Part of my job as Home Design Editor for the magazine is to trawl round the shops seeking out the perfect pieces to borrow and photograph for the decorating stories. Perhaps a lovely striped deckchair one month, or a stylish desk light for a photo shoot the next.
Whilst my colleagues and friends joke that this is just shopping, I argue that it is `propping’, quiet different! – and I race round the shops on a mission, focused on what I am after for the next story. No leisurely browsing, and definitely not shopping!
In the course of my retail travels I thought it was worth mentioning who is doing really exciting things on the high street at the moment.
Two shops this year really stand out:
John Lewis. This store has always had a great reputation for quality and customer service but in the last few years they have made great strides in homeware and now become focused on good, innovative design too. They have a number of exclusive ranges, lots of British designers and are generally much more trends led. They now have lots of great signature pieces, rather than stocking all the workaday basics that they have always done so well. Look out for the lighting department, kitchenware, home accessories and furniture. The images above are a sneak preview of their autumn/winter collections 2013
John Lewis (08456 049 049; www.john lewis.com)
Photo Paul Raeside
Photo Paul Raeside
Photo Paul Raeside
The Conran Shop, founded by Terence Conran this has been a destination store for stylish modern design since 1973. More recently Jasper Conran – the fashion designer and Terence’s son has taken over the reigns as creative director and chairman. The stores have just been refreshed and refurbished and the contemporary pieces are now offset with classic organic and traditional elements that give the store a warmer, more accessible atmosphere. Lots of desirable goods and great displays make this store really strong right now.
The Conran Shop (0844 848 4000; www.theconranshop.co.uk)
From left: Anna Briscoe of Whole in the Middle; Zara Day of Rosemary Rose;Paula Steer of Pure Devon Wool; Freya Barton of The English Cloth Company, Kirsty Morgan and Abi Partridge of Makeve
The sun was shining on the Hay Literary Festival at the weekend. But my fellow judges and I had little time to join those relaxing in deck-chairs or queuing for ice-cream. We were, instead, seated round a kitchen table – gingham cloth and all – in a large tent along with a sell-out audience of 150. Our task was to select a winner from Country Living readers and fledgling entrepreneurs who were pitching to win a fantastic business mentoring package. The five businesses – organic wool, crafting events, paper cut cards, embroidered upholstery and screen-printed fabrics had all taken part in our first Kitchen Table Talent pop-up market at the CL Spring Fair and been selected by the buying team from John Lewis as those with the strongest potential to grow. They each had three minutes to present (the ping! of a kitchen timer told them when their time was up!) and were then quizzed by the ‘dragons’ (Fiona Davies of WiRE, Textile designer Jan Constantine, Revel Guest from The Hay Festival, Liz Oram of Love Local and me, Susy Smith). We loved them all but in the end chose Anna Briscoe’s lovely cut-out art and cards. The session was one of two Kitchen Table Talent events at Hay – for the other we were joined on the panel by Athene English of The Great English Outdoors, a wonderful shop in Hay town centre. Both sessions were chaired admirably by CL’s ex Deputy Editor Kitty Corrigan and organised brilliantly by our Features Team Ruth Chandler and Emma Pritchard who calmed all the entrants’ nerves beforehand and, in very Country Living fashion, took them for tea and cake afterwards.
After reading yesterday’s piece on the CL blog about International Dawn Chorus Day, illustrated with a wonderful picture of a robin perched on a washing line, I was thrilled to find, when gardening before work this May Day morning (yes, I’m that obsessed), that a robin had decided to keep me company, hoping no doubt to breakfast on any delicious morsels my digging might unearth. Every now and then when he thought the coast was clear, he would dart down with a rapid fluttering of wings to pick up a tasty titbit and then fly back to a nearby vantage point.
He may, of course, have been unselfishly gathering food ready to take back to his nest for his hungry brood. Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed several birds bearing twigs and other materials in their beaks to be used for building their homes. With their incredible intricacy and individuality, birds’ nests are works of art in themselves and are, appropriately enough, the subject of a new exhibition opening tomorrow at the Colnaghi gallery on Bond Street by the very talented Jonathan Delafield Cook.
His exquisite charcoal drawings have an amazing photographic quality and are drawn with a remarkable attention to detail. Flora and fauna are Jonathan’s main inspiration and he is fascinated by all aspects of the natural world, with previous work ranging from exquisite portraits of magnolia flowerheads to a life-size bull, rhinoceros and polar bear.
