Monthly Archives: January 2015

A decent coffee table, the holy grail of interior design

I often feel a bit like that bloke from Rumpelstiltskin who rounded up all the spinning wheels in the kingdom and burnt them. It is what I would like to do with the vast majority of coffee tables worldwide. Ugly, lumps that sit in the middle of a room, bruising your ankles and offending your line of vision. I have never found a coffee table that I would part with money for. Actually that’s not true. I found a rock table made from forest brown Indian marble that looked like a camera image of the fossilised insides of a human artery. Except possibly even more beautiful. Unfortunately it was too expensive, out of stock and would have required a crane, sixty strong men and major new underpinnings to the front of the house. Hence my drinks balance precariously on a little side table, snacks go on the floor and I have to refrain from buying large, glossy hardbacks with titles like ‘International Typographic Style and the development of the sans-serif typeface, version three” and “Wuthering heights as a socio-economic novel, the Marxist Interpretation.” This probably makes me a more palatable human being, but it does not solve the snack issue. To that end I occasionally relaunch the hunt for the holy grail of interior design, a decent coffee table. I think I have actually managed to unearth a few. Still can’t bring myself to buy one. I haven’t quite got the image of the fossilised insides of a human artery out of my system. In a good way.

Anthropologie, Rounded Inlay Coffee Table, £1,100.00, www.anthropologie.eu 32621815_018_b West Elm, Carved Wood Coffee Table, £254.00, www.westelm.co.uk img17t_35415_WE Made in Design, Marble Large Coffee table – Ø 70,5 x H 35 cm – Ferm Living, £307.70, www.madeindesign.co.uk dbe7b5c6-723a-49d1-a59a-8b18db261610-catalog_list Jonathan Adler, Scalinatella Cocktail Table £1,950.00, www.jonathanadler.com scal_cocktail Mint, rain effect table, POA, www.mint.co.uk image_7-1 Ikea, LÖVBACKEN Coffee table, medium brown, £60, www.ikea.co.uk 0277780_PE417127_S3 John Lewis Asha Iron Tray Coffee Table, £325, www.johnlewis.com 233808390 Tom Dixon, Flash Table Square, £535.00, www.tomdixon.net flash-square_11_1 Heals, Ligne Roset Interstice Low Table, £1,455, www.heals.co.uk 3863.tif

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Straight back Matcha

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Clearly your average Japanese Buddhist monk knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Which brings me neatly to T2.
Back in the 12th century Japanese Buddhist monks were the originators of a rather elegant and refreshing practice of taking Matcha, powdered green tea. This was a ceremonial act with cultural and spiritual aspects. The Australian tea brand T2 is now bringing the accoutrements for this very same ceremony to the streets of London. Chai chums, get ready to be converted to the green side.
T2, a rather luxurious tea retailer, celebrated the launch of its Shoreditch shop last night and the hound was lucky enough to bag an invite.

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Advised by some enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, I sampled the delight that is the Matcha, green powdered tea.
It is not a straightforward bag in a cup scenario. Instead, as handed down from centuries of tradition, the powdered matcha is placed in a (very attractive and reasonably priced) bowl. This is done using a bamboo scoop called a chashaku. Then hot but not boiling water is added and the mixture is whisked using a bamboo whisk known as a chasen.
Juding by the reactions of the hipster crowd down in Shoreditch the Matcha phenomenon is going to catch on.
The taste is not particularly delicious but it does leave you with the sense that you have enhanced your immunity and possibly added a few years to your lifespan.

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Here are a few pics of the shop. It is a slick set up. There are library-esque walls housing over 200 kinds of tea.

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There is also a dizzying array of ceramics, including beautiful China teapots, cups, saucers, milk jugs, sugar pots etc.
A bit like a wine tasting event the shop also has tea-tasting stations and aroma tables encouraging people to sniff and slurp the wares. It’s rather nice to see someone giving the perennial coffee retailer a run for the money.

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Just a little birday present.

