I’m an Interior Designer – don’t get me out of here!

Yesterday I completed my first project in my official capacity as an interior designer, and it felt really good. I’ve been styling and decorating my own homes for more than 20 years but this is the first time I’ve delivered a look in someone else’s home and the satisfaction far outweighed anything I felt after delivering projects in my former life. I think one of the reasons is that in the insurance industry you rarely deliver anything tangible, the closest I ever got was an app or marketing materials. To see your completed product and the smile on the customers face is amazing.

The customer (my step-daughter Kim) has a two bedroom house in Leeds, with a good size living room and kitchen but no dining room, just a breakfast bar in the kitchen. So the brief was to create a dining space in the practically unused conservatory. The room is only 2.4m x 2.6m and has doors from the kitchen and into the garden, so to coin a phrase that was vastly overused in the recent series of The Great Interior Design Challenge (which I loved BTW), spatial planning was key.

I’d given her 3 options in terms of a look and she went for my favourite, the relaxed coffee shop style. With this as the theme her conservatory now includes an L shaped bench seat to maximise space, with a table, 2 dining chairs and a carver so that she can comfortably seat 6, with room for more for the pizza parties she likes to hold since she installed her pizza oven in the garden.

When a room is half empty and rarely used it becomes a bit of a dumping ground for things that don’t have a place elsewhere. So I included storage in the bench seat (which my neighbour Harold made) to remove all the clutter, and a wine rack which holds glasses and bottles which frees up space in the kitchen.

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Lighting was also poor, with just two small wall lights high up on the back wall. So we added a floor lamp and two of these cool clip on LED lights from IKEA which have flexible stems so you can reposition the lights at any time.

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The key element of the coffee shop theme was the use of recycled coffee sacks to upholster the bench seat. Now, I can sew a little but when it comes to deep seat pads I need a little assistance unless you are prepared to compromise on quality….Luckily I know a very talented seamstress call Dianne Roffey who runs Di’s Soft Furnishings in Keswick. Talent aside I feel a bond to Di as she also escaped the rat race some years ago to move to Cumbria with her husband so they could be near to the fells which they love to climb. Di did an amazing job with the coffee sacks I bought from a company in Lancashire which runs a small chain of coffee shops. I then matched the rest of the soft furnishings to the orange and green print on many of the sacks, and used some of the spare sacks to cover a foot stool and the shade for the floor lamp, and make a rug for under the wine rack.

To keep with the coffee theme I picked up various canisters and teacups in T K Maxx and IKEA to use as candle holders (she loves candlelight). But my favourite accessory was probably the ‘selfie’ coasters I’ve shown in a previous post.

I replaced the flooring with engineered wood floor in a dark walnut colour and stained the bench seat and the table and chairs I got from IKEA to match it. The blinds are still to be installed (Hillarys if you pick this up please please install before Chistmas ūüôā ) and are a deep charcoal grey. This might sound like a lot of dark colour but remember the conservatory has a white frame, deep white window sills and lots of light so it looks anything but dingy.

I am delighted with the final result. It is practical, cosy but not cluttered, warm and inviting and a little edgy, just like Kim!

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Now onto my next project. I am officially an Interior Designer Рhow exciting!

The mucky business of interior design

I’ve never been as grubby and whatever the opposite of house proud is (slovenly?) this week. The only relatively clean room in the house is my bedroom and I’m not sure it would pass the test if Aggie and Kim from “How clean is your house” turned up. It’s my own fault. I decided we would get all the mess out of the way in one swoop. So the kitchen has been ripped out and the floor dug up to accommodate a wet underfloor heating system. The plaster has been bashed (literally) off the walls in 3 rooms to replace the ineffective tanking system needed to damp proof my house. The naff pine skirting boards and window sills have been torn out in every room so they can be replaced with oak ones. The electrician has drilled channels in the stone walls all over the house so we can hide the cables the previous owners were too lazy and/or cheapskate to fit properly. Oh and I’ve been sanding the beams and lintels that we discovered when we removed the plaster. The result is a bombsite. And did I mention there is scaffolding in the back yard and debris all over the place because the elusive roofers finally turned up to re-render the leaking chimneys…….The upside is the house should be beautiful by Christmas even if I do look like a troll. Mr W found me covered from head to toe in brown dust last weekend after the first bout of sanding and promptly suggested a spa day for his birthday on 1st December. I think he’s worried that the ‘glamorous, groomed’ wife he used to have is slowly disappearing so he staged an intervention. I’m not going to argue, I’ll go anywhere clean and warm right now, especially if they serve food without the ‘ding’ of a microwave preceding it.

