DIY: Stripping Furniture Varnish

When I first moved into the flat almost a year ago, the living room was still a building site, so all the living room furniture was stored in the garage. 

What I didn't know when I did that, was that the roof leaked.

I worked this out pretty quickly, but not before the top my Ercol dining table was damaged. The water sat on the surface of the table and it left a big watermark with some black mold marks all across the centre.

Before and after

Before and after

Lucky for me my mum has quite a bit of experience restoring furniture, so she suggested we strip the varnish back to see if it helped. It wasn't a perfect result, the table is made out of Elm which is quite porous so the water got into the wood and the stain goes right through the depth of the top. There is no way to remove the stain completely, but I much prefer the lighter colour and stripping varnish is soooo satisfying. 

Sofa before

Sofa before

Sofa after, stripped legs and finished upholstery

Sofa after, stripped legs and finished upholstery

We also stripped the legs on the sofa, which also look so much better in a lighter colour. Often with mid-century pieces cheaper, lighter woods were finish in heavy dark varnish to make them look like tropical hardwood. Now those "cheaper" woods are actually as desirable because solid wood of any species is so much better than MDF. There are some beautiful pieces to be had with a bit of elbow grease.

If you want to have a go yourself (and I recommend that you do), here's the method we used.


You will need

  • Disposable latex gloves
  • Paint stripper. Black Friars is Mum’s brand of preference. It’s gentler than Nitromors which is the big brand name in (that kind of) strippers
  • Old paint brush (you’ll be chucking this later)
  • Metal scrapers (Poundland does some scrapers in their DIY section which are really thin and flexible. And only £1 for 5 of them)
  • Newpaper
  • Wire wool, in grades 00, 000 and 0000
  • Methylated spirit
  • Furniture wax (the cream kind that comes in a tin), we used clear
  • Soft cotton cloth (something that is disposable as you won’t get the wax out, an old t-shirt or something would be perfect)

There’s a lot of materials here for which initial outlay could be expensive (Mum came with supplies, lucky me!). Depending on how much you have to do, or if you’re doing more than one thing, it would pay off in the end. 


Method:

Take item outside (because the stripper stinks and isn't very good for you to inhale in an enclosed space).

Put on your disposable latex gloves, pour the striper into a glass container (metal and plastic can react with the chemicals) and paint on with a brush.

Painting on the paint stripper

Painting on the paint stripper

Wait a 1-2min and then scrape off the old varnish going in the direction of the wood grain, wiping the goop off on a piece of doubled up newspaper as you go along. When we did the table, we did sections about A3 size and by the time you’ve finished painting on the stripper the first bit you painted is ready to be scraped off. Sections that aren’t flat (like the edges of the table) we rubbed with 00 grade wire wool rather than scraping; hold taught across the curve and saw/file with the wire wool kind of like drying your back with a towel (!)

Scrape . . .

Scrape . . .

In the direction of the grain . . .

In the direction of the grain . . .

Until it collects on the blade . . .

Until it collects on the blade . . .

So you dump the residue on your newspaper

So you dump the residue on your newspaper

Repeat until you’ve been over everything you want stripped once and see what you think. We did the table twice because the varnish was pretty thick in places, but we probably over did it a bit. You can also patch treat places where you need a bit more varnish removed, rather than having to go over everything.

Leave to dry a bit (we went off and had lunch)

Wipe down with methylated spirits and 000 grade wire wool to take off any residue (mum also said if it’s a delicate piece this might be enough to take it back to the wood alone)

A rub down with methylated spirit cleans off any residual varnish and paint stipper

A rub down with methylated spirit cleans off any residual varnish and paint stipper

Apply furniture wax with grade 0000 wire wool. Leave to soak in/harden (it will suck up a certain amount, you will have stripped out some of the oils in the process and the wood will want something back into its pores) and buff off excess with soft cloth.

You might want to do this stage inside. We applied the wax outside but realised it wasn’t soaking in because it was a bit too cold, so took it back in and I left it overnight to warm though/soak in and buffed in the morning.

Table before, with the water mark

Table before, with the water mark

Table after, with a bit less of a water mark

Table after, with a bit less of a water mark

Enjoy your revived furniture with it's new, modern look!

DIY: Paint Can Waste Baskets

There are some things that I'm willing to pay for. For quality, for great design, for no explicable reason other than I love something

Wastebaskets are not one of those things. Don't get me wrong, there are some well designed, quality wastepaper baskets out there, but I'm not willing to spend £35 on a thing to hold snotty tissues. 

But they're necessary right? (Hey, I have them in every room you don't need to convince me of that!) When I first moved into my flat, I started using paint cans left over from decorating (best practice if you're using a lot of the same colour is to empty all the canned paint into a single plastic bucket, with a lid. It means that any variation in the colour between cans is compensated for and you have a bucket of exactly one colour). I washed them out and free wastepaper baskets! And a good size for a bedroom/bathroom bin. Not that pretty though, but if I've learnt anything over the past year is few things can't be elevated with some matte black spray paint. Everything looks classier then, even old paint can bins.


