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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?

Coffee!

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 joannathornhill.co.uk/news 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 Peters.com

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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Sunday, 9 March 2014

bed time reading - Home For Now

At last, UK based interiors book that's relevant to renters! I could barely contain my excitement when I first heard about this book last year, and now here it is (well almost, it's published in April) Written by stylist, writer and fellow E17 resident Joanna Thornhill it focuses on rented and first time buyer homes. Joanna's idea is that if you are renting and can't make major changes, or if you've just bought your first home and don't have spare cash for expensive re-fits and decorating projects it shouldn't mean living in a space that you don't absolutely love. I'd extend this to cover anyone who likes crafting and adding a really individual element to their home and most other home owners too given that in the current economic climate home decoration can seem like an unnecessary luxury. 


One of my favourite elements of the book are the 'Renters Alternatives' listed on little tear sheets at the side of of the projects, offering a rental friendly version of the look. In fact, the whole production of the book is spot on (Cico Books are so good at this, right down to the paper stock!) Even though Joanna has just bought her first house, don't doubt her rental credentials, she's called 12 rented properties home before making the leap onto the property ladder!


The book is broken down into chapters by room type (including gardens, home office and craft spaces) featuring real-life homes and a project at the end of each chapter. The overall look of the homes featured fall firmly into the 'vintage/eclectic/colourful' category, but even if like me, you're more of a minimalist with a thing for neutrals, there are plenty of great ideas to steal and as you'd expect, the styling is impeccable. There is an abundance of great ideas for re-purposing old furniture and projects to adapt pieces for different uses, even if the furniture belongs to your landlord. These two rooms are fairly representative of the types of rooms featured, showcasing how a mix of furniture and objects can be pulled together to create a coherent room:



One of my favourite syling/storage tips in the book is this 'temporary DJ station' which stores lesser played records inside the case, while allowing easy access to frequently played ones. The gnome used as a headphone stand is both practical and adds a quirky, slightly kitsch touch to the collection of objects.


As someone who loves wallpaper and isn't allowed to hang any (in a conventional way in any case!) I love this simple idea of hanging a drop from a clothes hanger. Not only do you get to take it with you or move it whenever you fancy, you can afford to splash out on a slightly more expensive pattern. Joanna also suggests asking friends if they have any offcuts or sharing the cost of a more expensive roll with someone else who also likes the idea. What a great way to get some colour and pattern into your rented home!


Some of my favourite ideas in the book though are from the chapter on kitchens. Kitchens can be a nightmare, given that it's a big expensive deal to replace them, or do anything with them at all if you rent! This chapter covers everything from adding free-standing furniture to address a shortage of storage space (or an awkward gap!) to customizing units (taking off ugly doors is something even a renter can do as long as you replace them when you leave) to disguising washing machines and boilers. What Joanna proves time and again is that when you have restrictions on your budget or in your tenancy agreement, being creative and thinking outside the box can often give more interesting results than big budget projects.


All too often people put up with the state of their outside space for the same reason, it's a big project to undertake and looks like it can cost a lot of money, but Joanna encourages us to think about it like we would any other space in our homes by "changing what you can, covering what you can't and adding your own personal touches wherever possible". This chapter offers a lot of styling inspiration so even if you don't end up making lots of long term changes, you can make the most of your outside space as and when the weather allows.

I for one will be putting more than a couple of these ideas and projects into my home and I've been inspired to do a bit of a re-style to update my place! I hope you've enjoyed this sneak peek and keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming feature on Joanna and a chance to win a copy of the book in a future post. 

"Home For Now' by Joanna Thornhill will be published by Cico Books on April 10th 2014 for £16.99  

With thanks to Cico books for the review copy and press images.


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Sunday, 9 February 2014

simple pleasures - coffee & chocolate

Another foodie post... mostly because it's been a busy few weeks and the posts I have in the pipeline need some more work and also because, coffee AND chocolate. After the success of my snickerdoodles (from a Ms Cupcake recipe), I decided to make the brownies in the book too. I miss chocolate a lot and it can be hard to find vegan chocolate in a hurry so chocolate treats tend to be a bit more planned than they used to be. This is great for the waistline of course (no more mindless eating) BUT what about when you want a really chocolatey hit? 
 
Seriously... NO dairy in here!

These brownies are so easy to make and having done them twice to great success (they got eaten even faster in my office than the cookies did!) I can honestly say they are foolproof and pack a big chocolatey punch. The first time I made them I couldn't find dairy free chocolate chips so I used a bar roughly chopped up. Chips look much better though so last weekend I made a second batch:

combining dry ingredients; adding wet ingredients to make batter; adding chips; fresh from the oven

There is nothing like filling the flat with the chocolatey smell of baking, except the filling the flat with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. I'm still a coffee novice, in a 'I know what I like' kind of way. I'm still learning the difference between beans, tastes and roasting methods. I do live with a coffee connoisseur though and for Christmas I bought hm a subscription to a coffee club. I did a bit of research and chose Kopi because they supply tasting notes every month and the information looked well presented. Mr NBTR got his January coffee a few weeks ago and it's the BEST coffee we've ever had. The tasting notes talked of a 'chocolatey champagne finish' which kind of sounds a bit pretentious but it REALLY does! It's such a smooth finish in fact, that this is the only coffee I've ever been able to drink black. It would be sacrilege to put anything in it.

