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80s ceramics: Studio Nova

I'll put money on the 80s coming around again soon in interiors. 

Not like this...

...more like this. Boxy shapes (like shoulder pads) and in-yer-face primary colours.

This is a plate and cup I stumbled across in a junk shop on my recent trip to Sydney. There was an entire dinner set of the stuff (below) for around £75. I fell in love with it.

It broke my heart to leave it there. I am still at the stage where I think about it a little bit every day. But I couldn't imagine how I could feasibly haul an entire dinner set back to London in my luggage. I now wish I'd given it a go but, alas, too late. This is the shop I found it in.

The bird is called Oscar and he lives out the front. It was the sort of junk shop you rarely see today, at least not in big cities where everything is pre-sorted and styled up for premium prices. This was a  rummage-hard gem.

So I went in twice because after the first time I kept thinking about the china set – which had "Studio Nova" stamped on the undersides of each piece – as I knew there were a couple of plates and bowls surplus to the set for sale. And these I could squeeze in a suitcase. The shop owner, a lovely old guy, had told me the plates were 1980s Japanese and hard to find. On my second trip, the guy manning the shop for the owner explained it was a rare Art Deco set and tried to charge me more than the first guy had asked for. We negotiated and my foursome made it back to London for about £20. Those colours couldn't be anything but 1980s.

All the same, I Googled when I got back home to try to find out more. Various eBay listings suggested that Studio Nova was from Thailand. Others said the brand was Indonesian. Another confidently claimed Portugal was behind these beauties. In fact, Studio Nova was a line produced by Mikasa, a California firm founded in 1948 by George Aratani, a Japanese-American farmer who lost the family business when he was evacuated during the Second World War and started, with an entirely new direction, from scratch when it was over. Mikasa was the result, though Aratani also went on to own Kenwood Electronics. He became famously philanthropic and died just two years ago. Mikasa is still going strong in the States and produces – has always produced – some pretty dodgy designs.

Lots of 90s farmhouse florals... but several other interesting designs, like these.

But I think my 80s plates – 1984 to be precise – are the best. I am pretty sure the dining set is still in the shop. Am I mad to be considering getting it shipped over?

Images, where not my own:;

Out of the flames of Ferguson

Since Christmas, I've been to Sydney and back, started a shiny new job (more of which shortly), grappled with alien spreadsheets to do my new year accounts – fellow self-employeds will feel my pain – and been floored by a hideous seasonal lurgy. 

I've kept posting throughout, but have much newness to share. Soon come. But please bear with me as I have a little catching up to do. And while you're bearing, do enjoy this cockle-warming story I bookmarked on The Daily Good back before Christmas.

Ferguson, Missouri, is sadly now on that list of place-names famous by sad association, since one of its police shot 18-year-old Michael Brown there and riots ensued.

When charges were dropped against said cop in November, rioting erupted once more and one of the areas hit was the nearby South Grand business district which, the Daily Good describes as a "vibrant, diverse pocket of Vietnamese eateries, black beauty shops, an LGBT-friendly tattoo-and-porn parlor, and dozens of other restaurants and boutiques...joined in a funky family vibe". 17 of its shops were vandalised, and in the aftermath a community art project has sprung up around South Grand's boarded up shops.

You can read the full story and see more images over at The Daily Good.

If you missed the original post, I also think you'll like this colourful bit of street art near my house in south London, which has entirely peaceful origins.

Oh yes, my new job! I'm very excited to say that I am now a full-time staff writer and editor at the very cool interiors website, It's pretty much the dream job for a design and DIY nerd like me. In case you don't know the US-founded site (there were Skype job interviews with Palo Alto, which I found deeply glamorous) it's a daily online magazine full of ideas for improving your home, with an emphasis on expert insight into the gritty details of glamorous things like loft conversions and kitchen planning, as well as plenty of pretty interiors porn. You can save and share images, post DIY or design dilemmas in the forum, interact with builders and designers and all sorts of other good stuff. Sort of Pinterest crossed with Sarah Beeny and one of those nice experienced old chaps who work at B&Q. Not the official line, of course, just my personal opinion.

I shan't be abandoning this little blog, of course, and hope you'll stick with me. I aim to continue to post at least once a week, more if you're lucky. So I'll be seeing you soon.

Real homes: evolution of a
dingy hallway

It's only taken seven years, but I think I've finally cracked the dingy hallway, first mentioned here a few weeks ago

Sometimes the only way to solve problematic parts of your home is to live with them... and live with them... and make mistakes, then some more mistakes, until finally you have a lightbulb moment. I've had one, and my hallway has just got a dramatic makeover. But first, here's how the entrance hall looked when I moved in.

