Thursday, 24 April 2014

Shopping: raiding the antique shops of Lewes

I had a lovely time recently visiting dear friends who have recently moved to Lewes, not far from Brighton.

It was brilliant to hang out and catch up (and eat fantastic fish and chips – well, just chips and a pickled egg for me – from their excellent local chippy). But what was almost as great? THE SHOPPING.

First off, I should highlight the one purchase of the trip (unusually restrained for me, and I didn't even buy it). It is this very beautiful and unusual etching of a duck in flight, which my boyfriend bought me for my birthday from one of Lewes's many antiques shops. I have put it up in the growing bird corner (see more on Pinterest), right by my side of the bed, so I can look at it while I'm lying there.

It appears to be in its original frame, as the artist details are on the back – it is by someone called Stuart N Pike, about whom I could find no information online, and it says it is etched onto calfskin. The mount is newer, made from some kind of thin wood. It's kind of odd, and I like it.

I also liked a lot of other things I saw. We spent ages at Lewes Flea Market, below.

It was packed with treasures.

I am still kicking myself about failing to buy this spectacular horse's head for £22. The rest of the stuff on this stall was a little dubious, I think it disrupted my usual shopping radar.

I can't resist things with compartments (anyone else?) and toyed with the idea of using these, above, to store shoes in by the front door. Not very practical since it would rule out all boots, hi-tops and heels. Couldn't think what else to use them for, so sadly they stayed put.

I have an inherited biscuit jar in the Hornsea Pottery range – like the coffee pot on the left of that glass shelf, above. I keep meaning to buy more Hornsey stuff when I see it cheap, like this (it was £6), but I am hoping I'll find a whole bundle of it together in a charity shop. We went to a beautiful cafe in a local park over the Easter weekend and all their crockery, on tables and displaying cakes and stuff on the counter was this gloriously homely brown, 70s Hornsea stuff. I was inspired, it looked fantastic.

This was another antiques emporium on the high street, it was over several floors and is the place the bird etching came from. A little less random than the flea market, it had carefully curated shelves of Fat Lava pots (below)...

... and collectible (and always pricey) Clarice Cliff china, below.

Next we went to Wickle, Lewes's smallest department store (possibly anywhere's smallest department store, in fact).

What a beautifully designed interior it had. Love the colours of the battered wood panels above, and the elephant's head.

It's got its own little cafe at the back of the shop.

And another at the front, just serving take-aways. What fantastic signage!

Spotted this clever idea for a children's light, too.

And ogled these colourful blankets. 

This is the exterior, modelled by Anthony, baby Rudy and Reggie the dog, looking a little disconcerted – Anthony is the other half of my creative friend Holly who has featured here before.

And aside from all that shopping, Lewes is just ridiculously pretty. Can't wait to go back.

Post by Kate

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Real homes: a designer's £800 total renovation

Bobby Petersen's amazingly thrifty warehouse flat in north London filled me with inspiration when I went to nose around it a few months back.

I was there to write about his place for a piece published in last weekend's Guardian Weekend mag. You can read that here, but here are some bonus pictures of his insanely creative ideas.

The flat was a derelict, one-room warehouse space when Bobby, then a Royal College MA student, moved in a couple of years ago. It had long abandoned by its original manufacturing tenants, and used since only by some shady characters requiring nothing but the concrete floor and some privacy.

Now, just £800 later, it looks like this.

Bobby has created two raised bedrooms, a kitchen, a wholesome glossy floor, a whole workshop area and a lovely, airy feel. Oh, and there's a boat hanging from the ceiling (one of Bobby's pieces, designed for the American Hardwood Council: he made pretty much everything in the flat that he didn't find on the street or get given by college friends – it's handy studying alongside a bunch of product designers). AND the brilliant cardboard lampshades you can see over the big table, made with plain old cardboard boxes stuck together with a glue gun, some rice paper to reduce glare and – importantly – very low-heat bulbs so as not to cause a massive fire.

Isn't the bedroom door – that giant turquoise flap in the image above – clever?

The stairs (also made by Bobby) were rather hairy. Beautiful, though.

And the ceiling height is perfect for growing indoor climbers. This idea – of hand-built shallow boxes either up against a wall, with wires extending upwards – is something I aim to steal shamelessly for my mad, fat empty wall.

I love how simple things can be: the wires don't even have to be attached through drilled in holes (great if you're an impatient DIYer like me). Just get busy with the bulldog clips.

And who needs plant-pots? Good to see another fan of plastic animals around the house too.

This beautiful cast iron stool weighed a tonne. It was made Bobby's friend and sometime design collaborator, Tom Gottelier.

The baking trays are part of a design experiment Bobby is collaborating on, coating metals with inexpensive industrial treatments. Nice effect.

Love the leafy, light work nook. A bit of clever zoning and you hardly notice there are no walls.

The designer by his scarily vertical stairs.

And the excellent entrance gates.

Some of Bobby's designs, in collaboration with Made by Works appeared at Heal's Modern Craft Market earlier this year. You can also read about Bobby's inexpensive-themed collaborations with his friends Tom Gottelier and Elliot Hartwell, who also took part in the Heal's event, at Going Into Business. (Do seek out his marvellous Polar Bear Puzzle.) 

Words and photography: Kate

Friday, 18 April 2014

Merry Easter

May your weekends also be filled with DIY, spring cleaning, picture framing and hot cross buns!

See you after the bank holidays.

