Archives for category: Family Life

Caspar is sad. He’s normally really happy all the time, and can find a cheerful positive slant on nearly any misfortune or drudgery. So it’s a bit of a shock when he gets sad, and also very hard to predict.

The last time he got sad (apart from when Manchester United lose against anyone) was when we had to do the inter-seasonal clothes transfer, and handed down his old winter coat to Malachy. I had pre-empted the potential emotional descent by buying Caspar a really nice, new, RED coat (team colours) which was extremely cosy.

But it wasn’t the Old Coat and Malachy was very victorious in his inheritance.

It took a lot of time and diplomacy to make it ok.

Then, the little glass bedside light in Caspar’s room got smashed. No-one quite knows how, but it left a nasty shard-like edge on display, which was just too tempting to fiddle with, and so I went on a search for a replacement — little knowing the distress that awaited.

Here is the lovely light which I got.

Lekaryd LED light in red. Part bedside light, part gaming icon

Lekaryd LED light in red. Part bedside light, part gaming icon, part small item storage

I had browsed the Ikea website with Caspar a few days before and we liked the look of this because it looks a bit like Pacman — you can open and shut its mouth by sliding the top up and down. In addition, the lower section has a little hollow which is perfect for keeping teeth in for the tooth fairy (and also toenails for the toenail fairy but that’s another story). Also, as you can see, it is RED. What’s not to like?

Well, apparently, a lot.

I had not learnt my lesson from New Coat-gate and blithely introduced New Lamp with a big ceremonial plug-in at bedtime. Caspar’s face was stony and glum. I pointed out the little tooth/toenail hollow. He turned his head away and stared soulfully at the remains of Old Lamp.

“What are you going to do with my old light, Mum?” he asked quietly.

“Oh, well, I suppose I could put the glass in the recycling if I’m careful, and the rest of it will just go in the bin.” My voice had taken on a brittle, sensible tone.

But Caspar didn’t want to say a proper “goodbye” to Old Lamp. He wanted it to rest in the cellar with all the less-loved toys and the cardboard boxes and the camping equipment. He felt that would be less final. I was concerned about that jagged edge lurking in the cellar for an unsuspecting child to discover.

So we compromised. We decided that the heart of a lamp is its bulb.

Now you can see the read me...

Now you can see the real me…

That the outer shell is simply armour, clothing which you can replace or discard.

Don't judge a lamp by its shade. Even if the shade is not fit for purpose and frankly dangerous

Don’t judge a lamp by its shade. Especially if the shade is not fit for purpose and frankly dangerous

The lamp still remains a lamp if you have the light bulb and socket.

I'm still a lamp

I’m still a lamp

And so it does remain, nestled safely in the lightbulb box down in the cellar, enjoying its retirement in peaceful darkness.

A tooth came out the other day. We celebrated by hiding it in the tooth/toenail section of the lamp, and the tooth fairy was remarkably (uncharacteristically) prompt with her visitation. Maybe a New Lamp isn’t all bad.

*With thanks to @MYSADCAT for the inspiration

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The nights are drawing in. As we bid a fond and final goodbye to the summer sun, and the mists descend (or the winds, or the rain), we tend to settle in and appreciate the cosiness of our homes.

No, not the new season slippers: hibernating hedgehogs tucked up for the season

No, not the new season slippers: hibernating hedgehogs tucked up for the season

We can snuggle into our sofas and fire up the radiators. Draw the curtains, ignore the pelting rain at the windows. Hibernate in dark colours and cosy lamp glows.

OKA evokes the 'hibernation approach' to winter

OKA evokes the ‘hibernation approach’ to winter

Interestingly, though, the European countries with the least light and the most hostile conditions in winter seem to have developed a contrary attitude with their decor. Think of a Scandi interior and you envisage all whites, pale natural wood shades, and the odd jaunty splash of colour. Which if you think about it, is a strangely defiant response to a lot of dark skies and grey.

Scandinavian style - we keep it bright. Flat advertised on Fantastic Frank Stockholm

Scandinavian style – we keep it bright. Flat advertised on Fantastic Frank Stockholm

It makes a lot of sense really, because despite our natural tendencies to hunker down, we do have to carry on. It is not possible for most of us to shut the door come November and curl up in bed. Life goes on. And so much the better to do it by making the most of the pale sunlight and occasional clear blue days.

Take a look at these fresh inspiring throws from Mikalas House — an internet store bringing us beautiful things from Mikala’s homeland, Denmark.