Dark, wasn't it? One of the first things I did was move the front door and replace it with a different design that I pinched from some friends, who'd pinched something from a skip (but that's another story). The new front door would, in theory, allow more light in. 

It worked to a point. But the space was still pretty dingy. Fresh white walls and new floors looked smarter but still the dark vibe remained.

It needed some colour, I figured. I'd already given the staircases a big flash of brightness, with multicoloured painted risers, and so I simply chose the sunniest of those shades and applied it to the dingiest of the two walls. It was definitely better. And a few mirrors captured what light there was and shared it about a bit. 

It just never felt like a calm space to come home to though. Not only was it still flirting with dinge, but all the stuff on the walls in this narrow thoroughfare created a bit of claustrophobia.

My vast shoe collection didn't help, and generally wouldn't be contained beneath the little table that was meant to hide it, while the top of the table was a general dumping ground for tat we were too lazy to put somewhere else.

But then the lightbulb moment finally came. Initially, it was inspired by my neighbours' vast living room mirror. They had that when I moved in seven years ago but, like I said, ideas can take time to ferment. A visit to an Eritrean restaurant that had made cunning and discombobulating use of a similarly large glass clicked things into place, and so I saved some money and ordered the massive thing pictured below. It wasn't cheap, but I was banking on the effect being so dramatic that, along with a little shelf to be painted the same colour as the wall so it would effectively become part of the hallway's architecture, it would be worth it.

I was underwhelmed. 

But slowly the rest of the idea came into focus: the yellow was the problem. The hallway was dark, but the mirror gave it space. So rather than try to create artificial brightness as well, perhaps it was time to embrace its moody side. So I bought some dark grey paint which, I figured, would have the added bonus of helping the wall merge into the floor, creating a more streamlined space to further reduce visual clutter. 

Then I wavered: would it be too much? Was I sick of dark grey paint? The Farrow & Ball Downpipe revolution of 2011 has definitely peaked... But I put my interiors obsessive's viewpoint to one side and went for it.

I like it a lot; finally opening the front door provides a view I'm happy to see.

There's only one remaining issue...
My boyfriend reckons we should paint this understairs nook dark grey too. It's flaky and needs repainting full-stop, but I was poised with a simple refresh, as I quite like it white. Hmm. He could have a point though. To be continued...

Join me over at Joss and Main – I'm this week's guest curator

Guest curation is becoming one of my favourite things. Last year, along with Supermarket Sarah and Emy Gray, I helped to pick the wares on sale at the much respected Crafty Fox Christmas Markets.

This year I'm very happy to have been asked to select some of my favourite products from stylish sale site, Joss and Main, which launched from the US over here last year, and offers amazing discounts on some very lovely stuff. My sale launches today at 11am. Here is a little taster...

This link will be live from 11am today, Tuesday 6 January: use it to sign up now at Joss & Main, and then receive an exclusive £20 off with your first purchase. You just need to enter your email, so it's pretty easy, and if you opt out of daily emails you won't getting shopping spammed to death.

My curated sale will run for just three days, so hurry! Happy browsing.

Find the curated sale over at Joss & Main from 11am today, 6th January, until 11am on Friday, 9th January.

Real homes: what makes a great guest room, part II

A few months ago, I was pondering what to do with the spare room, which I'm planning to rent out to guests via Air BnB this year. 

The arrival of our house-swap guests from Australia, however, has sped things up. And though there are a few touches I'll add before I get Air BnB-ing, the bulk of its makeover is complete.

Here's how it looked before.

Pleasant enough, but deathly plain – as it needed to be in its former function, as a room for a succession of lodgers.

I picked up the Stag bedroom set – dressing table and two bedside tables – for £60 at a local junk shop but, much as I love it, the updated version of the room is without it.

The storage shelves and TV table, again useful for a lodger, have gone too.

While deciding where to go with the room, I got some great suggestions from readers.

One recommended looking at the rooms at the Bell Inn in Ticehurst for inspiration, which has all sorts of creative touches including typographic messages in unexpected places and trees in the bedrooms (see the gallery at the Bell Inn website).

Above: A room at the Bell Inn (image: the Bell Inn)

Image: The Bell Inn

I haven't gone for anything quite so unusual, not yet at least, but I agree that a guest room, like a downstairs loo, is a room you can have fun with.

Above: the Bauhaus exterior (image: Dezeen)

Another reader directed me to the austere but of course design-perv pleasing converted Bauhaus. The former German Modernist design school was turned into a budget hotel true to the ethos of the original student accommodation and opened late in 2013 with dorm-style rooms done out authentically, in a respectfully minimalist style.

Above: One of the rooms at the Bauhaus, available to stay in (image: Dezeen)

I like the broad, high-up shelf – somewhere to stash weekend bags and suitcases is a good thing for a guest room. One of these may well appear in phase two of the development of my own guest room. (You can nose around more of the Bauhaus conversion at Dezeen.)

