Homing Instinct

interiors, decor and everything home

Winter Animal Matryoshka

DIY winter animal matroyshka dolls

The nights here are drawing in as the seasons turn, bringing out my hibernating instinct.  The wind and rain and the sudden chill in the air have given the perfect excuse for spending a few evenings over the last week in the art room, radio on and cup of tea in hand, painting a set of nesting matryoshka animals as a birthday present for Harry.  They were a bit of an experiment – the animals morphed as I began painting them, and my technique definitely improved as I went along – but I love them, and I hope he does too…

DIY Animal Matroyshka

The biggest (and friendliest!) is the bear, catching fish for dinner.  Well, it started as a bear, and then my husband saw it. ‘Otter-ly amazing!’ he declared enthusiastically.  So now it’s, well, an otter.  Or an otter-bear.  Harry can decide.

Nesting animal matroyshka; Otter

And then the racoon, with his distinctive bandit eyes, hijacked here by a perky penguin the size of a fingertip (painting matryoshka is a good test of one’s steady hand, hence the tea rather than wine to accompany).

Matroyshka racoon and penguin

And the racoon’s butt, because this is that kind of website.

Raccoon matroyshka

Then Charlie the fox, the first animal I painted.  Somehow this fox is definitely called Charlie, though the others are waiting to be named.

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Then finally the owl, penguin and a tiny, tiny squirrel, wrestling with a nut (the squirrel is hiding inside the penguin here, but you can see her at the top).

Nesting matroyshka

I bought the blank wooden shapes on eBay; they were very inexpensive (about £5) – many craft stores sell them too.  Mine had 6 shapes, with the tallest about 8 inches high and the smallest less than an inch.

DIY matroyshka painting

blank matroyshka

Here’s a few tips I’d pass on if you fancy trying this as a project…

  • When you buy your blank set, play with them a little and check that they pull apart relatively easily.  Some of mine were very stiff and needed light sanding in the join (better to do this now than when you’ve painted and don’t want to touch them).
  • Draw on your design in ordinary pencil, and you can rub it out simply with a normal eraser.  I did this SO many times, often midway through an animal.  it’s very forgiving.
  • I used acrylic paint straight from the tube for all my base colours, then lightened or darkened the shade for accents and shadows.  If you’re hand-mixing colour, make more than you need so that you don’t run out (the wood soaks up a surprising amount), and that you can cover over your supply if you want to call it a day.
  • If you’re making animals like these, try googling them to remind yourself how the noses, ears and limbs work.  It sounds obvious but it’s really helpful when you’re trying to work out how to draw a bear an otter.
  • Plunge in.  I looked at these for days before daring to begin, and then once I did it was easy.  If you make a mistake, paint over it. Bam. No-one will know.

Good luck!

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Walls of Colour!

DIY Wallhung PaintboxYears ago, swinging through southern France with a bunch of girlfriends after university, I bought this beautiful old picture frame from a junk store.  I bought two of them in fact, and they cost only a handful of francs (francs! that ages me immediately..).  It has lived with me for many years and had many different roles, but recently has just been propped up in the art room, looking lovely but rather aimless.

Old French picture frame

So I reinvented it as a hanging pinboard to store our acrylic paints, in an accessible place so that Harry can take them down and use them without having to ask for help with cupboards or high shelves.  Now he can trash his clothes ALL BY HIMSELF without any grown-up help at all!

Paint palette board

To make the pinboard, I measured the back of the frame and asked my local DIY store to cut a piece of plywood to the right size (usually the first few cuts are free when you buy the wood).  I glued a sheet of cork over the top, and then used tiny panel pins to tap the wood into place on the frame.  I did this in a slapdash, haphazard way, with little symmetry and a number of mishits (hello, blackened fingernail).  Still, it is a very forgiving project given that all your work is visible only from behind.  I then measured the spacing for the paints I wanted to hang (these!  I love them..), and pushed upholstery pins in to the cork, sealing each one with a dab of glue.  As a final precaution, I glued cardboard squares where the very tips of the pins broke through.

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We practised together taking the paints on and off and it works a treat (if your paints don’t have easy loops like these, just attach a bulldog clip to the end of each tube and hang the clip on the nail instead).

When I get around to it, I’ll mount our new paint rack on the wall by Harry’s desk.  Until then, it leans at a jaunty angle against my plan chest, emitting a powerful siren song that draws us over every time.  Definitely better than a store cupboard.