You will need:

  • Paint cans
  • Stanley knife
  • Newspaper
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape
  • Spray primer (extra Brownie points, i.e. I didn't bother. They sell it in Poundland, do as I say not as I do!)
  • Spray paint of your colour choice (My favorite is car touch up paint from Halfords. Sooo many colour options and great quality finish)
The raw material, my paint can with the handle removed

The raw material, my paint can with the handle removed

1. Take your paint can and cut off the handle with a Stanley Knife. Be really careful not to take fingers with it! Give your can a wipe down to remove any loose or dried paint.

Masking tape the edges

Masking tape the edges

Get the tape right into the fold of the top edge so that it gets a good seal

Get the tape right into the fold of the top edge so that it gets a good seal

2. Run a line of masking tape along the metal edge, to keep this detail to contrast the colour. Run your nail along the bottom edge to get a really good seal. Fold in the tape on the bottom edge, but leave the top bit standing up for the moment.

Using the can to template out a circle

Using the can to template out a circle

Drawn roughly by eye, the masking tape can compensate for a few inaccuracies

Drawn roughly by eye, the masking tape can compensate for a few inaccuracies

3. Cut a circle of newspaper. I fold the paper twice and then put the can on top, eyeballing a quarter of the circle. 

Circle to can

Circle to can

Paper set into the top edge of the can

Paper set into the top edge of the can

4. Put the newspaper circle into the top of the bin, resting on the edge. Fold down the masking tape to seal.

All sealed down and ready to paint

All sealed down and ready to paint

A little to large on the paper cutting is tweaked with a fold

A little to large on the paper cutting is tweaked with a fold

Tah Dah!

5. Take your prepared can outside and spray paint, being sure to keep the spray away from anything you don't want marked. Several thin coats is better, I used two, leaving to dry between.

the finished wastepaper bin

the finished wastepaper bin

And that crisp edge detail I was going for

And that crisp edge detail I was going for

6. Leave to dry thoroughly, and then remove all the masking tape and newspaper protections. Shiney, sleek, and (almost) free.

What You Love Will Grow (But only if you show up)

A few weeks ago I wrote a note in Evernote (where I do most of the writing that makes it way onto the blog, and a lot of it that doesn't) about how i was going to make this blog my focus for the month of May.

And then I didn't post it. Or anything else for that matter.

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

I wrote it because I believe it is true, and I needed the accountability to show up and do it. And maybe you're thinking the same way about something and it might help you get that push that you need.

But accountability only works if you ask for a witness (Always ask for a witness, and not just because the official form requires you to). If you stick your request away in a dark drawer and don't actually voice it, it's like it didn't happen. It's a pretty story you're telling yourself, so that you feel like you've done something when you haven't. 

Tough self-love.

So late, but not never, this is my promise:

I always have a few projects on the go at any one time; a baby quilt, a piece of editing (tailoring seems a bit grand) for my wardrobe, some DIY project. And usually have one project that commands more of my attention than the others. Either its time sensitive, or just more compelling for me. But if I'm honest this blog has never been that project.

Erskine Falls, The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Melbourne

Erskine Falls, The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Melbourne

I've been holding back on you. Offering less than my total commitment. I've been running the site in maintenance mode without ever having done the work to establish it properly. That isn't fair on you guys, who grant me your time and attention, for which I am eternally grateful. It isn't fair on myself, as I'm doing myself down by not pulling out the stops.

And mostly its down to fear. Fear of trying to play with the big leagues (and not matching up). Fear of trying to build a following and nobody being interested (like turning up for your first day of school, but so, so much worse). Fear of attracting the wrong sort if attention, which is inevitable if you're saying anything worth hearing.

But enough. Its time to stop playing small. Its time to put my focus into something that I want to see grow. So for the forseeable this space will be my main focus.

I've always liked the month of May. It might be my favorite. It's a month when the weather starts getting good again and the days are getting long and spring is with us in its full frontal blousy glory. It's a good month to start something a fresh, to give yourself the space grow.

DIY: Pastel Bedroom Hooks

My bedroom is small (for a double) but it's still a little way from perfectly formed. There are tasks that have no objects to perform them. A big sticking point for me is once I have the bed in with a table to each side, I have no space for a bedroom chair.

Not everybody is into a bedroom chair, I get that, but I love them. Or rather I love having a place to dump my dressing gown and the current pair of yoga pants I'm using for lounging in the evening, or any other half worn item of clothing. Plus I'm very lucky that my mum does beautiful upholstery so I can pick up a sorry looking chair and some beautiful fabric and have the chair of my dreams. 

But I can't imagine more floor space; I can't bend the laws of physics (despite what some clients often think is the role of an architect). So it was time to employ the first law of compact living:

the first law of compact living: when you can’t go out, go up.

