Work in Progress September 2014

Recently I've been feeling that work on the flat has stagnated.

Bedroom door and wardrobe doors installed, all waiting on painting

Bedroom door and wardrobe doors installed, all waiting on painting

Firstly this is patently untrue. Lots of work has gone on in the flat, it's just mostly it's not been me doing it. I now have doors, and the electrics are finished, and I've even managed to fix a couple of odd holes and make some shelves (with E) and install a washing machine myself (with some help again).

New doors to the Smallest Utility Room in Oxfordshire

New doors to the Smallest Utility Room in Oxfordshire

Airing shelves built from the reclaimed timber from the old airing cupboard

Airing shelves built from the reclaimed timber from the old airing cupboard

Things have happened, but without the force of momentum of the first half of the year. This is because, well, life. Laundry and cooking and washing up, and then private clients and this blog and a summer of fabulous holidays and hen dos and visiting friends with new babies.

An IKEA hack of a GRUNDTAL rail fitted underneath the wash basin

An IKEA hack of a GRUNDTAL rail fitted underneath the wash basin

I love the WiP series (and you tell me you do too) because it's great to stop and take stock of how far I've come with this project (although you might enjoy it for the snoop more than anything!). Looking back over a month shows how far the flat has come and encourages me to not be so down on myself! That's true in life as much as it is for a project like this.

And I can't complain about lack of movement anymore: this weekend the kitchen install starts! Which means we spent last weekend building IKEA flatpack and that the living room is currently covered in units waiting to go into position. I'm so excited to see it go in! Although I'm more excited to soon not be washing up in the bathroom!

Half the units, placed vaguely in their intended positions; more just visible through the hall

Half the units, placed vaguely in their intended positions; more just visible through the hall

WiP October is going to be a big one!

City Guide: New Orleans

Although New York was the original draw for this trip we decided to add a second city while we were in the US. Its pretty impossible to be bored in NYC but a full two weeks sounded excessive. A friend suggested a side trip to New Orleans and it seemed a good contrast so we went ahead and booked.

I had a full wish list for New York, compiled of friends' recommendations and a few bits I gathered from bloggers I follow. Gala Darling's recent post and her 2009 one are both worth a look.

There are beads strewn everywhere, especially on the trees

There are beads strewn everywhere, especially on the trees

For NOLA I had not done my research and had no expectations. Maybe that's why I was so thoroughly swept off my feet by the place. Here is a breakdown of the places we ate, drank, danced and shopped and the places we ran out of time for.

Sylvain was so good we went twice: once for brunch, once for dinner (with cocktails). The lighting is low, the service is southern (warm and gracious) and the food is banging.

We stumbled across Kingfish looking for a place to while away a couple of hours with a few cocktails before our table came up at Sylvain and were so taken with the placed booked for dinner the next night. Lo-fi decadence and I loved their branding. If you want to try a Sazerac (rye, bourbon, a local spirit based on absinth and bitters) this the the place to do it.

The bar at Kingfish

The bar at Kingfish

Coop's Place

Coop's Place

If you want really authentic cajun cooking (and you do) Coop’s Place is great. It looks like an archetypal bar from ever american movie you’ve seen. In a really great way. We got a taster plate to share and our favourites were the Jambalya and the fried chicken. There are no reservations so be prepared to queue.

Central Grocery is the home of the original muffuletta, the pressed sandwich involving three meats, two kinds of cheese and pickled vegetable. They’re great and this is the place to get them. You can eat at the bar or take away.

French Quarter high rises!

French Quarter high rises!

Traditional French Quarter House

Traditional French Quarter House

Cafe du Monde barely needs an introduction: they serve beignets (french style donuts covered in powdered sugar) and coffee. I think if you ask nicely they’ll let you have tea or a soda, but it’s basically frowned upon. It is BUSY, but the turnover is high so you never need to wait for a table. The fact that it’s open 24 hours means you never NEED to wait for a table. And donuts at 5am is always possible; who wouldn’t want to go to a city where donuts are always possible! Oh and go to the bathroom while you’re there, not because they’re nice (they're not) but because you have to dip through the kitchen to get there so you get to see all the craziness.

Further east from Cafe du Monde is the French Market. It’s got a load of stalls selling produce and souvenirs, but it’s also got a load of little food places, and places that make fresh fruit daiquiris that are basically alcoholic smoothies. I can’t comment on most of the food options, but we fell on our feet at The Heart Cafe. They make amazing crab cakes (which they ship too!) which you can have over salad or in a Po’boy (that’s a french bread sandwich FYI), and great juices.

Street band on Frenchman Street

Street band on Frenchman Street

The French Market is at the end of Frenchman Street which has a load of music bars, so this is the place to head to at the end of the night for some live jazz (of all kinds) in the streets and in the bars. The Spotted Cat was one we went to a couple of times, and has the benefit of having no cover charge, just a 1 drink minimum.

SoBou is an abbreviation for South of Bourbon Street. It has great cocktails and an excellent happy hour: weekdays between 3pm and 6pm a selection of drinks, cocktails and bar snacks are $3-6. They also do 25¢ martinis between 12-3pm if you buy a main course (which is probably advisable for lunchtime drinking). The real gem here is Abigail who works the bar. And I mean works the bar. She had a load of great recommendations, and we wished we’d not left it to our last day to go here.

The New Orleans Historic Collection is a great overview of the history of the city. I had no idea the city was so old, French settlement having been initially made in 1718. This little museum gives a really great overview of the history of the city which took us around 1.5 hours. The tours come highly recommend, but we weren’t able to take these up as we were booked to go to:

The New Orleans School of Cooking for a cookery demonstration, which is the kind of touristy thing I don’t normally do, but it was so much fun! Anne cooked three courses for us, while talking us through variations on the recipe notes, and giving us a whistle stop tour through the history of the city through it’s food. Fascinating and tasty!

The Garden Quarter, where even the steps are planted . . .

The Garden Quarter, where even the steps are planted . . .

 . . . And all the houses look like Gone With the Wind

 . . . And all the houses look like Gone With the Wind

The food and the music and the hard drinking (New Orleanians love their cocktails!) were all what I expected. What I did not expect was the great shopping!

UAL is an outlet store for mid- and high-end brands. Requires some time to rummage through as there are no two pieces the same really (I sent E off to check out Meyer the Hatter and said I’d meet him in SoBou to avoid feeling time pressured!). I bought myself a little Stella McCartney (Stella in New Orleans seemed so appropriate) at 75% off.

Exodus Goods stock local designers limited run creations with a very Brooklyn/East London/insert-hip-place-here vibe. Great prints, progressive silhouettes and friendly staff. Great Insta account too!

Hemline has a great selection of what I can only describe as Southern Belle Rock Star Wife. And I mean that wholly as a great thing.

Meyer the Hatter is a shop that looks as if it hasn’t moved or changed for 50 years. A gentleman’s outfitters with a huge selection of hats and very reasonable prices.

