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House porn Friday: Grand Designs' Slip House hits
the market

It was one of Grand Designs' more controversial builds: a glass box bang in the middle of a Victorian London terrace, designed by the architect Carl Turner.

And now it's on the market, in case you have a spare £1,350,000 to hand.

I don't live far away from Slip House – as it is known due to its construction from "slipped" or cantilevered boxes – and have passed it many times: it really does stick out. But in a bad way?

In its defence, the triple-glazed house, which features PV-T panels to generate heating and hot water, has a rare 5 rating in The Code for Sustainable Homes and an A rated energy performance certificate. It also has a wildflower roof – as well as a private roof-top sunbathing spot.

But where's all the owners' stuff?

Here's a clip from the show, which aired in 2012. It's the reveal section. Good it is to see Kev and his linen jacket weaving his way incongruously through the madness of Brixton Road.

The house sticks out, but it's pretty cool and I'm not one for uniform architecture; an adventurous structure like this, to me, is more interesting than a new house built to look old in an attempt to fit in.

Could you live in it though? It's almost so effective as a blank canvas that it'd be hard to personalise. Would bits of old furniture comfortably replace the sleek, pale pieces in it now? I remember watching Slip House on the show and particularly loving the unpretentious, affordably made kitchen cabinetry (if you look closely you can see it's plywood), but I'd be itching to stain it darker. Would that be sinful? And how about some colourful paint? A few pot plants...?

Maybe the new owners will be able to give it a homelier feel.

Find out more about Slip House at

Post by Kate. Images:

Freestyle Thursday: Voyage round my grandmother

Where do you think this is? On the fringes of a Home Counties golf course, perhaps? Looks that way, and yet the mock Tudor exterior and very English 1950s hotel interior are deceptive.

This very familiar looking architecture is in fact in Malaysia, and while sorting through old photos I was reminded of the trip I took there a few years ago to retrace a significant journey my grandmother had taken there sixty-odd years ago. Then, the building was a school, and she had gone there to teach art. By the time I went, conveniently, it had been turned into a hotel.

The place is called the Planters Country Hotel (then it was known as Bala's Holiday Chalets) and it's in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands. If you've been to that part of the world you, too, will have marvelled at this bizarre colonial-era throwback: lush tropics and hot spices mixed with 1940s suburban English architecture and cream tea on the lawn. It's quite wonderful.

Anyway, the journey was about a glimpse of the past and a delve into my grandmother's endlessly fascinating love-life (mentioned in this previous post, as I cleared out her house after her death in 2012, age 101). I wrote a travel piece about it for a magazine at the time which I thought I'd share, in case you're up for a longer read than usual. I also have included some more snaps I took of the place. Love the mosaic tiling... the curvaceous chairs... the incredible garden swing-seat... and the fact that it conjures up, perhaps, a more everyday middle class 1950s design aesthetic than the ones we pore over at specialist midcentury furniture fairs and in coffee table books.

"A gin and tonic for the Major, please"
A truncated version of my travel piece, written in 2007:

My gran back in the day. She was doing
good for a single mother pushing 40
In the fantasy I was always going to take a boat to the Far East. It would have been the most authentic way to begin my pilgrimage to northern Malaysia, to retrace the romantically dramatic journey my 96-year-old grandmother made there in 1953.

Then, she was an charismatic and beautiful single mother in her late 30s; recently divorced from the first of her three husbands... and nursing a broken heart after splitting with a lover she adored more than any of them. Putting it all behind her, she got herself a teaching job at a British school in Malaysia, then called Malaya and a British colony since 1896. She remained until the country gained independence in 1958.

My grandmother boarded a ship which sailed through the Suez Canal to the island of Penang (or “the pearl of the Orient” as she always refers to it, with a nostalgic sigh, “where flowering trees line the streets”). And who should be waiting on the quay when she arrived, but her ex-lover – desperate to win her back. It could be the plot of a tear-jerking black and white film and I’ve always been drawn to the glamorous-sounding setting where it all unfolded.

At the E&O
I want to visit Penang’s elegant Eastern and Oriental Hotel, or “the E&O”, a stunning colonial throwback where my grandmother has described having drinks on the terrace, followed by the Cameron Highlands on the mainland, where the school she taught in has been turned into a guest house – and the setting where her romantic plot turns sour.