In other words, when there's no floor space left it's time to use the walls. It's principal I've employed in the kitchen with the tall units, in the airing/utility cupboard where I've stacked the hot water tank over the washing machine and it was time to enact it in the bed room. (I also I have plans to put it into action in the hall but that's a little way off yet)

A friend had shown me a load of wooden drawer handles that she had in her shed, saying if I ever needed any I was welcome to them. A plan formed and this was the result:

Cheerful painted wall pegs! It's simple little DIY, and one that breaks down nicely to 10-15min chunks so can be done little by little in the evenings after work


You will need:

  • Wooden drawer handles ( I used one size only but a mix of sizes would be great too!)
  • Drill, and appropriately sized drill bits
  • Screws
  • Glue (I used Araldite, but any strong glue would be fine)
  • Fine sand paper
  • Emulsion paint, in your choice of colours. I've referenced the palette for the flat, but a single colour to match the wall would be really modern and slick
  • Paint brush
  • Clear varnish (spray or liquid)
  • Rawl Plugs, for fixing to the wall.

The wooden handles are designed for being screwed from the inside of a drawer, so the first thing I did was drill out the back to make a hole to fit the head of the screw in and then glued them in place. Careful how the screws settle when you're gluing them, as you want a good perpendicular angle to the back of the knob. Some of mine were a bit wonky and so didn't sit flush with the wall. Leave overnight for the glue to cure properly.

I've since found out about hanger bolts which have a bolt thread on the one end (to go into the knob) and a screw thread on the other (to go into the wall). Not cheap, but if I was doing this DIY again, I would seriously consider using them as it cuts out a few steps and is a stronger fixing. Up to you though: easy or cheap.

Sand down the surface of the knobs. It's a bit fiddly but it will help the paint key better. Wipe with a damp cloth to remove the dust.

You could add a coat or two of primer at this stage, but I didn't bother and just cracked on with the colours! Apply 2-3 coats of paint, allowing the paint to dry in between. I did a coat each evening, which didn't take long and I didn't mind about waiting for them to dry. The lighter colours required more coats, which is where I think the primer would have been useful. Also mulitple thin coats will give you a better finish, so be patient.

Once you've got the coverage you want on the paint, apply a thin coat of varnish to protect the finish. Allow to dry completely.

Decide where you want your pegs, and drill a hole for your rawl plugs. Screw the knob into position and done! 

Work in Progress February 2015

So it's a bit of a push to be showing these as a February WiP given that it's April already, and as is always we're suffering from Blog-lag as things have moved on a little from here.

Not a lot though if I'm honest. March was more of a month for socialising and getting out and about more than being at home hitting the DIY. There was some painting done, so that the new skirting boards are done, as are the hall faces of the bathroom door and the doors to the utility-cupboard in the hall.

Nobody wants to see a photo of some skirting though, no matter how hardcore their DIY addiction. There's probably some space on the internet for skirting-fetishism (that's the great thing about the internet you can find your tribe no matter how small the niche) but that place is not here. Move on skirting-fetishists, nothing to see here. (That got weird quickly)

Much more fun to share the picture wall in the living room. Still not complete, that space in between the two portrait paintings is reserved for something, but I've not got around to putting it up yet. And I've wrapped it around the corner with another framed map too, so always shifting.

This is WiP in the 5% margin though. Changes are small and incremental. But that's what living in yourplace looks like; always evolving.

Love Your Stuff: Baskets

You know how occassionally you'll come across an item that's a real game changer? You know, like back in 2006 when skinny jeans first became popular and suddenly it was like you had a whole new wardrobe. Well, a couple of months back I had the interiors version of that with the GADDIS basket from IKEA. Yeah, the big blue box again! I promise I'm not sponsored (I wish) but is anybody else as excited as me by the prospect of the Ilse Crawford collaboration coming this summer?

I bought the basket just because I liked it, but had no plan for what use I was going to put it to. No scrap that. I loved the the dip-dyed version that IKEA did, but by the time I decided to buy that was sold out, so I bought the plain one instead. It wasn't until I got it home I realised it was the perfect thing to compensate for the lack of enclosed storage in my bedside table.

A neater, clearer bedside situation.

A neater, clearer bedside situation.

We all have that life-detritus of power cables (so many cables!) and magazines and notebooks and whatever. You don't want to tuck it away because of the frequency with which you use it, but it ain't pretty and tends to spread (nay breed) over surfaces. The upshot being that everywhere looks messier than it actually is, and it's always a search to find where you last had your phone charger. Or maybe that's just me; I don't have the mind to remember where I last put things down, which is the main reason I'm so tidy. If an object's not in it's home I have no clue where it is. But dumping it all in a basket? Easy and suddenly it all looks so much better.

I month or so after my first basket purchase I found this great video from Apartment Therapy:

Now besides the fact that I am fully down with the concept of a landing strip (that thing about no memory for where I left stuff means that knowing where I put my bag/wallet/keys is crucial for maintaining the impression that I'm an adult), it also was an enabler for more baskets! The only thing my own landing strip was missing was a wastepaper basket, and I picked up a suitable one from Sainsbury's, part of a set of two.

Big basket in the hall; and the small in the living room

Big basket in the hall; and the small in the living room

The smaller basket of the pair I've used to hide my WiFi router: I used normal kitchen scissors to snip out a couple of holes for the cables and no more unsightly box on show. The easiest DIY ever. 