The Art Room

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Paint palette pinboard

Moody blues

Storm blue walls with woodplank wallpaper

Recently I’ve become obsessed with deep, inky blues and charcoals, and decided to give our bedroom a bit of a makeover.  Regular readers will remember it’s a big, high-ceilinged room, connected to a bathroom which floods with morning light;

bathroom in muted shades

A couple of years ago I papered the chimney breast in woodplank wallpaper, and have done very little to it since.

Woodplank wallpaper walls

…until now!

Ink blue accent wall

I handmixed three paint shades together until I got the colour I wanted; a deep, inky-blue that changes with the light, becoming velvety and absorbing as dusk falls, but clean and striking in daylight hours.  I used it on a single wall, facing tall picture windows that suffuse the room with light.

Ink blue bedroom walls

It provides a  contrast to the fireplace and the vintage French windows we’ve finally hung on the wall…

vintage mirrored windows

Ink blue bedroom accents

And meet my other new ‘makeover’ investment; this beautiful Seco Octo curved wood light, which is mesmerising when lit.  We first saw one in a store in Paris and I quietly obsessed about it for a year before buying one!

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We love the change; subtle and strong; deep and enveloping.  An evening colour, for relaxing and cocooning.

p.s. It’s just as well I like the colour, because I am still washing flecks of it from my hair, my forearms, my shoes…

Have a wonderful weekend!

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The Scrap-Fabric Table Runner

DIY Fabric Table Runner

This is a story that began with a dress.  This dress. I bought it a couple of years ago, and it was beautiful, and hung just right, until I discovered – belatedly – that it had HUGE pockets.  And once my hands found these pockets, I couldn’t seem to stop filling them with things, until one day I realised that the dress looked less like a tailored silk sheath and more like a tent that I was using as cover to smuggle contraband goods.  The perfect dress for petty theft, perhaps, but not quite the elegant look I was aiming for.

So I took the pockets out and removed the problem.  They were so beautiful that I couldn’t throw them away; I kept them in my fabric drawer along with leftover bits and pieces of material from all kinds of projects.  On a rainy Sunday last month, I finally dug them out and began sorting and sifting through other pieces to see what might complement the colours.

I found a large square of turquoise cotton, unpicked the pockets to form four identical shapes, and then backed them with iron-on fusible paper before mounting on the fabric.  Sort of like a set of balancing bowls, or mussel shells;

silk pockets cut open and used for a fabric collage

Then I layered other colours against it and picked out a few in silver, navy and duck-egg shades.  I cut them into slices, vaguely but not precisely measuring each to ensure a kind of symmetry.  Then backed them together; pinning and stitching, pinning and stitching;

making a table runner

Until it began to look like this!

Making a scrap fabric table runner

The edges remained imprecise for a long time; when I had the final length I wanted I trimmed them down to an even length and marked a 1″ seam for folding in.

fabric scrap table runner

With the runner nearly 3m long by now, I did have to buy more fabric to back it; I chose a heavyish, velvety curtain fabric that gives weight to the runner and ensures it doesn’t slip and slide around.  As with Harry’s baby-clothes quilt, my workmanship on the sewing does not bear close scrutiny, and my seams are rambling and a little slapdash. But still, I am left with an almost stained-glass like creation that looks good on the table, and equally good draped over the end of the bed.  A shorter length would make a lovely, vibrant evening wrap – for this one though you’d need the shoulders of a line-backer to carry it off with aplomb…

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Have a wonderful week!

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Simple projects: tonal painted spoons

DIY Painted Kitchen Spoons

Until last week, we had just one wooden spoon in our kitchen.

Possibly the oldest kitchen item I own, it is a warped and aged thing, of a variety that you find lurking deep in the ‘Kitchenalia’ section of dubious antique stores.  Scarred by age and immune to the vigorous attentions of the dishwasher, it is also so short that every time I stir a boiling pan I risk steam burns and often drop the spoon entirely, having to fish it out with the toast tongs.  Why it did not occur to me earlier to buy a new spoon, especially when regularly purchasing such random things as toast tongs, I do not know.

Finally, I did.

I bought six in fact, having a tendency towards excess when shopping.  They are long and beautiful and  - let’s face it – rather dull, so I dug out all the leftover tester paint pots from our shed and gave them a good stir.  I taped off the tip of each spoon handle (use masking or washi tape) and then gave each two coats of paint.  When dry, I sealed with a satin varnish.  It took just an hour or so from beginning to end, but the result makes me smile.  Somehow stirring a dish with one of these makes it seem inherently more likely to taste good.