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Here is a little floral offering for a friend’s birthday. I love the purple anemone. Bowl the ever wonderful, www.anthropologie.eu

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Fetch me my Turnip-shaped Tureen. I’m going to fill it with a Brown Windsor broth

chelsea-tureen I don’t know what was up in the UK between 1750 and 1760 but it became fashionable to buy desert tureens that imitated vegetables, animals, fruit and fish. Truly the rock-n-roll decade for ceramic tableware. I just love this idea. It tickles every single bit of me that could ever wish to be tickled. A turnip tureen. A platter design based on a radish. An aubergine proffering peanuts. That to me is joyful living and surely the best way to serve the food you love to the people you love. 42bb9bef41f5e2aaaab9ab6b6cff3b92 Ever since I came across an exhibit, about vegetable-shaped dishes, at the Victoria and Albert Museum I have been keen to expand my knowledge and collection of these fetching vetches. The use of nature’s beauty as inspiration to artists, including ceramists, is centuries old but the eighteenth century seems to have been a peak moment for this art form. Thomas Whieldon, Wedgwood, Chelsea porcelain and many other 18th-century Staffordshire potters all produced these glorious fruit and vegetable dishes.

The Chelsea porcelain manufactory, established 1743-45, was one of the leading proponents of this type of work. Aimed at the aristocratic market, it garnered a faithful following. One example displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum is a Melon-shaped desert tureen dated 1756. I love it. 20150125_135547 Nearby is a soft paste teapot with pineapple mouldings by Thomas Whieldon and Josiah Wedgwood, 1760-1765. 20150125_135110 Thomas Whieldon, 1719-1795, was one of the most respected and well known English potters of his time. By 1740, he was the master of pottery at Fenton Low. In around 1780 Whieldon took Josiah Wedgwood on as a close business partner. Here is another example of their work, on display at the V&A. A luxuriant legume if ever I saw one, a plate and teapot with cauliflower mouldings, 1765-70. 20150125_135116 Josiah Wedgewood knew a good thing when he saw it and was a real champion of the ceramic cauliflower. Josiah produced rococo-style wares inspired by fruit and vegetable forms. The lower part of the cauliflower ware was crafted to closely resemble leaves and was then covered with a brilliant-green glaze. The cauliflower ‘head’ was glazed cream or yellow. Again confirming my believe that the eighteenth century Dutch folk and I would get on famously, I discovered that in the early years of development Josiah exported a great deal of what he called ‘colley-flower’ wares to Europe, particularly to Holland.

The Victorians, not ones to shun a fashion bandwagon, leapt upon the legendary legume inspired art form. It tallied perfectly with their love of the natural sciences. Pieces featured butterflies, insects, flowers, leaves, fruit, shells, animals and fish. Victorian majolica was originated by Mintons, who exhibited it at the Great Exhibition of 1851 under the name Palissy Majolica ware (I will do a follow up piece on Palissy but basically he was a sixteenth century French Huguenot potter, famous for struggling for sixteen years to imitate Chinese porcelain, and very keen on using natural plant and animal images).

The Victorians wholeheartedly bought into this whimsical china and Majolica, as it became known, enjoyed many years of popularity. This continues today with avid collectors snapping up original Victorian majolica for many thousands of pounds. images-1 pair-of-chelsea-lettuce-tureens-and-covers But don’t fear. If a pair of eighteenth century Chelsea lettuce tureens (above) stretches beyond your budget, there are some great 21st century options. I now turn to the Portuguese legume-lover, ceramic hero, and all round good chap that is Bordallo Pinheiro.

Pinheiro was a famous cartoonist, humourist, illustrator and social and political commentator of his day. He lived from 1846-1905, so is no longer with us, but happily his legacy survives. In 1885 he founded a ceramic factory where he created many of the pottery designers. The factory is still in business and being sold all around the world today, including Divertimenti in the UK.

