At Liberty to salvage hunt for inspiration

dp2I am on the look out for some inspiration for a kitchen overhaul in a Victorian terrace in Northwest London.  I want to honour the building’s past, while reflecting the present way we live, and our character.  Last week, I was way out west in North Wales.   Having spent the morning admiring the Champion trees (those trees that are exceptional examples of their species) and snow drops at Bodnant Gardens, we made a beeline for Drew Pritchard’s Architectural Antiques.

Drew, well-known as the present of Quest TV’s Salvage Hunters, deals in garden, architectural and decorative antiques and lighting from his HQ just south of Llandudno in North Wales.  The warehouse, come restoration workshop, come showroom is clad in reclaimed boards, the perfect backdrop to the eclectic mix of finds.  The magical Art Nouveau mantelpiece I had been coveting over Christmas had sold, but  I swiftly fell for the huge drapers counter, pictured above, made from mahogany with pine drawers and shelves. The draper’s measure is still embedded in the countertop.  The perfect centrepiece for my new kitchen, if only it were not 3 metres wide!

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At the door, we are politely reminded antiques are green.  Buying antiques is much more than simply recycling.  Buying a piece of furniture with history, and character is continuing a story, and adding your own twist.  The materials and craftsmanship in many pieces of vintage and antique furniture are now in scarce supply.  The pieces have been made to last, and the wear and tear they have acquired on the way are testament to their function and often enhance their form.

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To my great delight, Drew Pritchard has just taken over the East gallery on the fourth floor of Liberty’s.  The gallery has a number of windowed alcoves that lend themselves as room sets.

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There is an Orkney chair calling you to rest a moment and take in the selection of for sale from the sublime set of Aesthetic Carved Oak Doors to the almost comic stone corgi.  I urge you to sneak a peek if you are in the West End. You never know what you might find.

As good as new drawers please!

prepMy eldest daughter is almost able to dress herself, and to incentivise her to put the clothes away as neatly as she puts them on, I gave this mid-century dressing table a facelift.

We bought the Uniflex dressing table, along with a couple of bedside tables at Sunbury Antiques Market.  The dressing table had been in the sun, and the varnish had turned a fairly unattractive yellow.  A through sanding revealed the  fantastic colour and grain of the walnut veneer.  It took an afternoon of elbow grease in the garden to sand the dressing table down.   Then all that was needed was a few of coats in a matt varnish in the kitchen (out of the rain)  once the kids were in bed.  I used the Auro matt varnish, which is water-thinned, free of solvents and wood preservatives and made of environmentally friendly raw materials such as linseed and rapeseed oils.  I shall spare you a full list of ingredients, but safe to say my daughter’s bedroom is not the place for VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

brushMy tool for the job was a professional quality Ecoezee 2 inch paint brush.  The brushes handles are made from bamboo, which is lighter than oak, highly durable and a fast growing, sustainable natural resource.  The brush filaments are a mix of recycled natural and synthetic bristle designed to work well with all paint types (I can vouch for varnish and chalk paint so far).  The ferrule (the band attaching the filament to the brush) is made from recycled stainless steel.  The packaging is recycled cardboard and a donation is made to rainforest conservation for every brush sold.  The brushes are widely available from Travis Perkins as well as other retailers, such as the Eco Home Centre.

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We are all impressed with the results.  The dressing table is now full of my 3 and 3/4 year old’s essentials, including cress seeds germinating in eggs shells in the cupboard before the rest of her t-shirts are moved in!

Home/Craft London/ Top Drawer – the cc edit

woodcutIt felt like a sprint finish to get round the cavernous halls of Earls Court on the final day of the trinity that was Home, Craft London and Top Drawer 2014, but I was well rewarded for my efforts.  It was a chance to get a sneak preview of new product launches, learn more of the story behind the label, or simply a face to a name.  Here are the cc edited highlights.

On the threshold of home was Plumen, sculptural lighting that is also energy efficient.  After the look-at-me exuberance of the original Plumen 001, the new kid, Plumen 002, is a simpler, more subtle design.  With luminosity equivalent to a 30W incandescent bulb and colour warmer than the  Plumen 001, the overall lighting effect is softer, but still architectural.  The compact fluorescent bulb has a lifetime of 8000 hours, or 8 years of normal usage and is recyclable.  It is not yet dimmable, but they are working on it!

mG7ClaqvSPiOnMWcvkLdWPAJust across the way was one of my current everyday joys, the Black +Blum Eau Good water bottle complete with charcoal filter.  Then, I made a bee-line for Stuart Gardiner to admire the fun and informative prints on oven mitts, tea towels and aprons.  Stylish aide-memoires to seasonal foods to hand in the kitchen when you need them!

