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Monday, 3 November 2014

baby it's cold outside

We might still get the occasional mild day, but it feels like Autumn has really started now doesn't it? The evenings are particularly crisp and now the clocks have gone back, it's dark early and it feels like it's time to start hibernating. I have to admit, I don't mind... it's the time of year where we start to make homemade soup again (pumpkin, paprika and sweet pepper tonight!) drink tea in the evenings and snuggle up under the blanket. A versatile blanket is pretty much a necessity in this country I think, often it's chilly, but not cold enough to put the heating on, or it's so cold you need the heating AND a blanket. In addition, a well chosen one will add some interest and texture to a room or bed.

Whatever the temperature outside, these gorgeous throws will keep you toasty, and can be taken from bed to sofa or favourite armchair and back again. So grab a cuppa, a book or a box set, and get comfortable...

1. 'Abban' throw £35 Habitat
2. 'Sylt' throw in yellow, £65 David Fussenegger at Heals
3. Jacquard weave blanket £24.99 H&M
4. Scallop knitted throw, £29.99 Dunelm Mill
5. 'Dominoes' throw in Steel, £50 John Lewis
6. Moss stitch throw, £69.95 Rockett St George
7. 'Henrika' throw, £15 IKEA
8. Reversible red & grey throw £35-£55 Next
9. Ochre zig zag throw, £29.99 Dunelm Mill
10. Cable knitted throw, £24.99 Dunelm Mill
11. Blue checked throw, £60 Marks & Spencer

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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Objects in the digital age - The School of Life

I recently attended a talk at The School Of Life (recently was last month, but you already know I'm perpetually late posting!) I've been interested in this organisation for a while and attended one of the 'Sunday Sermons' given by Alain De Botton on 'Art As Therapy' last year. I like their approach to helping you live better through a wide variety of talks and courses. You know, the stuff no one actually teaches you, like how to be good with money, how to get over a relationship or how to communicate better. I'd love to go to the work/life balance class that's coming up, but curiously it's in the middle of the afternoon when I'm, er, working! Anyway, I was intrigued by the title of this talk: 'Why Humans Need Objects In The Digital Age' and the precis (here) I guess I'd never really thought about it (something our speaker Tim Milne from Artomatic brought up immediately... why would we? We rarely have time to think about anything that's not immediately pressing these days) so I signed up.

The evening started with a glass of wine and some nibbles and the chance to talk to other attendees. After the initial awkwardness you'd expect in theses situations, I got chatting to a digital designer who does a lot of work for museums, and a sub editor for Elle Decoration. Talk aside, this is also a great opportunity to meet like minded people and have a good discussion about something that doesn't usually come up over a pint down the pub. The mid session break afforded us time to catch up again and further discuss the points raised during the talk.

The talk itself lasted about an hour, accompanied by some slides. Tims main points concentrated on how humans are hardwired to objects because we have evolved in a physical environment, not a virtual one. Evolutionarily speaking, we used to communicate solely through objects, which speak to us through their characteristics. They occupy the same space as us, they're emotive. Humans don't have time to think about these things though and rely on non-cognitive processes. I'd been processing this idea for a couple of weeks, thinking about how much I love my solid wood coffee table in a way that I've never felt the same about a chipboard IKEA one (for the record, I love IKEA, I have plenty of it!) but I never really got a proper handle on the concept until I was in the Conran shop last weekend and picked up a dimpled mug by Emma Lacey.

Everyday mug by Emma Lacey for The Conran Shop £24.99

All her pieces are hand thrown and have a matt glaze that's very tactile. As I picked up a black one (of course) and held it, what immediately grabbed me was the way it felt, my thumb resting perfectly in the depression on the side. I felt an immediate connection, something quite soothing and secure, something entirely different from the mass produced mug I normally use on a daily basis. I feel a pay day treat coming on and yes, £24 is probably quite extravagant for a coffee mug, but If I'm only buying one and using it several times a day five days a week I think it's worth it for the sheer thrill of picking it up every day.

