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…..

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.



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



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


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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mucky business of interior design

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

Dust selfie
Dust selfie

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

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



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!


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?




A 50’s style diner and my new pewter addiction

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

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

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

My island dreams

I have lain on white sandy beaches listening to the rolling surf on many beautiful islands, in the mediterranean, the caribbean and the indian ocean, but these are not the islands I dream about. It’s kitchen islands that float through my head at night. In my most erotic dreams the kitchen island is situated in a basement kitchen with skylights and a dumb waiter (not the two legged variety). I once came close to living this dream in a house in Yorkshire but sadly the house was next to a busy road in a less than salubrious neighbourhood so we had to leave it on the market. But now thanks to the two foot stone walls in Holly Cottage and the extra foot of chimney breast in the kitchen I can push the stove into the chimney and create enough space for an island in my new kitchen. Even greater news is that when I chipped off the wall tiles on the chimney breast the original red sandstone lintels are still in place which I can move up to frame the new stove. They will need grit blasting (she says with a sinking heart as this creates a terrible mess), but it will be worth it as we found when we discovered the original red sandstone fireplace in the living room hiding behind a gas fire and plaster wall (which has to be an interior design crime).

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Sandstone – before in the kitchen, and after in the living room


So it’s been all kitchens go for the last 3 weeks as I worked on the design and scoured the market (no pun intended) for products. I’ve settled on a painted wood kitchen from the 1909 range. It’s a beautiful shaker style “with a timeless quintessentially British feel” as they put it in their brochure. Perfect for my period property and a style that I can carry through into other areas of the house like the porch and the utility room. The kitchen is a dark room, despite the 2 windows. We have made it lighter by replacing the staircase that leads to the bedroom above and removing the wall that enclosed the previous one, but it’s still a little dingy at times which impacts my colour choices. I wanted to introduce a rich dark red as this colour will flow throughout the downstairs, but the room couldn’t take it so I’ve limited this to the base units and will be having cream coloured units at eye level. I mixed black and white units in an open plan kitchen in London and it was very effective. My local supplier will order the cupboards from 1909 in natural wood and have them painted in my chosen F&B colours.

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Half pencil and scalloped kitchen from 1909 and Farrow & Balls Rectory Red and Ringwold Ground


It has to be black granite work surfaces as Mr W is a red wine drinker, but I am treating my island to a thick oak butchers block top. I can cope with occasionally re-sanding and oiling a small area but not the whole kitchen. The granite will compliment the black SMEG cooker I intend to pick up at discount at Grand Designs next week in Birmingham. The show is always worth a visit but it is even more worthwhile if you are about to purchase a pricey item and the supplier is exhibiting. Light cream metro tiles will finish it off nicely as you can see in the photo below.

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I spent hours trying to figure out how I could have more fridge space without installing a tall unit as I wanted the red below and cream above design to be consistent and a tall unit would scupper this. Jim at The Cockermouth Kitchen Company, my supplier, suggested a 2 drawer fridge by Hotpoint. No more squatting in front of the fridge for me! I can now put all Mr W’s beer, cheese and chilli products in the bottom drawer and all the useful stuff in the top drawer (i.e. butter and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc). By installing this in the island it will be handy for food prep, and allow me to maintain the triangle you need for navigation between the fridge, cooker and sink. We’re also installing a dishwasher which my current kitchen sadly lacks, and a decent under counter bin. This probably sounds like an obvious comment but after living for the last 4 years with one of those frames on the back of a door that you hang plastic bags on this is probably the thing I am most excited about, after the island of course…

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Lighting has been tricky to source as I really want  a double pendant light above the island but the fixed bars are too long for me low ceilings. But then I discovered David Hunt Lighting at Decorex last month, and they can manufacture bespoke sizes which means I can have this beautiful station lamp altered to the size I need, and get a matching single light pendant for above the sink. With a few spotlights and some under cupboard and in cupboard lighting we can say goodbye to the dingy kitchen.

