full of animal-related decor and art. So hardly surprising that this one doesn't buck the trend. Isn't he nice?

Funnily enough, my neighbours (whose enviably stylish home I've also plundered for this blog, mercenary journalist that I am) also have one of these bears. My neighbours' bear sits on the middle bar of their sash window, visible the street. So if I look up on my way home (which I always do, because I'm that sort of nosey neighbour) I see the mournful yet dignified beast standing in silhouette. Interestingly one half of the bear-owning neighbours – Emma Broughton – is also an artist who, like Russell, features thought-provoking animals in her work (I really love her pigeons).

So as there are clearly a few of these bears around, I did a bit of hunting and found that if you're looking online quite a few come up with keywords such as "art deco" "victorian" "cast iron" and "moneybox" (oh yes, he's a functional bear)...

And those keywords probably tell you as much as I could about this chap. Except I think he may also be of German extraction as "Black Forest style" comes up in a few of the searches. His broad shoulders, seen from behind here, make me feel sad for him; this big, strong beast – once made to dance for idiots like us.

In case you are interested in finding your own bear, I have by fluke found a live eBay listing among all the "sold"s I encountered while searching.

It's for a brass-coloured one, but as details are scant it's unclear whether he's solid brass or just dipped in it – the latter I'd guess, or postage would be way more than £5. Have a look on eBay yourself; he's £30 including postage (within the UK).

And if you buy him – let us know!

Bathrooms have feeling(s) too...

Hello, it's Abi here – sorry for the radio silence but I've been a bit ill and then went off to Marrakesh for a week (expect a post on all things Moorish soon). 

So, after Kate opened up the proverbial can (excuse the pun) when she posted a much-debated picture, it got me thinking about bathrooms. 

You can buy this original, 1956 Briggs Bathroom advert from Arcanium Antiques on Etsy 
Bathrooms are funny old rooms; we don't spend huge amounts of time in them and they don't have the social nature of other rooms like the kitchen, where everyone gathers.And I'm not one of those people who has a basket of magazines and books by the side of the loo (I just don't get it – WHY? Urgh...) as I can't understand the desire to stay in a bathroom any longer than is absolutely necessary.

So, I've generally given bathrooms short shrift: keeping ours ├╝ber clean and tidy and that's about it. Now, when we bought our house nine years ago it was on the proviso I got a proper bathroom toute suite – picture this (I don't have pics alas but the sketch, below, that we used when extending it several years ago gives some idea): the bathroom was tiny – a miniscule handbasin like you get in cheap B&B ensuites, rammed up against a bathtub and, off to the side, a loo. Overhead was the boiler; we later discovered this was highly illegal – we were practically the Mickey and Mallory Knox of death bathrooms.

But the rest of the house was glorious. So we bought it. Four years later I get my new bathroom but it was worth it as we decided to build out on top of the downstairs room (the kitchen) and installed all manner of lovely things like showers and giant sinks and stuff (you can see the original plans, above). The handy husband did all the DIY; slate floor, charcoal walls, posh tiles. All very sleek, plain and minimal. I was happy.

And then a few months ago I took against it – I don't know why exactly; maybe I'd just grown out of my rigid bathroom ways and wanted to inject a bit of personality; the bathroom was the one room in our house that didn't look like it belonged to us and I didn't like that one bit. So, I decided to try to warm it up a little without having to spend much money. And hey presto – what do you think?

Losing the previously pale walls has given the room a much more welcoming feel.

The sixties lampshades were a steal at £3 for the pair from the oft mentioned and much loved Fontwell Car Boot.

Aside from the paint job, pictures are an obvious start to add some personality to a room. And I rather like the jolt of nasty you get with this classic Kubrick poster.

And the pink radio is nice for a morning singalong in the shower.

Handmade soaps from a trip to Nice stack up nicely alongside two Japanese pots we were gifted on a Tokyo trip.

