UNFINISHED BUSINESS

When you are decorating, renovating, or just rearranging a space, it can be quite tempting to stop before you’re finished, sometimes deliberately, for aesthetic reasons. I recently tackled the hallway in my new house. It’s narrow, uninviting and slightly dark, so I rather perversely made it darker so as to create the effect all magazines tell you will, by a comparative process, make the rooms off the hall seem lighter. I’m not entirely convinced this has worked, and I remain committed to the white wall as a rule, but the dark inky hue in the hall has certainly effected a definite change; it looks somehow more professional, smarter and more expensive. But much as I admire houses that are professional, smart and expensive, I don’t really want mine to look like that. There is something so appealing to my eye about unfinished business. Discarded fabric, bashed up furniture, pictures leaning against walls ready for their debut. Of course, this does not extend to all aspects of the home; dirty pans, wet towels, dead flowers, pyjamas on the bathroom floor, can all be chucked out or dealt with sharpish. But sometimes, when you’ve smartened up a bit of home, like the smudging of the perfect eyeliner or the undoing of a few buttons on a shirt, the space can really benefit from a bit of imperfection. That is my excuse anyway, and I’m sticking to it til I finish the job.

Hallway

REUNIONS

It would be remiss of me not to mention the political turmoil of very recent times. A group of power-hungry, mostly public-schooled men, stood up for something they said they believed in, argued with things they said were facts, and, when their hypothesis was accepted by a slim majority of people, rejoiced with such obvious dubiety, those in the slim minority could almost have thought the men didn’t believe it after all.

After the result of the referendum, many people thought they had felt the full force of bombshell that would hit them harder than anything in their lifetimes outside their personal spheres. Not so. We then lost a Prime Minister, half a shadow cabinet, most of the public-schooled men, a few homophobic pretenders, a wannabe (and a mother), and our national sense of identity in the bargain. A collective bigotry that had been on a low simmer was dialled up to boiling point, bolstered by the confident hand of safety in numbers.

I am unable to find a sassy way to segue into how interior design can offer solace. But I will say this: two days after the vote, I tore up the laminate flooring in my new dining room, hallway and living room. The floorboards below were different in each. One room was dark, dirty and slightly boggy, making the space look like an eighteenth century watering hole; the addition of some contemporary furniture jollying the boards out of their history into the future. The hallway was mismatched, bits of pristine wood jigsawed to fit in with those that had been there since the beginning; some sharp tacks and many different colours. The living room was smoother with more continuity; later additions by a canny builder who’d spotted an opportunity for significant amelioration. Afterward, tired by the sheer physical labour of hoisting hundreds of slices of melamine away from the true core of the building’s foundations, I felt a bit better. It is a mess, and needs some careful restoration, but it is the starting point for the kind of improvement that fills me with hope for what it might become.

 

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White and neutral chair: Nuthall jumble, White chair: Mary Magdalene Foundation, Blue chair: Hucknall Antiques Centre, Table: Mary Magdalene Foundation, Tablecloth: Nuthall jumble, Jug on table: Calverton Car Boot, Candles: East Dulwich Hardware Store, Candle Holders: John Player, Brass fish jelly mould: Hopkinsons Antiques, Bauhaus print: Bauhaus Archive Berlin, Filing Cabinet: ENO, Canvas bag: Hauser and Wirth Somerset, Grey file box: Ikea

 

 

 