Anyway, back to the talk... The digital age is evolving faster than our brains. The natural reaction to the digital revolution therefore is hardly surprising. Look at the current trend for letter press typography, raw industrial elements in restaurants, anything 'vintage' or 'retro' and the values still assigned to anything old or handmade. We're seeking comfort in tactile surfaces and familiar shapes. We are also living in a world of extremes, of fast, cold, unfamiliar technology and mass production offset by the handmade, limited edition and antique. These things all have a direct connection with the maker, it's why we fetishize signed books, paintings and handmade furniture, they retain a direct link with the maker or artist, they have handled the object directly. Antiques on the other hand, have a connection with the past as well as with the maker. These objects have lived a life, moved from owner to owner, have the patina of age and handling and the marks of use. Tim says that as these objects age, with their imperfections, so they remind us of our own mortality, an idea central to the Japanese concept of Wabi- sabi. They also define themselves through age, acquiring authenticity and value, both culturally and monetarily. Take my Ercol table again, they are still being produced, I could have bought one new, but I like the depth of the polish, the restoration my friend did and the slight imperfections that age has administered to it.

Where the digital and mechanical tend to be 'fast', their opposite, hand produced objects tend to be slow. So while I might want my iPad to load immediately and my broadband connection to be fast and constant, I'll take my coffee slow roasted, prepared with care and drunk from a hand made mug that's an absolute delight to hold. And yes, I get the whole e-book thing, but I want real ink and the smell of real pages and to turn down the corner of an interesting page and I'll take that over the convenience of having a whole library on one small device, even if my current read is a handbag-breaking wight. As Tim said, you read digital books, you own real ones.

Even if we're plugged in and fully wired at home, 'home' is still a physical, tactile retreat from the world. Our homes and the things in it are on a human scale, finite and measurable, a retreat from the abstract, infinite internet. While some of those 'home of the future' innovations that were featured on Tomorrows World or the Ideal Home Show in the sixties have materialized, at a basic level, our homes still have more in common with their Victorian counterparts than they do with the space age pods that we were predicted to be living in by the year 2000. 

In summary, Tim asserts that objects are essential to being human. They commemorate, help form memories and offer continuity. This thought was with me recently when I was an at antiques fair with my parents. So many of the objects there were the same ones my elderly relatives had in their homes when I was a child. Things I wasn't even aware I remembered came back to me, the pattern on a china plate was suddenly, quite alarmingly and overwhelmingly familiar.

At the end of the evening we took part in a group exercise, making models with Play-Doh. We were first asked to make a vase (easy) then something to represent 'culture' less easy and finally 'the internet' which threw up some interesting discussions on how to physically represent such abstract terms. At a very basic level is was just fun to be molding with our hands, making something, however temporary.

The School Of Life also produce a range of books and other items, Here are my favourites, along with two upcoming courses. For a full list of all courses and talks click here.

1. How To Thrive In The Digital Age book £7.99
Tom Chatfield 'examines what our ‘wired’ life is really doing to our minds, for better and for worse'.
2. Ilse Crawford Studio Day £250
There are still a few places left on this day, but hurry, its on the 1st of November!
3. Imperfection Pot £50
Beautifully imperfect pot based on the traditions of Wabi-Sabi
4. Daring notebook £15
I like this daily reminder to take more risks, beautifully illustrated inside with a classic painting of the first balloon crossing of the English Chanel.
5. Emotional Baggage tote bag £15
We all have it, at least now you have somewhere witty to put it...
6. How To Stay Sane book £7.99
Author Philippa Perry argues that there are four cornerstones to sanity you can influence to bring about change... Next on my reading list!

7. 100 Questions Toolkit £20
A set of cards designed to make for better conversations
8. Donald transitional object £60
'Donald was designed by Donna Wilson and each one is handmade and therefore individual. Designed to bring comfort to adults and children alike.'
9. City Of Tomorrow utopia candle £35
'The scent of freshly cut grass with green pear, rose, lily, jasmine and balsam helps to evoke the perfect world described by the architect Le Corbusier, a realm of elegance, lightness and speed', your own perfect utopia in a jar!
10. How To Be Creative talk £40
There are several dates available for this evening talk designed to shift the blocks that often stop us from working most effectively.

