Homing Instinct

interiors, decor and everything home

The brief flirtation with Spring is over

spring tableau

Another smörgåsbord post tonight, of the best bits of the past week and a few passing obsessions.  The amazing and short-lived days of Spring last week encouraged the garden to burst into premature glory; I did a sweep at dawn this morning of all the branches and blooms brought down in the gusts of overnight wind and hailstones, and rescued a few of the most beautiful buds to play with and create a spring tableau on a sheet of watercolour paper (above and below).

Paintbox flower

The weather held off long enough for us to go car-booting this morning at a local flea market; the first of the season.  Pickings were slim, but I came across a huge box of vintage British walking maps, all heavily loved and worn, and printed on beautiful linen paper…

Old maps

I scooped up all of the coastal ones (I have an abiding love affair with Cornwall and Dorset), and some of the Lake District, and am just pondering how to use them; regular readers will know that maps are something of a passion of mine, so expect to see them popping up in projects in due course.  Fellow Cartophiles (did you know that’s what we’re called?  Thank you, google..) should try typing ‘maps’ into the Boards search on Pinterest to find some lovely curated collections like this one, and this. Just beautiful.

Vintage maps

I also found an old Polaroid camera for £2 which seemed a small enough price to pay for the risk of seeing whether it worked (and whether I could source film).  I was playing with it in Starbucks afterwards and clicked the shutter only to find an old roll of film still loaded inside; it produced a ghostly black and white image which Harry thought was very cool…

polaroid

We’re keeping up the Cake in the House weekend tradition, this time with a birthday cake for visiting friends.  A four-layer fudge cake no less, with ombré sponges graduating from vanilla through to caramel and chocolate.  Sounds highly technical but proved astonishingly easy (and forgiving of this distracted and cavalier cook).  It was devoured before I could show you the inside, but the recipe and ombré picture here; I’d definitely recommend it for when you need to produce a show-stopper and impress friends who are more used to you secretly roughing-up a supermarket cake until it looks passably homemade.

4 layer fudge cake

In other news, hurrah; I’m on my travels again, albeit briefly – I have a lovely weekend planned in Amsterdam with my mum next month.  I can’t wait!  We’re staying in the Museum Quarter but beyond that have no plans as yet (other than to talk, and walk, and repeat ad infinitum). Any insider knowledge or tips would be wonderful; my only prep so far has been to track down a copy of this lovely little book which lists all the craft workshops and small ateliers where you can find a myriad of handmade things which you don’t need but you want oh-so-much.

Amsterdam map by Evelyn Henson

Map above by Evelyn Henson.

And finally something that made me smile, albeit through gritted teeth as I pulled my soaking laundry from the line whilst blinded and drenched by a storm of hailstones; isn’t this so very true?  Serves me right for being all smug and sunshiny last week ;-)

seasons-winter-comic-funny-cartoon-

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovich, via acupofjo.

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

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My Family and other Stories

Paper Sculpture by the amazing Su Blackwell

Paper Sculpture by Su Blackwell

One of my best Christmas presents this year arrived in a tiny box.  Not diamonds but something equally precious; a memory stick containing – appropriately – my father’s memoirs.  After he wrote to me last summer about the experience of receiving his first ever typewriter (at the bottom of this post), I asked him to tell me more about his childhood and early life growing up in post-war Britain.  His response was to send me a collection of notes, thoughts, lists and memories that he has been steadily capturing for the last ten years.

I am mentioned only once, in passing, and that makes it even more special because it is not a record of fatherhood or family per se so much as a story about the boy who became the man, who became my dad. I learned that I am almost grew up Canadian (we would have emigrated were it not for a familiarisation visit my parents spent in Hamilton during which it rained, incessantly, for ten days), that my Dad’s ambition at 3 was to be a ballet dancer, then at 10 to become a shopkeeper – he was cautioned by his mother not to be too aspirational – before eventually choosing medicine, after a giddy brush with amateur dramatics.  it was, quite simply, a revelation.

My father began writing about his history on the fortieth anniversary of his own mother’s death, prompted by the sudden realisation that as an only child there would come a time when she existed in his mind alone; when he was, essentially, the keeper of her flame.

To help him continue his capturing of the past, he recently joined a course in memoir-writing, and told me last week about the others in his class; a recently widowed man who was determined to capture all his memories of his wife before the vividness faded; a lady who wanted to be able to tell her grandchildren all about growing up in poverty in the East End of London, a place they can barely imagine; and a man who had emigrated to England from the West Indies decades before and wanted to remember and share how different life was.  The stories and motivations will, I think, be far more compelling than any course could itself be.

