Friday, 22 May 2015

20 ideas renters can steal from these amazing homes

Last week I attended the Living Etc West London House tour. I just missed out on tickets last time so I purchased in plenty of time this year! It's a brilliant concept, nosy interior nerds like me pay £32 (with proceeds going to Crisis) and some lovely homeowners, many of whom have been featured in the magazine, kindly open their doors for us to look around. There were 8 homes on the self guided West London tour and over the course of six hours I managed to get round them all. After purchasing a ticket, you get sent a map, with full addresses and clear directions on how to get between the properties and it was very manageable walking or using public transport, especially since it was a beautiful day.

Aside from the obvious attraction of looking at beautiful interiors all day and the added bonus of chatting with the knowledgeable Living Etc staff, very enthusiastic volunteers and fellow attendees, I was on the look out for inspiration for us renters. We may not own million pound houses (£6.9m in one case!) but we can still get some great ideas from them.

The properties are really varied and it gives you the chance to experience a range of styles of house types and decorating styles, so it's a great way to find out what your own style might be. In my case, I walked in the first house thinking it was my idea of perfection, being all white walls, glass and pristine minimalism. By the end of the day though I'd decided my favourite house was, in fact, the complete opposite. It was bold, dark, floral and colourful and with a lot of pink. Not something I ever thought I say!

Here's what I took away from the tour:

1. Make your bed.
Without exception, every bed on the tour looked inviting. Some were minimal, some were opulent, some had colour and pattern, some were plain. What they all had in common though, was that they brought a focal point to the room and even the addition of a simple throw and two small pillows could elevate a room from plain to stylish. Think about it, in most cases the bed is the largest piece of furniture in a bedroom so if it doesn't look good, neither does the room as a whole. A cozy throw and a couple of pillows is a very inexpensive way to dress your bed. Air your bed in the morning after you get up, throw back the covers and throw open the windows if possible and don't leave the house without making the bed! 


2. A little bit of minimalism goes a long way.
Live in a beige box? Or maybe you just don't have the resources or inclination to put a lot into decorating your room? Instead of thinking of the beige box as something to fix, why not celebrate it instead? Invest in some really good quality linens (my favourite ones are from Cologne & Cotton) a couple of key pieces of furniture, and embrace simplicity. The slim legged table below gives the illusion of more space in the small room, and the small but careful grouping of toiletries just lifts the simple bathroom. The key here is to be very clean, uncluttered and concentrate on quality. It's the difference between minimal and barren.


3. But then so does a lot of maximalism.
This house was the one I surprisingly loved so much. A perfect example of maximalism it has a killer colour palette, clashing patterns, bold prints, large groupings of vases and a lot of florals. But it works. The patterns might clash but the colours don't. The vases are small, but the artwork is huge and that circle of blue in the right hand print just pulls the whole thing together. Cover that print with your hand and see how it changes the look of the room. The console behind the sofa is a great idea to steal. Pop a collection on there, prop up the artwork instead of hanging it, and you have a landlord friendly way to get a real wow factor into your room. I've been obsessing over that exact shade of pink on the walls ever since my visit...


4. You don't have to hang anything.
Floor standing furniture and decoration isn't just the reserve of renters. These three rooms employ clever placements to avoid damaging walls. The first room had simple frames clamped to the headboard, the middle home used black bamboo ladders in the bathroom for towels and a striking green one to hold scarves in the bedroom. The third house had a couple of floor standing gold mirrors in one bedroom, and a giant thick wood framed one in another. All of these ideas give height and interest to a room without the need for hammer and nails.


5. Make every room count, even the bathroom.
Even the smallest room can benefit from some attention to detail. The first room below contrasts an old wooden stool against the modern tiles and celebrates the ritual of bathing by elevating luxury bath products on tall candle pillars. Flowers and a tray do the same job in the more classic, marbled middle bathroom and the third uses a large sculpture to add texture and interest to an otherwise sleek and quite hard scheme.


6. Be bold.
This house isn't backward in coming forward. The owner loves flowers so they're everywhere. In vases, on the wallpaper, on the artwork and on the furniture. If you love a particular colour, pattern or motif, don't be afraid to really go for it in every room. The colour palette of blacks, inky blues, pinks and purples that run through this house is what keeps the whole scheme together.


7. Be clever with lighting.
If you're stuck with your fixed lighting in the wrong place, use freestanding floor lamps to direct light to where you need it. The leaning Manana lamp in the first photo has the same effect as wall mounted sconces and the wide, high arc of the one in the second is great for seating and dining areas. See John Lewis for similar or Ikea for a more budget friendly option.


8. Put flowers everywhere.
OK, so all the houses were somewhat staged for us visitors, but I couldn't help but notice what a huge difference fresh flowers made. Hydrangeas were a popular choice, and because of their size, just three stems made a lot of impact. Flowers weren't reserved just for living areas though, they were everywhere. In bedrooms, kitchens and especially bathrooms. Small bunches or a few choice stems don't cost a lot, or for longevity group several orchids in a large planter and enjoy the blooms for weeks at a time.


9. Use the rule of threes.
Things displayed in threes, or fives, or sevens, are more visually pleasing than displays in even numbers. Almost every house on the tour had groupings displayed in threes. Jugs, cacti, toiletries, pictures... once you try it, you'll never look back.