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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Open House London 2014

Last weekend, over 800 buildings opened their doors across London as part of the annual Open House weekend. From the smallest private residences, to the largest skyscrapers, from behind the scenes access to Cross Rail and other engineering sites to walking tours of London streets, it's like having the keys to the city for two days, and all for free! I was volunteering again this year, meaning I spent most of Saturday manning the door and the queue to a converted Victorian workshop in Mile End. Volunteers are crucial to the success of the event and it's great fun meeting like-minded architecture and interior nerds, as well as having the huge pay off of having a volunteers badge, meaning you can queue jump at the majority of buildings taking part. So while Saturday was mostly work, Sunday was all play as I cris-crossed the city visiting the 6 properties (and one bonus) on my hit list.

This year I stuck to residential buildings, and most were owned by the architects who built them. Needless to say, these spaces are not your average homes and are most definitely aspirational, but they can also provide some real inspiration as well, even for renters. 

Coborn House - Mile End
OK, so getting practical inspiration from this one was tough! Above is where I volunteered. The space was incredible and very high spec, but what I took from it was that it felt well planned. The chairs on the landing were very traditional, a great foil for tall the straight lines of the architecture, but they were also upholstered in a very similar fabric to the sofa, offering continuity through the space and each window sill had a statement vase or piece of sculpture placed in the centre. It felt like a considered space and very calm. I also loved the Venetian plaster on the back wall of the building. If I was given free reign I think I could replicate the look (if not the feel) with paint.

For more information visit Clear Architects here.

Winkley Street - Bethnal Green
At the end of my volunteering day I hopped across to Bethnal Green to see another house before heading off to Tent and SuperBrands in Shoreditch. As you would expect from any architect owned house, this two bed terrace was far from ordinary and there's no way I could replicate this in a rented home. However, the bright living room rug and the artwork on otherwise plain walls are easy to adapt, as is the minimal but effective styling on the balcony. Three pots os differing heights and a bistro chair and table set looked stylish and gave plenty of space to enjoy morning coffee or dinner for two. The crisp white bed linen and uncluttered bedroom also gave an air of hotel chic.

More on Kirkwood McCarthy Architects site here.

Hard Working House - Goodge Street
This house was had a tiny footprint, with narrow stairs to each floor but with white walls and small groups of family photos at key points it felt airy and inviting. The kitchen was spec-ed up Ikea one and although you might not be lucky enough to have a kitchen as pristine as this, clean, clear worktops and wood accents to contrast with the white finished worked really well. The little vignettes around the house also added interest and everything was impeccably displayed! 

Visit Urban Projects Bureau site here.

Leamington Road Villas - Westborne Park (bedrooms)

Leamington Road Villas - (living spaces)
This basement flat in West London was my favourite of the whole weekend. It had everything, polished concrete floors, exposed brick, a stunning garden and lots of texture. The hard floors and pristine walls were offset by statement rugs, warm wood furniture and industrial but luxurious elements. The use of the modular sofa to help zone the open plan kitchen/living/dining space was very clever and the garden planting was kept to just green plants, both easy to do in a rented space. I also liked the floor standing shelf at the foot of the guest bed, creating a display area out of otherwise unusable space. In fact, the layout of that room could translate to a lot of rented rooms, giving maximum floor space while still accommodating a double bed, desk and wardrobes.

For more on Studio 1 Architects visit their site here.

Foxley Road - Oval
A one bedroom end of terrace duplex in Oval, owned and renovated by an architect couple who lived in the property while they undertook three years of renovations. I loved the dramatic use of black in the hall, living room and bedroom. You might not be able to do this with paint but dark rugs, accessories, furniture and curtains could all help achieve the look. The bedroom was black and white, with pops of yellow in the form of the bee cushions, honey pot, dresser handles and a round rug. Both the bee/plant theme and colour helped pull the room together and make it feel polished but not overdone. The mirrors behind the bedside and general use of reflective surfaces throughout the house helped trick the eye in to reading the space as much bigger that in actually was.

For more photos and information visit the architects page here.

Golden Lanes Estate - Exterior of Basterfield & Stanley Cohen Houses

Luckham Apartment - Basterfield House, Golden Lanes Estate
After some earlier renovation, many of the original features of this maisonette had been removed and on the day of Open House so had most of the owners things. The lack of possessions make it easy to appreciate the space on an architectural level, including the original floor and open tread stair case, but I found it hard to see how someone lived in it and how they made use of the space. After seeing so many pristine spaces, I was starting to wonder where everyone kept their stuff.The kitchen was a minimalists dream but I did wonder if the owner feels like he needs to eat his toast over the sink, every crumb would be visible! That said, I would love to live here I could look at those stair treads all day. 