I have tons of spare tchotchkes so thought I'd put them to good use on the windowsill above the sink; the vintage orange Poole vase was a gift from my mother, clustered with a cute fifties black and white pot that I think came from a junk shop somewhere. You might recognise the donkey and French decanter from here and the little Westie was a gift from Kate.

Candles, so much nicer than aerosol fresheners, are my new favourite things – these are by Parks and they smell lovely and have as strong a fragrance as Diptych candles. Like Diptych they're not cheap but sometimes you can find them in TKMaxx for a fraction of the price. And of course my little silver donkey has a twin over here.

The pictures are all postcards from Penguin's classic book cover set – I did the same in our kitchen with all the green ones; a cheap and easy way to fill wall space plus I love the mildly amusing titles on some of them. Picture frames came cheap from Tiger; only £1 each.

And look at this lovely chair – it was bought by my husband when he was on one of his prop shopping trips to Ardingley; it wasn't for a show but he said he couldn't not buy it for just £5; and with this cute early Tracey Emin-esque cushion on it I think it brightens up the corner perfectly.

So now I love our pimped up bathroom – the make-over cost me about £12 I reckon. I might linger a little longer in the shower because of it, but one thing's for certain: there will NEVER be a basket of magazines in there.

Eve Spencer's provocative wallpaper

Well... not only provocative wallpaper. The stuff you'll see below – all created by wallpapers and fabric company, Eve Spencer – that falls under that category is also most beautiful. Though the hawk killing a cat, daddy long legs and "Oil Bird" designs may not be everyone's fancy.

Among some of the other prints, there is just the beautiful – but with a non frilly, girlie angle (so much wallpaper can be so painfully lady-like and proper, don't you think? I'm much more for a bit of gritty Timorous Beasties).

So as not to startle too swiftly, here's my favourite of the not-so-startling Eve Spencer designs: "Tropic"; jungly greens in repetition. Simple. I am fairly certain this is the wallpaper I have long coveted on the back wall at a local cafe (at southeast London's Brockwell Lido, in case you have been). Leafy textiles are one of my favourite ways for getting some outdoors inside.

Here are some of the company's other wallpapers, including the afore-mentioned cat/hawk and daddy long legs designs. All are available as fabrics, too (but prices vary as these can be made to order in different sizes). You can buy them at

"Sync Swim"

"Maple" (comes in two colourways)

"Kingfish" (comes with two different background colours)

"Kaleido" (also comes in a more muted colour combination)

"Jasper" (this carroty design comes in three subtly different colour options)

"Grass Hop" (this also comes with a lovely, mad flash of acid yellow)


"Bat Wing" (choose from a lovely petrol blue or pale grey as alternative backgrounds)

"Stork" (white or yellow backgrounds also available)


"Geo DDL" (daddy long legs, if you look closely; this is also available in muted, mid-century yellow or grey)

"Cat Hawk": could you live with this in your house?

The creative force behind the unusual and often bold – or plain shocking – Eve Spencer designs is Helen Spencer, and the British-manufactured finished products are not cheap. For the papers, you're looking at around £260 per roll.

But I always think splashing out in moderation, for one-off things that result in a stand-out corner or just make you really, really happy when you look at them, can be justifiable (and small expensive touches make your cheap, high-street stuff look more exclusive). So if you could only afford one roll of luxury wallpaper like this, here are some things you could do with it – so no excuse for a feature wall! (Am I alone in hating the things?)

Paper a nook. Did you see contributing editor Abi's slightly ridiculous but brilliant golden nook? The nooks on the left are papered in Eve Spencer designs.

Use it to back decorative shelves or the insides of glass-fronted cupboards

Make a bed headboard. Cover a cut-to-size piece of MDF in the paper by pasting it on, and wrapping it around the edges and corners – you'll need some well thought-out corner slits at the back to avoid wrinkles. Personally I'd then varnish it with a matt finish to protect it and make it wipe-clean-able.

