Saturday, 25 February 2012

The living room : Part 4.....Am I my Mum...??

We are all shaped, to a greater or lesser degree, by those that raise us, whether that be parents, guardians, older siblings or grandparents. We've probably all joked at some point or other on this very subject.

Women laugh nervously as they recognise traits in themselves so obviously handed down from mother to daughter. Men laugh even more nervously at this point! Women laugh (weep?) at the thought of that time when their husbands' waist bands begin to make their way uncontrollably northwards towards their chins as age progresses! Men joke about only having to look at the mother in law in order to gain a glimpse of the wife in 30 odd years time! Women often comment on wanting to find a partner with a similar nature and outlook to their father. I'm not entirely sure what men look for. A mother figure? I find this concept a bit disturbing. I once worked with a chap who, amidst a discussion on this very subject, confessed to wanting to find a girlfriend who possessed the qualities he loved so much in the pet dog his family had owned during his childhood! We assumed he was thinking along the lines of trust, loyalty, that sort of thing. No one dared to ask for clarification!!

I have recognised for some time that, somewhat inevitably, I am slowly but surely morphing into my mum. Rather bizarrely, and somewhat worryingly, my husband doesn't seem to mind...unless he's just being polite! Whether it be facial expressions (the women in my family are renowned for not being able to hide what we are thinking - disapproval, disdain, disappointment or just sheer disregard....there's a face for all of them and we can't disguise it! My 8 year old is already a pro!) or our general attitude to life's great debates. I certainly recognise more and more that I hear echoes of my mum in my own self and myself and my daughter carry this theme through.

Stick with me on this one. I know this is an interiors blog, but my ramblings do have a link...albeit tenuous you may decide. Here we go......

Having painted, re framed, painted again and finally washed the brushes, the only task remaining was to find a light fitting for the bare central light bulb. The hangover from a previous blog.

Anyway. Off I went, having scoured my trusty magazines and housey books several times hoping for that flash of inspiration, to a local well known lighting store. This first port of call was, I admit, based on the lure created by glossy ads in posh magazines. As I stood there staring up at the myriad of choice available, I started to consider how much I was willing to spend on this light fitting. First warning signal. It was, rather aptly, a light bulb moment in that I quickly concluded that the answer was, not this much! "Would my mum approve of these prices?" I found myself asking. Well, frankly, no, she wouldn't, not even if she could afford to.

There was a time when I would have only considered something high end , designery, labelled, I am slightly ashamed to confess. Probably during that pre-kids time when I had a decent job, decent salary, nice car, never ending social life...My mum would accompany me on shopping trips, routinely offering me more affordable alternatives which I would acknowledge and then completely disregard! Marks and Spencer? No way, Jose. I'm off to Harvey Nic's!

Having said that, and having portrayed myself as being a materialistic type, in all honesty, I have never been into labels. You can count the number of designer items of clothing I have in my wardrobe on one hand. I love shoes and have many pairs but I don't have any Jimmy's or Christian's. As for handbags.....I'm afraid that this one remains a mystery to me. It is, of course, a personal choice, and one that I respect, but I have never longed for a handbag named after an ageing actress or a current 'celebrity' or one with a massive gold logo screaming out at you. Quite literally, 'not my bag'! My car is 6 years old, and although, yes, it is quite a 'prestigious' brand, I guess, am I going to trade it in for a new model? Nope. Am I going to, as someone recently suggested, buy a personalised plate so that people don't know how old the car is. Nope. It'll still be a 6 year old car. Expensive fancy holidays? No. Camping with the kids in Cornwall will do! Our house could be described as 'modest'. It is not the smallest house I have ever lived in, neither is it the largest. A close friend visited soon after we had moved in and one of her children commented that it was "nice but quite small," adding "...we could not fit in here." I could have taken this to heart. It was, however, merely the kind of factual statement that you expect from children. Very funny as it turned out.....and true! Reading this, I sound like I am a paragon of virtue or possibly some cynical stay at home Mum doing the odd bit of work here and there harking back to days gone by. I like to think I am neither, but just someone who appreciates simple things a little more these days. Say "Hello" again, Mum!