Happy-to-wake-up-to bed linen - whatever happens on the other side of the window

Happy-to-wake-up-to bed linen – whatever is happening on the other side of the window

For someone with an orange line running alongside their staircase, this particular product has a happy familiarity about it.

A subtle grey stripe with a  splash of colour edging

A subtle grey stripe with a splash of colour edging

Cheerful tones to brighten the atmosphere

Cheerful tones to brighten the atmosphere

Defies SAD tendencies - sunshine yellow throw from Kira-cph at Mikalas House

Defies SAD tendencies – sunshine yellow throw from Kira-cph at Mikalas House

Don’t take my word for it: go to Mikalas House (or like them on Facebook) and check these lovely items out for yourself!

 

 

Rather a long time ago, when Tim and I renovated our first home in West London, we heard about a new little company which had a very different attitude to vinyl flooring. If anyone had mentioned the word vinyl, in fact, I think we would have run for the hills, since our experience of the material thus far had been (generally sticky) ginger-coloured false tiles in desperately cluttered and dark kitchens, or perhaps some peeling mould-ridden offering abutting the shower in student lodgings. Instead, this company, which turned out to be Harvey Maria, marketed themselves as ‘No More Boring Flooring’ (complete with url) and used new exciting techniques to print photographic images onto floor tiles.

We were rather smitten, and opted for a bold water image for our tiny bathroom:

Vintage Harvey Maria tiles - they don't make them (exactly) like that any more

Vintage Harvey Maria tiles – they don’t make them (exactly) like that any more

You can still get a version of this tile from them now, called Pacific. I think they work best when set against a bright white, with not too much else going on — remember you’re after a dreamy Maldives holiday vibe, not Brentford Leisure Pool.

Water is not the only evocative image: you can go for grass, or even some good old Brit beach pebbles:

Clench those toes: Harvey Maria 'Stones" vinyl tile

Clench those toes: Harvey Maria ‘Stones” vinyl tile

Although I have to admit the soles of my feet ache just looking at all those knobbly cobbles. I think I’d have to wear flip flops.

Since then further advances have been made in vinyl floor technology. The company Murafloor offers a bespoke photographic flooring service, not unlike the wall murals I was telling you about a few months ago. Browse their website for inspirational images, like this lunar aspect:

One small step for man... 'Full Moon' flooring from Murafloor

One small step for man… ‘Full Moon’ flooring from Murafloor

Submit your room size and shape, and they’ll create a sheet of flooring exactly to fit. If their broad range of ideas isn’t enough for you, there’s always Shutterstock for the full gamut of stock photos. Of course, this all comes at a price, and whilst it is certainly eye-catching and individual, it’s not the budget way to create a glamorous room.

And so we reach the third and final episode in my tour of vinyl flooring. Pattern. It’s not pretending to be wood or stone, and it’s as vibrant or as plain as you need. 

How about this Friesian print tile, which makes for a quirky alternative to a cowhide rug:

I herd you had a new floor... it's udderly brilliant... a mooving sight... /stowed may need to go and have a lie down after thinking up all those cow jokes

I herd you had a new floor… it’s udderly brilliant… a mooving sight… (stowed heads for a lie-down after dreaming up all those bovine gags)

To break up the pattern a little, a plain wood strip frames these cow tiles into groups of four. It contains the random splodges of black and helps to structure the floor space. 

This technique works for any busy design, so if you’re thinking of being daring with your flooring, but need to keep the craziness in check, that’s where having a vinyl floor can really help. You’re essentially achieving a mixed-materials look with just one material. This example below looks at first glance like a patch of ceramic tile surrounded by a dark wood: 

In the frame/ Harvey Maria Parquet tiles by Neisha Crosland

In the frame/ Harvey Maria Parquet tiles by Neisha Crosland

 

Once you have got to grips with the potential in this mixing and matching, a world of colour, texture and pattern is open to you. Take a look at this eye-catching suggestion from Amtico, using slashes of bright orange set against a fabric texture and a darker relief. The resulting pattern is full of energy and depth:

Cutting and sticking/ Amtico's Infinity Flare design uses strips of different floor tiles

Cutting and sticking/ Amtico’s Infinity Flare design uses strips of different floor tiles

There are of course some patterns which don’t leap out quite as dramatically. This spotty offering by Cath Kidston seems at close range to be a little eye-boggling:

Sometimes the simple ones are the best/ Harvey Maria Spot Stone

Sometimes the simple ones are the best/ Harvey Maria Spot Stone

But installed in a small space and viewed as a whole, has a pleasingly simple and regular format. 

