Archives for the month of: September, 2013

A WINDFALL! The heady excitement of the word and all the lovely surprises that might be contained in it! That is, if you are talking of the version that might gloriously occur when your annuity matures (I reveal my monopoly-inspired understanding of finance), or someone rich but distant dies and leaves you one.

However, strike these stirring notions from your mind, because what I really mean is this:

No, a windfall

No, this kind of windfall

Fruit that’s fallen from the tree. In our garden I suspect the wind was not so much to blame as a few heartily thumped footballs, but nevertheless they’ve taken the proactive route to harvesting by making their own way down.

These bruisers are not beautiful enough to merit a place in the fruit bowl: anyone who ever had children knows that “Just eat around it!” is a meaningless and limp plea on a par with “But spinach is a super-healthy food!” and “If you feel so angry you need to hit someone, try a pillow instead of your brother”. But we mustn’t waste, and I need to do something with them. So they, along with their plummy neighbours, have been the main focus of my attentions for the past month, a really demanding item on my To Do list with a finish-by date of yesterday and an accompanying crowd of fruit flies as incentive.

Lest we forget... there is peeling and stewing to be done

Lest we forget… there is peeling and stewing to be done

The plums came first, about a month ago, when we noticed that some of the branches had snapped off and the leaves had all turned brown. The fruit clustered like outsized bunches of grapes, and all seemed to ripen at exactly the same time. We sorted and sifted into Fruit Bowl and Other piles. The Fruit Bowl pile was fit for giving away to neighbours, and for health-bullying tactics at home. I overheard Tim pounce one morning on a house guest, “Ali! How many plums have you had today?” It was only eleven and she’d already had four. I needed to devise a plan of action before our friends started avoiding us.

Wary of potential maggotty surprises, I dutifully sliced and de-stoned the first few kilos of Other pile, stewed the fruit and started packing it all away in the freezer, for a day in the future where we might again actually welcome the prospect of plum crumble.

Amazingly, there were no internal grubs apparent, so the next step was jam. Having never attempted it before I had always backed away from the seeming-insurmountable challenge of sterilising jars. But by then Mum was staying with us, and so it turns out that sterilising jars actually just involves putting them in a low oven for 20 minutes. Buoyed up by the simplicity of it all, I decided to make my own once she’d gone. It really is incredibly easy!

My next set of jars came from The Mighty Pound just around the corner, a most amazing emporium filled with homewares like you wouldn’t believe, including duvets, drill bits, artificial flowers, suitcases and plastic chairs, pretty much none of it tasteful. But all very useful.

Off for a spell in the oven

Off for a spell in the oven

Then I cooked up the whole plums in a little water until soft, stirred in insane amounts of sugar (equal in weight to the plums) and boiled until it was all getting sticky.

The jars were ready and the jam had reached its crucial setting point, so I slopped it all into the pots. Little greaseproof hats topped them while they cooled, and then later in the evening I screwed on the lids.

Slapdash paper circles due to looming swimming lesson deadline

Slapdash paper circles due to looming swimming lesson deadline

Other recipes I made with the plums included Spiced Plum Cake for Tim’s birthday, Plum and Frangipane Tart, a Plum Fool, Plum Cobbler, Chinese Plum Sauce (featured in the background of my jar shot above), and Preserved Plums, which do look rather impressively gift-y. I might have made more of these, surely a Christmas present staple, but as dramatically as it all began, the tree was empty. Suddenly, it wasn’t all about plums any more.

We're not lookers, we're cookers

We’re not lookers, we’re cookers

It was apples. And we’re not finished yet.

I hesitate to write about an item that we managed to snaffle at a second-hand furniture store, because it makes us sound smug and you can’t go out and get the same one yourself. But the message is, I guess, that you could go and explore your own local junk shop, and gain, if not exactly this solution, then undoubtedly some other nice gratifyingly cheap piece which might enhance your home life.

‘This is awesome…’. Thrift Shop chic/ photo from Apartment Therapy

After a hefty renovation bill we ran out of money before we could finish furnishing our altogether larger home. Nevertheless a desire to put “everything in its place” and keep family life running smoothly meant that we just had to be a bit creative about the pieces we felt we needed.

Our hallway is spacious, and we didn’t want to clutter it up with those things which, practically, do need to be by the door. Coats and shoes and school bags all need a home, and an accessible one at that. We had ideas for coats and bags, which I’ll come to another day, but the school shoes and trainers I really wanted to keep as close as possible to the actual “going out/coming in” point for minimum dirt trail potential. So shoe store was in.

