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Spotlight on... The joy of a chaotic Christmas tree

Good festive baubles aren't cheap. And I'm in awe of my friend who, sensibly, has been treating herself annually to one good Christmas tree decorations for at least a decade. 

The habit has caught on, and friends now buy her additions, too. This is the colourful, shamelessly clashing and gloriously chaotic result (and proof that a good bauble can be a brilliant gift).

She now has an enviable Christmas tree, full of intriguing oddities hanging from its branches – from Mexican Day of the Dead trinkets to neon perspex from Paperchase (she says she's currently very fond of her papier-mâché cows, as well as a string of felt gingerbread men, which you can see here... I'm well jel).

Of course this is no good if you like a colour co-ordinated, so-called tasteful display (and if you saw my Run DMC tree topper a couple of years back, you'll know I don't). But if mix not match appeals, and you're just starting out with an eclectic tree, that first lone bauble seems like a mean and pointless purchase that will be lost in a sea of bare piney branches (or, in my case, branches full of decorations I have acquired directionlessly over the years, but don't really like).

But with interesting decorations costing up to £15 or even £20+ a-piece, one at a time might be the only way to go. With that in mind, I loitered around several different shop bauble displays in my lunch hour yesterday, yet still found it impossible to break in and get that first one. I should have been in West Elm...

I fell for and snapped these strange, papier-mâché creatures when I popped in for a press preview a few weeks ago. Should have snapped them up at the time, but now – even better – they're down from £14 to £11.

I like how West Elm supports up and coming designer-makers and these are created by LA-based artist and Etsy shop owner, Kim Baise aka Jikits. Fair Trade is also one of West Elm's priorities and these baubles, made from recycled materials, were manufactured by Caribbean Craft in Port-au-Prince. AND it's a rollerskating flamingo...

And here's the rainbow tiger in the same range...

Here's the full collection, you can find them all (if you're quick) at West Elm. You can also check out the JiKits Etsy shop.

I quite like their smug kitty, too...

What have you hung on your tree this year?

Shopping: Embrace your inner geek...

Today – a guest post from Abi... 

I've never been one to fully embrace the total devotion to a 'style'. My natural inclination is towards the mid-century end of things, but I can't help but chuck in a little bit of geek every now and then, which is where this glorious print by new print designer We Love Robots comes in.

Called Tin Men and Iron Giants and printed on A2 Giclee, this is a limited edition run of 100 and features nine fictional trading cards of robots and metal soldiers inspired by modern fiction, TV, movies and comics. A gorgeous piece of geek love to hang on your wall – or the perfect present for a fanboy or girl.

Currently it's only available to buy from Taylor Jones & Son in Deal (details at end of the post) priced at £85 unframed.

We Love Robots also sells open run prints via the new print site EN1. I rather like the Gil Scot Heron 'Lady Day' print (of which there are two versions, see one of them below) and there are two more retro geek appeal prints of a Storm Trooper and (Marvel fans alert) the Sentinel robot. These are all available as either A2 (£50) or A1(£75) prints.

We Love Robots is a slightly mysterious new artist who is quite hard to track down. Preferring their work to speak for itself We Love Robots promise me more prints will be added to EN1 soon. I'm guessing a few more icons of music might appear but personally I'm hoping for a Stepford Wives/Omega Man mash up...

Tin Men and Iron Giants limited edition available from Taylor Jones &Son, 94 Deal High Street, Kent. T: 01304 362671

Spotlight on... a good smell

Ever since I interviewed Abigail Ahern a couple of years ago, and she told me about her secret to a good smelling house, I've been meaning to visit the shop where she gets her secret good house smell. 

The shop is Santa Maria Novella, founded in the 15th century by Dominican friars and one of the world's oldest pharmacies.

Santa Maria Novella in Piccadilly, London. Image via The Piccadilly Arcade

The magical scented item Ahern was enthusing about is not quite so old-school as the shop, but to many of us pot pourri (yes, really!) does have quite the 1990s twang about it: dust-laced decorative bowls of dried up lemons and twigs and mysteriously shaped items purportedly gathered from the forest floor. And always dyed a perplexing burgundy hue. (Looked wonderful with all those lively 1990s wall colours...)

Ahern had been inspired in turn about the pot pourri by interior designer and Vogue columnist, Rita Konig's New York apartment, so this stuff had good rep. This weekend, while chaperoning my teenage Australian nephew around the West End on a shopping trip I got a window, while he was trying on most of Lillywhites, to dash down the road to get my hands on this mythical fragrance.