Lesser spotted bathroom floor/ Harvey Maria Spot Stone

Lesser spotted bathroom floor/ Harvey Maria Spot Stone

Why not add some texture with this rubber flooring featuring retro spots:

Rubber-ly floor/ Harvey Maria Peppermint

Rubber-ly floor/ Harvey Maria Peppermint

It might look a little like living on Lego bricks (though obviously not as painful if you tread on it in the dark).

On the subject of textured floor you can also consider the treadplate pattern — we have a very low-budget version from Carpetright which has been incredibly good natured and hard-wearing in the boys’ bathroom:

Locker room chic/ sheet vinyl (now discontinued) from Carpetright

Locker room chic/ sheet vinyl (now discontinued) from Carpetright

You can’t buy it from there any more, but a quick internet trawl has brought up Flooring Supplies Direct who supply something similar, and the firm LSI who make a version too (the aluminium shade is called Armour).

Another texture to get the vinyl treatment recently is leather. 

Clubby class/ Harvey Maria Olive Leather

Clubby class/ Harvey Maria Olive Leather

Strong and dark furnishings show this one off the best: it wouldn’t do so well with chintz. 

Just as encaustic and highly decorated ceramic tiles are blossoming on the walls and floors of many a fashion interior, so vinyl is following. Check out this magical two-tone tile from Murafloor, which looks stunning set against a bare concrete wall:

Morocco from murafloor

Dark arts/ Morocco by Murafloor

Or this from Zazous, channelling retro charm:

I think we can hold back on the wallpaper here/ Rosemary by Zazous

I think we can hold back on the wallpaper here/ Rosemary by Zazous

Do you dare? It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Finally, for the room which just needs a splash of colour, why not put down your paint brushes, give the walls a rest, and treat your floor to a bold and bright shade instead? 

Walking on sunshine/ bright Pistachio flooring from Harvey Maria

Walking on sunshine/ bright Pistachio flooring from Harvey Maria

So many options, so much flexibility. I hope you’ve enjoyed my flooring tour, and that it’s given you some new inspiration.

Remember: vinyl is no longer the ugly sister of the flooring world — maybe now it’s her turn to go to the ball….

[As you might well know, this is a concluding statement so wildly at odds with my daily life that it is akin to speaking a foreign language. Nevertheless, sometimes only a princess metaphor will do. Just sometimes.]

 

We interrupt this series of tasteful flooring posts to warn readers of a potentially hostile takeover bid by a phenomenon some call The Beautiful Game.

The more perceptive amongst you will have noticed that there is a global tournament afoot, the ups and downs of which have obsessed most members of our household for a good few weeks now. Wide-eyed in admiration at the skills and bad behaviour of those taking part, our boys have bought into the atmosphere (and a substantial chunk of the Panini sticker empire) with the dedication and stat-devouring fervour you’d expect of die-hard fans. Which they are.

Oh yes, we have three of these

Yes, we have three of these

The walls are alive with the high-definition motion of little running kicking men, and the sofa spectators agape with the drama of it all. Meanwhile I have been pondering how, even before the World Cup 2014, football is pretty much wallpaper in our lives (despite the fact of course that I would never ever sanction the application of football wallpaper in our home).

I will admit I started it: I installed a football handbasin in the boys’ bathroom.

Slippery slope: I installed this basin in the boys' bathroom -- Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Dear Future Me, This is just a slippery slope…/ Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Then we decided that in the interests of garden preservation we would not bother with a classic lawn. We have a pitch. Made of plastic. You don’t have to mow it, you can’t wear it out, and, come rain or shine, your players remain clean. It is the best investment we ever made.

Turf laws - fake grass is the best purchase ever

Turf laws: fake grass is the soundest purchase ever

Days are measured by the amount of football playing opportunities. Some interesting tweaks to the accepted rules of play sometimes make an appearance….

What happens when you mix football with breakfast time

Malachy discovers that his new cereal-inspired goalie kit has some design flaws….

So we knew what we were doing: we designed with the boys in mind. However the boys took this idea and ran with it. And that’s when the subtle nod to personality turned into an all-pervading house style.

Artwork? Sure! As long as it's red. With a football /pocket money bargain and ubiquitous team calendar in background

Artwork on my wall? Sure! As long as it’s red. With a football.

We kept the boys’ bedroom walls for the most part a fresh white, in keeping with the rest of the house. A few feature colours, like a brightly painted wall colour or striking curtains, were emphasized by the lack of pattern elsewhere.