Anyway, here's how my own guest room is looking after its revamp.

A little warmer, don't you think?

Switching the wooden slatted blinds for one huge white blackout rollerblind has given the room a cleaner, less cluttered feel. I got mine online from English Blinds.

The unusual headboard was a prop from one of To Run With the Hunted's photoshoots. It is a piece of plywood with the image of a house burnt into it at different angles, we just screwed it into the wall above the bed. The Peeta bedside lights were £28 each from Habitat.

I appear to have subconsciously channelled the designer, Guilherme Torres, whose colourful, pattern-heavy guest room decor I was ogling in this earlier post on the topic. The fabric has been staple-gunned more neatly since these photos were taken, to attach it more tightly and smoothly to the divan bedbase underneath.

And you can see the Gilda film poster, which I've had since I was about 18, remains, though she's now looking smarter in a frame. The zig zag rug is from Urban Outfitters.

I moved the overhead light, which was originally above the bed. The amber glass shades were bought as a job lot of five for £20 from Etsy, and the white twisted fabric cable is from Urban Cottage Industries (I just got lots of it and hung a hook for the shade's new position rather than chasing the flex into the ceiling... it's nice to be able to chop and change).

A guest room doesn't need a huge wardrobe too, and luckily our neighbour was after one just as we were contemplating putting it on eBay, so it has a good home. The mini incarnation is called a "gentleman's wardrobe" and is an original G-Plan, bought from eBay.

The luscious neon yellow and brown velvet Parker Knoll "writer's" chair was revamped and designed for me by the super cool social enterprise, Out of the Dark. Read about its evolution in this previous post and, if you don't know about this marvellous furniture-focused youth organisation, you can read all about Out of the Dark in this piece I wrote about them in the Independent Magazine.

I also collected a few books that might be useful to the London and UK visitor and piled them under the bedside table.

Other special touches I've added so far include 1000 threadcount bedding (again, added since the photos were taken). It is heavy and silky and super luxurious – just right for making someone feel welcome away from home. I also bought some wonderful wool-filled pillows to go with the duvet I was sent by The Wool Room, as feathers freak me out and synthetic isn't such a treat (they are soooo comfortable).

Alongside some stimulating but short reads (saved from a Guardian series, ages ago)...

I've also just added the nice, mint green John Lewis 150th anniversary issue digital radio I got last summer.

That would make me feel at home.

Real homes: the gratuitous display cupboard conundrum

In an ideal world, the fabulous Fornasetti menu plates that I've written about here before would be within financial reach, and the glass-fronted kitchen display cupboard would now be full of them.

Indeed, if I had, over the years, collated a beloved curation of anything with some kind of theme – ceramic or otherwise – then the cupboard would easily have some kind of 'look' going on. But no...

The cupboard – once my grandma's dining room glasses cupboard – is a luxuriously gratuitous space. There isn't really anything that needs to go in it that we can't fit into the regular kitchen storage areas and, simply so that it is not empty, it currently houses lots of random things that would look better in other parts of the house. Except that that wouldn't leave the cupboard eerily bare. So the randomness remains while the hunt for the right decorative collection continues. But I think I may have found something to start it...

...Grayson Perry's limited edition plates, £30 each from the National Portrait Gallery.

Each of the four fine china plates has a gilded edge and features a detail from Perry's wonderfully off-beat self-portrait, Map of Days, which you can see in full below.

In a clip from his excellent Channel 4 series Who Are You? you can watch Perry talking about why the idea of making a traditional self-portrait makes him cringe because, to him, it feels like "going back to the earnest 16-year-old in the art room at school trying to look down the barrel of my own angst".

Two mugs featuring Perry's work are also available, see one of them below, along with other pieces produced by Kit Grover to tie in with Who Are You? along with other homewares and accessories. See the full range here at the NPG.

There are lots of pretty plates about, and the idea of having things "just for best" pains me – if you love it, use it. But I'm breaking my own home philosophy here, and veering towards a slowly-built collection of art that happens to be on plates – lending it a kitchen-y theme. Sturdier plates can still be interesting, but they'll just have a different function. Artist plates are a nice way to begin building an art collection on a budget and Perry could be starting something in the kitchen... My other idea, inspired by a helpful tweet from the Balcony Gardener, is to turn the cupboard into an indoor greenhouse and stuff it with interesting plants. Perhaps I'll do both... watch this space.

If you like unusual plates, check out some other favourite designs I've featured here, including ceramics by: La Kinska, Louise Wilkinson, Melody Rose, vintage Ironstone and Evie Lotts. You might also like the monochrome Day Birger range at Rockett St George, which I also have my eye on.