Saturday, 24 December 2016

Merry Christmas, Everyone

This year I decided to scale back Christmas massively - last year, I spent a ridiculously large amount of time working on blog posts and tutorials, trying desperately to finish handmade gifts and ending up a sweaty, stressed mess, surrounded by piles of withered foliage and forgotten craft projects. This year, I just thought, 'nope', and so everything has been beautifully simple.

I didn't get involved in wreaths this year, and instead I made a simple wallhanging with foliage, dried orange slices and my beloved wooden stars (which are reused every year without fail!) - I decided not to go overboard with decorations either, choosing to add candles to every available surface and popping up fairy lights wherever I could (including the kitchen shelves!).

I have to be honest, it's been much more enjoyable - we've watched films and eaten food and I've had an awful lot of naps. I've read books and pottered about on the internet and planned craft projects for early next year, and for the first time ever since having children, all my gifts are wrapped and ready before 1am on Christmas morning!

Whatever you're doing this year, enjoy every second, and don't forget to switch off and relax - a very merry Christmas to all of you. See you in 2017!

PS Our gorgeous, wonderful sofa covers are from Comfort Works - we've given our lounge a mini makeover, but due to our ridiculously big Christmas tree, you can't see much in the photos above! I'll be doing a proper post early in January, so keep an eye out.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Wise House

Although I've vowed not to enter Christmas-territory until the 1st December, I've made a few exceptions; firstly, the gourds have started looking a bit sad, so I've given them the elbow in favour of some lovely fresh eucalyptus, and secondly I've been looking for shops and crafters to feature in my festive shopping guide. I love the idea of getting as many people as possible to choose handmade and local products for their gifts, decorations and Christmas table, so every year I squeeze in as many posts as possible with as many talented shop owners, artists and crafters. This year, I'm starting with The Wise House, an online store packed full of ethical and eco-friendly goodies.

Owned by the lovely Lucy, The Wise House is a treasure trove of handmade, ethical and completely unique homeware, clothing and beauty items, and is the perfect place to shop if you're looking to get away from the high street this Christmas. From artisan soaps and handmade linens to colourful home accessories and beautiful loungewear, there's something for pretty much everyone - and there's even a brand new festive section full of lights, garlands and rustic-style gift sacks. I can also happily vouch for the Parkminster candles - the bonfire scent is perfect if like me, you're longing for an open fire, but are missing a chimney!

 I've rounded up my six favourite items below - happy shopping everyone.

From top left:
Pompom Light Garland, £25 //  Souk Shopping Basket in Plum, £24 // Cushions (Made to Order), £35 // Oven Mitts, £10 // Handmade Soap, £5 // Personalised Christmas Tree Sack, £12.50. 

Lucy kindly sent me the Parkminster Bonfire Candle to try, but as usual, all thoughts and words are my own.


Friday, 18 November 2016

Embracing Simplicity

It's no secret that I've been seriously bitten by the decluttering bug lately; anyone who is friends with me on Facebook will have been inundated with offers of craft equipment, furniture, pots and collectables (what do you mean, you don't want my dusty old crap?!), and we've spent a ridiculous amount of time shifting black bags out of the house, trying not to burst them as we go.
I've always been a hoarder, but then something in me just clicked and I realised that 'stuff' didn't make me happy - in fact, quite the opposite. It left me feeling suffocated and more than that, it was a bloody nightmare to dust!

I've found my interiors style has changed as well - I used to adore bright colours, loud, retro patterns and as much vintage china as possible, but over the last few years I've been leaning more towards a neutral pallet with lots of earthy tones. Lots of greys, natural wood and beautifully crafted furniture that doesn't only look good, but is built to last; the whole planned obsolescence thing is something that really grates on me - having to keep buying and re-buying furniture isn't just expensive and irritating, it's an absolute environmental nightmare. I've always loved everything country-related, and somewhere in my future I'd like to believe that there's a lovely old farmhouse, lots of land and a self-sufficient lifestyle miles away from society - but for now I'm concentrating on filling our rented two-bed semi with beautiful things that I'll still be using when I'm old and grey.

According to the internet and magazines, my style is apparently 'contemporary rustic'; defined by clean lines, lots of wood and simple furnishings. It's all the comforts of home, but without too much fuss. Heart of House have nailed this in their latest AW2016 collection, and I've picked out the key pieces that you can use to create this trend.

