Archives for the month of: November, 2013

Ever since we went to the Parisian taxidermists Deyrolle in the summer I have been thinking about wallpaper. In fact, once I started looking, I found I had collected a huge sprawling mass of inspiration. So I have decided to start a little series for you, to keep all my musings bite-size and digestible.

Our house feels light and bright, with white walls and splashes of colour. We have tended to treat the occasional wall like an enormous piece of artwork, and have painted in blocks. Or we’ve used furnishings including curtains as our main colour statement sections. But so far we haven’t done much with paper. I have two spots in mind, in our kitchen under the picture window, and in the music room (which I don’t think I’ve introduced to you yet), on the wall behind the desk.

Deyrolle, I noticed, have designed some truly amazing papier peint, with bugs, beasts and birds aplenty. They sell through another French company called neoDKo which you can access here. My favourite is this crazy essence-of-anatomy-textbook pasted in glorious abandon on a wall.

Collection Patchwork wallpaper via

Collection Patchwork wallpaper via

The extreme minimalism of that interior pictured above provides a clear stage for the drama of all the movement on the walls. Which led me to thinking that the context for using this sort of design is very important: in a busy room you need either order (pattern) or calm (in colours) for your decor. If you were to try and add this wallpaper to an already cluttered space, you would likely just create more confusion, and lose some of the attraction of the ‘patchwork’ in the process. I think for the room where we store files and books, study, practise and play, our walls need to be inspirational, yes, but not distracting. However I could see this design working beautifully behind the dining bench, under the window, in the room where we have an expanse of plain wall and only a few simple pieces of furniture.

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

White wall. Prime for development

I would probably fix a line of white wooden trim below the window to act as a frame, and then paper below to the skirting. Another advantage of a wild and busy design here is that the odd splash of soy sauce or ketchup probably wouldn’t stand out. Don’t look too carefully at this picture: despite the serenity of the scene there are definitely the ghosts of little chocolate hands scrubbed out.

So the Deyrolle is definitely a contender for this space. But there are others….

Next time I am going to tell you about wallpapering in the old way: tune in for some tales of stately opulence, and the clever designs which remain modern after half a century.

It’s 8.45 on a school day morning. I turn the corner out of the kitchen wielding lunch boxes, clump up the three stairs into the hallway and holler the “Shoes ohnnnnnnn!!!” command up the stairs.


Three more steps up the main staircase (the smart orange line one). “SHOES TIME! It’s time to put on your shoes!” The cat rounds the corner from the kitchen and meows helpfully in response. She reaches the front door and starts sharpening her claws on the mat. There is no other sound.

I sprint up the first flight of stairs. Silence. Up another. Jonas’s room: empty. If I listen very hard I can just hear discussions, but muffled. More flights of stairs, check an empty Malachy’s room, and I am finally at the top. It is most definitely time to get shoes on by now. But no-one is in Caspar’s room, and the voices are still muted. This is when I open the cupboard doors….

Bespoke board games hideaway

Bespoke board games hideaway

Despite the fact that I put an awful lot of thought into Caspar’s cupboard, I had no idea it would prove quite so popular. For this is in fact a small boy equivalent of a clandestine poker den, minus the whisky and high stakes, although come to think of it, Monopoly is normally the game of choice. Like the world at the back of the wardrobe, Caspar’s cupboard takes you out of the general run of things. You can’t hear the “Shoes on!” shout, the lighting is dim, the shelves around you are full of enticing toys and Lego.

Eaves with potential: what I had to work with

Eaves with potential: what I had to work with

As I mentioned last time, I had harboured plans to make use of the eaves spaces for storage in the attic bedroom. I had heard friends tell of amazing designs by loft conversion firms and well-known wardrobe makers. I started by chatting with a carpenter I knew about commissioning something that incorporated all the storage needs for the room into that one area. I listed the elements I wanted in there: drawers or shelves for clothes, hanging space, book shelves, significant amounts of toy storage. I also wanted to use as much of the area as possible, despite the fact that the back wall followed the line of the sloping roof, and there were structural beams straddling the front that shouldn’t be removed. However reading up about costs for these sorts of designs, and then getting the jaw-dropping bespoke quote, I realised very quickly that this work commanded a luxury budget that certainly wouldn’t fit in with our modest plans.   So I decided to design it myself, using as basic methods as I could, and see what was possible. The joiner on our team of builders was Si, who just promised me, “You design it, I’ll build it.” Bearing in mind his time was my money, I went back to my wish list and tried to pare it all back to its simplest form.