Paint pots

Leftover paint

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Hand painted kitchen sitrring spoons

DIY painted kitchen spoons in a pot

(As I study the photo above, I notice I’m still somehow unable to throw away the short-and-unhygenic-and-entirely-useless wooden spoon that inspired this project).

Have a wonderful weekend!  It’s a glorious one here; sunshine and daffodils and blossom and only an occasional gust of window to remind you that you are in England, still, and thus need to keep your wits, and woollens, about you.

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p.s.  Whilst you have your leftover paint to hand, why not try painted pots, and use them to start a family sunflower race… (we’re planting ours this afternoon!).

 

Room to Grow (a little more)

Boys bedroom

I finally got around to giving Harry’s room a proper makeover.

His treehouse bed was becoming outgrown; not by him, so much, as by me – the act of clambering up the stairs for a final bedtime cuddle, remembering to dodge the low beam and then lying very still, listening to the ominous creak of the stilt-legs, as I squinted at the label warning *THIS BED SHOULD NOT EXCEED 50 KILOS TOTAL WEIGHT*.  It was altogether tempting fate.  And besides, we’re now firmly in The Sleepover Years, where having twin beds from which you can actually see your best friend and talk all through the night (or at least until 10pm) is very important.Twin bed room

I bought inexpensive beds on eBay and we lost just two evenings of our lives assembling them and trying to remember not to criticise each other’s DIY skills or aptitude with allen keys and wordless, diagrammatic instructions.  They still make me wince slightly, remembering the effort that went into them.  But still, they look very cool; ageless without being too grown up (not yet; I’m not ready yet).

Star curtains

New star curtains with blackout linings filter the Northern light that still manages to creep through even in February, and two rattan Christmas decorations are repurposed for the bed-ends…

Bed with stars

Harry’s not ready to say goodbye to his nighttime menagerie of animals, but they do take a more discreet backseat these days, living under the bed in simple Ikea baskets.  The matching bedspreads are actually made from a TK Maxx bargain king-size bedspread, simply cut in two and hemmed (badly, flamboyantly – but who’s to know?).

Underbed storage

Bedroom stool

In the old fireplace the log basket remains, topped with a string of plug-in origami lights that provide a low, magical glow through the night;

Log basket

And the trusty badger rug remains, looking with every passing year a little less alive and a little more like roadkill, but beloved nonetheless.

Bedroom seascape

It’s a room to grow up in, and a room where you can still be reassuringly, comfortingly small.

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What are you reading?

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Are you a reader?

I grew up in a house of books; obscure and familiar, high-brow and low-brow, trashy and treasured.  An egalitarian wall of bookshelves meant that there was always something to read, and new discoveries to be made.  The collated volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica informed numerous homework assignments, Judy Blume navigated me through adolescence and later a diverse collection of philosophers fuelled my existential angst and earned me a university degree.  Even now whenever we come together as a family, someone will always ask on the first evening ‘what are you reading at the moment?’.

Discovering new authors is always a joy; exhausting the works of others always a sombre moment; Nora Ephron and Carol Shields feature prominently in my collection.

This Christmas and New Year break, I seized the chance to catch up on some great reads, old and new.  The Rocks and Fates and Furies were novels I’d read rave reviews of and which didn’t disappoint; both span decades and navigate the intricacies of marriage and friendship.  As a contrast, Julia Child’s autobiography of her years living in Paris and discovering – nay, Mastering! – the art of French cooking was a mesmerising read and made me immediately want to relocate to France and change career  (p.s. have you seen this film?  I watch it again and again…).

great novels to try

I was given some beautiful books for Christmas, including this one…

French laundry Cookbook

I’m smitten – and also completely outclassed – by the beautiful, complex recipes and preparations outlined in The French Laundry Cookbook, which is essentially a coffee-table cookbook, if such an idea were not intrinsically absurd.  Most of the cookbooks I read end in phrases like ‘… Made Simple’  or begin with ‘How to Cheat at…’, so this was a delicious and aspirational read.  Apart from posing with the book above, I have so far only mastered the important step of learning how to fold a napkin with a clothes peg, of which I am very proud.  Sauces and soufflés can wait for the springtime.  Or maybe never.  We’ll see.

Another gift; this gorgeous interiors book which celebrates imperfect homes and the contrast of old and new; flawed and smooth.  It’s made me wander thooughtfully around the house and move things around, to the great consternation of my husband, who finds nothing where he expects it to be these days. ‘Wabi-sabi‘ I whisper to him confidently as I waft past. ‘Transcience is the essence of beauty’.  I would best describe his expression as Unconvinced.  Two other recent, covetable reads; this book on colour which makes me want to paint my walls a deep, inky blue, and this one by stylist Sibella Court that’s an escapist work of art in itself.

