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Object of the day:
Don't Be Shit print

I love Twitter, and the way you get to e-meet so many interesting people doing brilliant things by a simple re-tweet. 

One such exchange came earlier this week, and led me to discover Lovely JoJo's, an online shop run by sometime copywriter, JoJo Oldham. I thought I was over typography as wall decor. Turns out I'm not. This is excellent, no?

"Life's just better when you're not being shit," explains the blurb about this print at Well, quite. It costs £25 for a signed A2 print, and A4 prints are a tenner.

JoJo, who describes herself as "a northern girl who wears a lot of neon, loves mushy peas and still calls dinner tea", started her business on the side while copywriting for Innocent Drinks. Since leaving there ("an amazing job" she says), she now does her own thing full-time.

She is currently fixated on maps, which is how we encountered one another as I'd just posted about this. Check out her alternative London one "full of crap drawings, musings and mistakes" (her words, obvs). The map came about because JoJo wanted to learn more about the city, she told me by email. "I love doing big pieces which I have to do loads of research for and can learn from because as I get older I feel a real need to get as much knowledge as possible crammed into my brain before I die." There is also a Brighton and Hove map and one of Newcastle, with more in the pipeline. She also sells nice t-shirts and a print that reads "B is for Bollocks". What's not to love?                             

I'll be back next week with an epic gift guide. Laters.

Post by Kate

Freestyle Thursday:
colour me good

Colour inspiration can come from all sorts of places. 

I've found it before on philosophical book covers, on the Berlin U-Bahn (scroll about half way down), on necklaces and always inspired by the vibrant combinations the excellent Out of the Dark team come up with.

And today, I'm feeling inspired by the Autumn lookbook from Sofa Workshop. They've taken some very beautiful shots of their new range – and given the pictures extra wallop with some creative colour contrasts. Here are my favourites.

Above, if strong shades scare you – putting a rich colour against the right neutral background keeps things muted yet striking. This denim blue and biscuit-y wall get along famously don't you think? The backdrop really brings out the brightness of the sofa. And that yellow book suggests a good cushion or accessory colour if you're after a zingier palette still. this. Not for the faint-hearted. But how good does that yolky wood look against the purple-y blue of the sofa. I like the heavy-handed blue accent in the footstool and cushion too – way to beef up a colour's presence, without drowning a space in it, or creating the interiors equivalent of a double denim outfit.

And bolder still...

But if that's too much for you, this takes it down one small notch.

Kinda high summer cobalt skies and lemon sorbet – combinations that come together happily in real life are also a good place to plunder for colour scheme ideas.

I do love the dark and the zing effect though – and these strong colours feel more manageable and less in-your-face with that confident, grown-up neutral backdrop.

But if understated is way more your thing, give natural tones a sharp edge with strong accents: black does a very good job, and I like the green grasses here too, giving taupes, ropes and beiges a sand-dune vibe.

See more at the Sofa Workshop website

Post by Kate (still in the thick of plaster dust)

Please excuse a brief absence because...

...we've got the builders in, and my computer's covered in plaster dust. 

We're having the teeny tiny en-suite bathroom made into a more useable sized room, the downstairs loo fixed up and, on Sunday night, we decided we'd simultaneously reorganise the shelves under the stairs completely...

Agh! Their contents are now filling the kitchen table and – due to today having been spent driving between Travis Perkins, the tile shop and various other DIY outlets – that is where they've stayed all day. Now they, too, are covered in plaster dust.

Tomorrow it's back to the tile shop, possibly a drive to B&Q and a trip to the tip with 10 bags of rubble. Bear with me... after photos may be some way off, but I'll be back with pictures of nicer things to look at very soon.

Post by Kate

(Slightly boastful) object of
the day: Pedlars' new print – written by me!

The summer before last, Charlie Gladstone of Pedlars called me with an idea he'd had for something to sell in the shop. 

He wanted to produce a historical map of the British Isles, stuffed with fascinating – and geographically specific – facts from the beginning of time right up to the present day that would tell the story of Britain in a visually spectacular, non-dry way. And would I like to research and write the text for it?

It sounded brilliant: I was in. And I'm telling you now, because the 'Around the British Isles in 228 Facts' limited edition print has finally hit the shelves or, rather, the walls (all 13,000-odd words of it).

What do you think? Here's a closer look, to give you an idea of some of the facts.

