Changing your mind: can you bear to paint over it? Thursday, Oct 6 2011 

Firstly, I realise I have been a ‘bad blogger’ and vanished for a large period of time.  This is because I’ve got a proper job again (Marketing Director for another global firm) which has fairly much eaten up my life.  The good part of that is an influx of funds, and also new ideas as I’m exposed to new environments (hotels, offices, overseas travel) and new ways of doing things.

Of course, this means that some things I’ve already done, I rethink.

This for example:

It’s very dramatic and glowing.  But I felt in the mood for something more conservative (maybe I’m wearing a suit too much?) and restrained.  So, to the horror of the man, I just set to and painted over it without a second thought.

Somehow, a couple of years after I’ve completed the original project, I lose all attachment and am willing to obliterate my original efforts.  in this instance, I wanted to keep the panelling effect to enliven the featureless stairwell, but I wanted to tone down the red.

It took me about an hour to mask off the darker bands.  And another hours to roller on a faux stone effect.  I used household emulsion paint in two colours – a mid grey and an offwhite.  I poured half and half into a roller tray, and ensuring I dipped the roller the same way each time, I rolled it on using random and rough strokes.

The secret is to be bold, don’t go over the area too many times or it will blend into nothingness.  Have a brush handy to blend into the corners.  And ensure that you don’t get lines from the edge of the roller.  So, after two hours in total, my former travails were hidden and transformed into a new look.

It’s interesting how different it looks isn’t it?  The borders now appear burgundy, not blackish (see my post here on colour relativity theory!).  It appears much more classical and far less funky.  The panelling effect really breaks up the walls and adds interest to what would otherwise be a very functional and dark stair way.

Do you like it?  Or did you prefer the wild wonders of the red marble??

Roses for my birthday Wednesday, Apr 20 2011 

It was my birthday yesterday.  The man produced this wonderful bouquet of roses – aren’t they to die for?  I just love the delicate creamy petals edged in pink.


An iPad2.  Design to die for.  Ultra-slim, light, intuitive, beautiful, functional.  I don’t think technology has quite seduced me before.

Solar Lights: the good the bad and the very pretty Monday, Apr 18 2011 

I’ve been experimenting with solar lights in the garden.  Lighting schemes transform a landscape into a fairyland or fantasy if done well.  They can shine gloriously up into the canopy of ancient trees, line a winding footpath beckoning you on or sparkle like diamonds in the night breeze.

Rather than spend a fortune on wiring up the garden, and then a subsequent fortune on electricity, I’ve been giving solar a go.  As it doesn’t cost the earth.

And this is what I’ve found.

Firstly, you can buy very cheap solar lights – as little as $20.  You can install them yourself easily.  They do work, and they don’t break.  However, the reason why they are cheap, is that they are very faint as they generally only have one tiny LED.  They emit more of a glow than a beam.  The more LEDs the brighter.

So it is worth spending more.

Solar fairy lights are fabulous.  You can buy them in strings of 50, 100, 200 and more.  Again, the more you pay, the more little lights you get.  And with fairy lights, more is more.  You don’t want a stingy smattering.  You want diamond laden branches, sparkling through the dusk.  So spend more.  Make sure you get super bright LED lights.

The ones I purchased last up to eight hours.  I’ve never tested this as I’m always asleep by then!  In the photo above (my camera isn’t good enough to really capture it), is a string of 60 lights.  You can see that it’s nowhere near enough for a dramatic effect even in a small tree.  I’m going to have to buy more…. but I wanted to test them first.

LEDs are available in different colours so you can be as wild as you like.  As you can imagine, I stuck to white. 

One of the fabulous things about solar lights is that you don’t have to worry about turning them on – as the light fades, they illuminate, surprising you in a lovely way.

If it has been raining for a couple of days, the light will be very dim.  Otherwise, they seem to fire up every night.

Solar is definitely the way forward – but spend up.  You do get what you pay for.

Gold and silver leaf: metallics to add lustre to your life Friday, Apr 15 2011 

Gold is the ultimate symbol of wealth.  Actually – that may not be true any more.  Maybe it’s now a super-yacht, or a private jet?  Anyway – it gets pretty close.  It can really lift an interior.  Especially on the ceiling.

And if gold doesn’t work with your colour scheme, you can go for silver.  Silver is more subtle, more ethereal.  It will bounce light back into the room in a flattering and seductive manner:

You don’t have to be some talented artist to do this.  But you do need to be patient.

Firstly, you need your surface to be smooth.  If you’ve moved light fittings, beams and so on, if you have cracks – these must be filled and polished down.  Otherwise you’ll have odd lumpy-looking bits showing through the lead.