I left the expensive lighting emporium and a few days later made my way, rather reluctantly I have to say, to BHS 'Home' store, on the recommendation of my mum who suggested I give it a try.

BHS is one of those stores that stirs up mixed emotions in me. It's a name that reminds me of my childhood. Quite comforting in a way. We didn't shop there as a rule, but did venture in from time to time, usually on desperate shopping trips searching for school skirts. That was about all. BHS did, however, gain a pretty good reputation for its lighting department though. Sadly, over the years, BHS, like many other stores, went into a gradual decline, sinking beneath an ever increasing amount of crimplene dresses, peach coloured satin bridal wear and nondescript home wares. The once celebrated lighting department also became a shadow of its former self.

BHS does, I have to say, as far as the 'Home' store appears, to have had something of a re-birth. On my recent visit, I spotted one or two 'bits' that I could, had I been in the market for, have purchased. My daughter received a bedding set from BHS for Christmas and lovely it is too. Not dissimilar to Cath Kidston, in that it is a floral/spotty mix design. I expect it was a fraction of the price and is none the worse for it!

The lighting department is pretty good. It offers a wide choice of colours, styles and prices. I was pleasantly surprised. (That sounds like the sort of thing my mum would say!)

And I purchased! I found a ceiling light in the 'Essential Lighting' range - I assume this is akin to the supermarket 'value' range type stuff.

The product name is 'Adelisa' and it cost the bargain price of £38.99! (BHS have a 25% discount promo on at the moment.) I absolutely love it! The glass is quite solid so doesn't look at all cheap. Granted, the metal fixings are not the most delicate, and probably had I spent another couple of hundred I would have got something altogether more 'exquisite' in this respect, but do I care? Not one bit. It is my current favourite purchase.

Mum was with me on this shopping trip, acting, for most part, as minder to my 2 year old, who was busy carrying out his own consumer tests on various lamps in store! When she witnessed that I had actually bought something, she passed me one of those looks that spoke volumes. Had she actually said it rather than 'looked' it, it would have gone something like this;

"Blimey! Despite everything you said, you have actually bought something and we're in BHS! Wonders never cease! Maybe, just maybe, some of the things I have said to you over the years have sunk in..." Well...something like that, at least.

I guess it's further reinforcement that you don't have to spend the earth to furnish your home, with nice things....or your lives for that matter...though that may be straying into a whole different territory and I leave that to far deeper thinkers than I...

It's official. I am my mother!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The living room : Part 3!

You may recall from my previous post, that I was awaiting for the following morning in order to double check the test colour I had painted on the wall. I'll just give you a quick re-cap (if nothing else, to remind myself where I am at!). I started with Pavilion Gray, moved onto white, progressed to Skylight, via various rejected colours and ended up by painting the whole room in Blackened (Farrow and Ball), as seen in the photo below. Granted, it is not the best pic in the world. If you squint, you can just about make out that the walls are a very pale shade of gray and not white! I took these pictures a few minutes ago and by this time in the afternoon the sun has moved round to the back of our house (or disappeared altogether behind a big black rain cloud!).

I can strongly recommend this colour. I would describe it as classically contemporary. It is a definite blue/gray in certain lights, but not overly so. It is light enough not to dominate a relatively small room and looks great accessorised with white, black and any natural wood colourings, dark or light. I've seen some lovely silver lamp bases that would fit perfectly should I want to take things a step further.  A really adaptable colour all in all. 

I am pretty happy that I accomplished what I set out to do, which was to make a subtle change to the character of the room. I re-framed some of the pictures with black and dark wood frames, nothing fancy...a trip to Ikea did the job... and re-positioned a number of them. Nothing too significant. Just a few small alterations and a new colour yet the room has quite a different feel.

I posted last week that I was also searching for a new ceiling light. This new colour also opens up the options in so far as a more modern light fitting would not necessarily look out of place now.

For now at least, I am happy with the choice. Watch this space though! My paint brush is never far away.