10. Celebrate your collection.
Whatever you love, show it off. From your prized designer handbags and purses to your ceramic collection, put them out on show instead of hiding in a cupboard. These Constance Spry vases have real impact when shown en-mass and if you've paid for a good bag why stick it in the cupboard when you're not using it? Likewise your favourite blankets or clothes could be stored in a basket instead of a drawer.


11. Mixing woods is good.
Don't make everything too matchy-matchy. Mix up your pale woods with painted and different shades of wood for contrast. These chairs all match but of course, they don't all have to be the same. I have some Ikea benches paired with some old church chairs, the juxtaposition is what makes it work.


12. Put candles everywhere.
Like flowers, scented candles were everywhere on the house tour. From giant Jo Malone triple wicked ones, to this striking black Diptyque one. They were in every room too, the one below for example was in a teenage boys room. There are plenty of cheaper options on the market of course, they main thing is to find something you like to fill your home with a comforting scent. Just remember to never leave burning candles unattended.


13. Play with scale.
This house had large scale floral wallpaper, an oversize floor lamp and a lot of the artwork wasn't just big, it was HUGE. Most people might hand a gallery style arrangement up the stairs for example, but this homeowner had metre and a half portraits of her dogs hung there instead. Large artwork is actually better for renters, it's easy to prop on the floor or on a mantle. Sometimes bigger really is better. The wallpaper is Dark Floral by Ellie Cashman, The French Bedroom Company sell a similar lamp, try PhotoBox for a reasonably priced hardback poster print on a large scale.


14. You don't need dedicated garden furniture.
Don't have the budget or storage space for dedicated outdoor furniture? Just buy indoor pieces that can be taken outside when the weather is good. These polypropylene stacking chairs by Robin Day for Hille are both space saving and versatile. They are available from TwentyTwentyOne. Likewise, the Louis Ghost chair by Phillipe Stark for Kartell is at home in the garden as in the house. Again, Ikea is a good source for low priced options.


15. Colour isn't just for walls.
Love colour but can't paint? Use furniture, bright cushions and artwork to add pops of colour to an otherwise neutral room. These are Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chairs for Fritz Hansen available at Heals. Try John Lewis for a similar Marilyn Monroe print and Ikea for bright orange cushions.


16. But you can put colour on the walls if you want.
Don't let restrictions on decorating stop you from getting colour on your walls. Roughly paint a large canvas and prop on a piece of furniture or on the floor. You could also use a non permanent adhesive like 3M Command Strips if you really want to affix a light canvas to the wall.


17. Buy nice towels.
A bit of luxury goes a long way and a bale of good quality towels needn't break the bank. Cologne & Cotton have some well priced grey towels like this. Look after them well and they will stay fluffy and soft for years, as well as adding some hotel-chic to your smallest room.


18. Go large.
If you don't have a garden, take inspiration from the house in the first and third photos below and plant up some architectural specimens in oversize containers. These ones are from Vondom but try here for a budget version. If you do have a garden, group large terracotta containers together on a paved area to bring greenery in. Large trees or shrubs work equally as well as smaller flowering plants in this situation. Unglazed terracotta pots are a more budget friendly choice at this scale, but be sure they are frost proof. Try Homebase, or your local garden centre for large pots.

 

19. Never underestimate the power of a coffee table.
A well styled and practical coffee table really makes a living room. From large square ones, to groups in different materials, to a glass one which shows off the rug underneath, having somewhere to park your cup of tea, your favourite books or a bunch of flowers makes all the difference. It doesn't have to be a designer one, Ikea have an excellent selection or check your local FreeCycle group or charity shop for old or vintage ones.


20. Your furniture doesn't have to point at the TV.
It's all too easy to make your TV the focal point of your living room. In this  relaxed, but formally arranged room, the cocktail chairs face a sofa and the TV is tucked away in the corner. Of course, it's easy when you have a fireplace to have as the focal point instead, but you could just as easily use a sideboard or table and style it with some books, flowers and artwork instead. If your living room layout isn't working, try re-arranging without the need for the TV to be the centerpiece and see if it works any better.


If you're feeling inspired, there is one tour left this year's schedule in North West London on the 12th June, click here to buy tickets. If you can't make it, don't worry, the tours are an annual event and will be back in 2016, I'll certainly be going again! Alternatively, one of the houses is featured in this months issue of the magazine, which is also packed with more ideas for your home, as is the blog run by the magazine team, Life.Style.Etc.

Many thanks to Living Etc for permission to photograph on the tour and to the homeowners who were so generous in opening up their homes.


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Sunday, 10 May 2015

10 essential Ikea basics

I don't need to tell you how brilliant Ikea is for a well priced piece of home ware. It's a great place for grabbing a few essentials that will serve you well, wherever your rented home is and whatever the size. The trick, at least as far as the basics are concerned, is to try to stick to simple neutrals that will fit in with whatever decor you find yourself with. Not only will they work with what you have now, they are also likely to work with whatever you have next. If you want colour and pattern, you can add them as accents, a bright light shade or a patterned cushion are easier to work with than a bold rug for example and easier to store away or swap out if they end up clashing too much. Of course, if you like a bit of scandi-minimalism, this selection of essentials is probably already right up your street.