The tiny shop, lined with old glass-fronted shop cabinets full of unostentatiously labelled bottles, smells – well, potent, yet delicate. When I enquire about the fabled pot pourri – there's only one variety – the man behind the full-length counter (what else?) produces a bowl of it, just a fraction of what makes up the shop's dizzyingly good smell. 'This is two years old, it's not so strong now,' he warns.

The soft, woody, unflowery and yet richly sweet little pile of dark green leaves and herbs has a smell like the texture of treacle. It reminds me of country antique shops selling beeswaxed kitchen furniture, but more complex and even better. This bag cost £20. Compared to a good scented candle, which only smells when alight, it's pretty good, especially if it'll still be going strong in two years' time.

The non two-years-old version of Santa Maria Novella's pot pourri is unexpectedly moist when I get it home and the scent easily fills the air uncloyingly. I remember Ahern saying you don't need much of it and that she puts hers in little tea-light holders all over her house; immediately I feel the need to go and find some small and interesting receptacles.

Not far from my house, near the dog's favourite park, is a little shop called The Society for the Protection of Unwanted Objects (could there be a better name for a junk shop?). The man who runs it looks a bit like Jeremy Corbyn might if he wasn't a politician. And, by the way, I recently discovered the shop has a spectacular Facebook page...

At the Society for the Protection of Unwanted Objects, I quickly locate a tiny brass swan with a hollow body, and some former pavement glass in the shape of a small bowl when turned upside down. That was a fiver as it was chipped and the swan was sitting next to a brass rabbit – no pot pourri function at all but irresistible – so I had to buy that, too. £12.50 the pair.

A slightly chipped, satisfyingly heavy piece of glass, originally used as a pavement light/glass block in the street 

So far I've used only about a quarter of the bag, so some more receptacles will be required so I can fragrance-up the entire house. Now as you come in the front door, there's no longer the fleeting thought that perhaps the dog might need a bath, just the hand-picked, soaked-and-aged-for-months Santa Maria Novella flowers. If only the internet had invented scratch and sniff...

The swan and rabbit

Do you have a favourite thing that makes your house smell good?

Spotlight on... Pencils

I've been snooping around the London Design Festival this week, of which there is SO much to see. 

More about that anon, but a quick share to tell you about an exhibition that's part of the event, on this weekend in London, dedicated to the humble pencil.

The Secret Life of Pencils exhibition had its debut earlier this year. But if you, like me, missed it, then do check it out at its second airing at Designersblock, just by the Oxo Tower on London's Southbank. It's wonderful.

From left to right: pencils belonging to Tom Dixon, Julia Quenzler and Posy Simmonds
Pencils belonging to David Bailey

The idea is simple, and came from photographer and Mike Tinney and industrial designer Alex Hammond, who felt saddened at the demise of the "once powerful pencil", particularly in the arts. So they set about showing this humble instrument some love by contacting a number of high-profile pencil users, a rare breed they discovered, and asking them to donate an in-use pencil which Tinney would photograph, quite beautifully, for the show. Pencil owners include David Adjaye, Dame Zandra Rhodes, Celia Birtwell, Sir Peter Blake, Thomas Heatherwick, Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry, Lord Norman Foster and Jay Osgerby and many more (the full list can be found here).

Pencils belonging to Alexander McCall Smith (left) and Julia Quenzler (right)

Collecting said pencils, Tinney told me at the exhibition, was a logistically lengthy process and involved determined chasing of dozens of busy creatives' PAs. Well worth the wait though. If you think portraits, which, effectively, these luscious photographs are, of pencils might be boring and tell you nothing about the people who've used them... well, let this little sample show you otherwise.

Pencils belonging to Stephen Fry (left) and Celia Birtwell (right)

Posters, prints (£20) and postcards (£2 each) are on sale at the show, and on the Secret Pencils website.

Having recently rediscovered the scratchy (or smooth, depending on your preference) joy of pencils and, especially, of rubbing out, I particularly connected to this. Do you use a pencil? Share any pencil thoughts in the comments below.

The exhibition is on at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH and runs until Sunday. Hours 11am to 7pm.

Spotlight on... Artbooty, Brixton

London Design Festival looms and details of interesting events are popping into my inbox.

If you've never been, the main thing to know is that, aside from the main events (the likes of Design Junction, Tent and 100% Design) it's pretty much an excuse for the design-inclined to show off and have visually stimulating parties for the best part of a week in September. What's not to love?

One such event, Artbooty, part of Brixton Art Trail as well as the London Design Festival (LDF) and hosted by local design shop, BRIXI, is on my doorstep in south London – and if you're in the capital for the festival, it promises to be worth the trip to these parts.