BOJJE - WILD FLOWER SET CUTOUTOther kitchen accessories that caught my eye were the ‘wildflower’ range of utensils fashioned from beech and stainless steel (pictured left).  They are simply beautiful to look at and to hold.  Bojje are based in Suffolk with a passion for the materials they use, particularly wood.  Combining traditional woodworking , woodland crafts and modern technologies the products have a graceful, simplicity and sensuality.

27033759_57400Hop and Peck’s set of platter boards (pictured right) are handmade from sustainable solid oak and finished in Danish oil, from £35.

I had a brief pause to admire Haidee Drew’s bamboo chopping boards. More tableware in bamboo fibre was available from Ekobo who were showing their range of traditional handmade bamboo and laquerware and also Biobu, a range colourful enough for all the family to enjoy eating from.  I love the cool simplicity of the FAT Ceramics designed by Piet Hein Eek for Fair Trade Original.   The contemporary twist provided by Piet Hein Eek’s designs still allow the traditional craftsmanship of the producers in Thailand and Vietnam to shine through.

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The handiwork of veteran crafts makers from Handmade-Japan was on show at Craft London.  I have been on the hunt for a good broom (and a mop) so loved the colourful ‘Nanbu Hoki’, traditional, handmade brooms and brushes made from all natural fibres.

rugNatural fibres such as pure new wool, jute and fair trade, organic cotton are the basis of Waffle Design‘s distinctive textured cushions and throws.  New designs for 2014 also included products made from upcycled aran carpet yarn.  The yarn was rescued from an old carpet factory in Yorkshire, and hand dyed in small batches in East London.  Tweedmill had a whole (makeshift) cabinet of colourful recycled wool and fleece throws on show, pictured left.  They also produce recycled picnic rugs, draft excluders, bags, cushions and even a garden kneeler.

smileAnd on to the bigger ticket items.  Fun furniture with clean lines and contemporary shapes from Lozi Designs.    The smile shelves were generating a lot of interest, and good humour (pictured right).  Close by, Wayfarer Furniture offered another response to eco-urban living with two new collections on show, the Prima and Tempo.  The first, Prima, uses wood, the second, Tempo uses lower grade, but also low carbon materials of fibre and corrugated board, both are a discursive response to ethical living in an urban environment.

acAnother Country‘s approach to sustainability is to make furniture that has timeless appeal crafted using traditional and modern techniques from responsibly sourcing materials.  Good design has physical and emotional longevity, and every piece from Another Country has a simple elegance you can enjoy for a long time.  The new Series 3, made from oiled beech and inspired by Edwardian industrial furniture, would work, literally and metaphorically, well at home or in the office.  The new Soft Series of blankets and cushions made from 100% hand-dyed wool with UK weavers Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company in three graphic designs is a simply covetable collection.

Finally, the beautiful laser cut silhouettes of trees by Clare Cutts, pictured at the top of the page, are an elegant and evocative way to bring the outside in to any space.  The designs are based on photographs of trees taken by Clare. Originally, Clare created the woodcuts to emboss tree prints on paper, but realised the woodcut are things of beauty in their own right.

corkAnd last, but not least, as I prepared for my cycle home, I was wishing for a pair of cork bicycle grips designed by Green and Blue and handmade in Portugal.  Cork is durable, anti-bacterial and offers cushioning, the perfect material for bike grips.  Cork is a naturally renewable, and these grips are hand made from Portuguese cork harvested in managed forests. They have beautiful form, and function.

What a hottie!

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The cold winter nights are still with us and one way to warm up is with a hot water bottle.  Who wouldn’t love a cuddle with one of these?

The warm tones of the Seed hot water bottle from Seven Gauge Studio (pictured left) alone will spark an inner glow.  Each cover is knitted on a hand-powered machine from top quality lambswool, then individually washed and slightly felted for a softer cuddle.  They are priced at £45, including the bottle, and made to order in England.

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The hottie covers from Laura’s Loom (pictured right) are made from Bluefaced Leicester wool that is sourced from the Yorkshire Dales.  The lovely colours of these Howgill fabrics deliberately evoke the colours and textures of Britain’s northern landscapes.  All Laura’s Loom products are designed, sourced and made in the UK, proudly celebrating Britain’s woollen heritage.  The hotties are available in the three colours shown, priced £24, and fit a standard 2l bottle (not included).