More on Diamond Architects site here.

Bayer House - Golden Lanes Estate
This wasn't on my list of places to visit because somehow I missed it on the itinerary planner on the app... but I saw the queue from the window of luckham apartment so I headed there after. Unlike the Luckham Apartment many of the original features in this maisonette were still intact.  What I loved about this home was that it has such warmth and personality. Real people live here (not that architects aren't real people...) and the flat was full of their collections and artwork made by the owners. It was colourful, eclectic and completely unselfconscious. I loved the layout of the living room and the narrow unit on wheels that housed the owners vinyl collection cleverly made use of every inch of space. The tall ceilings were both highlighted and the space made to fell less empty by hanging pictures vertically, and by having a huge quadriptych going up the stairs. If you have the space, be bold with what you put on your walls!

For more information on the Golden Lane Estate click here.

3FloorIn2 - Portobello Road
This triple floored space, inside a double height apartment was fun. Utterly impractical but fun. It reminded me that your home should make you smile, it should make you grin from ear to ear when you walk in the door.

See more images from the project by Andrew Pilkington Architects here.

New House - Arsenal
Built on the end of a row of terraced houses, this completely new build had a single story height restriction, there was certainly no lack of space though! I loved the use of contemporary antiques, like the Ercol dining and side tables to offset the slate coloured ceramic floor. I also liked the display space in the bathroom and the painting on the wall proving that bathrooms don't have to be clinical spaces.

Tallulah, a very friendly and most coordinated resident!

For more information visit Studio 54 Architects site here.

It always amazes me that so many people are so generous in opening up their homes for the weekend, while hoards of strangers troop around taking photos. All the owners, residents and architects were so happy to chat and answer questions, from very technical inquires about the practicality of building to where they bought their cushions form.

For more information on OpenHouse click here
For sister organisation OpenCity, go here.
For information about voulteering, click here.

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Ercol coffee table

Well hello there, it's been a while! I don't know where the last four months have gone, busier and faster than usual and here I am again feeling bad for neglecting my blog and not making time to post when I have SO MANY good ones lined up... anyway, they will appear in time but to start with here's something I'm very excited about. I was on holiday a few weeks ago when I got a message form my friend who works at Atomic Antiques in Shoreditch. He knew I was after a coffee table and how much I'd admired the Ercol dining table that he'd been restoring and he wanted to let me know about a pair of Ercol coffee tables that he had just got in. One in particular was a stunning example with exceptional grain that he thought I would love. Well he was right. I told him to hold it for me while I figured out how I was going to pay for it as buying it wasn't in the budget that month! Luckily a couple of very lovely people offered to give me money as a birthday present which covered half the cost and I decided that this was too good an opportunity to pass up and that if I didn't splurge on the payment for the rest I'd probably regret it. Two days after getting back from Lisbon, we drove to Shoreditch to collect this beauty.

I'm so glad that on this occasion I let my heart rule my head. Look at it! The grain is really something to behold and Ross did a great job on the restoration, it's an gorgeous example which really brings the whole room to life. It almost radiates warmth and definitely makes the room look more 'finished'. Plus it has a great magazine shelf so I can store current copies of whatever I'm reading (in this case the excellent Trouve) I was worried about the table making the room look smaller, because it sits right in the middle of the rug and there's not a huge amount of floor space as it is. 

In a way, I'm glad that was a long time concern, because it had put me off buying a table before now, and this is just the right one! It's also one of the few pieces in our flat that isn't IKEA. It's not that I have anything against IKEA but it's bothered me for a while that there's too much of it in our place and I'd been longing for some real furniture for a while... ie, solid wood, well made and something to keep forever. The huge bookcases in the top photo are something of a necessity right now due to the sheer number of books & CD's we need to house, but they are not my favourite things. Somehow the addition of this one small piece of furniture though, offsets them rather well and I dislike them a little less. But back to the table, which I sometimes just stroke the surface of because the wood feels that good...