Then, you must steel yourself to working in an uncomfortable position for a long period of time.  Best to do it section by section.  Once the area is prepped (sanded and primed if necessary), apply the gold size (which is effectively the glue that stick the leaf to the paint).  Allow this to dry until it is tacky to the touch.  If it is too wet, the leaf will appear dull, and will slip as you apply it.

silver leaf drawer

That is the drawer where it went wrong.  See how the leaf is crinkled up?  I had to sand it all off and start again.  You can see the whole project here.

Patience is definitely rewarded.  Make yourself a cup of tea and then be ready to apply the leaf.  Slightly overlap each leaf – by about 1-2mm – so that you don’t have any gaps.  Actually, you can get a fabulous effect by planning for gaps and painting the ceiling terracotta (for gold leaf) and indigo (for silver).  There is a wonderful antiqued look achieved by that.

silver leaf

When you get it smooth, it will have a luminous, lustrous effect.

If you wish, you can apply a wash over the top to slightly change the colour.  Otherwise, remember to varnish it, as the leaf will oxidize over time.  Unless you’re using real gold leaf (rather than Dutch gold) – in which case – why aren’t you paying some artisan to apply it for you?

And if a ceiling is too much – go for a door.  The photo below shows gaps between each sheet of gold leaf – which creates a different effect. 

Even a very plain home can look amazing with a bit of gilding…

Great places for discount purchases Wednesday, Apr 13 2011 

Quite a few of you have been asking about some of the fabrics I’ve shown here.  Others about paint and so on – so this post is the list of where to find great bargains.

For fabric, I search on Ebay.  I have a favourite seller, from whom I buy almost all of my upholstery fabric.  This means I never see it in person.  And I pay up to $200 shipping from the US.  But the prices are so good, it is still usually about 10% of what you’d pay in Australia.

They stock the absolute pinnacle of fabrics in the world.  Silk velvets, hand printed linens, manufacturers (like Scalamandre, shown below) that are not available to the public.

They take their photos with flash, which, while it makes the fabric look amazing, can distort the colour.  Silks and velvets tend to come up a little more yellow.  If you need an exact shade of cream or white, this may not work for you.  You can find their shop here.

You may think I’m being kind sharing this, when you may bid against me.  But you will soon see that I have not been kind at all.  You may, like me, find yourself drooling over the fabrics you never thought you could afford (and now can), find yourself resolving to recover chairs, remake curtains, find yourself buying rather more than you need and then suffer weeks of guilt or frantic activity as you now have to make a zillion things.

You won’t be thanking me….

If you want cheap books (not a problem in most of the world – but if you live in Australia, they are ridiculously expensive) – this store ships them free all around the world.  It takes about a week and it’s just magic!  They even ship heavy interiors books free…. (I have no idea how they are making any money).

For example – they are selling this hardback for A$27.  Free postage.  Tempted??

Or this one for the same price?  These are usually $50-60 in shops.

The floor paint I use is from an Australia company called Shipways.  They make an amazing variety of industrial strength paint that will never scratch or chip.  It does contain VOCs, so is not environmentally friendly in that sense.  But it is, in that you won’t ever have to re-paint it.  So, if you want a white floor what won’t yellow over time (as polyurethane does) – they can supply it for you.

For furniture, I favour auctions (the ones where the dealers go).  My favourite in Sydney is John Williams (their beautiful dog, Bella, always helps advertise their new sale – below).  I also like eBay, and of course, whatever people put beside the road to chuck out.  I still have a pair of chairs fourteen years later, that I loaded into my convertible….  they are in their third incarnation and are still going strong.

 Finally, on the clothes front, the best fun you can have is to host a swap party.  Invite all your girlfriends (and their friends) and send the men out for the night.  Ask them to bring over the clothes that they bought that were mistakes, that are pretty much unworn (and therefore as good as new) but they can’t bear to throw out as they are too nice.  You know the ones.

Supply a bit of wine and after about half an hour of modest chit chat, and a few private changes in the bathroom, some kind of madness takes hold…  suddenly everyone is tearing off their clothes and passing items round.  Everyone hoots with laughter as something looks amazing on one person and terrible on the next.  The short girls’ offcasts work on the tall girl, the dress rejected by the slim boned woman is brought to life on a curvy friend.  You’ll be astounded at how you can pass clothes between women of all different sizes.

It’s such a lot of fun.  And you get a heap of new clothes for free, and clear your closet of guilt and unworn clobber.