Some examples include the pea platter. The company asserts that ‘Peas are a perfect example on how creative non-conformity and functionality do not exclude themselves. Bordallo Pinheiro’s artistry, creates pieces where nature, humour and joy are served at the table.0000848_360I am the proud owner of this fine form of a Pinheiro cabbage bowl. Pinheiro believed that cabbage, in its rough and flat form, could be used as a metaphor for Portugal’s rustic ways. IMG_0744And that “This was a clever way to honour it, placing it on the bourgeois’ tables, where in any other form it might not have been invited. That’s what I tell my North London dinner guests and they find me wildly amusing. Personally I have my eye on a pineapple platter and a tomato tureen.0000225_pt-ananas-bandeja-29-natural_3600000585_360

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Nothing like a flush with a view

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Blooms, blooms, blooms.

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While the weather in the UK continues to leave the tip of your nose icy and the garden slightly bleak, a big old bunch of faux or real blooms can lift the spirits and provide welcome cheer. Even if you are on a January budget, take some of your existing faux flowers and rearrange them. Add a burst of colour to a different spot. I even have an arrangement in my downstairs toilet. Nothing like a flush with a view.

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Door wedges arrived in the late eighteenth century following the introduction of the rising butt

As my girls announced they had eaten ‘delicious fish fingers and wedgies,’ for lunch I was struck by how extraordinary it was that the issue of ‘pant in bum syndrome’ had not been addressed earlier in our household.

Keen not to miss this opportunity I grabbed the nearest pair of pants and gave them a firm upward tug. “That’s a wedgie,” I explained to my slightly shellshocked six-year-old. “What you had for lunch was more likely a wedge of carbohydrate.”

Needless to say wedgies, the giving and receiving of, is now an active sport in our house.

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It also brought to mind the unsung hero of the interior world, the door wedge, door stop or door porter. (Hang on to your hat’s folks- next week could be draught excluders)
These little beauties wedge doors open, stop doors slamming on fingers and can be used to club unwelcome visitors on the head.
Door wedges arrived in the late eighteenth century following the introduction of the rising butt, a type of hinge designed to close a door automatically.

The Victorians and Edwardians had great fun with these everyday items, turning them into humorous, decorative, as well as useful items. They depicted famous figures, animals and quite often baskets of flowers.

The most common material used for making doorstops was metal, brass and then more commonly cast-iron.
This Victorian cast iron fruit basket doorstop sold for a cool $4000,00.

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Having spent quite a few months finessing the interior of our home, and in particular the layout of the hall, the opener of the interior narrative, it really annoyed me that I still had an ugly old chunk of scrap wood lying in the hall. The builders had been using this to prop the door open and I just hadn’t got around to changing it.

I found the answer to the wedgiest of my dreams in Anthropologie. This little bird now welcomes guests into our home and does a sterling job holding the door open.
Gold-Beaked Doorstop, £24.00, www.anthropologie.eu

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Another door wedge/stopper originates from the beautiful Knockinelder beach in Northern Ireland. It sort of looks a bit like a dinosaur toe bone. That’s what I’ve told my boy and he is very impressed. http://www.discovernorthernisland.com.

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I think I am rapidly developing a bit of a thing for doorstops. There are some absolutely beautiful antique wedges, that you can find at auction houses, ebay and etsy.

Strictly for the purposes of research this one is on it’s way to me now. Edwardian Cast Iron Door Stop. £ Very, very reasonably priced.

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Others I like that are available now are:

Pleasingly tactile and copper is having a moment: John Lewis Fusion Copper Doorstop, £20, www.johnlewis.com

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Very Regal and impressive, Door Porter Prince of Wales, £23.99, www.blackcountrymetalworks.co.uk

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The Wizard of Oz Red Ruby Slippers Doorstop – Wicked Witch of the East, £28.49, www.amazon.co.uk

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The Rolls Royce of designer wedge. Cast Shoe Door stop – Tom Dixon, £95, www.madeindesign.com

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Stylishly jumping in muddy puddles

Wellington boots, wellies, rubber boots, they all originated from the  British soldier and statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. At that time  Wellington boots were  used by the aristocracy for hunting and outdoor activities.
Fast forward a few centuries and they are used for jumping in muddy puddles and collecting marbles. If weather forecasts are to be trusted, these all-weather boots may soon be needed to cope with some UK snow. Here are some options if you do not want to caught-short and faced with the only remaining boots in your kids size- the £40 Hunter wellies!!