Make it into stand-alone art. Paste it onto a large board made of something like MDF and hang onto a wall as artwork. I have done something similar in my front room with fabric (which also comes as a wallpaper). That's in the right – slightly mad cushion overkill going on now I revist that day. I'll blame the dog, it's usually his fault. Anyway, here the fabric is stretched on a canvas stretcher, which makes it really light-weight and easy to hang. The fabric was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law who live in Australia. The designer of this rather startlingly bold print is Florence Broadhurst, a 1950s Antipodean textiles designer whose archive has been revived in recent years.

Do the smallest room in it. Like a downstairs/separate loo.

Decorate your stair risers. And I'd get the pieces guillotined by an art shop or anyone you know who does the sort of job where they'll have such a machine – cutting them by hand will require very steady fingers.

Top a table with paper you love, and cover in cut-to-size glass.

Decoupage something. Cut paper into pieces and decoupage, say, a knackered wooden chair with it. A good use of sample sizes too. I also loved this idea, left, from a stylish French shop.

Make a backsplash. Again, protected with glass. This is trickier; it will need to be sealed to stay dry. A kitchen/bathroom shop is a good place to get advice so as to avoid blobs of sealant being visible under the glass.

Away day

A little post to say there won't be a post today. 

But that meanwhile, you might like to check out some archive posts... see below. (And I'll be back on Monday with some really amazing wallpapers to ogle.)

You could find out from the head of a locations agency how to turn your own house into a film location... Or how to arrange stuff as beautifully as Supermarket Sarah does it... Maybe your inspiration could do with recharging? Or do you want to buy some affordable portraits? Or get some clever ideas on how to stash your jewellery collection?

At home in young Japan

Today, I'm handing over to friend and former colleague Andrew Pothecary. We used to work together at the Daily Telegraph, but these days he lives in Tokyo, where he recently photographed and designed a beautiful, fascinating book about the the interiors styles of young Japanese people. Over to Andrew...

A shelf in the home of Youta Matsuoka, aka the artist JonJon Green. More details below
How often do you get to walk into someone's home – someone you've never met – and immediately start poking around their shelves and knick-knacks, asking directly about their interior and design choices, even exploring their bedroom? (Admittedly after a previously arranged appointment, of course.) One of the best things about making this book, La Deco des Jeunes Japonais, was that we didn't have to hide the natural curiosity that everyone feels on first entering someone else's space.

The living area at the home of Makoto Asamoto, see more below
The book's remit was to be a photo-led showcase of 25 single, young Japanese people's interiors. While many young people's places in the UK may be compact, in Japan they are typically much smaller and with a slightly different emphasis on furniture and layout. Whether that's less sturdy architecture (there are almost no brick or stone buildings, let alone anything 100 years old, like my last flat in London – which, in Tokyo, wouldn't be standing after the 2011 earthquake) or less sizeable furniture.

Kurumi Saki's bedroom, see more below
Things most of interest to a foreign audience (the book was made for the French market) tend to be things particularly "Japanese". But while the interiors ranged from one decorated with Japanese-temple ephemera to another pink-themed with "Sweet Lolita" clobber, many of the homes were also interesting for seeing what the Japanese find curious or collectable about international design or objects.

The homes ranged from those in modern, white-walled, space-conscious architecture – one had steps that doubled as shelves from the living space to a toilet and bath seemingly in the wall – to the Mediterranean-hued flat featuring a room with a swing in it to a tatami room with pan-Asian and American-blues memorabilia.

The Mount Fuji-themed shelf at Masami Usagawa's home. See more below

Those was the best things. The worst thing was that I, as well as the editor and translator, never received payment for the book. It was the fault of the people who employed us, not of the publisher – who was as unaware as we were about this impending non-payment. So although the book was published in March this year, I've only just decided that now it's out there, I may as well at least promote it rather than not get paid for it and deny its existence! Oh, the freelance life. But let's focus on the homes in hand...

Makoto Asamoto

Makoto has a retro and wooden feel to his decor, from vinyl jazz records on the shelves, to wooden ornaments and furniture.

And he has a great kitchen – as to be expected from the president of a food and drink company.

