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.

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Sunday, 11 January 2015

copper & black

I was at an antiques fair in October last year when I spotted this copper sporting trophy/tray with an inscription from a golf club from 1946. I thought about it and walked away and then I walked back and I couldn't stop thinking about it and in the end my mum decided I had to have it, and bought it for me. It now sits on the Ercol coffee table under a mini succulent (from a garden centre) a black ceramic sake jug (bought from The V&A Shop years ago) and an antique sheep skull from Snoopers Paradise in Brighton. I was amazed at the difference this fairly small but incredibly warm reflective surface made to the living room and it makes the coffee table look even more amazing. It's just a few pieces but this little vignette makes me very happy when I'm curled up on the sofa in front of it.

Last years trend for metallic accents, copper in particular, is showing no signs of going away, but have you noticed how copper looks even better when paired with black? Black seems to be the perfect foil for the shine and richness of copper. Here's are a few of my favourite copper accessories:

1. 'Albus' twisted table lamp, £40 from John Lewis strikes the perfect balance between homely and industrial and would look equally at home in the bedroom or living room.
2. Set of 2 copper effect lanterns, £44 from Next which you could pair with some inexpensive black pillar candles and even take outside on warm summer evenings.
3. Copper & black clock, £58 from Graham & Green for adding a bit of luxe and drama to your kitchen.
4. Large black top copper vase, £26 from Habitat great on its own or with some simple blooms or branches.
5. Sandalwood & lilac diffuser, £14 from Next just the right mix of feminine and masculine notes and perfect for winter.
6. 'Anstruther' screen-printed and foiled print by Tom Pigeon, £60 from The V&A Shop adds another colour to the mix. I can't get enough of the perfect geometry.
7. 'Ambience' unscented candle, £3.99 from H&M Home perfect if you like the glow of candles but aren't keen on the scented variety.
8. Solid copper tray by Jansen+Co, £44 at Howkapow is a close match for the vintage one I bought. Simple and elegant and goes with everything.
9. Nymö lampshade, £35 from Ikea
10. Triangle copper & black lustre mug, £22 by We Love Kaoru at Luna & Curious three other graphic shapes are also available in the series.

An extra note on that Nymö lampshade from Ikea.  It can be used as a pendant or floor standing shade and look what happens when you turn the lights on! I love this effect, perfect if you have plain walls but also like a bit of pattern as it mimics a classic geometric wallpaper.


I'm not normally a fan of this type of mass-produced 'wall art' but this abstract piece, £70 from Next hits just the right note and at a metre square it's large enough to add some serious impact to a room, while still being easy to hang. If you don't want to risk hanging it on your rented walls though, it's easily large enough to prop up against a wall.

Image: Next

Lastly, if you have any solid copper or copper plated items you're going to need this Town Talk Unrivalled Anti-Tarnish Brass & Copper Polish, £5.25 from John Lewis to clean them with. It's easy to use and as it also prevents tarnishing, it's not time consuming to keep your copper looking beautifully shiny.

Image: John Lewis

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Sunday, 4 January 2015

a happy home in 2015

I usually make a list of intentions and goals for the new year and 2015 is no exception. In fact, I have more than ever this year! To start with though, I need to sort out a few home related things. I feel like once I have these sorted, I can start work on the rest of the things I want to achieve this year. For example, until I sort out the over full wardrobe, arriving at work feeling calm and well put together is going to be harder work than necessary. I plan on doing a few creative courses this year, but I need to be able to pay for them, so I need to just tidy up my finances a little first and budget for them. I also want my home to be the cozy, calm retreat I need after a busy day at work so I need to keep on top of the cleaning and change things around a little. A reduction in stuff is going to help enormously so a bit of a clutter-bust is in order. And lastly, I need more time.

