Monthly Archives: November 2014

Give a boy a Bobble

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I am a total sucker for a bobble hat. As the cold creeps in I watch in delight as they start to bob around the neighbourhood.
Maybe its because I was brought up watching the Flumps on TV and always had a slight style crush on Pootle.

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Anyway the bigger the bobble the better, I say. And who can argue with that.

John Lewis Space Dye Beanie Hat, Navy/Multi, ages 2 to 12 years, £7.20 to £8 (worn by my son above)
www.johnlewis.com

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Marks and Spencers, Eye Beanie Hat, ages 3 to 14 years, £8.
www.marksandspencers.com

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Next, Christmas Tree Hat Ages 3-13 years, £9 to £10
(OK maybe not strictly speaking a bobble, but the season is almost upon us and the star is mighty fine)
www.next.co.uk

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The best girl’s winters coats on the UK High street now

An edit of some of the most fabulous girls winter coats available on the UK High street now. They fulfil the two key requirements of my Irish mother. They end below the bum and are made of proper warm material. Shop fast to take advantage of the phenomenon that is the Black Friday discount. Most retailers are offering this NOW.

John Lewis Girl Faux Fur Collar Coat, Navy, ages 2-12 years, £32 to £33.60. www.johnlewis.com
Also comes in pink with grey fur collar

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Best of British Pure Wool Faux Fur Collar Dolly Coat, ages 5-14 years, £80. Expensive but a fantastic collaboration with the designer Helene Berman.  www.marksandspencers.com

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Jigsaw Tweed Faux Fur Coat, ages 4-13 years,
£74.00 – £79.00, www.jigsaw-online.com

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J by Jasper Conran Designer girls smart red coat with faux collar, ages 4-14, £36 to £42
www.debenhams.com

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Vivienne Strauss- Artist extraordinaire

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Hitsy Parnell Pirtle relaxes at home with Bonnie Louise.

I think that a home without art is in some ways like a face without eyes. It lacks expression, communication and let’s face it joy.
Art, sculpture, objects, they are just a brilliant way of layering personality into your home and creating warmth and a dialogue with visitors.
Today I am going to focus on one of my favourite-ever artists the very talented Vivienne Strauss.
I discovered Vivienne on Etsy several years ago and I have been building a collection of her work ever since.
(Etsy for the un-initiated is a brilliant e-commerce website where artists/crafters/people sell mainly handmade or vintage items.)
Vivienne is a self-taught painter with a background in Philosophy and a charmingly dry sense of humour. When you look at her pictures, and read the titles of her works, you get a glimpse of what its like to view the world through her gentle, wry and very observant eyes.

Mrs. Wesley Winchester and Walter arrive in West Palm in the same manner in which they always arrive everywhere - with lots of baggage.

Mrs. Wesley Winchester and Walter arrive in West Palm in the same manner in which they always arrive everywhere – with lots of baggage.

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A lot of it centres around the humour and pathos to be found in the frailties of humankind. Pride, vanity, arrogance, timidity, misery, bewilderment, you can find it all in her paintings. You sort of feel like you know, or have certainly met, the characters in her work. I was delighted to discover that Vivienne has been known to have a good old rummage at the US equivalent of jumble and boot sales and sometimes uses vintage photos and yearbooks for inspiration for her characters. She has said that sometimes just a well written phrase or an interesting name will spark her imagination and develop into a work of art.

Marguerite Woodworth relaxes in the bath before a big night out on the town, 1935.

Marguerite Woodworth relaxes in the bath before a big night out on the town, 1935.

She and her husband, the also very talented artist Matte Stephens, live in Portland, Oregon in the US but her work is available to buy internationally through her Etsy webshop. www.etsy.com/shop/vivstrauss

Alice Prescott at Home with Pretty Miss Kitty

Alice Prescott at Home with Pretty Miss Kitty

Lydia and Clive enter troubled waters. Original oil painting by Vivienne Strauss.

Lydia and Clive enter troubled waters. Original oil painting by Vivienne Strauss.

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Fetch me matches and a goose. I am ready for a bit of atmospheric dining

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I love candle light. It is universally flattering, casts a magical glow over food and conversation and, especially at this time of year, gives inside a warm and cosy feel.

I also particularly love brass candlesticks. I think the they mellow yellow hue of this metal alongside the orange flick of flame just complement each other beautifully.

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I was delighted to discover this morning, in one Muswell Hill’s many charity shops, a very sweet, small brass candelabra. £12 later I carried home this very heavy and I think quite old little beauty.