Until blue-tack happened. And then Caspar found a ‘wonderful’ painting for £1.50 in a junk shop. And we realised that the passing of each year means the opportunity to hang a new team calendar with athletically posed gurning player photos.

Starter for ten: Which team does.... ah yes, well done

Starter for ten: Which team does…. ah yes, well done

When you’ve been successful in some area of junior level football, you get to keep a carefully moulded and easily breakable trophy to display for ever and ever in your room. Nothing must stand in its way.

Trophy fives

Trophy fives. Books take a back seat

And the clever folks in the football business know that whatever they make, we will buy. Duvets, lamps, clocks, watches, bath flannels, even Monopoly. And football cards. I can’t even begin to explain the joys of football cards and stickers.

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: cover it with as much tat as you can

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: spread your bets (that is City Monopoly for those who were wondering)

So as you prepare to bid adieu to the World Cup in Brazil — with the breathtaking, inspiring, bitey, frenetic, heartbreaking, staying-up-late, virtuoso fun of it all — remember us. Football is not going away any time soon. It’s here, and no amount of tasteful interior design influence can do anything about it.

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

I have executed a stealth interiors move.

It looks like this:

Well hi. I bet you weren't expecting me.

Well hi. I bet you weren’t expecting me.

This little chap is now resident on the light pull in our downstairs loo. He was given to me by my friend (for some reason they didn’t need it in their house, possibly because her husband is allergic to cats) and I’ve been plotting my move ever since.

This is because, whilst we haven’t talked about it, I am almost 100% sure that cute cat light pulls are not top of Tim’s design plans for our home. Sleek, modern, clean lines — yes. Cat figurines as decor — not so much.

Oh but it’s only a light pull! And in the cloakroom — that tiny room where you have full permission to exercise daring eclecticism. I snipped off the old grubby white cord and plastic cone and quickly binned them.

Rejected

Rejected

There’s no doubt the tatty plastic had to go. It feels cheap and lightweight.

Now there’s some substance at the end of the light pull, and the solid feline holds sway over the room.

The boys like him very much, and even Tim was mutedly positive.

Win win. The cat stays.

Win win. Kitsch cat stays.

So if you’re planning some stealth improvement work of your own, in the words of a certain sportswear brand, just do it. It’s unlikely anyone will have the energy or antipathy to take action against it. You never know, some may even be converted….

I like a clever way with stairs. As you probably know, I decided to highlight mine with an orange line. Other staircases which made me smile were the ones with bright stripy runners, and even one with a tree. Another trick you’ve probably seen is the one where people write messages on the risers.

Mission statement/ In This House decal stickers on Etsy

Mission statement/ In This House decal stickers on Etsy

These inspirational quotes are great, and also of course can be used as wall decals too. Check out some of these for some words of wisdom:

Decal from Wulfsexpressions

Decal from Wulfsexpressions

You can get this whole wall's worth of decal from tkwraps

You can get this whole wall’s worth of decal from tkwraps

This handy reminder is part of a hotel/ apartment design experiment by company mode:line

This handy reminder is part of a hotel/ apartment design experiment by company mode:line

Though I think, if I’m honest, that these perky messages could wear a little thin after a while. A snappy phrase that seems so apt at first might eventually become trite when you’ve seen it every morning for a few months. Maybe that’s the beauty of a wall sticker: once it starts to annoy you, just rip it down.

So you need to choose carefully, and get something that you’re not going to regret. Something that you need to hear over and over. Something that can only make you stronger. And that got me thinking: how could I make it work for us?

This one appeared on a kids’ rooms blog. This is a great example of what we don’t need:

Bob Dylan's endearing poem is a stretch too far. To be honest, I probably wouldn't put this on a greetings card, let alone a wall. But maybe for a less confident child it could work?

Bob Dylan’s endearing poem is a stretch too far

I probably wouldn’t put this on a greetings card, let alone on a wall. But maybe for less confident characters there could be some value here.

I enjoy the solid practicality of this one, however:

Handy work with the mosaics. This message will stand the test of time.

Handy work with the mosaics. This message will stand the test of time

Yes, this resonates with my style of parenting.

Reading it approvingly, the answer hit me: I don’t want to get poetic, or need to remind myself or my family of what we could be. Everyone in our house has plenty of ambition and self-belief.

What I want is not to have to say the same things over and over again, many times a day, on some crazed audio loop.

I want the rules. Written down, so that I can take a break. I can just stand mutely and point to the appropriate stair or wall, instead.