Dust selfie
Dust selfie

Not content with all the work going on at home I’m also getting stuck into the project for the clients I met with last week. They really liked the new layout I proposed for upstairs so I spent the day at their house yesterday to meet with builders and window and door specialists to validate my plans and get estimates for the work. We also brought in Hillarys to price for plantation shutters throughout which the homeowners want. Before I left we went through the mood boards I’d prepared for each of the bedrooms and bathrooms. I was a little nervous as I knew the look she wanted and I know I can deliver it but there’s always a little doubt at the back of your mind that maybe you’ve misunderstood the brief or that you’ve been too bold or creative with something. Thankfully they loved my ideas and we just needed to make a few tweaks to some of the furniture and fittings. We’ve also agreed on the¬†overall budget so I can now put together a plan to allocate this as soon as I get all the quotes in from the builders etc. It’s going to be a great project as it covers the whole house and the homeowners have great taste and want to do the job properly. An interior designers dream!

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Master bedroom and ensuite – New England with a touch of elegance

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Guest bedroom which will also serve as the homeowners dressing room and a place for them to sit and enjoy the view from the floor to ceiling window at the rear of their property. The idea here was to bring the outside in using a botanical theme alongside the crisp white New England look

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Glamorous second guest bedroom and the new juliette bathroom which will serve both guest bedrooms. The bathroom has a touch of Victorian styling complete with coal scuttle toilet roll caddy!

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It’s going to be manic in the run up to Christmas to complete the work on my house but I’m really looking forward to some time off with Mr W to enjoy our newly decorated home, and being an old cottage it always looks so festive when its decorated for Christmas. I’ll just need to keep the painter loaded up with caffeine as I’d like him done before the 18th so I can get the decorations up before Mr W comes home for the holidays. We had a visitor this morning that reminded me I should probably start thinking about food too. One of the local farms breeds pheasants on his land so that he can host shoots and one is hiding out in our garden. I caught him in the chicken coop this morning tucking into their feed. Maybe I should let him and fatten him up for Christmas dinner. Or maybe I should just stick to interior design, I’ve got enough on without working out how to shoot, pluck and prepare a pheasant….

Christmas dinner?
Christmas dinner?

 

 

 

Interior designer or apprentice builder?

Until Holly Cottage all the interior design projects I had done were in properties that had all the necessary infrastructure and sources of power, heating or water you could access if you wanted a new socket or a new tap or appliance. Sometimes I changed layouts and moved walls but my focus was always the design. Holly Cottage is a different kettle of fish…¬†In the last few months I feel like I’ve been serving as an apprentice builder, electrician, plumber and joiner, and I don’t just mean making cups of tea, although I’ve made plenty of them. I literally learn something new with every job that gets done in the house. If required I can now bore you senseless about tanking systems. I am becoming an expert in selecting the right wood for a job and how to achieve the right finish. I have expanded my knowledge of technology (smart appliances, bluetooth speakers and wireless heating control anyone?) I have even taught my plumber how to fit cast iron radiators correctly (brackets end inside the radiator not exposed at the front Darren ūüôā ). But I am still getting to grips with the electrical side of things. Today my lack of knowledge was exposed and nearly cost me dearly.

I knew appliances used different amounts of electricity, and I was aware that using adapters to run multiple appliances from a single socket could overload the socket, but I had no idea how much power individual appliances actually use. I’ve been kitchen-less since November 6th so have a makeshift kitchen in my utility room. I have the microwave, toaster and kettle plugged into a 4 way bar adapter that plugs into a 2 way adapter in the wall that my washer/dryer also plugs into. Barry the electrician wandered into the utility room when I was making him (another) cuppa and immediately gave me a lesson in electrical safety.¬†I now know that the maximum load for a plug socket is 3000 watts (13 Amps). You would think that the biggest appliance would use the most power, but apparently not. A washing machine uses 2250 watts (10 Amps), but a kettle uses 3000 watts (13 Amps). So after my lesson I now know that I can only use one appliance at a time in my makeshift kitchen or I may need a new house if this one burns to the ground.