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The last book I bought – two copies in fact – I haven’t yet read.  Harry and I have a new tradition; whenever I am travelling for work, I send him an iphone audio clip each day of me reading a chapter from a new story book, so that he can listen at bedtime each night, hearing my voice and following along at home under the covers.  It connects us and spans the distance of oceans and timezones.  Last time we read Jeremy Thatcher: Dragon Catcher (boys and pet dragons; what could be better?) and this time it will be James and the Giant Peach.  I’m looking forward to it as much as he is…

Roald Dahl

But now I need a new novel; my bedside pile is running low.  What are you reading right now; do you have any recommendations?

p.s. The ten most beautiful libraries in the world; I want to visit them all…

p.p.s. Top photo of Nigella Lawson in her library at home c.James Merrell for House and Garden 2004; all others my own.

Have a wonderful week!

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The Scent of Winter

Scented winter fire starters

Happy Sunday!

It’s been a frosty, overcast weekend here in this small corner of England, and each evening we’ve laid a fire in the hearth and drawn the curtains against the closing of the day; it’s a time for Hygge – for comfort, warmth and home.

To get the fire off to a crackling, scented start I made these bundles packed with clippings from the garden and the trimmed branches of our Christmas tree…

Winter firelighters from the garden

Scented fire starters in brown paper twists

I used sprigs of olive, from the huge old trees that we bought this summer to line our patio;

olive sprigs

And Nordic fir, shorn from the Christmas tree before recycling;

fir branches

Eucalyptus, one of my favourites that I use in the house all year round (try tying a sprig in the shower; it’s amazing!)

Try tying a branch of eucalptus under the shower for a blast of forest scent

And fresh rosemary, clipped from the pots around the kitchen door

rosemary sprigs

And then finally lemon rind, for a citrussy burst…

Peeled lemons

I tied the bundles tightly together and wove a slice of dried orange to each, before hanging them up to dry  out completely (slice a bag of oranges and arrange the slices on a baking tray, then dry out overnight on the lowest possible oven temperature; the scent is amazing and they look lovely..)

Scented fire bundles hung up to dry

Once they’re completely dried out, you can wrap them lightly in twists of brown paper (this stops them becoming tangled up and unravelling), and then use them to kindle a delicious, scented fire.

Scented fire starters for cold winter nights

For those without both the glory and the inconvenience of an open fire; try making these and simmering them in a saucepan on the stove instead for instant winter atmosphere and warmth; perfect for the bleak wintery months ahead.

Have a wonderful week ahead, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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In Praise of Autumn

This weekend has been a beautiful one so far, in the way that only a crisp, October weekend can.  Chilly mornings, pierced with brilliant sunshine and a newfound freshness.  In the park, horse chestnuts crunched under our feet and leaves swirled in the breeze; we wore our coats and scarves for the first time; shedding them after only a few minutes as the warmth broke through.

Inspired, Harry and I carefully picked some pumpkins and gourds and gathered armfuls of pine cones in the forest.  Last night, with a glass of wine in hand, I made this Autumn Lady who now graces the kitchen and wears the season in the folds of her skirts….

Harvest Lady

Built around a simple chicken-wire base, her dress begins with scraps of leftover silk fabric (from long-ago curtains). then branches of willow sprayed with coppery glitter. Dried poppy seed heads (from these flowers!) and faux crysanthemums mix with tiny fir cones, parting to reveal a giant, Cinderella-esque pumpkin…

Pumpkin dress

 

Pumpkins and gourds

The top of her dress is a simple length of linen, wrapped and tied with one of my belts (I am reassured by the fact that it strains a little more on her waist than mine…)

Autumn lady

Her presence in the kitchen has received a mixed reception from the household; it’s true that she does impede the direct line between kettle and fridge.  Also true that when you venture downstairs in the early-dawn, her profiled, looming figure can look startlingly like an intruder hell-bent on murderous attack (takes a few minutes to recover from that, I can confirm).

But still, she’s staying awhile…

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A winter dress, and a breath of Springtime.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

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Dream house Renovation: The Dressing Room

Dressing room ladder

It seems inconceivable that just five years after moving into our rambling, creaking old house we could be decorating a room for the second time.