Unfortunately passenger liners haven’t gone from England to Malaysia for decades and so, casting aside visions of Agatha Christie plots and cocktails on deck wearing Grace Kelly dresses, I book my plane ticket. But rather than flying direct to Penang, I start in neighbouring Singapore and make my way up the left hand side of Malaysia by train, which allows for a couple of stop-overs. It’s a long journey – at least two days, with the last leg on a sleeper train which, even in 1st class, is pretty basic, then a ferry across to Penang. The journey itself turns out to be nothing special – it bypasses the best scenery, and my first train has a blaring TV disrupting the peace. I wish I’d splashed out on the Orient Express which, I discover too late, you can get from Singapore up to Bangkok, above Penang. It would have fitted the theme perfectly.

When I finally arrive at the E&O in Penang’s Georgetown, sadly I see no flowering trees in the streets. Instead, I am shocked at how built up the place is with ugly modern developments. But inside the hotel it’s like stepping back in time. Built in 1855, It is the sister hotel to Singapore’s Raffles, and the white building’s imposing entrance is manned by a guy in long socks, khaki shorts and a pith helmet. You can almost hear the ghosts of former guests calling one another ‘Old Chap’ and swapping aristocratic gossip by the pool.

I try to picture my grandmother here. The romantic reunion with her lover didn’t work out – and when they parted, she angrily told him that she’d marry man who asked her. She found him in the Cameron Highlands – and marrying him, she says, was the biggest mistake of her life.

View from a window at our destination
The six-hour journey – down country, but up a lot of hills – to the Cameron Highlands from Penang is hair-raising. One stomach churning hairpin bend follows another, and our taxi driver seems to seize upon each as an opportunity to overtake blind and at full pelt.

We distract ourselves with the increasingly verdant scenery unfolding all around us; padded green hills undulating into the distance, ostentatiously lush and set against the cobalt blue skies. Tea plantations, strawberry farms, forest and jungle roll richly above us, towards the 1800-metre peak of the expansive hill station.

Finally, just outside the town of Tanah Rata, our goal reveals itself as we round the corner of a private driveway. In all its mock Tudor splendour. The incongruous 1930s English architecture of the Balas Holiday Chalets is typical of the region, which – because of its cooler climate – was a favourite spot for colonial Brits.

It could be time for tea in Hampshire, not northern Malaysia

Loved these floor tiles

The place has been meticulously restored – 1950s black and pastel mosaic tiles cover the floor; low mid-century padded armchairs sit elegantly in the drawing room and the bar has horse brasses, a roaring fire and a black and white framed photograph of the Queen and Prince Philip with a baby Charles and Andrew.

Memorabilia from former students of what was once the Slim School are pinned up in a corner. I can just picture the story my granny told me about the time General Slim himself came to visit, and her giggly friend – caught without a hat – swiftly fashioned one out of a tea-towel.

The white swing seat, visible at the back of the garden
A white painted iron swing seat rocks in the neatly manicured garden, where we spend a rather surreal few hours having the guesthouse’s famous "English afternoon cream tea" to the backdrop of cicadas and the call to prayer wafting across the jungle canopy from a local mosque. It’s absolutely lovely.

You could spend days just gazing at the views – which I imagine my grandmother must have done as she contemplated how her life might have been had she not rushed into a quickie wedding with the handsome man with the pencil moustache she’d only known for a few weeks.

On their wedding night, in a story that she manages to turn into a witty anecdote, her new husband informed her that he would not be performing his husbandly duties because "Mummy says it’s rude". (Poor chap. My grandmother was not renowned for her empathy, though we of course only ever hear her side of the story.) Far less amusingly, they endured a 25-year sexless marriage.

The kind hotel owner took us to this house, where my gran lodged with colleagues while teaching. 
The last chapter in her love-life – husband number three – may have had a far less exotic setting (a pilgrimage to Devon doesn’t have quite the same ring of glamour). But at least they were happy.

Post by Kate. Photography (bad): Kate Burt Photography (good): Planters Country Hotel

Freestyle Wednesday: mix colours like a pro

When I visited Home 2014 a couple of weeks ago, I finally met Tania James, one half of colourful design duo, Quirk and Rescue. 

It reminded me that I've long meant to post a photo of Q&R's rather amazing geometric Wundt wallpaper.