We stayed in The Jazz Quarters, which was perfectly placed for the French Quarter just across the North Rampart, super comfortable and friendly. They do a great breakfast, which is included, but did mean that we missed out on the Eggs Cochon at The Ruby Slipper.

Our bedroom at The Jazz Quarters, we stayed in "Kermit" named after Kermit Ruffins

Our bedroom at The Jazz Quarters, we stayed in "Kermit" named after Kermit Ruffins

Only in NOLA

Only in NOLA

I confess we did the tourist thing and barely made it out of the French Quarter. There were so many good things to do and with limited time we decided to concentrate our efforts. We did catch the Charles Street street car out to the Garden District to have a wander and a look at Aubade Park, which was another nice (if still tourist classic) thing to do.

I'm moving here; not even joking.

I'm moving here; not even joking.

There were a load of places we didn’t get a chance to go to:
Marti’s, we popped in to check out the menu (go here for seafood!) they’ve retained the original bar with hex mosaic floor (be still my heart!) it looked classy but welcoming
Meaux Bar was just across the way from our guest house and we almost went on the first night; apparently we missed out!
Tonique - another great happy hour, so sorry we missed this
And although Bourbon Street is an acquired taste (it’s a bit Faliraki) apparently everybody should make at least one trip to The Tropical Isle for a Shark Attack, Abigail from SoBou assured it was quite the show.
I was also recommended Le Bon Temps Roule on a Thursday night, but we fly back to New York on Wednesday, so will have to pick that up on the next trip.

One things for sure, there will definitely be a next trip!

Thoughts On Friendship

To give and to receive is never a balanced transaction.

When we are a child we receive. Our parents clothe us, feed us, love and support us. We give them a wonky mug that we made in art class, that isn’t waterproof and becomes a pen pot.

When we are in a romantic relationship (or even an unromantic one) we dance the line of equal give and take (although rarely giving and taking the same things). We are building a life together, and that life is by negotiation, by committee and all the more precarious and precious for that.

Friendships are different. Friendships are particularly special. Friendships are fragile and thus easily (although hopefully not lightly) broken. The only bond (at least at the beginning) holding you together is “I like you.” Friendship is a lesson in giving without any expectation of receiving. To accept a person wholly for who they are is a wonderful thing to do and to have done to us. To give to someone solely because we want them to have whatever it is we are offering, without expectation of reciprocation, is a beautiful thing.

Giving without expectation of receiving is the hardest bit to get right; that’s why you have to start it early. It is friendships that prepare us to be parents. To learn to give with only the hope of a leaky mug in return.

Tutorial: Painting Crisp Lines at Colour Changes

As I shared in August's WiP post I painted the living room last month with a picture rail line. I was so pleased with how sharp the line turned out, so thought I'd share how I achieved that. It's actually quite easy, although there are a few steps. This method can be used to get a crisp line at the ceiling, edges of walls (for features) or if you're going to really go for it geometric patterns in paint.


You will need:

2 (or more) colours of paint

Pencil

Spirit level

Ruler or scrap timber (optional)

Tape measure

Chalk line

Masking tape

Brushes and rollers as preferred

Paint the first colour to the final finish coat (I did one "mist coat," a water thinned coat you put onto fresh plaster as the plaster wants to suck up all the moisture from the paint which makes it really hard to use, and one final coat of full thickness paint) , painting beyond the point where the colour will change. My marker was the head of the windows.

White paint is brought past the level of the windows to overlap with the area of the wall which will be grey

White paint is brought past the level of the windows to overlap with the area of the wall which will be grey

Mark the line you want to paint to. On the shorter lengths between the windows I used a spirit level and piece of timber to get a straight horizontal line and marked lightly in pencil.

A longer spirit level would be better (!) but a length of timber and small one does the job fine

A longer spirit level would be better (!) but a length of timber and small one does the job fine

On the long walls I used a tape measure to mark the correct height from the floor at each corner and a chalk line. This ingenious bit of kit allows you to get a straight line over a long distance. Hold either end at the marked heights (get an adult to help you!) with the string flat on the wall, and then ping the string with your finger to fire a line of chalk onto the wall. The chalk line I used was in blue and you can see the line it gives you below. Don't worry about the bright colour; it's either getting painted over or will wipe away with a soft cloth.

pencil line with masking tape on the right, chalk line on the right

pencil line with masking tape on the right, chalk line on the right

Masking tape along the lines you've marked. Don't worry about buying the fancy masking tape that claims not to bleed, there's no need to worry about that here and frankly I've never found one that really works. If you have a tip though I'd love to know. I would recommend doing continuous lengths of tape along walls if you can, it will give you a better finish.

Taped up and ready to go

Taped up and ready to go

You don't need fancy non-bleed tape because the next step is to paint over the edge of the tape with the base colour. This means that any bleed you get doesn't show because it's the same colour as the base. How clever is that!

Leave to dry completely.

The tape edge is painted over with the base colour; it's still wet here so you can see where I've been

The tape edge is painted over with the base colour; it's still wet here so you can see where I've been

Paint your first coat of colour. I always find that after the first coat you have to go round with the filler again. The paint shows up a whole load of imperfections that will have been missed the first time. Although there was plaster under the wallpaper I stripped, the age of it and the fact that I was doing the first painted finish meant there were plenty of marks needing filled. Sand back the filler ready for the final coat.

First coat (careful to colour in the lines!) and then the second filler

First coat (careful to colour in the lines!) and then the second filler

Do your second coat and leave to dry completely. Now for the fun bit! Peel of the masking tape, slowly and carefully to minimise the damage to the base coat.

Mid reveal!

Mid reveal!

Stand back and admire your work!

Crisp, clean lines and no bleeds.

Crisp, clean lines and no bleeds.

Microwave Cooking: Vegetarian Chilli

I moved into the flat just over two months ago. As I've said there is no kitchen yet, or none that is recognisable, but I do have a fridge with a small freezer compartment and a microwave. More recently I've also acquired a mini oven, but until then all my cooking was in the microwave.

I know that bar the cake-in-a-mug meme microwave cooking usually causes a shudder to run down anybody's spine, but I've honestly become a bit of a convert. Rice for example: the microwave method is so reliable and easy I don't think I will go back to cooking rice on the hob. 

My mother taught me to cook by technique: fry, sauté, braise, stew, reduction, bake, roast and so on; I still think of cooking in these terms and that's how I approached the microwave as a cooking tool. Now a microwave can't give you the crispy factor of a fry/bake/roast but the wet methods steam/sauté/boil/simmer are in reach. I have been using these methods to adapt things I would otherwise make in conventional ways for the microwave, and this is the first I'll share: vegetable chilli.


