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).

IMG_1333 IMG_1371

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

[pinterest]

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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 18.19.15 Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 17.34.15Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 17.34.42

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

[pinterest]

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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 18.15.47 Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 18.22.00

[pinterest]

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…

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 19.16.25

[pinterest]

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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 17.49.20 Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 17.50.44

[pinterest]

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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 18.25.28

[pinterest]

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).

image IMG_1248 IMG_1250 IMG_1256

[pinterest]

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!

IMG_0084 image

image image

 

image

[pinterest]

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

 

 

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.

IMG_1170

  • 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.

IMG_1123 IMG_1127

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!

Church pew - €70 IMG_1184

[pinterest]

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!

IMG_1187 IMG_1168 IMG_1167

[pinterest]

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

IMG_1180 IMG_1186

[pinterest]

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.

IMG_1202 IMG_1203

[pinterest]

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!

IMG_1166

[pinterest]

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…….

A folly in the city?

Wherever I am I’m always on the look out for design inspirations and London never disappoints. Drinks with friends last night took me to The Folly which I love because it’s so not The City where it’s located. The interior has a real forest feel but also includes lovely vintage kitsch and it’s own pop up homewares shop. With free wifi and lots of natural light it’s a great place to camp out too – and the service, food and wine list aren’t bad either!

Forest feel bathrooms in The Folly, London

Door to who knows where in The Folly, London

Forest feel dining at The Folly, London

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.

IMG_1059 IMG_1086

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.

IMG_1060 IMG_1084

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.

IMG_1087 IMG_1085

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!

From sales management to chicken herder, online retailer and interior designer

Now the ladies are acclimatised I’ve started to let them out into the garden. On their first outing I spent most of the time trying to keep them from transferring all of the soil from my raised flower beds to the path…On their second outing I managed to herd them up onto the lawn. When I checked on them a few hours later they were behind the summer house digging like their lives depended on it. Clearly they hadn’t realised that if they wanted to escape they could just walk down the drive and across the neighbouring fields. Getting them in this afternoon so I could go out proved to be a little challenging. The phrase ‘herding cats’ should really be replaced with ‘herding chickens’ I’m convinced it would be easier with cats. My former workmates would have laughed their socks off if they’d seen me chasing Agata across the garden when she tried to make a break for it, while shouting “go to the hen house” to the rest of them….20 minutes it took me. Thank god I only have 7 chickens. I keep telling myself the eggs will be worth it (possibly prize winning my exceptionally competitive side says….)

I may not be a natural chicken herder but I’m definitely happier since I started my new life in Cumbria. It was a year ago when I realised I wanted to do something different with my life. I just couldn’t work out what I wanted to do. My friends often complimented me on my homes but it was only after the third visitor to Holly Cottage suggested I consider designing homes for a living that I started to wonder if this was something I really could do. When I thought back it was always something I’d been passionate about. I used to drive my mum crazy reorganising my bedroom and begging for it to be decorated again. I bought my first house very young and decorated it myself, stripping floorboards and filling it with second hand furniture I’d salvaged from friends and relatives. This trend continued throughout my 20’s and 30’s, experimenting with different styles and designs. One of my favourite being the uber-modern apartment in Greenwich that came with 1000 sq. foot of roof terrace. I grew the most beautiful roof garden that lit up at night. I was devastated when we sold it and the buyer insisted I remove it before the sale completed. I cried when I came home to bare concrete 2 days before we moved out. I kept telling myself it was just a garden, but it wasn’t, it was a little slice of paradise 6 floors above the streets of London.

So after discussing it with Mr W I decided to explore the idea of a new career. I signed up for a Diploma in Interior Design that I could do remotely with the British Academy of Interior Design, and started two night school courses, one in upholstery and one in furniture restoration. Within a week I was hooked and realised I wanted to follow my passion. I continued to work on personal projects, and took some other courses at weekends; curtain making, furniture painting. I even signed up for a second term of upholstery and furniture restoration. I didn’t see myself becoming a full time upholsterer or restorer but I enjoyed learning the skills and it was great to meet people that had similar interests. The multitude of courses available is one of the things I loved about London.

It all came to a head when changes at work put me in a position where I had to make a choice. I  knew it was time to move on and try something completely new, and although they didn’t want me to leave my boss and the management team were exceptionally supportive. I had worked there for 20 years and given it everything I had. I knew they recognised this but I still didn’t expect the amount of support I got. It was a very emotional last day and there were a few tears in the pub that night.

So here I am in Cumbria. When we bought Holly Cottage we decorated it as a second home, with cheap furniture and some basic upgrading. Now this was going to be my permanent residence and where Mr W would also retire to we decided to give it a proper make over. So that was to be my focus for the first few months, while I also finished my diploma. My plan being to set up the interior design business in the 2nd quarter of 2015.

That still is the plan and as you’ll have seen from my previous posts the renovations are keeping me busy. But anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn I’m also working on an idea for a new online retail business, and I have recently accepted my first interior design customer! I’ll be working for a friend and former colleague who is returning from Australia to the house she was letting out while she and her husband were out there. I haven’t seen the house yet, or heard what plans she has if any, I just know she wants a major overhaul and would like some help with creativity and project management. I’m excited and dying to get started. Unfortunately for my builders it means extra pressure on them to get my work completed. I’m an extremely “efficient” project manager when there are no time pressures, so god help them now…..

 

From the West End to West Cumbria

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

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

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

[pinterest]

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

[pinterest]

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

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

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

 

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

A not so typical English garden

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.

Old pot manholes purchased for £10 each from a local farmer
Old pot manholes bought for £10 each from a local farmer

[pinterest]

Poultry feeder bought on eBay - now a planter
Poultry feeder bought on eBay – now a planter

[pinterest]

Maple tree enclosed in a cable reel salvaged from the roadside
Maple tree enclosed in a cable reel salvaged from the roadside

[pinterest]

Dolly tub planters - one purchased on eBay, one salvaged from a stream!
Dolly tub planters – one bought on eBay, one rescued from a stream!

[pinterest]

Old apple trays bought on eBay and nailed together to create a plant stand
Old apple trays bought on eBay and nailed together to create a plant stand

[pinterest]

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.

Pine table top salvaged from local tip
Pine table top salvaged from local tip
Oak whisky barrel purchased online
Oak whisky barrel purchased online
Finished table
Finished table

[pinterest]

Table top finish
Table top finish

[pinterest]

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!

 

Cast iron pub bar stools from a junk shop in Greenwich
Cast iron pub bar stools from a junk shop in Greenwich

[pinterest]