_____

We’re a very bookish family, and my bedside table is usually piled high with novels, but I’ve gradually eroded my stack and am in search for something new; any recommendations of head-turningly good books?  I’ve just finished (and loved) The Summer Book by Moomin author Tove Jansson (a Finnish classic, I think), and Ten Things I’ve Learned About Love, a first novel which I tossed into my supermarket trolley without any particular expectations but which was so beautiful it has stayed with me for days.   All suggestions (and any genre) welcome…. I love discovering new authors.

Have a great rest of the week; we’re enjoying a brief flirtation with springtime and it’s brought a smile to everyone..

Kate

An Overture to Springtime…

You know what they say about the best laid plans and all that?  Well, our trip to Morocco was eventful but not quite in the ways we’d imagined; the temperature dropped like a stone from around 28C to just 8C, sending Marrakech into a state of shivery shock; our hotel had somehow over-booked itself, resulting in a midnight taxi ride across the city in search of a bed for the night, accompanied by the profusely apologetic manager (we found a new hotel and bed which looked fine in the dark, but were greeted by a curious family of cockroaches on waking – cue yet another relocation after breakfast…).  Even our eagerly awaited trip into the Atlas mountains had to be abandoned as thick fog rendered the narrow hill roads too dangerous to be easily navigated.

A disappointment, for sure, but an experience so populated by adverse events that it quickly became funny, in that sort of mildly hysterically way when things spiral completely beyond your control.  Even then there were highlights; freshly squeezed local orange juice in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the universally lovely and helpful people, and the rose petals, everywhere… beauty amidst the chaos which leaves us keen to return, albeit probably not in February.

Back home we tried to coax a little Spring sunshine and cheer ourselves up by throwing an impromptu dinner party on Friday night.

Paper Boat Placenames

I swiftly made paper boat name settings for everyone, and Harry and I dunked handfuls of curly kale into poster paint to make a fun sea foam for them to rest on (I’ll post a proper DIY for these in the week together with the patterns to download – a very easy yet lovely ‘make’ to do with a glass of wine in hand, and a little gift for friends to take home afterwards).  Along the table centre I placed random kitchen accessories and pots of herbs – anything that made me think of spring or summer, like fresh basil and lemons…

Springtime Tablescape

Fresh basil table centre

 

Bowl of fresh lemons Breadsticks

 

We had such a good night, in the way that often happens when you don’t have much time to plan and just throw people and food together; a lovely way to end the week and start the weekend.

In other news, remember my intent to start a proper glasshouse this year and your suggestions of Meyer lemon trees and other great plants?  My newly acquired lemon tree is looking beautiful and promising abundant bounty; whilst I can’t claim responsibility for the current crop of lemons, new flower buds have appeared all over in the last couple of weeks and suggest that it’s thriving; I’m very proud :-)

Meyer Lemon TreeMeyer Lemon Flowerbuds

Harry and I also took the opportunity of half-term to get busy in the kitchen, making Star Wars cookies using our newly-acquired cookie cutters from here (US Star Wars fans can find the same ones on sale here –  a bargain!).  We made basic sugar cookies and then rolled out fondant icing to stamp the toppings; C3PO also benefits from a light dusting of gold powder (we do love a bit of bling).

Star Wars Cookies

And finally, our cake-in-the-house Saturday ritual continues; this week it was lemon drizzle loaf cake, now just a scattering of crumbs.  Next week it’s back to work, and the gym, and a more abstemious few days of salad – but not just yet…it is Sunday evening after all.

Cake In The House

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’ve got planned.

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Dream House Renovation: The Snug

Room Makeover Master

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are gradually restoring a beautiful yet crumbling Georgian house, one room at a time as budget allows.  So far we’ve managed some grand transformations and repurposing of spaces.  This time, it was a more cosmetic makeover needed, on one of the smallest and yet most important rooms in the house; The Snug.  Here’s how it looked before;

Room Makeover before main shot

And now;

Snug in sunlight

The snug – or the ‘Cinema Room’ as it was optimistically called by the estate agents who showed us round as prospective purchasers – is sandwiched between other rooms in the middle of the house, and has little natural light.  It’s a peculiar shape and has innumerable quirks and oddities, and yet somehow, it manages to be the place that we all gravitate towards.  Our house is on a hillside, so rooms at the rear like the snug have lowish ceilings, compared to rooms like the kitchen and bedrooms/bathrooms at the front of the house which measure almost 4 metres from floor to ceiling.