I've styled it with a plant, a pile of Anthology back issues (the current issues are stocked in the V&A Museum bookshop) Rupert, an antique sheep skull who lives on top of them, and a plate I painted last month, inspired by Marimekko designs. I think it's important to invest in good pieces when you can. Our flat might be rented, but with the addition of quality pieces, it feels less temporary.

Now for some background information. Ercol was founded in 1920 but came to prominence in the mid to late 40s after being featured in the seminal 'Britain Can Make It' exhibition at the V&A. The company is most well known for it's mid-century designs and earlier Windsor chairs. My table was an early 1970s design and is made from English elm. It's still in production today but the thing I like about my original, is the patina of age and that someone I know was involved in it's journey to our living room.

Next week I'll be posting about Atomic Antiques in more detail, but for now, here's their info:

Lastly, as we're talking Midcentury and seventies style, here's a gorgeous hand collaged birthday card from my friend Lucy, with a very 50/70s vibe thanks to the clock shape, radio console and colour palette. It now sits on the picture ledges above the sofa, a very fitting addition to our living room!

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Friday, 2 May 2014

tea towel round up

The humble tea towel, the most basic of kitchen accessories can be elevated to a style icon in the hands of the right designer. This quick round up of my favourite designs on the market right now are so good they could be framed and are guaranteed to brighten up the most boring or humble of rental kitchens.

1. 'I heart Peckham' £8 from Ray Stanbrook Prints on Etsy. Other South London areas are also available in other colourways.
2. 'Sitting Comfortably' £8 from Mini Moderns features iconic chair designs, great for mid-century inspired homes.
3. 'Lady' in mint £6 from John Lewis has been issued to celebrate the iconic stores 150th birthday. One other design also available.
4. 'Morrissey' £10 from Bold & Noble Prince, Ziggy Stardust and Freddy Mercury designs also available, perfect if you're a rock n roll type homebody.
5. 'Zig Zag £2.99 from H&M (also available as a table cloth and in grey colourway) is great for minimalists and lovers of bold brights alike.
6. 'Coastal' £12 (from a set of five) from Next ideal if you like pastels and classic, understated designs.
7. 'Seaweed' pattern by William Morris £6.50 from the V&A Shop is perfect for country kitchens or lovers of floral designs.
8. 'Coffee' by Stuart Gardiner £10 at Rockett St George lets learn all you need to know about coffee while doing the dishes.
9. 'Veg' £150 from Wit Shop (Fish design also available) great for fans of illustration.
10. 'Sugar Skull' £9.50 from Rose & Grey, also available in purple colourway is a fantastic option for lovers of kitsch or for the more gothic kitchen.

Whatever your taste, there are a huge range of designs out there to choose from, who says chores have to be boring?

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

days out - The Homewood & Claremont Gardens, Surrey

How about this for a rental? A modernist villa set in landscaped gardens a half hours drive from London. It comes with a pool, four bedrooms, spiral staircase, sprung wood floor in the living room (suitable for ballroom dancing no less) an office and a full outdoor kitchen. 

Sometimes it's good to get out into the country and get the city out of your lungs. Last weekend some friends and I booked a tour of a The Homewood, a modernist villa in the Surrey countryside. Completed in 1938 it is one of only a few residences by architect Patrick Gwynne still standing and very much inspired by the aesthetics and principles of Le Corbusier. Amazingly the house is administered by private tenants, who went through a rigorous selection process by the National Trust. They have to pay the utilities as well as rent, and have to allow for guided tours coming through their home four times a month from April to October, but I'd say that's a small price to pay for the privilege of living in a modernist masterpiece. The living room displays photographs from the Gwynn family and items belonging to the current residents and on the day we visit they are away, but our guide tells us their six year old daughter sometimes pops up on house tours, making this building a living, breathing home instead of a museum piece.

Rear elevation and view of the green tiled pool

Gwynne built the house for his parents and sister as a family home, replacing the large, dark Victorian villa which was situated near the road, it must have been quite a departure in terms of living space and style! Looking up from the garden, you can see the architects office which occupies the right hand wing of the house and there is also a full outdoor kitchen under the main elevation, right next to the beautifully simple, green tiled pool. Inside, the tour takes you into the entrance hall, the architects office, the spiral staircase, the main living room, the dining room and Gwynns bedroom. The rest of the house is the private space of the tenants but the guided tour is so informative and detailed (45-50 minutes in all) that you don't really feel like you're missing out on anything.

