Revamp complete!

chairsAfter many hours of elbow grease, painting, and waxing, I was delighted to finish revamping the interiors of two flats for a private landlord.  It was a first for us both.  As a rental flat, there were budget tight constraints for me, and for the landlord it was an experiment to furnish the flats with a lower impact, at a similar cost to the conventional alternative.

The landlord had some chairs from former tenants, an Italian restaurant that had closed, and another who was downsizing.  The chairs are in perfectly good condition, just a bit too country house kitchen for a city flat pitched at young professionals or couples.  You can find similar at secondhand furnitures shops, or at your local furniture reuse and recycling centre.  The Furniture Re-use Network is a national body supporting charitable re-use organisations across the UK.  Re-use enterprises combine social and environmental aims.  Typically, they collect unwanted furniture or domestic appliances that are then refurbished providing work opportunities and training for the socially excluded, and helping people in need turn a house into a home by providing affordable furnishings.  Every year the sector re-uses 2.6 million items of furniture and electrical equipment and diverts 90,000 tonnes of waste from landfill.  Anyone can donate or find furniture via the network.

Look for pieces that are solid, in good working order, and whose basic shape you like, then you make it your own.  I selected a set of chairs for each flat and set to work sanding where necessary, painting and waxing.  The chalk paint from Annie Sloan has a smooth, matt finish and can be used on almost any surface from wood to plastic, inside and outside without much preparation.  It is low odour and low VOC (volatile organic compound).  It dries fairly fast, so you can apply a second or third coat without too much delay, before sealing the paint with soft wax.  The Annie Sloan website has a series of short video tutorials, or you can contact your local stockist to ask about workshops.  We sourced a drop-leaf table and some bedside tables from Sunbury Antiques market.

cranhurstThe bedside tables were treated to a livery of Annie Sloan paint on the sides, sanding and clear Auro matt varnish on the front to accentuate the grain of the veneer, and decoupage.  The Auro varnish is environmentally-friendly and free of solvents.  It has a milky colour when you apply it, but dries clear.  I used an off cut of a favourite fabric to cover the top of the bedside table, using Auro universal adhesive, a natural latex milk adhesive, and then a few coats of the matt varnish to seal the fabric.  I used the same fabric, Carnival, from Christopher Farr,  to soften the black faux-leather headboard.  The fresh, exuberant print of pomegranates in blue and green on the fabric gave the room a focal point making economical use of an off cut and staple gun.

Beeld-handle-4Another trick to quick refresh a cupboard or set of drawers is to change the handles.  These leather handles (pictured left) from Nu Interiuer Ontwerp were featured in the March issue of Elle Decoration.  Simple, elegant and available in four colours.  Chloe Alberry, on Portobello Road and online, has an encyclopaedic range of handles in glass, wood, ceramic and other materials.

If you are daunted by the thought of DIY then look for a course in furniture painting or restoration at your local adult education college.  In London, the Goodlife Centre runs a range of courses in upholstery, furniture restoration and painting that are said to be “Suitable for absolute beginners. Enjoyable for everyone.”  Maybe a Mother’s Day treat for someone?

WWT-21_largeOr if you like the look, but not the effort, then three of my favourite up-cycling ventures in the south of England are Out of the Dark, Xylo Furniture and the Restoration Station.  The sleek monochrome matt finish of this drop-leaf table from Xylo Furniture (right, £280) highlights the craftsmanship of  the beautifully shaped legs, but brings it bang up to date.  As well as working on their own stock, Out of the Dark can also work on yours.  The OOTD team can refresh an heirloom so it sits more comfortably in a contemporary home, or repair wooden and upholstered furniture.  Restoration Station also take commissions. So bring a little spring zing into your home.

Photo credits:  Nu Interiuer, Xylo Furniture

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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

5 of the best table lamps

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The clocks have gone back, and as the nights draw in, Diwali, the festival of lights, this week celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. And it has been Bonfire Night too.  So it seems fitting to shine a light on five of the best table lamps.