We decided early on not to attempt to add ceiling lighting but instead to celebrate the cosiness of the room and rely on wall and surface lighting to create atmosphere and corners for reading.  This lamp below is actually wired through the window frame into the next room (a conservatory) to avoid cabling trailing down the wall.

Room Makeover 5

A contemporary yet organic tripod lamp creates enough light for reading at each end of the two sofas…

Room Makeover 6

Room Maekover 6

Our only real structural change was to replace the fireplace, which had housed a faulty gas fire and a very elaborate surround which had been added at some point in the last few decades, and then painted flesh pink;

Room Makeover before shot

We had the chimney converted to fit a wood burning stove, and added a simple yet substantial stone surround, which creates a focal point for the room;

Snug lieft side

Room Makeover 7

Room Makeover 8

(I should mention here that we’re not using the stove at the moment due to unseasonably mild weather, hence the decorative logs stacked up the sides – inadvisable for wood-burners in use which get hot to the touch).

You’ll see that we kept the original dado rail, but added faux panelling under it to tie the room together and add a sense of lightness; it glows when the morning light filters in through the conservatory, and acts as a good contrast to the deeper grey-green on the walls above.  And besides, the salmon pink accent colour Just. Had. To. Go.

Snug panelling

In one of the darkest corners we hung an old French window repurposed with mirror glass, which helps to bounce the weak light around and maximise it; we also house our Christmas tree in this alcove  in December, and the mirror sends the lights glittering back into the room.

Room Makeover 10

I should pause for a moment to navigate you, as you’ll see above another window set high into the wall; that looks through into the playroom (seen here au naturel, just so you know that we don’t live in this zen-like state most of the time..);

Room Makeover 4

..And you reach both rooms by heading through from the kitchen/diner, which gives a lovely open-plan feel to the ground floor and works great for parties, where everyone can cheerfully flow from one room to the next, treading breadsticks into the carpet and shrieking with delight when they discover the presence of Lego (always the non-parents; for those of us with kids the thrill is long gone).

Navigation

One of the wonderful things about the Snug is that it seemed to absorb all of the furniture we brought with us and require nothing new; the sofas were originally bought for our last house, and were just deep-treated with stain-guard when Harry arrived (it’s working so far, touch wood).  The travertine coffee and lamp tables were the sole survivors from my husband’s bachelor pad, and even this console table survived; it’s an IKEA Malm table, given a coat of olive paint to tie it in.  Under it sits a wicker chest, hiding Harry’s giant dumper truck collection and a vast collection of unsightly but much-loved stuff.

Room makeover 3

As if there weren’t enough doors already, this one (below) leads into the hall, creating confusion and mild alarm in guests as you exit through one door to fetch a drink and suddenly reappear through another, magician-like.

Room makeover 2

This one is even more fun; it simply houses cables, DVDs, routers and all other tech paraphernalia.  Helping to extricate tipsy friends who thought it was the way to the bathroom has become a regular occurence.

Hidden door

The dado is deeper along the back wall, creating a lovely shelf on which to house photos, vases, stars and family memorabilia in a constantly changing arrangement.  The radiator is cast iron by the way, as are the huge pillars in the bay; apparently they were added in the 1930s when the house was briefly used as a film studio; it’s had a very eclectic cast of owners of the centuries, and each has left a unique calling card.

Snug corner

So you can see why we love the snug, and why most of the hours from dusk till bedtime are spent curled up en famille on the sofas, or racing cars on the coffee table.  It has held 32 people, memorably, at a festive gathering when everyone cheerfully squashed up together and forgave each others elbows – but equally, it is the perfect, perfect size for 3.

If you’ve seen anything you like or are curious about, here’s a rough crib-sheet of the colours and pieces we used;

Snug mood board

  1. Farrow and Ball paint in White Tie (woodwork)
  2. ..and Manor House Grey Estate Emulsion (walls above dado)
  3. EASIPanel self-adhesive faux MDF panelling, available from DIY stores
  4. Our wooden tripod lamp came from M&S and is no longer available, but BHS in the UK has a similar one, as does John Lewis
  5. The Malm console table from IKEA comes in red and white; we gave ours a facelift with regular emulsion paint
  6. Coffee table in travertine stone – try eBay for companies selling these
  7. Portland chesterfield sofa from M&S
  8. Alhambra fire surround from Chesneys, who also supplied the wood-burning stove.

room makeover 1

Have a great week, whatever you’re up to – and make the most the lingering few hours of the weekend (we’ll be curled up with the Sunday papers in the snug..!)