Side elevation (bedrooms and balconies) and entrance

Visitors arrive at the house up a sweeping driveway, and as the entrance is set under one one of the bedrooms (standing on piloti) you don't even have to get wet if it's raining. The planting on either side of the front door is mirrored on the inside, offering an unexpected element to the entrance hall. To the left is Gwynns architectural practice office, to the right, the spiral staircase which takes you up to the main living level. This house manages to be modernist and understated while still drawing gasps of amazement from visitors. Gwynn also designed a lot of the furniture in the house and clever storage ideas are everywhere, from the magazine rack/table and retractable bar in the living room to the fully concealable vanity unit in the bedroom and most of the tables in the house also have small leaves that extend to hold drinks, genius! You can't take photos inside so to get an idea of what it looks like, visit the NT page for it here.

Architects office wing and view from the terrace towards the garden

Outside, visitors are free to explore the gardens. The house is cleverly placed right near the boundary of the grounds, making the most of the neighboring woodland view, the large trees providing a sense of privacy. The views back towards the house show just how beautifully proportioned it is, and how the 'bungalow on stilts' design affords both pleasing views of the garden and privacy, despite the scale of the windows.

The pond at The Homewood

If you don't have a garden, or just don't want to maintain one, visiting a National Trust one is a great substitute. Just down the road from Homewood are the 300 year old, 49 acre Claremont Landscaped Gardens. After our Homewood tour we stopped for lunch in the cafe there, where you can have soup, sandwiches or a substantial lunch. The coffee and 'Capability Brownies' are also a treat on a slightly chilly day or there are plenty of benches and spaces for a picnic in better weather.

The Camellia Terrace at Claremont

The property attached to Claremont  is now a school and not open to the public, but the gardens are impressive enough to warrant a visit in their own right. Once part of a royal residence, great landscapers like Sir John Vanbrugh, William Kent and Capability Brown have left their mark on it. The gardens surround a large lake and contain a grotto, thatched cottage, bowling green, Camellia terrace, amphitheatre, and a 250 year old folly 'Belvedere Tower', open on selected dates but sadly not on the day we visited, but the view up to it is pretty impressive!

Belvedere Tower

The full walk is quite long but gentle and the view from the top of the terrace is worth the climb! At the bottom of the lake we stopped to sit for a while on a bench and watch the waterbirds, a majestic black swan, gaggles of different geese and moorhens (or coots?) are in residence.

The view over the lake from the top of the mausoleum site

Being spring, we were also treated to a dazzling field of daffodils along with rhododendrons, Camellias, tulips and dozens of species of trees. Almost all National Trust properties have a programme of events and offer year-round activities for children and families, making an interesting day out for everyone. I've always loved a good country house or stately home, there's nothing quite like snooping round the living rooms, bedrooms and gardens of the aristocracy. The National Trust also have more modern buildings under their care (2 Willow Road in Hampstead being another favourite of mine) and plenty of other buildings (or partner buildings) in and close to London. Check out the information page here to see what's on offer.

Double exposures of daffodils

I have National Trust membership (thanks mum & dad!) so the gardens were free, and members pay a much reduced rate for the Homewood tour. If you're thinking of visiting here are the details, click on the header for links to the NT site.

Guided tours on the first and third Friday, and the second and fourth Saturday of each month between April and October (excluding the Easter weekend). Tours start at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm. £11.80 non members, £3.60 for members.

Open almost year round from 10am. £7 adults and £17.50 for families. Members go free.

Individual adult member ship is £58 a year with other packages available from the NTs membership page.

If you fancy yourself as a National Trust tenant, read about the scheme here and check out the list of current properties available on Rightmove

All photographs ©Anni Timms 2014

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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

twenty questions with Joanna Thornhill

I'm so excited to be introducing this blog post, not only is it my first Q&A but at the end of the post I'll be launching the first ever give away! A few weeks ago I reviewed 'Home For Now' by Joanna Thornhill which is officially published today and I'm delighted to say she agreed to answer a few questions for me...