Enamel, Cloisonne and gold can still look very ‘now’ Monday, Apr 11 2011 

Enamel and Cloisonné were very popular (and expensive) a couple of decades ago, and are currently out of fashion.  What I’m saying is they are an absolute steal at auctions and sales.  Give it another decade and they will be right back ‘in’.

jade on tibetan incense burner

Even though shelves of them will look very dated, the odd piece can add lustre and interest to a room.  So dig out what you’ve got, or go bargain hunting….

This pair of Tibetan Incense Burners enliven a wall of books.  The colours are kept to a single palette, enhancing the workmanship (close-up above).

Tibetan Incense burners with books

(I confess that these shelves are on my ‘to do’ list.  I hate the white formica.  I want to mirror the wall behind, just as I did here, and the use recycled wood for the shelves.) 

Cloisonne vase

Vintage frames in gilt, gold or silver add character and depth to even the most modern room.  In fact – they really look stunning when they contrast with other decor.

Antique gold frame

Cloisonne vases usually have a base colour with accents.  This is the ideal way to emphasise a colour scheme in a room, or to add some life with the depiction of birds and flowers.

Antique Cloisonne vase

Heavy antique frames add that sense of history to an interior that makes you feel as though it has been lived in for centuries (or at least decades).  This is an easy fix for new houses with new furniture.

Antique gold framed oil painting

Small enamelled boxes are a lovely way to store trinkets – and can be picked up for a little as you’d pay for a small box at IKEA.  Really!

Russian enamel painting

Look out for interesting lamp bases at garage sales and auctions.  The wistful cupid in the image below adds subtle interest.

Gold lamp base

Keep in mind – whatever is out of favour this decade, will assuredly be in for the next.  If you love it – keep it.  If you don’t – it’ll never work for you!

Four poster beds and romantic dreams Friday, Apr 8 2011 

Would I wake in a four poster bed to find myself being kissed by a prince?  Would a hundred year sleep end and find me a princess?  Or would I just find room service?

Four poster cream bedroom romantic interiors

Four poster beds have always been a sign of wealth – and are still associated with it today – although romance springs first to mind.

They have been around since Tudor times, when often you ate slept and lived in one room.  And if you had a separate bedchamber, servants might also sleep there (in case you needed them in the night).

The ability to close curtains around a bed gave the sleeper privacy, as well as protection from drafts, insects and pests (of which there were many!)

A four poster bed creates a room-within-a-room. This idea was brought back by Frank Lloyd Wright who created furniture and spaces to do exactly that – 500 years later.

A canopy bed (see below) developed later – but provided similar warmth and privacy in cold dank castles before central heating.

Today, a canopy is a wonderful way of highlighting a tall ceiling, and adding drama to the bed.

Even a small (non-functional) canopy, hung from a rosette, can add to the romance of going to sleep.  Below, even the fabrics are simpler: no gold satin here, rather a cotton country floral print.

This works beautifully with the old oak beams and whitewashed walls.

Lining a canopy or curtains with an intense colour brings this colour scheme to life.  It takes some guts to use the same pattern on both walls and fabric – but I like it hear as the colour scheme is so restrained.  There is only the one shade of blue and the oatmeal.

I love the heraldic theme on the fabric below.  It looks very masculine and severe – but kind of sexy too.

Layering patterns and textures – the rug beneath the bed, the tapestries on the wall, the curtaining round the bed – all add up to a sumptuous room.

You need lots of internal architecture to make this work (beams, mullioned windows) or it would overwhelm.

A more modern look in red and black fuels lots of ideas.  You could take the padded panel from behind the bed and create a headboard like that very easily – and it would look dramatic and smart.

Time to book a weekend away in a castle I think….

New uses for old silver Tuesday, Apr 5 2011 

Silver (whether plate or solid) was treasured a generation back.

It was a sign of wealth and success.  Significant moments were marked with a gift of silver: a silver photo frame at a wedding, a silver vase for a birthday, a silver napkin ring for a christening.  Displayed proudly on sideboards and dressers, it was polished assiduously.

And now all this lies oxidising and black, at the back of people’s cupboards, or in boxes at deceased estate auctions.

Which means it doesn’t cost the earth.

I’m not suggesting a return to silver-laden tables.  I’m suggesting a rethink.  I’m suggesting thinking about silver as you would IKEA’s home organisation department.

old silver new use interior make-up brushes organisation

Rather than buying boxes and tubs in which to store items – you can have silver for a fraction of the price.

I  use an old silver vase for make-up brushes and mascara.  But you could just as easily use it for pencils and pens, paintbrushes or cotton-wool balls.