I guess this would do.... Everett Espresso Shoe Storage Cubby Bench from Overstock £143.29

I guess this would do…. Everett Espresso Shoe Storage Cubby Bench from Overstock £143.29

On the other side of the coin was the fact that we’d carefully chosen our orange stripe and stair carpet decor to look dramatic, and wanted a smart console table to complement the area.

I LOVED this bench:

Gorgeous dipped Ercol Windsor chair

Gorgeous dipped Ercol Windsor Love Seat at £720 from Nest

But it was vetoed by Tim because the seat just invites bags, coats, football medals and water bottles to come and rest a while, rather than go home to their proper places.

This was an attractive option, but way out of our price league.

Tiger Tiger Console Table by Toby Davies from Retro To Go £1650

Tiger Tiger Console Table by Toby Davies from Retro To Go £1650

The dark wood of the banister and a framed mirror that we already owned led us to look out for dark wood furniture, and, joy of joys, one day we found a satisfying solution: console table with under-shelves.

Tidy: Console Shoe Storage from local furniture shop without any apparent name £120

Tidy: Console Shoe Storage from local furniture shop without any apparent name £120

I am not sure it was originally created to house shoes, but it can, and does.

Perfect match

Perfect match

I wanted to continue my orange theme and found a pair of quirky vases on eBay. They have challenged me more than I’d admit, though, because it’s not that easy to find a constant supply of suitably-hued flowers to keep in them (apart from the time someone gave us a bunch of orange roses and I had to take some photos in appreciation), and none of the artificial offerings have been quite right.

Rose works... if a little blowsy

Rose works… if a little blowsy

The other day though, Tim exercised a fulsome cull of the lavender in the garden ready for its winter sleep, and we popped some of that in the vases with great success.

Lavender better

Lavender better

Dusky purple fronds and a slight air-freshening effect to boot (literally).

One of the reasons we bought our home was the potential we saw in the kitchen to extend it to a large family room, with plenty of space for cooking, eating and hanging out. It was, as we saw it, a case of adding a simple bricked box structure onto the back of the house, thereby doubling the existing kitchen size and featuring those bi-fold doors which can open up the back of your house like a giant can-opener. Our architect refined our ambitions and we pored over our resulting plans with great excitement.

We showed them to various friends and family members, and thrashed out a few of the design points. Perhaps one of the nicest and most ingenious additions came from our sister-in-law Ali, who suggested a long strip of window along the dining table side of the extension, ostensibly to break up the blankness of the new-build wall. Thank you to Ali! It is a characterful and fun element in the room, and gets so many compliments.

Pillar box window in a blank wall: not designed for tall cats

Pillar box window in a blank wall: not designed for tall cats

When I was considering it, I realised that the vista was not exactly interesting: a classic picture window normally frames a fantastic view or a feature in a garden, as you can see in this stunning example from Houzz:

I also thought about the clerestory concept, which is a window or strip of windows based high up in a room to let in light.

A view of the sky: designyourinteriors showcases the clerestory effect

A view of the sky: designyourinteriors showcases the clerestory effect

But our slimline window is not a clerestory window, because it is at eye level, and the prevailing view is of leaves on the evergreen trees outside. And that is part of the charm. The white plain walls have a rich slice of foliage daubed across them, whatever the weather or season.

Green screen: leafy aspect

Green screen: leafy aspect

A final small bonus to this clever window is that the kids’ trampoline is located on this side of the garden. Once bouncing begins, from my partial parental viewing gallery the occasional glimpse of a disembodied head reassures me that all is well.

Tim loves to plan a good holiday itinerary. Since our time in Paris was short, we decided to aim for a few choice highlights in those limited hours, and the day’s structure needed some careful mapping. This is why I was a little dubious when he suggested that one of our destinations should definitely be a taxidermy shop called Deyrolle.

On reflection, though, it sounded like an adventure, and featured favourably in a few trendy blogs and guides (but none of the mainstream guide books). Within six hours of being in Paris we had already scaled the Eiffel Tower at night and bought two epilepsy-inducing coloured flashing light souvenir mini versions, so it felt right and refreshing to take a diversion at this point from the tourist superhighway.