But this was two weeks ago. Until today¬†I had¬†assumed that all appliances could just run from any socket. Turns out not. I learnt today that some appliances need more than 3000 watts. My new SMEG cooker for example…..and when this is the case you often need a dedicated circuit, which is a feed directly from the mains. I only found this out because Barry happened to ask me ¬†(over a cuppa) if I was getting a new cooker.¬†The good news is that we can install a new dedicated circuit. The bad news is that we need to run a cable about 25 metres across the house, cut through the new ceiling boards we installed last month and drill through 2 stone walls each roughly 50cm thick. So thats Barry’s job for Friday. I think he’s bringing 2 of his lads. I might need to go and buy more mugs as there’s only 4 in my makeshift kitchen and the plasterers are also here on Friday…..

If you’re concerned about overloading your sockets at home there is a handy calculator on the website below. You don’t need to know how much power each of your appliance uses you just select the type of appliances you have plugged in and it¬†works it out for you.

http://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/guides-and-advice/electrical-items/overloading-sockets/

If I’d known I wanted to be¬†an interior designer when I grew up I might have done some basic training in electrics and plumbing first…..

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Today I am on a high which I desperately needed after the last 10 days. Scratchy (the cat) was diagnosed as having kidney disease when I got back from Kenya and it broke my heart watching him deteriorate. He was eating almost nothing and getting weaker and weaker. He perked up for a few hours when Mr W came home last Thursday and spent the evening purring on his lap, but it was short-lived, and on Saturday we had to take him to the vet for the final time. We buried him in his favourite spot in the garden, under a tree where he used to watch the birds and reminisce about a time when he could chase and catch them. He was the friendliest cat in the world and my buddy for almost 17 years. I miss him terribly.

So I needed today. It started this morning with a trip to my step-daughters to drop off some¬†of the new furniture etc for her conservatory which I have redesigned and am decorating as a Christmas present. The coffee shop theme has really come together with a dark wood floor and matching furniture, and soft furnishings made from recycled coffee sacks. As a surprise I designed some ‘selfie’ coasters using photos I downloaded from her Facebook page, with matching placemats showing photos of her and her boyfriend. I used Snapfish to create them, and in black and white they look very cool. If the boyfriend doesn’t last at least she can still use the coasters!¬†I would have liked to wait until I had everything so I could install it all and dress the room but car space wouldn’t allow it. The high came when she sent me a text when she got home from work saying how much she loves everything and can’t wait to see it finished.

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Some of the ‘selfies’

The second high came this afternoon when I met with a new client to discuss re-decorating her whole house. She has just returned to the UK with her husband after a 4 year stint in Australia on business. The house had needed updating before they left but as they didn’t know if they would return there was little point. The house has been occupied while they were away but poorly maintained so they are both desperate to gut it and give it a facelift. As I walked through the house with her discussing what she didn’t like (everything) and the additions she would like (lots) I realised this is my calling. I know that with the right builder I can improve the layout and give her a lot more storage space – what every girl wants right? I also¬†know just the look she wants and how to create it without clearing out her bank account. The project management will be key though. With so much to do we have to prioritise, not just for implementation but also for budget purposes. They need to replace most if not all of the windows so I’ve suggested we price this first, to figure out how much of their budget will be left to replace the kitchen and bathrooms and redecorate. I’ve also agreed to draw up plans for a new layout upstairs, and for the installation of a downstairs loo and utility room at the end of the kitchen so that we can validate these plans with a local builder and price these changes. Starting with upstairs means she can get her clothes out of storage, and if we’re going to have builders traipsing in and out its better to do this before we redecorate downstairs. Once the upstairs is done they’ll have somewhere clean to retreat to when the work starts downstairs.¬†Planning and budgeting were a daily part of my old life so all of this is right up my street. There are also plenty of opportunities to be creative. I am so excited.

When you’re a child adults always ask you what you want to be when you grow up. I find myself doing this with my friends children. When I was a child I could never answer this question, as I just didn’t know. Now I can, I guess this means I need to grow up…. ¬†ūüôā

In memory of Scratchy, Feb 1998 – Nov 2014. RIP

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A Saturday night out with a difference

I had another reminder tonight of how different my life now is. Normally on Saturday night I’m draining a bottle of NZSB, tonight I was draining my stream. The stream runs down the front garden and into a pipe under the road. I installed it 3 years ago to divert the water from the fields behind which had been turning the front garden into a swamp. Everything usually works but autumn leaves had blocked the pipe and the heavy rain tonight had turned the lane into a lake. So I had no choice but to get a torch and a spade, stick my wellies on and get out there to clear it. It might sound like a nightmare but I actually like dealing with this kind of stuff, it’s very grounding.