WiFi router hide and seek

WiFi router hide and seek

The easiest DIY of the year! If not the neatest . . .

The easiest DIY of the year! If not the neatest . . .

I feel this may only be the beginning of my basket obsession. And don't get me started on baskets' near cousin, boxes!

Now none of this is rocket science, granted, but is a great way to kick off a new series on the blog: Love Your Stuff. As I've already explained here I'm pathologically organised due to a flaw of memory (isn't it always so that your weakness fuels one of your greatest strengths? Who'd of thought a post on baskets would run so deep?!) so I thought I'd share some of my favorite ways to store my things, both to hide the things you need but don't want to look at and how to display the stuff you love.

What do you find hardest to store or display well?

#Plasticfree Life

From my adventures trying to be plastic free I start thinking about what that means. Which plastics are "worst"? What make "good" alternatives? Liquids can be bought in glass bottles but glass is heavier to transport. Biodegradable plastics need to be buried, so they are better only if they are disposed of properly. You can go round and round trying to figure out what is best route.

Lungs of Dirt; found on the street of Christchurch, NZ

Lungs of Dirt; found on the street of Christchurch, NZ

My intention was to investigate some of these questions and then report back. The subject is huge of course, and many people have done far more research on this than me, so I decided it would be far better to share some of my favorite plastic-centric articles instead.

Mike Biddle "mines" landfill sites for plastics.

Plastics have great strengths, if we start valuing the material like we do glass, wood and stone:

Plastic packaging can extend the shelf life of food, and thus reduce waste. (Although that idea in itself weirds me out quite a lot)

Those biodegradable plastics may be worse than the real thing

This was a great little article in Time Out London last week about what happens to your recycling once it gets collected

#Plasticfreealice ended in January, but I've tried to take the changes I made with me. I'm now getting a weekly vegetable box, which is the bulk of my food shop, and reduces my waste a lot, plastic and otherwise. I've kept up buying as much as possible local and plastic free. I'm an awful long way from #plasticfree, but it's a whole lot better than 2014.

Bodies

Now the #thisgirlcan video has been doing the rounds for a while

Sport England released the TV advert to show a whole variety of women doing and enjoying sport in order in encourage others to do that same. Some far so girl power, right? Well some women objected to it, and the week it was released The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 did a lunchtime piece debating whether it was another form of sexualisation of women's bodies.

In the west we tend to look at our bodies as only a vehicle for our heads (to paraphrase Ken Robinson's excellent TED talk). Any bodily functions are seen as unpleasant and/or shameful. The only thing "pleasant" (ie. of pleasure) to do with bodies is sex.

So I get it. The leap is not far from celebration of bodies = sex. But it's a leap that unsettles me. Which is probably why I'm still thinking about it a month later.

I agree, the advert is a sexualisation of these women's bodies, but I don't think that that's wrong. Bodies are sexy. All bodies. I would say the problem here is not the objectification of women as sexual beings. We already are sexual beings. No amount of feminist protest, or advertising will change that either way. 

The problem is we run from our physicality. We emphasise the intellectual, and increasingly the digital, denying that we are merely a sentient bag of meat (too gross? Sorry). A body that can be hurt, and get sick, and die. That thought is scary and threatening. We deny our bodies in the hope that by doing so we will avoid our mortality. In fact we achieve the opposite. By denying our physicality, we deny the present. We put off the goal we want to tackle today in order to do it "tomorrow" (the mythical tomorrow rather the Wednesday that will follow this Tuesday). 

I think we need to get over ourselves! Bodies are the original machine for living in. They do amazing things, like walking and talking and seeing and hearing and thus playing and dancing, and yes even sex. You know that simple joy when your brain and body are doing things together? It brings a kind of peace that isn't found anywhere else. Mindfulness. Being Present. Whatever you want to call it. I get it in yoga (because it's hard to think about your Friday deadline while balancing on your hands with your legs wrapped around your elbows); I get it when I take myself off for a walk; hell, I get it when I do DIY. I need more of that in my life. We all need more of that. That feeling of synergy between brain and body, when you're feeling it, radiates. Other people can feel it. And that's really sexy.

Now there is the school of thought that says if you allow one level of sexist behavior it opens the door to the extremes of the spectrum, sexual violence. I am in no way qualified to talk on that. I understand the argument, but I don't see that denying the fact that we have bodies does anything to prevent those people who intend to use that fact against us. Doesn't shedding light on our relationship with bodies not reduce the areas of shadow in which malicious people can hide?

You should be relishing in your body. You should be using your body. Sure, it will wear out one day, but unlike a car or a jumper or a computer, using it usually extends the period of use. 

New Opportunities

I'm battling a cold today so I'll keep this brief (I have no excuse for radio silence for the past few days of "Daily Blogging February." Sometimes life off-line is just too good to put aside, and that's a really great thing).

