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!

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