The Last Garden (1)

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…

 

Is that a TV?

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.

 

 

 

 

The Lighting On The Wall

The other week I wrote about how Mark and I got rid of a 5 amp lighting circuit in the old house, only to put one into the new house. And I’ve got a similar story today, this time about wall lights.

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To be fair to us, the wall lights we took out (from the sitting room) could not have been more eighties. They were plaster sconces which I think were meant to be painted the colour of the wall but hadn’t been. They looked kind of clumsy and threw the light straight upward rather than helpfully outwards – rather like the bar in an airport hotel (or the stairwell at work).

img_3452By contrast, in each of the four places we’ve used wall lights here, it’s been to a particular purpose. We’ve also made sure that they hold their own as decorative items. The Artemide Teti lights (with Tala Porcelain 1 bulbs) in the kitchen are a neat way to light the dining area without obstructing the skylights. They’re on a separate circuit to the lights for the cooking zone – so that we can control the mood. I had originally wanted something bigger and more dramatic but being toward the end of the project money was tight – and I think that actually pushed me in the right direction.

img_3451Also in the kitchen is a wall mounted Anglepoise spot. Again this is on a separate circuit and controlled by an integral switch. It was a particular bargain – picked up in the clearance section at John Lewis Stratford City for a third of list price.*

It means we can just light our window nook – either to curl up on the sofa for a read, or to provide a gentle residual glow from the kitchen while we’re in the sitting room next door.

 

By contrast the wall light in our loft dressing room is one of the least bargainy things in the house – a full price Riddle light from Bert Frank which I fell in love with the first time I saw it in an interiors mag. I was happy to splash out because it does an important job – providing a moody light for bathing when you don’t want the glare of the spots. I’ve never really liked candles so this suits my aesthetic much better.

 

Finally to the spare room where Made.com Cohen wall lights offer an affordable and practical way of minimising bedside clutter. And not a sconce amongst them.

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* This is a top tip if you live in East London and are hunting for bargain lights – there often seem to be good quality lights on discount in this section – I assume they’re customer returns which they’ve decided not to return to the depot.

Make Yourself At Home

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I’m returning to the guestroom this week, to talk about how we designed the space. We wanted family and friends to be comfortable staying for a decent length of time which meant it couldn’t do double duty as an office or workroom.

It needed a generous bed, somewhere to relax and sufficient clothes storage for a week-long stay. The starting point for the colour scheme, which is more subdued (restful?) than the rest of the house, were the curtains which we brought with us when we moved across the road and the fabulous sketches above the bed by local artist Nish Designs.

Ideally the room also needed an en-suite. Because however wipe-clean we’d made the family bathroom there was no guarantee it would stay that way. I played with lots of layouts but couldn’t find one I was happy with. They all seemed to compromise the bedroom space too much.

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And then inspiration struck us both at once – we could steal 30cm of depth from the  middle bedroom (the dead space to one side of the door) to help create a metre wide shower room across the back wall. The space saved meant a kingsize bed could sit facing the bay, and there would still be space to walk round.

It helped to have an unobtrusive bed frame, and the Habitat Tatsuma fit the bill perfectly. Wall mounted EKET boxes make great bedside tables, and keep the floor clear and a 30cm deep PAX frame with two drawers provides a decent amount of wardrobe space, without crowding the room.

We even found room for a small television, redeploying our old hall console as a stand/ bookshelf.  And using the rear wall rather than the far wall for our ensuite meant we got to save the house’s last remaining original fireplace (the others had gone before we moved in). Overall it’s one of my favourite spaces in the house – even though it’s the one I use least.

 

30 Minute Makeover

I was feeling less than chipper last weekend – long week at work, still not got everything done, you know the kind of thing. So when I woke up early on Sunday I decided to crack on with some emails – only to find I’d missed the memo about the server being down all day.

Well and truly awake and even grumpier than before, I needed a distraction. It was time to sort out the hallway cactus collection. As you’ll recall I’d managed to destroy some of the previous incumbents and the new line up had been sitting a little forlornly in their plastic pots for a couple of weeks.

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I had one lovely pot from HKD Ceramics (made by talented local potter Harmeet) ready to reuse, but needed one more. Time for a quick klutz-friendly craft project to cheer me up. My definition of klutz-friendly is something which allows me to put colours, patterns and shapes together without disclosing my profound absence of freehand drawing skills.

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For that reason I am a big fan of washi tape and a couple of years ago I spent a happy half day with some tape and some paint transforming some IKEA plant pots to house my kitchen herb collection. Washi and plant pots aren’t wholly compatible though, because the tape is straight and the pot sides are conical and wrinkles ensue. Last time round my solution was to go upwards and outwards, and paint the V-shape in between.

 

This time I needed a really small pot, with a footprint that would sit comfortably on the picture ledge which serves as my hallway radiator shelf.