RULE #1

Don’t throw balls inside. Don’t throw anything inside. Or kick or bounce anything inside. 

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. And by elephant I mean pretty much anything that can be launched in a missile-like manner. Windows, table lamps, picture frames and drinks have all been sorry casualties of the throwing/kicking/bouncing-things-inside game. The amorphous beauty of this game is that any person caught red-handed playing it can say, eyes wide in innocence, “Oh! I didn’t realise we weren’t allowed to throw elephants!” Or bounce sheep. Or kick pandas.

Evidence

Evidence

"I have no idea what you mean, I have never been used as a projectile."

“I have no idea what you mean, I have never been used as a projectile.”

"No, I just slipped on the stair. I know nothing about the wonky pictures on the wall."

“No, I just slipped on the stair. I know nothing about the wonky pictures on the wall.”

It’s not that I don’t like the boys to be active. We have a garden with an AstroTurf lawn, which is perfect for throwing and kicking. Even so, our back windows are liberally decorated with pretty ball imprints in a random pattern, a bit like year-round festive snowflakes.

The ball just wants to come inside. NEVER relax your guard.

Even the ball wants to come inside. NEVER relax your guard.

So this is my most important rule, and as such should feature on a wall, large, in Tahoma Bold. On particularly trying mornings, I am sometimes asked, “Can we roll things, then?” This makes me feel just that little bit more weary than I already was. On which note…

RULE #2

Nobody needs to wake up before seven.

This is a true word which none of my kids even remotely acknowledge. Every day, I say it. Sometimes I get out of bed and say it to the noisiest awake child actually in person. It doesn’t have to be this way. Most times I hide my head under my pillow and pretend that I wasn’t woken up before seven.

I would paint it on their ceilings, and the underside of the bunk bed, for Malachy, in special, glow-in-the-dark ink. I think if we catch them early enough, we may be able to change things. This is inextricably linked to…

RULE #3

No getting up before seven. Certainly no playing music or radios before seven. Definitely no jumping up and down or running loudly around the house before seven. You may read quietly before seven, if your eyes will simply not stay closed any more.

Like I say, nobody needs to wake up before seven. But since that is not a concept that my boys have ever grasped, the next priority is that we should try and minimise the impact on others. The problem here is that I don’t have a catch-all phrase for the variety of different things a boy can do before seven. It’s the sheer number of loud activities that defies the inspira-litigation approach I’d like to take. I could, I suppose, go down the route of addenda, or draw up a ‘definitions’ page on the back of the bathroom door.

RULE #4

Walk with your whole foot!

God made your foot to work in a smooth heel-toe motion

which enables you to go quietly when necessary.

If you walk on just your heels

you might as well have been given a stump or a hoof.

Heel walking sounds like someone is trying

to pogo-stick down the stairs

or buffalo are trying to break through the ceiling of my bedroom

(regarding which I refer you to the points written

on your bedroom ceilings regarding wake up times)

This could look good on the stair risers, no?

RULE #5

Please sit down while you are eating. You don’t need to get up. No. Sit down. On your bottom.

I was going to add something about knives and forks being used and not nibbling your food out of both hands like a squirrel, but I did read an advice column once about table manners which said you shouldn’t try to tackle too many issues at once as it can be confusing and demoralising. Since I am already pretty demoralised about what goes on around our table, we’ll stick with the basics. I can always upgrade if we ever make it past first base.

Clearly this is a perfect tablecloth design motif, along the lines of Not on the High Street products.

With Love Tablecloth from notonthehighstreet.com

With Love Tablecloth from notonthehighstreet.com

(You heard it here first).

RULE #6

Time to get your shoes on. Coat on. School bag. Lunch box.

It’s fine, I recognise that we haven’t got very far since my previous post on this matter. I do still yell “shoes ohhhhn!” most mornings. But it’s the process between initial shout and exit which I’d like to refine.

Somehow, this moment becomes the ideal opportunity to practise the piano. Then, everyone remembers how thirsty they are. Suddenly, we need to rearrange Match Attax cards in a different order and must finish the task. But we don’t have a ‘show and tell!’

The lack of focus is the thing. I think I need some sort of funnel-effect graphic on the floor towards the door. Oh yes, and…

RULE #7

Shut the door!

Or maybe I just give up on this and buy a spring-loaded hinge.