1. Durham Sideboard, £299
I love this sideboard, purely because the style reminds of a set of old-fashioned alchemists drawers, that could just be filled with interesting potions and jewel coloured glass bottles. In my house, it would just be full of yarn and crochet hooks!

2. Hudson Textured Cushion, £10.99
First of all, I love this because it's slate grey, which is basically the best grey of them all. Secondly, I really like the textured linen-style fabric - it's not linen though, which means none of those pesky creases.

3. Salisbury Leather Footstool in Tan, £199.99
I'm not keen on leather sofas or chairs (we do have an armchair, but I'm desperate to replace it!), but I do like these traditional old footstools. I think it's a nice way of adding a little more rustic to the room.

4. Coles Cloche Glass Table Lamp, £24.99
I absolutely hate harsh lighting, so a table lamp like this is right up my street. Plus, I've got a bit of a fascination for the early 20th century and all things Victorian, so this is perfect!

5. Ketton Wood Quad Table Lamp, £24.99
I've been hankering after a tripod lamp for the lounge for ages, and like that this one is still a good size - a lot of them seem to be absolutely huge!

6. Azure Fabric Chair in Light Grey, £299.99
I mentioned above that I'm looking to replace our tired old leather armchair, and this is pretty much exactly what I imagined would take it's place. The colour is perfect, and I love the simple tapered wooden legs - plus there's plenty of space underneath for a little extra storage.

Many thanks to Heart of House for collaborating on this post. 


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

An Autumn and Winter Reading List

Like most people, I tend to read waaaaay more in autumn and winter than I do in summer; in the warmer months I always like to squeeze in as much outdoor time as I can, soaking up as much sunshine as possible - whether that's pottering with the flowers and veg in the garden, or building a campfire with the kiddos on the beach at dusk. But as soon as the leaves start to change colour, it's game over - once 6.30 rolls around, the only place you'll find me is rolled in a blanket on a sofa looking a bit like a sausage roll, with a book in my hand.

My two most recent favourites were A Cat, A Hat and a Piece of String, which is a collection of short stories by Joanne Harris, and The Little Shop of Happy Ever After, a lovely, cosy read about a girl who moves to the wilds of Scotland and opens a mobile bookshop. Books, countryside, and a farm - what's not to love?! My 'to-read' pile is getting a bit out of control at the moment (I've been following lots of book-related accounts on IG recently, which means I probably won't surface until the Easter weekend 2017), so I thought I'd put a quick post together about what I'm going to be curled up with this winter.

Autumn and Winter,  Edited by Melissa Harrison
If you love nature, the outdoors and the seasons, then you're going to love these brilliant little anthologies - I've almost finished Autumn, and I can't recommend it enough; packed full of poetry and prose from the last hundred years, it's a wholehearted celebration of the most colourful time of year. I've had a flick through Winter, and I can't wait to start it - I've seen Christmas mentioned on quite a few pages, and I LOVE reading about the festive season in the lead up to the big day!

Wild Island: A Year in the Hebrides,  Jane Smith
I had this book on my reading wishlist for a while before I bought it; I don't tend to buy hardback books a lot, partly because they're heavy to hold in bed and partly because they're pretty pricey! This one was too beautiful to resist though; it's about a filmmaker who spends a year on Oronsay, a remote Hebridean island full of birds and animals, and is filled with her beautiful writing and artwork. I absolutely cannot wait to get stuck in.

The Book Thief,  Markus Zusak
I've had this book for years now, and still not got round to reading it - according to the back cover, it's about 'a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter and quite a lot of thievery', and received rave reviews when it was first published. I'm determined to get through it this winter!

A Week in Paris,  Rachel Hore
I love Rachel Hore's books, and have never read a bad one; she writes stories about old family secrets and mysteries, which usually span a few centuries, and they're so easy to just curl up and get lost in. This one is set between 1937 and 1961, and follows a young musician trying to trace her past and find exactly where she belongs - I've skim read the first few pages (terrible habit, I know!) and it seems like it's going to be good.

Sourdough,  Sarah Owens
As most of you know, I'm definitely not a cook or a foodie - the extent of my culinary adventures covers adding some sweet potato to the bolognese to bulk it out. But this book, oh, this book makes me want to buy a linen apron and spend my life in the kitchen. The recipes sound incredible, the photography is amazing, and there's a lot of text covering practicalities as well - I've only leafed through it so far, but I'm going to sit down with some paper and a pen, and make some notes. I might even bake something!