1 tbsp of oil of your choice

1 small onion, or two shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 pepper (I used half red, half yellow), cubed

1 tsp each: paprika (preferably smoked) and cumin (seeds or ground)

1/2 tsp chilli flakes, or more to taste

1 400g can each: chopped tomatoes, corn, mixed beans

Seasoning to taste

My microwave is a 850W model and I cook most of my microwave meals in a Bodum Hot Pot

  1. Put the oil onion and garlic into an oven proof dish, loosely cover and heat on full power for 3 minutes, stirring every minute or so. This is the equivalent of a sauté; high heat and regular stirring. I either time each 60sec blast or keep an eye on the timer and pull it our mid-way. The former allows you to wander away and do something else, because unlike regular cooking a microwave cuts out so nothing is going to get burnt if you do so.
  2. Add the pepper, stir and return for another 3 min stirring halfway.
  3. Add the spices, heat for another 2 min.
  4. Add the canned vegetables, season and stir. We now want to simmer the chilli to develop the spices, concentrate the flavours and thicken the texture. This is a bit fiddly in the microwave. I found the best method was to heat on high for 5min, stir and then allow it to sit for 5 min cooking in the residual heat. I repeated this 4 times. Alternatively you could cook for a more continuous period on reduced power, say 20min at 50% and see how that goes. By the end of the cooking you should have a pretty thick chilli, so if it needs to reduce further zap it a bit longer.
  5. Serve with any or all of the following: (microwave) rice; tortilla wraps; salad; avocado/guacamole; sour cream/yoghurt/riata; cheese.

Work in Progress August 2014

August seems to have slipped away from me. It's been a great month, but then it usually is because my birthday is in the middle of it. This year I had friends come down from Edinburgh to celebrate and we went out for dinner with my parents and some Oxford folks. Good food, good company and surprise presents. It was the best. 

I've been too busy living life off-line to be documenting it on line, and so WiP is a bit late this month. So in between birthday celebrations I've been painting. The living room is about 5m square (that's 16.5ft in old money) so it's quite a mammoth task to paint.

Now that the top of the bay and the kitchen window are in the same room I wanted to emphasise that fact that their heads are the same height, so I used it as a datum for a picture rail line for the painting. I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out, but I told myself "If I hate it I'll just paint in the top section." I love it. It's definitely staying. There'll be a tutorial coming soon on how I got the line so crisp if you want to do something similar.

The other thing I did was laid the lino in the two little cupboards. Now the reason I was doing that was to be prepared for the washing machine delivery. Which didn't happen. Twice. It turned into a bit of a saga, but I'm hoping for third time lucky!

The upside of course was I could kit out the smaller cupboard with racks and shelves and so on. I have space for my Dyson, and my cycling kit, and other stuff that doesn't need to be out and getting in the way of the working area of the living room. A small thing shouldn't make me so happy, but having somewhere to put things where they're out the way and hidden is so satisfying.

You've got to find pleasure in the small things in life, the everyday moments. If you can do that then happiness is so much more accessible. And for me that's what August has been all about.

 

My Favorite Weekday Breakfast: Raw Oat Pots

Last weekend I posted this picture on Instagram and shared it to facebook

Screen-Shot-Gin-Jar.gif

A couple of my friends accused me of being a Hipster (such a 2014/1954 insult!) I rebuffed with "Wait till you see my blog post on raw porridge in a jar! I'm not even joking."

I wasn't.

This is the breakfast I eat most weekdays. It's easy, the pots are prepped at least a night in advance and waiting for me in the morning, and it's reasonably nutritious being oats and raw and relatively low on sugar. I make up batches of three pots at a time, i.e. three days breakfasts as a solo-dweller. It would probably keep longer in the fridge, there isn't really much to go off, but much more than 5 days and I'd be wary.

I do hesitate to call it a recipe though. It's more guidelines, and so I don't offer up any quantities here. The method kind of sorts that out though, so you can't go far wrong.

You will need

Oats (I like the chunky kind as I think the texture is better)

Apple juice, preferably cloudy (local and single variety for full Hipster creds)

Dried fruit (optional, I use sultanas. Raisins or chopped apricots would also be good)

Standard size jam jars, approx. 400g (my preference is the wide necked type as they're easier to pour things into and clean up after)

Yoghurt to serve

Take your jars and put a large pinch/small handful/tablespoon of dried fruit in the bottom.

Jam jars
Raw Porridge

Fill the jar to half way with oats.

Top up with apple juice to come just over the top of the oats. I usually do half juice and half water because I find that sweet enough, but I eyeball it rather than measuring accurately or making up a mix specifically.

Put on the lids and pop in the fridge until morning. When you're ready for breakfast, pull out a jar, top with a few spoonfuls of natural yoghurt for added protein and creaminess, stir it all up (be sure to dig down to the bottom of those dried fruits) and tuck in. Coconut milk is a good with it too, which I used last week when I ran out of yoghurt, and gets you into the whole dairy-free and vegan area. A sprinkle of seeds or nuts would be a nice addition. Or some chopped fresh fruit. Or some chocolate chips. There's plenty of opportunity for customisation.

oats-animation.gif

I eat it straight out of the jar, because I'm lazy and it saves washing up, but you can decant it into a bowl if you're classier than me. You can also make it in a large bowl rather than pots if you're serving lots of people, same principal applies: as long as the oats are covered in liquid you'll be all good.

Of course, pots mean it's transportable, even on a bike, and desk compatible too for those who like to breakfast in work (which I have been known to do). I love pots, and if that makes me a hipster so be it!

Five Tips for Secondhand Shopping

I try to find ways to reduce my consumption where I can, and one of the main ways I do that is by shopping at second hand stores. Buy buying something that's not new you save the energy of having to make a new one, and you also save the old one from going into landfill. The item you buy is likely to be one-of-a-kind, so you're not likely to come across somebody with the same jacket/picture/table. Ever better than that, if you buy through a charity shop your money goes to supporting good causes. Good for you, good for others, good for the planet.

Sliding door cabinets, and the lamp where both second hand finds

Sliding door cabinets, and the lamp where both second hand finds

This Hobbs dress was a charity shop find, with great soft Italian gingham, quality way above it's price tag.

This Hobbs dress was a charity shop find, with great soft Italian gingham, quality way above it's price tag.

1. Keep a Wish List

Second hand shopping can be a bit of a lottery: you never know what you're going to find, sometimes nothing, sometimes complete gold. I keep a couple of lists on the Notes section of my phone with items I would like to buy, one for clothes and one for home. It means I don't miss an item I need when I see it and regularly keeps me from buyers regret, not just when second hand shopping, but all shopping. Just last week I bought a pair of Habitat poster frames in solid beech for £15; I had been looking to buy these new anyway, at a cost of £40 each.

2. Forget the Context

Second hand shops are rarely beautifully curated, and if they are the prices reflect that. Being able to look at an item and delete the context is a really useful skill, one that can be learnt and developed. Look for quality materials (feel stuff! Second hand or no, the "hand" of a fabric will tell you so much) but try to ignore labels. Imagine that dress with your favourite shoes and belt. Think about how that kitsch vase will look on your shelves next to your books and pictures

3. Keep Cleaning Costs in Mind

Lots of people are squeamish about secondhand being unclean. I always consider that there's not much difference between an item being worn many times by one somebody, vs tried on by god knows how many people in Zara, Topshop et al before you buy it "new." Whatever your take on it, factor in that you probably want to wash clothes before you wear them so you may not be tripping out the door in your new purchase tonight. If an item is dry clean only, that's an additional cost to consider when you buy and through your life with an item.

