So this post brings together a few of my favourite threads – sustainability, clothing (alright, shoes) and craft for the clumsy and cack-handed.
Somewhat the worse for wear and almost more grey than black
As you know I swore off buying new clothes last year and while I’m now happily (and hopefully sensibly) shopping again, it gave me a lot of time to reflect on what I already had and how I used it – and what I should and shouldn’t buy in future.
These boots probably fall into the ‘wouldn’t buy again’ category. Not that I dislike them, I’m just not a suitably responsible owner. The leather is thin and requires a lot of maintenance, to stay black and shiny.What’s worse the heels are also leather which means I would be guaranteed to wreck them – even without the pedal damage from regular cycling.
However they are too nice to throw or give away, and so I started hatching a restoration project. For the past year I’ve been cleaning them with one of those instant ‘restorer’ polishes, to very little avail. So the first step (after cleaning off the mud from their last wear) was to pick up some proper black wax polish, brush well in and leave to marinade overnight.
This morning it was time to brush them off, and actually I was pretty pleased with the result, properly shiny with the pedal gouge much less visible than it was before. But I’d had this idea for some modifications, taking advantage of the unusual cylindrical shape of the heel. And I’d splashed out on £4.49’s worth of tape. So it was time to play.
Tower of Bling
I had ten rolls of tape altogether and experimented with various very shiny combinations before relenting and opting for something a little more subtle. So here’s the result: What do you think? Left or right, one of each or back to black? I’m favouring left myself, but the boys prefer right. You can vote over on Insta
In other very exciting news, I made up for working through my lunch hour on Friday with a Saturday brunch at Arch Rivals, celebrating the return of their legendary muffin, and the advent of its hash brown sibling. Also got to try the most delicious grapefruit cordial, homemade by Karen – now trying to persuade her to bottle it for sale.
Looking slightly topheavy here – the fame must have gone to its head
How does Michael get the egg to this perfect oozy texture time after time?
I took an early lunch this Friday and spent a fun hour interiors consulting for a friend. Previously I’ve advised on decorating choices and kitchen layouts, but this was new – how to get the most of some nice existing pieces, and transform the space with minimal financial outlay.
The location was a late Victorian terraced house in north Forest Gate, with a small bay-windowed front room still retaining some original features and a larger back room leading on to a galley kitchen. Particular challenges included a relatively narrow hallway, a straight line of sight from the front door into the back sitting room/ kitchen and stairs leading up from the back room, limiting head height in parts.
My friend had already dealt with some of these by hanging a lightweight curtain on a rod across the hallway, storing most outdoor clothes elsewhere and sensibly using the limited head height space as her desk area.
However she was keen to make more of the space, and of some great vintage furniture and heirlooms. The difficulty was that some of the family pieces were on the large side for this house. Finding space for all of them meant compromising on layout and had seen the front room turn into more of a storage area – leaving the back room for dining, working and relaxing.
I spent the first half hour measuring up rooms and furniture. Luckily many of the pieces easily found natural homes – a large circular rattan armchair from the back room is exactly the right size for the bay – and the sofa which currently straddles the front room could tuck against one wall. We agreed that three things probably needed to go – a tall narrow cupboard, a lovely but too big dining table and a sturdy computer workstation configured for a desktop machine rather than a laptop.
This (theoretically) frees enough space to move the stereo and TV each into their own alcove in the front room, put a smaller drop leaf dining table into the back room, and bring her gorgeous vintage formica topped table into use as a desk. Having a smaller table in the back room also creates space for a small vintage coat stand that she already owns but stores elsewhere.
Theoretically, as right now all three big items are still in the house, and it can be hard to move things on. Sometimes it’s because of a sentimental attachment, sometimes because throwing away still serviceable items seems wrong, and sometimes because you paid good money for them in the first place and you either want or need to recoup that investment.
Unless you do need top dollar for your surplus items to fund the refurbishment, my advice is always to move them on quickly, rather than hanging on for sentimental reasons, or to get the biggest return. If you want to remember your family, most people have smaller keepsakes that are easier to cherish and display. If it’s about money, the cost is already sunk (if you were a company that investment would have been written off by now) and the pieces are costing you in comfort and pleasure while they continue to occupy the wrong space.