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins Sweet Shop,  Jenny Colgan
Jenny Colgan's books are like a big cuddle. That's literally the best way I can describe them. They're always easy to read, not too heavy-going... reading anything by her is like meeting up with an old friend who you know will make you feel happy. This one is the sequel to Rosie Hopkins Sweet Shop of Dreams, but I'm pretty sure you could read it as a standalone novel as well - it's the tale of a small rural village in the lead up to Christmas; so plenty of cosy cottages, snow, decorations.... a nice easy read for the festive season!

The Watcher in the Shadows,  Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I read The Shadow of the Wind years ago, and always meant to look up other novels by Zafon, but never got round to it. Then I spotted this one in Waterstones and snapped it up - it's the tale of a toymaker living in a old mansion, a mysterious figure that watches from behind the curtains, flickering lights and shadowy creatures lurking in the woods. One for reading in a nest of blankets, I think!

What are you reading? I'm always on the lookout for new books to add to the never-ending list, so do leave a comment!

Friday, 4 November 2016

Top Tips for Renovating a Rented House

We're renters, and the thing is, short of a lottery win or a distant rich relative, we're probably going to be renters for life. We're saving like mad to buy somewhere, but the housing market is so volatile and unpredictable that we're not really sure whether we'll ever get there - it doesn't help that I'm self-employed, which makes it that bit harder to get a mortgage. 

We've been quite lucky with our landlords though; they're pretty flexible in letting us change things, and we've done something to almost every room - from small things like painting and changing carpets, to bigger jobs such as stripping artex, replastering walls and ripping off tiles. A lot of people say we're mad to get so involved in a house that we don't own, but I honestly think that if it makes you happy then it's totally worth it. Plus, there's always the chance that the landlord will chip in or even offer to pay for it if you do the work yourself - ours didn't, but I know a lot that have!

If you're not confident with DIY, using a home improvement company is a good option - for example, Dolphin Home Improvements offer services for anything from small projects such as painting and wallpapering to plastering, electricals and plumbing. If you're keen to learn though, watch some YouTube tutorials, check out some books and get stuck in - and don't forget my top five tips for renovation success....

1. Check Your Lease Agreement - AND GET PERMISSION!
It might sound like an obvious thing to start with, but before you take the sledgehammer to the kitchen tiles, double check with the landlord that you're on a long-term agreement. If you're only signed up for six months, and they refuse to extend it, there's a chance you might have to leave before you've even finished the work. And always, always, ALWAYS get permission before you start ripping up carpets - otherwise you might end up with a large chunk missing from your deposit when you leave.

2. Know Your Limits
We've done a lot in our house, from rebuilding windowsills, to plastering walls and ripping out half of the kitchen, but there are a few things we just won't touch. I'd love to remove all the rubbish lights and have pendant lights put in, but using an electrician doesn't fit in with our budget, and it's not something we'd have the first clue about. Anything involving plumbing, electricals and basically things that could get us sued are a no-go!

3. Keep it Simple
On the whole, landlords prefer properties to be as neutral as possible - it's easy to market and keep tidy, and white paint is by far the cheapest on the market. Don't spend a fortune on vintage floral wallpaper or or expensive bathroom tiles - chances are, the landlord will want everything returned back to its original state before you leave anyway, and then you've got the awful job of undoing all of your hard work. If you like colour and pattern, keep the walls and floors plain, and then add interest with cushions, rugs and a gallery wall.

4. Shop Around for the Best Prices 
If you're like me (impatient and headstrong!), you'll probably be tempted to go straight to your local branch of B&Q and buy everything in one go - but it's a much better idea to spend a bit of time online or wandering around different shops, especially if it's going to save you money in the long run. Originally, we were going to go with wood-style laminate worktops in the kitchen, because we didn't think we could afford solid wood - but then we found a local shop had a sale on, and it actually worked out much cheaper than the laminate. Believe me, I know how annoying it is when you just want everything finished - but you'll be much happier saving money in the long run!

5. Do Your Research
There are so many wondrous DIY products on the market today, that it pays to thoroughly research the job you're doing before you do it - if you're stuck with awful 1970's (in a bad way!) style kitchen tiles, you don't have to rip them off the wall to be rid of them; there are several ranges of tile paint which have great reviews, and you can even buy tile stickers to quickly and temporarily cover the horrors underneath. If you've got mouldy, black grouting in the kitchen or bathroom, there's a product which bleaches it back to a sparkling white, which means you don't have to dig it all out and start from scratch. There's a product out there for pretty much every job, but I'll stop now, because I'm boring myself!

