Traditionally the Scandinavians and Japanese like to do it sat up. Europeans typically like to do it lying down. For me it depends on the location, and the view. I’m talking about bathing of course. What did you think I meant?
The reason I’m talking about this at all is because I recently stumbled across the most beautiful bathroom furniture. And not bathroom furniture in the traditional sense, i.e. vanity units etc. but baths and basins made from wood that are so beautiful they are like pieces of furniture. Continue reading “Sitting up or lying down?”
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…
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.
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…..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
And if you’re not feeling up to the challenge they have some great pieces on Notonthehighstreet and Etsy like these:
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.
Here’s a couple of examples of finished products.
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…
I’ve been a mustard fan for some time now. Not the English or whole grain varieties, but the kind that has been creeping into interiors for the past year or so. It was inevitable really what with all the beautiful grey paints and soft furnishings available, it’s a natural pairing. Like the grey it’s sophisticated and elegant, but it brightens up a scheme without being gaudy. However, it might be the sunshine going to my head but I’m beginning to think we can go a bit brighter……
It started when my friend Annie arrived yesterday for a short break. Annie is a bold decorator who loves a bit of glitz and glamour. Her master bathroom features a black bath with a sparkly floor and a glittery disco ball, her favourite colour is red, and she’s not shy when it comes to animal prints, in her wardrobe or home. So I wasn’t at all surprised when she told me she was on the look out for and struggling to find a canary yellow metal garden table to go with the red metal chairs she’d recently acquired. I love an interiors challenge, so while she flicked through a stack of my house porn I started surfing, and the more yellow I saw the more I liked it. By the time dinner was ready I’d already decided the replacement covers for the sofa in my summer house were going to be yellow. Here are just a few reasons why I think yellow might just be the new mustard.
It’s a good warm, sunny colour for a young girls bedroom, but not as a wall colour, just a piece of furniture with hints in the soft furnishings like here.
I can honestly say I would never have thought of painting a fireplace yellow but look how well this works against the pale grey walls.
I’m even considering it for the sofa in my summer house after seeing this but I think it needs to be surrounded by bold prints as shown in this room to avoid looking too twee.
I recently used mustard as an accent colour in a pale green room with botanical elements, but a brighter yellow would have worked just as well and I love this four poster bed frame.
I’m still not sure about yellow kitchen units though……it does remind me of the toy kitchens made for little girls.
But I do love it as a front door colour, very cheery and welcoming. This one looks great with the white walls and rosy pink rugs.
So are you sold or do you think it will be a summer fad replaced by mustard again in October? I’ll leave you to ponder while I go and hunt for yellow fabric for my sofa….but before I go, great news Agata has returned! AWOL for 36hrs then strolls nonchalantly up the drive as if she’s never been away. Where she was is a mystery but she still has that jaunty look about her which suggests she was having fun…..the dirty stop out.
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.
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.
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.
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……
Beate is still with us so I’m starting to think she’s just more like her namesake (my friend Beate Schmitt) than I realised. Both ladies are smart, (chicken Beate was the first to find the water butt). Both like to avoid the crowds, (chicken Beate prefers the nesting box to the perch at night). Both enjoy a quiet moment, (chicken Beate sometimes like to stand quietly in the corner of the pen). Perhaps I have an uncanny knack to spot a chickens character traits early on. I wonder if there is a market for this unusual skill – Mrs W, chicken whisperer?
Turns out my chickens also provide great party entertainment as my weekend guests spent hours trying to outwit each other with new chicken names. The clear winners being Margaret Hatcher, Yolko Ono and Princess Lay-er.
We had fabulous weather for the BBQ yesterday and when the sun finally went down we lit the fire pit, the chimnea and the stove in the summer house so the festivities could continue in the garden until after midnight. The garden was one of the things that attracted me to Holly Cottage when we viewed it. But only because of the size and the views of the fells; thankfully I could see the potential, Mr W couldn’t. The former owners had made some disastrous design choices including rows of fruit bushes mid garden, a huge potato field in one corner which I think was once a compost heap, and randomly placed fences. They had also neglected some areas completely, leaving me with mounds of brambles and weeds to deal with. Every year for the last 4 years I have tackled a new area with the help of Alan my local landscaper, and the major re-modelling is now complete. I describe myself as an interior design fanatic, but perhaps I should drop the ‘interior’ as I don’t limit myself to the house. Rooms should be designed to be both beautiful and functional and the same principle applies to gardens. I have a particular fondness for incorporating unusual articles into my garden design. Currently these include a mangle, old pot manholes, and cable reels.
I completed a new project just in time for the party – a bar table made from an old oak whiskey barrel and a table top I salvaged from the local tip. (The guys at the tip recognise me now and let me take items that catch my eye). I sanded, aged and waxed the table top using a homemade oxidising solution and liming wax. I did the same with the barrel and then painted the iron hoops with black Hammerite. The result is a beautiful soft blue-grey finish that blends into its surroundings.
So I just need some bar stools to go with my new bar table. I have the bases, as I bought a set of 6 in a junk shop in Greenwich. I’m now on the hunt for the perfect seats. I’ve toyed with tractor seats and sanded tree stumps but I think I can do better than that. If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!
Apparently yes. This isn’t a bizarre experiment to see what I can get my ladies to eat, we just had some left over last night after dinner. I have replaced a house full of contractors with a house full of family and friends, with numbers increasing as the weekend goes on, reaching its peak on Sunday when we have our annual summer BBQ. An event we started in Leeds, continued in London and have now located to Cumbria. It usually starts around 2pm and finishes approx. 12 hours later when nobody can stand anymore – literally.