For clothes storage I really wanted a chest of drawers, but drawers are, as you can imagine, a complex and time-consuming thing to make from scratch. I realised that it would be perfectly possible to insert an existing chest of drawers into a space and build around them. Finding them was my first task: made so much easier by the Ikea website, which lists the dimensions of all its furniture. From the comfort of my desk, I found the largest chest of drawers to fit the space between beams on the left (also Malm, satisfyingly, so matching the bed). This then left another strut to fit around, which I felt could delineate the hanging wardrobe space. Then, the remaining, largest gap could be for the toy storage cupboard.

Malm drawers, wardrobe door, toy cupboard. Partitioning out the storage

Malm drawers, wardrobe door, toy cupboard. Partitioning out the storage

The cupboard doors were going to be fitted with handles for opening, but then we noticed that the Malm chest of drawers had a sloping diagonal finger grip at the top instead. We designed the doors in the same way, and it keeps the storage wall flush and neat.

Hanging rail wardrobe for shirts and smarts

Hanging rail wardrobe for shirts and smarts

Since the space went back so far into the eaves, I also made use of the area behind the chest of drawers to made a bookcase accessed from next to the bed. I modelled the design on some shelves we already had: with varying depths and heights for each shelf. They look very sweet, nestled into the wall, and fit all the different sized books that a child tends to have, as well.

Staggered bookshelves in roof space

Staggered bookshelves in roof space

The toy storage cupboard takes up most of the rest of the depth of the eaves. I think I ended up sectioning off about 80 sq cm of floor space right around the back, which couldn’t realistically be accessed from any point. But the rest of it is completely functional.

For the shelving inside the toy cupboard, I measured various storage boxes which we keep our toys in, as well as running a quick survey of the dimensions of Ikea’s line of containers. There seemed to be a general link at around 30 cm: some were this length, others longer but still at a 30 cm depth. So I decided 35 cm would be a useful depth for the shelves.

Simple but thought-out shelves will be long-term useful

Simple but thought-out shelves will be long-term useful

Then I checked on the heights of various boxes, and designed the height of the shelves accordingly. It was a bit painstaking, but worth it, as the shelves are now perfectly set up for pretty much anything we want to put on them. We use them for chunky items of clothing, as well. Of course, as Caspar grows older, there will doubtless be many changes of use. But I think the design can take it. I asked for the corners all to be rounded, so that crawling into the cupboard wouldn’t cause unnecessary injury. It’s all made of painted MDF, a far cry from the tulip wood and walnut we could have commissioned, but actually affordable, and fit for purpose, even smart in its own way.

Multi-function storage

Multi-function storage (and it won’t have your eye out)

We fixed in a wardrobe lighting set, so that you can see what you’re doing. It clearly provides exactly the right ambience for a few undercover games meetings. Sadly these are sometimes interrupted by a Real World representative on a raiding party (shouting “Shoes on!”), but the school day is not that long, and normal service can be resumed by 4 pm. In any case, as everyone knows, a game of Monopoly was never finished in a day.

Caspar loves his room at the top of our house. It has a view of Beetham Tower (tallest building in Manchester where the Hilton Hotel is based) and also our local Subway (as in the sandwich shop). Two things very close to a 7-year-old’s heart. When we first bought the house, it wasn’t really a room, more of a loft space with dodgy dusty floorboards, moulding sagging walls and head-crunching beams. Not having quite grasped the concept of house renovation, Caspar seemed a little dubious about the deal he’d been handed, since his brothers clearly had more room-like allocations with mod cons like carpets and ceilings. Still, as he mournfully confided in me one day, the view was good.

Viewing platform: Lotus undertakes distance survey of sandwich shop visitors

Viewing platform: Lotus undertakes distance survey of sandwich shop visitors

To his great surprise, we did in fact insulate, carpet and generally comply with building regulations so that by the time we moved in, he had managed to bag himself possibly the best room in the house. Tucked out of the way, with huge cupboards, interesting corners and the sweetest arched window, it is a place to hide, dream, play and potter. Perfect Caspar territory.

The footprint of the room is L-shaped, if you follow the line of ceiling which accommodates head height. Then on most sides the walls slope down, making potentially awkward eaves sections. Added to this the structural beams jut out at odd angles.


Lofty ideas: how the top room started out

Lofty ambitions: how the top room started out

My first challenge was finding a place for the bed. Because of the funny arrangement of beams and ceiling slopes, I needed it to be tucked away and out of the main optimum head-height walkway area. Despite the fact it looks so small, the window wall is in fact perfectly wide enough for any single bed, with room to spare.

