Bag yourself a bargain

As an interior designer I appreciate space, particularly my own. Which is why it’s a good thing Mr W has finally returned to London. I love my husband, I wouldn’t be without him, but our 5/2 relationship suits us both. Divorce or death (of one of us) would have been the only outcome if he’d stayed much longer. So now he can get back to his routine, and I can get back to the non-routine I just realised I prefer. This involves only shopping or cooking when I feel like it, working until midnight if I’m in the grip of something, and spending a few hours gardening if the sun is out and I need thinking time. The opposite of my previous life, which was bound by routine and schedules. Perfect.

The other personal change I’ve noticed, is that I have replaced my handbag snobbery with car snobbery. Posh handbags don’t really cut it in Cumbria or my new life. It isn’t practical to carry tape measures, notebooks, paint/tile/fabric/flooring samples in soft leather, silk lined pouches. They don’t really work on building sites either when I need to put them on the floor while I measure up and take photos. So I’ve happily made the transition to cheaper and more practical shoulder-wear. However, I recently dropped my fabulous ‘takes me anywhere, fits anything in it’, automatic 4WD off for a service and was given a tiny, tinny, manual, skodia fabia for the day. I actually had to get someone to show me how to start it, and you should have seen my attempt at parallel parking without a camera and sensors, it looked like it had been abandoned by bank robbers. If by some strange cruel twist of fate this becomes the car of the future with all other models becoming obsolete I will revert to taxi’s everywhere. A challenge in my line of work and rural location but a necessity I’m afraid.

Bizarrely I am the complete opposite of a snob, (what is this, egalitarian? modest? humble?) when it comes to interior design. I love nothing more than a cheap replica of something that costs an arm and a leg elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong I love the expensive stuff too, but most people can’t afford it. So as interior designers it is often our job to create the same look for a lot less. I’ve recently been looking for items to spruce up my summer house so behold my current favourite spring themed bargain replicas!

First on the list these wood effect drum shades. Yes the John Lewis one is beautiful but for a tenner the one from Wilko is a stylish bargain

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Woodland nightshade from John Lewis, £35-45
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Wood effect nightshade from Wilko, £10

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There’s a definite bee theme in the shops at the moment, and these are two of my favourite clocks.

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Progetti Time2bee wall clock, £145 by Red Candy
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Honeycomb clock from George Home, £12

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There is no denying that this Juneberry & Bird cushion by young British designer Lorna Syson is georgous. But if you can’t afford the £32 price tag, Wilko has a pretty bird cushion for only £6.50.

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Juneberry & Bird cushion, £32 from Howkapow

 

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Bird cushion, £6.50 from Wilko

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Sticking with the bird theme, both of these rugs are beautiful and the one from Next isn’t expensive at £160, but I actually prefer the cheaper one from Kaleidoscope.

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120cm x 170cm Hummingbird rug from Next, £160
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120cm x 180cm Hummingbird rug, £115 from Kaleidoscope

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Finally, my summer house is littered with tea light holders, my excuse being that many are presents from visitors (honest guv), but there’s always room for a few more…..

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Set of 4 LSA green glass tea light holders, £18 from Heals

 

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Glass butterfly motif tea light holders, £3 each from John Lewis.

So Mr W is home again this weekend, and despite my earlier comments I have missed him, but if he misses his train home on Sunday I might have to move into the summer house to save our marriage….

 

 

 

More is more for this interior designer

It’s been 2 weeks since my last post because quite frankly I’ve been busier than a barmaid in Soho working the New Year’s Eve shift alone. I had completely given up any form of cleaning, myself included, as the house has been so dusty thanks to the army of tradesmen stampeding through the house. I think I’ve coped with the disruption pretty well all things considered. But I did lose the plot a little about a week ago over the state of the bathrooms which resulted in this….

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I’m not complaining though, Kevin, Barry, Darren, Gary, Gary, Mike, Jim, Andrew and the many more that work for them have been absolute stars. They’ve been on and offsite to work around each other, turned up last minute when I needed them to and stayed late when I didn’t ask them to. It’s reminded me a little of my old life; a big team all pulling together, overcoming obstacles and putting in the hours to get things done. I think I would have missed that part of my life if I’d not had this house project and chosen a new career that will always involve team work.

