Archives for category: Shopping

I thought you might like to take a little tour of an ensuite bathroom I designed recently. It was rather a pleasure, as my client wanted something with a bit of sparkle, which of course is a fun premise from which to create.

The bathroom was being newly built as part of an extension, so we had no existing plumbing layout to conform to, however there turned out to be obvious places for all the different elements in the room, once we’d allocated the shower area.

Whenever you’re thinking about a bathroom design, try and go for the largest possible shower space. It’s no fun bumping your elbows on the screen at every turn, or having to undertake extreme manoeuvres simply to apply your shampoo. The position of the doorway to this room carved out a clear area behind it for the shower to run along a side wall. After looking at a few walk-in screen options, and considering the splash potential, we decided to section off the whole thing with a flat sliding screen door.

holly ensuite shower window

Expand your showering horizons — give yourself some room

Once we had sorted out a location, we decided to line the shower area with some rather glamorous bronze-toned tiles from Walls and Floors. I don’t think this warm shade is in stock at the moment, but they’re from the Metalico range by Envy (their silver tile also looks rather glitzy, and for the dramatic, there’s a glamorous black one).

holly ensuite shower kit tiles corner

Warm tones in the walk-in shower/ Metalico Copper Tile

There is a huge range of prices for shower kits on the market. You don’t need to pay a great deal for something that looks impressive however. Keep to some simple guidelines and you can get the wow factor for less. Firstly, hidden workings can look swish, but tend to cost you more. The kits which have the workings (usually a horizontal bar) which control the thermostat on display are the most cost effective. Hidden workings need to be hidden, so often necessitate the creation of a false wall to hide them behind. And if things do go wrong further down the line, there’s a whole lot more excavation to get at them. Whereas if you need to replace your bar controls…. just swap them in for a new model. I often recommend clients to go to some of the trade-priced online stores for best deals on these. Plumbworld have often proved to offer a good selection. The one I sourced here is from Victoria Plum.

holly ensuite shower kit and tiles

Singing in the rain shower: Aria round head riser shower kit from VictoriaPlum.com

One of the best way to dress your windows in a shower or bathroom is with a wood-effect blind. The material is a composite plastic created to look like a wood slat but with none of the inevitable warping or mould growth. These dark wood effect blinds from 247 blinds are inexpensive and can be rotated shut for total privacy, turned to allow the light to filter through, or even drawn up completely.

holly ensuite shower tiles

Ecowood Sumatra blinds from 247blinds.com

It’s always nice to fit in a little storage to a bathroom if you can. The space around a sink is obviously an ideal opportunity, and there are some lovely modular units out there in pretty much any colour or shade you could imagine to fit your look. We decided to go for a dark brown wood drawer unit, which looks neat against the white ceramic, and complements the copper-themed tiles. On the wall, a mirror can serve as the door to more shelf space, and this nifty cabinet also has a socket to plug in shaving equipment or toothbrushes. The lights running down each side are LED with a warm glow. Perfect for ambient lighting on those tough early mornings….

holly ensuite basin tiles and cupboard

Odessa Wenge floor standing sink unit from Victoria Plum, and a mirrored wall cabinet with LED lighting from Illuminated Mirrors

Of course, the simplest splashback for your basin would be a couple of extras from the shower, but we wanted to liven up the look of the room, and found these delightful mosaic groups at Walls and Floors. Featuring hints of copper, greys and some jaunty patterns, these characterful tiles come as a set of 30cm-square designs which are ridiculously easy to fit. Two here span the width of the 60cm-wide basin.

holly ensuite basin shower background

Moroccan Riad mosaic tiles in Copper by Envy

With the subtle glitz from the tiles, we kept the walls white and used a light grey-brown wood effect vinyl plank for the flooring. Whilst brown is the dominant colour here, the room seems cheerful and fresh. Just a little glitter can make all the difference.

Let me know — what colour schemes would you consider for a bathroom? Do you prefer cool blues or natural tones of stone or wood? Some striking colour like green or red, or maybe a haven of grey? Do you like to add a touch of glamour in your fittings, or keep things muted?

I know, it’s been so long since I last mentioned our poor old music room. It has been languishing in dusty chaos like the Dorian Gray of our house renovation. Way before we moved in, the inspired wall shelving (constructed from layered units from Ikea) was assembled and the plantation shutters were installed… and there we stopped. At the end of last year we hauled all the old boxes of CDs and books up from the cellar so that we “wouldn’t forget about them,” and then promptly forgot about them.