SELL/BUY

I occasionally do car boots with my mum; by which I mean we sell things from our two car boots to other people (for charity) at car boot sales. ‘Doing’ a car boot can of course also mean that you buy things from people’s car boots at car boot sales. There doesn’t seem to be a distinction in the terminology of partaking. Which is appropriate, given that very often, when one ‘does’ a car boot, one also ‘does’ a car boot; the day always starts unfeasibly early, so, by 9am, having toiled for well over 3 hours, it’s time for a little wander to see what the field has to offer*. At my most recent sale, I needed only to stride 4 metres away from my car before I’d spotted some attractive wares. (Their owner was selling stuff out of a van, which does not technically have a boot, which, ironically, means he qualifies to do a car boot, but must pay a higher fee to enter). The man was selling all sorts of odd ephemera; door knobs, fishing tackle, unwanted Christmas cards and wool. He was also selling falcon ware (the really manky, hard-to-find kind that works well in the garden), huge china platters (that hold at least two large chickens for roasts), beautiful porcelain plates from Notre Dame Jerusalem (perfect for macarons, biscuits, pistachios) and cancel stick holders (for elegant dinners/Victorian dressing-up/discrete murders). He had just one sales strategy: put anything you want into a bag, and it’s yours for a pound. Moments like this rarely happen in life. They happen even more rarely outside of London. So with my head down and my eye in, I ‘did’ his van like a vulture, filled my bag, and, as it turns out, filled my boots.

*quite literally, as car boots are almost always in fields, unless in a car park – the worst kind of car boot experience

Pound shop

Cut glasses, pink Poole ware, Notre Dame Jerusalem side plates, Falconware, colander, large pie dish, metal candle stick holder, pink platter, green platter: all mine for £1, Hucknall Car Boot Sale, Nottinghamshire

 

CLEAR CHANGE

Another year and another chance to resolve to do something differently, or desist from doing something at all, or start doing something. If, like me, you subscribe to the notion that January 1st is not much different from December 31st of the previous year, then you might have decided not to change anything. Real change typically takes momentum, some perseverance, a good deal of time and effort. But at home, there are many things you can do to offer the pretence of change. I like to switch milk and gin bottles into water jugs and keep them chilling in the fridge. It makes me feel better for lots of reasons: I can keep my ceramic jugs as sculptures or vases, I can offer ice cold water to guests, I can drink a little less milk and gin, and they look really good hanging around in the fridge, averting the eye from cold onion gravy, hardened cake icing and rotting cabbage. Choose less known brands for the job though – it’s usually clear that the quirky artisanal gin bottle is full of water when placed on the table at dinner, but a full bottle of Gordon’s can, with no mixer in view, transmit unfortunate signals. Remember it’s baby steps at this time of year. Any water you drink is good for you and the road is long and bumpy. If you need to replace the water with gin at any point, you can. But never mix gin with milk. There’s ringing the changes and then there’s ringing NHS Direct; the latter of which is enough to weaken anyone’s resolve.

Milk Bottle: Whole Foods, Gin Bottle: Waitrose, Gold Glasses: H&M Home, Wooden Tray: jumble sale, Chair: Detling Antiques Fair

Milk Bottle: Whole Foods, Gin Bottle: Waitrose, Gold Glasses: H&M Home, Wooden Tray: jumble sale, Chair: Detling Antiques Fair

 

PALE AND INTERESTING

I have a friend who likes to wear white when she has a hangover. It makes her feel clean and fools her mind into thinking her body isn’t processing unhealthy volumes of vodka. In much the same way, I find I can improve my approach to an activity I’d rather not tackle by wearing exciting trousers or a ludicrous necklace. Fashion is not, as many who are uninterested in it believe, a mere window dressing of the body. It can make you feel less sick, alter your mood, or comfort you. Interior design is just as clever. While I am always a big advocate of a pure white paint job on every wall, I appreciate that some people prefer some variation. I will allow wiggle room for grey, blue and even occasionally green tones to adorn the walls*, but there is no more efficient way to lift the light, air and ceiling of a room than to cover it in the whitest of white emulsion. I accept that this strategy is not edgy, progressive or even interesting. But in the home, I want a blank canvas, for this is what all the best edgy, progressive and interesting artists begin with. And when I drink so much that I myself become a bit of a blank canvas, I need some clean white walls to look at while I process the vodka.

*that is all four walls by the way – what is this ‘feature wall’ concept? Dreamt up by someone selling paint, that’s what.