All but one of these renter essentials is under £50 and all of them will stand you in good stead for a number of years.



1. Ranarp work lamp £40
A slightly industrial lamp that wouldn't be out of place in a more classic space either. Great as a bedside lamp, task light or as additional lighting in the living room. Lighting plays such an important part in the way a room feels and can be a really inexpensive way to make a room feel warmer and more homely.

2. Kvarnvik storage box in grey £6
A few good looking storage boxes go a long way and the fabric cover on these mean they look more homey and less like they belong in an office. Perfect for storing CDs, paperwork, clothing or accessories, they work in all rooms.  

3. Billy bookcase in grey £45
A version of one of Ikea's bookcases has been a staple in all my homes, rented or otherwise. You can bet that even in a furnished place there's not enough storage and a shallow set of shelves like the Billy system is easy to fit in almost anywhere. It comes in many finishes so you're bound to find one that fits your taste. I like the introduction of the coloured backs and if you want something more zingy, this version also come in yellow.

4. Råskog trolley in grey £50
This truly versatile piece can be used as a kitchen trolley, for bathroom storage, for kids art supplies or even as a bedside table, so wherever you move it's sure to prove a useful investment. Also available in turquoise or cream.

5. Nipprig room divider £39
Available soon, this is a brand new piece and I'm eagerly awaiting it's arrival in store.This screen is really useful if you live in a studio to screen off a sleeping area, and equally useful as a more general tool for hiding unsightly areas. We don't have a large cupboard for things like the hoover and mop so I'll be using this in the hallway to hide all the cleaning bits and bobs! The problem with a lot of screens, is that they are as ugly as the stuff you want to hind, bit this more minimal one is perfect.

6. Osted rug £55
Never underestimate the power of a rug to transform a room. Not only do they make a room feel more inviting, they are essential if you have wooden floors to help soften the space ad provide some warmth in underfoot in the colder months. The rug is a renters best friend, helping to hide your landlords dubious choice of carpet and helping to protect your deposit too. This super large rug will cover a huge area of most rooms and if you spill, it's only your (inexpensive) rug that suffers, not the more expensive fitted carpet underneath. Neutral rugs are a good choice as whatever decor you're faced with, it will fit right in.

7. Lappljung Ruta cushion £9
Whether the sofa you lounge on is yours or your landlords, a couple of stylish, comfy cushions will help to make the living room feel more like home. Choose plain ones on a patterned sofa or opt for patterns and colours to lift a plain one. A few cushions on the bed will also make a good finishing touch. Ikea have a huge range of styles, from scandi-modern, to country cottage and the covers are interchangeable, so if they don't fit in your new place, swap them out for new ones, or change them around between rooms.

8. Åstorp lamp base £21
Lighting is so important I'm including two lamps in this round-up. A good floor lamp casts a much more flattering light than an overhead source, and sockets permitting, mean you have your light source where you need it the most. This slim legged design won't make your room feel crowded and you can choose a shade to suit your decor. Again, plain and neutral may be best for versatility, but a bright, bold or patterned shade is also a great way to inject some personality into your room.

9. Stave mirror £20
This slim line mirror is not only a bargain, but it will fit into the smallest of spaces. It's tall enough to lean on the floor, so no fixing required and could stand in a hallway, bedroom or bathroom. 

10. Merete Curtains £35
Having your own curtains are a must in any rental. It's rare that the ones that come with your flat will be either nice or sufficient to your needs. It might be best to opt for black out curtains in your bedroom, but you can afford to get away with unlined ones in other areas, which offer a balance between light and privacy. In rented homes, curtains are often mean in size and cheap looking. Go for floor length curtains even on smaller windows to help give a room a sense of drama and scale. These ones are easy to hang and when you move out, just pop your old ones back up and take yours with you. For super large windows, use two sets. I had to do this to cover the bay window in our living room, more (fabric) is always better as far as curtains go. 



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Sunday, 3 May 2015

weekend craft - patterned canvas

Who doesn't love a three day weekend? I was feeling a bit creative this bank holiday, and given that I've been sorting out the flat over the last few weeks, I thought it was time to pay some attention to the artwork on our walls. Some areas I'm happy with, others I'm either bored with or have just never finished. You know those three black canvasses above our bed? After four years, they finally have something on them! A couple of years ago I did a tutorial for covering some plain canvasses as part of the V&As fabric craft challenge and I thought it was a good way to finish those bedroom canvasses and update the painting in the kitchen that I really went off of a long time ago. I could have painted all of them but to be honest I wanted a quick fix and I couldn't decide what to paint on them anyway. It's also a good substitute for renters if you want to introduce some pattern but can't wallpaper. So, earlier this week I took a quick trip to Ikea and picked out a few metres of very reasonably priced fabric.


On the left I chose 1.5m of Stockholm in beige for £7 per metre and on the right I got a metre of Trådklöver for £6.

Ikea have a great range of fabrics and there's plenty of choice if you want to go for a bit of colour too. The fabrics I chose are fairly heavyweight and excellent quality considering I got everything for under £17. I got more than I knew I would need of the Stockholm pattern as I was covering a fairly large canvas and I wanted the option to pick out part of the pattern without having any of the beige background showing. I chose the other pattern because I wanted each of the three canvasses to look different and this one gave me the option of having some of the white space showing.