Cosy bed space. White Malm single bed from Ikea

Curtain fabric from Fancy Moon

While we’re here, I’ll just draw to your attention the curtain fabric, which ended up informing the paint choices. Caspar saw this one as I was trawling through websites for inspiration.

London Blue, Echino Nico, Etsuko Furuya, Kokka Fabric

London Blue, Echino Nico, Etsuko Furuya, Kokka Fabric

Fancy Moon has some spectacular fabrics from Japanese and American designers which I was particularly fond of, for their quirkiness and their cheerful innocence. I think so many of them are perfect for a child’s bedroom. Why not take a look at their website and see what you think?

In previous houses the kids had all shared one room, piled into bunks, so we did need to actually buy a bed for Caspar’s new-found free space. I wanted to ensure that it didn’t stand too high, as the window frame is quite low to the ground and it would have been sad to obscure the arch too much, especially since this is the only source of natural light into the room. After some extensive size searches on all the affordable options, I found, satisfyingly, that good old Ikea came in the lowest with its Malm series. Low bed, low price.

Yes, this bed is low. Ikea Malm fits the bill

Yes, this bed is low. Ikea Malm fits the bill

Having taken care of the sleep space, I assessed the rest of the nooks and crannies for their storage and access potential. The huge under-eaves space along from the entrance to the room seemed to be ideal for storage, and the fireplace wall looked good to put a desk for a study area. The beams on that wall were annoying me though: I was aware of the potential trip and bump hazards they presented, and yet we didn’t want to simply strip them out… just in case they were holding up some element of roof.

Then we came up with the idea of filling it in, and creating an actual partition. It’s only made of timber, but neatly sections off the two areas. We even added in a peep-hole (arched like the window) to add interest.

Caspar's reading spot: space to chill out and relax

Caspar’s reading spot: space to chill out and relax

Zoned out: partition wall provides different spaces with different functions

Zoned out: partition wall provides different spaces with different functions

Homework station: a place to study

Homework station: a niche to study

Owing to the aforementioned small window, the corridor section is gloomy even on a summer day. But we have put in LED spots to the ceiling, so that once the lights are on, it’s all bright. We chose a light-coloured carpet for the floor to reflect any rays, and I wanted to keep most of the walls white for the same reason. However to add some interest, I chose some chunks of wall and ceiling to paint bold colours. Using the curtains as a guide, we identified the RAL (colour code chart) numbers of a striking scarlet and a deep violet. Above the desk and reading areas is the slash of red ceiling, and then, a few metres facing, by the door, is a bold wall of purple.

Doorway to adventure in a purple patch

Doorway to adventure in a purple patch

The tiny door in the wall is not as exciting as it seems: simply an access point to another roof space, currently undeveloped. But the white woodwork strikes a great contrast and makes the room feel full of secret exploration potential.

I am going to save my bespoke storage system until next time, so that we can really focus on the detail.

Until then, what do you think of Caspar’s room? Would you tend to rip out unusual elements in your house, or make a feature of them?

Everything in its place....

Everything in its place….

For all those readers who loved the yoo-tiddly posts of a few weeks ago, I am very pleased to present a how-to guide to making your own storage facility out of household items! It’s by one of my favourite bloggers, Clare, from Projectophile, who seems to share my love of a low budget, but combines this with some neat practical skills….

Upcycled Hat-and-Glove Storage Center.

There comes a time, and I’m not sure exactly at which point it is, when the suggestion of taking A Nice Walk or making a visit to a historical site becomes a really good idea, rather than a really annoying imposition on your play life. Possibly it’s when you are the suggester rather than the suggestee of the activity, and you are settling comfortably into at least your fourth decade.

I remember going to National Trust properties when I was little. I remember the untrodden lawns, the beautifully manicured gardens, and the grey-haired and sensibly-shod visitors wandering in them, the lavender-infused shop selling mainly fudge, the dangled possibility of an ice cream at the end, and most certainly a picnic with Bovril sandwiches. There were also woody wild areas to explore and the familiar unusual plants to rediscover just around the corner… maybe even a ‘climbing tree’.

Memories! We went here/ Watersmeet river gorge from the National Trust

Memories! We went here/ Watersmeet river gorge from the National Trust

Often we eschewed the house visit for fear of potential toddler malfunction, or, when we were older, in deference to the encroaching teenage boredom threshold. Most of the dingy exhibits were sequestered out of reach behind a rope barrier (and how tempting that rope was for us younger visitors, for swinging on or deftly looping around a sibling’s neck) and presided over by a stately and disapproving figure in the corner, who seemed to have a lot in common with Sam the Eagle from the Muppets.