This powder pink tracksuit was a recent find. 

This powder pink tracksuit was a recent find. 

I'll wear it as separates though, to avoid the full on '80s tennis club look.

I'll wear it as separates though, to avoid the full on '80s tennis club look.

4. Repair, Restoration & Customising

Similarly, think carefully about damaged items. Will you/can you repair it? If you pay somebody else to do the repair how much will that cost? Factor in the cost of those materials and time.

Of course a damaged item offers a new set of opportunities. A torn skirt in a beautiful fabric could become a scarf, a shorter skirt, or entirely new item if you have the time and wherewithal to make it. Scratched wood, damaged varnish, and stained upholstery can all be repaired or replaced. If you're willing to strip, paint or re-cover you will be rewarded with a completely unique item.

5. Don't be Afraid to Haggle

Personally I don't do this in charity shops as they are so super cheap and all the money is going to a good cause, but any where else is fair game in my book. If you're buying multiple items, use that as bargaining for a cheaper total price. Note any damage and ask for money off because of it.

This fine fellow wouldn't fit in my car when I stumbled on Grove Antiques in Jedburgh. I still think about calling them up and asking them to ship it down to Oxford for me.

This fine fellow wouldn't fit in my car when I stumbled on Grove Antiques in Jedburgh. I still think about calling them up and asking them to ship it down to Oxford for me.

My Favourite Secondhand Shops

These are the top picks from my address book! They are all Oxford and Edinburgh centric (I'm only recommending places I know and love, but I'm also intending to check out The East End Thrift Store at some point soon); if you're in the area worth sticking your nose into.

Armstrong's of Edinburgh: The first vintage clothing store I ever went to will always hold a special place in my heart. The place to go for cashmere, but just wonderful for a browse. Don't forget to look up! The real gems (generally not for sale sadly) are hung from the tall ceilings.

Iconic, Edinburgh: Largely mid-20th Century homewares, with some small furniture pieces. Great '50s and '60s china, kitch paintings and some jewellery too. The lamp in the top picture came from there, as a gift from generous friends.

Liscious Interiors, Oxford: A beautifully curated shop which I visit mostly for inspiration, but is great for statement pieces when you're willing to splurge.

Sobell House Shops: Sobell House is an Oxford based hospice and registered charity with shops around the Oxfordshire area. This charity is particularly close to my heart as they cared for my Granddad at the end of his life, so I also send most of my charity shop donations to them. My favourite is the Botley branch, mostly as it's close to my office and so I can quickly dip in when I'm running lunchtime errands, and because 50p vinyl.

Richard Ford's: A properly old school junk shop with some awesome finds buried in there. Last time I was there I bought the two walnut faced boxes with sliding door fronts pictured above, the perfect size for 12" vinyl. For £15. That visit I also spotted a set of 6 Ercol (!) chairs for £50 (!!) and a lovely leather topped table for £75.

The Glastonbury of Blogging

It's pretty much exactly one week since I returned from a weekend in London attending The Blogcademy. That week has been a roller coaster. After the highs of the weekend Monday hit very hard, then through out the week I've experienced doubts, epiphanies, insecurities, inspiration and a few regrets.

Output from the "Still Life 101" session, which won me a prize for the best goody-bag brag!

Output from the "Still Life 101" session, which won me a prize for the best goody-bag brag!

Even now those feelings are all still pretty fresh. Fresh is a nice way to put it; raw might be more accurate.

The Blogcademy is pretty well known in particular circles of the internets. No surprise, given that its creators are three of the biggest international names in blogging: Gala Darling, Shauna Haider (aka Nubby Twiglet) and Kat Williams (the Rock and Roll Bride). I'd been following (*stalking*) them individually and collectively for a while, but nothing could have prepared me for what the experience was like off-screen.

Left to Right: Shauna, Kat, Me(!), Gala. A Little off focus (ahem, boobs) unfortunately but even so I love this shot.

Left to Right: Shauna, Kat, Me(!), Gala. A Little off focus (ahem, boobs) unfortunately but even so I love this shot.

I've been trying to think of a good way to explain what it was like, and the best analogy I can come up with is it's like going to Glastonbury. That's not a very good analogy unless you've been to Glastonbury (but if you have it's the perfect analogy).

The seats are limited, invariably completely booked out, exclusively attended by die hard fans.

Everything you experience there is great, but some of it transcends your expectations and is wonderful, moving and life changing. And it's almost impossible to explain why it was so to anybody who wasn't there.

Over the course of the weekend you find yourself in multiple in-depth, resonating conversations, with near strangers and new friends. Often involving cocktails.

Break-time at Curtain Road Studios. I love how everybody's on a coral-pink theme here, even the uplighting.

Break-time at Curtain Road Studios. I love how everybody's on a coral-pink theme here, even the uplighting.

The whole experience gives you such a high that on leaving the "real world" seems so flat. I was on a massive come-down on Monday, not dissimilar to the post-Glastonbury blues or the emotional hangover that accompanies the physical hangover of a really good night.

Granted it’s not cheap, it’s expensive enough to make people think you're a little crazy to be spending your money that way. (The Blogcademy weekend cost me around £500 with travel and food in, very comparable to what I've spent when I've been to Glastonbury). Let me tell you, it’s not for everybody, but for me it was worth every penny.

Beauty still life practice featuring bespoke bath salts from The Bathory

Beauty still life practice featuring bespoke bath salts from The Bathory

You get a kick ass goody bag for a start (literally, it’s sitting waiting for you when you arrive). You get 10 hours of in depth teaching from three of the most successful female bloggers on the planet, with plenty of opportunity for one-on-one conversations with them too. You get handed an instant network of savvy, like-minded women both on the course and in the exclusive access forum. Some of the best ideas I’ve come back with are the direct result of me tentatively pitching half thoughts to some of my fellow Blogcadettes and getting awesome feedback and input.

Artwork by "Live Scribe" artist Charlotte Thomson

Artwork by "Live Scribe" artist Charlotte Thomson

More than that though I got clarity, vision and confidence. Strategic clarity for what I need to do to take this blog forward. Professional vision for how far it could go (stratospheric FYI). And most of all personal confidence, on the life I want to live, and the terms I want to do it on. Those three things together are pretty priceless.

The woman who left home that Friday is not the woman who returned on Sunday. But I like this new girl; I think she’s going to be really fun to hang out with. Hold tight guys, this ride’s about to interesting.

WiP July 2014

At the beginning of the month I finally moved into the flat! No, it's not finished but the bathroom and bedroom are liveable and it was time. Since then Life took over (new babies, weddings, first visitors, the usual stuff!) and there has been not much blogging time. It's not helped that I still am waiting on my broadband to be connected - tomorrow! Yay! And not a moment too soon as my mobile data ran out this morning. Boo!