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The only important feature I need to finalise before I get into the fun stuff, i.e. replacing all the Ikea kitchenware with new, is the taps. I’ve still got a little research to do but I’ve seen a few I like such as this brushed nickel colonial bridge sink mixer tap by Bristan.

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So the order will be placed tomorrow to ensure a pre-Christmas installation. I didn’t think the grit blasting would produce enough mess (!) so I’ve decided to install a wet underfloor heating system which involves digging up the existing floor. But there is nothing nicer than bare feet on warm stone flags, and it means I can remove the radiator to create space for a window seat with a pan drawer below it. So Scratchy the cat also has a seat when me and Mr W are seated at the island I can’t stop dreaming about.

Photo’s to follow when it’s all installed. In the meantime I’m off to scramble some eggs with one of the double yolkers my ladies keep producing. Must be all the treats I feed them. They go mad for corn on the cob. They were all chasing Margo round the hen house last week when she managed to grab a piece for herself. I might have to rename her Usain after her performance.

Perspective is everything

6 weeks in and I’m starting to see the positive impact Cumbrian life is having on me. When I lived in London I had an unhealthy relationship with food and obsessed about my weight and body shape. When you’re in meetings and presenting at conferences you’re constantly being scrutinised by other women, and I’m not criticising as I’ve caught myself doing it, but its not surprising you spend a lot of time judging yourself in the mirror. I was also unfulfilled at work so sought comfort in food and would be planning what I was going to eat hours (and sometimes days if I had dinner plans) ahead of schedule. I was never satisfied with what was in my fridge, which resulted in multiple supermarket trips, takeaways or eating out which meant more drinking…it was exhausting. Now subconsciously I have stopped thinking about food so much. I eat what’s available in the fridge and only visit the supermarket weekly when I pick Mr W up from the station. I don’t own a pair or scales or a full length mirror. Its totally liberating. Don’t get me wrong I still love food and a loving having the time to cook again, its just not such a dominant feature in my life. I think I am a little thinner as my clothes are looser in places, but I just see that as a positive side effect, I am not going to diet. If I want butter I’m having butter!

I also have a reputation for being highly competitive, and I used to put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself to be the best at everything and to complete everything in record time. I’ve not lost these traits post move, but they’re less obvious. My neighbour Sharon would probably disagree as she thinks I’m keeping myself far too busy and trying to do to much too soon, but I know what I was like so I know this is a healthy work ethic and not as a result of pressure. Take my new career as an interior designer. It was always the plan to set this up next year when I’ve completed the house renovations and my studies and that’s still the plan even though people regularly ask me how the new business is coming along. Old me would have felt pressured to start sooner to avoid being seen as a failure. New me is just enjoying herself. I’m even happy in the slow lane at the swimming pool where I’ve started swimming lengths – this would never have been me in London, I’d have pulled muscles in the fast lane to try and keep up with the crawlers (I can only do breast stroke….) rather than admit I’m no Rebecca Addlington.

This week has been the usual scrum of contractors in the house as the joiners and electricians teamed up to board out the ceilings downstairs and install new lighting. To remain close enough to supervise without being under their feet I took advantage of the sunshine and did a little furniture restoration in the garden. Our dining room is tiny and oddly shaped which requires non-standard furniture if you want to seat more than 4. I bought a dining table on eBay 4 years ago which was narrower than a standard table which I stripped and stained, and since then I’ve been looking for the right seating solution. In Lille I found one half of this when I spotted a lovely narrow church pew. I then picked up 4 matching church chairs in an antiques mill in Manchester. For some reason church furniture is much narrower than standard furniture these days – must have been to make room for those massive altars and organs! The pew and the chairs were in pretty good nick but required a light sand to remove stains, paint chips and chewing gum….ugh. I then re-stained the pew seat and oiled everything with my trusty osmo oil. The result is stunning as the chairs are maple and the bench is oak and pine and the oil has brought out the grain and given them a lovely warm glow.

They are now installed in my dining room which is not yet ready (radiator, plastering, painting and window dressing still to be done) but already the room has been transformed just with the restored beams, new ceiling boards and lights and now the new furniture. The pendant lights are from Fritz & Fryer who I recently discovered online. I suspect I will be making a few more purchases from them.