So it’s the 20th of December and with the exception of the kitchen, everything I wanted to get done by Christmas has been done. The house is clean (and you don’t know how good that feels), and the decorations are up. Steve is back on Monday 22nd to finish tiling the kitchen, Andrew and Craig are back on Tuesday 23rd to install the kitchen island complete with fridge and wine cooler. Barry is coming that afternoon to fit the electrics on the island and install the pendant lights above. This leaves me Tuesday eve to clean up so that I can finally buy a fridge full of food on Christmas Eve so that we can eat a traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas day. Talk about cutting it fine………But the results are stunning, even if I do say so myself. The kitchen is looking spectacular. Photos to follow next week when it’s finished….

In the meantime I have a few words to say on the subject of Christmas decorations. As you would expect of an interior designer I like great decorations. Depending on where I have been living I’ve explored different styles; modern, traditional, monochrome, colourful etc. but on no occasion have I gone minimalistic. In my view when it comes to Christmas less is not more. More is more. Tasteful yes, but plentiful with a capital P. I wouldn’t do it myself, mainly because I can’t be bothered, but I absolutely love those people who go to town on the exterior of their home. When I lived in Yorkshire we had a neighbour that did this and it cheered me up every single time I pulled into our cul de sac and saw their illuminations. I am testing the water this year though. We have a single glowing reindeer in the garden, and tomorrow I will be adding twinkly lights to the front door and Cluckingham Palace…..next year Holly Cottage may draw crowds if this years pilot goes well…..

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Inside I have gone a little mad but  I haven’t yet bought pictures or accessories for much of the house so thought I may as we’ll dress it up a little. Now, I suspect this is where I differ from many interior designers as I don’t believe you need to spend a lot to make your house look good at Christmas. Wilkinsons and T K Maxx are actually my go to places when it comes to decorations. Wilkos have a great selection of the basics, plus a few quirky extras like this years stags head tree ornaments. They also sell packs of cones, cinnamon sticks and berries that you can add to garlands, trees and wreaths. T K Maxx are best for unusual items, this year being great for recycled wood decorations. I also bought bags of cones, dried oranges and orange slices from Amazon for next to nothing. Maybe I’m disillusioned and my house looks like a train wreck. Maybe I should be a little more Martha Stewart but I know I’ve got a good eye and I think I’ve got it right. Take a look at my pics and make up your own mind whether I deserve to call myself an interior designer or not!

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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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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

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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

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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!

From the West End to West Cumbria

Living and working in London made it pretty easy to visit the west end and catch a show. I often went mid-week with friends, buying the cheap tickets if we weren’t sure how good it would be. I’ll watch most things for under £20 if the company’s good! Living in West Cumbria I now have a different style of show on offer and they typically only run for the summer season. This week I attended two; the Keswick show and Ennerdale show. OK so they weren’t preceded by cocktails and a pre-show dinner but they beat the west end hands down for variety. It seems you can enter just about anything in these shows to try for a prize; cattle, sheep, poultry, dogs, pets, eggs, vegetables, fruit, plants, flower arrangements, cakes, biscuits….the list is endless. One lady who shall remain nameless seemed to have an entry in just about every category at the Keswick show. They both had exhibitions of vintage cars and vintage agricultural machinery and the Keswick show had a display of quad bikes that gave Mr W high expectations for Christmas. They also go all out on the entertainment. In Keswick I watched champion sheep shearer Peter claim 1st prize for manually shearing 3 sheep with the biggest sharpest looking shears I have ever seen. You can watch (or participate in!) cumberland wrestling. You can enter a fell run (running up and down very steep hills for those that are unfamiliar). You can also shop – with local farm produce, plants, arts and crafts all on offer. Not a bad way to while away a few hours for less than £10 entry (£7 Keswick and £5 Ennerdale).

There’s even something for interior design fanatics like me at these shows. At Keswick I met a very talented lady called Mel who is a traditional woodturner and produces beautiful lamps, tableware and other items in her workshop in Egremont. I bought one of her paraffin lamps as I really liked the combination of the old fashioned method with the modern design.

