Partying, porn and Jessica Zoob

Not much interior designing this week but I’m still exhausted. It started with a hen night, which transitioned into a few days at Holly Cottage with the bride to be and the girls, and ended with a wedding. I’ve realised I’m now too old for that much partying. Normally Mr W has to spend his weekends coping with my ADD. This weekend he was starting to wonder whether I had narcolepsy. Too tired to cook, I even ate salad, which to me is the equivalent of offering a vegan a fry up. It was a fun week though and it did provide plenty of interior design porn.

First stop Artisan in Manchester, the venue for the hen night. Somewhere between a very cool loft apartment and a warehouse, it managed to be uber cool without being pretentious. The vintage plaster effect wallpaper on the ladies bathroom ceiling really caught my eye.

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I also loved the herb planters outside the kitchen, the metal framed doors, windows and mirrors, and the slightly bonkers wall art (PS thats my beautiful sister below centre)

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Add some funky industrial lighting, and a couple of Mona Lisa’s and you have one very stylish bar and restaurant, and the food was pretty good too.

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My next interior design fix came the day after when we stopped at The Plough in Lupton for some much needed carbohydrate and fluids. The minute we stepped into the dining room I fell in love with the wallpaper. At first it reminded me of the deserted houses you see in 80’s American horror movies when the plaster is crumbling and the paper has peeled off, then you look closer and its like looking into a lake on a Monet painting, all blues, pinks and greens. A little research and its from a new range of wallpapers and fabrics designed by the contemporary impressionist artist Jessica Zoob. It is stunning, but at £495 for a 2 roll pack (gulp) it could be some time before I get to hang it anywhere.

I’d assumed the decor was the work of a professional interior designer, but turns out it was just a friend of the owner called Amanda Delaney. Hats off to her for an amazing job. I loved everything from the copper coloured radiators to the rugs on the chairs by the stove.

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If you ever find yourself somewhere between Yorkshire and Cumbria you have to visit The Plough. They served up possibly the best Sunday Roast I have ever tasted, and when I expressed an interest in their decor a very nice young lady showed us around all 6 of their bedrooms which were as beautifully decorated as the dining room and bar area.

Top tip – if you want to treat your loved one to a romantic night away book the Torsin room – absolutely stunning.

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Last stop was the aptly named Nutters Restaurant in Rochdale (if you’ve met the bride you’ll understand why so apt….), the venue for the wedding. This fed my love of architecture and restoration. Built in 1850 as a private gothic-style manor house, it has since been a hospital, a night club and a Brewsters steak house. It was bought in 2003 by Rodney Nutter, father of celebrity chef Andrew Nutter, and is now a restaurant and wedding venue. It’s the grounds and exterior that make this place a great venue for weddings. It was another great dining experience too, and the straw that broke the camels back. I am now on a diet…..

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So normal service resumes this week – work, study, exercise. But a huge thank you to the  bride and the ladies that made last week so much fun. I’m still giggling at the facelift selfies….

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And finally, congratulations to Matt and Karen the bride and groom. It was a fantastic wedding.

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The worlds most challenging interior design jobs?

Things have been a little hectic of late (hence the overdue blog) and now Mr W and I are co-habiting again. A novelty which I am sure will soon wear off for us both. Long story short he’s been diagnosed with diabetes and is under hospital supervision until his glucose levels can be stabilised with insulin. So all his business travel has been cancelled and I’m playing nurse. I did manage a couple of trips before his diagnosis though which provided some interesting sight seeing for an interior designer.

First stop Rotterdam to see an old school friend who took us to see the cube houses designed by architect Piet Blom. There are 39 in Rotterdam, each tilted 45 degrees and resting on a hexagon shaped pylon. They were built in 1977 and his design is supposed to represent a village within a city, where each house represents a tree, and all the houses together, a forest. One has been maintained as a museum and getting inside is a challenge in itself as the stairs are steep, narrow and windy. Once you’re in the views from the windows almost induce vertigo as you feel like you’re facing the ground below. But the biggest challenge with these houses must be furnishing them, your only real options being flat packed or custom made. My verdict? Interesting and worth a visit but I’m a bit of a space utilisation freak so they left this interior designer twitching…