When it comes down to it, I suspect that even with the best calligraphy and most careful formatting, these helpful notices will be about as effective as my spoken nags reminders. That is, a sort of decorative white noise, for immediate mental relegation below the more important things of life, such as The Grand Prix, or Winning, or Who is More Famous: Wayne Rooney or The Pope?

Anyway, I have my own special written out rule, and it’s one I have heeded obediently since we received it as a wedding gift. I think it’s stood me in good stead over the years and I haven’t felt bored by its message yet.

A motto to live by

Finally, a wise motto to live by

 

One of the very fun-looking presents the boys have received in recent months was an origami kit, making cute animals out of nothing but small squares of paper (and, it turns out, deep reserves of patience). It sat in our craft pile for a while before Malachy found it one rainy afternoon and wanted to make his paper zoo.

It all seemed so easy.... / Wild and Wonderful Origami

It all seemed so easy…. / Wild and Wonderful Origami

It is possible that well-drilled craft-making children and their Pinterest-successful mothers can tackle these complex challenges with their eyes shut. After all, with paper that small, how hard can it be? Well, I can now tell you that it is in fact pretty hard, and requires a substantial amount of concentration and rule following, neither of which is particularly celebrated in our family, apart from on the football pitch, of course. The boys have all ‘had a go’ and then handed me the rather limp and wrinkly paper to ‘finish off.’ So we do have a slack-limbed sea otter and a wonky snake lurking in the green drawer of the sideboard (where craft goes to retire before being pensioned off, quietly and under cover of darkness, to the recycling bin) and the remaining kit is still full of potential design victories (ever optimistic) for next time there is a rainy afternoon.

No amount of Photoshop can hide the fact that this baby has never achieved the upright pose/Sea Otter: 'Easy'

No amount of Photoshop can hide the fact that this baby has never achieved the upright pose/Sea Otter: ‘Easy’

Which sorry background goes some way to explaining the admiration I have for this new Danish designer, and his amazing creations. Morten Droob has invented an origami lampshade called Dressed Up.

Shades of the dark arts/ Dressed Up origami lampshades from Droobski

Shades of the dark arts/ Dressed Up origami lampshades from Droobski

Folded paper lanterns and shades have long been popular, and at the moment you can see a lot of plain white wire-framed designs in the shops. Ikea alone have five:

Papery orbs from Ikea

Papery orbs and UFOs from Ikea

Additionally, the skirt-inspired shade is starting to make waves in some retail lines:

Neat little A-line from BHS, Ivory Pleated Bow; Lyrik from Ikea has petticoat charm; sweet little Etsy shop gem TutusafaribyApril; grass skirt from lights_linen on eBay

Neat little A-line from BHS, Ivory Pleated Bow; Lyrik from Ikea has petticoat charm; sweet little Etsy shop gem TutusafaribyApril; grass skirt from lights_linen on eBay

I love that Droobski manages to merge the two in this clever feat of paper engineering – there are no wire frames, simply origami wizardry. With their fulsome flamenco skirts and crisp pleats, Dressed Up shades come in a rainbow of colour options, all individually hand-folded at the artist’s work bench.

If you are looking for an inspiring piece of statement design for your room, this is such a perky and unique purchase. Check out the little vimeo clip on the Droobski website, on just how easy it is to attach and pop open your chosen shade.

As for me, I fold. In the manner of a poker game. And leave the proper folding to the experts.

The Metro tile: ubiquitous wall decor for any Scandi-chic kitchen, or retro bathroom, or pretty much any other style in between. This handy little brick-shaped slip of ceramic has stacked itself neatly into thousands of well-appointed homes, and love for its understated simplicity does not seem to be abating any time soon.

A few years ago, in the first forays, you mainly saw them bravely displayed with industrial rawness, alongside austere metalworks and stark monochromes.

From Remodelista blog, industrial style bathroom

From Remodelista blog, industrial style bathroom

Since then, we have softened and warmed their settings, with woods and colours, making the most of their unobtrusive blankness to provide a backdrop to a thousand different styles. Essentially, these are neutral, easy-to-clean brick walls. Familiar pattern, simple elegance.

It is natural, then, to declare that your splashback or bathroom scheme will be ‘metro tiles,’ but this is in fact still quite a long way from a decision. Thankfully I have stepped up to this job and done the research for you, so you can read this and simply go ahead and order.

If the bevelled edges of the original Paris Metro are still your dream, then take a look at Topps Tiles Metro White at £23 a box (covers a square metre) full of 20cm by 10cm tiles.