Aside from the obvious eBay route, there are also boot sale apps like Shpock for moving things on locally and quickly for cash, while many charities run furniture recycling services. Especially in somewhere like East London where so many people are struggling or just starting out, your family’s history could be a much-valued part of another family’s future.
The other decorating maxim I’d derive from this adventure is that the tape measure is your best friend. Without it, particularly where there’s limited space to manoeuvre and actually try things in their new homes, the best of ideas are really only guesswork. Measure everything, draw plans and make notes, to avoid the decorating disappointment that lurks behind the too wide sofa, or unexpectedly small sale-bargain table that can’t be returned.
So, while it turns out that I embarked on this project on January 1st 2019, I didn’t actually realise I’d started until around April.
It was then, when I picked up this vintage jacket at the Absofab Retro Market in Leytonstone (there’s one today in Buckhurst Hill, not to be missed) that I realised I’d not bought a stitch of new clothing since the start of the year. So I wondered if I could possibly get through to the end of June, and I did. And then it was pretty much downhill all the way to 31st December.
It wasn’t easy, but then again it wasn’t massively hard either. It was a kind of liberation wandering through Westfield knowing there wasn’t even any point in window shopping. And another kind of relief when I got dragged into a Shoreditch boutique by an enticing window display, only to discover the beautiful dark green blouse that had called to me had apparently been made for an elf. (Who knew elves had £180 shirt budgets?). And a third kind not to have to judge oneself by what did or didn’t fit.
Aside from the money saved (which went quite a long way toward our holiday), and the feeling good about the planet thing, it made me think again about what I already had. When I couldn’t resort to topping things up as I got stuck, I started playing with different combinations, and looking properly and critically (in the way I would at a room) at people whose style I admired. And I think I might just be a bit better dressed at the end of the year than I was at the start.
I’m not gonna lie though, I already had a couple of online baskets filled and was hovering over the Purchase button when Big Ben struck. Because it’s not really fair to the good people of Aldersbrook and Forest Gate to keep these running leggings from the bin a minute longer.
And after all that work on being better ‘put together’ I came to loathe turning up at meetings in my garishly sensible cycling jacket, so I’m treating myself to this waterproof coat from Protected Species and some reflective armbands.
And then I’m going to have a good think about what I actually need (and just possibly a stroll round Canary Wharf in my lunchhour to get my eye back in).
So I’m finally back, and I can’t quite believe how long it’s been since I was waylaid with tech trouble, work woes etc.
Not quite sure when normal service will resume but I’d just been thinking of picking up this thread again when the WordPress subscription came out of my account last month, and gave me the necessary nudge.
I hope to be posting fairly frequently in 2020, but not committing to a schedule yet. Also going to mix things up a bit more, with stories and ideas about anything and everything that comes to mind, interiors and beyond.
I’m starting tomorrow with a look back at my accidental 2019 master project – hope to see you there.
So this was actually forced on me by my plant murdering antics – but here’s a quick post charting the shifting contents of my kitchen shelf – currently starring in a Houzz article on floor to ceiling units. When I started the project I was going for an urban jungle type feel with the plants so verdant they were almost forcing their way off the shelf.
But once the plants started suffering it all got a little bit sparse, despite the addition of a couple of new pieces, including a lovely Hornsea pottery coffee pot picked up at an antiques market on holiday last year.
It desperately needed a boost and I remembered this lovely flower bowl from Anagram Antiques’ Instagram feed, which luckily Steve still had available.
Which gave me a chance to move things around a bit and promote the Hornsea pot to the plant shelf (where it kind of blends in on account of its greenness).
Still needed more though, so I broke out my vintage sugar jars from their home in the larder (lovely as they are they’d proved somewhat lacking in airtightness) and put them on show. A quick tidy of the lower levels and it was done, for now.
And the moral of this story…even objects benefit from a change of scene from time to time, and a quick revamp can be done for little or no cost at all.