You might remember some dalliance with wallpaper which I had before Christmas. In the end (despite how much fun it was to consider all the options) we didn’t go ahead because we hadn’t really got a picture of the rest of the room yet. However somehow, in the meantime, we have, and it is all finally coming together.

A spurt of organisation this weekend has meant that I have built in some natty drawers and doors to the bottom rung of shelves. We were motivated by the news that Ikea had decided to phase out its storage system called Expedit. This cube-inspired shelving icon has had an illustrious life, as likely to be found nestled amongst the reclaimed furniture of hipster apartments and practically attired family homes: lauded for its boxy good looks and functional design. The cubby holes are the exact right shape to file away your old-school vinyl, display flowers, pack full of books or even put a colourful storage box to stow away those less sightly items.

Little boxes: homes for our stuff

Little boxes: homes for our stuff

So we heard this ‘end of line’ news with a small twinge of horror, having covered one entire wall of the music room with Expedit, in the manner of (but much cheaper to execute than) a full sweep of bespoke shelving. Despite the wonderful resource of a whole website of helpful Ikea hacks it took quite an involved session of planning to find the right combination of given units to arrange against our wall. We had meddled around with the 4×4; 5×5; 4×2; 5×1 and 2×2 configurations before plumping for four horizontal 5×1 units stacked two-high, topped with a couple of mammoth 5x5s.

Fitting it in: Expedit layout for our wall

Fitting it in: Expedit layout for our wall

A smattering of LED lighting in odd shelves makes a nice random effect, and a few bulbs point up to the ceiling above the unit, illuminating the plaster mouldings.

Light touches: Dioder LEDs bring splashes of emphasis

Light touches: Dioder LEDs bring splashes of emphasis

For environmental reasons Ikea have decided to introduce a less chunky replacement to Expedit, called Kallax. This will apparently be slimmer around the frame (thereby using less wood) but otherwise sport the same dimensions.

Check out my broad frame

Check out my broad frame

Ikea usher in a new eco-warrior

Ikea usher in a new eco-warrior

The associated boxes, drawers and doors sold in the same range will supposedly be interchangeable with, and still fit, both Expedit and Kallax units. Be that as it may, we didn’t want to get stuck with a wall full of shelving which we couldn’t accessorise, just in case there were slight variations. I sped out to buy up the stock we needed, and came back with boxes, doors and drawers.

Bank of doors and drawers form the lower layer

Bank of doors and drawers form the lower layer

In our house, the past few months have seen a flurry of (frankly previously inconceivable) CDs sales activity, that has resulted in a very reasonable remnant of a collection. In previous properties we have had to consider the vast CD population as part of the overall design: a great swathe of custom shelving and substantial square metre-age in storage taken up with the 80s pop bands, the rave mixes and dance compilations and Best Ofs. I think we now agree that the new streamlined stock is much easier to accommodate, after the cull/massacre/clear-out since Christmas (appropriate noun to be selected depending on your point of view).

The lower echelons

The lower echelons

We were hoping to house the survivors in the drawers, and they do fit, but sadly not so that you can actually read what they are. So they get a reprieve, and their very own line on display.

Eclectic: steamboat to the fore, house music aft

Eclectic: steamboat to the fore, house music aft

Mixed neighbourhood: Delft houses abut a wall of Now albums

Mixed neighbourhood: Delft houses abut a wall of Now albums

We also executed a quality control exercise with the fiction paperbacks, donating those we weren’t too fussed about and creating a happy rainbow of favourite novels with the ones which we kept. Colour grouping is a smart way to arrange books, as long as you are not too fussy about knowing where any one individual volume might be. In this form they seem to provide just as much of a decoration in the room as if we’d gone at it with a paintbrush, only with quite considerably less effort.

Across the spectrum: literature in colour

Across the spectrum: literature in colour

The reference titles are coralled by subject matter on the upper shelves; photo albums occupy the top flight. There is even a two-cubicle section in the gods where the LPs live. The 7″s are still lurking on the floor at the moment, awaiting their fate.

Craig, will you make the final cut?

Craig, will you make the final cut?

Only a few empty spaces remain, and we’re nearly there with the sorting, only a few homeless items still to place, and for the first time in a while we can actually see most of the floor.