Topps Tiles White Metro, bevelled jewels in a kitchen

Topps Tiles White Metro, bevelled jewels in a kitchen

Or instead, if you visit the branch I do, you could pop next door to Al Murad. They come in at 20cm by 10cm and will set you back only £14.99 per metre. Choose between a plain and simple matte finish or a more reflective gloss.

Matte or gloss: choices abound

Matte or gloss: choices abound

Al Murad's version is comparable but competes on price

Al Murad’s version is comparable but wins on price

Online stores also offer cheaper versions (Tile HQ are selling at a price-busting £9.22 per metre at the moment…).

You may however have a desire for a flat and minimal effect, but keeping the brick design. Fired Earth have some inspirational examples of both the bevelled and the flat in their Retro Metro range. The flat are slightly smaller at 15cm by 7.5cm: the white is called South Kensington and demanding high-end prices at (a currently reduced) £63.73 per metre. The glaze is crackled and adds to a vintage vibe, and I have no doubt these would look stunning in most settings.

Fired Earth's wall-warming selection of seasonal colours

Fired Earth’s wall-warming selection of seasonal colours

This flatter version was the style of tiles my friend Emma wanted for her kitchen. After she described it to me, I found a useful picture on the front of my trusty Living Etc magazine which confirmed the overall look.

Metro-clad kitchen graces Living Etc's front cover

Metro-clad kitchen graces Living Etc’s front cover

I went searching and came up with Walls and Floors’ White Chapel Tiles at a cool £19.75 per metre. They are gloss and flat little tiles, simple and perfect to cover any wall.

Walls and Floors' White Chapel tile

Walls and Floors’ White Chapel tile

We appointed our builder and I chose the grout. The details on a little job like retiling make a huge difference. While tiles are for the most part good tempered and wipeable, the grainy material between is quite another story. Inevitably white turns to a brownish sludge at best, at worst becomes patched with orange or green.

What lovely white grout gleams from this photoshoot/ Original Source's Metro tiles set in pristine conditions

What lovely white grout gleams from this photoshoot/ Original Source’s Metro tiles set in pristine conditions

Most tile retailers offer a massive selection of antibacterial grouts and cleaning solutions, but in fact current trends work in our favour here. Grey is, as we’ve seen, most definitely colour of the moment, and between the tiles is no exception. The shade does define the tiles more, like a subtle web of pencil outlines, but where the little accidents of life occur — the blender rebels riotously over the walls, a kids’ biscuit-icing session goes off-piste, spatters of tomato paste make their livid way inexorably onto every surface you ever had — you have a forgiving base to which you can return with a wipe of a cloth. So BAL’s Micromax Smoke it was.

Save yourself a job: BAL grout in Smoke

Save yourself a job: BAL grout in Smoke

Emma’s kitchen was a little dark between cupboards before — you can just about see the moss-green tiling scheme in these pictures:

Before: Emma's greenish wals....

Before: Emma’s greenish walls…

But now the perky little metro tiles have been fitted, this space is bright and fresh.

After -- a light and bright space

…and after: a light and bright space

And in the evening cosy lighting

In the evening, cosy lighting

She was so happy with it that she styled a photoshoot in it for a new favourite range of homeware. Check it out on her blog here.

Meanwhile, on a roll, I have continued to clock how these little tiles are being used in new and exciting ways. I think my favourite variation on the theme so far has to be these marble brick tiles from Original Style. Stockists are dotted around the country and you’d need to contact them for prices, but what a great combination:

Delicately veined marble brick tiles give a translucent glow to this bathroom/ Original Style

Delicately veined marble brick tiles give a translucent glow to this bathroom/ Original Style Viano White Honed Bevel Marble

I suspect that the little brick tile is only just getting started. Materials and treatments will be expanded this year, and I can’t wait to find out how.

A few weeks ago, I read a blog post on sfgirlbybay (written by Victoria Smith, blogger, stylist, photographer) about wire chairs.  I liked the gracefulness of their thin curved black metal skeletons, placed strategically in rooms full of wood and white: have a look at the post here.

Then, I happened to pop into the spare bedroom a few times over the Christmas break (we were hotel-busy!), and noticed that our term-time lodger Rose had bought a cool black wire waste paper basket. It suits the spare room very well, bringing a touch of definition to the neutrals that we have in there already. If you need a reminder of the colours, pop over here for a moment: what do you think? I am now on the lookout for a few more black accents. Even more excitingly, she bought the bin from our old friend Mega Pound, so it looks like I won’t even need to save up.