For starters, I like the paper itself (more details of which below). But also, I love how their photograph of it in situ is styled. It throws out all preconceptions about how to use colour. What do you think?

There are so many colours going on, and some are lone sharks – basking in their brightness, not a thought of finding a partner: the pink, the green, the yellow and the grey... Why does it work? I'd sometimes like to be bolder with my colour choices, so I thought I'd break it down to see what I could learn.

For starters, if you've met Tania, or at least seen her spectacular hair, you'll know she's not a woman scared by colour. So confidence is a start. But besides that, I think its secret is partly that it is clean. It is not only well-ordered and neatly arranged so as to avoid a clutter of objects to jar with the collection of colours, but also the arrangement of the colours themselves is clean. Orange and blue, of course, dominate – and in a large scale pattern, too, which means it doesn't look bitty and messy. These colours are also echoed tidily in the filing cabinet labels and electric cable; all this combined makes them your solid anchor. Red pops up in three places, in the lamp, dish and a book: a trio is always a tidy design trick. The white of the floor is picked up in a book and the lightbulb: ditto. This solid base allows for a couple of wild cards, even clashes – in the books, the pink ampersand, the grey cabinet and the wooden table. Very clever.

If you like the wallpaper, it costs £90 a roll and comes in some other lovely colour combinations (the grey/green is my favourite). Find it and other good stuff – including the excellent, new font tea-towels – at

And here are some older posts about colour.

Post by Kate, image Quirk & Rescue

The Insider: the madcap world of Fornasetti

We're still searching for something to put in the 1950s glass-fronted cabinet from my grandma's house (which you can see, in need of some love, here). 

It's in the kitchen and, with its location in mind, my boyfriend sent me the photo below as inspiration.

It's a rare 1955 pizza recipe plate by the Milanese designer, Pierro Fornasetti. It was listed on a Knightsbridge-based antiques website, Vandekar, where prices are only available upon registering. I could tell from the font it would be out of my money league, but it got me looking into Fornasetti a little more.

I'm familiar, as you probably are, with the instantly-recognisable Fornasetti faces, which appear on assorted ceramics from shops including Selfridges, also not cheap, and on Cole & Son wallpapers (this design itself, a limited edition, is now extremely rare, but you can still buy other Fornasetti designs from them).

Fabrics and Papers sell Fornasetti cushions
The faces design, above and left, is called 'Tema e Variazioni', and was based on the opera singer Lina Cavalieri, whose visage entranced Fornasetti after he saw it in a magazine.

In Fornasetti's hands, so to speak, her face went on to spawn 350-odd design variations.
Piero Fornasetti (pictured right) was a nineteenth-century Milanese, painter, engraver, sculptor and interior decorator whose work is so recognisable today because the man created more than 13,000 products, each with a dash of his trademark whimsy, wit and weirdness.

In fact, the pizza plate, and his pasta plates (below, from another online antiques dealer, 1st Dibs, whose prices you can guess at by the fact that fellow shoppers include Diane Von Furstenburg and Marc Jacobs) are probably the most conventional things Fornasetti created.
 He also did some brilliantly madcap recipe plates, like these.

In the python recipe, below, the instructions are particularly good: "Put yourself in a quiet mood, isolate yourself in the kitchen, above all shoo out the critical cat..." he begins. Then: "laugh at such comments as 'will serve six'...Pay no attention to measurements on cans. Take a moment to size up your guests (six) by height, heft, age and make an adeguate mathematical guess."

But enough of this stuff-we-can't-afford tease. How about some interiors inspiration from the man's crib? While browsing through the official website, I came across these incredible photos of it.

The house, in Milan, was built by Piero's parents in the 19th century and is full of his artwork and stamped with his unmistakable aesthetic. Wonderfully, it remains the family home and is maintained by his son Barnaba Fornasetti, who also now runs the design company. Sadly for us, because it is inhabited, it can't be nosed around museum-like on an Italian holiday, but you can take a pretty good virtual tour at

Post by Kate. Images: Fornasetti; 1st Dibs; Vandekar; Fabrics & Papers; Cole & Son

Object of the day: H & M new season cushions

One day, I'm going to get around to making my own cushion covers. I've even got my 1980s sewing machine out. It looks nice on the new under-stairs alcove shelf arrangement. So far that's as far as it's got. 