 1. How did the book come about and how did you end up working with Cico Books?

I've worked for Cico as a freelance stylist on some of their craft titles and casually mentioned to them one day that I sort of had this vague idea, about showing renters how to try out some temporary decorating ideas, that I thought might work as a book. They really liked the initial idea and, after a meeting to flesh out the idea, they commissioned it!
2. How long does it take to put a book like this together?

Really, the best part of a year. I emailed over my initial concept in Jan 2013, worked it up into a full illustrated pitch ready for meeting them in March, then after it was commissioned in April I began location researching and shooting right up until August, then working out the format and layout and writing the book, which pretty much took me up to Christmas! It wasn't full-time but the project was certainly in my thoughts every day. 

3. What was the most exciting part of the process?

Other than finding out it had been commissioned (equal part excitement and terror!) I think the highlight for me was spending a week in Finland, where we shot several properties. It was super exciting to be shooting abroad and just fully immersing myself in nothing but the book for a week, and as this overseas leg took us over the halfway line, it was the first time I could really see how the book was shaping up and could actually visualise the end product.

4. Why do you think there are no other books on the market aimed at this market?

I think the traditional perception of renting (in the UK, at least) has been that it's just something you do for a short while when you're starting out in adult life, before swiftly moving on to your own home. But of course for many people that's now not the case, with property prices soaring and colossal deposits meaning renting into your 30's and 40's is now the norm rather than the exception. To me it feels like the media is slowly catching up to this, as is public perception.
5. How did you get into styling as a career?

I originally studied Fashion Promotion at university, as I wanted to work in fashion, but towards the end of my degree I realised my passion was interiors rather than clothes. But back then I didn't even know such a job existed, so went to work in TV as a runner in the hope of ending up working on property programmes, before moving onto art department roles, then eventually started assisting other interior stylists to learn the tricks of the trade. 

6. Which of your many rented homes was your favourite and why?

I've lived in some pretty dodgy rentals but have managed to land a few corkers too and it's actually tough to choose a favourite as they all represent different periods of my life. Possibly I'd say my second to last flat, which was an enormous old converted Victorian rectory in Angel, North London. I shared with my boyfriend and five ever-changing flatmates and the rent was insanely cheap, until after three years the landlord realised he should have been charging us double and chucked us all out to get city-types in. It was pretty rundown but with great bones and the landlord not only let me decorate all the communal rooms plus my bedroom, he even covered some of my costs. I was just getting started on my interiors career at the time so it was great to have that freedom to try out some decorating ideas with someone else's money! Due to its size and location that place must be worth absolutely millions now so it's fairly safe to say it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

7. Any decorating disasters you'll admit to?

Oh, loads! The worst has probably got to be the bedroom in my last uni rental- the house was totally ramshackle but the upside was the landlord didn't care what we did to it as long as we paid our rent. It was the first time I'd ever had free reign to decorate as I wanted so I painted the walls alternate shades of lurid fuchsia and turquoise, with curtains and bedding to match, then for some reason stuck panels of fake fur to the doors. And made curtain tie-backs to match. But I loved it at the time, so no regrets!

8. You're in the process of renovating your first home, how's it going?

Um... slow! Like many first-time buyers we spent every last penny on our deposit so my original delusions of bi-fold doors and loft extensions went swiftly out the window. We spent the last dregs of our savings replacing the bathroom as it was almost unusable, but other than that it's been a case of slowly doing bits as and when we can afford to. It was this experience really that inspired the book, I thought owning my own house would be the answer to all my decorating dreams, but lack of funds coupled with an awareness that we may well not be here forever have meant that, on the whole, my approach isn't wildly different to the way I've lived in my rentals. It's more about making over and making do, rather than coming up with grand designs. Two years on and we're slowly near the halfway mark. I hope!

9. What's your favorite part of your house?

Right now (mainly as lots of the interior is still grotty!) it's actually the garden! It's a really decent size for London, is south facing and quite a little sun trap, and we worked really hard last summer to get it looking shipshape for very little money. As it was just barren concrete, we ended up laying fake grass across the bulk of it, then created gravel borders along the sides to house pot plants. It's made such a transformation and the best bit is, if and when we move on, we could literally take the whole thing with us! I wrote a blog post on it here.