It's a smorgasbord of facts, everything from: the history of British traffic roundabouts; Augustus John's Welsh diving accident; a pioneering sixth century nun; countless gruesome deaths, particularly the one in Thetford Forest; Edinburgh's six-foot millipedes; the location of the first ever mobile phone conversation in the UK – and what Morecambe and Wise had to do with it.

It was an absolutely fascinating project to work on and I now feel very clever, having learnt so much about British history. So thanks to all the friends who lent me or recommended brilliantly vital books about the history of the British Isles, English Folklore and guides to specific regions. Invaluable. As was the stream of texts from others (especially Declan) with leads on obscure pop history facts linked to various UK locations.

Charlie's unusual idea for the print, which I really liked, was to make the type so small that you would need to use a magnifying glass in order to read it. He'd stumbled across a beautiful 18th century chart printed in this way, and loved how it looked and the way it meant you'd all gather round and really interact with the thing – and each other – in order to read it. In fact, our one is legible without... but only just. The smaller print (coming soon, see below) will tick that box.

The print has been very beautifully designed by the very talented Well Made Studio, and I spent lots of time round at their HQ poring over layouts as we proofed it together. Special thanks to Doug who not only designs very nice things, but is also a demon typo spotter. Well Made, formerly known as Mercy, were also behind the beautifully designed book about the Great Outdoors that I worked on with the Gladstones.

All this has come about from meeting Charlie and Caroline back in 2010 for a piece about them I wrote for the Independent, and simply hitting it off. Funny how things turn out.

Around the British Isles in 228 Facts is now on sale as part of a limited edition of 100, for £140 unframed (with a run of smaller – and cheaper – A3 versions coming later down the line). Buy it from Pedlars.

Post by Kate

Object of the day: Robert Czajka's mini cardboard animals

Yes, you could buy these for a small child... But would they really appreciate them?

Instead, you could embrace the small child in yourself, and chirp up an otherwise clean and sparse shelf or windowsill with these pleasing cardboard animals.

Designed by Robert Czajka, who also makes entire towns from card, these make-them-yourself beasts come flat-packed in 12 sheets of recycled cardboard. Each animal, once made, measures around 10cm x 10cm x 10cm and they cost £22.50 for a set of 20. Buy them at

And if you like these, you might also like this other bit of style inspiration for toy animals (third photo down).

Post by Kate

A bathroom cupboard
makeover for £30

We have a lovely, very tall, cupboard unit in our bathroom that holds all our towels and other bathroom gubbins. 

It was actually two units (a wardrobe and drawers) from Ikea that my handy husband stitched together and, hey presto, perfect height storage...

Alas, a joyous union MDF and steam do not make and so after a few years the doors got blown and warped and generally looked pretty manky.

I started the hunt for a new cupboard but was really disappointed at the total lack of decent options on offer – most purpose-built (and water resistant) bathroom cupboards are really small and deeply unattractive. So Mr Abi suggested looking at solid wood ones because they wouldn't warp; I found a few but again, too small. Then I made enquiries about getting one made and was rapidly put off by the £500+ figures coming in.

Eventually we sort of gave up, but the hideous cupboard haunted us. Then one day Mr Abi had a lightbulb moment – let's just change the doors and drawer fronts; the unit itself was perfectly robust and impervious to steam so we (and, dear readers, when I say "we" I sort of mean "him" – he's the handy one...) embarked on a little DIY adventure.

We picked a solid rough pine from Wickes: six planks cost us £25.

Handy husband glued them together then cut them down to size to form the fronts – he used the old door and drawer fronts as a template, handy when drilling in the holes for the screws and handles etc.

After leaving them to set overnight and reducing any slight natural curving in the wood, by piling a tonne of books on top, they were ready for a coat of plain white emulsion paint. Dab the paint on and rub it in with an old cloth to bring out the natural grain. Again, leaving them to dry overnight.

Next was a coat of wood varnish (he used a clear satin floor varnish) to seal it and we were ready to rebuild the cupboard.

I think you'll agree it looks rather splendid – especially as it cost us less than £30...

Post by Abi

Introducing... Richard Burniston's haunting photos of Wonder Valley

I came across Richard Burniston's beautiful images of derelict homesteads in the Mojave Desert through the Best Shots exhibition, which is on until next month. Aren't the colours incredible?