Clothes horse: antique, Tea towel: Ikea, Curtains: Jan Barrett

Clothes horse: antique, Tea towel: Ikea, Curtains: Jan Barrett

THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER

If you, like me, do not live in your ‘dream home’, then I am here to offer some words of solace, bolstered by practical advice. First, there is a lot to be said for the never-ending dream. Targets are useful as they drive us forward, make us strive for better, more, different. But once we’ve hit the bullseye, it is not, as Jim Bowen would have us believe, as simple as collecting the prize and driving off into the sunset in your new mini or sailing across the nearest stretch of water at weekends in your state of the art speedboat. We naturally always want more and need different things and our targets will constantly move. So take comfort in knowing that noone, even the people whose homes are so impressive as to appear in magazines, is ever comfortably perching on the apex of their interior design dream. Second, as my more crude friend puts it, you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter. Free standing furniture always makes space look better, as does a clever juxtaposition of new and antique. In the kitchen, cursed with unsightly work surfaces or mass-produced cupboards, an entire range of aesthetic amelioration is there for the plundering. Bakelite tins perched under Ikea cupboards draw the eye away, as do wooden trays and dish drainers, fairy lights and canvases pinned with special keepsakes. Big pieces of slate found on a windswept British beach are excellent chopping boards, and create a more rustic surface that breaks up the monotony of shop-bought fake granite. Just don’t put postcards or pictures directly onto cupboards like you did when you were a student. There’s dreaming big and there’s dreaming of 1992.

Slate: Isle of Skye, Lemons and limes: Waitrose, Bowl: The Conran Shop

Slate: Isle of Skye, Lemons and limes: Waitrose, Bowl: The Conran Shop

IN SEARCH OF LOST LIME

Some musing today on colour. I am in no way advocating a retreat from pastels. Pastels are useful as the mainstay in the home if you want to create light, capacious, open rooms and don’t have the luxury of oodles of space. But there is, as with many extremes in life, a fine line that must not be crossed if one is to avoid certain faux pas. In life, for example, it’s advisable not to be too self-serving so as to retain empathy for others. Or not to be too modest so as to ensure authenticity. And so with rooms, it’s best not to wash the whole thing out with light. I know it’s confusing, because ten years ago, this was the right thing to do*. But life is confusing, and the right thing to do is not an immovable target on life’s immense spectrum. What a light, airy, pastel-hued room needs are a few pops of colour. Acid, bright, boundary-breaking colour that you would never ever wear unless you were fancy dressing. Mango orange, lemon yellow (as in deep yellow, rather than the pale dijon mustard colour the misnomer often suggests), royal blue or Indian Ocean azure. A good pop of colour jolts the picture, adds excitement within a wash of good taste, like an offensive drunken guest at a bland dinner party. Don’t spend too much time or money deliberating on the items though – if one thing is fixed on life’s perplexing continuum, it is that nothing is fixed. Proust would have us believe that art can conquer time. Well he never bought a neon yellow coffee table in the Habitat sale.

*You might even have hung a stuffed fabric pastel heart on the wall. It’s OK.

Regency chair: ENO, White chair: Mary Magdalene Foundation, Coffee table: Habitat, Striped rug: Mary Magdalene Foundation, Small bowl: Jackie Giron, Green beaker: Brixton Road charity shop

Regency chair: ENO, White chair: Mary Magdalene Foundation, Coffee table: Habitat, Striped rug: Mary Magdalene Foundation, Small bowl: Jackie Giron, Green beaker: Brixton Road charity shop

BURNING RATE

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have something of an obsession with scented candles. A rather fancy obsession; limited to those beyond a certain price bracket. Although many things in life do not justify their elevated cost (nail varnish, mascara, certain clothes, all ice lollies, face wash, art, housing), there are certain things that only get better the more nut-wrenchingly expensive they become (plasters, perfume, fabric, white goods, room spray). Even though there is nothing more ephemeral than burning wax, candles fall firmly into the latter lap of luxury. Certain brands manage to permeate the air with soft musk or warm fig scent for the twenty pound mark; but these are rare finds, like the Dior dress in the charity shop 99p bin because all the ladies were away on sorting day. From twenty to forty is the wax vacuum; nothing exists within its expanse. And after that, there is Diptyque. There is also of course Bella Freud (edgy), Jo Malone (Royal Wedding recreationists), Roja (probably for people that know him), Le Labo (for utilitarian apron-wearers who would secretly like to buy their boyfriend a personalised card from Clintons), and then some so expensive their makers could easily be tried for embezzlement. But the one rule for candle buying was ever thus; once you’ve chosen the most divine scent, ensure you like the pot. They make very useful mini vases, pen holders, button jars, or, drumroll… candle holders. And if you’re going to recycle them, which you should, you need them to look as good as they smelled, before all that cash went up in smoke.