In the meantime I am a little concerned about Beate (white chicken number 2). She is displaying some of the symptoms Hyacinth had, i.e. standing around listlessly and not eating much. I am keeping a close eye on her, but I may need to report back to the supplier if we lose another girl as I could have an epidemic on my hands…..
The renovations are progressing nicely. Peter the magician from Back from Black Beam Renovations completed his work and the beams in our house now look like aged oak. Goodbye dark brown gloss paint. Hello beautiful beams. I wanted to share some before and after pictures so you can see for yourself. The cost of the work was approx. £4000 including VAT which included the beams in 5 rooms, plus the stairs and landing. It took Peter 3.5 days, and he worked with me to get the colour finish I wanted. I am a very satisfied customer.
In addition to being a magician turns out Peter is also a sculptor and showed me photographs of some of the metal pieces he has made. I will share when he sends me them. Very talented. He explained that he often works with a weathering steel known under the trademark COR-TEN steel. This metal naturally weathers into a beautiful bright orange rust colour, which he then seals with a rust inhibitor called Owatrol oil to maintain the finish. I plan to finish my newly landscaped front garden with arched trellis between the raised beds, and love the rusty look so will be looking out for a blacksmith that can work with these materials. I’ll let you know how it pans out.
In the meantime please pray for Beate…..and the weather, a BBQ is a lot less fun in the rain.
This week I’ve been spending a lot of time with Peter, Barry, Mike, Kurtis and Steve. Kevin was here last week and returns in the morning. No I’m not cheating on Mr W its just that unfortunately female contractors are virtually unheard of, particularly in Cumbria, and we have a lot of work being done on the house to transform it from holiday home to permanent residence. In my former life I have been a project manager but its been a while since I produced a Gantt chart. With this many plates spinning I’m starting to think I might need one.
The main job to finish tomorrow is being undertaken by Peter from Back from Black Beam Renovation. The house is full of exposed beams, many of them original. However, one of the former owners decided to paint them all with gloss paint…..I know, they should be hunted down and shot. Having had the original red sandstone fireplace grit blasted a few years ago when we discovered it behind a plaster board wall (I know, another crime someone should be held accountable for), I have experienced the mess this creates and couldn’t face it again. So I tried to pretend the beams weren’t irritating the hell out of me, until one day I stumbled across an ad for Back from Black in an interior design magazine. The pictures and case studies on their website were impressive but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they managed to create what appeared to be beautifully restored beams without any chemical stripping or sandblasting. After speaking with them I was none the wiser. They explain the process, but how it works is a closely guarded secret. Despite this I decided to give it a shot, on the basis the beams couldn’t look any worse. So Peter the magician has been here all week and has been steadily working his way through the house. It really is quite fascinating to see the transformation. I’ll share the before and after pictures tomorrow.
If it wasn’t enough to have a house full of contractors I also had a friend and her two children stay for a few days this week. Being the good host I had a list of suggestions to keep the children (aged 11 and 13) entertained. When I suggested Go Ape, the outdoor ‘tree top adventure’ I stupidly hadn’t done my homework. Turns out children must be accompanied by an adult and there was no way my friend was climbing any trees so I got roped in, literally. 2 hours of hauling myself across rope bridges, climbing up nets, balancing on wire cables and planks of wood 30 feet in the air and hurtling down zip lines, all while trying to overcome my fear of heights was not my idea of fun. Mr W though it was hysterical when I complained to him last night that my hands hurt like hell. Turns out I can’t support my own body weight with my arms, not for long anyway. My former employees would laugh their socks off if they knew that ‘their tough as nails boss’ had to be coaxed along a rope bridge by two small children while trembling and close to tears…..oh how my life is changing.
When I decided to move to Cumbria I did worry about the impact it would have on my marriage. I’ve stopped worrying since my call last night with Mr W who informed me that coming home to an empty house….without the cat…felt strange. Apparently I was never at home but the cat always greeted him at the door when he got in. Clearly I was worrying too much I was already neglecting him. So now I have something new to worry about; Hyacinth, aka brown chicken number 2. She has been acting very strangely today. She stayed in the hen house when I opened the door this morning and the others shot out, and this afternoon she was standing in the same place for ages when the other chickens were running around….like headless chickens for want of a better phrase. I shall discuss it with Harold my next door neighbour/farmer/friend tomorrow as he is an authority on all things animal, vegetable and probably mineral.
In the meantime I have spent all day today treating wood and I am delighted with the results. The house was built in 1756 and still has many of the original features but as always some have disappeared and not all the replacement features are good quality. The house also used to be 2 houses so we have two staircases. One of these needed replacing completely as a previous owner had installed a very cheap and very illegal staircase (very few bannisters with huge gaps between). The other staircase still had original treads and risers but the bannisters were also cheap replacements which we have done away with. Two of the bedrooms have the original floorboards but with a few bits of replacement wood here and there. All the original wood is pitch pine which contains a lot of red pigment so I have used clear Osmo oil as anything with a tint would have made them turn very dark red which I didn’t want. I used Osmo Amber tinted oil for the light oak skirting boards to get them closer to the pitch pine floors, and to match the new pine floorboards with the pitch pine I first treated it with antique pine wood stain and then applied the oil. The new staircase was done entirely in Osmo clear oil. In most places you wouldn’t know it was different wood unless you looked really hard. So here are some photos, if anyone is tackling a similar project and would like some tips let me know. If wood finishes is your thing I’ve also added some new info to my project page, which includes a table I treated with lime wax so take a look and let me know if you want any more details. Tomorrow I’m having a day off from hard labour and venturing out for the day. Although I may wax the floors before bed, since I haven’t got round to checking out swimming pools, yoga classes and book clubs yet…