As I wrote in my first post, choosing colour is as much about trial and error as anything. I've certainly trialed a few paints and narrowly escaped a few errors with this one! 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The living room: Part 2. Decisions....decisions....decisions!

Yesterday I mentioned the possibility of performing a colour U-turn. Today I'd describe it as more of a 'wandering off the beaten track' scenario.

The white paint went back into the cellar whilst I nipped to Homebase and bought a handful of new tester pots. I've got a patch of wall with Pavilion Gray, Skylight and Borrowed Light (F&B) and Favourite China from the Dulux Origins range. I then sat for what seemed like ages, positioning the sofa and cushions along side the test area, trying desperately to make a decision.  I then sat for a while reading 25 Beautiful Homes and spied an article describing how someone had painted their living room 7 times before deciding on the correct colour. No sweat. I've got 4 colours to go!

At this point in time, I think I am going to go with Skylight, a Farrow and Ball paint. I've read Interior Design articles describing this colour as a Venetian blue-gray. A blue-gray is exactly the colour I had in mind (apart from white, of course!).  As it was late afternoon when I started tinkering with my tester friends, I'm just going to wait until the morning in order to check how it looks in the daylight. I don't really want to have to change all of the soft furnishings so need to be sure it works. The snap shot above, though not taken in the best light, shows the colours that will need to work together. I'll reserve final judgement until then.

Better go and wash the brushes in time for round 3!

Friday, 17 February 2012

The living room : Part 1.

I had a rare moment of indecision today which lead to me scrapping the idea of painting the front room in Pavilion Gray and opting for the altogether more safe option of slapping another quick coat of white on the walls just to freshen the look and to get rid of those annoying marks that appear where pictures have been hanging. Watch this space. I may yet have another change of heart. Not an unusual occurrence in this house!

And so into the weekend we head. This weekend is going to be all about the front room. To quote Mastermind presenters past and present, "I've started so I'll finish"! 

I have to confess to taking the slightly easier route. I convinced myself that the gray would be too dark. I love the colour gray and gazed longingly at it on the walls in my sister in law's newly decorated house recently. Very elegant. Being half the size, I'm not quite convinced my front room can carry it.

Gray, despite the name usually conjuring up thoughts of dreary, dull, ill looking or cloudy wet weather, is actually an excellent colour for painting walls. Gray can be modern, it can be classic and sophisticated. It looks great with crisp white and can be warmed up with citrus shades. In actual fact, it can be the exact opposite of dull and dreary as you can see from the schemes below.


And so, with gray relegated to the bench, for the moment at least, I have to make the best of white walls.

With all of the furniture either out or into the middle of the room the walls have have been painted brilliant white. Rather than go for the new wall colour, I am going to look at re-arranging all of the artwork in order to give the room a subtle new look. In the process I'll probably re-frame some pictures, ditch some, maybe invest in some new ones. Who knows?
The Oka catalogue dropped through the letter box today as well, so a new cushion or two might be in order! It was most definitely a sign! That is the project for this weekend and you will be able to see the results in due course.

On the other hand, and when I look at the delicious schemes above, I may do a U-turn worthy of a front bench politician, and paint the whole room a wonderful shade of gray! 

Whilst I was deliberating in which direction to take my design, my husband and son were in the adjacent room working on their Grand Design, as seen below. It's quite a thing, listening to a grown man and a 2 year old battling over the best way to construct a Lego fire station! The more mature member of the design duo (no guesses as to which one I am referring!) allowed the other to have his way with the viewing platform specially designed for the fire station's pet rabbit! 

Thank goodness they leave me to my own devices with our home!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Stylish storage for all those toys...

I spent much of the day tidying up after the two children today! Kids don't half generate some mess and my two are no exception!