1. The Rod table lamp by Sebastian Cox has a shade made of compressed hazel fibres, and the stem is a steam bent hazel rod (H 5 4x W 12 x D 20 cm).  The coppiced hazel is grown locally and harvested in the winter as part of a sustainable woodland management programme.  Hazel is light, strong, with a fine grain and fast-growing.  The lamp is an honest, elegant piece that brings a bit of native British woodland inside. The lamp costs £175 including an LED bulb.

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2. The Flos Kelvin mini task lamp, designed by Antonio Citterio, is widely available from retailers including John Lewis for £175.   In sleek contrast to the Rod lamp, but with eco-credentials nonetheless as it is  made of recycled aluminium.  The arm and head are adjustable for focused light from the 30 LED lights which contain a chemically-etched diffuser to soften the light.  The lamp’s dimensions are H30 x W12 x D12cm.

diy-table-053.  After natural, renewable and recyclable materials, I have end of life in mind when including the DIY Table Lamp designed by Rona Meyuchas  K from Kukka.  This is a traditional lamp, with a twist.  It could be used at home or the office, or where ever you choose.  It is made of 6 screws, 7 pieces of beech wood, lamp holder and cable. The wood is unfinished, so you could paint, lacquer or sand it to suit your style or leave it natural.  If you want to short-cut that detail you can order it in a range of 7 colours.  The dimensions are 53 x 43 x 10cm, and the lamp costs £115.  The lamp is supplied with a 40w reflector bulb, an LED alternative would use around 85% less energy and last 20 times longer, or an energy-saving halogen bulb, which would be around a 30% saving on a standard 40w bulb.

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4. Drws y Coed, means to door to the woods in Welsh, and the dappled lighting of their table lamp creates a sense of connection with woodland.  The products are made from birch plywood and local Welsh timber. Digital technologies, such as laser cutting enable a micro manufacturing in North Wales close to sources of timber, and inspiration. The Merddyn Gwyn Lamp (pictured) is based on a beaker from Merddyn Gwyn Bronze Age archeological site in Anglesey. The dimensions are H38 x W12 x D12 cm and costs £90.  In a waste not, want not vein, the pieces of ply laser cut out of the top of the lamps are repurposed as coasters!

5.  D.I.Y. Either refresh an existing lamp, revive an ebay purchase, or start from scratch.  A wine bottle is a popular choice for a lamp base, or a vintage find.  You can buy table lamp kits online, and follow instructions online from Wikihow, or find a local course.  In London, the Goodlife Centre runs How to make a lamp evening courses. Be sure to read and heed all warnings and follow the directions with the lamp kit.  For simple instructions on how to make a lampshade visit the Channel 4 website, or find a local course and get some tips from an expert.  Lolly & Boo run lampshade courses in a couple of locations in the south, and Rustiques run workshops with Annie Sloan paints and fabrics in Aberdeenshire.  Have a peek at Folly & Glee for a range of DIY lamp making accessories and inspiration.

Repairs after ravaging moths

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My eldest daughter found her favourite jumper had been ravaged by moths this morning.  I am far from a dab hand at darning, so I was relieved that I had bought these delightful and humorous iron-on patches last week.  The patches are from Twisted Twee, home to all manner of whimsical and wonderful things for men, women, weddings and the home.

The jumper itself is made from recycled wool.  Old jumpers are felted, recut and remade, then finished by hand with original crochet and trimmings from recycled fabrics.  So now it is on its third life!

Making it the good life

Inspired by my recent furniture painting course, I went in search of other courses to restore, recycle, renovate, reuse, and found The Goodlife Centre in south London, near Waterloo station.

The Goodlife Centre offers practical workshops in DIY, decorating, woodwork, furniture restoration, upholstery and traditional handcrafts. The courses vary from evening workshops, day or weekend intensives or longer, such as the popular 4 week Basic DIY course. Prices start at £60 for a 2.5 hour workshop. You could even host a private party!

So if you fancy getting your hands dirty learning a new skill, someone is about to set up home and create a personal touch on budget then check out their upcoming courses. I am spoilt for choice!

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.