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Winter Projects: The Family Yearbook

Making A Family Yearbook



How are you;  are you having a lovely weekend?  Mine began with a delivery I’ve been feverishly anticipating; a copy of the family photo yearbook I’d assembled and ordered, capturing all of the best bits of 2013.  Creating it was a labour of love which filled the long evenings between Christmas and New Year, but the result is 132 pages (count ‘em!) documenting the big and small things which together made up what was a wonderful year.  It was the first time I’ve done this even slightly methodically; here are a few thoughts and learnings I picked up along the way…

1. Don’t worry too much about chronology

It doesn’t matter if you get the exact sequence of events right (was our day at the seaside before or after Auntie Jean’s birthday?) – no-one will remember anyway.  Instead, I grouped pictures according to season, using photos for each section that I’d taken during the year and which I felt captured the essence of the months ahead; snow for the first quarter, then nests and eggs for springtime, and so on… it creates a feeling of the passing of time without you losing sleep over chronology…

Memory book seasons

Christmas was such a fun and activity-packed time it warrants a section of its very own…

Family album DIY

2. Capture the little things as well as the milestones

Whilst holidays, birthdays and events of course feature, some of the loveliest moments for me were the little things; growing sunflowers, racing scooters, feeding ducks; the minutiae of the everyday at this time in our lives – and the ones most likely to make me sentimental in the years ahead!

Family yearbook sunflower race

3. Think about your year in the broadest sense; memories don’t have to have people in them

Regular followers will know that we are gradually renovating our house (very gradually; it is the archetypal money pit…), so at various stages of our book I added pics of completed projects like our bathroom below;

Family album house renovations

4.  Flex your layouts to make the most of the pictures

On some pages of the book, I’ve used a myriad of pictures which reflect the pace and busyness of our lives at that point, like the run-up to Christmas below.  At other times, I’ve used a double-page spread for a single photo, like this one of Harry on a beach in Newport, when it felt like the horizon was infinite and we had the place entirely to ourselves.

Family album christmas crafts

Family album holidays snaps Family album holiday photos

5.  Think beyond photos and use the yearbook as a family archive too.

Possibly my favourite section is at the end, when I’ve added a miscellany of things which were very meaningful to us, whether or not they came with photos.

Family album things to remember

…like a letter my father wrote to me on my birthday, saying how ‘at this landmark time, I am incredibly proud of you’.  A letter so special that it warranted capturing in my book of the best bits of the year…

Contents for a memory book

…and on a different note, cuttings from the 50yr old newspaper we found in a cupboard when excavating an old shed; comically politically-incorrect and charming at the same time, it gives a lovely insight into another era.

Family album newspaper clippings

This post back in October generated some lovely reminisces of children’s sayings, and I couldn’t miss recording some of Harry’s in our yearbook – immortalising them to remind us just how fleeting the magical pre-school years are;

Family album quotes

The archive section also contains  a gallery  of Harry’s artwork from across the year, which  allows me to be a little more ruthless about what I throw away;  we now have a permanent record without needing to store boxes and boxes of artistic efforts in the loft.

Childrens artwork gallery in a family yearbook

5. Use your completed Yearbook as a one-stop shop for Grandparents (and everyone else…)

I was slightly astonished when I watched my book upload to the server to find that it contained 756 photos.  I struggle during the year to keep up with sending interesting family pics to relatives without either overwhelming them or having them miss out.  Now, I can sit them down with a glass of wine and our family yearbook and get them to stick a post-it note on any they want copies of; rather like viewing your wedding photos after the event and choosing only the ones you love!

6. Order a copy or two..

Photobooks, particularly thick ones, can add up financially, but I’ve ordered an extra copy to begin to build a set for Harry that I can give him when he leaves home.  For my generation of pre-digital childhood snaps, the only way of looking at pictures is by visiting your parents and going through their albums; I want Harry to be able to have a copy of each of our yearbooks and not have to wait to inherit them.  It also gives us a back-up copy in the event that we lose or damage this one (and with the country currently shoulder-deep in floodwater, it’s a very relevant thought…)

Finally, in the category of I-wish-I’d-thought-of-this-earlier; I wish I’d archived photos as I’d gone along, choosing the best each month and putting them in a folder (I use iPhoto, for Mac).  Sorting and sifting an entire year’s worth of photos was painfully slow, so my New Year’s resolution is to exert a little more discipline and order for 2014; I now have a folder for each month and am gradually dropping photos into it for January as the year unfolds.