And couldn't you just stare at one of these pictures for hours, imagining the people so pointedly missing from it? (And ideally in a frame, on your wall – which is possible: details below.)

All photos:
The images depict an area of around 400 square miles in California's Mojave Desert where hundreds of homes have been abandoned. Richard Burniston's images of the place are fascinating for the way they conjure up stories of abandoned lives: who lived there, where did they go, what can you guess about them from what they left behind?
"It really is called Wonder Valley!" says Burniston when I ask him about the unlikely name for his documentary series. "There are signs at both ends of the Valley saying 'Welcome To Wonder Valley'," he continues. "It seemed a natural title."

Hove-based Burniston became a photographer full-time this year, after leaving a career in film marketing for the big US film studios. In his former life, he often found himself in California for work: "I love the peace, wide-open spaces and weathered colour palette of the Mojave Desert landscape," he says, and he stumbled across the abandoned homesteads – of which there are around 400 – while camping and hiking in the nearby Joshua Tree National Park.

His photographer's eye couldn't resist this "vast and varied collection of abandoned homes and everyday possessions, a kind of urban debris field of found objects scattered across the land". 

Burniston explains why there are so many of these ghost houses: "Homesteading was kick-started there by something called the Small Tract Act in 1938, it was a way to get 'marginal' land settled – you could build a kit home in three days. Vacation or weekend homes were very popular at first, followed later by 'homesteaders', people who felt the lifestyle offered something they wanted, like privacy, low costs, plenty of nature."

The environment – temperatures can range from -18C to 54C across parts of the Mojave – is obviously one reason for the mass departures among homesteaders. Others have woken up surrounded by water, only to discover they'd built their homes across a seasonal watercourse. But, says Burniston, there has also been a spate of abandonments since 2009, suggesting the economic downturn has played a big part.

"I like to think I’m helping form a connection and an understanding of the people who took a shot at living there," says Burniston. "The homes are like enigmatic lines drawn under a period in people’s lives. I am also fascinated by the transformation of this built environment as it’s slowly reclaimed back to nature, with a little help from vandals, and how it shows in the weathering of the homes’ exteriors and the personal items scattered about."

Has he ever met any former residents? "That’s next," he says, "but with a twist. I first want to get closure on this part of the project, documenting the abandoned homes, and then create a companion piece that records the lives of people who still live in the Valley amongst the relics of the departed. Imagine living on a street with 99 abandoned houses, and you live in the 100th. What must that feel like? That’s what I want to discover next."
Finally – what are the logistics? How does he get around and discover these places? "The homesteads are dotted around about 400 square miles of open desert, criss-crossed by hundreds of dirt roads," he explains. "Most are very rough, so I rent a big four-wheel drive truck to get around and live out of it to save money.

"Desert camping is great. I locate the homes I photograph by driving all day down as many of the dirt roads as I can, and keeping meticulous notes of where and when I found them, plus details of what I found, the weather and so on. It's more fun than just a GPS reference – my note-books bring the experience to life for me. My favourite entry is “Chased by dog again. Close shave.”

Does Burniston have a favourite homestead, or a favourite found thing he's discovered during the project? "Each homestead is so unique," he says. "I’m passionate about all of them. At a push I would say it’s the house where I found the blue room with the armchair [top image]. It feels very peaceful in there, nice light. Out of shot, to the right, is a huge old white enamel stove, it’s always there whenever I drop in, like an old friend."

If you would like to buy one of Richard Burniston's Wonder Valley prints (and this is just a small selection) you can contact him via his website. Prices will depend on the size and paper and "turnaround for orders is quick" says Burniston. The image that's part of the exhibition is for sale at £175 via the last leg of the touring exhibition, which features 100 winning images from different photographers, at Michelham Priory, Hailsham, East Sussex. It runs until 11 December, 2013.

For all other print sales, and to see more of Richard's work, go to

Post by Kate

Object of the day: Urban Outfitters' zig zag rugs

Remember that monochrome rug I wrote about last year? It was one of Ikea's very popular items and, as such, was quite a palaver to track down.

Now Urban Outfitters has got in on the act (but with more colours, see below). And they're way cheaper than the Ikea version...

...However, that is because these ones are lightweight cotton and as such are – yippee – easily washable. But will – boo – fade, which I discovered after washing mine. Still looks good though. And they come in green or pink (pictured below) and lilac, navy and grey too, as well as various sizes.
The prices are: £69 for the large rug, £35 for the medium, £30 for the runner and £15 for the little one. From Urban Outfitters.