The whole project was so easy and took no more than an hour and a half. Even though you're stretching the fabric over the frame, I recommend ironing it on the reverse before you start, especially if you're using heavyweight fabric. I loosely wrapped the fabric around the large canvas to get the pattern lined up in the way I wanted before tacking it in place on the reverse using thumb tacks. You could use a heavy duty stapler, but I don't have one and anyway, thumb tacks are easier to remove if you need to make adjustments as you go. Once the fabric was in place, I trimmed off the excess and tightened and pinned it all in place. I found a hammer was useful, especially to get the pins in properly on the corners where you have to push through several layers of fabric.

Here's the before and after, a great improvement I think!


I love how the fabric kind of resembles a street map and by taking only the middle of the pattern, it's more abstract and less obviously a leaf pattern. Remember that if you are covering an existing painting, you'll need a heavyweight fabric in a darker colour to stop the pattern underneath from showing through. It also covers the texture of the original piece, something that would have also been harder to cover with painting alone.

The three bedroom canvasses were already white so there was no need to worry about those things. The pattern placement was a bit more random though, as there wasn't much room for manoeuvre once I'd laid them out on the fabric.


I decided I wanted to middle canvas to have an all over pattern, so  placed that one first then worked out where the other two could fit while still leaving enough fabric to wrap round and pin in place (these are deeper frames) before cutting the pieces out. Here's the back of one of them to show you how they are attached.


So easy! Here's the before and after. I decided the cushions were too much with the pattern on the wall as well so I just reversed them to plain black.


If you fancy giving this project a go, you can pick up very reasonably priced canvasses from places like Hobbycraft. You can currently get three of the 40x40cm ones I used in the bedroom on offer for the bargain price of £10 at the moment and you can see their full range here.

I've also rounded up 10 really great fabrics that would be perfect for this type of project, all prices are per metre.


1. 'Mayrose D' £22.50 from Liberty A bold floral that's not too bright or overly fussy.
2. 'Majken' in grey and orange £6 from Ikea Perfect for kitchens and dining spaces.
3. 'Pavillin' in mustard £54 from Mini Moderns Also great for kitchens or any mid century inspired scheme.
4. 'Nazca' in Indian Blue £16 from John Lewis Great if you like a more boho look.
5. 'Kuuskajasakri' by Marimekko £46 at Skandium A pattern that will look more like a painting than a pattern.
6. 'Susanna Tana lawn' in pink £22.50 from Liberty Bold but feminine, this would be great in a bedroom.
7. 'Ramga' in green £14 from Fabrics Galore Great if you don't like florals and want something a bit more urban.
8. 'Trådklöver' in hearts £7 from Ikea A good choice for a kids room.
9. 'Dandelion Clocks' by Sanderson in blue and green £39 from John Lewis A total classic for modern or traditional living rooms.
10. 'Jurmo' by Marimekko £39 at Skandium A calming print that works either way up.

Let me know if you give this a go yourself!


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Sunday, 26 April 2015

minimalism - less really IS more

The last couple of weeks have been rather busy at home. I took a couple of extra days off over the long Easter weekend and I really focused on getting rid of some clutter. Most people who come to our home wouldn't think we had a lot of stuff, it's always very tidily stowed away, but still, after three solid days of sorting out everything (I emptied our bedroom of everything except the furniture and only put the stuff we really needed back in) we took a whole carload of stuff to the charity shop (I mean up to the car roof full!) including five big bags of clothing and eight boxes of books. Yup, that one was tough to start with but it did get easier. Those books had served their purpose and are now going to new appreciative new homes while also helping Oxfam so I feel good about letting them go. I also had one box of random electrical bits for recycling (half of which was filled with chargers/adapters for who only knows what) and lastly three boxes of things sold on Ziffit. The following weekend, I finished tackling the kitchen and took another five boxes and three bags to the charity shop.

Having gotten rid of so much, there was a whole bookcase that was suddenly redundant, so out that went too, meaning the hall is now a brighter, freer flowing space. That's a lot of stuff, especially since we only live in a one bed flat and only have one large chest of drawers and a single wardrobe for all our clothes! Where did it all come from?? And how did it all fit in there?? More to the point though, I don't miss a single thing. It might seem hard or scary at first but trust me, you really don't need three electric toothbrush chargers or half a wardrobe of clothes that don't even fit you any more.

I won't lie, although it was fun (really!) it was hard work and setting aside entire days is really the best way to do it. I can now thoroughly clean the whole flat in just an hour and a half and I haven't had  a problem finding anything since. Getting ready for work in the morning is easy and I don't have to fight with the chest of drawers in order to just get dressed so I can have an extra 15 minutes in bed now and who doesn't want that? Cooking is also a pleasure again, we can access every pot and every piece of crockery easily, which also speeds up doing the dishes and the putting away of equipment after cooking up something tasty.


I continued to read some more books on minimalism too, I finally got around to 'Essentialism' by Gregg McKeown which is more about working better but is still a really useful read nonetheless. I also read 'Simplicity Essays' and 'Day in the Life of a Minimalist' by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Milburn. In one of the books I found a concept that was so simple but so eye-opening. Joshua explains that he gave away 90% of his clothes, but now all the clothes he has are his favourite clothes. Imagine that, a wardrobe containing only your favourite things? Read the essay here.