John Lewis Bow Trim Polka Dot Wellington Boots, Navy/Red, £12-£16, www.johnlewis.com

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Next, Navy Stripe Wellies, £12-£13, www.next.co.uk

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Tesco, F&F Dinosaur Wellies,  £9.00 – £10.00
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Muddy Puddles, Printed Wellies, £16.00, www.muddypuddles.com

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The Plymouth Ski Slope and Snowboard Centre really does sound rather good

The parents of a five-year-old schoolboy have been invoiced for failing to attend a school friend’s birthday party and have been threatened with legal action if they do not pay.
The party, held at Plymouth Ski Slope and Snowboard Centre, cost £15.95 a head and included half an hour on a snow tubing run, three toboggan rides, a hot meal, ice cream, jelly and balloons.
My conclusion is that if I’m ever in Plymouth, and in needs of a kids’s party venue, I’ll definitely give the Ski Slope and Snowboard Centre some consideration. For the price that really does seem like a good deal, especially with a hot meal thrown in.

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The Strawberry Girl

I met the most enchanting little girl yesterday. She has cherubic lips, anxious eyes and a demeanour of timid sweetness that makes you want to clasp her to your bosom. Her expression strongly reminds me of my middle daughter at the age of three, just at the point she was discovered trying to flush her dinosaur down the toilet.
She is actually known as ‘The Strawberry girl’ and was painted by Joshua Reynolds in the eighteenth century. This version hangs in London’s Wallace collection. (Apologies my mobile pictures do not do justice to any of these paintings- all the more reason to go and see them in person)

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Strawberry girls were a common sight in eighteenth century London, as girls from poor families attempted to make money selling the fruit on street corners. I imagine the sweetness of her face would have made her a successful purveyor of these berries.

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The identity of the little girl in the picture is not known, although a Victorian descendant of Reynolds believed that she was the artist’s great-niece Theophila Gwatkin (1782-1844). It doesn’t really matter who she was. It just made me think of all the sweetness of children that have walked the streets of London before us.
The Wallace Collection is a total gem of a museum. Incredibly it is free and open to all who want to explore and enjoy the beauty of the many beautiful works of art collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess.
I enjoyed a graceful waft around the long gallery of the Wallace collection, re-opened at the end of last year after over a year of restoration work. You drift amongst great artworks by artists including Canaletto, Gainsborough and Van Dyck. The collection includes some of the most famous paintings in Britain, from Hals’s The Laughing Cavalier to Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time.
The Wallace collection includes painting from one of my favourite artistic era’s, the seventeenth century Dutch Grand tradition of Old Master painting. I love a moody still-life and I’m a sucker for a lobster/pewter tankard combo. (see an earlier post, Still life in a mad mad world)
Here is Dutch painter Jan Davidszoon de Heem’s Still Life with Fruit and Lobster.

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This is Jan Weenix | Flowers on a Fountain with a Peacock

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‘Still Life With A Monkey,’ by Jan Jansz de Herm (1650 – after 1695)

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There is also a great painting that sort of brought to mind the Daily Mail of its day. The Listening Housewife by Nicolas Maes, 1632 to 1693.
This housewife is pictured eavesdropping on conversation in the main dining room while downstairs the maid is getting groped.

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Another picture that caught the eye was the ‘Princes in the Tower’ by the French artists Hippolyte (Paul) Delaroche (1831). You get the definite sense that these chaps know that the next visitor to their bedchamber is unlikely to be Father Christmas.

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A masters in vegan flapjack-making, did not an expert make her.