Making a home is a task that is never finished. Partly because in between making it you have to live in it and so some weeks it's just about keeping your head above the laundry pile and not eating cold beans from a can (although I kinda prefer them cold to hot actually, but that's another thing altogether), but partly because once you do one thing it can throw something else that was previously "fine" or even "good" into "could be better" or "Oh, that doesn't work."

When I hung these pictures in the bedroom last week, I stood back to admire them, and my second thought was "Now, some shelves either side of the bed would look even better!" (my first thought being "Whoop! They look ace!"). It's true, it will bring a nice balance to the wall. I'm thinking two "floating" style shelves in black finish to either side of the bed, to line through with the bottom and the mid line of the pictures.

And it would free up my bedside table from the short list pile of what to read next. Or let me expand that short list. There can never be too much bookshelf space.

If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them
— John Waters

Microwave Kedgeree

This is not only one of my favourite microwave recipes but also one of my favourite recipes. This is a great mid-week dinner, really comforting and lots of secret veggies (adults need those too!). Easily eaten from a bowl with a spoon in front of the TV (we all do it) and great with some sliced banana or mango chutney on the side or some coriander on the top.

Serves 2


Ingredients

1 tbsp oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 fat clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 carrots, diced

1 tsp of Turmeric

2 tsp of curry powder

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)

100g rice (brown or white)

2 fillets of smoked mackerel (1 whole mackerel)

Frozen spinach

2 eggs

Optional extras:

Half a pepper, diced

Small can of sweetcorn, drained.


Put the oil and onion into a microwavable dish with a lid and microwave on high for 3min, string once in the middle.

Add the carrot and garlic (and pepper if using), microwave again for 3min, string once.

Add the spices, stir and microwave for another 2mins.

Add the rice, stir and microwave for 1min.

Add twice the volume of rice to water and microwave for 10min for white rice and 20min for brown rice.

Put some water on to boil, and boil two eggs to your liking. I go for 5mins from the fridge into boiling water for a just runny egg.

Remove the skin from the mackerel and flake into chunks, removing any bones you might find. Once the rice has finished, stir in the mackerel flakes and frozen spinach (and sweetcorn if you have it). Microwave for 5mins, string occasionally.

By the end of this the rice should have absorbed all the liquid and cooked, the spinach will be defrosted and the mackerel warmed through.

Serve with the peeled boiled eggs, quartered, laid on the top, and any sides garnishes and toppings you fancy!

Work in Progress January

So with the big push in December, most of the flat is looking pretty finished.

"Makers gonna Make" print by Jude Landry, moon prints by Print + Press

"Makers gonna Make" print by Jude Landry, moon prints by Print + Press

The problem with a project like this is the last 10% is the hardest.

Having been accustomed to living without a kitchen, eating dinner on your bed and having most of you possessions in storage, once you sort out those biggies the impetus to keep going wanes a little to say the least. There's no big ticket item that its going to make a great before and after shot that is so satisfying. Its lots of little things that cumulatively make everything come together. Its the hardest to quantfy and in some ways the most important.

Hand lettered prints by the lovely Jasmine Dowling, won through a competition on A Pair and a Spare

Hand lettered prints by the lovely Jasmine Dowling, won through a competition on A Pair and a Spare

I've been dealing with this in my characteristic fashion: make a massive list and then start with the least important item! Well not quite, but picture framing and hanging is one of those things that makes a big step towards a room feeling "done." Even when its not really.

So I guess there is still bang for your buck to be had in the last 10%.

Daily Blog February

Over the past few months I've found it hard to give this blog the time it deserves. I guess I just gets shoved down the list after the things that are screaming louder. It's important but not urgent.

Logic would suggest that doing something sporadically or weekly or monthly was easier than daily, but one of the best ways to address important, non-urgent activities is to schedule them more regularly rather than less. If you can think "I can do it tomorrow and still hit my once a week" then you continue to put it off and tomorrow quickly becomes never.

This is why I run about three times a year.

If you do something everyday it becomes habit, an expected part of one's routine. I mean routine in a good way, but then I love a good routine. Maybe ritual is a more enticing way of putting it!

So for the month of February I am going to post something here every day. (Yes, I know it's the third already, this demonstrates the first rule of daily blogging will be planning ahead!) Not necessarily a long piece, although hopefully there'll be a few of those, but something will go up here daily.

And by the end of the month, I hope that I'll have a good habit and another stone in my daily routine

Living #Plasticfree January

As I posted about last week, I've been trying to go plastic free in January as part of an action with #plasticfreealice. The transition was messy and not very pretty, but over the past couple of weeks I have started to properly get into the swing of avoiding plastic packaging. It's not bee perfect by any means, but these are a few things I've found to help:

This is a week's worth of plastic waste, some of it recyclable some of it not.  

This is a week's worth of plastic waste, some of it recyclable some of it not.  

Shop Local

The biggest source of plastic packaging for me is food packaging, and the best way to get plastic free food is to buy it the old fashioned way, from smaller suppliers that don't sell in plastic packaging. I have gone back to my local community market as they have great veggies, dairy, bread and dried goods all packaged in paper, metal and glass (rinse and return milk bottles!). And  they're totally happy for you to bring your own containers or not use any packaging at all. 