A small pile of work still to do

A small pile of work still to do

I have spent the winter months huddled at my computer whilst the files and scrapbooks have slumped in cosy privilege against the radiator. Now we can reach the shutters to let the sunlight in, and the space is starting to feel bright and ordered.

Piano corner: a semblance of order

Piano corner: a semblance of order

Shutters filter in the daylight

Shutters filter in the daylight

Next on the list are lamp shade, rug and that wall covering. I’ll bring you news on that soon, once we’ve fine tuned the shelves….

In the meantime, how do you store your stuff? Do you like acres of display, or do you prefer to shut it all away? In strict order or mix and match?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know that dipping furniture is so 2012, and I am not going to patronise you with a selection of pictures, or pretend that it’s a new trend. If it happened to pass you by, you can get a very quick summary by typing ‘dipped furniture’ into Pinterest. Or even any search engine, for that matter.

However, I have always found it rather charming to see chairs nonchalantly kicking back under a table, pretending they haven’t been recently been trespassing into nearby paint pots. Or a sideboard that looks like it paddled too deep in a river of gold lacquer.

Ingenious upcycled sideboard featured on Burlap and Lace blog

Ingenious upcycled sideboard featured on Burlap and Lace blog

It’s clever because it’s funny, and because it is the opposite of reverent. I also happen to think it’s clever because I doubt I could recreate this lovely, precise technique in the manner of good DIY or Etsy practitioners. A few months ago I got a really sweet old fashioned school desk for Malachy’s room in one of our local charity shops. Part of me would love to have a go at dipping its little feet in some light blue, just to see how it turns out. But maybe I am project averse, and prefer to admire from afar….

Coral boots for this pale but pretty side table/ featured on Design Sponge

Coral boots for this pale but pretty side table/ featured on Design Sponge

Recently I think there’s more interest in reverse dipping, where the main body of the piece is painted, and just the very bottom of the legs are left bare. And this particular version of the technique looks all the world as if the chairs have decided to dress for the summer, and expose their ankles in a rather feminine capri pant effect. I love these chairs for their elegance: posing in two very different settings:

Barefoot on the geometric rug/ Scene from Domino Galleries

Barefoot on the geometric rug/ Scene from Domino Galleries

White features large/ Scene from Domino Galleries

White features large/ Scene from Domino Galleries

A couple of weeks ago, my sister sent me this cute pentagon stool, dressed for springtime. I enclose it for you as a postscript to my earlier taking sides post.

Urban Outfitters Pentagon Dipped Side Table

Urban Outfitters Pentagon Dipped Side Table

And finally, browsing on Design Milk, I was incredibly excited to see confirmation that the forthcoming AW chair fashion catalogues are already strides ahead: no furniture need go unprepared into the winter months with this:

For when it gets wintry again/ Bench with legwarmers from Side by Side, a not for profit German company

For when it gets wintry again/ Bench with legwarmers from Side by Side, a not-for-profit German company

I had a great week last week setting up a friend’s kitchen makeover. I can show you photos, we’re both really pleased with how it turned out — more on that very soon. But it almost didn’t happen at all.

As we chatted before Christmas, she admitted that she’d love a change in her kitchen, but that it would probably cost too much, she couldn’t bear the hassle and simply didn’t have time. Working full time, with a family and many other pressing commitments besides, the prospect of wading through product research, builder-selecting and overseeing a project was an incredibly unattractive one. So we talked through what she’d like, ideally, and what would induce her to go ahead. And as we discussed it, I realised that a lot of people feel the same about making changes to their homes.

I know the look I want but I don’t know how to get it

Sometimes you know exactly what you want done to your kitchen.

Plywood stars in House OM designed by Sou Fujimoto Architects, photo by Iwan Baan

Plywood stars in House OM designed by Sou Fujimoto Architects, photo by Iwan Baan

You have seen the perfect bathroom in a magazine, and you only wish you could snap your fingers and have it.

Going for gold: who said we had to stop at the taps?/ Lasa Idea Catalogue Collections 2014

Going for gold: who said we had to stop at the taps?/ Lasa Idea Catalogue Collections 2014

You might know that you like a certain style: ‘I live in a Victorian house so I would like to have classic styling in my bathrooms.’

Country house bathroom featured in Homes and Gardens

Country house bathroom featured in Homes and Gardens

Maybe it is simply that you prefer things sleek and don’t want to have all your cookware on show.