10. What's your top tip for style conscious renters? (ie the thing that make the biggest difference to a rented home)

Try not to think about the limitations of what you can't do, and use it as a creative challenge. If you love bright colour and pattern and can't decorate but own your furniture, decorate that instead with paint, wallpaper or decal transfers. And try to build up a rapport with your landlord or letting agent - even if your contract states you can't alter anything, they might be amenable to the odd changes - letting you paint a particularly grotty wall, for example, or going halves with you on giving the garden a makeover.

11. And what's the biggest mistake renters make in terms of home furnishing/design?

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 personalise 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.

12. What inspires you?

Tough question - I guess I never really switch off from interiors and design - even when I'm on holiday or visiting family, something will always catch my eye to inspire a colour scheme or idea for a blog post or something. Pinterest is great for when you're looking for something specific, and I do love Instagram (I'm at @joannathornhillstylist)

13. Who is your design hero?

I'm not sure I really have one per se as I prefer a slightly more unstructured approach to interiors, but some fellow stylists I admire who have a great eye and have also authored books are Sania Pell, Emily Chalmers, Sibella Court and Selina Lake. And celeb-wise I've always had a soft spot for Laurence Llewelyn Bowen: after growing up watching him on Changing Rooms, one of my career highlights was acting as his runner on one of the shows' last ever episodes. Whether you love or loathe his style, he remains one of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met when it comes to interior design and its history.

14. Favourite paint colour?

Far too many to choose from and it changes on a daily basis, but right now I'm loving dark inky blue as the new grey- it's such a striking backdrop. 

15. Any blogs you love and want to recommend?

There's not enough time to read all the blogs I love, but I'll always make time to read Junkaholique, by jewellery maker and vintage fiend Artemis Russell. She is so utterly creative and lives such an effortlessly stylish life, yet manages to still be charming with it. 

16. Which shops do you love?

I always love a trip to Anthropologie they have such wonderfully quirky stock, and their merchandising is always amazing. Liberty, Heal's and Habitat are firm favourites too. Online, Rockett St George, REfoundobjects and Cox & Cox are all doing great things.

17. One thing you can't live without?


18. What was the first piece of furniture/design item you bought?

Probably a very cheap, slatted wood computer desk from Argos, which I painted in alternate blue and white stripes to match my Dalmatian print blue and white Mac, circa 2000!

19. What do you like about living in E17?

I like that whilst it still feels very connected to London, it is also very much a separate place in its own right. Lots of areas in London feel like an overspill of somewhere else, whereas Walthamstow definitely has its own distinct identity. I love that there's a real mix of people here and whilst there's lots of creatives, it's still very diverse. This is the first place I've lived in London where I've  actually made local friends, mainly via Twitter, funnily enough- I think that as there's not hundreds of pubs and restaurants on our doorstep, people here work harder to create their own entertainment, from setting up supper clubs to hosting pub 'tweet-ups' and art events. There's a large group of fellow journalists based here and we've all been to the pub together, and I've even picked up press loans for shoots here, direct from some local designers. I would say I highly recommend moving here, but with property prices already going crazy in the area, perhaps I should keep quiet...

20. What's next for you? 

Well continuing with Walthamstow, I'm actually setting up a 'pop-up' at local ceramicist Stephen Smith's house (another local friend met via twitter) during the upcoming E17 Art Trail to promote Home for Now! I'll be there on the 31st May/1st June and 7th/8th June (check for exact times). I'll be selling signed copies of the book for a special reduced price, setting up a styling display and will be on-hand to give any home-for-now-friendly interiors advice to visitors. Aside from that, I'll be continuing with my various styling and writing work for magazines and commercial client but that's normally all booked at fairly short notice so I can't say too much right now!

Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill is published by Cico Books and is available from Ryland

Cico Books have kindly agreed to send a copy to one lucky reader as a competition prize. To be in with a chance of winning your own copy tweet a picture of a room or area of your home that needs some inspiration to @nbtr_ The closing date is midnight on the 30th April and the winner will be chosen on the 1st May. The winner will be notified by DM and have their address passed to Cico who will dispatch the book directly. 

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