Half way through the day, and following yet another trip to the supermarket, we popped into the local toy shop so my daughter could spend some of her birthday money. She was feeling particularly sisterly today, perhaps down to the fact that she was having her best friend for a sleepover and therefore was making all the right noises during the hours before her the hope of a late-ish night and some treats no doubt. Me? Cynical? Anyway. She decided she was going to invest in some more Lego sets to share with her brother. She and the 2 year old have been playing happily (hoorah!) over the past few days with the small amount we already have....I was happy to go and buy more. A sound investment! I must confess that my daughter has only recently discovered the joys of Lego. Until this Christmas, she had lived through 7 years not knowing what Lego was! When she received a Christmas  set from an Aunty this year her reaction was a mixture of immense gratitude and one of absolute annoyance. Post Christmas, having given her the old 'talking to' about looking grateful for presents even if perhaps they are not what she would have chosen, she pointed out that I had got it all wrong. She was furious at the fact that in 7 years we had never bought her any Lego! What had we been thinking? Bad bad parents! 

On returning to the fold I thought it was one of those opportunities to have a bit of a toy clear out to make room for the new Lego collection. My husband refers to it as necessary 'culling'! What followed was a  scenario familiar, I expect, to many if not all parents of young children.

Now, there are 2 ways of carrying out this task. Gather the family together and make collective 'family' decisions about which toys to keep and which to cull.....sorry....send on 'holiday'! The problem arises when the children insist that the scrappy piece of postage stamp sized paper they find in the bottom of the box is, in actual fact, an essential part of some game or other and that under no circumstances must it be thrown away. Neither must we part with the one legged Barbie....or the horse riding set without the horses......or the 5 identical Peppa Pig figures....You get the picture.

Or, my method of choice, whereby one parent distracts the children whilst the other runs back and forth like a mad man with bin liners between the toy box and the dustbin in the style of the late Benny Hill! I usually volunteer Daddy for the bin bag run incase any of the toys are discovered pre-bin man or charity collection visit. It's easier for him to be the villain. He's at work all day! I did make the school boy error of 'hiding' one toy in the kitchen bin only to be nobbled when the children threw something in the bin and were greeted with the all too familiar rendition of 'London Bridge is Falling Down'...from the depths of the bin! Doh! Leave it to the professional mad man with the bin bags I concluded! 

So, I had a good clear out and then decided it was time to look at some much needed additional storage for all the remaining clutter. I don't know about you, but I like to get my house in order once the kids have gone to bed so good storage is important. Whilst having a few strategically placed baskets around the place is really all that you need, there are some great storage solutions out there and so here are a few of my picks.

JCB skip Box £25
Tesco Direct

2 cube storage bench £175 The White Company

Plastic basket storage by Aspace £16

Stacking storage boxes from Great Little Trading Company £26

Giant zip up glossy bags
£35 by A Place for

Dwell - Set of 3 £39.95

Kartell Componibili - from £60

Great Little Trading Company - Lazzari modular storage

Lego storage boxes -
from £6.95 - various stockists

Striped storage totes - Aspace - £13

Storage cube for boys by Graham and Green £22
Painted Sunny Safari storage bench from a range by Teamson £89

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Something old....something new.

Today was about doing another of those jobs that I have been meaning to do for some time. We've got a modern pine toy box which for a long time lived in the play room as inoffensively pine as the day we bought it in 2006.  Problem is,'inoffensive' does not last long in this house. It's been living under the painting equivalent of the Sword of Damocles ever since we got it!

Stripped pine is actually a 20th century fad. Prior to the '60's, joinery was either painted or occasionally stained to resemble expensive or exotic wood. The only wood you would find exposed in a Victorian house was the top of the kitchen table or the top of the dresser. I have a stripped pine dresser in my kitchen which I was lucky enough to inherit from the previous owners of the house. It is actually a really nice dresser and looks perfectly in keeping even in its stripped state. I will, however, over the summer months, be giving that a new look too.

Now, my plan was to trot along to the local DIY shop and choose some nice new paint with which to transform the box. No chance. My better half reminded me that we had a cellar full of half used tins of paint and that I should start there. The evidence above speaks for itself. No shortage of colour choices and paint finishes in this house, and that's only a fraction of our stash!
And so to the colour choice.
I've moved the box from the playroom into the conservatory and therefore decided to match the colour to the desk that is already in there. The colour chosen is 'Elephant's Breath', a Farrow and Ball paint. I love the colour...I love the name! I don't only use Farrow and Ball paint, but I do like the range of colours they produce and the names are great. The chair pictured is painted in 'Mulberry', a matt paint from the Sanctuary range at Homebase. The two colours work really well together.