What do you mean, it'll all change when we have kids? Segmento kitchen from Poggenpohl boasts unadorned minimalism

What do you mean, it’ll all change when we have kids? Segmento kitchen from Poggenpohl boasts unadorned minimalism

It’s a big jump from these statements to finding the right products, at the best prices, to fit in your rooms. Wouldn’t it be good if there was someone who knew exactly where to look for the special deals, could discuss the pros and cons of different items, and could ensure that everything fitted together properly?

I don’t know a trustworthy tradesman

Sadly cowboy builders are not unheard of. Most people can recount horror stories of jobs left half done or how poor fitting led to leaky ceilings, wonky cabinetry or worse. But there are plenty of fantastic craftsmen out there who work hard, and create beautiful homes. A good professional recommendation is so valuable.

I don’t have the time to get quotes, let builders in, keep an eye on the work done, or ensure that everything is done properly

If you are working and/or out of the house in the daytime, a simple building job can be a huge pressure. You need the time to talk through the job and get quotes, then be ‘on site’ throughout to check on progress, and keep works on track and to schedule. Imagine if someone took all these pressures out of your hands!

I’m not the sort of person who has an interior designer

Most people think of an interior designer as someone who swans about in houses making airy decisions about fabrics, colour ways or recommending expensive luxury furniture. They seem the preserve of the rich, not those with limited budgets seeking practical solutions.

In fact, if you recognise some or all of the sentiments I’ve mentioned above, it’s almost certain that you can save your time, money and stress by employing someone to take these jobs on for you. Sourcing, tendering and project management are all areas of building work that are often bewildering and exhausting. It is not surprising that most people are nervous to undertake new projects, but if they could save on the cost of products, have peace of mind on their choice of builder, and not get embroiled in the minutiae of the job, maybe they’d feel differently.

So if you’d like to spend less, not more, you probably need to come to stowed for some skinterior design.

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?

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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?

As you’ll probably have noticed from my room designs, I like a bit of colour. Whilst the walls in our house are for the most part white, it’s good to brighten things up with some bold fabric, paint, tiles or other features. However I prefer my bedroom to be a tranquil place rather than a statement (we have nothing to prove here…), with a restful simplicity.

So it was that I plumped for a white scheme for the paintwork and wardrobes, and plain sanded floorboards. I discovered some beautiful curtain fabric from Prestigious which I was very pleased with, as it is elegantly quirky, and the pale blue background is so calming.

Chinese jars on a duck-egg blue background/ Prestigious Ginger Jars Azure

Chinese jars against a duck-egg shade/ Prestigious Textiles Ginger Jars, Azure

In the early hours (I know, not my ideal wake-up time, either, but neither night shift schedules nor children are  respecters of opinion) when there is just the faintest dawn appearing outside, they almost seem to glow in the watery light.

Subtle glow

Subtle glow

The central light is one I found at Homebase, with delicate cut-outs to the shade and glass droplets suspended beneath: there were plenty in the same style to be found around Laura Ashley, Next and John Lewis as well.

Master illumination/ Homebase shade (no longer stocked online)

Master illumination/ Homebase shade (no longer stocked online)

It’s bright and glittery (useful for my apparent full-time laundry sorting role), throwing pretty reflections around the walls from the crystals dangling below.

We looked into a number of wardrobe options: there are plenty of firms out there who provide bespoke building in (hugely expensive) and high-end modular pieces (still expensive). We did drool at the beautiful Hülsta designs, wandered through the Sliderobes showroom enjoying the complimentary coffee, and pored over the Sharps website. But when it came down to it, this level of spend was just not possible on our budget. We got ideas, and then headed for Ikea and the Pax wardrobe system.

Many an article has been written about the pros and cons of Ikea kitchens, and I imagine the same points apply for their wardrobes too. You pay less, you work harder, but it is possible to create a product that has a similar feel and look to its more expensive cousins, with a lot of comparable features. We arranged for our builder to build the main structures, and attach them to the walls. Then we worked out our storage needs, and set about designing the internal sections with shelves, hanging rails and drawers from the Komplement range.

Since we have a bit of wood panelling under the window, we thought it would be most appropriate to use the white panelled wood doors.

Wood panels are a feature

Wood panels are a feature

They are not bright white, but their shade is a perfect fit with the creamy colour that all the woodwork in the house seems to have settled down into (a trait of oil-based paints, which yellow with age: I quite like it). It turns out that these doors were the cheapest, too, which was a very positive result.