Kopi pack; brownies and coffee in Vileroy & Boch New Wave Cup & Plate

You can buy a gift subscription or pay by monthly direct debit for yourself and around the middle of the month you get a 250g package of coffee in a re-sealable pack, through your door. You can choose whole beans or ground coffee (you indicate your brewing method when you sign up or redeem your gift certificate so you are sent the correct coarseness) Each month you get a different coffee, selected for it's excellent taste, superb provenance, interesting story and intense aroma. Living in London we're spoilt for choice when it comes to getting a great cup of coffee or a bag of freshly ground beans (Monmouth Coffee is our other favourite) but using Kopi is a great way to discover new flavours and UK delivery is free, so its a great choice wherever you live. If you really like the roast you've been sent you can also purchase extra bags (alas, this one was so popular that they'd sold out the week after the subscriptions were sent) as well as skipping a month if you need to.

January's tasting notes

A monthly subscription is £8.95 which works out to be about 33p a cup... a total bargain in other words! You can cancel your subscription at any time so it's a great way to try them out. It's only one month in but I highly recommend trying Kopi, so get yourself some good coffee and a piece of cake and relax...


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Sunday, 26 January 2014

in the kitchen - vegan snickerdoodles

Last week I made a point of taking time to do a 'slow' activity. Something just for fun, no pressure to succeed or be 'perfect', just because I wanted to and something that didn't involve sitting in front of a screen. For the first time in a VERY long time, I baked. Despite my mum being a really excellent baker (her banana walnut loaf is unrivaled) I haven't inherited her knack. I'm messy, unconfident and things don't turn out the way they look in the book or on the recipe card. "You should now have a cake" - nope, I have a large biscuit and as my family will attest, I can make shortbread so hard that you could use it to build houses. It was the same in science class at school, my experiments were always a different colour to everyone elses ("You should now have a green liquid" - nope, I have a grey powder) and in HomeEc I was probably regarded as 'least likely to succeed at home making'. I still can't sew (and I definitely won't be trying any science experiments any time soon) but you know what, I whipped up a pretty decent batch of cookies last weekend.


This was my prize specimen... IT LOOKS LIKE THE ONES IN THE BOOK!! The sense of achievement was huge. Maybe because both my mum and boyfriend are excellent bakers, or because baking has become such a big deal over the last few years and a lack of baking skills marks you as something of a failure? Whatever, I say if I can do it anyone can do it. Since becoming vegan I also have additional motivation, I do love hob nobs but there are only so many I can eat before I get bored, and it's not always viable to take a trip to Cookies & Scream in Camden or Ms Cupcake in Brixton. On my first visit to Ms Cupcake, I bought the book:

Click here to buy the book!

It was Ms Cupcakes Snickerdoodle recipe that I made last weekend. It's a great book to use, with straightforward recipes that are easy to follow and lots of advice, tips and tricks on baking without dairy. The recipes can also be adapted to be gluten free so it's great not just for vegans but for anyone with allergies. Veggies and omnivores can't tell that Ms Cupcake cakes are any different when I take them for tea and the greatest compliment I had for my cookies is that someone in my office refused to believe there was no dairy in there (someone else initially turned their nose up when offered one, but came back for another once they'd taken a bit of one!) The cookies didn't last long and my colleagues with allergies could tuck in as well so as office treats they're great crowd-pleasers.


Bolstered by last weeks success, I'm moving on to making brownies today. Eventually I want to try one of the amazing cupcake recipes (golden syrup cupcakes with gold sprinkles... how can I resist?) So while we're in the kitchen and baking, here's my wishlist of baking accessories:


1. Measuring Spoons - £22 Sophie Conran for Portmerion. Essential for getting your measurements right and so beautiful.
2. Enamel Prep Set - £65 Falcon at Folklore. Pricey but they will last a lifetime. You will need a few bowls of different sizes anyway and these can double as a fruit or salad bowls too.
3. Linen Apron - £14 from H&M Home. An apron is a must for even the cleanest cooks. Flour gets everywhere.
4. Palette Knife - £7.25 from John Lewis. Inexpensive and perfectly designed, great for getting cookies off the baking sheet and cakes out of the tin.
5. Black Toast Biscuit Barrel - £15 Emma Bridgewater. If you don't eat your cookies all in one go you're going to need somewhere to store them!
6. Dani Cake Stand - £18 Habitat at Homebase. Perfect for showing off your creations when friends come for tea.
7. Upcycled Skull Gold Cup & Saucer - £35 By Melodie Rose at Not On The High Street. Put your feet up after a hard afternoons baking and enjoy the fruits of your labour with a cup of tea in this pretty but edgy set.
8. Swear Like Gordon Teatowel - £6.99 Mollie & Fred. Almost too good to use, you could frame it instead.
9. Kitchen Scales in Flint - £20 Garden Trading. Robust and easy on the wallet, these will look great on your counter top, keep your citrus fruits it the bowl and it will earn its keep even when you're not baking.
10. Whisk - £15 by Normann Copenhagen at John Lewis. There's no reason why the most utilitarian of equipment shouldn't be beautiful too.