Harry’s then-nursery was the first room we did anything to on our list of priorities (a list pages-long, that still sits tacked to a noticeboard somewhere in the hallway, the paper curled at the edges now, with a faltering list of ticks and crossings-out).  We wanted a room that felt, to him, exactly like the one he had left behind; a cocoon and a place for dreaming and comfort.  We picked the smallest room in the house, and used Cole & Sons ‘Woods’ wallpaper for a magical night-time feel.

Then within a couple of years, Harry graduated to a bigger room; one with enough space for books and toys and a bunkbed; for den-building and story-telling.  I slowly took over the old nursery as a room to store clothes and handbags, but it looked very much like a room with an identity crisis…

nursery wallpaper

…so last week I funally took it in hand and gave it a makeover to be a proper dressing room.

Dressong room peg rail

I used Piet Hein Eeek wallpaper on two of the walls for a Scandinavian, cabin-like feel; the room gets a weak, Northern light so the cool, bleached look of the plank-wood wallpaper suits it perfectly;

dressing room with Scrapwood wallpaper

The eagle-eyed may remember that I used the same wallpaper, hung horizontally, on a chimney-breast in the main bedroom;

Piet Hein Eek wallpaper on a chimneybreast

I added simple peg rails made of unfinished timber and shaker pegs, painted with a single coat of chalk paint to blend in with the walls (I left the pegs in their natural state).  It echoes the guest room with its wall-to-wall peg rail.

Peg rail with shaker star

I borrowed a comfy chair from the kitchen which has rapidly become a place where discarded clothes accumulate daily.  I hasten to add, having looked at this picture (below) more closely, that I don’t wear these cut-off shorts and heels together.  Channelling Pretty Women is never a good idea.

Dressing room chair

I moved an old chest of drawers down from the loft  (*I lie; I had nothing to do with its journey down from the loft. That took lots of effort and cursing from two grown men and I made myself scarce as soon as the difficulty of the situation became apparent).  I painted the knobs silver – after purchasing the wallpaper, new knobs seemed like a luxury too far – and from a distance they could be mistaken for pewter.  A distance, okay?

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Dressing room tableau

This matronly mannequin has moved from the spare room and now houses bits and pieces of jewellery, pinned to her ample bosom;

vintage mannequin

And one of my favourite new additions; Ikea cabinets make the most of the super-high ceilings and provide a home for my handbags.  The only problem?  I can’t yet fill them all.  What a nice problem to have. (On the other side of the room and not shown; Ikea ‘PAX’ tall mirrored wardrobes which bounce the little available light around and are crammed full of everything else…)

handbag cabinets

it’s an unashamedly girly room, and as such, I have it completely to myself in this house of men; the mysteries of women being very much a fontier not to be breached.

Now, to the handbag-cabinet-filling opportunity…

 

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A Scented Home

fresh winter flowers

Recently, we had a glorious couple of weeks in Cape Cod.

We got back, travel-weary and laden with far more baggage then we remembered taking, and flung open the front door…

…and the air felt really stale; like someone else’s home altogether.  A kind of dusty, unlived-in smell, overlaid with (whisper it) a hint of damp. So I set about banishing it as quickly as possible by opening windows, lighting candles and buying my favourite small luxury, fresh flowers..

a winter bouquet

(Green and white; there’s something so simple and beauitful about green and white..).  The ornamental cabbages made me smile; my spine-chilling fear of slugs would prevent me ever trying to grow them, but they do look gorgeous in a vase.  And lilies; a staple on my kitchen island…

Lilies in the kitchen

Another favourite trick is to fill inexpensive garden-centre vases with kitchen salt and then add candles, found objects and single eucalyptus stems – a way of pretending I’m back drinking sundowners at a beachside restaurant or at a fantasy mediterranean villa rather than at home in rather more familiar and ordinary surroundings..

eucalyptus stem in a vase

filled vases

When it’s cosiness I’m seeking, I light a stick of palo santo wood; have you come across it?  It’s as far from the headiness of cheap incense that you can imagine, and instead smells like a cross between a roaring fire, a forest and something altogether sweeter… definitely one for the autumn as a chill arrives in the air.

palo santo wood

And finally, I always, always have a candle burning on my desk when I’m working in my studio

Scent in the home

My other scent passions?  Fresh basil on the kitchen counter.  Acqua di limone ironing water, for the delicious clouds of steam that invariably distract me from the actual heat setting and  prove ultimately rather hazardous to scorching.

And bath oil.  For decadence.  And inadvertantly slippiness, yes, but still.  Worth it.

Any other recommendations or passions?  Please do share… and have a wonderful weekend!

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