Bank of simple wood doors

Bank of simple wood doors

My friend Anna sent me the little birds, which I love. They announce the domain of my wardrobe, while opposite Tim’s storage is plain and unadorned.

Felt it: little birds at home

Chirpy: little birds at home

We have a simple dark framed mirror by the shower room door…

Reflective

Reflective

…and a nice photo of some balancing stones above the bed headboard.

Rocks balanced on a beach/ Adrian Gray

Rocks balanced on a beach/ Adrian Gray

On eBay I found a bargain-priced second of this pretty bedside table:

Lacquered and proud/ John Lewis Shari Cabinet

Lacquered and proud/ John Lewis Shari Cabinet

which I thought would fit in perfectly, but actually the colours are not quite right, a bit too strong for the rest of the room. The top and sides are black, and whilst I assumed that continuing the Chinese theme would work, in fact this piece of furniture is not subtle enough to fit in. So, bedside tables are a work in progress, and I’ll update you when we’ve found the solution.

Go ahead and comment, or tweet me your thoughts to @stowedtweet

Go ahead and comment, or tweet me your thoughts to @stowedtweet

What do you prefer for a bedroom — peaceful shades, cosy warm colours, or dramatic darks? I’ll look forward to hearing your ideas!

It’s coming up to birthday time of year in our house. Jonas and Caspar have been hard at work writing their wish lists, and we have been noting the items with interest. Caspar’s list is minimalist, I guess he is ensuring that he’ll get his top favourites. There are five suggestions on there, one of which is a pair of signed Ronaldo football boots, apparently available for the bargain price of £309.99 from a sporting memorabilia website. It’s possible a 7-year-old will be disappointed later this month.

A steal: Cristiano Ronaldo's signed boot

A steal: Cristiano Ronaldo’s signed boot

Jonas on the other hand has scribed a short legal document with scores out of ten (tickets to a Chelsea match, 11.6/10: extreme giver satisfaction rating) stretching to 57 items. There is a pleasing variety of presents for reasonable prices, including a Lego Glow-in-the-dark Racing Car at an encouraging 8.4/10, and Some More BBQ Sauce From KFC: this not to be recommended at an all-time low score of 4/10. Specifics ensure that all expectations will be met: A Trip To Yo-Sushi at 7.45pm reaps 10/10, but please read the timings carefully for full point capture here. A donation of £100 will garner top score of 13/10. I should think so too.

Floating around the middle of the list at a respectable 7/10 was Cardboard Box To Make A House Out Of, which was so surprisingly wholesome I had to check it for small print. I did then remember that a few years ago we purchased a new washing machine, and the cardboard packaging from this provided hours of fun outside in the garden with some paints, some of which were used to decorate the box and transform it into a “house.” More pertinent for scientific study, this entry on the present wish list seems to confirm the old adage “Kids! They spend more time playing with the box it came in!” I was about to proffer my new-found evidence to some market researchers as a tip for future manufacturing trends.

However it would seem that someone has already leapt on that opportunity: you can purchase a cardboard house from eBay for your child to decorate and play in. Really! And only pay £32.99.

Through the keyhole. Who would pay for a house like this?

Through the keyhole. Who would pay for a house like this?

Almost hyperventilating at the cynicism of the toy profiteers, I ventured down to the cellar to find a couple of the large removals boxes we had managed to empty of old CDs and junk. A little soggy around the bottom (the one and only link our cellar floor may have with The Great British Bake-Off), they were nevertheless huge and housey. Which was just what we wanted. In a fit of generosity I brought them up into the kitchen before birthdays for general craft and decoration fun.

Toy box

Toy box

A little parental involvement became necessary around the door and window cutting, thankfully intercepting Malachy’s attempts at slash and stab with a table knife before too much blood was lost.

Cowboy builders, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Cowboy builders, you ain’t seen nothing yet

Now the yellow felt pen is apparently officially ‘run out’ and actually the cat has played more inside the boxes than anyone else, but for an afternoon of creativity these worked perfectly.

Thinking of entering the Room for Color competition next year too

Thinking of entering the Room for Color competition next year too

Lotus is not sure about the standards of workmanship

Lotus is not sure about the standards of workmanship

And Jonas’s present list is now down to 56 items.

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.

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