Before the flood alert I was doing a little recycling with some coffee sacks I bought online from a small chain of coffee shops in Lancashire. There are plenty of companies now selling these sacks online but I like to support small local businesses when I can. I’m working on project to redecorate a conservatory in the style of a coffee shop. I’ve bought the coffee sacks to upholster the bench seat I’m having made but using them for light shades will bring the room together. Needcraft is an online store which sells these really simple lampshade making kits at a very reasonable price. They’re so cheap and easy to use its a no-brainier really if you want to cover your own shades. I’m pretty pleased with the way they look, and can’t wait to see them in the finished room

Barrel shade
Barrel shade
Wall light shade
Wall light shade

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So jobs done, time now for a little indulgence. No Mr W so X Factor, curry out of the freezer and a little NZSB, we’ll it is Saturday night……

Bossiness aka Project Management, a skill worth paying for

In my old life at 5pm on a Friday you would usually find me in a city wine bar with a nice glass of NZSB (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) blowing off steam with Mr W and/or work colleagues. This Friday night I was cleaning ¬†chicken poop off the floor of the chicken coop. A task made harder by the fact the ladies wanted to go to bed as it was getting dark so lots of clucking and chickens underfoot. Oh how my life has changed….I still say for the better though. A few days before we were due to fly back from Kenya I realised that I was looking forward to getting home. In my old life I can’t remember feeling anything other than dread as the end of a holiday drew near. I used to spend my holidays ignoring the blackberry and forcibly blocking out any thoughts of work until I was physically home, otherwise I just couldn’t relax. It just reinforced my view that I made the right decision leaving work and moving to Cumbria. I’ve never been happier.

Since I moved here Mr W has started to imagine himself as a country gent, with a small holding and a few more animals. To try and make this a reality I approached the owner of the empty field opposite my house with an offer to buy it, and I can safely say that won’t be happening any time soon. I think I’ve found the man the words cantankerous, obnoxious and rude were invented for. Old me would have shared this thought with him. New me just left with a smile and “you know where I am if you change your mind!” Ah well, less poop to clean and it will save having to find someone to donkey/pig/sheep/goat sit next time I need a city fix.

So it’s full steam ahead with the house renovation/redecoration again. If you’re ever starting an interior design project and can’t decide whether or not to pay for project management my advice would be unless you’re unemployed get a project manager. Contractors are notorious for taking on too many projects and juggling to try and keep everyone happy. If you’re not constantly checking in nothing gets done, or worse they make ‘executive decisions’ in your absence which you either have to live with or pay to fix. ¬†I take two weeks off and the roofers didn’t turn up to re-render the leaking chimneys, the landscaper didn’t come and level the ground for the new shed and the electrician didn’t fit the meter box. I get back make a few calls and they’re on site, except for the roofers. You can actually google ‘the top 5 most elusive mammals on the planet’, roofers should be on this list between badgers and ocelots. What amuses me is that in my old life I was surrounded by men and paid to boss them about. These days I’m still surrounded by men, and still bossing them about, only difference is now I’m paying them to let me.

So there’s still a steady stream of re-wiring, plastering and joinery work going on in most rooms but we’ve now started the big job – the kitchen. The old kitchen was ok, but now I have the space and the cash I want my dream kitchen, starting with underfloor heating which is why I’m currently living with a makeshift kitchen in my utility room and no heating and hot water. I’ve told Mr W to stay in London for 2 weeks – no need for us both to be cold and grubby.

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Before: the old kitchen

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Current state of affairs…..

Despite comments in earlier posts about my dislike of roughing it I’ll manage. I have wood burning stoves, thick duvets and I can shower at the leisure centre. I am a bit worried about Scratchy the cat though. He stopped eating while I was away and the vet has confirmed it’s his kidneys. We’re just trying to figure out whether it’s a treatable infection or permanent damage. I’m a little distraught as he’s almost 18 and my companion. The house will be very empty without him if this is the end of the road.

