Coronation meadows

Prince Charles’ gift to the Queen on mark the anniversary of her coronation is a scheme to designate up to 107 British meadows, one in each county, by the end of the year.

Writing in the FT Weekend, Robin Lane Fox describes the scheme to reverse the loss of 97% of Britain’s traditionally grazed meadows since the 1950s. The project is linked to the charity Plantlife, and together they intend to build an inventory of British wildflower meadows. The Plantlife website has tips on how to grow your own meadow. You can also find out about your county’s flower, (estimates suggest each county is losing one wildflower species every two years), and help protect the part of wildflowers in our culture and heritage.


Wipes without the nasties

With two small faces to wipe, one of which has eczema, I have been hunting for an effective baby wipe that is gentle on sensitive skin, and kind to the environment. Jackson Reece unscented, natural baby wipes are hypoallergenic and free of nasties such as alcohol, SLS, SLES, parabens, chlorine, and fragrance. They not tested on animals. 99.9% of ingredients are derived from plant or vegetable extracts, including the preservative.

They are simply brilliant wipes that are also biodegradable, compostable and British made. The wipes feel much better than many alternatives we’ve tried…a lot less slimy!


Sofa saving


A mid 20th century sofa bed caught my eye in a retro furniture shop in east London a few weeks ago, but it had a fairly hefty price tag.  The sofa was made by Greaves and Thomas of Bond Street and I soon found another on eBay that needed some T.L.C. with teak oil and reupholstery.  The only decision now is which fabric?

Earlier this year, I went to the Wool House exhibition, organised by the Campaign for Wool,which was full of inspiration and explanation of the benefits and uses of wool.  So why wool?

  • Wool is warm and cosy, helping to reduce heat loss and improve energy efficiency, and save money.  That same cosiness also provides sound absorption so helping to reduce noise transfer between rooms.
  • Wool is durable, and bounces back under heavy footfall when used as a carpet, retains its colour and form in upholstery and provides continued support in a mattress.
  • Wool is clean and help the indoor environment breathe.  It is hypoallergenic, captures dust, contaminants and moisture, so reducing the level of humidity.
  • Wool is naturally fire retardant, and so does not need additional treatment of fire retardancy that some upholstery fabrics do.   It has low flame spread and will not drip, melt or release noxious fumes.
  • Wool is also low maintenance, as the fibre’s structure repels spills and soiling.

It is also a beautiful natural fibre available in every texture, pattern and hue, with lots of it produced here in the UK.  So on my shortlist are some 100% wool fabrics from Linwood, Bute Fabrics and Kirkby Design…..


Incredible Edibles

Of the 13,500 plant species that are edible, most of us get the bulk of our carbohydrate from a handful of cereals and tubers, such as potatoes and wheat.   This summer’s IncrEdibles exhibition at Kew Gardens in south-west London, which is on until 1st September, aims to playfully educate, inspire and introduce you to a wider variety of edible plants.

The parterre beds in front of the Palm House have been transformed into a vegetable medley including aubergine, chillies, celeriac, celery, kohl rabi, aubergines, leeks, sweetcorn, bell pepper, beetroot, fennel as well as a few runner beans, tomatoes, kale and chard.  The result is worthy of permanent display.

The Tutti Frutti boating experience opposite is much a more exuberant riot of sound, scent and colour, and a highlight for any one over the age of 3 years!  Our own Alice lingered long over the Rose Garden’s super-size tea party where a variety of edible plants are growing out of plates, cups, teapots, dishes, jugs and platters decorated with riddles and beautiful botanical designs.  It was an altogether truly scrumptious day out!


A West Country willow washing basket

Willow basket

After the latest plastic washing basket buckled and broke under the strain of our family’s washing load, the search for a sturdier, and more sustainable replacement began.

Willow is a fast-growing, renewable crop and the willow beds or ‘withies’ are homes for many species of bird, wildlife and wildflowers.  Willow is part of the social and environmental heritage of Somerset where willow has been cultivated for centuries, and the Somerset Levels are one of the most important wetland habitats in the UK.

Baskets are hand woven using traditional craftsmenship, with no nails, glues or dyes to produce baskets, furniture, garden items and high quality artists’ charcoal.

We ordered a traditional wet washing basket from English Willow Baskets who have been producing willow in Somerset since 1819.

Perhaps the new Royal baby will be sleeping in a bespoke West Country willow crib!

Grow your own?

I have been catching up on my reading with a recent article in the FT Weekend, ‘The growing culture of living furniture‘ about bioengineering of living materials like fungus, moss or yeast and bacteria cultures, so the title is a play on words, oh and there is a joke about fungi….