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Next stop Norway. Hurtiguten run a fleet of cargo/passenger ferry/cruise ships along the coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. They sail non-stop and dock everywhere to load and unload passengers and goods. Its a great way to see the coastline, and at this time of year also the Northern lights. We boarded halfway in Tromso and sailed to Kirkenes and back. At Kirkenes we visited the snow hotel as an add on to a husky dog sledding excursion. Now I’ve seen a snow hotel all romantic notions of staying in one have disappeared. The rooms are freezing, the air is damp, there’s little privacy and the bathrooms are down an icy corridor. I don’t know what I was expecting but perhaps a little more decor, and the only signs of any interior design are the ice carvings on the walls. My verdict? Worth a nosy if you’re in the vicinity but unless your Bear Grylls I’d avoid an overnighter….

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So these places left me pondering about other challenging interior design jobs. Here’s some I’d like to get my teeth into….

1. Possibly the smallest house in London. Only 188 sq ft which is one fifth the size of an average new build. Only one bedroom and unsurprisingly open plan living space. It sold recently for £275k which will  prompt much sucking in of breath from my northern friends…You’d need a sparse wardrobe and be a fan of eBooks, digital music and movie streaming to live here. And check out the bathroom – I’ve seen bigger on boats.

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2. Most definitely the least private house in the world. This 914 sq ft house built by Sou Fujimoto Architects is definitely only a home for exhibitionists as it’s completely transparent. Apparently it was inspired by our ancient predecessors who inhabited trees. Once I’d got past the bathroom issue my next thought was how have they hidden all the plumbing and electrics?

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3. A very eco-friendly house. Located in France is a bio-climatic solar house that has been designed as a three-dimensional sundial which keeps the temperature cool in summer and warm the rest of the year. I’m not sure I could live in a temperature controlled glass box though. I’d get very little sleep in the summer as there don’t appear to be any window dressings and I’d definitely want to get a window cleaner.

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4. A house with a view. Not a penthouse or a mobile home but a rotating house. It took the 73yr old builder more than 20 years to complete this house in the Czech Republic but what an invention. He said he built it because he got bored building ordinary houses. The lower level is a swimming pool, the house moves up and down by flipping a switch, and it can rotate 180 degrees, albeit manually. When the house is submerged it maintains a stable temperature year round making it energy efficient too. The round walls would present a bit of an interior design challenge furniture wise but I love it – imagine being able to change your view when you wanted to.

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Much as I like the rotating house my dream home is still one that overlooks water, but Holly Cottage fits the bill for now

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How white made this interior designer see red

Last week Alana MacInnes became famous overnight when she posted online a picture of a dress that to some people (me) looked white and gold and to others looked blue and black. Check out #TheDress on Twitter if you missed it. While this was going viral I was dealing with other optical illusions in the world of interior design.

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It started on Thursday with a late night email from a slightly rattled customer asking me whether the bathroom suite the builders had installed was supposed to be 3 different shades of white….By the time he called me in the morning explaining it was a false alarm and a trick of the light I was already on a white knuckle ride to the nearest showroom to check it out for myself, and had arranged for a replacement suite to be shipped out as soon as I gave the word. Thankfully no longer necessary.

Friday had me dealing with the white lies of furniture retailers. Call me old fashioned but the furniture in this photo below looks pure white to me. Well its not. I won’t shame the retailer as they’re not alone in marketing whiter than white images of goods that are ivory, cream or another shade of off white but as an interior designer it’s very frustrating. White should be the safe colour when it comes to internet shopping.

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Saturday morning brought more white noise. This time a call from one of the builders asking if the wardrobe doors he’d just picked up for me were supposed to be off-white. They weren’t. I was starting to regret leaving the white collar world when I hopped back in the car (which is white BTW) and headed to site to check it out for myself. Thankfully another false alarm. When we got them out of the van, lined up next to some white MDF and some white polystyrene the difference was negligible.

Now it might not sound like it, but I actually love the fact that we have more than fifty shades of white (I had to get that in somewhere). Two of my favourite colours right now are Cornforth White and Old White by Farrow & Ball. The first is a beautiful pale grey and the second looks grey in bright light and green in shadier rooms. My point is, manufacturers and retailers need to play the white man and provide accurate images and descriptions of their products.