This Wednesday I’m celebrating imperfections. Usually What Went Wrong Wednesday is about bad choices, but this time it’s about the things that should have been bang on, but for a bang (or spill, or crash).
First up is our fridge door. Now you’ll be aware that one of the features of the last house was a somewhat protracted build. And one of my triumphs was ordering a full set of Siemens and Miele appliances before the first Brexit price-hike(I think I probably saved about £1500). Unfortunately that meant lots of things spending lots of time in warehouses, and nobody really knows at what stage the door acquired its distinctive ding. We noticed as soon as it was installed, and could have got Siemens to provide a free replacement. I got as far as finding out how to make that happen. But when I thought about the resource implications of sending someone out to remove a perfectly serviceable door, importing a new one from Germany to replace it, and then consigning the old one to landfill I couldn’t go through with it.
And the more I thought about it, the more I embraced the ding. Because, smug eco-credentials aside, it made the next blip – might have been the bashed up corner of the larder door, the odd screw on the shoe cabinet or the bent out of shape window pull – easier to take.
And yes I could get all of these things fixed. But if I do it’s only going to be a matter of weeks before the rug acquires another stain or someone opens a second door too vigorously and takes a chunk out of the plaster. And I’m trying to make a home not a show-home – and what use is a home if you’re too scared to live in it. So, notwithstanding all my efforts toward loveliness, I’m trying to let go of perfection.
(PS, if anyone knows a good rug cleaner please let me know)
So since I’ve promised myself not to spend any money on the house this year, and since the weather is (sort of) improving, I’m turning my thoughts to the garden with an occasional series on how we got it to its current state, and what comes next.
I’d more or less ignored the garden at the old house for the first ten years that we’d lived there, but had lately come to love gardening so it was exciting to have more space to play with (nearly double the length)
When we viewed the house it was the middle of winter and we’d no idea what we were inheriting. It was an unexpected delight to move in, in March, to a flush of wisteria, and then a fairly anxious year-long wait to see if it, and other mature specimens including a quince and several rhododendrons had survived its year as a builders yard. I had promised myself a rest after completing the kitchen but of course, no sooner had we sat down to that family Easter lunch than I was feeling that the view from the back door needed some improvement.
We’d already asked the builders to fill in the fish pond which was positioned somewhat eccentrically (and scarily) just a couple of steps from the old back door (now the centre bay window). And to make us a new patio from the old paving which we’d salvaged from the side return. But (aside from the shrubs) the rest was an unappealing mix of rutted grass and rubble. I needed to create some breathing space for us and the plants, and committed to an hour’s digging and tilthing (is that a word) each morning of the April half term – until I’d got a roughly level area around half the length of the garden on which to sow a lawn. And that, I promised myself, really would be that for the year…
In the old house we prided ourselves on only having one TV…admittedly it was massive and bang in the centre of the sitting room, above the fireplace. And everyone in the family had tablets too, but at least we were officially a one TV household.
This time though we’ve got three. Mainly because I wanted to make the tv less of a focus. The giant one has been relegated to PS4 duties in the man cave and there’s a little one in the guestroom for when grandparents want to get away from it all.
But the star of the show is the sitting room telly, the one I wanted to be unobtrusive. I went for a Samsung Serif, designed by the Bouroullec brothers, who also work for firms like Hay (I’ve got my eye on one of their sofas) and Vitra. Lots of people ask if it’s a TV, but I think it’s exactly how a TV should look – like it’s from the Jetsons.
I love the colour, and the overall design, but my favourite thing about it is the legs. Lots of our sitting room furniture is on legs and it really increases the spaciousness of the room. They also mean we can sit it in an alcove, with shelves above, and allow a picture to have pride of place over the fireplace.
If you’re planning where to put your telly, do explore your options before defaulting to sticking it in a corner on a media unit, the furniture that design forgot. It’s hard to find an elegant media unit, and now we’ve more or less dispensed with VHS and DVD players there’s really no need for one. Your TV will be much happier on a bracket or a shelf, and your living room will love you for it.