Category Archives: Homes & Interiors

Paint I Love: Elephant’s Breath by Farrow & Ball

Front bedroom painted in Elephant's Breath

The main bedroom, painted in Elephant’s Breath by Farrow & Ball

I’m quite partial to a pot of Farrow & Ball paint. I used Pale Powder in the dining room of our first house and loved the way the colour changed from a pale greeny-grey to almost blue in different lights. So when I heard F&B are releasing a new range of colours on Monday, I almost wished I had a room left to paint.

Almost.

The last room we decorated was the master bedroom (ignoring the front room, which was just a quick re-paint job, and therefore doesn’t count). With our budget being a whole lot tighter these days, I scoured the aisles for an alternative to Farrow & Ball that was cheaper but just as good.

Suffice to say, I didn’t find it.

Now, I’m not saying Farrow & Ball is the be-all-and-end-all in the world of paint. I’ve used every brand under the sun – usually depending on what’s on special offer – and as long as I’m not going to be required to paint multiple coats (who has time for that?) I’m sold.

But when it comes to period colours, and that flat-matt look that works so well in old houses, Farrow & Ball wins every time.

Elephant's Breath colour scheme

Granted, lots of other brands had shades that sounded a lot more like what I was after – stone, mink, putty – but No. 229 Elephant’s Breath (so-named by decorator John Fowler in the 1940s) was the only option once the swatches were actually on the walls.

At this point I should probably include a couple of photos of the bedroom ‘before’, seeing as that’s the way it stayed for a couple of years once we moved in (there was so much to do in the rest of the house that we basically shut the door on this room and used it as a storage cupboard).

The main bedroom 'before'

The main bedroom ‘before’

The ceiling was covered in polystyrene tiles, the walls in polystyrene-backed woodchip wallpaper (to hide the giant cracks), and the floor in a rather psychedelic sheet of lino. There was damp in several places, no heating, and no (working) electrics. So by the time we’d reached decorating stage, slapping a bit of paint on the walls seemed like a walk in the park.

Let there be light(s)!

Let there be light(s)!

We got the doors dipped and treated them with linseed oil, re-glossed the fire surround and re-painted the inside with heat-resistant black paint, and finally got a carpet (I do believe I did a little dance. And when I say a little dance, I mean a stark-raving-bonkers ‘WE GOT A CARPET! NO MORE SPLINTERS!’ dance).

And of course, I painted the walls. Cup of tea steaming away on the windowsill, radio on, husband banished (nobody’s allowed to help – this is my absolute favourite thing in the world, and I’m not sharing. Plus, I’m fussy. Really fussy).

In truth, it could have benefited from a second coat, but we could only stretch to one tin. Goodness knows what we’ll do if we get any marks on the walls, because I scraped the last dregs of paint out like a kid with cookie batter.

You know, now I say it, I think there might actually be a few marks on them already, which would of course mean I’d have to repaint… I wonder if there’s such a thing as being addicted to decorating? Answers on a postcard please.

The bedroom, finished!

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Festival finds: WOMAD 2013

Inside the Tiny Tea Tent

The three of us are just back from WOMAD – our third time at the world music festival in Charlton Park, but our first with a small person in tow. Apart from getting a bit soggy on Saturday night (all part of the fun, I’m told) we had a whale of a time – Little Boy seemed to enjoy his first taste of camping, and we can’t wait to take him back to the festival when he’s bigger.

I spotted loads of pretty things over the course of the weekend – my favourite being the multi-coloured swathes of fabric that made up the roof of the Tiny Tea Tent. I’d love to do this for a garden party, complete with twinkling lanterns and huge squashy cushions to chill out on. And chai. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover chai. I’m hooked.

Woven baskets

These woven baskets would do wonders for the huge mound of dirty laundry we came home with, and I wouldn’t mind one of these pretty pouffes (ottomans, footstools, whatever you want to call them) in my front room.

Fabric ottomans

OK, so it’s a bit haphazard, but there’s something I quite like about this bonkers bunting and it’d be really easy to make.