I'm totally convinced that a getting my home into a state that works for me will help me achieve all of these things. If I can clean in an hour, that means more time for running, blogging and seeing friends. If I can get out the door faster in the morning that means an extra 20 minutes of much needed sleep and if there's one thing I'm absolutely determined to do this year is to get that elusive work/life balance sorted so I'm not an exhausted flu ridden mess by the week before Christmas (the last three years have been painful on that front!)

That seems like a massive to do list, and it's not even all of it. Last year, I didn't achieve everything I wanted, but you know what, I didn't really have a plan, so it's not surprising really. This year, I have A Plan:

The Plan starts with Susannah Conways Unraveling The Year Ahead. At least, the non hippy bits that are useful to me. Then, I'm making a HUGE list of absolutely everything that I need/want to do. I'm going to do it one step at a time and I'm giving myself all year to get them done. 2015 is going to be very much a work in progress and if I have to de-clutter one drawer or shelf at a time, so be it. There will be no stone unturned, no ill fitting sweaters left in my wardrobe and not one excess piece of kitchenalia left by December. This is a marathon, not a sprint and allowing myself a whole year to get everything done takes the pressure off, less pressure, less chance for total failure.

I think the reason so many resolutions fail is because people give up at the first set back. If you resolve to give something up, then have a moment of weakness, instead of starting again, people slip back into their old habits and admit defeat. It might take me all year to pare down my belongings, but the time will pass anyway, so even if it happens in fits and starts, it will still be done eventually. The other part of The Plan this year goes like this:

If you're interested in giving your home life an overhaul here are some useful resources. Firstly, I can't recommend apartment Therapy's January Cure enough. It starts this weekend and there's still time to sign up here. Want to start smaller, how about their 5 tips for more happiness at home here? Need inspiration for your rented home? Try Apartment Therapy again, or Design Sponge and while you're there you should check out their 12 tidy homes inspiration round up. You know, it's never too early to spring clean, read my review of an incredibly helpful book 'The Home Handbook' by Rachel Simhom here. Something else I'm fining helpful is a phrase I read somewhere (I forget where!) 

"Your house is not a storage facility"

I'm bearing this in mind in particular while I assess my book collection. If I'm not going to read it (or read it again) or if it's about a subject I'm no longer interested in, I'm just storing it if I keep it, so out it goes, on to someone who will read it and enjoy it. An unread book sitting on a shelf is a very sad thing indeed.

For the really serious tidier/de-clutterer, I recommend these three books:

I read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying last year. It's pretty extreme, but if you do it right, it works. Great practical advice if you have trouble starting your tidying and have issues with books and sentimental items. It was a great help to me when I was getting rid of around 200 books (there's still more to go!) Its essential reading for wardrobe organization as well. The basic premise is that you have to sort all your stuff out all at one. All your clothes together for example, regardless of location, and all in one tidying session. You can tackle each category of belongings one at a time, but it's intensive if you have a lot of things to sort. She also has some great insights into storage containers and how not to use them. Psychologies Magazine have covered the basic tips from the book here.

I'm currently reading an advance copy of Stuffocation, which is published on the 15th January. Again it's quite extreme, but incredibly interesting and will make you question your whole consumerist existence. I'm only three chapters in but already I'm itching to reduce the contents of my home and to buy less in the future. I've just read about The Minimalists and their journey from rampant consumerism to living with less. The author also comments on how some people can live with 100 things, or less than 100 things, in one case 46 things. I have more than 46 things in my handbag! I always thought I was a minimalist, apparently I have a way to go yet...

Lastly, one on my 'to read' list Essentialism which not only deals with living with less, but also doing less (non essential stuff) and encouraging you to say 'no' more often. I've only read the sample pages on line but it sounds like empowering stuff. My 'to read' list this year is already mountainous... but I have a plan for that too. I'm reclaiming my lunch hour and instead of furiously cramming something into my mouth while answering emails, I'm going to the park or to sit in the kitchen for an hour and read.