All the while I was sorting things out, I was thinking about something stylist Joanna Thornhill said when I asked her 20 Questions last year:

NBTR - What's the biggest mistake renters make in terms of home furnishing/design?

JT - I guess really it's having the attitude of "why bother when I'm 'only' renting" - I think whether you're into interiors or not, having a nice place to call home can have a really positive impact on your whole life, and as the book hopefully shows, that doesn't mean spending loads of money or investing a lot of time, and that whilst as a renter you might behave more limitations than a homeowner, there is still plenty you can do to personalize your space. If a £30 tin of paint and a day of DIY will make you love your living room, it's really not that big a commitment.

Having a space we love and enjoy being in is very important and the changes from the de-cluttering process are amazing. Our bedroom feels so much more spacious and calming for a start and chores are easier so putting in the effort really paid off. Once it's done right, it's also super easy to keep that way.

You might be wondering about the photo above. Not our flat, but one I finally managed to view a couple of weeks ago. An immaculate conversion in South London. The agent and I disagreed on whether it was possible to actually get a bed in the bedroom (I maintain that it was too small for a double) so you can imagine the rest... (or you can have a sneaky look here) It wasn't all bad though, I got to snoop around a beautiful flat (the attention to detail was almost heartbreaking when I knew it wasn't going to be right for us... and that fireplace!) but it also made me appreciate that even though there are some issues with ours, if we can get them fixed it will be fine, we really do love it here. Firstly, the more we look the more we realize how lucky we are to have so much space. It's a generously sized one bed and the fact that we can have ten people sat comfortably around the kitchen table is a complete luxury. So, I'm going to channel some of this futile flat hunting energy into negotiations with our landlord instead, because mostly, the grass really is greener where you water it... and I'm so thankful we don't have to move, I can't imagine that process with a deadline...

After all the de-cluttering though, I still feel like I'm just not done yet. So In May I'll be undertaking a version of The Minimalists de-cluttering game whereby on the first of the month you get rid of one item, on the second, two items and so on. If you play the full month, that means you'll get rid of a staggering 496 items. Given that I've probably already purged more than that, I'm doing a week then repeating starting from one item again, for four weeks. That's a total of 118 items (if you add the three extra days to get to the end of the month!) Or if all of that still seems too much how about just one item a day for 31 days? The trick is just to start! I'll be tweeting my progress, so please feel free to join me and use the #MinsGame hashtag if you decide to play the game too!

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Sunday, 22 March 2015

componibili units

It's been a trying couple of weeks on the home front. We have some problems with our flat that the landlord is taking forever to resolve. It's not entirely their fault (although using a semi-decent builder would be a good start) but as much as I politely complain, neither they or the agent are very forthcoming about a realistic timescale for getting the issues fixed. In desperation, we've started to look for another place. The last time I was flat hunting was five years ago and I'm well aware that the housing market is even more insane than back then but so far I've managed to view precisely zero properties. I know my standards are high (I once waved a copy of Elle Decoration at an agent who took us to see a hole in Oval and in despair at the badly patched up ceiling and general disgusting state of the place screeched I want more of this *waves copy of said magazine* and less of this *gesticulates at disintegrating kitchen*) I know our list of requirements (garden, unfurnished, price, the cats) also limits our options somewhat, but in a recent search of OpenRent, in the WHOLE of London, the results returned ONE property. A houseboat in E9. Sure it has the biggest 'garden' I could want, but we'd have to teach the cats to swim...So the hunt goes on, although unless a place stays on the market long enough to me to get to a viewing after work, or isn't already under offer by the time the agent rings me, we'll be here a while longer.

I've decided that the current issues and potential imminent move aren't going to stop me enjoying our home though and on a more positive note, this week I finally took delivery of a pair of Componibili units. I've wanted them forever. I saved, I used Christmas gift money and on Monday there were two gorgeous Kartell boxes waiting for me when I got home. It's just a small change in our bedroom, but it makes such a difference.


The room is quite dark (great for sleeping!) but the dark Ikea furniture I bought with me from my old place was starting to feel oppressive. Sure, the old units were fine, they held a lot of stuff, but they were big and a bit too clunky and because they held so much, we just filled them and never thought about what we actually needed in them. One de-clutter later and the new units contain only the essentials and everything is so easy to find! It's something of a revelation, given that we have so little storage in our place anyway, that less storage space is actually working better for us!

The lighter colour and smaller footprint of the new units also makes the room feel instantly bigger as seeing more of the floor tricks you into thinking the room is wider than it is. In addition,there is enough room on top for lamps and a book or our phones (a bad habit I'm going to try to kick!) but there's not enough room for clutter to accumulate so the room is also instantly tidier, bonus! And yes, I really need to do something with those blank canvasses, although I've kind of got used to them now.