Do you make photo yearbooks or do anything similar?  I’d love to hear (and learn ideas from those who have been doing it longer).

And now with Monday looming I will allow myself one more wander through the pages before firmly setting it aside and focusing on the week ahead; I hope that you have a good one.

Kate

Family yearbook spine

p.s. I used BobBooks software to make our yearbook, which I chose because I’m familiar with it – but shop around for good deals and the formats you like.

 

Let there be bright!

Winter Brights to lift the gloom

It’s been a week where the world at large seems to have been beset by wild and extreme weather, from the deep freeze in the US to the wet and windy ravages across Europe and unpredictable swings of temperature in the Antipodes; few places seem to have escaped.  Our corner of the world is flooded, with water levels rising.  We are fortunately ensconced at the very top of a hill, Noah style, so are quite literally high and dry – for now.  With the general gloom and January grey, I’ve been trying this week to add colour and new life to our home, to encourage thoughts of Spring.  First, an unruly bunch of tulips escaping from an old watering can;

tulips in watering can

Tulips

I trimmed a couple of leftover flowers and tucked them into a folded book on the mantle, having wrapped the stems in soaked kitchen roll; so far they have looked perky and beautiful for 3 days, which is longer than I expected;

tulips in book pages

The most lasting display will be in the kitchen, where I have repurposed our old decorating ladder as a stand for a myriad of Spring bulbs and winter flowers.  Hellebores, hycacinths and snowdrops jostle for space on the treads and lean towards the weak light which manages to flood through the window each morning.  I took this first photo (below) last weekend, and have been gradually overlaying shots as the buds burst into bloom, inspired by David Hockney’s photo montages;

Spring bulbs on a ladder

Hockney style flowers on a ladder

The hyacinths are on the cusp of flowering and the scent is delicious, mixing with the woodsmoke from the hearth;

hyacinths blooming

Back in the depths of November, I planted individual hyacinths bulbs into teacups and individual casserole dishes, and am enjoying them dotted about the house, like this one in my office;

Spring hyacinth adding a pop of colour

 

I’m not naturally green-fingered at all, but one ambition this year is to convert an old and disused conservatory at the side of our house into a place to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables over the year.  A good use for these long winter evenings is to sit, glass of wine and pencil in hand, flicking through seed catalogues and marking out the most beautiful and interesting blooms and crops.  These mouse melons are on my list, just because they are so unique and pretty, and as we live on strawberries and tomatoes through the summer months, I’m sifting through varieties of those too.  For the gardeners amongst you, what would you suggest an amateur with sporadic attention should sow in a conservatory?  Space is plentiful, but colour, interesting plants and lovely scents will all increase the chances of Harry and I remembering to feed, water and prune…  All ideas welcome!

Have a wonderful weekend, and may the weather be kind to you wherever you are.

Kate

Christmas; A Week in Pictures

Happy New Year!  Did you have a lovely break?  I hope so.  We’re slowly emerging out of our cocoon and back into the real world again, after a wonderful – if chilly – Christmas.  A few highlights to share; firstly, of course, that the Big Man himself came…..

Santa has been

We had carefully counted out nine carrots and measured a mug of milk and some mince pies, so anticipation had been high, not least after Harry found Santa’s telegram in the hearth on Christmas Eve morning;

discovering the north pole telegram

There was much debate about where to hang stockings, before Harry decided that the end of the bed was the surest approach.  On Christmas morning, he discovered a letter from Santa in the top of his stocking, talking about how busy life has been at the North Pole; describing the winter colds which have been affecting the elves and which Mrs Claus has been treating with her special medicine, and the sprint-start training which Rudolph has been leading the reindeer in to ensure the whole world is reached over the course of a single night.  Harry was transfixed – momentarily – before being thoroughly distracted by the tissue-wrapped packages in the stocking itself.