Scratchy
Scratchy

 

 

 

Eat, sleep, read, repeat

Life in the slow lane has almost come to a stand still this week as we spend the second half of our holiday at Diani Beach on the east coast of Kenya. The Kenyan government has been telling Brits that geographically they are closer to the Ebola virus in the UK than they would be in Kenya to try and encourage tourism, (something they’ve never really had to do) but the message clearly isn’t getting through as our camp in the Maasai Mara and this resort are both quiet. The threat of Somali pirates off the coast and terrorist attacks in Mombassa and Nairobi are also having an effect on a country that has been a tourist destination for Brits and many other countries for years. I remember being jealous of a classmate going on holiday to Kenya in the ’70’s when everyone else including me was going to Wales. We didn’t know where it was, we just knew it wasn’t in Wales….

So the lack of Kindle and other guests and the fabulous weather means a glorious cycle of eat, sleep, read, repeat, and a lot of daydreaming. It started with me pondering what I would do with the decor if I owned the place. The reason being the current decor is a strange mixture of African, Indian, Moorish and Persian. The accommodation is made up of 6 small cottages, half of which are thatched African style, as is the small hut occupied by the beauty therapist Alice.

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The thatched roof spa next to the beautiful (and empty) white sandy beach

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Inside ours is furnished with ornate carved wooden furniture, Moroccan style lanterns, and Persian rugs. But the day bed, ceiling fan and tent like mosquito nets are more reminiscent of India. The open air vaulted entrance is safari-lodge-like but is decorated with ceramics and ornaments that could have come from North African souks.

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Vaulted ceiling, ornate wooden doors and fountain in the entrance

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Four poster bed with mosquito nets and Morrocan lanterns. Each cottage had an Arabic name, ours was Assama

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The food served is equally varied with bruschetta, lamb tagine, octopus curry and beef and ginger stir fry all featuring on the menu which changes daily. At first I was a little perplexed, thinking perhaps it was the result of a series of owners making minor changes and a chef that had travelled extensively. A little more research into Kenya’s history showed me that this is actually a true reflection of the diversity of Kenya.

Arab traders first arrived in Kenya around the 1st Century, they were followed by Greek traders from Egypt, and then from 500 AD traders from Persia, India and Indonesia arrived. The East African Swahili Coast became a wealthy and advanced region consisting of many autonomous merchant cities. The Africans acting as intermediaries and facilitators between Arab, Persian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, African and Indian merchants. The Portuguese first explored the area in 1498, they didn’t want to settle, they just wanted to establish naval bases that would give them control of the Indian Ocean. Their presence here only lasted until 1730 when the Arabs finally evicted them. The Brits didn’t get a look in until the late 1800’s – it was 1895 when the British Empire formed the East Africa Protectorate, known after 1920 as the Kenya Colony, with British rule lasting until 1963.

The British presence remains, everyone speaks perfect English and the owner of our home this week is a Kenyan but sounds more British than I do. But I think it is the earlier visitors that have most influenced and enriched Swahili culture, making Kenya what it is today, a multi-ethnic and diverse country. And you know what it works. Who says things can only have one style to be stylish. We’ve been combining flavours in our cooking for years. Diani Blue (formerly Asha Cottage) is a real find. It’s advertised as a B&B but they serve fabulous food all day to residents and non-residents. The ginger beef stir fry on Monday night was one of the tastiest dishes I have ever eaten. The rooms are large, beautifully decorated, spotlessly clean, cool and quiet. The pool and gardens are lovely. Alice the beauty therapist gives a mean massage, and the view of the ocean from the beach side terrace, what can I say…

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But the best thing about this place is the staff, who mostly have very English names. Stanley, Lawrence, Willy, Peter and Seth (I kid you not) are the friendliest most eager to please genuinely nice bunch of barman and waiters I’ve ever come across. So apologies for the history lesson/travel guide but Kenya and Diani Blue were both worth a few hundred words before I head back to cold wet Cumbria brrrrr….

 

 

A Spanish finca in Leeds?

