Getting close to the Finnish line

In my old life I travelled a lot. Thanks to Daddy Warbucks (aka Mr W) I still manage my fair share of holidays. OK I probably take more holidays than the average person. OK I’m only just trumped by Judith Chalmers, but I’ve earned it! In my last job I was travelling almost every week. And as every business traveller knows, its rarely glamorous and often tiring. But I enjoyed it, and a lot of my interior design ideas are influenced by the places I’ve visited and the hotels and I’ve stayed in. Subtly of course, I’m not talking Greek taverna style kitchen after a week in Crete.

I recently suggested to a customer that we cover some of her IKEA wardrobe doors in white PVC to re-create the glamorous effect I saw in a hotel in Lisbon. For those of you looking aghast she liked the idea and if we go ahead I’ll share the photos to prove it will work! The idea for my downstairs wet room actually came from outdoor showers I’d seen in Africa and the Maldives. Now I appreciate that nobody wants to take a shower outside in Cumbria, even in summer, but the high ceiling, light stone effect wall and floor tiles and huge skylight were supposed to create the same feeling of being outdoors. Well I think I achieved it, even if it did take underfloor heating and the worlds largest cast iron radiator to match the temperature…

Large wet room with stone effect wall and floor tiles and huge skylight
Wet room influenced by outdoor showers

The Nordic countries were among my favourite places to visit. (Scandinavia plus Finland and Iceland for those of you not familiar with this part of the world). I haven’t made it to Iceland yet but Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen are great cities for people, culture and food (surprisingly its not all pickled herring), and 2am karaoke in Helsinki with a group of Finns is not to me missed. They may seem a little gruff but Finnish hospitality is fabulous and the Finns love of alcohol and heavy metal is only surpassed by their love of saunas (Google world sauna championships for more on this). It is these countries and specifically their summer houses which they retreat to in July and August which have influenced my own summer house and the new decor I am working on.

The old interior was thrown together mainly with stuff I already had as Holly Cottage was still a second home then. The new interior will be modern rustic with a Nordic feel. The colour scheme will mix greys and white with natural linen and dashes of bright blue. I’m painting the whole interior my new favourite grey – ‘bottlefly wings’ by Valspar. Admittedly the name is my favourite thing about this colour, but it is a lovely almost white grey with a tinge of blue to it. I’m hoping it will look as light and airy as this one I found on Pinterest.

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If you’ve ever been to an exercise class (I prefer self torture these days) you will be familiar with the warm up where the instructor gets you to stick your arms out to the sides, palms facing out and make circles backwards and forwards. Do that for 2 hours and that’s how my arms feel today after transforming our new bar from natural pine to this…..

Weathered effect wood on bar
Our new weathered wood bar

It’s a great match for the weathered wood effect tiles we’ve had laid. I toyed with the idea of stripping and treating the floorboards again but decided tiles were more practical in a county that gets more than 4m of rainfall a year.

We’re adding new pendant lights above the bar to make more of a feature of it. I found these great enamel pendants online from Nook London. They also supply the full kit with a choice of metal finishes and cables.

Small enamel pendant light in midnight blue from Nook London
Small enamel pendant light in midnight blue from Nook London

I can’t justify replacing the furniture so we’re getting new sofa covers made up as soon as I’ve found a fabric suitable for upholstery that resembles heavy natural linen. The armchairs aren’t perfect but with the right cushions and throws they’ll blend in. I picked this beauty up in John Lewis on my last jaunt to London.

Striped linen throw, currently £49.50 on sale at John Lewis
Striped linen throw, currently £49.50 on sale at John Lewis

When I was treating the bar I gave the scaffolding plank table (last years upcycle) a lick of dark wax so it now matches the bar too.

Scaffolding plank coffee table and cow hide rug
Scaffolding plank coffee table – last years upcycle with a new coat of dark wax

The huge cow hide rug I bought at Grand Designs in May, the reindeer throws and the wall antlers are all staying to give it that Nordic look and I’ll finish it off with some rustic accessories like these jugs and willow log baskets.

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The UFO? I already have it but you’ll just have to wait. Our annual summer BBQ is at the end of August so it has to be Finnished (see what I did there..) by then. Pics to follow soon!

PS chicken count is still 5…….

Industrial decor and a fast track ageing process

Until this week a long tee was something I wore at the beach to cover my bum. Although these days it appears to be fashionable to have a disproportionately large derriere. Perhaps I should ditch the coverups and flaunt it now curves are fashionable in the western world? But I’m wandering off topic….