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Hallway painted in Cornforth White by Farrow & Ball
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Bedroom walls in Old White by Farrow & Ball

So thats enough (white) trash talk from me. But before the men in white coats come to take me away I leave you with a word of warning. If you want something that is as white as a sheet, don’t trust images, go and check it out to avoid being left with a white elephant.

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Small business, big job

This week I stray from my usual topic of interior design to share a personal epiphany in the interest of helping others who might be considering going it alone and entering the world of  small business.

I have recently realised that my 20 years working for a big international corporation taught me a lot, but it also shielded me from some very everyday stuff. Yes, I can  write weighty business plans, lead big teams and run multi-million dollar projects across multiple countries, but until last summer I had never bought a mobile phone. I have only ever bought one car, which was back in 1997, and to be honest that day I went out to get a hairdryer…..Broken blackberry, printer not working, new business cards, expenses, etc all handled by the amazing Lindsey who I now miss and not just because she mollycoddled me. I tell you all this not so I can say “ooh look what an amazing job I had and how important I was” but to confess how inept I am compared to my peers in the land of small business owners. But I’m learning, fast.

I have always respected anyone who started their own business but I hadn’t really appreciated how much work is needed, and most of it is not even trade related. You need to separate your finances and buy insurance. You need a system for tracking all your business expenses, storing receipts and invoicing customers. It’s all well and good having a strong business plan but you need to find the time to develop the website and social media presence and execute the marketing plan, and track the results of all this effort. And that’s alongside actually delivering the services to your new customers. Yes the Government and other organisations provide advice and guidance but it’s still down to you to do something with that advice. Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining. I’m actually loving the fact that at 41 I’m learning so much.

So to keep me focused on Interior Design (and out of jail) I’ve made some new friends like Mark the accountant and Josephine the lawyer. I had a lovely chat with Patrick from yell.com the other day after setting up a free listing. He showed me some very interesting stats on the number of people who had searched for an Interior Designer in the areas I am targeting. He was gutted we had to end our call before he could sell me any services because Mr W needed the phone line for a conference call. But I suspect he’ll call back tomorrow and we might become friends 🙂

So what have I learned that I can pass on to others that might want to start a business?

  1. Talk to other small business owners about how they got started. They will have already been through the pain of sorting out their finances, website, stationary etc so their advice could save you time and money.
  2. Write a business plan which includes a marketing plan that will bring you customers, but that you can realistically execute. You also don’t want to be turning customers away or letting them down because you went overboard on the marketing efforts.
  3. Get yourself an accountant early on and figure out your admin system so that you don’t have to play catch up
  4. Make the new bank account and credit cards a priority in case you have any problems with pin numbers and setting up online banking (grrr Barclays, sort it out!)
  5. Ironically I am now grateful to my former employers shockingly poor systems and IT department because it has made me pretty good at IT so I’m making good headway with the website and social media stuff. But from talking to other small business owners it seems I’m not the norm. So if you are the norm then get some help but don’t spend a lot and make sure you will be able to maintain it yourself or for little extra cost.

My final piece of advice only applies to those who left a job that was perhaps full on and paid well to pursue their passion. Remember why you left that job. Don’t work so hard that you’re just as stressed as you were before, but with less money to pay for the wine you’ll need to relax at the weekend. And if you do find yourself getting a little stressed now and again, get yourself some chickens. There’s nothing like a little chicken watching to bring down the blood pressure, I promise.

All the best parties end up in the kitchen

So my personal interior design challenge continues and after 11 weeks my kitchen is finished. Being such an old house a lot of decisions could only be made as went along. We didn’t know what we’d find behind the chimney breast. We didn’t know what would be under the floor that had to be dug up for the underfloor heating. We uncovered original features we didn’t know we had and we had to alter multiple units to make them fit my misshapen, wonky walls. Consequently my plan always had multiple options for certain features so not even I knew exactly what it would look like when it was finished. It’s been frustrating, filthy and sometimes freezing but it has all been worth it. I LOVE my new kitchen. It’s where I eat all my meals, it’s become my new favourite spot to work and it’s where we always end up if we have visitors. It’s like having a brand new room in the house.