A Saturday night in the slow lane usually involves a Jamie Oliver inspired dinner and some good wine watching contestants being sacrificed to the pop god Simon Cowell on X Factor. But last Saturday I watched sacrifices of a different kind, wildebeest to be precise. Before I quit my city job I booked (and thankfully paid for) a holiday to Kenya including a 4 day safari and a beachside crash pad. So last Saturday we watched 2 female lions dine on wildebeest and some other ladies rocking leopard print, zebra print and ostrich feathers. We were staying in a tented camp of the luxury kind. I’m not really one for roughing it……and I think there must be a global standard for accommodation in game reserves, at least in Africa. Therefore ours had¬†the mandatory polished dark wood floors, the Egyptian cotton sheets and the stone clad outdoor shower. It also had 200 hippo living in the river next door who liked to communicate at 3am, loudly. Believe me the excitement of living with wild animals wears off after a few 3am wake up calls….

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I think the only difference between properties in the Maasai Mara versus any other national park in Africa is the presence of the red and blue plaid traditionally worn by the Maasai themselves which was a nice touch. For a few dollars you could even take home your own Maasai shawl or plaid covered tissue box, and this is where the problem starts. When you stay in beautiful places like this you want to take a little piece of it home with you, or even recreate the look back in England. We’re all guilty of it. I’ve seen Greek taverna inspired kitchens in Stockport and Spanish fincas in Leeds. I’ll even own up to a little piece of Thailand in London. So the question is how far should you go?

If it’s just small reminders you want then there is no rule as to how many you can collect and display. However, anything with the name of the place you visited displayed upon it should really be avoided, unless it’s a t-shirt or tea towel. How do you think I avoid Mr W turning our homes into homages to our travels. If I didn’t keep him in check I’d have a house full of shisha pipes, bongos and wind chimes. The t-shirts keep him sweet. I know one couple whose house I could walk around for hours looking at all the things they’ve collected, but dusting must be a nightmare. I have another friend who has recently bought a new place and plans to buy a bookcase or cabinet for her trinkets – very smart. I’m somewhere in between. I have a relatively small number of things I’ve brought home and they’re currently discreetly placed about the house in London; a hippo from South Africa in the bathroom, some bookends from Cuba on the mantelpiece, a small pair of Thai figurines on the landing. Nothing too distracting.¬†You should also avoid huge items unless you have a) the room, b) the ability to get it on the plane and through customs, and c) it won’t look ridiculous in your home. I love seeing couples at the airport with enormous well wrapped parcels so I can try and guess what they’re carrying back to their conservatory in Wales. I myself have carried back an ornate birdcage from Tunisia (for my sisters garden) and 2 hammock chairs from Argentina. I admit these were probably a mistake but they were only ¬£20!

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(Items that didn’t make it back to Cumbria!)

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There are some of course who like to recreate the whole look in their homes, and this is where it gets tricky. Homes should have continuity, a style and colour palette that is carried from room to room bringing it all together. If you start creating standalone themes room by room you end up with an amusement park. Google the jungle room at Graceland, the home of the late Elvis Presley if you feel an urge that needs killing.

There is nothing wrong with bringing a foreign style to an English home, but my suggestion would be to tone it down and not go the whole hog. My little piece of Thailand in London wasn’t extreme. I had a large airy penthouse with a roof terrace visible from each room. I introduced dark wood floors and added Thai wood carvings to the large white walls and the odd figurine here and there and a few orchids. I built a roof garden and created vistas by placing large planters centrally wherever you could view the garden, and hid Buddhas among the plants. Over the 8 years I lived there that garden grew from nothing to a beautiful mature oasis. When I sold it the new buyer made me rip it all out. I cried when I came home to bare concrete. What an idiot.

So if you’re somewhere beautiful and want to take the memories home, do it, just avoid the 10 foot Maasai statue and the mock Ming vase….. And for those of you with strong stomachs here’s the lions eating the wildebeest – slightly ghastly but you can’t turn away, just like X Factor.

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Things are heating up at Holly Cottage

Swimming three times a week with the pensioners is starting to have a positive effect (11lbs to be precise), although sadly not on my social life, but I do have a new running buddy. He’s a little unfit from spending too much time in a cage, and takes an excessive number of bathroom breaks but he’s great company and loves getting out. His name is Teddy and he’s a local farm dog. Harold his owner hasn’t been able to walk him for health reasons so I’ve been taking him running. To be truthful he pulls me for the first 2 miles, then I drag him for the final 3, but we both end up tired so its mutually beneficial. I’ve also been getting a lot of exercise chasing Agata round the garden. She is the envy of the chicken coop as the only lady able to fly over the 6ft fence. She takes great delight in hanging around near the coop taunting the others with her freedom, until she spots me and legs it…..