Brass vase: Marche aux Puces, Port de Vanves, Ceramic vase: Chris Keenan, Ceramic birds: Tomlinsons, Tablecloth: Mary Magdalen Foundation, Candle pots: Diptyque, Bowl: Cornucopia

Brass vase: Marche aux Puces, Port de Vanves, Ceramic vase: Chris Keenan, Ceramic birds: Tomlinsons, Tablecloth: Mary Magdalen Foundation, Candle pots: Diptyque, Bowl: Cornucopia

 

BASIC KITSCH

This week I was taken on a tour of Lutyens’ Surrey. My daring companion identified all of the architect’s houses in the county and off we set in his convertible; my headscarf flapping, his cap masterfully cutting through the warm air of the A3. The endeavour was not without peril. Most of the houses are private homes, and, it turns out, folk who live in homes, albeit Grade 1 listed ones*, are not keen on uninvited guests**. Still, a lovely lady called Mrs Baker agreed, by prior appointment, to show us around a Lutyens house epitomising the rather stark, rather throwback style of the Arts and Crafts Movement popular with fancy Edwardian folk.  Of course, if the A3 were in fact a time portal, and we had been able to hurtle through it into 1905, we could have found the house as it once was – still slightly strange, but full of useful and beautiful things. The old Morris adage should still apply to the home; if you have space of course. But if you are like me and don’t, you might try anyway. Just make sure that if you are attempting to display items not typically destined for display, that you secure them safely to the wall. Vintage, kitsch neon tennis rackets seem like a great buy at the time, and look seriously chic resting against a matt grey backdrop, but, slightly less chic when they harm small children and animals. Think like the Edwardians. But only think like them about interiors. They were mostly dreadful to children and animals.

*And therefore part of our heritage, and therefore should be bloody well open for tea and cake.

**Claiming that Sat Nav has led you erroneously up their 500 metre gravel drive is a dubious excuse at best

Vintage neon tennis rackets: Nuthall jumble, Grey paint: Little Green

Vintage neon tennis rackets: Nuthall jumble, Grey paint: Little Green

SHATTERING TRUTH

Glass is a complex thing. I remember once hearing at school that it was made of sand, which was, along with discovering an otter was the cause of Terry Nutkin’s finger loss, and that the song was called ‘System Addict’ and not ‘Systematic’, one of the revelations that left me questioning the meaning of life itself. I still haven’t really grasped the sand fact, which is why, unlike developing a really solid understanding of the Really Wild Show and Five Star, I am still slightly mystified by glass. Not only is it utterly beautiful, it is absolutely crucial to the dinner setting; its fragility giving it an ephemeral quality, urging you to treat it carefully lest you lose it in one ill-timed crash. Coloured, misshapen and fine glass is my favourite, and setting the table with an array of these really makes a lunch or dinner sing. Formal dining requires symmetry, and the right glass for the right placement, but in the home, when it comes to water, cocktails, red, white, pink; anything goes. There’s been something of a trend for drinking wine out of the glass tumblers we used to drink from at school; a pan-European, infantilisation of the art of quaffing. While I’m not opposed to this, I like a good stemmed glass for wine: after all, it makes everything seem more grown up. And when you’re a grown up you should celebrate everything that entails – including being slightly more knowledgable about anything you can find on Wikipedia. I will promptly leave now to google ‘glass made from sand’. (And not ‘where is Michaela Strachan’).

Water Bottles: Italo, Pink glass: Marks and Spencer, Green glasses: Ikea, Jug: Falconware, Blue Glass: Tiger, Clear Glass: Ikea

Water Bottles: Italo, Pink glass: Marks and Spencer, Green glasses: Ikea, Jug: Falconware, Blue Glass: Tiger, Clear Glass: Ikea