But the content is noteworthy.  In 2012, Philip Ross, an artist and mycologist based in California teamed up with local carpenters to grow furniture from an engineered type of mushroom called linzghi and wood salvage.  Ross has also used the fast-growing fungi to create building bricks, Mycotecture.  The vegetative part of the fungi, mycelium, forms a fibrous, root-like network.  Once dried, the mycelium can be formed into a light, water, fire and mould-resistant bricks.  Like plaster or cement the fungi can be cast into any number of shapes.

Designers Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw have adopted another technique that makes use of the estimated 50-80% of material waste in traditional wooden furniture manufacturing, mixing wood shavings with a bio-resin.  The resulting substance can be dyed in a range of colours and finished with American Ash legs to create the Well Proven chair, which was nominated for the London Design Museum’s Designs of the Year Award 2013.

Other approaches are also revisiting the way we work with traditional materials like wood or hemp.  Arbofoam, made from lignin a wood extract, can be injection-moulded like plastic. Calligaris, the Italian Design house, has used a similar technique to mix polypropylene and natural fibres for the manufacture if its new stackable Skin chair.

Seaweed is not a material associated with the home environment, but designer Nir Meiri has fashioned the Marine Light series by layering wet seaweed over a metal lamp-shade structure and as the seaweed dries it hugs the form of the shade and the light casts through the translucent seaweed.

For scientists at University of Cambridge it is an often overlooked member of the plant world, moss, that has captured their attention as a potential source of electricity through biophotovoltaics.  The Moss table, which won the People’s Choice Design awards at the 2012 Design Icons exhibition in Cambridge, uses electrons formed as a byproduct of photosynthesis to produce a small current, only enough for a digital clock at the moment, but the designers believe it offers the potential for more.

And finally, the luffa, a natural smart material.  Luffa fibres form a complex cellulose network that is both light and extremely strong.  RCA student, Mauricio Affonso, has been exploring the potential of luffa as an alternative to synthetic materials in consumer products, so the shape of things to come could be very different.


Free Ian Mankin oven mitts, and apron offer….

I am a great fan of Ian Mankin fabrics.  Their contemporary twist on some British classics look great, and have good provenance.  The fabrics are made from 100% natural fibres and over 90% are woven in this country in their own traditional Lancashire cotton mill, which has been run by the same family for six generations.  The range includes tickings, stripes, checks and plains, and it is well-priced.  Perfect for a seaside retreat, or in our case, urban bathroom.


And this month they are offering a free pair of oven mitts with purchases over £100, or oven mitts and apron on purchases over £200, so it could be time to update the oilcloth which is vital to preserving our kitchen table from all manner of mishaps!



A fresh lick of paint

I recently spent a morning down at the Phoenix on Golborne, an antiques and vintage home wares shop just off the Portobello Road in London, getting to grips with painting furniture.  The class covered basic tips and advice on a range of finishes and paint effects using the Annie Sloan range of paints and waxes.


Annie Sloan’s chalk-based paints are really versatile as they can be used on any surface, without priming, sanding or preparing, so very forgiving for the enthusiastic amateur. The paints are extremely low VOC (volatile organic compounds) so kind to you and the environment!   The Annie Sloan website is full of advice and inspiration on colour mixes and combinations.

My first experiment was with a chest of drawers I found abandoned on the pavement, and just what I was after for baby R’s room.  It did need a bit of sanding to get rid of the yellowing, flaky old varnish, but after a few coats of the quick drying chalk paint and I had a blank canvas to experiment with some homemade stencils……..


Not bad, for a beginner!

Lloyd Loom chair is back!

Our Lloyd Loom chair is back, repaired and resprayed, and ready for use in A’s bedroomImageLloyd Loom have been making woven furniture for nearly a hundred years.  The weave is made from twisted paper and wire and the frames are traditionally made from steam-bent beech wood to create the iconic furniture.  The original factory was destroyed in the Second World War, but in 1985 David Breese, a Lincolnshire furniture maker, started manufacturing in Spalding after researching the original techniques of steam bending, weaving and braiding to reproduce the original designs.  Today the wide range includes contemporary and classic designs for indoors and outdoors.

We bought the “Lusty” chair, along with a couple of laundry baskets on ebay,  but the seat needed a small repair.  Lloyd Loom recommend Paul Boulton of Cane Chairs Repaired, a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen.  Paul fixed the weave in the seat of the chair and gave it a fresh coat of paint. Now this timeless design is rejuvenated for another generation to clamber over and read stories in!

P.S. The Elves and the Chairmakers is the story of 5 designers spending two days at the Lloyd Loom factory for an intense experiment condensing the process from design concept to prototype.  The weekend produced 13 pieces for the staff to find in the showroom on Monday morning, 7 of which went forward to further development.