One of Mel's wooden paraffin lamps
One of Mel’s wooden paraffin lamps

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Another of Mel's creations - a wooden serving bowl
Another of Mel’s creations – a wooden serving bowl

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At the Ennerdale show I met another very talented lady, Vivienne Coleman. Vivienne is a professional artist who specialises in pencil drawings. Her drawings of sheep really caught my eye, and I will be ordering some of her work for my new staircase. You can see her work on her website http://www.pencil-drawing.co.uk, and she has a gallery on Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/vivienne-c/sets/72157625020434836/

The spectacular location for the Ennerdale show
The spectacular location for the Ennerdale show

I have one other show in my diary that I’ve been wanting to attend ever since I bought our place in Cumbria but haven’t been able too make so far. This one includes….wait for it….the world gurning championships! Visit http://www.egremontcrabfair.com if you’re not familiar with this particular sport and would like to see last years winner and runners up…..And maybe next year my chickens eggs will be good enough to beat the multi-talented lady from Keswick…

 

Prize winning onions at Keswick!
Prize winning onions at Keswick
A Silkie - a fluffy variety of chicken
A Silkie – a fluffy variety of chicken
Peter the champion sheep shearer in action
Peter the champion sheep shearer in action
Mr W with his eye on a quad bike
Mr W with the quad bike he had his eye on…..
One of the many vintage cars at Keswick
One of the many vintage cars at Keswick

A very productive day

Harold (next door neighbour/farmer/friend) came round today to see Hyacinth and diagnosed “egg bound”. He prescribed a spoonful of olive oil (orally thankfully) and isolation for 24hrs as apparently hens pick on the weak. So with help from Harold she has been oiled and is tucked up in the cat carrier for the night. Fingers crossed she will lay in the morning and return to her former plucky self. On the plus side the rest of the ladies (Agata, Beate, Monique, Margo, Phyllis, Harriet and Victoria Peckham took themselves to bed tonight! I went out just after 9pm to round them up and they were already in the hen house snuggled up – very impressed.

More good news; I discovered today that the monthly allowance I set myself before my new business is up and running should be more than sufficient. For example, the hairdressers this morning cost £60. Same colour, cut and blow dry in London – £130. My hairdresser also recommended a private dentist. Her last check up and clean cost £17 my last one cost £110. I dropped into the leisure centre this afternoon to check out the gym, swimming pool and class timetable. Monthly membership £28 with a 6 week trial offer for £35. The only gym near my office in London with a pool cost over £100 a month.  I’m going to Glasgow tomorrow to hunt for soft furnishings for the bedrooms, maybe I can afford a few personal treats after all….

Today was also a good day for treasure hunting. I spotted a small shop opposite the hairdressers called Bitter Beck Pottery which was run by a lovely lady called Joan Hardie who makes beautiful and unique ceramics inspired by the countryside. I didn’t purchase today but may go back for one of her fern lights when I decorate my new office.

Fern vases and leaf dishes from Bitter Beck Pottery in Cockermouth
Fern vases and leaf dishes from Bitter Beck Pottery in Cockermouth
Fern lamp from Bitter Beck Pottery in Cockermouth
Fern lamp from Bitter Beck Pottery in Cockermouth
Leaf dish from Bitter Beck Pottery in Cockermouth
Leaf dish from Bitter Beck Pottery in Cockermouth

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Next to the hairdressers is Castle Antiques and Curios which delivers exactly what it says on the tin, an eclectic mix of antiques and curios. I often have a nosy round there when I’m in Cockermouth and this time I picked up two quirky framed cow prints for the landing. They reminded me a little of Nicky Harwood’s cow paintings and have lovely wooden frames. At £15 for the pair they were a bargain.

Cow print 

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Finally, I have been looking for some vintage china plates to hang on the bedroom walls. You see a lot of blue willow pattern and similar crockery but very little pink or green which is what I was looking for. But as I was in Keswick to meet my lovely friend Karen and her partner Matt for lunch I called into my favourite charity shop (Oxfam), and it didn’t let me down with two of these beauties at £2.99 each – another bargain.

Vintage china plate
Vintage china plate

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So a productive day; progress on the chicken front, a cheap haircut and the promise of more savings, a 6 week trial membership at the leisure centre and some new treasures. I also managed to sign up with a doctor!