The culture police have changed at the National Trust over the years/Sam the Eagle generally disapproves

The NT culture police have mellowed over the years/Sam the Eagle generally disapproves

In many ways, the National Trust has changed, and all to the good. Children are made so welcome now in the houses, and interaction with the objects in them is now actively encouraged. Where items need to be preserved, explanatory notes are placed next to them, showing the reasons for the Do Not Touch notice. The once frosty security guards have been replaced by a cosy army of grandparents, eager to chat and inspire.

So as parents, we didn’t baulk at the concept of taking our kids and another family into Lanhydrock House in Cornwall one rainy half term day. The children had a fantastic time looking for Halloween pumpkins but also following an easy-to-read guide as we toured the rooms, answering quizzes and imagining themselves as little lords and ladies from a bygone age.

But I didn’t bring you here only to muse upon middle-class family pursuits. I mentioned in my previous post that I found some treasure here. As our party swarmed ahead, I lingered in the kitchen, captivated by their collection of ‘Victorian mod cons’ and stylish work spaces. But mostly because these guys clearly had a big copper trend going on then too.

Trays to turreens: it's all made of copper

Trays to turreens: it’s all made of copper

copper kitchen lanhydrock

I could work with this. An inspiring kitchen

How many fry-ups? Pans hang on the wall.

How many fry-ups? Pans hang on the wall.

The willow pattern crockery is the height of Chinoiserie chic

The willow pattern crockery is the height of Chinese-style chic

Statement piece/ jelly mould

Statement piece: grand mould

Mrs Beeton recommends a jelly. Copper moulds for all kinds of fine foods

Mrs Beeton recommends a jelly. Copper moulds for all kinds of fine foods

Solution to easy-clean kitchenware: have staff

Solution to easy-clean kitchenware: have staff

Shining examples/ serve it all up with dainty blue Royal Doulton and beaten copper.

Serve it up with dainty blue Royal Doulton and beaten copper

This kitchen, set out ready for action, made me realise how similar our aesthetic tastes are currently with those of the big houses a century ago. The copper, the chinoiserie, even the light pink shade on the walls as a pastel backdrop, are all elements we might include in our modern interiors.

I can’t pretend that all our boys leap up in eager anticipation every time we say we’re heading for a National Trust property. Sometimes it’s hard to tear themselves away from that six-hour game of Chelsea Monopoly, or the re-enactment of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But by the time we’re there, and the valuable badge prizes are up for grabs, everyone is immersed, loving the challenge, learning without realising it, and continuing in the great family tradition. A copper-bottomed option for a good day out.

Inherent quality and beauty in interior design will always resurface, sometimes with new approaches and settings. The way we choose to spend and direct our time with family now draws on memories of that which was valuable in our own childhoods. What goes around comes around.

One of the loveliest interiors looks around at the moment incorporates copper in both minimalist and high-luxury settings.

Bathe in decadence/ copper bath from The Water Monopoly

Bathe in decadence/ copper bath from The Water Monopoly

Where shiny chrome and silver-shaded metallics have ruled the roost for so long, now copper is enjoying a feature role in design.

Polished copper lights stand out against a white background/

Polished copper lights stand out against a white background/ image found at lighting sales at

Or dark and moody where the rich brown melds with the shadows..../uncredited (let me know if you have the source!)

Dark and moody: the rich brown melds with the shadows….

For a while we have seen designers showcasing the material in all its glamour in very modern and creative settings: splashbacks…

Copper diamonds: what's not to like?/

Copper load of this: tiles featured at

Reflective splashback/

Reflective and characterful/

…whole kitchens…

Burnished beauty: complete copper cuisine covering

Burnished beauty: complete copper cuisine covering

…or even as a striking wall covering.

Copper clad and cosy/ pinterest

Copper clad and cosy/ pinterest

Though we see this warm-hued metal brazen in statement pieces currently, there is a likelihood that it will become an option for the mainstream in the future. I expect we’ll see more copper in high street retail lighting departments over the next few seasons: maybe even tiling trims and door handles. Where is the rule that says your bathroom hardware has to be restricted to stainless steel?

Tapping into a trend/ Copper tap

Tapping into a trend

Modern though these ideas are, it’s not the first time we fell in love with copper’s russet charms, and it’s possible to see it still preserved resplendent from a previous heyday. Next time I’ll show you some examples of this metal’s past glories, when we took a trip to Cornwall and found some treasure. 


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