On a bedroom side note, our bed doesn't have a headboard, so I always prop the pillows up slightly and add some scatter cushions to give the bed a focal point. A throw across the bottom also helps to make the room look 'finished'. I always think a well made bed pulls the room together and I could never get the hang of the artfully unmade bed look that is so prolific on blogs at the moment anyway. It's the interior design equivalent of the 'just got out of bed' look that only Kate Moss can pull off successfully while the rest of us just look like we've been dragged through a hedge backwards. So call me fussy or uptight, but I'm just going to make the bed properly, because at the end of a hard day it's like I come home to my very own hotel room, the 400 count Egyptian cotton sheets help too!

Back to the units. They were designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri for Kartell in 1969. She trained as an architect and industrial designer and her pieces are held in design museum collections around the world, including Moma and the Pompidou Centre. We bought our units from John Lewis and I think they're a small price to pay for such an incredible design classic. They are widely available in black, red or white in both two and three tier options.

Image source: JohnLewis.com

Limited special editions in different colours and finishes are available occasionally and the units also come in square versions. I prefer the round ones, there's something very pleasing about them and they still look as fresh and contemporary today as they did 46 years ago. I definitely think of these as investment pieces, the design has already stood the test of time and I don't plan on buying another pair of bedside tables ever again! They were worth every penny and worth the wait while I saved up for them.

Three tier Componibili Units, £97 each from John Lewis.
Two tier units, £67 also from John Lewis.


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Sunday, 22 February 2015

bedtime reading - Beautifully Small by Sara Emslie

Anyone accustomed to flat hunting in London, or any other major city will know all too well that space is a luxury and that the majority of places within most peoples budgets will be on the small side. Studios are becoming more common in this country and even one-beds aren't guaranteed to have much more square-meterage. Even if you're lucky enough to have a whole house, the UKs major cities are still largely populated by fairly compact terraces, or poky new builds. This book aims to 'embrace the positive aspects of living in compact spaces' which, faced with a small city living space is absolutely the way to go. Instead of seeing small space living as a negative thing, adopt Sara Emslie's view and revel in the challenges and inspiration that small space living brings.


The book starts with tips on assessing and planning your space, elements of design and style and overall helpful tips. I think this is a key element most people overlook in whatever type of home they live, without assessing what you have in terms of space and possessions and having a clear plan about how to marry the two, your rooms are never going to fulfill their potential. Sara's tips on maintaining a 'strict spatial discipline' and ideas for the best types of furniture are invaluable. For example, she argues that while a large sofa in a small space can be cumbersome, conversely a large bed with an over-sized headboard can appear luxurious. Clear acrylic furniture is another great trick, giving the illusion of more space and less clutter.


She also gives tips on using old and antique furniture, much of which was originally designed to be used in small spaces. It also helps to add depth and texture to a room, especially good for us renters who live in beige boxes with not much in the way of interesting features.

The majority of the book looks at case studies and presents several sizes and styles of homes from different countries, each chosen for their clever space saving designs and each offering a wealth of inspiration. Of course, many of them benefit from having had structural alterations which are beyond renters means, but there's still plenty here to inspire. The floor plan sketches that accompany each home are one of my favourite features of the book, so often we see carefully styled and photographed homes in magazines and on blogs, but it's hard so get a sense of how the space is used and what the flow might be. Given the variety of homes featured, from a British terrace house to a teeny tiny Parisian student attic via a Swedish family loft apartment, there is enough variety here to be useful to most readers.


In many of the properties featured, there's very much a sense of 'it's not what you've got, it's what you do with it' although all of them have great bones, they also all have a cohesive look and a colour palette that brings the whole space together. Nothing makes a small space feel smaller and more chaotic than a different colour in every room. Sara advocates a being tidy and as minimal as possible, a sensible rule to follow, after all, there's only so much stuff you can fit in a small space and as she points out, naturally you're going to be in very close proximity to it as well. What's rather refreshing about the case studies featured though, is that they are not all white boxes. While some are indeed very minimal, others are dark, or colourful or full of the owners collections. Minimal living doesn't mean stark in these cases, it means curated.

"Every object should have a natural home, and if it does, it makes the task of keeping a small space tidy straightforward indeed."

  
My favourite home featured in the book is called 'Shades of Grey' and shows how dark colours in a small space can still work to great effect. What this home lacks is space it more than makes up for in the style stakes. Rugs help to zone the space (a great tip for open plan living) and the dark hues add drama. Even if you can't decorate you could easily get the look with dark furniture and fabrics. The layout of the flat is also something that can be translated to any rented studio, half the battle if making a space feel 'right' is getting your furniture in the right place, it's got to look good and be laid out in such a way as to be easy to use.


Here, slim legged furniture and a cohesive color scheme helps the space feel much bigger than it really is, while the dark hues make the space feel warm and cozy. While the wall treatment isn't an option for renters, some dramatic floor to ceiling dark curtains and an inky sofa throw will help to achieve the look. Note also that there are several light sources around the room and although they are all different, they are all quite slender and unobtrusive and they all sit happily together.


Equally, the bedroom feels like a welcoming cocoon, furniture is minimal (there is clothing storage out of shot) but the luxurious bedding brings the space alive. It's elements like this that makes the book as valuable to renters as to homeowners. In a digital age when, if you're anything like me, we get a huge amount of our inspiration from scrolling through images and blog posts, it's a luxury to curl up with an actual book, pore over the images and enjoy reading something well written and beautifully put together. 