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An upcycled alternative, is the selection of hot water bottle covers made from vintage Welsh blankets that have been damaged beyond repair available from Jane Beck.  The blanket remnants are salvaged to make limited numbers of mini and full size hot water bottle covers.  Prices from £19.99 for a mini hottie, with bottle included.

hottiebottie400px_250pxx370_99241f4dd82b68b3c9669f6c284a545bFor a homemade option, the Hottie Bottie hot water bottle cover felt making kit from Gilliangladrag includes the wool tops, ready cut plastic template and full step-by-step feltmaking instructions written by Gillian Harris, author of “Complete Feltmaking” and “Carnival of Felting”.  A basic felt making kit (bamboo mat and net) is also required.  I am quite tempted to sign up for a Learn to Felt course, £65 for the day at the Fluff-a-torium in Dorking.

cherrystonebagThe cherry stone bag from Momosan is an original, and understated alternative to  conventional hot water bottles.  The 100% African cotton bags are filled with cherry stones that are a by-product of jam and kirsch making.  Apparently, Swiss distillery workers traditionally heated bags of the stones on warm stoves to sooth bumps and aching muscles.  If you don’t have a stove to hand, you and I  can heat the cherry stone pillows in the microwave to soothe muscular tension or warm feet in bed.  The bag can also be chilled for use as a cold compress on sprains or headaches.  The bags are available in 9 different patterns and cost £22.

Nights need no longer be chilly!

All pictures are from the suppliers websites.

Happy New Year from Stuart Gardiner

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To get us all a buzzing, Stuart Gardiner Designs are offering a 25% discount code on their entire range of joyful, informative, and absorbent products, for the whole of January.  There are tea towels, aprons, mugs and mitts to choose from.

This bee friendly tea towel is my favourite after a recent trip to the National Beekeeping Centre in Wales where my daughter picked up the poster version.   The tea towel is a collaboration with Friends of the Earth (a 75p donation is made to FOE for each tea towel sold)  to encourage bees and other pollinators into your garden.  The tea towel’s  jaunty illustration of plants particularly favoured by bees is a 6 colour print on organic unbleached cotton. The tea towel is made & printed in the UK, and priced £10.  The Happy New Year Y’all! discount code is: ‘Dry January’!

As for bees, they pollinate 75% of our main food crops worldwide.  In the UK, apples, plums, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, red currants, gooseberries and strawberries all depend on insects for pollinations, and so do some vegetables, such as broad bean, runner bean and the pumpkin family.  It is estimated that the value of insect-pollinated fruits and vegetables is more than £200million a year in the UK alone.  And, there is the immeasurable value of wildflowers and ornamental garden plants reliant on insect pollination that brighten up our gardens, hedgerows, parks and woodlands.  However in the past 50 years many British insects such as common butterflies, moths, hoverflies and bees have been in decline.

In the UK, bees have lost 97% of their grassland habitat in the last 60 years and wildflower meadows. There is plenty you can do to help in your garden, window box or roof terrace this spring.  Friends of the Earth have a Bee Saver Kit complete with a pack of wildflower seeds, bee ID, garden planner and bee guide.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a BeeKind Tool to score how bee friendly the plants in your garden.  By adding your garden’s score to the Beekind map, the BBCT is beginning to build up a picture of bee friendly habitats across the country.   There are also top tips for identifying bees, fact sheets about suitable wildflower seeds for different soil types and suggestions on how to make a bumblebee nest from an up-turned flower pot, piece of tubing and a piece of tile or slate.

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The Royal Horticultural Society provides lists of both garden plants and wildflower plants that attract pollinators and tips on how to support bees in your garden.  Closer to home, your local garden centre will have plants labelled as “Perfect for pollinators” and packs of wildflower seeds. Naturally the British Beekeepers Association is a hive (pun absolutely intended) of information on bees, keeping them, or adopting a beehive.  For kids, there are some fun products available, from seed bombs, to BeeMat, a biodegradable mat filled with wildflower seeds that controls weeds.

There will be more blogs about green gardening as spring approaches.

Super sugru and so simple to use

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Please bear with me as I get a bit evangelical about the amazing properties of sugru, the super stocking filler, and its infinite applications, limited only by our imagination.