There are cute boutiques and pretty façades all along Rue du Bac, but this is the window of Deyrolle, with a clue as to their unconventional wares:

'I just feel a little nervous but I can't quite put my finger on why.' Rodents perch with domestic birds in a window display at Deyrolle

‘I just feel a little nervous, Jacques, but I can’t quite put my finger on why.’ Rodents perch with domestic birds in a window display at Deyrolle, unaware of the prowlers below


Precarious afterlife for these pretty birds as cats prowl tantalisingly close

Precarious afterlife: an aspect of dinner for this feline group

The downstairs felt like a National Trust shop, with calendars, lavender bags, and gilt-rimmed mugs. The boys circled dangerously close to a large vase and dried flower display, fuelled by their sugary second breakfast, and I started to plan a swift exit. However in the corner of the room was a wooden staircase up to the first floor, so we coralled the energetic limbs and mobilised upwards.

Imagine the joy of this friendly chap’s greeting as we reached the top:

Salut! Hairy bear-y welcome

Salut! Hairy bear-y welcome

This classically decorated Parisian apartment is home to a diverse crew of creatures, caught as if on pause in a nature documentary and transplanted to a surreal urban ever-after.

How the antelope feels

How the antelope feels

Two rooms of mammals and birds lead to an extensive collection of butterflies and bugs, populating wide drawers in huge wooden cabinets. The knowledge that you are in fact in a shop gives an extra frisson of excitement…. You know, if I wanted, I could buy that polar bear (€30,000) or that guinea pig (€300) or that giant moth (€30 – realistically I could actually afford this one, although the accompanying box frame is a further cost), I’m engaging in retail therapy in a museum.

Would you mind just moving me a little to the left? I have finished reading about coral now

‘Would you mind just moving me a bit to the left? I have finished reading about coral now’

Tempting as it was, we decided in the end not to purchase a former beastie: it was the beginning of our road trip, and I wasn’t sure how suitable an environment the inside of our Renault Espace would prove to be for two weeks in the south of France in the summer.

I didn't realise it would be this sort of party: eclectic group socialise at Deyrolle

‘I didn’t realise it would be this sort of party, Maude.’ Eclectic group socialise at Deyrolle


Designers and artists are incorporating furred and feathered features within all sorts of furniture and as stand-alone pieces for the discerning home designer, as this Financial Times (£) article attests. It is a step on from our trophy heads, creating a cluttered and nostalgic setting as a gesture against the stark lines of modern design. I’ve seen Alex Randall’s Squirrel Wall Lights featured in many design blogs recently, and there are many other variations on this theme if you start looking.

Wearing their burdens lightly: Alex Randall's Squirrel wall sconces

Wearing their burdens lightly: Alex Randall’s perky wall sconces

Right now, we’re content with our live version of animal decor…

Lotus lives life on the edge

Lotus lives life on the edge

…but I guess (whisper it) should something terrible happen to your family pet, you could view it as a little less, well, final?


Truly delighted with my sense of enterprise today as, despite the fact that the boys aren’t yet back at school, and therefore I cannot seem to finish a thought before being interrupted, I have managed to solve a scratchy problem.

Our kitchen floors are, if you remember, a smooth and classy walnut, a modern and unblemished stretch of tortoiseshell from skirting to skirting.

Or at least, that was how they began.

Our chairs: supremely practical, stackable, comfortable, near-invincible despite years spent at the mercy of energetic boys… have been the cause of some painful gashes in the floor’s surface. Under the table, after nearly a year, lurk a web of scars (some of which could, at a pinch, be dried weetabix?) that, frankly, demote my kitchen from interiors magazine photoshoot territory and scream ‘family home.’

All of which is absolutely fine, except that I realised I didn’t want to have to steel myself as another chair was scraped back by a small user, and that I didn’t want to become one of those people who get hung up about their decor instead of enjoying the company. After all, that’s what my whole business is meant to be about: Design for a Family Home.

Inspired, I went to our local hardware shop, and asked. For shoes for the chairs. And amazingly, they had them. They are called ferrules and people buy them for their walking sticks. So declaring “I’ll take 24!” felt rather ostentatious, but the shopkeeper was delighted. At 35p each I was too.

Here, in all their glory, are my chairs with shoes.

Chair shoes: the autumn/winter collection

Chair shoes: the autumn/winter collection

I’ve begun the term on a high, we can only move on from here.

The slipper fits!!! Happy ever after....

The slipper fits!!! Happy ever after….

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