And it's made me enjoy my weekly food shop so much more! Making a special trip on a Saturday morning to go buy from the people who produce the food is so much nicer than trogging round a fluorescent lite supermarket on a weekday lunchtime which used to be my usual MO.

Give up Convenience

As most convenience food is packaged in plastic (crisps, chocolate, sandwiches, takeaways) I've stopped using it at all. Cutting back on plastic packaging keeps me away from the office tuck shop in a mid-afternoon sugar slump a whole lot better than because I "shouldn't" and it's probably done my body a world of good! Although I've realised that if I buy the "fancy" chocolate (the whole bars in flavours like sea salt, or toasted almond)or those seasonal egg shaped chocolates that have recently been in the news, it comes in foil and cardboard, so I can still get a treat if I need to

As for meals when I'm out and about it's simple a matter of sitting in rather than taking away. Much better for you to take a break from your day to sit down and eat properly than stuff a sandwich down in the car between meetings, although easier said than done.

Toothbrushes and contact lens solution are two things I haven't found a non-plastic replacement for. The Quality Street I can probably live without!

Toothbrushes and contact lens solution are two things I haven't found a non-plastic replacement for. The Quality Street I can probably live without!

Meat

I haven't figured out how to buy meat plastic free yet. Even small producers vacuum pack their product for easy transportation. As I had a certain amount in the freezer I haven't been buying more, but I don't have a plan for when that comes to an end. I generally eat a lot of vegetarian food anyway, but I don't want to go full time veggie necessarily (it's an ongoing debate I have with myself about ethics and environmental impact, which is really due another post in itself). I would still like the option to buy meat as I continue to try and avoid plastic in the future.

Tiny bits of plastic that I used never to notice, now every time I fill the dishwasher I think of the waste stream. Yes I know that makes me weird!

Tiny bits of plastic that I used never to notice, now every time I fill the dishwasher I think of the waste stream. Yes I know that makes me weird!

Residual Plastic

Despite avoiding buying plastic over this month I've still been producing plastic waste. I have a surprising amount of things in the house that I bought before this year that came with plastic packaging, so as they are opened and used I'm putting waste back into the system/recycling. I decided to collect it all over the past week or so, just to see what it actually looks like. It's really pretty eye opening. But not very pretty, much as I've tried to make an interesting still life out of these objects it's mostly just pictures of waste. If you want to see beautiful trash The Dainty Squid does a great job of making waste look awesome.

I think that the most interesting part of this process has actually been becoming aware of really how much of our lives are now plastic wrapped. It really is everywhere and it's very difficult to avoid, but can be hugely reduced with a little bit of thought. And if enough of us make those kind of changes . . . would you give up plastic? 

If you want to follow the efforts of Alice Oxford for Plastic Free January check out #plasticfreealice

Plastic Free January: Week 1

A couple of months back, an email dropped into my inbox from a couple of good friends saying they were arranging a forum event among a group of women to discuss leadership and to support and guide each other. Knowing the organisers I knew this was going to be awesome, "Yes, I am so into this!" was my response.

So on a cold Wednesday evening, I dashed into town after work to meet this awesome group of women and talk about what we felt about leaders, and leading, and where we thought needed leadership and what we as a group could bring to that.

The synthesis of these discussion was we pledged as a group to go (single use) plastic free for January. As a group we would experiment with altering our lifestyle to be less plastic dependent and discuss the ways we were doing that with the people in our lives, which for me includes discussing it with you! 

This is what my shopping looks like, plastic free

This is what my shopping looks like, plastic free

So for the past couple of weeks I have been trying to go plastic free. And mostly failing!  The first week was really hard and as is common with a paradigm shift (and beleive me that has been no less than that!), I've run though the classic stages of loss:

Denial and Isolation
New Years Day, and all I wanted was a Chinese take away. And I didn't want to drag the rest of my friends through some weird dance to find convenience food without plastic. So to avoid the feeling of isolation I decided that as it was the first day (and I was hungover, lets be honest) it didn't "count." With hindsight, we could have ordered pizza (cardboard boxes!)

Anger
[At the airport, no bottles over 100ml past security]
No time to sit in . . . Why can I not buy a drink that isn't in a plastic bottle? 
(because the animal skin sack fell out of favor in the UK some centuries ago)
Fine, I'll just buy some porridge in a paper pot, and not drink for the next 3 hours until I get home
(porridge is served with plastic lid and plastic spoon; porridge is like eating glue without an accompanying drink; dehydrated & hangry at 7am not pretty)
F*&%!

Bargaining
If somebody else buys it it doesn't count, right? (sent Mr. E to the shop)
If I already have the plastic wrapped item it doesn't count, right? (remaining Christmas chocolates)
If I buy tetrapack or plastic coated cardboard it doesn't count, right? (it probably does count, but a month without Ben & Jerry's?! Pfft!)

Depression
It's not possible. Everything has some part in plastic. How are we so dependent on this stuff?! We're royally screwed, as a species. We're going to drown in our own filth.