Bonkers bunting

And yes, I surreptitiously snapped the back of this girl’s top like some kind of festival stalker, but it was worth it – I reckon I could tart up a fair few vest tops like this. Cute.

Embellished vest top

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Glossing over the problem…

Back wall: Dulux Muddy Puddle, Side wall: Dulux Egyptian Cotton

Facing wall: Dulux Muddy Puddle, Side walls: Dulux Egyptian Cotton

Well, it’s painted at last. After patchworking the walls of my front room with paint samples, and waving goodbye to my good friend Eau de Nil, I took the plunge with Muddy Puddle and Egyptian Cotton. Thank you, Dulux.

I won’t lie. I’m not completely sold on Muddy Puddle, the darker of the two, which we’ve used in the alcoves (the OH and I have decided it should be renamed Crappy Nappy, which might be a tad harsh, but sounds just about as appealing).

Luckily, though, the lion’s share of the room is painted in Egyptian Cotton – a sort of cool stone hue that goes with just about anything (handy when you’ve got a rug with more colours in it than a box of Crayola. Incidentally, we’ve agreed that as soon as Little Boy’s walking we’re going to invest in something a little less pass-me-the-sherry-dear. So if The Granny Rug floats your boat, you know where to find me…)

The only bit I need to do now is the glossing, which leads me to the point of this post. Does anyone have any suggestions for alternatives to gloss paint? I had a bad experience with the Dulux quick-drying stuff in our first house (big ugly brush strokes everywhere) so I’ve used their Professional Liquid Gloss ever since. The thing is, after a couple of months my lovely woodwork is less Brilliant White, more Mediocre Yellow.

I did a bit of reading up on it and I now know it’s down to the VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds, AKA ozone nasties) being reduced or removed from oil-based paints. Makes sense to me, but is there a decent alternative that won’t yellow over time? Or just something that stinks a little bit less? Answers on a postcard please…

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Make it yourself… fabric doorstop

Easy doorstop

This doorstop is so easy to make you don’t really need to bother measuring up, and there’s certainly no need for a pattern (I know, a what?)

If you’re buying fabric, you’re best to use something with a pattern so it’s less likely to show the dirt. And if you choose heavyweight or upholstery-weight cotton the doorstop will last longer. That said, it’ll work just as well with lighter cotton, mismatched fabric scraps from the bottom of your sewing bag, an old cushion cover or even a pretty top that’s seen better days. To fill it, use dry beans, pulses, or rice – or whatever you’ve got in the back of the kitchen cupboard.

You’ll need:
One rectangle of fabric, about 30x40cm
One 30cm length of ribbon, apron tie or cord
A bag of rice or dried beans
A sewing machine, or a needle and thread
Scissors
Pins

Step 1: Lay your fabric right-side facing down on the table, with the longest edges running horizontally to you. Take the top edge and fold it down towards you by a centimetre, then sew all the way along it, creating a hem.

Next, fold the whole piece of fabric in half with right sides together and the hemmed edge running along the top. Your folded-over rectangle should now have one (short) hemmed edge, one (long) folded edge and two unfinished edges (one short, one long). Sew along the two unfinished edges, about a centimetre in.

Step 2: You should end up with an inside-out ‘bag’ that opens at the top. Turn your fabric the right way around and push out the corners. Stand your bag upright and fill it with rice or dried beans – test the weight as you go, until you’re happy it’ll hold the weight of a door.

Step 2

Step 3: Once you’re happy, bring the top hemmed edges together as per the photograph below – note the wedge shape of the bag, and where the seam is running (it’ll stand up better if it’s shaped this way). Pin your cord or ribbon in a loop in the centre, and pin and/or tack along the hemmed edges.

Step 3

Step 4: Sew all the way along the top edge, closing the bag up and catching the cord as you go. That way you’ve got a handle for picking up the doorstop, which you can also use to hang it from the door when it’s not being used.

Step 4

If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, or if you’re using quite thin cotton, you might want to make an inner bag to hold the filling. Just follow the same method as above using any old piece of thin fabric (you won’t see it – I used an old curtain lining) and pop it inside the ‘proper’ doorstop at step 2. Then follow the rest of the steps as normal.