The fact that I just started watching Breaking Bad has nothing to do with it. Definitely not. (I've just realised I'm living in 2008: poor broadband and old TV shows!)

So this is a WiP post, but now I get to do before and after comparisons. Whoop! Here we go:

Bathroom before

Bathroom before

This also gives us a chance to review my improving photography skills. Actually, lets not, huh?

Bathroom after

Bathroom after

Bathroom before

Bathroom before

There are maybe half a dozen things that need to be done: big mirror, skirtings, towel rail, that pink needs to come off the windows too.

New Shower, and that tiling

New Shower, and that tiling

Oh, and doors. There's a general lack of doors in the flat at the moment.

New bedroom doorway, with the dogleg wall

New bedroom doorway, with the dogleg wall

Bedroom before

Bedroom before

Wardrobe doors and regular doors. All round lack of doors.

So nice to have my bed back too

So nice to have my bed back too

Bedroom before

Bedroom before

Bedroom to-do's includes skirting boards to the new wall, curtains (there's a certain romance of being woken up by the dawn, but it wore off pretty quickly!) the pink paint again. And some pictures would be nice, but that's a ways away.

Mahogany Georgian bow fronted chest

Mahogany Georgian bow fronted chest

Obligatory IKEA sheepskin

Obligatory IKEA sheepskin

All these minor jobs pale into insignificance in comparison to the living room, which is still a building site/materials store.

Living Room, still a building site

Living Room, still a building site

Apart from the part that is my "kitchen." Who am I kidding? The kitchen is part of the materials store; the "worktop" is going to be additional wall cladding in the final kitchen. It's basic, but it seems to be working and it's been fun experimenting with microwave cooking. Last week I made an amazing kedgeree (if I do say so myself), better than I've ever managed on a stove top. I'll probably do a post on that in a bit.

Kitchen: microwave, kettle, DAB, fridge. What else do you need?

Kitchen: microwave, kettle, DAB, fridge. What else do you need?

That will have to wait however. Next week I HAVE to paint the living room. No excuses. Otherwise the whole thing starts to slip and I'll still be living like this in October!

5 Ways To Limit The Environmental Impact of Your Renovation

Renovating a property produces a lot of waste and consumes a lot of resources. There is simply no way around that. Hopefully your work is replacing something that no longer works and the new home is going to last some time. This is the first major renovation the flat has seen, so once every 40 years isn't so bad. That's what I tell myself anyway.

Still, it's good to limit your consumption where you can, and I'm a great believer of tiny accumulative efforts growing to great change, so all contributions help. Here are my tips on being conscious about your resource use when it comes to DIY.

Excellent example of repurposed materials; Glastonbury 2011

Excellent example of repurposed materials; Glastonbury 2011

1. Reuse

Rather than buy a new rail for my wardrobe, I choose to paint the old one black. It looks great, and the paint cost me less than a new rail would have done. The shelves in the living room that I inherited with the flat are going to be rehung in the garage to provide some storage for my tools, when they no longer get to live in the flat full time! And the bath that I had taken out I sold on eBay to someone who is going to reuse it in their renovation.

The thing I love about reusing items is that I don't throw something away and I don't need to buy something new. That makes reuse a double whammy of less waste and less stuff, and why it's number 1 on my list. Plus there's nothing so satisfying as taking something kind of gross and making it into something beautiful and useful again.


2. Repurpose

The idea of repurposing is taking something that does one job, and using it as something else. Like breeze blocks as furniture. The only example I can think of in my own flat is the light from the bathroom: a milk glass globe shade that I've saved because I believe it has the potential to be a cool flower vase once I've designed/imagined/made a base for it.


3. Reclaim

This is similar to reuse but is for materials rather than objects, so it's got that same double benefit of not adding to landfill and saving resources (and you money).

The flooring in the living room will (eventually) be parquet block, which I got through freecycle from another house renovation. I've been using a fair amount of reclaimed paint and tools from Orinoco, and I've been sending the useable materials I don't need back to them too. The felt under my bedroom carpet was a left over roll that my parents had from relaying in their house last month (that was good timing), and itself was made of recycle wool fibre.

I've also been using scrap wood that comes out of the demolitions as materials to build new parts of the project: sometimes simply as a drilling base, or for hiding pipework ("boxing out") in the cupboards, and later I'll be building a "new" linen rack for the boiler cupboard from timber reclaimed from the old airing cupboard. And any wood that doesn't make it back into the flat has been going to my parents' shed for their wood burner this winter.


4. Reduce

Simple idea, maximum impact: the less you (over) buy the less waste you're going to risk being left with at the other end. As was the case with my tiling, trying to keep the materials you do buy down to a minimum really helps reduce waste on a project. A word of warning though, this is surprisingly hard to achieve. With the tiling I ended up buying half a dozen tiles to finish the job rather than ordering a whole new box of 32, which although resource efficient was not the cheapest way to go about things.


5. Recycle

Lots of building materials can be recycled as long as they're not contaminated with other elements, so proper waste separation is really (dull but) important. Glass is a well known recyclable, but plasterboard, timber (which with my local council includes chipboard, mdf and hardboard) and even masonry rubble can be recycled if properly disposed of. Most local councils have a waste facility where each of these materials will be taken.


So there you have it. With a little organisation you can keep your waste down (and sometimes your costs too) and help keep the world beautiful while you make your little corner of it a whole lot better.

WiP May 2014

I've been so busy working on the flat that I've been very lax at documenting the progress so this Work in Progress is entirely consisting of (frankly pretty crappy) iPhone photos. My sincerest apologies. I promise to make it up to you soon. But the flat is coming on a pace. It's getting exciting!

Most of the tiling on the walls

Most of the tiling on the walls

The bathroom walls and floor are now tiled and I'm grouting this week.

White walls!

White walls!

Urgh, setbacks

Urgh, setbacks

When I applying the trim around the shelf recess I managed to chip one of the tiles. Urgh. Take off all the trim and break out the tile and replace it. At least now I know how to replace chipped tiles, that's a life skill (with limited application).

The bathroom painting is also mostly complete. Or it was until I started grouting and now it needs a load of touch-ups. Grouting is really messy. And time consuming. Or I'm just not very good at it yet. So the rest of the bathroom bits have been ordered and should be fitted in a couple of weeks time!

Bathroom floor in progress

Bathroom floor in progress

And all the tiles down. I ordered juuust enough, phew!

And all the tiles down. I ordered juuust enough, phew!

The bedroom is also painted and the electrics are in. No doors yet (anywhere, but it's only me . . . so it should be OK . . . ) it's also nearly there. Except for doors. And curtains. And removing the paint from the windows. And carpet. And skirting boards. You know the trimmings.

Fresh, soft, grey loveliness. And the first house plant

Fresh, soft, grey loveliness. And the first house plant

Doors to follows under another cover . . .

