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!
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……
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…..
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.
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/
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…
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!