Ta-dah!

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And so it begins…

From top (the big light yellowish swatch), anticlockwise to end at the dark gold in the centre: Farrow & Ball Off-White, Dulux Gentle Fawn, Dulux Soft Truffle, Crown Period Colours Pale Gilt, Laura Ashley Faded Gold, Laura Ashley Old Gold

From top (the big light yellowish swatch), anticlockwise to end at the dark gold in the centre: Farrow & Ball Off-White, Dulux Gentle Fawn, Dulux Soft Truffle, Crown Period Colours Pale Gilt, Laura Ashley Faded Gold, Laura Ashley Old Gold

This is what pretty much every wall in our front room looks like at the moment, much to the husband’s annoyance. I’ve been talking about changing the colour of the walls ever since we bought a rug off eBay that turned out to be a) about 80 times bigger than I expected (my bad – my tape measure wasn’t long enough to measure up properly so I just, er, guessed) and b) very, very floral (yes, it was floral in the eBay photo, too – I think I might have been having a bad day).

'Scuse the mess, but you get the idea

‘Scuse the mess, but you get the idea

Those points aside, the boys seem to have been won over by what we’re affectionately calling The Granny Rug, so it looks like it’s here to stay. Which means my lovely Eau de Nil walls have got to go.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not remotely sad about this. I realised yesterday when I got my tester pots out and started swatching the place up, there is possibly nothing I like better than painting walls. If C hadn’t woken up from his nap, there probably wouldn’t have been an inch of Eau de Nil left. But that’s just it – I’ve never redecorated a room with a little (and ever-more mobile) boy in tow. Even the trip to Homebase to pick up colour charts turned into a complete Mission with a capital M. Something tells me this could get messy…

I do love a good tester pot

I do love a good tester pot

From top left, anticlockwise: Dulux Gentle Fawn, Dulux Muddy Puddle, (peeking out from the curtain) Dulux Perfectly Taupe, Laura Ashley Faded Gold, Dulux Soft Truffle, Crown Period Colours Imperial Gold, Crown Period Colours Pale Gilt

From top left, anticlockwise: Dulux Gentle Fawn, Dulux Muddy Puddle, (peeking out from the curtain) Dulux Perfectly Taupe, Laura Ashley Faded Gold, Dulux Soft Truffle, Crown Period Colours Imperial Gold, Crown Period Colours Pale Gilt

 

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An ode to Eau De Nil… and a child-free front room

The front room, before we took out shares in Fisher-price...

I can see the floor!

Looking through photos earlier I came across this one of our front room, just after we finished renovating it. It was the first room we tackled when we moved in a few years ago, and I painted it in turquoise, AKA my favourite colour (it’s Laura Ashley’s Pale Eau De Nil, to be precise – a muted green with a hint of blue).

Sitting in that same room now, I can’t quite believe what a couple of years’ worth of hoarding – not to mention a very small child – can do to a space. There’s stuff everywhere. Where does one put a Bumbo, a Jumperoo, a bouncy chair, a baby gym, a basket of toys, and a changing mat affectionately known as ‘the poo station’? None of which, I hasten to add, were available in Pale Eau De Nil?

I seriously need to look into some storage options before he gets any bigger and therefore requires more stuff. For now, though, I’ll look at these photographs and remember what the front room used to look like, before we took out shares in Fisher-Price…

Front room before...

Front room before…

Above: The psychedelic carpet was hiding some lovely floorboards that had to be spray-treated for woodworm, along with the joists underneath. Luckily they were salvageable, although thanks to a bit of a damp problem the skirting boards had to be replaced along with the plaster – we knocked it off up to a metre high to shave a bit off the price of damp proofing (when I say we, I mean my husband).