Santas letter

Our boiler resolutely failed to start, despite the efforts of several engineers, so we spent Christmas wrapped in scarves, hats, jumpers, thick socks and blankets, huddled around the open fires in the kitchen and snug.  Bathing was limited to kettles of water, which Harry saw as another Christmas present in itself (no hair washing!), and which the rest of us shivered through.  Fortunately our visiting relatives are a hardy lot, so we pretended we were camping in the wild and consigned all planned festive outfits to the back of the wardrobe in favour of warm layers; there was no glamour here this year.  Harry, incidentally, seems to have a unique thermostat that never registers the cold; he spent Christmas day mostly in his vest, accessorised with a new Batman cape and mask;

batman outfit

When it came to feasting, I focused on creating a feeling of warmth with minimal effort, so used the antlers which usually adorn the log basket to form a centrepiece, sprinkled with glitter and with neutral baubles tucked at intervals.  Glitter-dipped pinecones acted as place-name holders, and a length of black paper underneath complete with chalk sticks made for much fun between courses.  The most popular game with our rotating collection of family and friends over the break was to see who could scribble down the names of all of the reindeer first.  Have a go, it’s harder than you think;  though it’s perhaps a sign of the potency of my homemade Christmas Martinis that someone had noted ‘Nixon’ in their list.

Christmas Eve Table

 

origami log basket

Our main Christmas present to each other was a New Year escape to a beautiful little hotel in the Cotswolds, for a couple of nights of warmth, fun and relaxation; it looked so welcoming even as we pulled into the drive;

calcot manor hotel

…and Harry was immediately won over on discovering his bed (as were Digby and Marvin, who accompany him everywhere)..

hotel cookies

Back home we’ve been busy packing up Christmas decorations (how is it that the number of them seems to grow every year?)

bristle tree forest

…And making thank-you cards for the many wonderful gifts we all received.  For Harry’s, I designed a simple note and then added a picture of him in cowboy costume on the front.  I recently picked up some old and rather battered childrens’ books in a church sale and have been cutting out pictures to use as envelope liners, so this Christmas thank-you notes will come with gorgeous images from Elmer;

Harry thank you 2013 Harrys thank you cards  saying thank you after christmas

And now the festivities are truly over, and we’re left with a house that looks deliciously calm and uncluttered – and warm at last, with a happily chuffing boiler once again firing away. Spring seems a long way off still, so my thoughts are turning to all things green and to how I can ward off the January gloom with a bit of colour and new life dotted around the place; that’s the challenge for this weekend, before work beckons once again.

narcissi

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

Kate

3 Ways with Christmas Cookies

Gifting Christmas Cookies

Cookies are a great last-minute gift; it’s lovely to arrive at other peoples’ houses bearing something homemade, and so Harry and I have been busy making cookies using the dough we froze earlier in the month.  First up, deliciously festive oatmeal cookies with a holiday twist, which we’ve packaged up with bells, ribbon and candy canes.

Fruit and Oat Star Spice Cookies

I used the fruit & oat cookie recipe from the wonderful Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, and simply doubled the measures of spices for a holiday feel.  Drizzled lemon icing and a scattering of white chocolate stars complete the cookie and raise them above the everyday… I’ve added the recipe at the bottom of the post; for the icing just mix together icing/powdered sugar with pure lemon juice until it drips off a fork, then drizzle lightly back and forth over the cooled cookies.  Our white chocolate stars are from here.

oatmeal and raisin cookies cooling cookies with drizzled icing

And two other cookie ideas from our kitchen for inspiration, both using the basic no-spread gingerbread recipe which I posted here; firstly Twinkle-Toe Gingerbread Men; the buttons are tiny chocolate beans held in place with a dab of icing; bakers’ twine scarves and a dusting of rianbow glitter on the hands and feet make them suitably christmassy….

Gingerbread TwinkleToes

And secondly a forest of decorated Gingerbread Spruce Trees, made by dusting the tops with a blend of edible food colouring powder (seen below), plus a dab of silver food powder, followed by a drizzle of icing and some carefully placed white shimmer baubles.  These were the first to disappear when we had friends and family over last weekend; a sure sign of their attractiveness!

spruce christmas cookies

Gingerbread forest gingerbread decorating kit

We’ll be out and about this weekend, delivering cookies and celebrating the season with friends; the blustery wind and rain make it slightly less festive than we’d hoped for, but are a very good excuse to stay inside in the warm.

Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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Basic oat & raisin cookie recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery;

(if you’re working in US cups & measures, try Martha’s gold-plated recipe here)

  • 270g unsalted butter
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 160g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 380g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5 tsp of ground cinnamon (I doubled this, and also added a pinch of nutmeg and allspice)
  • 110g rolled oats
  • 220g raisins

To make, simply mix together the butter and sugars, before stirring in the eggs and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, bicarb and cinnamon, then add the oats and stir together.  Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir into a ball.  Roll into small balls and place on a greased baking sheet, well-spaced as they will spread.  Bake for around 10 minutes at 170C/325F 9slightly less for chewier cookies and longer for crispy ones).