Doors to follows under another cover . . .

So to further that cause a little I went an picked out my bedroom carpet this week. It's going to be pink! I never expected to pick pink. I don't think I've picked pink since I was 6-years-old. But I love it and I'm so excited to see it fitted.

Possible fancy marble tiles for the bathroom window sill

Possible fancy marble tiles for the bathroom window sill

Pink carpet!

Pink carpet!

The big announcement: I am intending to move in at the end of the month. Once the bathroom is functional, and the bedroom has carpet, I'm going in. No curtains, no doors, no kitchen not withstanding. Crazy some think (mostly my parents and Mr. E) but I want to be in already. I keep having this thought "I want to go home" and I do go there, but I don't stay there. But soon I will, even if that means sleeping in an eye mask and only eating cold food for a month or more.

Make: Personalised Paint Swatch

As the flat progresses and I begin to think about curtains and sheets and accessories co-ordinating it all becomes increasingly precarious (by which I mean "ensure it doesn't look a complete mess of stuff") . I saw an image a while ago (probably on Pinterest although I can't now find it) of a personalised swatch of paint colours and decided to make my own.

Dipped and drying, weighted by my L-square

Dipped and drying, weighted by my L-square

Required materials:

  • Lolly sticks, as many as you have colours. I used ones from mini sized ice creams
  • Your chosen paint colours
  • Pencil
  • Drill
  • Safety googles
  • Scrap wood block
  • Sand paper
  • Key ring
Dry and ready to mark

Dry and ready to mark

Marked up

Marked up

1. Consume enough ice creams/lollies to give you the same number of sticks as you have paint colours. Ask a friend to help you if you need to! Clean the sticks and leave to dry.

Preparing to drill

Preparing to drill

Drill each hole

Drill each hole

2. Take each clean, dry stick and coat in a different paint colour. You can do this with a brush, in which case you may need a couple of coats, or just dip them into the pot and shake off the excess. Leave to dry.

If your paints are of the super matt/chalky/clay-based variety I recommend adding a layer of varnish to protect the paint finish and to stop them shedding all over your bag. Dip and dry as with the paint layer.

Go steady or you'll split the wood (like I did!)

Go steady or you'll split the wood (like I did!)

Sand back

Sand back

3. Mark a cross in the unpainted end of each stick. A cross is better than a dot, because if you have measured the correct location the middle of a cross is clear, where a dot is less precise. This a good rule for drilling holes generally, although I admit in this case I didn't measure properly, I just went by eye.

Wearing your goggles, place each stick on your scrap wood (so you don't damage your surface) and drill through. Go slowly or you could crack your sticks (as I did).

4. Sand them back and slip them onto your key ring. Carry where ever you go to increase the likelihood of a harmonious colour scheme!

The finished swatch. Top to bottom: custom mixed yellow made from two recycled paint colours; Dulux, colour unknown (recycled paint from Orinoco); Earthborn "White"; Earthborn "Cats Cradle"

The finished swatch. Top to bottom: custom mixed yellow made from two recycled paint colours; Dulux, colour unknown (recycled paint from Orinoco); Earthborn "White"; Earthborn "Cats Cradle"

What Really Influenced My Kitchen Design

So I wrote a draft for a post on the design of my kitchen. It was "This is the shape. These are the materials . . ." and that's all true and accurate and it was dull, dull, dull.

Everybody who knows me knows I love to cook. I love to feed people, and (unusually) I love to feed myself. Even if it's just me I will still cook a meal from scratch; convenience food has never held a lot of appeal. Frequently if I’m in the kitchen I’m cooking for tonight and something for later (soup/stew/bread/jam) at the same time. Cooking is relaxing for me , so it never feels like a chore. The kitchen was always going to be an important part of my home. 

The kitchen design

The kitchen design

When I first offered on the flat my financial landscape was a lot different from what it was by the time I completed, but I was always absolutely adamant that I was going to do something about the kitchen, even on the tiniest of budgets. The old kitchen had no cooker, only two base units and two wall cupboards and barely enough work surface for a chopping board. As it was I was lucky to have more budget to play with than I first thought and so the plan got a lot more extravagant, pulling down walls and making a big open plan living space.

The choice to have a wall of full height cupboards and a long counter with no cupboards above was always an easy one. I hate wall cupboards. I'm just going to stick that right out there. It might be because I'm tall, but I always find them oppressive. And although they provide extra storage space, I think they make a space seem smaller. Plus a long counter gives plenty of space to lay out all your ingredients before you start. Not necessarily lots of little bowls; there's no need to make more washing up. Just everything to hand when you want it.

kitchen layout

It's a layout that makes a lot of sense in terms of open plan living too. The wall of cupboards looks less kitchen-y than the traditional wall and under counter units so doesn't look so out of place from the living room side; and the counter is a minimal barrier to the sitting/eating parts of the room. I can be cooking in the kitchen while having a conversation with friends who get to sit on a comfortable chair, or can pull a dining chair up to the other side of the counter.

Kitchen materials palette (clockwise from top left): black gloss granite, Earthborn "Cat's Cradle" & "White," Ecos "Plumfled," white matt laminate, laminate faced plywood.

Kitchen materials palette (clockwise from top left): black gloss granite, Earthborn "Cat's Cradle" & "White," Ecos "Plumfled," white matt laminate, laminate faced plywood.

As is the theme through the flat, the fixed parts of the design are neutral in colour. I’ve bought the carcasses from IKEA without door fronts; both the worktops and the door fronts will be made from plywood finished in a white matt laminate with the striped edge exposed.

I am going to keep the plywood on the wall surface exposed, rather than paint it. The plywood is there for structural reasons; it means you can fix to any point on the wall and it will be secure. I was originally going to plaster over the plywood, but the surface is so lovely (no knots, a really nice grain, a complementary colour for the teak furniture I own) that I think it would make a great feature. So I’m going to protect it with a matt varnish (so it’s at least cleanable) and then put a splash-back around the cooker. Possibly tiled, probably glass.

Kitchen under construction, with the plywood wall installed

Kitchen under construction, with the plywood wall installed

So the kitchen will be all white, with touches of timber. With on possible exception. In order to get the cooker to blend in, the extract fan and the surrounding narrow units (larder pull out on the bottom, cupboards on top) will have black gloss doors and the hob will be set into a black gloss countertop. Not completely sure that this is a good idea yet . . . but I’ve got a little time to decide.

Black gloss larder units, IKEA

Black gloss larder units, IKEA

White ceramic sink via Homebase

White ceramic sink via Homebase

I would like to re-use the existing sink, which is designed to be a full width of the worktop only it’s narrower than modern kitchen units, so to make up the depth, there will need to be a deep shelf that will start as the window sill and come out to meet the back of the sink. I've shown this on the 3D designs above, and I'm not completely convinced by it if I'm honest, so I'm seriously considering getting a ceramic sink instead to work in with the all white theme.