Regardless of how you go about it though, if you feel like you need a sort out at home, the important thing is that you START. Pick the worst area of your home, the one thing that bugs you the most, maybe it's just one kitchen drawer, your wardrobe, the kids toys or the spare room. Once you start, it easier to build up momentum and if it all seems too overwhelming, just think 'it's just this one drawer/cupboard/room' and build up from there. The next step is to stop bringing more stuff IN to your home. Implement a one-in-one-out policy, assess if you REALLY need something before it crosses your threshold, or before you whip out your wallet to pay for it. I'm in total agreement with James Wallman, author of Stuffocation. Clutter is bad for your health It's draining, it's depressing and it's bad for your finances.

Wishing you all a happy home in 2015. What are your plans? Let me know by leaving a comment!

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Thursday, 1 January 2015

2014 book round up

First off, Happy New Year, I hope you all had a good night last night, whatever you were doing!

I love this time of year, I'm full of plans for the year ahead and they include personal goals as well as home related ones. I'm starting this weekend with a continuation of the major clear-out I started last year, to reduce the number of items in our home and make it a more calm and peaceful space. Although, we may have to endure some fairly major building work this year, so maybe calm and peaceful will have to wait a few months. We should know the extent tomorrow.

Before we launch into the new year proper though, I thought I'd do a little round up of some of the best home related books that were published in 2014.

1.Eat Drink Nap by Soho House, £30, Soho House
A look at the distinctive syle of Soho House, this book features stunning images from all the houses as well as design tips and recipes so you really can 'take the house home'.

2. The Making of Home by Judith Flanders published by Atlantic Books, £15 from Foyles
The 500 year history of how our houses became home. This is a fascinating book that chronicles the changes in the way we live and what 'home' means. I'm a complete sucker for the history of houses and if you liked Bill Bryson's 'At Home' then this is right up your street.

3. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo, published by Vermillion £7.69 from Foyles
This book will change your life. This book will change your home, right down to the insides of your drawers. You'll never fold something the wrong way ever again and although some of her ideas are a bit extreme, I can honestly say this book helped get my clothing storage under control once and for all.

4. Plain Simple Useful by Terence Conran, published by Conran Octopus, £25 from The Conran Shop
The key to easy living from the master himself. A joy to read, inspiring images to look at and ideas a plenty on how to keep your home life simple, and in order.

5. Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by Cico books, £16.99 from Ryland Peters & Small
A well overdue look at how renters and homeowners on a budget can customize their space. Absolutely essential reading! I reviewed the book here and interviewed the author here.

6. Mid Century Modern Complete by Dominic Bradbury, published by Thames & Hudson, £48.10 from Waterstones
Everything you'll ever need to know about mid-century style. Its a whopping coffee table book but worth every penny. Packed with information on designers and featuring 1000 images it's as well designed as it is informative.

7.Finnish Design by Pekka Korvenmaa, published by V&A Publishing, £30 from the V&A Shop
A study of Finnish design from the late nineteenth century right up to the present day, a more niche read than others featured here perhaps, but still, an indispensable guide to some of the biggest names and most influential designs in the world.

8. Design Bloggers at Home by Ellie Tennant, published by Ryland Peters & Small, £19.99 from Ryland Peters & Small
Twelve case studies looking at the homes of some of the most innovative interiors bloggers. Full of ideas that are easily adaptable to any rented home and particularly inspiring for styling ideas, plus, everyone likes a virtual snoop round other peoples houses right?

9. A Frame For Life by Ilse Crawford, published by Rizzoli, £35 from Waterstones
A look at the creative process behind the scenes at StudioIlse, this is billed as one of the most important design books of the year and it's as beautifully produced as you'd expect. Full of spaces and designs to aspire to.

10. Marimekko in Patterns by Marimekko, published by Chronicle books, £13.87 from Wordery
A behind the scenes look at the iconic Finnish brand this book is resplendent with stunning reproductions of Marimekko patterns. Inspirational on so many levels.

Happy reading!

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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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