Plaster and fire surround removed

Plaster and fire surround removed

Above: The ceiling was covered in woodchip and once we took it off we could see why – there were cracks everywhere. It’s old-fashioned lath and plaster, with lovely curved edges that we didn’t want to lose, so we had to be pretty gentle with it. I spent several days filling and sanding every single crack until I could no longer lift my arms above my head. We also vetoed the idea of spotlights and went for a single chandelier instead, to minimise any unnecessary damage to the ceiling.

The fireplace before...and after.

The fireplace before…and after.

Above: The fireplace was a project in itself. We took the whole thing off, got a local company to strip the surround (by dipping it in acid, along with all the doors in the house so the colour would be uniform throughout), repainted the cast iron with heat-resistant paint, and replaced the fire brick, the tiles (reclaimed, £10 from eBay), the hearth (reclaimed slate), the grate and the tray, both of which were from a local architectural salvage company. There’s a separate post on the fireplace coming as soon as I can work out how to convert m4v files…

The finishing touches.

The finishing touches.

Above: Once the boring bits were out the way (we also added heating and electrics, yawn) I got started on the fun stuff. If I ever win the lottery I’ll decorate houses for a living – there’s nothing better than varnishing a floor or painting a room with a nice cuppa and a bit of Radio 2…

The fireplace - finished.

The fireplace – finished.

My favourite radiator. Thankyou, Homebase...

My favourite radiator. Yes, I took a photo of a radiator, and I love it.

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All I want for Valentine’s Day is… a Diptyque candle

The quickest way to tart up a shabby mantelpiece...

The quickest way to tart up a shabby mantelpiece…

I can’t resist a posh candle.

It all started almost a decade ago when I got my first editorial job on an interiors mag – Kitchens, Bedrooms & Bathrooms. A newcomer to the world of swanky interiors, I went on a few shoots and watched in awe as the stylist transformed each room into a magazine-worthy scene with the help of a few well-placed props. And one of the things that kept cropping up – both out on shoots and in the glossy pages of the magazines I leafed through in the name of research – was the Diptyque candle.

Diptyque’s first store was launched in Paris by 3 friends and fellow creatives (an interior designer, a painter and a theatre director) back in 1961. Initially designing and selling wallpapers and soft-furnishings, the trio took their first foray into the world of perfume in 1968 with their original eau de toilette, L’Eau. Fast-forward 40-odd years and their scented candles in particular have achieved cult status.

A large part of it is down to the scents. From the fruity Baies (top of my wish-list), to the woody Santal (burning away on my coffee table as I type), there’s a candle for pretty much every mood and season. And they pack quite a punch – a couple of minutes after lighting one, the whole room is filled with fragrance. And I’m not just saying that to defend the £40 price tag.

A lot of it, though, is down to aesthetics. They’re just gorgeous. Each block of white wax is held in a simple glass cylinder stamped with Diptyque’s iconic oval label – itself taken from one of the founders’ fabric designs. And it seems I’m not the only one who’s so enamored with them – Mary Portas’ home is ‘swathed in Diptyque fragrances’ and more than 34,000 fans on Facebook can’t resist a whiff either.

Unlike Portas, though, I’m yet to visit one of the cult candlemaker’s stores. The husband – who, in a cruel twist, can’t actually smell – took a trip to the Notting Hill store to pick up my Christmas present with strict instructions to avoid anything sickly sweet or vanilla-scented. He explained to the lady in the shop that I liked anything woody, fig-y or pomegranate-y, and came back with Santal. Proof, I’d say, that they know what they’re doing.

If you can’t make it to one of their stores, though, you can pick Diptyque candles up from places like John Lewis and Heal’s. And if that’s just not luxe enough, you can add a Photophore candleholder like the one below to turn it into a light-diffusing lantern – they’re now available to fit standard-size candles as well as mini.

Large Photophore - Coast

Large Photophore – Coast

As for me, I’ve just discovered that 2 Diptyque scents can be burned together to create a third, so I’ve started dropping hints in time for Valentine’s Day. When you’ve spent all day up to your elbows in nappies, nothing beats lighting one of these babies and imagining – just for a couple of minutes – you’re wandering down boulevard Saint-Germain. Well, a girl can dream…

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