Below is an old photo of the room which I took when I viewed the house so you can see how cluttered it was. The previous owner used it as his office, in fact it was called the Station Masters Office as he kept his train set in another room (FYI he was 65 not 12).

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Before I leave you a quick chuck update. Phyllis is not sick she is ‘clocking’ as they call it in Cumbria. The silly bird is broody and trying too hatch her unfertilised eggs. I think I need to send Harold in to teach her the facts of life. No cockerel, no chicks, chuck.














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.




Do you have what it takes to go hardcore treasure hunting?

Back home and I think the chickens missed me. There was definitely extra clucking when I went to feed them. Its not like they didn’t have company while I was away though; with 2 neighbours and my stepdaughter all doing shifts they had more minders than Beyonce. Scratchy the cat on the other hand was his usual indifferent self. Sharon told me she spent 30 mins cuddling him every night so he’s probably wishing I’d stayed away……

My Lille trip was a huge success. Braderie de Lille is an annual event held the first weekend in September. It dates back to the 12th century and claims to be Europe’s largest flea market with 10,000 sellers and millions of visitors. Even though I’d done some research I still wasn’t prepared for the size of the market and the range and quality of the goods available. I was like a kid in a sweet shop – miles and miles of old, dusty, quirky, interesting stuff! Like the car boot (see one of my earlier posts) I was a bit of a rookie but with some on site improvisation we managed to secure a haul of treasure and get it all in my 4WD. Here are my tips for other first timers:

  • Go with a wish list. There is so much on offer you run the risk of filling the car with random purchases before you spot the items you really went for.
  • Measure your rooms and spaces before you leave home and take a tape measure to the market.
  • Take the biggest vehicle you can, and if you own it line it with old sheets so that you don’t damage the interior shoving furniture into it (sorry Mr W…). Measure the inside of the vehicle.
  • Take a trolley or barrow to carry heavy items, plus straps to secure them. We bought 2 granny shopping trolleys at the market ( €15 each) and pilfered some string from a stall holder. We broke one of the trolleys carrying a set of industrial chairs, and the string finally broke under the weight of a church pew. At one point we commandeered an abandoned supermarket trolley so we might have been rookies but we were certainly resourceful.


  • Take at least one other person to help carry things, but make sure they’re strong and have the stamina – you don’t want a whinger holding you back!
  • Take your whole budget in cash, I didn’t see anyone with a credit card machine and only a few cash points, and go prepared to barter. Typically we would pay 60-70% of the first price quoted.
  • Staying in Lille is ideal, and I’d recommend the hotel L’Hermitage Gantois. It’s a beautifully restored former hospice and perfectly located. They have valet parking but can’t get your car out until 8pm on Sunday so you can park at Grand Palais multi-storey which is a 10 min walk away – €22.50 for 24hrs.

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So what treasures did I find?

A church pew for €70, and a set of industrial style chairs for €130, I bartered for 6 and he threw in the 7th for free!

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A ladder back style chair with rush seat, an old trunk, €30 and a pot belly stove for €50. Bartering for the stove was fun as 2 other stall holders joined in!

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Two bar signs for my stepdaughters garage bar – €10 each. One lights up and just needed the plug changing so it would work in the UK

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A beautiful brass coat rack and parcel shelf like the type you see on old trains – €120, and what appears to be a wall mounted stand for riding hats which I plan to put on the back of a bedroom door – €10.

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But my favourite purchases have to be the 5 tractor seats I bought individually at an average price of €12. They will be perfect for the cast iron bar stools I bought in an antique shop.

My sister also brought home a haul (well I did as she was flying), and her favourite purchase was the antique lift floor indicator. We’d seen it on the first morning priced at €350 and it was still on the stall on Sunday afternoon and we took it home for €120 – bargain!



Next year I will be hiring a van, and possibly a trailer…. My sister is already invited based on her strength and stamina. Two other friends want to join me but I may need to test their endurance first…….