With a bit of elbow grease and brass polish it shined up a treat. I then added a mixture of tangerine, cerise and one neon orange pillar candle to make it tie in with the orange touches in my dining room.

candles from Sally Bourne, www.sallybourneinteriors.co.uk

Fetch me matches and a goose. I am ready for a bit of atmospheric dining.

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Obviously you can trawl around charity shops, antique shops etc but if you are after a quick fix the very delightful Ben Pentreath will sell you a brass candle holder in his shop in Bloomsbury, London or via his website, www.pentreath-hall.com.

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Reclamation yards-mirrors and more

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This is one of my favourite mirrors in the house. It is a small square weathered red velvet number that I bought from Lassco. Reclamation yards are a great source of unusual, often one-off mirror designs. I loved this red velvet number because I think it smacks of ‘look what I shoved up my petticoat fleeing an absinthe-fuelled game of poker with a one-legged Parisian prostitute 200 years ago.’ A favourite look of mine.

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Below are some of the best reclamation yards to browse for inspiration, online or in person. From a vintage high-flush toilet cistern, to taps, a statue of the Holy Mother Mary and reclaimed wooden flooring. They have everything you could possibly need and then some.
Great Reclamation Yards

Wells Reclamation

Open Mon-Fri 8.30am-5.30pm, Sat 9am-4pm; Coxley, Somerset BA5 1RQ; 01749 677087; wellsreclamation.com

Beeston Reclamation
Open Mon-Fri 8.30am-4.30pm, Sat 9am-4pm, Sun 11am-3pm; The Old Coal Yard, Whitchurch Road, Beeston, Cheshire CW6 9NW; 01829 260299; beestonreclamation.co.uk

Cox’s Yard

Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm (outside yard closes at 4pm during winter), Sat 10am-4pm, Sun by appt; 12 Fosseway Business Park, Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire, GL56 9NQ; 01608 652505; coxsarchitectural.co.uk

Lasso

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All three venues open seven days a week at various times; see lassco.co.uk for opening hours.
Brunswick House: 30 Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall, London SW8 2LG; 020 7394 2100
Ropewalk: 41 Maltby Street, Bermondsey, London SE1 3PA; 020 7394 8061
Three Pigeons: London Road, Milton Common, Oxfordshire OX9 2JN; 01844 277188

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Girl’s party dresses

This is a quick post on girl’s party dresses. The season is almost upon us, when Christmas parties, pantomime trips and a general need to be sparkly takes over. Here are three little beauties, available now. Monsoon Children’s Sitra dress for £45. www.monsoon.com

9000836792350hmprodmoon-festival-dress_slate_1Immediately above is I Love Gorgeous’ moon festival dress for £125. www.ilovegorgeous.com

In the middle  is H&M’s sparkly number, a sequin embroidered tulle dress for £14.99. www.hm.com

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Actual flower power

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Real flowers are one of life’s best and most beautiful luxuries. I am going to include a picture of perhaps my favourite all-time bouquet of flowers that my brothers and I bought for my parents 40th wedding anniversary. Made up by the very talented florists at Wild at Heart, the shapes and colours are just beautiful. www.wildatheart.com

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I was also lucky enough to receive this beautiful display by the Urban Flower shop in Crouch End for my birthday a couple of days ago It is a complete gem of a shop with lovely staff and beautiful and unusual flowers. www.urbanflowercompany.co.uk

I love that this bouquet is sort of faded grandeur with subtle lilacs, weathered purple, greens and dotted with black berries.

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For more floral inspiration check out the very talented Jenny at Iris & Blue, whose incredible arrangements have graced the cover of Conde Nast’s Brides magazine. https://www.facebook.com/irisandblue

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Faux flower power

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What can be more joyous and uplifting for the spirits than a beauty of opulent blooms spilling out of a tarnished gold vase. Flowers symbolise lots of things, love, friendship etc, but for me they are a beautiful way to express the feelings, depths and rhythms of a room.

In the absence of a partner bequeathing the real floral goods with any kind of regularity, as is my case, faux flowers can be a great, and ultimately cost effective, way of festooning the home in a verdant excess of foliage.

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Abigail Ahern is quite righty known as the purveyor of the ‘Chanel of faux flowers.’ Her shop is always lavished with acreage of beautiful blooms. Abigail’s very talented sister Gemma, is also a professionally trained florist. At certain times of the year she produces ready-tied bunches of faux’s and there are also a selection of these online. If you ring ahead you can always try and combine your visit with when she is in the shop and ask for advise and help. www.abigailahern.com

Other retailers have quickly cottoned onto this trend and the florist Jane Packer sells some great faux flowers via her Rose Grey collection in Debenhams. John Lewis, Marks and Spencers, Ikea, they have all jumped on the faux band-wagon. Your best bet is probably to take your vase (will do a blog on vases) with you to the shop and play around until you are satisfied with your arrangement.