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I nipped out to the garage and found one tiny terracotta number that would fit the bill. It had a rim which I hoped was straight enough to take the tape without wrinkles (you can see it wasn’t quite, but never mind) and a base which was much too tiny even to try and apply washi.

 

I used three layers of tape to improvise a vaguely 50s pattern for the top section, and then dug out the leftover Obsidian Green from the kitchen cabinets to paint the rest.  One coat before breakfast and one after – no more than twenty minutes work in total and another ten for the re-potting.  By no means perfect of course, but enough to lighten the mood.

The Flick of a Switch

It’s Wednesday so we’re moving away from decor to talk about the ‘bones’ of the house. Or in this case the nerves of the house – the wiring.

And more specifically my sitting room lighting circuit. And going from this…

To this in the flick of a switch. The secret is the 5 amp lighting circuit. They’ve been around forever, and if you or your parents moved into a house anytime from the 70s to the noughties you probably ripped one out.

img_3423In fact I have a vague memory of Mark and I grubbing one out of our old house, because we’d no idea what these tiny sockets could possibly be for.

We rediscovered their genius by accident, when planning the granny annex that never was. My mum has a morbid hatred of overhead lights, and told the architect that she didn’t want any installed, as she would only use sidelights.

Ah-ha, he said (but not in a Partridge-esque way), you need a 5 amp lighting circuit. A separate circuit, wired into the walls, for which all the sockets can be controlled by a single (light) switch. You’ve probably used them in hotel bedrooms without realising. In our case we have two – one for the back and one for the front half of the sitting room, and I wouldn’t be without them.

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It means you can use kindly sidelights rather than harsh overheads without thought  – or the faff and backache of switching them all on and off individually. They are both controlled by the  bottom (2 gang) switch here with the overheads on the top one (which I never touch – although the boys still need training).

 

 

I’m not sure how easy it would be to retrofit, but if you’re rewiring anyway it couldn’t be simpler. All electricians are familiar with them, and many of them have them in their own homes (ours did). It’s just for some reason they don’t think of offering them to customers.

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Despite their low profile there seem to be sockets available in most ranges, and an increasing number of plug options too. I love these retro looking black ones that I sourced online.

So why not go for it…you have nothing to lose but your sciatica and your (appearance of) fine lines and wrinkles.

 

 

 

 

Living It Up

One thing I’ve not done much of so far is talk about whole rooms. If I’m honest that’s a lot to do with the limitations of iPhone photography, and the challenge of getting a picture which properly illustrates the layout. But we get a lot of compliments about the loft so I thought it would be worth talking how we planned it and what we were hoping to achieve.

 

A lot of the deliberations I touch on here actually took place at the old house, as we pretty much replicated the design from one house to another. And they were also informed by some sage advice from the company we used, Bespoke Lofts.

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The first decision we was whether to just convert the loft at the front of the house, or to go for an L-shape which maximised the space allowable under permitted development. The latter option was about 30% more expensive but would give us  nearly double the space. It seemed worthwhile on that basis alone, but became more so with the realisation that since the rear could be built out as a dormer box it would all be full height, whereas the front section would necessarily have a sloping ceiling.

Many people who go for this larger option aim to boost resale value by incorporating two bedrooms and a bathroom, and if you have a large family that obviously makes sense. But we knew we were sticking at two kids, so our aim was to free up a spare bedroom downstairs, and make ourselves a sanctuary up top.

Key ingredients included a space to sit and read, a bath for the occasional luxury soak and a decent amount of wardrobe space. Previously the downstairs front room had been our bedroom and like many people we’d improvised wardrobes from the alcoves, but it had always felt like a slightly cramped compromise.

img_3450I also hankered after beautiful cedar-lined fitted wardrobes, but the budget didn’t allow. So rather than making the wardrobes to fit the space I made the space to fit the wardrobes. In this case asking our very patient Bespoke joiner and foreman Bradley to make sure that we had exactly 3 metres available between the front of the room and the half wall that shields the loo so that a run of PAX cupboards would squeeze in as if specially fitted. Then we improvised the shoe cubbies ourselves, from some cut down shelves. And, should we ever win the Lottery, I can still commission the cedar to fit the space we’ve got.

The one big change from the old house was the layout of the windows in the rear dormer, which needed some thinking through. Previously we’d looked out over rooftops, and had windows above our shower and loo, with an inset mirrored cabinet over the basin.

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This time though Mark was keen to maximise our views of the Flats, which meant windows all the way along, and two problems. The first being to preserve my modesty, since if I could see out to the Flats then…you get my drift. We addressed this with very some careful measurements and calculations before ordering the windows.

The second was where to store all our bathroom junk. Again, planning ahead was key, with built in alcoves for the things we needed always to hand (shampoo, loo roll, toothbrush (and charging socket)) and an inset cabinet in the far wall for the other bits.

It’s an unexpected bonus that the extra mirror helps bounce light (and views) around the room.