Megumi Hagiwara 

Megumi lives in a calm retreat of an apartment, with books and objects reflecting her interest in Buddhism and Japan's temples – and in manga.

Her tatami room was minimalist with just a cushion and low table apart from a mirror and some books. The apartment, with two other simple but tasteful rooms, was shared – with her (disabled) dog, Chocolate.

Youta Matsuoka 

Youta is an artist with the working name JonJon Green. He had turned the central room of his house outside Tokyo into his studio. Most of the sliding doors, familiar as separators of many Japanese rooms, had been removed to open the space.

His bedroom had life-size paintings of Ultraman and the doors to this cupboard space, which were fully covered with this imaginary Italian scene.

Kurumi Saki

Kurumi is a "Sweet Lolita" (ama-rori) who also works in a shop catering to Lolita fashions. ("Lolita", in this context, is taken to mean girly and pinkish rather than the more familiar particular connotations it has abroad!). In her mid-20s, Saki has a room in her parents' house dedicated to pink and the idea of being an imaginary princess. Wigs, clothing and flower motifs decorate the room – and even her laptop is pink.

Masami Usagawa 

Masami had given up her fridge and television to people in the Tohoku region affected by the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters. She cut down on light bulbs to save on electricity following those events.

Her apartment is shaded from sunlight and cooled by open windows. Her tiny bathroom was painted by a professional sento (public bath) painter – actual sento often feature Mount Fuji. In her main room, that theme was partly continued by Fuji collectables.

You can buy the book here (it is a French website).

Andrew Pothecary is a freelance print designer, based for the last seven years in Tokyo. Another three years previously in Tokyo as a magazine art editor were interrupted with four years back in the UK working for the Telegraph Media Group. He lives in a rented 40-year-old wooden Japanese house. He also takes photographs. Check out his website Forbidden Colour

Rescued 1970s children's
book cards

One of Alison Sye's fans compares her to a Womble in a comment on the artist's blog. It's a pretty good description: since Alison specialises, just like the fictitious 1970s inhabitants of Wimbledon Common, in "making good use of the things everyday folk leave behind"*.

Among a few other things, Alison does a very nice line in unusual, hand-stitched cards. And right now she's doing a giveaway of a set she's made from a wonderful 1969-published children's book called My Visit To The Dinosaurs by the Philadelphia-born illustrator, Aliki, which she found in a charity shop. The drawings are great, so I thought I'd share.

*Nostalgists old enough to remember, scroll down to the bottom to see the video for this classic children's TV song

I think this is probably my favourite. There are a lot of different faces and they're all expressing different feelings – and lift attendants, you don't get many of those any more. Alison turned it into a father's day card which you can buy in her online shop (details below).

Aliki – also known as Mrs Brandenberg (as per the back page of the book) – was born in 1929 and was living with her husband, Franz, and their two young children in New York around the time this book came out. The dinosaur she drew were inspired by the ones the couple took their children to in NYC's museums.

And this is what Alison has done with them, with a bit of old-school cutting and pasting, stitching and the addition of old cereal boxes and the like...

I like how they're still rough around the edges, and that each one is numbered – like the work of art it is. The fact the words of the story are chopped up and become random is nice too, a bit like the "strangely poetic" Twitterbot, Horse_ebooks (nothing to do with design, but brilliantly addictive if you like that sort of thing, which I do).

And in case you're thinking how sad it is that Alison would cut up a perfectly lovely and very old children's book... well, she only ever uses books on the brink of falling apart and beyond repair.

In fact, she had previously found a copy of this book and not used it because it was in too-good condition. But this one, she says, was "no stranger to Sellotape" and was once owned by a "V Stephens, who once owned a blue biro and had neat handwriting".
The cards, which measure around 14cm x 18cm, are for sale at £5.80 from Alison's Folksy shop (she does other, cheaper postcards too – check out her wares here).

But she's also giving away a set of nine, in a competition on her Facebook page closing on 31 August. Find out all the details on her blog. And read more about the book there too.

Oh yes, and here's that Wombles clip.