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I first remember the joy that is other people’s unsolicited advice on parenting, when I walked into a dentist’s surgery holding my snotty two-year old in my arms.
“Mummy, I think my nosey needs a wipe,” said the receptionist, looking me straight in the eye.
I told her that it was both ridiculous to suggest that I was her mother, given that at most five years separated us, and that I harboured not the least desire or intention of going anywhere near her nose.
It was hilarious watching her try to work out if I was serious, deranged or taking the piss.
But this is one aspect of parenthood I was not expecting. That total strangers seem to think it’s OK to tell you where your parenting is falling short.
I have lost track of the number of times that people have told me that my children are not experiencing optimal thermal comfort.
There we are feeding the ducks and someone feels the need to share their concern that my children are too cold in their raincoats, too hot in their onesies, too wet in their thermals.
Other unprompted advice from complete strangers has included: that my child is up too late, on formula too early, has a haircut that is preventing them from seeing properly, needs their ears taping back.
At it’s very best it could be that these pontificators actually think that they are helping you. But in many instances it seems more to do with passing judgement and intolerance.
I try to simply smile and ignore them and/or just move on. Occasionally, though, I can’t help but answer back.
I have used the line that, “I’m hoping that with God’s good grace, and despite my parenting inadequacies, they will survive the afternoon and make it through to adulthood.”
Something along those lines normally ends the conversation.
But there will always be another social reject, waiting in the wings to invade your space.
I remember standing at a bus stop, with my two and three-year-old in a double buggy, when I was asked by the lady standing next to me if, ‘it was with travelling in buses in mind that I had made the decision to buy such a preposterously large pram?’
I replied that no, my overwhelming consideration had been the comfort and safety of my children, but that I was deeply grateful for her input on the matter. I assured her that the next time I was planning to purchase a pram I would come to her for advice first. I wanted to ask if advice on sexual techniques for those with bust pelvic floors was also part of her parenting advice repertoire, but I restrained myself.
While there are undoubtedly more of these hectoring undesirables around than I had ever anticipated- not all strangers are tossers.
There have been many incidents of lovely, random people opening doors for me and my pram, picking-up dropped, irreplaceably loved toy rabbits, helping carry buggies up and down stairs and simply exchanging sympathetic smiles.

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But there have been the complete opposite too. I vividly remember one Sunday afternoon walk back from the park with my husband and then two and three year old girls.
The three-year old was having a riotous tantrum because we would not buy her a second ice cream and her Dad would not carry her the whole way back.
From the other side of the road I suddenly heard alarmed shrieking and an elderly lady started to point at the pram screaming “she’s dying, she’s dying.”
Shocked with fear I stuck my head over the pram canopy to check my offspring for vital signs. I could not think what was wrong but thought that maybe the pram strap had moved into a dangerous position. To my immense relief one child was still sleeping soundly while the other, scarlet with ice-cream deprived rage, continued to scream and yell.
To my amazement this lady then crossed the road and started to tell me in no uncertain terms that my wailing toddler was close to death because the ferocity of her screams was causing her throat to swell and cut off oxygen supplies.
‘No, no she’s fine,” I said. “She’s tired, hungry and three. She’ll be asleep in five minutes.”
This woman continued to rant at me that I was a dangerously neglectful mother and that she, a qualified paediatrician, was going to have to insist on reporting me to social services.
The penny dropped. I told her, in no uncertain terms, that a degree in being a nut job, and a masters in vegan flapjack-making, did not an expert make her. I also told her to fuck off and stop being such an interfering old bag.
This is obviously a very extreme example but I am pleased that I did not allow this woman to get away with frightening me. As I said to my husband, I was capable of handling her comments but if I’d been on my own, with my first child, and less experienced, she could have caused a real crisis of confidence in my parenting.
If it’s of help, if you have an audience when cherub chucks a humdinger of a hissy fit in the first instance I would simply focus on the child and ignore the mutterings of those around. Sometimes, after one too many, ‘oh dear he is having a bad day’ comments I have been known to say that no, the little poppet is not having a bad day, he was simply born with a really awful personality.
If pushed to it I will point out that despite the thousands of self-help parenting manuals out there, I had yet to find the one entitled, “How to parent when you are a psychopath with borderline dissociative identity disorder.”
That can clear a supermarket aisle in seconds.

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