The feedback I’ve had has also been very rewarding. Every single contractor that has been involved (and there has been a lot) has commented that they had been unsure about my colour choices, the size of the island and some elements of the layout but once they saw it completed they were sold. So as promised here are some photo’s.

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The kitchen is from a shaker style range called 1909, and I had it painted in Farrow & Ball Rectory Red and Ringwold Ground. The mantelpiece is oak as is the 10cm thick custom made butchers block top on the island. This butchers block is like a magnet when people come into the room, you just can’t stop yourself from running your hands over it because it’s such a piece of craftsmanship. It’s had 5 coats of Osmo oil so far and will probably need a few more yet. We finally have a dishwasher and an in cupboard bin, and I love the pull out wooden trays under the sink. For years I’ve been exasperated by having to store trays on top of cupboards or down the side of a unit. Why has it taken until now for kitchen companies to introduce these into their ranges!

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We made room for the island by digging a hole in the chimney breast to fit a 90cm wide SMEG oven. It was a tight fit and getting an extractor small enough to fit above it and remain hidden was a challenge but the builders came through for me. We even had to quickly source a steel plate one afternoon from a local scrap merchants to ensure there was enough support in it for the wall above. The space above the mantelpiece was perfect for another localised timezone clock (see my post on Murray’s man cave), some vintage ginger beer bottles a good friend of mine bought me when she came to stay, some antique pewter tankards and an hour glass I picked up in Heals years ago and love.

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The island itself houses an 18 bottle wine chiller and a 2 drawer fridge which is fantastically spacious and means you’re not always bending down to peer into the back of the fridge. On the wall behind the island next to the back door is a unit which houses a custom made wine glass rack – no more cramming wine glasses into cupboards or having to store them in the garage!

I bought two pewter finished adjustable height stools from a company called Steel Magnolias for seating, although we have brought another 4 stools in from the summer house a couple of times when we’ve had visitors so we can all sit around the island. It’s also great to finally have enough lighting. The old kitchen was so dingy and now I have multiple options. The pewter lights above the island and the sink are from Industville and are one of my favourite features. It looks so cosy when all the other lights are off.

So with the kitchen complete I am now finishing off the bedrooms and have started the plan for the upstairs bathroom. Another two months and I might actually be finished here…..

So now we have a habitable house we can have visitors again and this weekend Mr W’s entire family descended on us, so many of them that additional accommodation had to be booked in Cockermouth. They normally come in December but as the house was a bomb site we postponed until January which also meant we could celebrate Burns night together. The Trout Hotel in Cockermouth held a fantastic dinner on Friday night, with six courses, a piper and of course the traditional “address to a haggis”. The kilts were out, a few wee drams of whisky were consumed and the minibus home was very rowdy…..

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The host reciting the “address to a haggis” by the famous Robert Burns

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On Saturday night the party was back at Holly Cottage. We’d bought a Serrano ham at Christmas but had been too sick to eat it so we brought it out for the party and created our own alternative to Burns night with the “address to a ham” skilfully delivered by Chris my step-daughters boyfriend. My sister-in-law plays a mean air bagpipe….

And where did all this occur? But in the kitchen of course – where the best parties always end up and this interior designer is happiest.

 

My 2015 interior design predictions

Forgive me readers and fellow interior design enthusiasts but it has been 3 weeks since my last post. Holly Cottage was converted into a Hospice for the sick and dying just before Christmas and has only just re-opened as a residence. 3 weeks with Mr W, both sick and no visitors to mediate, you can imagine the sniping and bickering that went on. Even the chickens got more visitors than we did..

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To make matters worse we were without a phone line or wifi for most of that period as BT have decided to upgrade the cabling in our area, which does mean we will have faster broadband but in the process they damaged my existing connections. Ironically we don’t know when we lost the service as we were too sick to notice until the 29th….