So hurrah for H&M's new season cushion range. You may remember their excellent horse cushion from last year... this year they've gone graphic and colourful. And prices start at just £3.99...

Below: cotton cover in green, £3.99.

This one also comes in yellow, black and turquoise and has a different pattern on the reverse. (All the cushions are 50cm x 50cm unless specified.)

Jaquard weave cushion cover, £12.99. This one comes in six other colours too including orange, yellow and black.
Cotton cushion cover with black and white geometric stripes, £3.99.

Jacquard weave cushions (black and white patterns, above), two different sizes: £6.99 or £7.99.
Love that they also do really plain covers but in good, sturdy, non-flammable fabrics. I spotted this one in a lovely jade green too. Linen cushion cover, £6.99.

And these chirpy chevron covers are currently on sale at just £1.99 a-piece. Nice.

Post by Kate

Object of the day: Russian nesting dolls

Meet Panda, Penguin and Raccoon. Monochrome nesting dolls hand-painted in Russia.

Aren't they nice? You could get them for a child, but who'd appreciate them more?
They're from a sweet little online store in Canada (check out their sheep cushions!) and cost $38 Canadian dollars, around £34. Find them at International shipping available. You could also try US-based Wee Gallery, which sells them and has outlets in various countries.

Real homes: a mini kitchen makeover

I've been at the kitchen already here this week, with the great table revelation. Now for another recent update.

This is how the back wall in the kitchen looked for a very long time...

As well as the obvious repainting, which took me about a year to get around to, I thought it needed a shelf above the bin. After about three years of talking about it, the shelf finally happened – by which time it had turned into an open box, to hide the bin. 

But painting it all white, which was the original plan, seemed like it would just make a feature of the bin – it being black. It is a new bin, a very pleasing matt black Brabantia to replace the broken, dented thing I bought from Woolworths in the 90s. I like the bin, but not so much that I wanted to frame it and show it off.

I thought maybe we could put some nice fabric up. A bit like this lovely Sanderson arrangement (it's called 'Amy' and is from their Maycott Collection).

But my boyfriend was violently opposed to the idea of fabric. I hadn't found this photo at the time to try to sell him the idea, and could only rustle up some images that fuelled his fear that it would make the kitchen look like an early 1980s cheap caravan interior.

So we pondered doors. But concluded that would just be a pain in the ass when trying to bundle in in armfuls of rubbish with no spare hands. But before we get to the solution we finally went for, I just want to share this this really old photo I found on a recent iPhoto trawl, of the same area in the kitchen, very soon after I moved in.

Which makes it all the more satisfying to finally have got to here...

The mirror, which used to hang at the end of my gran's hallway, replaces the impatiently stuck up Ikea mirror tiles that had previously been there, and I – slightly reluctantly – dislodged all my treasured postcards. But they will find new homes. And having the mirror reflecting the garden without lines criss-crossing the view, and it reminding me of my gran is bountiful compensation.

The whole idea of the shelf became even more enticing after I saw the amazing tea shelf featured in Geraldine James's Creative Spaces book recently. Kettles are such worktop wasters – it was a brilliant idea. So we tried installing the kettle there, but it was too cluttered and it made me hate the kettle, which had already become quite hatefully leaky and spitty. So much so that the whole revamp inspired the move to a nice, old-school on-the-hob number (more of which in a future post).

The brilliant Bjorn Wiinblad wall plaque was a present from a friend. It is a reproduction of the Danish designer's 1970s originals.

The little lamp, from Habitat (along with several other little lights around the room) give a cosy glow in the evenings. And I like having the cutlery right there where you want it, in three of these, from Ikea. The teaspoons live in a 50s cup my very nice neighbours gave me, and the 70s-style internet radio is this.

The shelves above (Ikea again, but they don't seem to stock them at the moment) are a work in progress. Can't quite find the right thing to put on/in them yet. I'd like them to store beautiful trays in them which could lean against the wall like pieces of art. But I haven't got enough of the right trays yet. I got the general idea of multiplying these shelves from the inspiring Australian stylist, Jason Grant

The bin solution was simple in the end – simply to paint the inside of the box the same colour as the bins, so that they'd visually vanish inside it. I also painted two other walls black to doubly avoid the "feature bins" theme. There's one, above. I'll post up some before and after photos of the other wall soon. 

They also match the cat.

Post by Kate