Home for the Holidays

With just six Big Sleeps ’til Christmas, anticipation is running high in our household. We flung open our doors last Sunday to family and friends, and this for us marked the start of the festivities (and compelled us to complete the holiday decor!).  We have a couple more days of work to get through, but the house at least is ready and adorned; today let me give you a quick tour in lieu of being able to actually invite you over for a glass of mulled wine…

Holiday house Christmas bike

Remember this delivery bike from Easter?  I’ve decked it out for Christmas, using an old fruit crate which I sprayed black, tucking in a faux Christmas tree draped in inexpensive, hardy baubles.  A simple wreath is tied to the basket frame, and I used one of these paper placemats mounted on card stock to make the welcoming holiday sign.  I wired a stock of old red lightbulbs (a car-boot sale find) and draped them over the frame, before clipping on an IKEA lantern at the back.  I bought of stash of these and have used them liberally throughout the house this year, following the Anthropologie adage that anything used in excess can look quite cool…  The bike sits outside in the lane when we’re expecting guests; rain permitting, of course.

In the hallway, an old sledge carries enticing looking parcels, which are actually old cardboard boxes wrapped in wall-lining paper and tied with ribbon.  I’ve borrowed the reindeer skin from our bathroom to add more Nordic style.  The sledge is lit by a paper tree, which I’ve hung with parcels of magic reindeer food (last year’s recipe is here), and which are given to small visitors when they leave.

Holiday House Entryway

Holiday House Reindeer Food

The Fir lady from last week is now complete and has taken up residence in a quiet corner of the kitchen, where she is shown to best advantage and unlikely to get underfoot;

Fir Lady

More parcels and lanterns add to the festive effect…

Fir Lady for Christmas

The biggest Christmas display is in our long and open hallway which runs the length of the house; I wanted something that would catch your eye as you walk in, but also look interesting as you come down the stairs, or glimpse it through the kitchen doorway.  It’s on the main thoroughfare to the bathroom, so tends to stop people in their tracks as they pause to examine the various bits and pieces….

Holiday house Christmas hallway

Let’s start at the bottom; I placed a large trunk on top of our hall table, then filled a picnic hamper with straw and tucked in two festive geese, which in previous years have been left to totter along landings at Christmas, or have perched on shelves.  They look slightly curious or alarmed, as if they know they are heading for the oven; but it also has the effect of looking a little like a hot air balloon basket, which may give them cause for hope of escape..

Christmas Geese in a Basket

On top of the case is an old wooden ladder which is usually covered in paint and dust, but for now is hung with more interesting accents and decorations.  Tucked underneath is an old typewriter, with a couple of robins perched atop it, pecking at the keys;

Festive hallway display

And a carol is typed out, for those who peer closely enough…

Christmas typewriter

Arranged on the ladder are various natural decorations like twig balls and giant seed pods, into which I’ve placed baubles as if they’ve just burst open to reveal them;

Festive montage

…and remember the book folding post?  I’ve used a couple of the books I made to add another dimension to the display;

folded decorations I

folded decorations II

More garden bits and pieces are arranged on top of a zinc pedestal which normally lives on the patio, including a driftwood wreath and wooden stars;

Garden decorations for Christmas

And further down the table, an old vegetable crate is turned on its side on a stool to create a winter forest scene, using animals from Harry’s Ark and tiny bristle trees.

Crate nativity

A wicker basket is perched atop the ladder with a small tree trimmed with battery LED lights (we click it on in the evenings), and this is the view as you head down the stairs;

Holiday scene from the stairs

 

It’s a constantly evolving display as items are borrowed and replaced, or others are added; but it’s quirky and makes me smile.  In other rooms we have the Christmas tree as usual, and other, more traditional decor; this is just a taste of something a little different, to ring in the changes. I hope you enjoyed it too!

I’ll be back a couple more times before Christmas with last-minute cookie gifts, printable Santa telegrams and some wrapping ideas.  It’s ho ho ho all the way now I’m afraid; there’s no place for the Grinch here…

Kate x

Festive delivery bike

Should you wear fir this Christmas?

Fir Dress

When I thought about decorating the house this Christmas, I wanted to do something a bit different to the usual garlands and fairy lights.  I love looking in Christmas store windows where tableaux have been elegantly yet  apparently oh-so-casually thrown together, so I’ve  been gathering vaguely festive and wintery household items to act as props in little displays for the hallway and kitchen.  It’s very much a work in progress; you know the kind of thing – just as soon as you artfully arrange a pair of wellington boots and ivy sprigs, someone will cry ‘Aha!, there they are!’,  tug on the wellies and march off down the garden, whistling.