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Agata the escapologist

As a result of 5 days without hot water or heating while Darren and his boys install my new cast iron radiators (and drink a lot of coffee) I’m also weight training with the daily trek to the wood store to fill up the log baskets for the wood burning stoves. I do love a real fire at this time of year, however, I am not cut out for the lifting and needed an emergency trip to the physio last week after I put my back out. It’s only when you can’t physically get out of bed and have run out of painkillers do you realise the downside of living alone. Thankfully the local Red Cross, aka neighbour Sharon checked in on me and swiftly delivered drugs and sympathy so I could get back to bossing the plumbers about.

My new radiators were worth the 5 days without a boiler and the bad back though. I appreciate that it was probably rising metal prices that resulted in all the ugly radiators of the 1980’s and 90’s but thankfully the victorian styles are now widely available again, although at a cost. If you’re lucky enough to salvage original ones from old buildings then you can save yourself a lot of money, and buying them from reclamation yards can save you a few bob too, even if you pay to have them cleaned and painted. But I’m always nervous about the internal condition of reclaimed radiators so forked out for reproductions. I used an online calculator to work out what size I should get for each room and ordered them from a company called Castrads who I’ve used once before. They have a large selection and can have them painted any F&B colour. They take roughly 10 days to arrive and their customer service is very good if anything does go wrong with the order or the delivery, or if you’ve miscalculated the number of brackets and valves you need as I did…. and look how beautiful they are!

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The change of season is influencing my design choices too. Everywhere I go I’m drawn to autumnal colours; rustic reds, oranges and greens. I popped into John Lewis last week on my way back from Grand Designs in Birmingham (FYI – a little disappointed with the lack of inspiration but I did save ¬£200 on a new range cooker and 20% on stone flooring). I ordered about 20 different fabric samples most of which haven’t arrived yet but they were exclusively plaid, tweed and tartans like these gorgeous ones from Osborne & Little.

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These lampshades in Green & White and the range of Harris tweed cushions in T K Maxx also got my attention…

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But my only autumnal purchase so far has been this stunning picture by Jonathan Trotman which I found in a gallery in Ambleside. I didn’t really want to buy any art until all the messy jobs in the house are finished but I couldn’t leave it behind. The picture had so much colour and texture I thought it was a painting at first, but its actually a print on canvas.

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Anyway I must get back to work. The customer who wants her conservatory doing didn’t go for the 50’s diner but did like my coffee shop style design so I need to find the perfect table and draw up the plan for the L shaped bench for the carpenter to get started on. I’d better put another log on the fire…

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A 50’s style diner and my new pewter addiction

Autumn has arrived in Cumbria….Yesterday mornings rain and 70mph winds kept me firmly indoors, apart from a mad dash to the wood store to re-stock. It wasn’t a bad thing as I have a new client who wants their conservatory turning into a dining area so I spent the morning researching. She’s a bit of an Americanophile (I promise this is an actual word), crazy about Florida, Disney and NFL, so one of the options I’m putting forward is a 50’s style diner with checkerboard floor and retro furniture. I’m secretly (well now publicly) hoping she likes this idea as it would be really fun to do. I have a contact that can make a customised bench seat and I found these great swivel stools on www.whatever.co.uk. Coloured faux leather and formica is easily sourced, as are the retro accessories. Fingers crossed she goes for the idea!

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I also spent time searching online for kitchen fittings. I was getting concerned that my new kitchen design might be getting a little too traditional. I mean I want it to be in keeping with a period house but I don’t want to go all out country cottage. I think the answer is pewter. Chrome is too modern, brass is to twee, but pewter has just the right amount of class with a hint of edginess. And the great news is its everywhere right now. The style of tap I was looking is also available in Pewter (Bayenne duel lever bridge mixer). Second Nature has a great range of solid pewter and pewter finish knobs and handles. And I found these lights and stools online by Industville, a supplier of vintage, retro, antique and industrial furniture and lighting.

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If only I knew what had happened to my Dads pewter tankards after he passed away. He was a morris man and a pewter tankard clipped to the belt was mandatory. I bet I could find a few in my local charity shops, or is this turning into an addiction…..