This is a collaborative post

Monday, 31 October 2016

Lovely Lewes

A while ago (quite a long while ago, to be honest - I've not blogged for a month, and it was quite a long time before that!), we spent a pretty nice Saturday exploring Lewes; I'd never been before, and there were a tonne of lovely shops I was dying to have a rummage in, so off we went. 

Just the other side of Brighton, Lewes has just as many lovely places to visit, but with less crowds and cheaper parking! We only had a few hours, so I didn't get to quite as many places as I'd have liked - but I still managed to go home with a full belly and a loaded car!

The Good Times Home Store, The Needlemakers, West Street

I'd planned to go and visit The Needlemakers after Jeska told me how amazing it was (and she was right - more on that in a bit!), but we actually stumbled across it by accident on the way out of the car park, when I saw the front of The Good Times Home Store. Well, when faced with lovely kitchenware, handprinted cards and exquisite cushions, what can you do other than run inside?
Based on the lower floor of The Needlemakers, I spent too long in this shop - but the lovely lady who owns it let me potter up and down happily, stroking the beautiful fabrics and trying desperately to decide whether I needed one wooden spoon or two (it turns out I needed two. Surprise!) The good news is they have an online store as well, so even if you're miles away, you can still have a thorough look around.

Louise Harding, The Needlemakers, West Street
Tucked away in the corner on the second floor of The Needlemakers, is a tiny gem of a shop absolutely packed with beautiful things for the home. Louise Harding's space is full of wonderful ceramics, heady scented candles and a huge selection of lighting, prints and other goodies. I came away with some candlesticks, a card and some lovely decorative feathers.

From Victoria, The Needlemakers, West Street
Directly opposite Louise Harding, is From Victoria, which I can only possibly describe as UTTER PLANT HEAVEN. I stood outside for ages, picking pots up and putting them down again, pondering over beautiful woven bags and marvelling at the loveliest vintage tiles. Inside, giant old windows filled the space with light, bathing everything in a gentle golden glow; plump linen cushions jostled for space with beautiful ceramics, hand illustrated cards sat neatly on small shelves and surfaces were filled with string, scissors, candles, clay pots and organic body products. I spent far too long pottering around, but finally left with a few vintage tiles and a Pilea plant (I've been looking for one for absolutely ages) - although I do keep thinking about the terrariums!

Closet and Botts, 196 High Street
Out on the main high street lies Closet and Botts, a beautiful lifestyle store which is the perfect combination of old and new. One of those wonderful shops that covers pretty much everything, there were racks of vintage seed packets, artisan soaps, teetering stacks of tableware, piles of gorgeous linens, woven baskets and the most glorious collection of haberdashery I've ever seen. I bought a basket and some candles, but could have quite happily taken home most of the shop!

The Flint Owl Bakery, 209 High Street
I don't really know where to start with the Flint Owl Bakery - I'm not much of a foodie, but this place really made me swoon. Directly in front of the door was a huge rack with handmade, artisan, glorious-smelling loaves of bread; dusted lightly with flour and piled high, sourdough rounds nestled next to spelt loaves, and crusty white baguettes teetered on the top. While we queued for our lunch, we eyed up the shelves laden with cakes; impossibly huge gateaux, featherlight sponges and exquisite patisserie all made me consider skipping lunch and heading straight for desert. In the end I had a vegetarian tart (there was goats cheese, but I can't remember what else, other than it was incredible!) and Ali had some handmade sausage rolls. There are no pictures, because I couldn't wait long enough to take any!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

read: paper home

I follow quite a few crafters on Instagram and in the blog world, and while most of them tend to be the woolly variety (I spend way too long falling down the crochet and knit rabbit hole on there!), there are a few weavers, illustrators and paper artists on there. One of my absolute favourites is Origami Est (@origami_est on Instagram - go and follow along!), who makes impossibly wonderful things from paper; we're talking intricate vases, beautiful lampshades and the eternally popular paper diamonds.

Image Credit: Kristy Noble

Image Credit: Kristy Noble

Origami Est is the super talented Esther Thorpe, who has just released a book packed full of her origami patterns called Paper Home - I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to the launch, but as I couldn't make it, I was sent a copy of the book to review instead.

The closest I've ever been to origami is when I made some paper fanwheels at Christmas last year. It's always a craft I've admired and wondered about, but the lengthy baffling instructions and need for precision has always put me off a bit. The first thing I noticed about the book was that for every instruction in EVERY tutorial, there is a corresponding picture - this meant I instantly felt more confident before I even started, because I knew I'd have something visual to follow. There's nothing worse than trying to follow a complicated craft tutorial, and feeling that frustration that comes with not having a clue what the author is talking about! 

