48hrs in the fast lane

I was back in the fast lane last week for 48hrs to attend my first interior design trade show. Far more interesting than the trade shows I attended in my previous life I can tell you. Not many insurance trade shows host a champagne bar, and the men to women ratio was significantly lower, making for a more attractive show all round. Decorex is a high end interiors show for designers and retailers specialising in the residential and hotel spaces and it delivers what it says on the tin. 400+ exhibitors under one roof makes for an exhausting day if like me you can’t attend all 4 days but I left with some new inspirations and a list of potential suppliers. Here are some of my favourites from the day.

These beautiful fringed shades from David Hunt lighting would make a great feature over a cozy corner dining area or in a boudoir style bedroom. I also loved the seed cloud installation by Ochre – these solid glass pendants are lit by tiny LED’s above them.

Loved these beautiful fringed shades from David Hunt Lighting image


House of Hackneys rose patterned wallpaper and matching chintzy shades, paired with animal prints looked wild but very cool, and I particularly liked the pineapple lamp. I know a girl who would love a bedroom like this!

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I didn’t go looking for paint or paint technique ideas but this stand by Little Greene really caught my eye. They had 6 rooms over two floors all showcasing the effects you can create with paint. Very creative and eye catching.

My favourite stand by far from Little Greene showcasing creative use of their paint range


Antiques by Design take every day and unusual items and incorporate them into lighting and other accessories. I’m a sucker for this style when its done well and is innovative. This shepherd hut wheel mirror is original and unique. My love of this style probably explains why I also liked the tap display on one stand. I don’t think they intended it to be wall art but you could make a great feature wall in a bathroom with framed bathroom accessories like this. I’m considering it for my own place….

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In my 48hrs I also managed a trip to Buckingham Palace (I named my hen house Cluckingham Palace BTW) and another jaunt to Soho where I had dinner at La Bodega Negra a Mexican bar and restaurant I’ve been wanting to try for a while. The interior is too dark to read the menu never mind take photo’s so I can’t share any of the things that caught my eye, such as the grand piano bookcase or the copper bathroom sinks. But the outside is probably what most people remember anyway. If you didn’t know what you were looking for you would never find the place as the entrance is designed to look like a sex shop, complete with peep show and girls, girls, girls signs. I was very cautious when I opened the door just in case I caught an eyeful of a real peep show, and I couldn’t resist posing when we left.

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So now I’m safely back in Cumbria and its all kitchens go as I race to find the perfect kitchen and complete the design in time for a pre-Christmas installation. I’ve got a man with a mallet coming tomorrow to help me knock a hole in the existing chimney breast to see if the original red sandstone lintels are still there. This isn’t wishful thinking this is what we found when we removed the gas fire in the living room. Its crazy what people cover up. Fingers, legs and eyes crossed!

Perspective is everything

6 weeks in and I’m starting to see the positive impact Cumbrian life is having on me. When I lived in London I had an unhealthy relationship with food and obsessed about my weight and body shape. When you’re in meetings and presenting at conferences you’re constantly being scrutinised by other women, and I’m not criticising as I’ve caught myself doing it, but its not surprising you spend a lot of time judging yourself in the mirror. I was also unfulfilled at work so sought comfort in food and would be planning what I was going to eat hours (and sometimes days if I had dinner plans) ahead of schedule. I was never satisfied with what was in my fridge, which resulted in multiple supermarket trips, takeaways or eating out which meant more drinking…it was exhausting. Now subconsciously I have stopped thinking about food so much. I eat what’s available in the fridge and only visit the supermarket weekly when I pick Mr W up from the station. I don’t own a pair or scales or a full length mirror. Its totally liberating. Don’t get me wrong I still love food and a loving having the time to cook again, its just not such a dominant feature in my life. I think I am a little thinner as my clothes are looser in places, but I just see that as a positive side effect, I am not going to diet. If I want butter I’m having butter!