The event – an art sale with booze, installations and performances and food – runs for one afternoon/evening and you should take cash for beer (and, quite possibly, spontaneous art purchases). Here are some of the highlights in pictures.

Nigerian-born folk painter and architect, Abe Odedina, was a BP Portrait Award nominee in 2013 with his painting The Adoration of Frida, a self-portrait and tribute to the Mexican artist. He works in London and Salvador, Brazil.

Obedina has been inspired by "the expressive figurative paintings found in the streets in cities like Lagos, Salvador, or Port-au-Prince adorning the sides of lorries, the walls of temples, beer parlours, love motels or advertising the services of barbers, vulcanisers, healers and other specialists'.

Over the years I've been going to BRIXI to browse the always-intriguing and beautiful and frequently joyfully unusual selection of wares on sale, Obedina's paintings have often hung huge from the walls and totally sucked me in. They're pretty special.


These humorous pieces – named (clockwise from main image) Atkins Day (a diet themed sculpture); GGrrrrrrr and I Lost My Head – are by ceramics restorer and artist, Amy Douglas. As well as offering her artworks for sale Douglas, I believe, will be touting cabaret from a golden horsebox on the night.

Douglas also does 80s themed linocuts (this one will only make sense if you know the lyrics to Wham Rap). Check her out at

There's also some of this.

Stephen Wright is so much more than a mosaic artist, as you'll know if you read this previous post on his quite astonishing home/museum, the House of Dreams. For the Artbooty, Wright will be taking the quirky creatures he creates on a road trip.

Other artists will be: recycler, Jo Gibbs (see her lacy tiles, above); Soozy Lipsey; textile artist, Brian Merry; surrealist printmaker, Lizzie Learman plus her printing press for demos; sculptor and inventor Stephen Stockbridge, who's offering confessions; Jamie Palmer (AKA Pen & Gravy, whose work, pictured below, is for sale on Etsy and is written about in this previous post).

Which artist's work do you most like? Do share your comments below.

ARTBOOTY takes place on Tuesday 22 September 2015, 4-11.30pm, Brixton East 1871, Barrington Road, Brixton, SW9 7JF. See more about what's going on in the area at or check out the city-wide events at London Design Festival www.londondesignfestival.comRead about the Artbooty organiser in this previous post.

Object of the Day: Dutch StoryTiles part II

I was excited, last year, to discover StoryTiles, a collection of hand-made tiles, some based on traditional Dutch 16th century designs given a modern twist, others just about the modern twist.

The tiles are designed and made by Marga Van Oers, who has just launched a new collection of tiles in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. As you'll see, she's taken one of the artist's most familiar works and given it her trademark dose of surrealism...

The series is called ‘The Sunflower Expedition’. 

On the Swing 

On the Lookout 

Taking the Lead

The miniature ceramic works of art start at around £18 each for a 10cm x 10cm tile and each comes with a little wall-hanger on the back. 

The complete tableau of all the tiles, pictured below, is around £ (all prices are originally in Euros – you can ship them from Holland or try Brixi, owned by the very stylish Emy Gray, if you happen to be in south London). 

You can see more Storytiles in this previous post.

The other half of the Van Gogh Museum collaboration is Van Oers' 'Van Gogh’s Garden' series, pictured above and below.

I've recently developed a great warmth for Van Gogh as, most days, I cycle past the house in south London where he lived (see the snap, below).

There's also a very lovely modern street nearby dedicated to him, featuring raised beds with quotes from the great man about flowers and walking and, of course, a good few sunflowers. It's a pedestrianised street and every day this summer, without fail, I've encountered some configuration of loved-up elderly couples taking in the warm evening air, large youths playing basketball, but being careful not to trip over the tiny youth out for a toddling walk with a parent, dog-walkers or just neighbours, hanging about. There's even a miniature free library, where you can leave a book and pick up a new one from a brightly painted glass-fronted box on a wall. It's quite magical – proper street communities in London are few and far between.

Moving on from the great painter, there are also more new season designs outside this range from StoryTiles. Feast your eyes on just a couple, below.


Happily Ever After 

Hide and Seek 

Catch me if You Can

It's dark out now as I type, but when it's not I'll share a photo of the StoryTile I bought for my boyfriend's birthday in situ. It's nice.

Meanwhile, check out the StoryTiles website, I'd direct you to the Brixi website too but (as its owner would I'm sure be the first to admit) it's not that useful. You'd do better following the shop on Instagram @brixi7