All that lying in bed did give me plenty of opportunity to think about what we might see in the interior design world in 2015. To me there were three standout additions to 2014 interiors; geometric prints, copper accessories and an explosion of industrial lighting. So here are my predictions for 2015. These are probably as reliable as mystic meg on the basis that my <100 twitter following is too small to have any influence on trends, and I am still an unknown designer that has yet to formally launch her business. But humour me,

1. Geometric prints will disappear by summer. I think they are the pinstriped jeans of interior design (this will probably mean nothing if you were born after 1975). They are bold, can look great if the rest of the styling is good, but I think they will go out of fashion very quickly. If we’re lucky all we’ll be left with will be a handful of monochrome arabic motif cushions. But if the population truly embraced this trend as I suspect we may see a surge in wallpaper and bedding sales by September.

2. I predict bold geometric will be replaced by subtle colour layering. Think Jennifer Anniston heading out for coffee on Sunday with her latest beau. Dark grey jeans, a white long sleeved T, a couple of layers of jersey in different shades of grey, maybe a charcoal beanie and/or jacket. The walking equivalent of 50 shades of grey. Nobody does colour layering quite like Jen, and with the enormous array of paint colours available to us and interiors shows on TV showing us how to use colour to create visual effects I predict a greater use of shades of the same colour versus the 70% primary colour. 20% secondary colour, 10% accent colour palette that is traditionally used.

3. Copper will remain a stylish alternative to chrome and brass. I like to think of myself as an early adopter when it comes to copper. Check out below the copper tube vases I bought for a London flat in 2008, and the copper plate framed maps and copper coal bucket I have in Holly Cottage. I was delighted to see this trend in 2014. I just hope this extends to light switches, plug sockets, bathroom and kitchen fittings etc. and we start seeing them in retailers like B&Q, Wickes at affordable prices, even if they’re copper effect as opposed to actual copper.

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3. The industrial style revolution will continue. The range and diversity of products is already huge but much needed. I predict we will see more innovation and greater use in traditional settings. I myself have added industrial items to Holly Cottage (which was built in 1756), sourcing products from companies like Industville and Steel Magnolias.

So thats enough predictions as I want to show you Murray’s man cave now its finished. Murray aka Mr W still spends 4 days a week in London or overseas so we needed to downsize the place we rented together after selling our last flat to a more practical 1 bed place. I found him a place walking distance from Blackheath village and the style brief was more manly and homely. He particularly wanted to use some of the mirrors and pictures we’d had to store because our last landlord wouldn’t let us hang anything on the walls.

First the lounge; it has this cool portal into the kitchen which I knew would look fab with a large circular mirror and low circular coffee table I had in storage. Our tan couches fitted perfectly and there was a spare wall for the painting of St Pauls we bought after a drunken Christmas lunch which he loves. I then complimented this with union jack and black soft furnishings and accessories including a couple of British bulldogs. The result – a London look man pad.

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Next the bedroom; we have a suite of dark mahogany bedroom furniture and there is great shelving in the bedroom so I went for a sort of gentleman’s club/library look. I got the landlord to re-paint the walls in Dulux Shadow Chic (pale grey) and dyed our existing bedding grey, then added gold and grey accessories. TKMaxx had some beautiful dark grey glass vases and I was able to bring out some of the knick knacks from our travels. We had a grey, gold and red persian style rug which used to be in Holly Cottage which just finished it off.

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There wasn’t a lot I could do in the bathroom but he always liked a ‘keep calm’ poster we used to have in a bathroom so I took this down to London and bought teal accessories and towels to give the room some colour.

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There was also little I could do with the kitchen, but I did manage to find space for a range of aubergine accessories.

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Same situation in the hall, but there was space for some pictures we bought in Cuba a few years ago and a New York, Cockermouth, Paris time zone clock to remind him of home

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The good news is he is delighted with his new place which is a relief for me. He used to hate going back to London on Sunday night as the last place was cold and uninviting but his new place feels like a second home. So with that taken care of and Holly Cottage close to completion I can now focus on my new business. I predict a spring launch of Amelia Wilson Interiors!