One of the things I love about being a designer is the continual learning, whether it’s new techniques for creating paint finishes or working with new materials. This week my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of long tees, base flanges and elbow clamps thanks to the lovely people at Racking Man! (cue superhero music) Great name isn’t it. Conjures up images of a beefy tradesman brandishing a wrench, wearing a cape and underpants over his Apache cargo pants. If only they really looked like that, but again I’m going off topic….

So I’m working on designs for a Retail customer and I’m going for an ‘old theatre’ look, think wood floors, ladders, industrial spotlighting, slightly faded velvet curtains etc. etc. I don’t want to give away too much in case my customer is reading this. (You know who you are so stop reading now if you want any surprises when I deliver the final designs!) I’m incorporating some industrial looking shelving into the design and want to use scaffolding pipes. Hence my trip yesterday to Racking Man. I’d already spoken with the very helpful owner Patrick earlier in the week but I wanted to physically see the products to make a decision on size. Turns out its a family business and his wife Gillian (hard G) is equally helpful. As a result I now know what fittings I want and what size, and it all fits together with an allen key – simple! If you’re feeling adventurous and want to have a go at making your own furniture out of scaffolding materials their website has some very useful info to help you figure out what your need, including this handy picture of the various clamps and joints.

Scaffolding clamps taken from Racking Man website
Different scaffolding clamps and joints taken from www.rackingman.co.uk

And if you’re not feeling up to the challenge they have some great pieces on Notonthehighstreet and Etsy like these:

Wall mounted scaffolding shelving from not on the high street
Wall mounted scaffolding shelving from not on the high street
Scaffolding clothes rail from Etsy
Scaffolding clothes rail from Etsy

I’ve also been experimenting with wood finishes for this commission and for the new bar thats going in my summer house. I was thinking of using reclaimed scaffolding planks which I’ve worked with before but you spend a lot of time sanding them and cutting them to size. Its easier and not much more expensive to order pre-sanded, cut to size planks and boards from your local timber merchant, or pick up standard sizes from your local DIY store. For my experiments I bought a 5-pack of 90cm long tongue and groove from B&Q for £3.

Giving wood an aged weathered look is really simple. A few days before you plan to start get a big glass jar, half fill it with white vinegar, stuff a chunk of fine grade steel wool in it and leave it. The wool will disintegrate over time creating a homemade oxidising solution.

When you’re ready to start, lay your wood out on some newspaper and brew a hot pot of really strong black tea. The tea adds tannins to the wood which then react with your oxidising solution to created the weathered look. Some woods, like oak, already have high tannin levels and may not need the tea, or very little. But woods like pine don’t so you’ll need two or three coats. Apply with a paintbrush and leave to dry.

Next paint the oxidising solution on to the wood with a paintbrush. Immediately you will see the wood start to turn grey. The older your solution, the stronger it is, and the darker your wood will turn. So always do a test piece and water it down with water or more vinegar if you want a lighter shade. Once the wood is dry, polish with some clear wax to give a light sheen and a smooth feel.

If you want to go a step further and give your wood a beachy tone you can add liming wax which will fill the cracks in the grain and leave a bluey-white sheen on top of the grey. You can buy liming wax online. I’m currently using one made by Liberon. To create the effect rub a little of the wax onto your wood using fine steel wool, leave it to try for 2-3 minutes and then wipe of the excess and buff. If the colour is too blue/white then use a damp cloth to wipe off more of the wax, if you like it light then add more wax.

Finished results: from left, plain tongue and groove, weathered look, beachy look.

Giving new wood a weathered or beachy look

 

Here’s a couple of examples of finished products.

Old oak whisky barrel, already weathered
Old oak whisky barrel, already weathered
Oak whisky barrel bar table
New bar table complete with table top salvaged from my local tip
Coffee table made from reclaimed scaffolding planks, aged and treated with liming wax
Coffee table made from reclaimed scaffolding planks, aged and treated with liming wax

Does seem a little ironic, we spend a fortune on products to slow down the personal ageing process, but our love for old and used goods has led us to develop creative ways to speed it up elsewhere. Anyway, better get back to work, I’m experimenting with paint finishes now…

A little upcycling and a broken husband….

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

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

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

Phyllis
Phyllis

 

 

A little up cycling, down cycling and recycling

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

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

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

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

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

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