Beautifully Small by Sara Emslie, photography by Rachel Whiting, published by Ryland Peters & Small, rrp £19.99. To purchase a copy click here

With thanks to the publisher for permission to feature the images here.

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Urban Jungle - fauxliage

Is January the most depressing month of the year? This one certainly felt like it, it's grey and spring feels like such a long way off, my garden is looking a bit bare and I'm kicking myself for not planting any bulbs last year. Plants have the power to really lift a space, indoors or out and I'm a huge fan of having at least one (living) plant in every room, even if it's just a tiny succulent in the bathroom. But what if you're not green fingered, are away a lot or have a room without much natural light? Well, there's nothing wrong with faking it! Faux plants (fauxliage?) are going to be a big trend this year, and luckily, there's a huge range to choose from right now, whether you want some blowsy blooms, a single stem or a big green statement plant, there's something for you.


1. Hydrangea mix in vase (30cm) £35, Next
Classic, delicate and neutral, great for bed and side tables.
2. Artificial mini echeveria (15cm) £8 John Lewis
Small enough for desks and perfect for bathrooms.
3. Fabulous Faux Fan Palm (120cm) £45 Rockett St George
While it might seem a lot for a single stem you get a lot of leaf for your money! Pop it in a tall slim vase and stand on the floor, great for minimal schemes and if you don't like flowers but want to make a big impact.
4. Small fig tree (75cm) £75 Abigail Aherne
Although more expensive than others on the market, you just can't beat Abigail Aherne's plants and flowers for realism, so they're worth the outlay.
5. Faux cherry blossom branch (75cm) £14 Rockett St George
One in a vase is enough for a minimal display or group a few together to make more of a statement. Great against dark walls!
6. Floreo bamboo in ceramic pot (37cm) £40 Habitat
Bamboo never seems to go out of fashion and the shape of this one is spot on. Great value considering you get a nice minimal white pot too.
7. Green succulent plant (10cm) £2.99 each Dunelm
So reasonably priced you could buy one of each and line them up on a windowsill. Also good for desks and other tiny spaces.
8. Magnolia Contorts Stem (115) £16 Oka
A great mix of sculptural branch and classic blooms, a single stem will feel spring like, a bunch of them will feel like summer.
9. Fabulous Faux Succulent (40cm) £75 Rockett St George
Succulents are my one of favourite plants, although they are easy to keep, one did die on me this week, so they're not foolproof! This one is bigger than your average faux succulent and the concrete pot is a beautiful contrast.

The great thing about fauxliage (aside from that fact you can't kill it) is that it will never need re-potting, never get too big for your space and will always be in bloom. No one has to come over and water them when you're away and they are happy in whatever spot you put them in. Do remember to dust them though, because there are few things more depressing in a home that a dusty plant, faux or real.


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Sunday, 25 January 2015

bed time reading - 'Stuffocation' by James Wallman

A few years ago, if you'd have asked me what my dream house looked like, I would have told you that it was a minimalist, modernist white concrete cube with nothing it in but a bed and a few essentials, preferably designed by John Pawson. Over the years my tastes have changed, I like Nice Things (capital N capital T) and I like a few creature comforts. I also have a small library's worth of books (even though I almost halved my collection last year) and the idea of blank walls now leaves me cold. I still think I'm a minimalist at heart though. Clutter makes me physically uncomfortable and I still want to come home to a clean, tidy and neutral space at the end of the day (colour also makes me uncomfortable, at least in the context of me living with it or wearing it, to the extent there was a prolonged discussion in the office about me 'breaking out into colour' when I showed up for work in a black and navy sweater. Navy! How radical...)

John Pawson, Pawson House, London, 1999 © Jens Weber

While in theory, I would very much like my kitchen to look like this, in reality minimalism can be expensive. That might seem like an odd statement, but it's a idea that James Wallman touches on in his recently published book 'Stuffocation - Living More With Less'. The high minimalist, architectural led style epitomized by Pawson comes with a price. Sure, the occupants of this space haven't got flashy kitchen equipment on display, but that poured concrete worktop wasn't cheap, those chairs cost a few hundred pounds each and you can bet there's a beautifully simple but eye-wateringly expensive dinner service hiding behind those unobtrusive cupboard doors. It's also much easier to be a minimalist in a building with good architectural bones. It looks deliberate. If you take that level of minimalism to your average rented London flat it's probably just going to look like no one lives there.

When I started to read Wallmans book, I thought I was still pretty minimal. Books aside, I didn't think I had that much stuff, and what I do have is always tidy and put in its proper place. By the end of the book I was wondering why I had so much stuff I didn't use or even particularly like, cluttering up my home.

Starting with Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Milburn (aka The Minimalists) and their journey from 'material saturation' to minimalism, I was all set to get rid of almost everything I own and head for that white concrete cube. As the book progresses though, Wallman looks at many other ways of living with less and by the end you realize there's a middle ground and that anyway, full on minimalism isn't for everyone. Not everyone is going to give up everything to live in the woods (as he points out even Henry David Thoreau only manged that for about two years) or live a nomadic globe trotting life with nothing but a backpack and a laptop. That said, it becomes ever more apparent as you read that something has to be done. Too much stuff is bad for your physical and mental health, it's bad for your bank balance and it's terrible for the environment. The sheer amount of stuff we own is staggering. Think about it. Everything in your home. Multiplied millions of times across the country. Multiplied again across every country in the world, and replaced several times over your lifetime. The enormity of it it is almost too much to comprehend. Think about what you have in your home, how much of it do you really need, how much of it do you actually use on a regular basis? Not much is probably the answer to both those questions.