If your interests are of a more marine nature, you should head down to the Purdy Hicks gallery on Bankside which also has an exhibition of his work running concurrently. Here the denizens of the deep grace the walls and you will encounter a stately 11m-long sperm whale (truly a magnificent and humbling sight) swimming alongside a shoal of winsome whitebait, in addition to a striking series of blistering barnacles.
Both exhibitions run until 1 June and offer a wonderfully calm alternative to the hustle and bustle of city life if you happen to be in London during this time. The artworks by this highly collectable artist are for sale – so don’t delay!
Upstairs at Molly’s
As a devotee of vintage homeware and furniture – particularly 1950s and 60s ceramics and chairs – I am always on the lookout for new places to pick up treasures, always scouting for hidden gems that someone else has decided to sell. My idea of fun is going to a big car boot fair or antiques fair and spending hours searching for prizes. Sometimes it doesn’t happen but it’s definitely worth the hunt when I come across a few unexpected finds. It’s a great feeling to rummage in a box and discover a plate or cup that’s missing from a collection, or unearth some old buttons that I can use to adorn knitted items. So I was very excited to hear about a relatively new emporium in Dorset called Molly’s Den (mollys-den.co.uk
A shelf of feline finds
Tucked away on a little industrial site between Poole and Bournemouth, this wonderful place is crammed with trader’s stalls selling antiques, vintage clothing, furniture, books, records, collectibles, jewellery… the list goes on. It’s somewhere the whole family can go to, as there’s a café and a children’s play area, so everyone’s happy.
A few of my finds, including a Midwinter Stylecraft Primavera gravy boat designed by Jessie Tait…
…and a little chest of drawers that I couldn’t leave there!
Molly’s Den is planning to appear with its wares at pop-up vintage fairs, classic car shows and festivals. And when I visited, it was about to double in size, so I can’t wait to go back. Go and find your own treasure but don’t tell too many people…
Working on a magazine sometimes has its peculiarities.
Country Living is generally produced about four months ahead of hitting the shelves. So our current issue, May, filled with spring colour and cheer was actually put together way back at the beginning of December last year, although the gardens, and seasonal stories have to be photographed and put together a whole year ahead of time.
Photograph Claire Richardson
In our search for the correct flowers (or in this case berries and foliage), light and atmosphere, we have recently been photographing Christmas stories for December 2013!
These are shots taken behind the scenes at a recent photo shoot down in a Sussex village in the South Downs, which focused on new ideas for traditional evergreen decorations for your home.
Two talented florists, Anna Hudson and Chris Sharple’s contributed greatly to this story, making garlands and wreaths and creating some beautiful arrangements and ideas. Their shop, Quince, in Brighton 01273 227 004; http://www.quincebrighton.com is a great mix of stylish flowers combined with well-chosen antiques and vintage finds. You are as likely to come across a quirky 1920s painting next to a vase of traditional English garden roses, or an exquisitely decorated antique Chinese bowl beside a romantic bouquet featuring tumbling clematis, scented sweet peas and narcissus. Indeed they seem to be just as at home scouring a car boot or antiques sales for gems for the shop as they are taking on a glamorous wedding or putting together bouquets. Their flowers are always stylish, usually romantic and elegant and often have a subtle contemporary twist.
Photograph Anna Hudson
Photograph Anna Hudson
You’ll have to wait a while to see their work realised in our December issue, but for an immediate flavour of their work have a look at their website where Anna’s excellent photographs make it easy to view their stock and the range of flowers they offer.
It may still feel a little bit chilly outside but the forecast is sounding more promising for this weekend and, even better news, the new issue of Country Living is out! There’s always a sense of excitement in the office when our early copies arrive and a slight feeling of nervousness, I must admit, as we flick through the pages. I’m delighted to report, though, that our May edition is one of our finest! Featuring the inimitable CL mix of beautiful photography, inspiring decorating ideas and fascinating features, it truly does have something for everyone. Here are just a few of my own particular highlights…
Image taken from Pretty Pastel Style by Selina Lake with photographs by Catherine Gratwicke
Planning a spring makeover for your home? Look no further than the fresh, uplifting schemes with pretty pastel shades at the front of the issue. I used to think these colours were a little bit too sugary for my own taste but now I understand that they just need the right partners – soft whites, floral accessories and vintage finds. I am converted!