The design is pretty fixed, and the vision clear, but honestly I have a hard time getting excited about it. Work surfaces and appliances and sinks are all things a kitchen needs, but my kitchen comes to me in flashes of taste, and smell, and the joy of good company, not steel and cabinets and colour schemes. It’s my Grandmother’s rolling pin, the hand-me-down cast iron casseroles from my parents, and the 1960s china I’ve collected from charity shops, eBay and auction houses. It’s mid week scruffy suppers and dinner parties that run into the small hours. It’s house parties and long weekend brunches. And that prospect makes me very excited indeed.

You Can't Do It All

I'm grateful for the women who have come before me and fought for the choices available to me now. The vote (particularly pertinent today); the opportunity to have a career; the opportunity to not have a career. But more recently there have been a lot written (mostly but not entirely by women) about "having [to do] it all." A good opportunity to face, more #firstworldproblems, but the hard truth is you just can't do it all.

There is a concept, often applied to design projects, called the Time-Cost-Quality triangle. The premise is that to have more of one you have to sacrifice on one or both the others. Or to use the words of "Sailor Jerry" (Norman Keith Collins) "Good work ain't cheap, and cheap work ain't good!" So you can do more in the time you have, but you won't do it as well. Or you can do things well, but do less of them.

There simply aren't hours in the day. It isn't possible to be the best you can at everything available. Certainly not without become a gibbering wreck. You have to make intentional choices about what you're going to prioritise in your life, and you have to accept that that means that you're going to have to say no to some things.

Te Mata Peak, New Zealand

Te Mata Peak, New Zealand

At the moment my activities consist of the following (in no particular order): main job; freelance work; renovating the flat; writing this blog; maintaining a relationship between two cities; seeing friends socially; ceramics class and other craft projects.

I don't have children or pets. You'll note that I don't include housework or cooking or exercise on that list. Not having those things in my schedule allows me make space for the others. I have the incredible benefit of living with my parents, ostensibly while I get through the worst of the renovation (that bit where there's no kitchen or sanitation), but this is also the thing that allows me to work a full day, go do two hours DIY, and walk in the door to a home cooked meal and a pile of clean laundry. I am incredibly lucky.

Exercise has been (consciously) ditched because it cuts into DIY time, and frankly carrying materials up and down the three flights of stairs see me alright at the moment.

Not the stairs to my flat (unfortunately) but the stairs in our French holiday rental last year.

Not the stairs to my flat (unfortunately) but the stairs in our French holiday rental last year.

This week I got the offer to go to Amsterdam for four days as a promotional trip. It was organised by a flooring company and we would be seeing their production process and also having plenty of free time to see Amsterdam too. A great opportunity, but I would have needed two days holiday from work, at a time that would have taken me away from a project at an important stage. And those two days holiday would mean I'd have less time to spend with my friend in the run up to her wedding, where I'm bridesmaid. And I would loose hours of DIY time. And right now all of those things are more important to me than a free trip to Amsterdam, however fun it might be.

And much as I love my lifestyle, and as much as I genuinely enjoy the DIY, I am sooo looking forward to being able to cook, and do yoga, even clean (yeah, that'll wear off pretty quickly I'm sure) in my own place. To, as I refer to it, "be a grown up again." These choices serve me now, but soon they won't and they will change. I will have changed, so they will change.

I may get the chance to do the Amsterdam trip next year. Or next year I may have a dog and so my priorities will be different again. Or I'll have stopped freelance work to put more time into my main job. Or there'll be some completely different set of priorities that will be shaping my time.

Why am I telling you this? Because I've been trying to find time to blog properly all week, and failing to get enough quality content together to be worth posting. And then I realised that the best post I could do was on why it's OK not to do it all, or at least not all at once. We need to allow ourselves the opportunity to not do everything. To quote Anne Lamott "'No' is a complete sentence."

WiP April 2014

I've been experimenting with how to photograph the relatively small spaces in the flat for these update posts (and just generally). So today's post is brought to you with a heavy nod to David Hockney's composite photographic works.

Living Room

Living Room

The last month has seen the up swing in the progress of the flat. Walls and ceilings have been plastered, tiling has been started, so you can start to see what it will be like and it feels as though I'm finally getting somewhere.

Hall, through the new Living Room door

Hall, through the new Living Room door

New Bedroom wall

New Bedroom wall

On the other hand the "facilities" leave something to be desired: the toilet has to be flushed with a bucket, and the kitchen sink is no longer connected to the mains drainage and so draining into another bucket. It kind of makes sense though; as one friend pointed out, I have a greywater system! 

Bedroom: wardrobe/material's store ( with paint samples; it's going to be painted the dark grey on the left), the new doorway will on the right

Bedroom: wardrobe/material's store ( with paint samples; it's going to be painted the dark grey on the left), the new doorway will on the right

Bathroom, with the cistern-less WC

Bathroom, with the cistern-less WC

Bathroom, shower with tiling in progress

Bathroom, shower with tiling in progress

I really enjoyed making these images. I've done versions of these through out school and university, and so it feels like a natural step to use it here too. I think it could be developed to show the rooms as you experience them as much as how you see them; the adjacencies that you experience being in a space that can't be represented in a flat image. The pieces make a greater whole.

And the flip-side is that when you look at a whole in pieces you sometimes come across an abstract painting, a collaborative work in pink and grey by multiple occupants.

5 Tips for Surviving IKEA

I realise that this would have been more useful to publish before the bank holiday weekend, because that's such a popular time to descend on the big blue and yellow boxes across the country, but I've spent the long weekend sanding, and filling, and painting, and tiling, and frankly by the evenings I've been so tired I was useless for anything. Last week though, I needed to rent a van to collect a sofa I won on eBay from North London, but since I didn’t need to arrive at Finsbury Park until 5pm, I thought I would combine it with a trip to IKEA.

hjalmaren towel rail

hjalmaren towel rail

Varmluft lampshade

Varmluft lampshade

I've planned the kitchen layout based on IKEAs cabinets, because they’re good quality for the price and they have such a wide selection of sizes. So the plan was to finalise the kitchen, buy the units, and pick up a few smaller items (laundry baskets, fabric, small kitchen and cleaning items etc.) that IKEA excels at.

While I was there I saw a couple with their little boy; the little boy was sat in the trolley seat, and wailed his way all the way through the Showroom (the bit with the mocked up rooms). He calmed down as they came out the end, but then they turning into the Market Hall, and he started off again as if to say “What fresh Hell is this?! I thought it was over!” That little boy embodied how a lot of people feel about IKEA, and it can be kind of overwhelming, but there are a few ways you can make it as painless as possible.

Ludde sheepskin

Ludde sheepskin

Aglot storage bag on castors

Aglot storage bag on castors

1. Know What You Don’t Need

The easiest way to avoid overwhelm is to know what you don’t even need to look at. I knew that I didn’t need anything from the living room, dining room or home office areas in the Showroom. Similarly in the Market Hall I knew there was nothing I needed from the kitchen equipment or garden areas (I have plenty of the former, and none of the latter). Just acknowledging that meant that I’d cut out half the shop before I’d stepped in the door. 