It's a very natural colour but varies massively in appearance depending on where it's positioned in the house. Another prime example of the need for testing in different lights. In good light it is a light putty colour, as seen on the picture. When the desk was in a darker room it definitely displayed a more brownish tone. 
On the subject of paint, I read an article recently celebrating the work of designer and decorative paint expert, Annie Sloan. She and her team have been blending a particular type of paint for transforming dark, unfashionable furniture or pine, or simply odd bits of furniture that appear to no longer have a place, into more desirable pieces, rather than getting rid of them. The beauty of her paints is that no sanding, stripping or time consuming fiddliness is needed! It has been called 'paint for girls' and as someone who hates the whole 'prep' bit that is music to my ears! Apparently, men have yet to be convinced that it is possible to paint without the prep. I don't care. I'm sold already!

My 'new' toy box.

Friday, 10 February 2012

My very own Junior Apprentice!

A short, sharp comment today.

Whilst I was merrily splashing a tester pot of Farrow and Ball's Pavilion Gray onto a wall this son was busy on a project of his own.....testing his choice of Disney's Beauty and the Beast pen 'Blood red' on the playroom wall.

Quelle catastrophe! I thought. That is 2 rooms that will need re-decorating!

Now then.....where's that brush?!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Let there be light.....

My latest dilemma which, to be honest, is one that has been hanging around for some while now, is a question of lighting in my living room.

Lighting is a tricky area. Many mistakes are made and I've made a few wrong choices in this department. Every room has general and accent lighting need to be able to see but you don't want to feel like the room is a flood-lit football pitch. Lighting enhances the ambience in a room, dramatises wall textures, accents art work or just simply provides illumination. Each main room in your home may require a variety of lighting. Getting it right is quite difficult. The easiest principle to work to is to provide more lighting than you actually need but with the ability to not have to make use of all the potential light at any one time.   

When we bought the house a few years ago, I bought many things in haste, full of the enthusiasm and excitement one feels when moving into a new home! I couldn't wait to get started. This was my first mistake.

Now, I am not a great fan of central ceiling lights in living rooms. Certain rooms...those with high ceilings and generous proportions are the exception. My living room is a typical cottage style room. Not that big. No high ceilings. Full of character but in my opinion has no place for a ceiling light. I'm not about to take it out though. My husband would go mad if we had to live our life purely by lamp light, or even worse, candle light! (It's a man thing....and I'll cover that in a future blog!). He likes to be able to turn the main light on in order to fiddle with the remote control or read the football and rugby results in the paper. Fair enough, I suppose.

In my excitement at having moved to this beautiful 'cosy' cottage I shot off to John Lewis and bought this pretty pendant shade.....perfect for my lovely new lounge. Infact, I loved it so much, I bought 2, an extra one for the playroom. Mistake number 2. The problem with this shade is that the bulb is so enclosed that it emits little or no light at all. 

So. What are my options? The room has a classic cottage feel in terms of furnishings etc. Here's what I have looked at so far. They generally fall into 2 categories. Plain pendant shades or chandeliers. Whilst I love chandeliers in the right setting, with a room like this you have to be careful not to go overboard with the bling. Unless you have the space to take it, less is definitely more. They can also be quite expensive.
So, I began my search at John Lewis, who have a good lighting department with a wide range of styles, and took it from there. 
The light on the left is a chrome and crystal chandelier priced at £210. The one below is a similar droplet ceiling light from Marks and Spencer priced at a very attractive £89.  The one to the right, called 'Evelyn' is  £210 from John Lewis. Not cheap...but fairly reasonable for chandeliers which do tend to be on the pricier side in general. I think any of these would work, though I am not sure about the smokey glass incorporated in the Evelyn light. A good alternative would be the Shamley compact ceiling chandelier from Laura Ashley, lower right - a vintage inspired chandelier priced at £175. 