The book is laid out in a way that makes it really easy to get started; the introduction is a letter from Esther, where she talks about her history with origami and paper, and then goes on to advise beginners which projects to start with. Following that is a really helpful page on the type and quality of paper to use, and then a brilliant guide to accurate folding techniques. I'd never done actual, proper origami before, but after such a thorough introduction, I went into the first project feeling really confident.

I started with the triangular basket, and while mine didn't turn out quite as good as the one in the book, I was still pretty impressed with it. It was really simple to do, it looked great and more importantly, it didn't collapse when I picked it up! I followed it up with a couple of the party diamonds, which were trickier, but so worth it - our house is going to be absolutely full of these at Christmas this year!

There are heaps of projects I'm still dying to try; the book is laid out in three sections - Hang, Shelf and Wall, and there are some brilliantly imaginative projects. On my list are the pyramid fairy lights for the kiddos room, the star garland for our Christmas tree (OK, it's a bit early, but I like to plan ahead!) and the lampshade for my workroom. The photography is gorgeous and really inspiring, and the whole book was just as good, if not better, than I'd expected - definitely one to put on the Christmas list (or as a payday treat!)

I was sent the Paper Home book to review, however all words and thoughts are my own. Seriously though, I was always going to love it! 

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Five Top Essentials for a Cosy Garden Room

Above: Inspiration at H&M Home

If there's one thing I look for hopefully every time we move house, it's a place that has a garden room, shed or some sort of outbuilding (I'm talking warm and weatherproof, not old metal bicycle store!) We've got a conservatory in our current place, which is nice, but until recently it's just been my work area - which basically means it's packed full of old craft stuff I don't use anymore, and is usually a total mess. I've been having a pre-Autumn clear out though, which means I'm going to be making it a bit less work-y and a bit more home-y - I'm thinking somewhere bright and airy in the summer, and cosy in the winter. I've been trawling Pinterest and my favourite online shops for inspiration, and have come up with five easy tips to make the perfect garden room - so if you're creating a similar space read on!

1. Invest in a good building
If you're planning on using your shed or garden room on a daily basis, all year round, it makes sense to spend a little bit more on a well-made building; Lidget Compton have spent over thirty-five years perfecting the art of the outbuilding, and offer a wide range of options when it comes to garden rooms. Everything is customisable, from the size and roof height, to the finish; choose from brick, stone, texture or even timber-effect cladding for anyone who's looking for a more rustic-style retreat. Best of all, Lidget buildings are double-glazed and designed to be maintenance free, which means no sanding, treating or painting. Hurrah!

2. Choose comfortable furniture
A garden room should be somewhere you can relax, so it's important that any furniture not only looks good, but is also practical; opt for comfortable seating with plenty of cushions, and some shelves and baskets for easy storage. If you're on a budget, try local charity shops, eBay or Gumtree for second-hand bargains, or check out any house-clearances - if you're into vintage, these are usually a goldmine for great chairs, plant pots and even lamps. Better for the environment, too!

3. Add pile of cosy blankets
I think about blankets the way my friends think about shoes; you can never have too many. If you're going to have a shed, conservatory or garden room, you're going to need blankets - no matter how well insulated it is, it's going to be nippy in winter, and even the summer evenings get chilly. The ones above are from The Future Kept, who have pretty much the best selection of blankets in the world - pile them high in the corner, then cosy up on a chilly evening with a great book or some knitting or crochet. Heaven.

4. Include a good selection of books (or magazines!)
Because what could possibly be better than losing an afternoon surrounded by the outdoors, settled on a comfortable chair with a great book?! (I've got a big post on Autumn reading coming up next week - I've spent ages browsing Persephone Books lately!)

5. Don't forget the plants
Merge the outside with the inside by adding loads of plants to your garden room; if you're not great with keeping them alive, cacti and succulents are a brilliant option - they require almost no care - and spider plants are pretty hardy as well. Trailing plants like string of pearls or string of hearts are great for weaving along the top of shelves or hanging in a macrame planter, and a pilea plant is always a nice addition to any room (I've just found a great one, after years of looking!) Try Botany Shop or Geo-Fleur online, if you can't find anything local (be prepared to have a seriously long lust list after looking at their websites, though!)

Many thanks to Lidget Compton for collaborating on this post.

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