And finally: Acceptance
This is all about preparation and organisation, and I rock that stuff. OK I need: multiple canvas bags; water bottle; re-useable coffee cup; spork; . . . a bigger handbag?!
That and only buying the loose veggies in the supermarket. (Note to self: order veggie box delivery (no salad leaves))

Having come through the other side I'm beginning to see the light . . . but more about that next week.

If you'd like to know more about Alice and Plastic Free January, check out the links, or follow #plasticfreealice for more information.

Work in Progress December

Happy New Year all! I hope you had a wonderfully relaxing time off, enjoying good food and good times with the people you love. I certainly did. I completely checked out for a couple of weeks and it was great.

Now that I'm back in reality, it's time to set this year off with a little catch up. The end of last year was a mad dash to finish off the bulk of the work on the flat before I hit my first anniversary of home ownership and a wee housewarming/Christmas party I threw.

The living room is liveable! I even got my IKEA fabric Christmas tree up

The living room is liveable! I even got my IKEA fabric Christmas tree up

So the big things like the kitchen and painting the hall and moving furniture in are done. hey I even got some Christmas decorations up. The tree is IKEAs Vinter fabric, hemmed and hung on a 20mm dowel and some hooks, although the hat draped on the bookcase (Bruno Rainaldi's Sapiens) is more about running out of places to put things than a style choice of any kind!

Kitchen white and ply

I still have a 50-odd strong list of jobs to tackle this year, so don't you worry there's plenty more to see yet. Not to mention to tell you all the things that I did to get it where it currently stands.

The dining area: table by Ercol, green Polo chair by Robin Day and vintage knock off of Eero Saarinen Tulip chair.

The dining area: table by Ercol, green Polo chair by Robin Day and vintage knock off of Eero Saarinen Tulip chair.

Speaking of which, the fact that the flat is looking sort of complete has made me think about where this blog goes next . . . but that's probably a much meatier topic that I will get into at a later date. Safe to say, I'm not going anywhere (physically or digitally) for a while yet.

Right now I'm just enjoying having too many choices for where to sit of an evening.

Work in Progress November

So this is WiP November, going out in December, and if I'm honest with you (and I do try to be) it's already wildly out of date. 

Kitchen units in process . . .

Kitchen units in process . . .

The past month I've been fully focussed on getting the flat wholly habitable. Not finished, because there are still doors to paint and curtains to make and pictures to hang and other bits and pieces. But all the rooms painted and furniture in and useable. 

And the floor waiting to be grouted (and cleaned for that matter!)

And the floor waiting to be grouted (and cleaned for that matter!)

In this final push everything else has taken a back seat. Including this blog. I've missed it, and I have recorded a load of things to show you later, but in November it was just one thing too much. 

Bedroom curtains are up and so is my 50p vintage lampshade

Bedroom curtains are up and so is my 50p vintage lampshade

But this was where I was about 3 weeks ago. Which is pretty far from the last time I shared an update. I'd finished off the tiling in the bathroom, on the splash back and the skirtings. The kitchen units had started going in, and there are now curtains in the bedroom which feels very grown up coming from the sheets of foam board I'd been using! 

Matching tiles skirtings in the bathroom

Matching tiles skirtings in the bathroom

And the splashback behind the sink is in too

And the splashback behind the sink is in too

Of course the upside in this post being delayed is you won't have to wait long for the next WiP; in a week or so I'll be sharing the flat in it's full Christmas regalia. There'll be furniture in the living room and everything!

Emotional Wabi-Sabi

This photo is of the clump of willows that stand in front of my flat. A couple of weeks back I was sitting in the bay window, taking a break from tiling the bathroom splash back, imagining two months time when I will be sitting on the sofa my mother is upholstering for me with a cup of coffee and the weekend papers.

The leaves have dropped on this willow already, but watching the leaves turn this year have made me think of marking future years in this way. I sat thinking "I can't imagine leaving here" while simultaneously knowing it will inevitably happen some day. Wabi-Sabi (the appreciation of the beauty of the ephemeral and imperfect) is an emotional experience as well as a physical one. 

Tutorial: How to Build Flatpack

The kitchen has been going in over the past few weeks, but before that could start there was an awful lot of flat pack to do. Now I quite enjoy building flat pack but plenty of people don't. Here are some tips to help make it less painful. I'm using an IKEA BEKVAM step stool as an example here, but the principals are the same with whatever you're building.

Lay out your fixings and count that they match the ones in the diagram

Lay out your fixings and count that they match the ones in the diagram

Firstly lay out all your pieces and count you fixings, organising them into little piles. Boring and a little OCD but it will help you immensely later on. Do the same with the pieces you're fitting together. Note differences in individual pieces, in this example the shorter edges on the cross pieces that gives the slant on the legs.

Layout the pieces ready to put them together

Layout the pieces ready to put them together

If your piece is solid wood may be worth going over everything with some fine sand paper to smooth out the edges and pre-drilled holes. Also if you're going to paint or varnish anything, this is the time to do it while everything can be laid flat.