Anyway, in the meantime, what should appear in the pages of Living Etc, but more subtly framed items in wire. They are not bold, they don’t stand out, but they do add an outline to a pale space, a bit like a sketch that has not yet been coloured in.

Another bin. Fits beautifully in the office space.

Another bin. Fits beautifully in the office space

Bin... or is it a laundry basket? Now there is an idea.

Bin… or is it a laundry basket? Now there is another idea

People are using the structures for coffee tables too:

Mesh Locker side table in copper -- this comes with a glass top should you not want to leave your wine glass balancing to chance/ Bowles and Bowles

Mesh Locker side table in copper — this comes with a glass top should you prefer not to balance your wine precariously all evening/ Bowles and Bowles

These mirrors have a vintage charm:

Sun's rays radiate from your reflection....

Sun’s rays radiate from your reflection….

I have to admit this next example didn’t work for us: our wire fruit bowl left ridges in the apples. It is pretty though. Maybe you could keep something un-bruisable in it.

Latticed fruit bowl

Latticed bowl with imaginary fruit

And finally, the chairs.

The classic Harry Bertoia chair.

The classic Harry Bertoia chair

It’s a lovely design, but you’d want to be wearing long trousers for any lengthy seating experience. I fear I could be more pro-wire-chair in the winter months, unless it’s possible to develop a simultaneous fashion for the imprinted leg pattern look. Or maybe the summer brings an opportunity to invest in soft cushions:

Cloud-topped wire chair.... a softer way to ride this trend

Cloud-topped wire chair…. a softer way to ride this trend

Wholesome green padding on the Fifty chair from Dogg and Arnved at Ligne et Rosset

Wholesome green padding on the Fifty chair from Dogg and Arnved at Ligne et Rosset

Tricia Guild has had hers painted green:

Like a delicate plant, lime-coloured wire chair amongst the flowers

Like a delicate plant, lime-coloured wire chair amongst the flowers

Let me know if you’ve considered any of these options: could you live with wire chairs? Or are they purely a triumph of form over function?

A flash, a cloud of smoke, and the villain/fairy disappears/reappears. Pouf! In honour of the last gasps of the panto season, I bring you a piece of furniture which has crept back into our living rooms over the past few years, since being banished as grubby and tasteless in its earlier, mock-leather-bound, carpet-slipper-bearing, lumpish incarnation.

The pouf now comes resplendent in textiles and textures as varied as we dare to use, and stands bold in minimalist and eclectically-furnished rooms alike as a showcase of colour or pattern.

I was given a magazine subscription for Living Etc for Christmas, which I’m so excited about. We used to subscribe until about June last year, then it lapsed, and I’ve missed following all the innovations and inspirations. Opening up the December issue I clocked lots of little trends and ideas, which I’ll point out to you in the next few weeks, but none as pervasive as the number of perky poufs to be found in the house tours.

Chevron pouf in orange from anitascasa on etsy

Chevron pouf in orange from anitascasa on etsy

Tori Murphy's Elca and Broadway poufs

Tori Murphy’s Elca and Broadway poufs

The striking geometric fabrics are fun and lively: no faded or jaded offerings here.

Zig Zig pouf cover from Rosenhof Art Factory

Zig Zig pouf cover from Rosenhof Art Factory

Missoni pouf from Target

Missoni pouf from Target

But other fabrics are about too – the wholesome knit is always popular:

Take a leaf from Next's book and call your pouf a pod

Take a leaf from Next’s book and call your pouf a pod

The supremely comfortable furniture store Loaf initiated a huge spin-off market for crocheted and knitted poufs, with their Bug range:

Suitable for feet, bums or as a launch pad: Loaf's bug pouf

Suitable for feet, bums… or as a launch pad: the self-advertised properties of Loaf’s Bug

I’ve been on the watch for something footstool-like for our own living room, and was dabbling with a ‘Morroccan ottoman’ search tag on eBay for a while last year.

Most recently I’ve found the US online shop VivaTerra which has sourced these environmentally-influenced creations:

Felt soft: poufs posing as rocks from VivaTerra

Felt soft: poufs posing as rocks from VivaTerra

And this pebbly perch:

Essence of beach in a seat, only softer/ VivaTerra's Soft Stone Pouf

Essence of beach in a seat/ VivaTerra’s Soft Stone Pouf

The grey colour schemes of the VivaTerra pieces, bringing an incongruous ‘outside-inside’ humour to a room, really appeal to me. I think they’d fit beautifully in our living room both in both shade and character.

How about you? Do you have a pouf-sized absence in your home? Which style works for you?

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