So what is it? It looks and feels like play dough, but sticks to aluminium, steel, ceramics, glass, wood and some kinds of plastic.  Mould it, and leave it over night at room temperature and it turns into flexible silicon rubber that is electrically insulated, waterproof, heat proof to 180 celsius and cold proof to -50 celsius.  For an introductory peak at the possibilities watch this video from sugru.

You can could customise your favourite tools to make those everyday jobs more comfortable and colourful.

sug2Our first experiments with sugru were understated and economic.  We moulded a new handle to a favourite pan lid and repaired a fraying charging cable.  The simple brilliance of sugru is how easy it becomes for us to fix everyday objects and extend their life, or make things work for us that little bit better.  How novel to not be one size fits all, but one sugru almost fixes all.  Not make do, but make me a better one!

New year’s resolutions?

SatelliteAs the sun shone on Sunday, a herd of runners pounded past me on the Heath.  Mens sana in corpore sano, a healthy mind in a healthy body is promoted to the top of the agenda in the new year.  If a luxury boot camp (here are Lonely planet’s top picks) is a step too far, then there are plenty of ways available to reboot and reinvigorate mind, body and soul closer to home.

Don’t fall into the trap of signing up to annual gym membership, the National Trust’s website has plenty of advice for the outdoor gym, (see picture).  There are tips to get you started, videos and a 31 day plan.  Not only is the outdoor gym free, but you’re more than likely to get a healthy glow from vitamin D,  work harder on uneven natural surfaces, and burn 20percent more calories as a result. 

blog-nettle-teaHealthy body on the outside generally follows a healthy body on the inside, so have a look at the Eden Project’s list of ‘Seven foods to help fight those January blues’.  Drink nettle tea (pictured), which is surprisingly refreshing, if slightly grassy, and eat all the colours of a rainbow.  If you need a little inspiration on how to prepare your super foods, or enliven your diet, try a raw food course at Nama Foods.  At the end of the month they are running a fermentation workshop, not beer but sparkling drinks for all the family.

Detoxing is more than a physiological process, it is also a mental one.  Detoxification is letting go of the old, and releasing what no longer serves you, whether clutter in your home or patterns of behaviour.  Clearing away the old stories to make way for the new.

What will be the your inspiration?  A new skill? All around the country the National Trust runs a wide range of courses and workshops from hedge laying and drystone walling, to photography and painting. Check the events pages at your local museum or craft centre.  In London, the Victoria and Albert Museum run a varied mix of workshops, or try Kew Gardens for a one day course to grow orchids successfully at home and bring a bit of tropical colour indoors.

Lamp_image_2_jpg_130x86_crop_q85You could refresh a room at home.  Elizabeth Cake, author of ‘Make Your Own Lampshades’, runs workshops to make lampshades (the next is with the How to Academy on 4th February). A screen print made at a workshop with the Print Club London to frame your new year’s manifesto?  Take it further and hand print your own wallpaper at the Papered Parlour later this month. Or learn about furniture restoration, reupholstery or repainting, with Goodlife Centre.  There is even an Introduction to Rag Rugs, if your toes feel a bit chilly when you hop out of bed in the morning!

Picture credits: National Trust, Eden Project, Victoria and Albert Museum website

Clean lines and living at Lozi Designs

lozi1 From the old, to the new at Lozi Designs at their pop-up, 31-32 Alfred Place, WC1E,  just behind the furniture hub that is Tottenham Court Road.  If you are planning a trip to Habitat, Heals or new kid on the block, West Elm, in the coming weeks then spare a few minutes to pop round the corner and pop in to Lozi Designs’ pop up.  On show is their new range of furniture, handcrafted using traditional woodworking techniques and modern technology.

The furniture is made from sustainable materials such as birch plywood, organic glue and milk-based paints.  The pieces are created by bending and shaping the wood into organic and geometric shapes, reducing the need for joints in furniture with clean, contemporary lines.

lozi2I am a particular fan of the bedside table (pictured above, £360) with its offset drawers. The large table (150x200cm, £850) and bench (£340), both pictured right, are a great combination for kitchen, office or study, and mini versions are also available for kids.  The child in all of us will be charmed by the swing (£100), and smiley shelves (from £100) that bring a little joy to storage.

cinemaJust behind the Lozi Design’s pop-up is the current HQ of ADA Projects, a collaboration of artists, designers and architects who share their skills and knowledge through lectures, courses, public events and film screenings.  Enthusiasm and industry were hand in hand, a workshop to one side, and the pop-up cinema to the other.