I also have a reputation for being highly competitive, and I used to put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself to be the best at everything and to complete everything in record time. I’ve not lost these traits post move, but they’re less obvious. My neighbour Sharon would probably disagree as she thinks I’m keeping myself far too busy and trying to do to much too soon, but I know what I was like so I know this is a healthy work ethic and not as a result of pressure. Take my new career as an interior designer. It was always the plan to set this up next year when I’ve completed the house renovations and my studies and that’s still the plan even though people regularly ask me how the new business is coming along. Old me would have felt pressured to start sooner to avoid being seen as a failure. New me is just enjoying herself. I’m even happy in the slow lane at the swimming pool where I’ve started swimming lengths – this would never have been me in London, I’d have pulled muscles in the fast lane to try and keep up with the crawlers (I can only do breast stroke….) rather than admit I’m no Rebecca Addlington.

This week has been the usual scrum of contractors in the house as the joiners and electricians teamed up to board out the ceilings downstairs and install new lighting. To remain close enough to supervise without being under their feet I took advantage of the sunshine and did a little furniture restoration in the garden. Our dining room is tiny and oddly shaped which requires non-standard furniture if you want to seat more than 4. I bought a dining table on eBay 4 years ago which was narrower than a standard table which I stripped and stained, and since then I’ve been looking for the right seating solution. In Lille I found one half of this when I spotted a lovely narrow church pew. I then picked up 4 matching church chairs in an antiques mill in Manchester. For some reason church furniture is much narrower than standard furniture these days – must have been to make room for those massive altars and organs! The pew and the chairs were in pretty good nick but required a light sand to remove stains, paint chips and chewing gum….ugh. I then re-stained the pew seat and oiled everything with my trusty osmo oil. The result is stunning as the chairs are maple and the bench is oak and pine and the oil has brought out the grain and given them a lovely warm glow.

They are now installed in my dining room which is not yet ready (radiator, plastering, painting and window dressing still to be done) but already the room has been transformed just with the restored beams, new ceiling boards and lights and now the new furniture. The pendant lights are from Fritz & Fryer who I recently discovered online. I suspect I will be making a few more purchases from them.

Below is an old photo of the room which I took when I viewed the house so you can see how cluttered it was. The previous owner used it as his office, in fact it was called the Station Masters Office as he kept his train set in another room (FYI he was 65 not 12).

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Before I leave you a quick chuck update. Phyllis is not sick she is ‘clocking’ as they call it in Cumbria. The silly bird is broody and trying too hatch her unfertilised eggs. I think I need to send Harold in to teach her the facts of life. No cockerel, no chicks, chuck.














A little upcycling and a broken husband….

Before we took on international roles at work Mr W and I were regular fell walkers and could climb like mountain goats. These days not so agile. So after moving to Cumbria I had made it my mission to get us hill fit again. All was going well with the training until yesterday when I broke Mr W. After 10 miles of up and down fells he could hardly walk and I had to abandon him to go and fetch the car. He’d have been sat on that bench by the roadside for 2hrs if the 2 old fellas I’d asked for directions hadn’t given me a lift back to the car park. Cumbrians are lovely people. The 2 guys were old school friends, one local and one now living in Truro. They meet up annually for 2 weeks in Sept to fish on Bassenthwaite Lake (technically the only lake in the Lake District, all others are called waters or meres). During the drive back to the car park they asked me about Mr W’s injuries and I explained that he would be fine, but there had been a risk of me killing him if I’d had to listen to his moaning much longer……I mean look at the beautiful views!

On the plus side we got home a little earlier than planned which gave me chance to finish my bar stool project. A few months ago I picked up 6 cast iron pub stools that were missing seats in a junk shop in Greenwich. Since then I’d been looking for the perfect perches to top them. I found them in Lille in the form of old French tractor seats. These days farmers like upholstery and suspension, but farmers used to be made of tougher stuff and the seats were moulded iron. I wire brushed 4 of them to remove old paint flakes and scrubbed the bases which were already bare. I drilled holes into the bases to fit the new seats and then painted the bases and seats with smooth black Hammerite. I love Hammerite; you can paint directly onto rusted metal, it rarely needs more than 1 coat and the finish is smooth and leaves the metal gleaming like new. Voila!

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I only managed to find 5 tractor seats in Lille, so I’m on the hunt for one more, unless I find something more interesting for the remaining 2. In the meantime I’d better go and check on the chucks. Phyllis has been nesting in the same place for 48hrs now even though the rest have been roaming free – in the garden, the lane, the neighbouring fields and the neighbours gardens……Hopefully it’s just broodiness and nothing more as she is my second favourite (after Harriett) and was named after my Aussie friend Phil. He’d be very upset if something happened to his namesake.