 

Insomnia and Murrays man cave

It is just after 6am and I am blogging and thinking about interior design ideas because I can’t sleep. I’ve actually been awake most of the night but finally realised that staying in bed was futile. My mind was racing, Mr W was making bodily noises that were irritating me and there’s always something to be done around here so I decided I might as well make use of my insomnia. Actually it isn’t insomnia, it’s all the caffeine in the flu medication I’ve been on for the last 5 days, which to someone who hasn’t consumed caffeine in any form for 10+ years other than by accident, is like taking cocaine. Not that I’ve ever had cocaine, but I’ve seen enough movies to know I’m probably doing a great impression right now. On reflection, probably not the best time to be blogging but in the words of Magus Magnusson “I’ve started so I’ll finish”.

FYI I cut out caffeine because I already have significantly higher energy levels than the average person, and talk at a million miles an hour so you can imagine how unbearable I must have been when I was drinking 1-2 litres of diet coke a day, plus the odd coffee….and I was getting palpitations….

So if you read my last post I’m sure you’re wondering if the kitchen was finished for Christmas. Short answer, no. I’m missing 2 cupboard doors, a wine rack, a bin, a cutlery drawer, and most importantly the 100mm thick butchers block top for my island – the focal point of my dream kitchen. So no photos just yet I’m afraid. The kitchen fitters bless them hung around as long as they could on the 23rd just in case the butchers block turned up but in the end they had to leave me with a sheet of plywood to tide me over until it escapes Christmas courier limbo (that place where nobody is reachable and even if they were they wouldn’t know where your goods were).

We weren’t destined to have the perfect Christmas day anyway. Unfinished kitchen aside, me and Mr W both have hacking coughs and flu symptoms, and 20 minutes into cooking the chicken neither of us were that hungry for the new oven packed up. Well it didn’t actually pack up but there seems to be a fault with the electrics somewhere in the kitchen which means all the sockets now go off when I turn on the main oven. Thankfully 87 year old neighbour Nora let me finish the chicken in her oven, and the hob and side oven still worked so I could manage everything else. I wouldn’t have asked her but she did have a vested interest as I had promised her ‘meals on wheels’ on boxing day and she wouldn’t be getting anything if the chicken didn’t get cooked.

So anyway back to my insomnia/caffeine high. I made good use of the last 2-3 hours designing Mr W’s new London pad (now known as Murray’s man cave) in my head. Ever since I moved to Cumbria he has been unhappy in the place we were renting in London. We sold our flat in Greenwich a year ago and had struggled to find another flat big enough to take all our stuff so we’d ended up renting a 3 bed house. The commute to the city was excellent, but as we soon found out that was all it really had going for it. It was cold, the transition from open plan living to traditional rooms didn’t work for us or our furniture, the landlord wasn’t happy about us hanging pictures, and once me and the cat were gone it couldn’t have felt less like home for him. So earlier this month I found him a new 1 bed place which is smaller but better proportioned so all our furniture fits, it’s a short walk from Blackheath village and all the sky sports and beer he could ask for mid week, and I’ve promised to turn it into a homely man pad.

I plan to restore the London look we had in our own flat in the living area (which he loved), and re-hang a beautiful painting we have of St Pauls Cathedral. The bedroom will get a boy makeover with darker soft furnishings and lots of pictures and accessories to remind him of me and Cumbria. There is room for his bike in the hallway but I’m working on some ideas for hanging it to make best use of the space, and I am on the look out for quirky cycling accessories that will make him smile. This will be my first male focused interior design work so I’m enjoying the brief – functional, homely, cool and stylish.

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These vintage Lake District railway posters make great wall art and will remind him of Cumbria. You can find them on ebay starting from £4.99. You can get posters of other areas around the UK

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We’ve been visiting Cumbria together for almost 20 years so I have lots to choose from when it comes to adding personal photos

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This hall solution is along the lines of what I’m thinking. I love this bathroom idea but I’m not sure our landlord would!

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I also like these vintage cycling posters and I know he’ll like these coasters which I could make myself

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Mr W is a walker not a rock climber and I’m not sure our landlord would appreciate me putting up wall stickers but I did think these were pretty cool

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So its pitch black outside and Mr W is still sleeping so I may as well carry on working. Perhaps I should reintroduce caffeine into my diet if it makes me this productive as an interior designer!

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?

 

 

 

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….

 

 

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!