Ever dreamt of running your own business in the countryside? For me, it would definitely have to be a sweet shop, which is why I couldn’t wait to read about Angela Spencer’s confectionery emporium in Easingwold in North Yorkshire. Such fun to spend your days surrounded by glistening jars of traditional treats but, I imagine, you do have to keep your hands off the stock…
This issue also includes our popular annual Garden Special – and there are 30 pages packed with inspiration and practical advice – whatever the size of your plot. I particularly love the tips for growing and harvesting fruit in small spaces and the images of the wonderful foxgloves collected by passionate gardeners Terry and Mary Baker of The Botanic Nursery in Wiltshire. Last, but by no means least, we’re delighted to have Sarah Raven back with a fantastic new Grow & Cook series. Enjoy!
If you’re thinking of revamping a room in your home, changing the flooring can have a dramatic and uplifting effect. Instead of plumping for carpet or bare boards consider using floorpaint for a change.
This is a fairly inexpensive treatment and can be used on a variety of surfaces, such as concrete or wooden floors. I have painted a number of floors over the years and it is really easy to touch up – scuffs and scratches or indeed repaint over again. I think they work best in combination with rugs, and in rooms that don’t receive much through traffic from outdoor footwear – like a bedroom or bathroom. Traditional paint company Farrow & Ball (http://www.farrow-ball.com) do all their colours in floorpaints and have some great colours with fantastic depth to them. Make sure you prepare a floor really well before you paint, sanding well and cleaning with white spirit and removing any nails and splinters
Floor in Lulworth Blue, Farrow & Ball
Easy to paint and works well with surprisingly wide variety of colours. Pale paint shades can make a room look really bright and airy an increase the sense of space. Avoid using bright white as these will really show the dirt and dust and opt for a warm or off-white instead. You can think of a painted floor almost like a `fifth wall’, reflecting and bouncing light back into a room. Conversely choosing a dark paint can have quite a strong, grounding effect.
Pitch Blue and Parma Gray, Farrow & Ball
These can be easier to paint than you think, especially if you go in the direction of the boards. Good preparation, careful measuring up and precision is all important. Use a tape measure and masking tape to define the lines of your design and do hard the work for you. Stripes are easy to do and work really well in toning shades of the same colour family. Diamonds are a classic design, popular in American houses to create a chequerboard effect. They are good in a kitchen or dining room where they have a lively, energising effect. Remember too that you can use the direction of a checked floor and particularly a striped floor to widen a narrow room or stretch a perspective.
Floorpaint in Wimborne White, stripes in Cook’s Blue: both Farrow & Ball
Like many decorating decisions simplicity is often best. If you fancy painting a design onto your floor or adding a decorative detail keep it fairly plain. I personally find busy floor designs (much like strongly patterned carpets) can be quite maddening in a room. Here two simple lines, like coaching lines on furniture have been carefully marked out around a fireplace hearth.
Earthborn Ruby Ribbon paint
In recent years paint companies have been on a mission to make their wares more environmentally friendly, less damaging to the environment, and, to our health at the same time.
Earthborn Button Tin paint
The first company in the UK to be awarded an EU Ecolabel flower is Earthborn (www.earthbornpaint.co.uk ). Based in Cheshire, their paint contains no harmful emissions or VOCs (volatile organic compounds which emit vapours which can be dangerous to human health or the environment). Until recently, Earthborn’s paints, which are a unique clay paint formula focused on a small range of muted/natural shades with a lovely, flat finish. Their new collection now expands their range to 60 colours with lots of stronger and currently fashionable shades. Another paint company that have recently come to our attention is NaturePaint www.naturepaint.com , a new Cornish paint manufacturer who use locally sourced, natural ingredients (chalks and china clays), not synthetic ingredients, to make their collection of 62 colours. They have been awarded a prestigious Zero VOC symbol by B&Q. There paint comes in recyclable packaging and in powder form so it can be easily posted and sold mail order and easily mixed at home. NaturePaint is available online at NaturePaint.com, JohnLewis.com, B&Q (DIY.com) and Brewers (designerpaints.com).
Earthborn Dorothy & Smidgen paint
On the subject of paint. If you are after an exact match for a particular shade, perhaps to match a fabric, an existing paint colour, or just about anything, a lipstick, or handbag even, B&Q www.diy.com are launching a system this spring with a large American paint manufacturer where they will be able to mix, and match any hue in store. Previous paint mixing systems which have claimed to do this, actually match the colour sample to the nearest colour in their system, whereas this new technology promises to be able to create an exact and totally unique colour match. I can vouch that at their preview showing, the machine proved capable of matching the colour of anything it scanned including, a colleague’s deep, ox-blood red purse!