Everything you need to get in your kitchen and get baking. Of course, you don't need lots of fancy equipment, a few basics will suffice, the important thing is to enjoy yourself and enjoy the treats you make!



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Sunday, 19 January 2014

bedtime reading - Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Every once in a while a book comes along that is not only a great read, it's such a good concept you can't help wondering why someone didn't think of it before. This week I finished one such book. Daily Rituals by Mason Currey came about after he started a blog called 'Daily Routines' detailing 'how writers artists and other interesting people organize their lives'. As soon as I saw the cover in my local indie book shop I knew I had to read it, it features some of my favourite creative people, it's about creativity and organization and the cover illustrations are a delight, plus it fits in my bag for reading on the tube, always a must as that's the only time I find to read (there's a ritual right there!) The book contains bite sized bits of information on the routines of 161 people as varied as Frances Bacon, Ernest Hemmingway, Flaubert, Benjamin Franklin, Kafka, David Lynch, George Orwell, Darwin, Le Corbusier, Karl Marx and Simone de Beauvoir.

Aside from the natural curiosity about how these people went about writing and creating great works, what drew me in was the subtitle of the book ' How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get To Work'.


For any creative type with a day job, finding the time and space to do the things we love and need to do can be difficult and what I really wanted to know what how does one find the time to paint, write a great novel or formulate a general theory of relativity when most of us are struggling to keep up with the laundry? Broadly speaking, most of the people in the book didn't have 'day jobs', most had wives or assistants making them breakfast (in Freud's case his wife even put his toothpaste on his brush for him!) and had enough free time to structure their days as they needed. Now the average person doesn't have this luxury, we are working office hours, taking the kids to school, paying bills, running households and generally trying to sane in an increasingly fast paced world. What I did take from the book though that in order to be creative and inspired, you have to give yourself room. A lot of the writers for example took long lunches, took an hour out of their day to read the paper or a book, almost everyone seems to have taken a daily walk and almost no-one watched TV. Less healthy rituals seem to involve a lot of substance abuse; drugs, alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes are all tools of the creative trade here.

So what's this got to do with a home blog you ask? Well, I got to thinking about how routine can be a positive thing if used well.

"The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But ones daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a limited range of resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as will-power, self discipline, optimism."

 

By having some tasks as part of a routine, it frees your mental energy for other more creative options. So if for example you can get your cleaning into a routine (Apartment Therapy has some great examples here & here) it not only becomes less stressful, you have time to actually relax and enjoy your home. In the book Currey details dancer Twyla Tharp's day and part of her ritual was to get up at 5.30 each day and hail a cab to take her to the gym. The routine of doing this "she avoids the question of whether or not she feels like going to the gym". So if you have a set time or day to do something you can just do it without procrastination. I've been putting this into effect recently myself. I have set days for running and unless weather stops play, I don't debate if I feel like going running, I just do it. 

I have also scheduled one day a week where I don't make plans, Sunday is my day, for running, blogging and allowing myself a break from the break neck speed that the rest of the week proceeds at. I allow myself a proper lie in and treat myself to some me time. Later today for example, I'm going to do one of the 'slow' activities I promised myself in my new years post and I'm going to bake some vegan cookies. I can have this time because in the week I stuck to my rituals, I cleaned the flat as I went along, went grocery shopping at the usual time and dealt with all my life admin (British Gas I'm looking at you) as things came up, rather than putting them off. So while by Sunday might usually be spent trying to catch up with myself, or being so exhausted from the week that I don't move far from the sofa, today I can do what I like. What luxury!

Other home routines could involve always making the bed, dealing with the post as soon as you walk in the door or dealing with bills and other unpleasant tasks on a set day. Basically, routine can get the job done and help to eliminate stress. So, inspired by the routines of the people in the book I'm hoping that I can carve some extra time in my week for blogging and more creative projects. As John Updike said "a solid routine saves you from giving up" and that applies as much to writing as it does to a home project or a mountain of washing up.

Another great quote that can be applied to your home life is a passage describing the routines of Simone de Beauvoir by her lover Claude Lanzman:

"There was the presence of only essentials. It was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work."

I like the idea of 'an uncluttered kind of life' free from the unnecessary things that waste time and stop you from enjoying what you do. Really, there's so much to take from this book the most enjoyable read I've had in a while! 

Daily Rituals by Mason Curry, £12.99 published by Picador


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