Do you have what it takes to go hardcore treasure hunting?

Back home and I think the chickens missed me. There was definitely extra clucking when I went to feed them. Its not like they didn’t have company while I was away though; with 2 neighbours and my stepdaughter all doing shifts they had more minders than Beyonce. Scratchy the cat on the other hand was his usual indifferent self. Sharon told me she spent 30 mins cuddling him every night so he’s probably wishing I’d stayed away……

My Lille trip was a huge success. Braderie de Lille is an annual event held the first weekend in September. It dates back to the 12th century and claims to be Europe’s largest flea market with 10,000 sellers and millions of visitors. Even though I’d done some research I still wasn’t prepared for the size of the market and the range and quality of the goods available. I was like a kid in a sweet shop – miles and miles of old, dusty, quirky, interesting stuff! Like the car boot (see one of my earlier posts) I was a bit of a rookie but with some on site improvisation we managed to secure a haul of treasure and get it all in my 4WD. Here are my tips for other first timers:

  • Go with a wish list. There is so much on offer you run the risk of filling the car with random purchases before you spot the items you really went for.
  • Measure your rooms and spaces before you leave home and take a tape measure to the market.
  • Take the biggest vehicle you can, and if you own it line it with old sheets so that you don’t damage the interior shoving furniture into it (sorry Mr W…). Measure the inside of the vehicle.
  • Take a trolley or barrow to carry heavy items, plus straps to secure them. We bought 2 granny shopping trolleys at the market ( €15 each) and pilfered some string from a stall holder. We broke one of the trolleys carrying a set of industrial chairs, and the string finally broke under the weight of a church pew. At one point we commandeered an abandoned supermarket trolley so we might have been rookies but we were certainly resourceful.


  • Take at least one other person to help carry things, but make sure they’re strong and have the stamina – you don’t want a whinger holding you back!
  • Take your whole budget in cash, I didn’t see anyone with a credit card machine and only a few cash points, and go prepared to barter. Typically we would pay 60-70% of the first price quoted.
  • Staying in Lille is ideal, and I’d recommend the hotel L’Hermitage Gantois. It’s a beautifully restored former hospice and perfectly located. They have valet parking but can’t get your car out until 8pm on Sunday so you can park at Grand Palais multi-storey which is a 10 min walk away – €22.50 for 24hrs.

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So what treasures did I find?

A church pew for €70, and a set of industrial style chairs for €130, I bartered for 6 and he threw in the 7th for free!

Church pew - €70 IMG_1184


A ladder back style chair with rush seat, an old trunk, €30 and a pot belly stove for €50. Bartering for the stove was fun as 2 other stall holders joined in!

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Two bar signs for my stepdaughters garage bar – €10 each. One lights up and just needed the plug changing so it would work in the UK

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A beautiful brass coat rack and parcel shelf like the type you see on old trains – €120, and what appears to be a wall mounted stand for riding hats which I plan to put on the back of a bedroom door – €10.

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But my favourite purchases have to be the 5 tractor seats I bought individually at an average price of €12. They will be perfect for the cast iron bar stools I bought in an antique shop.

My sister also brought home a haul (well I did as she was flying), and her favourite purchase was the antique lift floor indicator. We’d seen it on the first morning priced at €350 and it was still on the stall on Sunday afternoon and we took it home for €120 – bargain!



Next year I will be hiring a van, and possibly a trailer…. My sister is already invited based on her strength and stamina. Two other friends want to join me but I may need to test their endurance first…….

Feeling old….

A month ago when I set up this blog I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for figuring out the technology. Now I have a problem (adding photo’s) and feel like an old lady thats been given a computer for the first time. Needless to say blogging temporarily suspended while I try and fix things – wish I was a young hip techno-savvy geek!

A folly in the city?

Wherever I am I’m always on the look out for design inspirations and London never disappoints. Drinks with friends last night took me to The Folly which I love because it’s so not The City where it’s located. The interior has a real forest feel but also includes lovely vintage kitsch and it’s own pop up homewares shop. With free wifi and lots of natural light it’s a great place to camp out too – and the service, food and wine list aren’t bad either!