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I used to always stick to one colour and flower type but it can be quite fun mixing colours and blooms. I just experiment until I have something I am happy with. The beauty of these faux flowers is that you can be quite brutal with them, bend them, push the around. They always bounce back.

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A myriad of marvellous mirrors

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Mirrors are a brilliant way to instantly inject style, personality, elegance, decadence and indeed light and reflection into your home.

The options are literally endless. Mirrors come in different shapes, size, colour glass, bevel edges, convex, concave, frames etc. Ways of presenting them are also limitless. You can lean, prop or hang them high to catch the light or a particular feature of a room. Some people arrange mirrors like artwork on a wall. They are far from just being something with which to gaze at your beautiful fizzog or check your lippy on the way out.

We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful Edwardian house. The rooms have such lovely traditional details, such as bay windows, high proportions and cornicing that I was quite keen to stay on the traditional side of the fence with mirrors. Some of my decor is quite quirky so I wanted the mirrors to retain the rooms sense of grandeur and history.

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A great source for inexpensive, but expensive looking ornate French numbers, are auction houses. Things swing in and out of fashion but if you know you own mind you can ignore all the fads and bag yourself some real bargains. Both of the ornate gold mirrors that hang above the mantlepieces in my dining and living room came from the Criterion Auction house in Islington.  They cost around £100 each, well under what you would pay in any retail establishment.

www.criterionauctioneers.com

To be honest these types of mirrors come up for sale at auction all the time so don’t get carried away with bidding. It is probably always a good idea, if you can, to go down to the auction house in person and look at anything you are planning to buy. Pick it up, weigh it, look at the back, front, check for cracks etc. If you care about whether they are the real-deal antique it is normally pretty easy to tell in person if it is a reproduction.

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People have said that they scared of bidding at auctions. They find the set-up unfamiliar and intimidating. Don’t be. It is great fun. You can always bid online or leave a best offer bid with the auction house ahead of the sale. But if you can do go. it is great fun and you will almost always find people helpful and happy to talk you through the bidding process. You register your details, get a number, sit in any one of the sofas and seats selling that day and raise your hand if you want to buy. More to come on mirrors soon.

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Outdoor fireplace

My outdoor fireplace

My outdoor fireplace

The beauty of a real log fire, the smell and light, draws in the best of guests and induces the best conversations. An outdoor fireplace is simply a thing of beauty, mainly because it creates good times.

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Popular in the US and parts of the word with more inclement weather, there is no reason not to embrace this lifestyle in the UK. It encourages everyone to stay-out and stay-up longer. I love that a Friday playdate can end up being a wine poured forging of friendship.

For parties it is fantastic. Insulated by alcohol friends can hole up and exchange banter until the embers die. Someone will always start to guitar a bit of Kasabian. If you’re lucky someone will end up being a professionally trained opera singer turned amateur folk singer. That was a good night.

Increasingly people are embracing the idea of having some outdoor space as an actual outdoor living space. I encouraged my parents to adopt this concept but unfortunately their SW3 postcode resulted in an architect suggesting a £15,000 overhaul.

North London bollocks to that. My own outdoor fireplace was made using a great Louis style outdoor mantlepiece, itself constructed from a mix of cement and plaster that will withstand outdoor conditions. I then bought a cheap fire basket from Argos, and you’re basically in business. I tend to use smokeless logs so as not to annoy my neighbours. At some future point I would like to construct a chimney to take the smoke up and out at roof level of the house.

I painted the mantelpiece and the brick background in Mole’s Breath, from Farrow & Ball. It makes the space more elegant and more like a room. At the same time the colour is sympathetic to its natural surroundings. It’s actually such a success I plan to paint all my fences in the same colour next summer. www.farrowandball.com

Decorate it as you would a real mantlepiece. I bought an outdoor clock from Heals, www.heals.co.uk.

Melamine plates of historical figures from the National Gallery, www.nationalgalleryshop.co.uk,

Outdoor light sconces from Rockett St George, www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk.

I like to add a vase of flowers in the summer and this Christmas there will definitely be some holly and ivy action out there. The rhino head, sprayed with an outdoor proofing varnish, from Abigail Ahern completes the look. www.abigailahern.com The chairs and side tables are from Ikea. www.ikea.com. I love their simple and clever design. There is even a little hole in the base for water to drain out.hampfireplace2

My next idea is to import a clay Indian tandoor for making authentic Nann bread, install a pizza oven and a Green Egg. To support this I may have to open as an outdoor restaurant in the summer!

Above and below are some photos of other gorgeous outdoor fireplaces for inspiration.

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