Image source: Evening Standard

One of the most startling things in the book, are the studies that look into the relationship between stress and clutter, clutter and debt and how both of those things can lead to depression. Unbelievably, the photo above is an estate agent photo of a flat up for sale. Just looking at that makes me feel stressed, I can't imagine how difficult it is to live in it, making a soothing cup of tea suddenly seems like a herculean task. Of course, these two images show the extreme ends of the spectrum. Most of us have too much stuff, but most of us probably make some effort to control it and tidy it away. Which throws up another question, how much time does your stuff use up? How much time to clean it, put it away, look for it when you need it? I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

So what's the answer? Wallman proposes several options but a combination of two make sense to me. By having less stuff, and getting rid of the desire to accumulate more, you should have more time, more energy and more money. This could have a knock on effect in many ways. You could have the resources to take up a new hobby, do that evening course you always wanted, move to a smaller home, but in a better/more interesting area, or take a pay cut to do a job you love instead of one that pays for all the stuff you don't need. He's also an advocate of experientialism. Having experiences rather than having things makes people happier in the long term and generally has less of an environmental impact. Studies show that the long term effects of spending our time and money on experiences (from a ski holiday to a picnic in the park) have a much more positive impact on our well-being that spending the same amount on a thing. Even if the experience wasn't perfect, we have the ability to look back and see only the positive things, or put a good spin on the bad elements and label them 'an adventure'. Making a regretful purchase however, is harder to forget or reconcile. An expensive pair of uncomfortable shoes you only wore once is going to to leave you out of pocket and with a taunting reminder in your wardrobe.

Wallman says that in the modern world, once we have our basic needs met (a safe place to sleep, enough things to live comfortably) any additional material gains don't make us proportionally any happier. Having one designer handbag might be thrilling and make you happy every time you use it... having twenty designer handbags however, doesn't make you twenty times happier. He also proposes that the tide against materialism is already turning. The amount of experience based spending has increased and explains things like Secret Cinema, pop up restaurants and the almost cult appeal of music festivals like Coachella and South By Southwest. It's not about having the latest thing anymore, it's having been to the latest thing, and as tickets are limited and the events are one offs or have limited runs, attendance is still a significant status symbol.

One thing that I can't stop thinking about, it the chapter titled 'How We Got Here: The Origins of Throwaway Culture' that covers how we evolved from thrifty make do and mend types, to full on over-consumers. I'm oversimplifying here of course, but we bought more because we were told to. Consumerism and planned obsolescence was born out of the overproduction that occurred in the United States at the end of the Great Depression. Logically, if there was too much stuff, the answer would be to produce less, but Herbert Hoover had a 'better' idea, and assigned the early Mad Man "the job of creating desire". We've been suckers for advertizing ever since and it's insane. Ever notice how adverts themselves are a form of visual clutter? For a very long time there was a whole tunnel connection in Kings Cross where the blank boards were ready, but no adverts had yet appeared. That tunnel, even when heaving at rush hour was a much calmer space that others in the station where adverts scream from every wall.

So, how do get yourself out of suffocation? The book offers several helpful tips:

The Bin Bag Method: Put everything you own in boxes and bags and over the course of a month (or maybe two) only take something out when you need to use it. At the end of the allotted time, get rid of everything left in the boxes and bags. This could be a really useful exercise even if done a room at a time and could be a particularly good way to help kids get rid of a mountain of toys. As a plus point, you can feel good about donating your things to a local charity.

The Did You Miss it Game: Bets played by couples or flatmates. Each person hides something belonging to another person in the house and and if they don't miss it after a set period of time, out it goes.

The Reverse Hanger Method: Put all your clothes on hangers and turn them all the same way. Once you use something, hang it back up the opposite way round. At the end of a set period of time, everything on the unused hangers gets donated to charity. 

Another tip is to digitize. I rebelled against this for a very long time, but actually, as all the music we listen to is either at a gig, or through a digital device, why do we have a stereo we never use and hundreds of CDs that we never play taking up valuable space? I have lots of big glossy books I love and look at, but the hundreds of paperbacks are destined for donation and if I want to read one of them again? I'll read them on my Kindle. Now there's a sentence that was unthinkable even a few months ago! I just want to feel like our flat can breathe, it feels... stuffocated.

He also offers tips for avoiding re-stuffocating and practical steps to help you become an experientialist through the section called 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Experientialists'.

So, if you're unhappy with your home, have an uneasy feeling about your possessions, feel like you're missing out on doing more exciting things, I urge you to read this book and start take action while you're reading it. You may come out committed to living with only 100 things, or you might be inspired to up sticks and move. Most likely though, you'll look around you and wonder why you ever needed all this stuff and start taking steps to a simpler, potentially much happier life.

Stuffocation by James Wallman is £9.99 and published by Penguin.

 For more information visit stuffocation.org 


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