Why buy a toothbrush holder when an unusual silver vase looks so much more elegant?

Make-up and toiletries sit prettily in a silver tray, adding a touch of glamour to a morning ritual.

old silver new use interior make up organisation

Definitely avoid large displays of silver (this really does hark back to days past) – but including items in a practical manner adds a touch of character and imagination to a room.

old silver new use interior pens organisation

Use them for fruit, walnuts (as seen below), flowers, pens.  Fill items with keys and clutter from the front door.  But use them – don’t chuck them.  You won’t need to buy more ‘stuff’.  And you may even find a use for that old thing from great aunt Beryl.

recycled interiors chair parisian art

Leather: scuffed and sexy Sunday, Apr 3 2011 

Just as biker jackets are enjoying enormous popularity in fashion, so leather is returning to interiors.  And just as the jackets are masculine, scuffed and cool, so leather for interiors is masculine, scuffed and cool.  Smooth black and white leather is going to look dated very soon.

The leather look that is going to be around for a while is largely brown, and very worn.  Leather looks better as you use it – the patina of use is what makes biker jackets cool.  And it’s the same deal for furniture.

Think club chairs in a gentleman’s study.  Imagine the worn leather of an explorer’s tent.

And then pair the leather either with the details associated with smoking lounges, clubs and adventure: leather bounds books, specimens, fossils and interesting finds, maps.  Add some tartan, paisley or flannel and you’ll have a fabulously atmospheric room.

Alternatively, the addition of worn leather to a clean and modern room will immediately add warmth and personality.  It can take the edge off overly feminine rooms, and balance out chintz and frills.

If your seat is genuinely old, and the seat has worn through (old leather can sometimes crack – keep it moist in the same way you do your shoes with a regular polish with oils or wax) – you don’t have to pay a fortune for a new one.  You can recover the cushion in a contrasting fabric – as seen in the photos above.

You can find leather armchairs and sofas.  There are also desks and tables covered in leather, or, for a smaller accent, cushions.

Old leather trunks, complete with studs and straps look very handsome in any room.

And if you’re going all out – cover the walls in leather.  The room below, at Kingston Lacy, is covered in Spanish leather, embossed with gold.  This room was created hundreds of years ago, by a chap who was later exiled from England for various crimes.  Reading between the lines it becomes abundantly apparent that he was gay.

Of course!  Who else could have created a room like that?

Look for pieces like the one below – seen at an auction.  For tips on how to bid to win – check out this link.

Quince paste – made from your quince jelly leftovers Wednesday, Mar 30 2011 

Once you have spent a day admiring your cleverness in conjuring red jelly from a plain old fruit – consider the leftovers.

Take the pile of chopped-up cooked quince, drained of all its cooking water (that is now jelly) and blend or liquidise.  Pass this through a sieve.  This is easily done with the back of a ladle and really takes no time at all.

Weigh the resulting puree.

quince puree for quince paste

Add three quarters of the weight in sugar, and heat in a saucepan.  At this stage, it will be an unappetising colour (but surprisingly tasty!).

Bring to the boil.  This will be a violent spitting, gurgling affair that covers your worktop with splashes of puree.  This appears to be unavoidable, however many times I make this.  So I just accept the mess and give everything a good clean afterwards.

quince puree for quince paste cooking

Stir every few minutes to prevent it sticking.  You don’t need it on a high heat, only enough to keep it spitting!  And be patient.  This may take a couple of hours.

Over time, the colour will darken to that of apples that have browned.  And then, at some point that will escape you, you will find yourself stirring a rose-coloured viscous paste, and you’ll know it’s ready.  The moment of transformation from fawn to pink evades me every time.  It still strikes me as miraculous!

quince puree for quince paste cooking almost done

You can see the colour deepening to a toffee brown.  Be careful that it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan – keep the heat lower rather than higher.  You can’t hurry this one.

Once it starts pulling away from the sides of the pan, and takes on a rosy hue, dollop it (it’ll be too thick to pour) into a tin lined with baking paper.

quince paste home made

It’ll take a day or so to cool.  Some recipes recommend that you then dry it.  I don’t really find this necessary.  It’ll keep forever!  It doesn’t go off.  However – it is delicious fodder for ants, mice and so on – so ensure you store it somewhere safe!

Over time, the red colour deepens:

quince paste home made

Friends will be queueing for gifts of this delicious treat.  Serve with hard cheeses (Manchego, Wensleydale, Cheddar).

One final note – the earlier in the Quince season you make this (that is NOW in the southern hemisphere) the more pectin the fruit has, and  the better the result will be…

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