Note here the word is “need.” No doubt you can probably find plenty things in IKEA you might want, but then you’ll be there for hours and spend hundreds.

Bekvan step stool

Bekvan step stool

Frack mirror

Frack mirror

2. Plan Ahead

IKEA has a facility on their website which allows you to save any of their products to a shopping list. I’ve been keeping lists by room name, and whenever I saw an item I liked I’d add it to the list.

So far, so normal. The clever bit is that you can select a list and your preferred store and the website will not only tell you availability, and where to find it in the self service warehouse. Then you can print it out to take with you.

I also used their kitchen planner plugin. I found it quite frustrating to use; the unit blocks didn’t always go where I wanted them, and I understand it works better on Windows than iOS. But it did give me a little head start when I sat down with the in-store Kitchen Experts.

Aglot mesh basket

Aglot mesh basket

Krakris duvet set

Krakris duvet set

3. Go Alone

The IKEA principal is go with your family and spend the whole day there. Personally I think it’s a whole lot less stressful if you fly solo. 1) because it means you’re not held up by other peoples aims for the trip (which will multiple the time spent in store) and 2) to ensure you don’t feel bad taking your time making decisions. Failing to recognise that is a recipe for a blazing row over a colander. IKEA hasn’t got the reputation as the place relationships go to die for nothing.

Lisel fabric - these crabs are huge! And so awesome!

Lisel fabric - these crabs are huge! And so awesome!

Raskog trolley

Raskog trolley

 4. Don’t Shop Hungry

You don’t have to eat in their restaurant (although I did enjoy my poached salmon and vegetables with hollandaise) but you should definitely plan to eat before you start. Have a snack or two in your bag, and bottle of water too. You’re going to be on your feet and making choices for a few hours, and you can’t do either without some fuel. Trying this hungry or dehydrated is only going to make it harder. 

5. Have a Plan for Where Everything is Going to Go

If you’re buying a lot of stuff (like a kitchen for example!) think where you’re going to put it when you get home. I say this from hard experience; I didn’t plan this and now my very patient parents’ sitting room is filled with flatpack.

But having said all this I would add a bonus tip:

6. Do You Even Need To Go In the First Place?!!

IKEA do home delivery, you know, if you’re buying a lot of furniture my best recommendation is don’t leave the sofa and pay them to bring it to your door!

Always Stop

I drove from Oxford to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago, to participate in the wedding of two very dear friends if mine. I was a bridesmaid and also the florist so my beat up mx-5 was full of eucalyptus cuttings, cut glass containers and craft supplies.

Kielder Forest Park

Kielder Forest Park

I did the first section (Oxford to York) after work on a Tuesday. I was staying with friends there and didn't want to arrive too late, so it was head down and minimal stops en route.

Kielder Forest Park

Kielder Forest Park

The next day though was far more relaxed. I was in the car by 9.30am, having got up to have breakfast with my hosts before they had to go to work. I elected to take the east coast route from York, Up the A1 and peeling off through Northumberland after Newcastle.

Kielder Forest Park

Kielder Forest Park

It would have been a spectacular drive, if it hadn't been so misty. As I drove through the Northumbria National Park, I went up into the clouds and back down again.

The only sun of the day, Scotland-England Border

The only sun of the day, Scotland-England Border

I stopped frequently: a turn off at Kielder Forest Park for a conversation with my plasterer; just past the border, when the sun finally broke through; at Jedburgh for a late lunch (carrot and parsnip soup (excellent) and a cheese and tomato toastie) and found one of those wonderful antique shops that have an amazing array of treasures and pleasingly low prices. I had to talk myself down from buying the boar's head (no way it would fit in the car).

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

Grove Antiques Scotland

Grove Antiques Scotland

Grove Antiques Scotland

Grove Antiques Scotland

Grove Antiques Scotland

Grove Antiques Scotland

When I was recounting the story to a colleague this week I said I hadn't stopped at The Angel of the North, even though I'd never seen it up close, because it was so misty you could barely see the head. I noted that actually I regretted that; it would have be deserted and atmospheric.

"Always stop," he said "if there's the choice, always stop."

Palette: Bathroom

The bathroom is going to be mostly white: white sanitary ware (the 1970s can keep their “period” coloured bathroom suites, I'll keep my Avocado on toast thank you very much), white gloss units under the counter, white tiles around the shower.

Clockwise from top left: 300x100mm white gloss tile; Pg 91, Elle Decoration, April 2014; VitrA Tap; Solus Gown floor tile sample; 200x200mm white gloss tile.

Clockwise from top left: 300x100mm white gloss tile; Pg 91, Elle Decoration, April 2014; VitrA Tap; Solus Gown floor tile sample; 200x200mm white gloss tile.

To avoid the risk of it being cold or dull, I’m thinking of painting the clear wall like this geometric pattern from last month's Elle Decoration. Wallpaper would also be good, but irritatingly the wall is slightly too long to be able to get away with one roll, at which point it starts getting far too expensive to justify. 

The tiles are going to be small format and a variety of sizes, laid in a stack bond and with pale to mid-grey grouting. All the better for hiding dirt my dear; not that I'm particularly slovenly (well …) but in a hard water area one needs all the help one can get. 

If you’re on a limited budget it’s always worth spending the money where you handle it daily: bathroom and kitchen taps; door handles; floor finishes if possible. This is the main reason I spent as much on this tap 

IMG_0260.jpg

as I did on the basin/countertop (although the latter was in the sale)

The floor is going to be dark grey. I want to spend a bit more on the floor here than the rest of the flat, not least because there is only three square meters of it so I can afford to and being a room where I'll mostly be barefoot I'll get to appreciate it. I would love to have natural slate floor, but I’m not able to afford Welsh, which means I’d be looking at (ethically/sustainably questionable) Chinese of Brazilian sources. Thus I'm going for an Italian ceramic instead, in a 300x600mm size, as it works really well for the shape of the floor I have got. 

I'm starting the tiling tomorrow, so hopefully it won't be long till the whole thing comes together.

WiP March 2014

I have walls again! My carpenter has been in and built the new partition between and the bedroom, and the wall to the back of the kitchen peninsula. It's been really fun to see the space come together, and understand what the living room is going to be like. 

At the moment the living room is just a dumping ground for materials, supplies, and old fittings. The bathroom has also been ripped out and the old bath is sat in the middle of the floor. I'm selling it on eBay if anybody wants to take it off my hands.

View from the living room towards the front door

View from the living room towards the front door

Standing in the bedroom looking towards the living room door

Standing in the bedroom looking towards the living room door

This hole is waiting for the fitting of the pocket door, and then the bedroom door frame can be built too.

The old bathroom has gone, and the new one is on it's way. The whole boxing around the window has gone, which puts about a foot or more useable space back into the room. The shower tray is fitted, and the old toilet has been temporarily installed so that there's still full facilities (such as they are) while I get on with the tiling