Post by Kate

Can't afford the new Sheila Bownas sofa?

What do you think of this sofa/daybed, designed using fabric from the Sheila Bownas archive and created in collaboration with furniture-makers, Parlour? 

It's called the Edwin, and I think the shade of blue, the smooth solid walnut, 50s-ish legs and back and the classic, boxy shape make it very good indeed.

Alas, thanks to rather beautiful details like these... costs £2400. But if you can't stretch to that, you might like the accessories in the same range.

The cushions, above, and prints, below, come in olive yellow, steel blue or grey. Cushions, £55 each.

The prints are limited editions and come with the official Sheila Bownas archive stamp (more of which shortly). They're 50x70cm so can fit into a standard frame, which saves a bit of money – and the prints themselves cost cost £65 each.

There are lamps in the range, too. These were designed in collaboration with English lamp designer, Zoe Darlington, and cost £125. The base is solid ash, and the shades come in two main colours: white or grey linen, with a choice of lining colours, again in the Edwin range fabric.

Check out the Edwin range at

The backstory of the Sheila Bownas range, in case you don't already know it, is an interesting one. The Yorkshirewoman and prize-winning Slade graduate exhibited five of her paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1949. She then went on to turn her talents to textile design, producing fabrics for Liberty, Crown Wallpapers and Marks and Spencer. But it wasn't until her death, in 2007, that her family discovered a vast archive of other work in her studio. This archive was bought by superfan, Chelsea Cefai, a year later – she is gradually producing pieces that showcase Sheila's work.

Not a dissimilar rescue story to that of the company behind the archive of Australian mid-century designer, Florence Broadhurst. I have some of Florence's textiles in my living room; that massive monochrome canvas on the wall, above left, is one of hers – and there's more about that in this previous post about how to make expensive textiles or wallpapers go a long way. You might also like Florence Broadhurst's amazing rampaging horses fabric, which you can just see poking out (also black and white) in the cushion mountain on my sofa.

Post by Kate

Real homes: my office
makeover part II

I've had another office makeover. Only a little one. 

But it's amazing how much difference it's made moving the desk to the window. And I get a view! A very urban one, which I like a lot, and it has bonus trees. Here is how the office looked before...

I wrote about it in this previous post, where you can see the before before images with white walls and everything. And I also dug out some even older pictures of how the office looked before it was an office, when there was building work going on and I was sleeping in it...

But now, two makeovers later, the room currently – and very newly – looks like this. My favourite yet.

This is the urban yet tree-studded view I now have as I type. I live in the middle of a big London housing estate (best place I've ever lived, the friendliest neighbourliest by far – and nearly all the staffies are lovely!) and it stretches for miles. I like being surrounded by other houses and flats, it's reassuring when you work a lot of the time from home on your own.

The little blue and white bowl was a present. It's by Marimekko and part of this range, which you can get at Heal's.

The two postcards below the windowsill are core by-the-desk essentials: the motivating race finisher probably needs no explanation, while the one next to it is from my very old, very dear friend Holly, who can always put the funny into any shit situation. A valuable best friend quality. And there's usually at least one time a day when it's good to remind myself not to take things to seriously. The card reads: "Please note this person is an absolute twat".

Yes. It's the kind of map you get in a cab office – it's of greater London. But I like looking at it. I always see something new, or make a connection I hadn't made before. Maps are good.

This old light-box works well as a lamp and a shelf (youngsters: it was for picture editors and designers to look at transparencies on before digital pictures. You'd even use an actual magnifying glass thingamy). It's actually my boyfriend's, but so far he hasn't complained that I've nicked it.

The magazine is from 1971 – it was a leaving present from my first ever job on 19 Magazine, which had grown from its original incarnation, Honey. Cool bike chicks.

Can't have enough postcards. I can't, anyway.

A lovely friend who lives in New Zealand emailed me this daft but brilliant poem, The Frivolous Cake by Mervyn Peake (you can read it here). It's about a loved-up cake that goes out sailing.

I've written about Conran's late 70s The House Book before, and you can have a look inside it here. The owl print is by the talented Jane Foster.

But this is my office after an epic tidy. Photos can lie, as one of my favourite interiors blogs My Friend's House illustrated a while back when they featured a not so flattering photo of my office...

Post by Kate