UPDATE: due to extreme DIY-ing over the weekend (in that I only finished painting the bathroom at about 9pm last night), normal daily service will resume tomorrow. Look out for a myriad of cheap tricks from a £3 idea giving doors a design edge, to clever interiors ideas for leftover cardboard and treasures from the salvage yard.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Insider: so, apparently carpets are back

According to a reliable source (OK, well not really – it was the PR for a carpet company) wall-to-wall carpets are back in vogue.

But no need to take their word for it: the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) confirms that carpet sales are growing at their fastest rate since 1996.

Do you have carpet? Are you hankering after some? Dreaming of ripping yours up? I live in a house of bare floorboards and not enough rugs. In fact, we have just one rug the size of a tea towel. And I get cold feet. But could I live with carpet? I'm sure I'm not the only one to have been conditioned by years of beautiful interiors images to see carpet as a bit incongruous in most situations. Perhaps these will change my mind...

It's an easier transition if you think giant rug rather than wall-to-wall fitted. This one is from Alternative Flooring. It's called Sisal BouclĂ© Bitterne and is priced at £35.95 per square metre. Sisal was big in the late 90s when I had my first sisal carpet (they were everywhere in the 90s) and lovely as it was underfoot, it loved crumbs. Refused to give them up even to the Hoover on full blast. A tighter weave, like this, may not be quite so hungry.

Colourful carpets can be overpowering and garish in the wrong setting. Choose bold and work a room design around the carpet rather than trying to make it fit into an existing scheme; use it as the starting point for your palette and accessories. It's not for the faint-hearted, but matching the carpet's drama by colour-blocking with different bold shades on the walls works brilliantly.

And who could resist a striking stair-runner? Not me. This design, Quirky Skinny Black is also from Alternative Flooring and costs £96 per square metre. If you can't stretch to that, I love Abigail Ahern's clever DIY trick of using assorted rug runners and staple-gunning them to your stairs. She shares a how-to in her book A Girl's Guide to Decorating (Quadrille).

 Too much – or too cool?

This big design of this floor-filler shapes the rest of the room, picked up in the walls as well as the cushion on the bed and working well with the equally strong wall-to-wall glossy wooden under-window cabinets to unify the hint-of-70s appeal.

Now we're talking. Like the lavish and brilliantly ridiculous bathroom carpet in the top image, this is my idea of carpet heaven. Deep pile, open fire, crazy 70s circular sofa... That's surely the way to enjoy some wool under your feet. Just need my own chest-rugged Magnum look-alike to recline with now...

Images: Alternative Flooring; Hideaway by Monarch Carpet MillsM Design InteriorsNewSpirit-Square; ABC Rugs

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Object of the day... Louise Wilkinson plates

These plates are just two from a small collection by designer, Louise Wilkinson. 

I'd like them all, but these – marginally – are my two favourites.

Nice aren't they? In dinner plate size they cost £19.50 each. Below are a couple of the sweet side plates, priced at £14.50.

Louise launched her range at Liberty in 2012 and will be exhibiting at Tent London later this year. See more and buy at

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Spotlight on... the Dala horse

I bought this little chap from a second-hand shop near my house as a Christmas present, but he never made it out of the house. 

I should have known myself better, given my love of all horse-themed house items.

At the weekend, as part of my more houseplants mission, I picked up the leafy example you can also see in the photo below (from the Morden Hall nursery – a very nice place, by the way, with parkland and a cafe attached, if south of London is within your reach). And a little shelf revamp involving the horse came about.

I thought I had nothing that the bright red horse would go with. And so he'd been camping out in my office, all the better to remind me he was not mine to keep. But I've given in, as it seems I do.

The Pony picture is actually a bar mat that Abi gave me (it reads: "The little drink with a big kick". I have yet to discover where one might taste it...). With its red detailing it goes especially well with the Dala horse. The Sunny Jim stuffed toy – also handily in good colours – is very, very old and came from a 1980s packet of Force Flakes cereal (he was the logo). There's also a flash of red in the excellently named incense (it's called Strong Love) bought in a voodoo sort of a shop in my local market. The black and white photos are of my parents and the building in a frame is a paper bag from the Barbican cafe that I picked up after doing an amazing architectural tour there.

The horse fits in too well, and has even less chance of being gifted now...

You'll have seen these wooden horses all over the place: they're called Dala horses and became somewhat of a culturally significant symbol in their country of origin, Sweden.

They've got a long history, dating back 400-odd years but became prominent more recently. In 1939, a giant version of one of the distinctively carved beasts, painted in bright colours, was displayed at the Swedish Pavillion at New York's World Exhibition. It was popular and the following year, little versions were shipped out to New York to be sold.

The primitively carved figurines originated in the country's central Dalarna region, in around the 17th century, when men working in the forests carved them for children to play with. The horses were also sold in local markets and became popular enough to create a trade for many families. One such family formed a business making the horses in 1928 and relatives still produce and sell the models today.

Now you can find Dala horses online from the Swedish Wooden Horse Company. They sell the brightly painted – more traditional – versions too, but I prefer these muted grey ones. They also come in soft white. Prices start at £16.95.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Object of the day: M&S melamine

You could of course use these bright and beautiful melamine plates for a picnic, as intended, but wouldn't they look wonderful hung on a drab wall?

They are eminently affordable and available in the Summer range at Marks and Spencer.

Rio Dinner Plate, £3.50

If you follow me on Pinterest, you may already have spotted a mini gallery of plates on walls. If not, and you're after some inspiration, do take a look.

Rio side plate, £3

There is more in the range – not so hangable, alas – but too good to get out only for the summer season.

Rio Flower Tray, £9.50

Rio Cereal Bowl, £3
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