Once your pieces are prepped and accounted for, read through the instructions once before starting. At least once. Running through the whole process helps to understand why some of the more counter intuitive steps are there, and will save you having to undo work from getting ahead of yourself.

Follow the steps! Sounds obvious but often people think they can bash on through and then find they've come a cropper.

Stage 3 as drawn . . .

Stage 3 as drawn . . .

Stage 3 as built!

Stage 3 as built!

If you lay you pieces out so they look like the diagrams it helps, but also bear in mind that it won't look exactly like the diagrams. Your subject to gravity in away that the illustrator of the instructions is not! If you find it helpful to relate the drawings to the reality you can prop pieces up while you put them together. This also helps keep both your hands free to deal with the fixings and tools.

Generally, if you have to force it you're doing it wrong! All (well most!) flatpack furniture is carefully designed to fit together well, so if its not working check its not operator error first. Having said this, the drawers for the kitchen we put together this weekend were an exception to this rule. Nothing would get the base piece in short of wailing on it with a rubber mallet!

Notice the detail drawings showing a loose fitting of the screws at this stage

Notice the detail drawings showing a loose fitting of the screws at this stage

Note when the instructions tell you something specific, like the fixings here not being tightened all the way. It will make subsequent steps harder for you if you don't follow these.

Take your time and soon you should have something that likes like the finished article!

Stand back and enjoy your handy work!

Behind the Scenes

There are these chain letter type blog posts that go around the internet and this one was started by April on her blog Blacksburg Belle back in September. I was nominated by my friend Georgie to answer the 15 questions about my blog/business (you can see her 15 answers here)  so here we go!

My current selection of souvenirs and inspiration

My current selection of souvenirs and inspiration

What’s your two to three sentence bio?
I'm an architect by profession, with a love if mid-twentieth century furniture and Scandinavian interiors. I have private clients outside of my day job, and I'm using my own apartment as a test bed for some of my design thoughts.

What’s your favourite part of your blog?
Creating content, documenting the process and my thoughts around my renovation project

What’s your least favourite part of your blog?
The tech stuff; I don't feel I've even touched the vast world of plugins and adaptations or stretched the capabilities of my site. In amongst doing the flat and having private clients, its something I've yet to get a handle on.

What are the top three tools you use the most in your work?
My macbook pro, my friend's Canon Rebel DSLR and Evernote

What business/blog goal would you love to reach before the end of the year?
My goal is to get some furniture into the living room! That’s not quite the same as finishing, there will still be plenty of things to do and add to, but getting to the stage where I can host people and have somewhere for them to sit will be a major landmark!

This is not my desk, it's from the lovely people at Death To The Stock Photo

This is not my desk, it's from the lovely people at Death To The Stock Photo

Who are three creatives that inspire you?
Shauna Haider aka Nubby Twiglet, who has used her blog to establish her design brand and eventually launch her design studio. Plus her beautiful photographs and art direction make her blog a cut above.
Joy The Baker, was the very first blog I found and turned me into the blog fan-girl I am. I still love what she does, her photograph and her recipes!
Ivania Carpio of Love Aethetics for her laser focussed personal style. Not my style but I really admire her commitment to being her and the fact she has built her career off that starting point.

What do you listen to (if anything) while you work?
Podcasts of The Lively Show and Desert Island Disks, or BBC 6music

Morning person or night owl?
Neither! My peak hours are around 3pm-8pm. I suspect probably be a morning person if I had less screen time and artificial light. 

You know when somebody asks you a seemingly simple question and it causes an A-ha! moment? This was one of those questions: I've struggled with finding time to blog, but this made me realise I'm trying to do work on the blog after 9pm, ie. outside of my best hours. I've totally changed my schedule now: high cognative stuff (blogging and client work) straight after I get home from work, dinner and then vegging or menial but necessary stuff before bed. I'm still in the transition period of this new habit, but it's helping so much!

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Orkney

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Orkney

How many employees do you have and what are the main things they do for you?
Its just me, although lots of friends and family have helped me on the flat, so by that means they’ve made a significant contribution to the blog content too!

What’s your favourite social media platform?
Instagram

What’s your least favourite social media platform?
LinkedIn.

What works best when it comes to marketing your blog?
Erm, maybe this is another thing I need to spend more time on?! I think because my subject is very visual it’s got to be Instagram sneak peaks.

What’s one thing about your blog that your readers probably don’t know?
It runs bout 2-3 weeks behind reality! At least! Plenty of time to edit it so it looks better than it is!

If your blog were a fashion accessory, what would it be?
Raw denim jeans; high quality, sustainably sourced, suits a whole variety of life stages.

What’s your top tip for someone who wants to do something similar to you?
Start! And invest in yourself and your education, whether that’s through traditional routes or e-courses, keeping your skill set moving is useful not just for having new skills but to be used to doing new things regularly.

The game now is to pass it on! I nominate: 

Verity at Rascal and Roses, because I'd love to know how she juggles a blog, a new business and a toddler with a baby on the way! (I think it's super powers!)

I'm also going to throw it out to my Blogcademy classmates, and see if they want to play.