And to the one below........The Kolarz Carat chandelier....a deal breaking £1,207...rendering this option totally out of the question!

I struggled with the pendant option but have sourced 2 possibles so far. The easy, if a little boring, option would be a white or cream shade possibly like this one -  The Clara Cutwork shade, again from John Lewis and priced at a very reasonable £40. I like the design of this shade but feel that it is too contemporary for my room. It would work well in a more modern setting though. John Lewis did have a similar styled shade in store with cutwork butterflies all around it instead of the circles. (No picture available at present) Again, in white, which would work well. This style, as with the chandeliers, would provide a more than adequate light source.

The light above is from Oka and although it is obviously not a ceiling light, it could work. The chrome fitting is quite contemporary in design, yet with a classic feel, largely because of the linen shade, which, coincidentally, we have on the 2 table lamps in the room. This wall light is priced at £99, so not totally out of the question, though we would arguably need 2 of these and they may only be as effective as the existing table lamps.

Whilst pondering over my lighting dilemma in John Lewis, I spied these beauties. If I had an ultra modern house, then these would be the shades of choice. Possibly hung as a trio in a spacious, light filled, white-walled pad with acres of glass, bi-fold doors out onto the decked patio...over looking the pool and the summer house........ahhhh!

blue Jolie light shade

A girl can dream!


I have yet to make my decision. I could 'fall in love' with the Kolarz Carat chandelier which would undoubtedly lead to my husband having a change of heart with regard to the need for a central light. The price tag will be enough! Problem solved!  

Featured lighting from John Lewis (, Oka (, Marks and Spencer ( and Laura Ashley (

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A recipe for success!

Why the picture of a cake? This cake represents to me everything that is interior my world at least.

My daughter was 8 recently and so I decided, rather than succumb to pressure and buy the Moshi Monster cake that she wanted, that I would make her a cake. 

It's not the first time I've made this decision. A few years ago I attempted a Peppa Pig cake, which, in fairness turned out ok. For her second birthday she asked for a 'Stephanie' cake based on the main character in her favourite show at the time. Not so successful. Stephanie's leg fell off and she looked rather more like the sort of character that needs inflating before use than a popular children's TV character! 

My son is only 2 so he has a slight advantage in that he has had to experience fewer of my experimental cakes! For his first birthday I was still in the throes of 'new mum' syndrome and felt strongly that he should have a healthy carrot and cranberry cake rather than a sugar coated teeth rotter. Disaster. He refused to look at it let alone taste it. It had taken me ages...lots of googling and reading through recipe books to find a cake suitable for a one year old. It was inedible. Even the birds turned their beaks up.

Like the disastrous cakes, I've had some monumental disasters with colour. I once painted a kitchen in my Edinburgh apartment canary yellow, having seen a beautiful light filled kitchen painted in the exact same colour in one of my sacred magazines. My kitchen, however, was north facing and dark and dingy. The yellow lasted about 3 hours.....just leaving enough time for me to paint it back to the original colour before my partner arrived home!! In a house I owned years ago, I painted one of the two bedrooms probably near on 20 times in the 5 years I owned it. I doubt any of the 20 colours was a good choice. I didn't realise you had to consider room size, how much light the room gets etc. As for the whole idea of painting a small test area first...well...that was a complete mystery to me! I pity the people that bought my house should they have ever wanted to strip the lining paper in that room!

My philosophy now is to keep things simple. Follow basic principles. Invest in tester pots. Consider the room size and how much or how little light a room benefits from.

My daughter was thrilled to bits with her cake. Yes. She would have liked the Moshi Monster cake with all its colour and detail, but infact I think she preferred the less is more approach that I took and I didn't spend £10.00! It wouldn't win any awards but it was a nice simple cake, a great shape when it came out of the oven, and decorated quite nicely, though I say it myself. We were both happy.

My point is, decorating or interior design, given its posh title, is rather like attempting to make your own birthday cake in my experience. A degree of trial and error is involved. What I have learned is that if you start with the basics and get those right, you will find over time that you learn what you like and dislike, what works and what doesn't.