Forest feel bathrooms in The Folly, London

Door to who knows where in The Folly, London

Forest feel dining at The Folly, London

A little up cycling, down cycling and recycling

I eat a lot. Fact. Thankfully I also like exercise, but I’m an outdoor person that hates gyms. This is probably because the ones in London are often below ground and/or windowless, i.e. completely devoid of natural light. So to avoid morbid obesity I used to cycle to work. Now cycling in central London comes with a certain amount of risk but with some basic common sense (keep your eyes on the traffic and don’t listen to your iPod when cycling….) you can avoid serious injury, if not the pollution. In 10 years I only had 3 collisions, none of which were my fault. I rear-ended a cab which stopped abruptly to pick up a fare, I was side-swiped by a white van that decided to illegally undertake a car in a bus lane, and I was hit side on by a car that turned left without indicating or checking their mirror. The only time I really hurt myself was when my mudguard jammed my tyre as I took a corner and I fell off sideways like a sack of potatoes. Three men came to my aid and I cried. Humiliating. For 2 weeks I had a lump the size of a tennis ball on my elbow and couldn’t wear tights because they kept sticking to my weeping scabby knees. So cycling in pollution free, bike friendly Cumbria is an absolute pleasure, but it does have its ups and downs, literally. I don’t think there is a stretch of flat ground longer than 50 metres in the whole county. The ups can be exhausting but the downs are fantastic. Although the pleasure of hurtling down a hill at 35 miles a year is slightly tainted by the knowledge that you know there will be a massive uphill at the end of it. Yesterday I did a circuit of Derwent Water, passing through beautiful Borrowdale and the Newlands Valley. I met 2 lovely old fellas outside the Swinside Inn where I stopped for lunch who were also out cycling for the day. (This pub is hosting a chilli festival and its own Oktoberfest this month – who needs London!). Today I did a circuit that took in Kirkland, Ennerdale Water and Ennerdale Bridge. More breathtaking views…..and hills.

In between cycle rides I dabbled in another kind of cycling; a little upcycling. In my view there is little difference between upcycling and recycling as both involve adding value to something that has little value in its current form. I guess upcycling just sounds a little cooler. Anyway, I’d been struggling to find picture frames for my newly decorated bedroom as I wanted a linen/taupe colour to match the soft furnishings. Then I remembered I had a tin of Annie Sloan french linen chalk paint I’d bought after the painting class I took in London. So I dug around my garage and found 5 old frames that would fit the prints I’d ordered and set to work. 2 coats of paint and 1 coat of clear wax later and I have the frames I wanted. For those of you wanting to try the Annie Sloan paint I recommend watering the paint right down and applying at least 2 coats to get the best finish. I’d also recommend Harris paint brushes, they work well with the paint, they don’t lose their bristles and they’re really easy to clean. You don’t need the Annie Sloan brushes.

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When I was digging around in the garage I also found a small wood and leather chest. Mr W is a chilli fiend and one of his Christmas presents last year had been a box full of chilli chutneys and jams, and this had been the box. I’d been looking for something to keep paperwork in and decided with a coat of Annie Sloan this could do the trick.

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My final bit of upcycling was actually to preserve not improve the item. 3 years ago one of my oldest friends Meredith stayed at Holly Cottage with her young family. The following year they gave me one of the best presents I have ever received. Her very talented husband Mark had painted a picture of Holly Cottage which now sits above the fire in my sitting room. I have been concerned about damage to the painting as the canvas was exposed. So this morning I replaced the frame with a lovely gilt one I found in Oxfam which includes glass to protect the painting from dust and smoke from the fire.

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No biking tomorrow unfortunately as I’m off to the big smoke for a course in digital marketing (funded by my former employer as part of my redundancy package). Then its onto Lille for the Braderie de Lille flea market, an annual 2 day event and the largest flea market in Europe. I’ve measured every available space in the house in anticipation of all the treasures I expect to find, and I’m taking the Shogun to ensure I can get them home. I’m going with my sister but even she’s not allowed any space in the car, and is having to make her own way there. Note to self, must get plenty of Euros on the way……

Derwent Water from Borrowdale
Derwent Water from Borrowdale
Newlands Valley from Swindale Inn
Newlands Valley from Swindale Inn
Ennerdale Water before the massive down hill!
Ennerdale Water before the massive down hill!