One thing that is going according to plan is the crafting of a Christmas party dress for the mannequin that usually lurks upstairs.  Inspired by this amazing pin of a store window display, I’ve been attempting to create something similar at home…

Fir dress with music pages

I cut a piece of chicken wire and tied it around the mannequin’s waist, then wired in boughs of fir (I bought a huge bunch from the local garden centre for about £10/$15).  I tied a length of wide black ribbon around it to cover the wire work and branch stumps, then added a few tonal baubles as a touch of sparkle.

making a fir skirt

fir dress with baubles

The bodice I made by simply rolling up old sheets of music paper – a Mozart score found in a pile at the local charity shop – and tucking them into the ribbon.  it’s very temporary, but she will endure throughout the holiday period I’m sure.

rolled music pages

Into her skirts I am gradually weaving pine cones and robins (and Harry is tucking in any odd random bits of lego or string he finds lying around…), so she will continue to grow over the days to come.

I’ll transport her to the kitchen later tonight where she will take up residence over Christmas, but wanted to share with you the work in progress.

More pics later in the week as our decorating continues, including geese in packing crates, a rickety old sledge and a very precarious ladder strung with gifts and baubles.  That’s if we manage not to knock any of it over first…

Have a great weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

Kate x

The Dream House Restoration: Heading upstairs…

French armchair in bathroom

Those of you who have been following for a while will know that we are slowly restoring and updating an ancient, crumbling yet beautiful Georgian house in England; working our way as quickly as inspiration and budget will allow (very slowly, in the case of the latter).  It’s a battle against the elements; even as one coat of paint dries in a room, a strange and ominous water stain will seep through the ceiling of another.   A sense of intimacy is created quickly with new guests who soon realise that every toilet flush clangs and reverberates around the house for a good 10 minutes; there are no secrets here.  The house will be something of a life’s work, and is frustrating and wonderful – often in equal measure.  We moved here two years ago this Christmas, and have so far tackled much of the downstairs; the kitchen, playroom and hallway have all appeared here on the blog.

Our next project was the overhaul of our bedroom and its en suite bathroom.  We moved out of it more than two months ago for a job that we thought would take two weeks… we (and our builders) should definitely have known better by now!  Having been camping out in the spare room since September, we finally reclaimed our own bed yesterday, with great relief and general giddiness.  As we put the finishing touches to our bedroom, here’s a peek at the bathroom, which we’ve completely overhauled.  I’ve interspersed the before and after pictures so that you get a sense of the layout and evolution.

Let’s start view into the bathroom from our bedroom before;

old bathroom 1

And after…

view from bedroom into bathroom

The bathroom had a very strange false step buried beneath dark green carpet (seen below), which was presumably crafted as a way of improving drainage at some point in the 70s or 80s.  It had to go; beyond being a complete hazard in the middle of the night, it also reduced the floor space significantly.  Oh, and the drainage thing obviously didn’t work; our en suite had no actual toilet; for that you needed to head down the corridor.

old bathroom step

We took out the step, removed half of the wall-to-wall cupboards (which the step had been cut into, making them look a bit odd), and stripped out the old shower, replacing it with a hidden-cistern WC instead.  An old armchair has been moved from the spare bedroom and has quickly settled into the corner here instead.  Underfloor heating warms the new travertine stone which we laid instead of the carpet.

new bathroom left view

new bathroom left corner

We think that the room is likely to have originally been a nursery bedroom, and contains a chimney breast (boxed in behind the sinks) and alcoves.  The alcove to the right of the sinks used to house a built-in wardrobe, but one which we seldom used, being in a bathroom and far away from our other storage.  It also had a weird half-wall which further bisected the space, and which we took down.

old bathroom cupboard

We replaced it with a huge walk-in shower…

bathroom shower

For the main sink area, we stripped out the old, stained green marble top and inset basins, and chipped off the tiles to reveal the chimney breast and fireplace; incredibly, it hadn’t been boarded up so also contained several fossilised birds (eek!) and  - more interestingly – a time capsule from the previous owners, and a newspaper that was more than 50 years old.  I’ll share that in a future post; it makes for wonderful reading.  After properly stabilising the chimney breast and wall, we had it re-plastered and tiled before choosing simple washbowl sinks with inset taps.  The eagle-eyed will recognise that they are now mounted on our former hall table; we thought it would look beautiful in the space, so after sealing the wooden surface we asked our joiner to plumb the washbowls through it.

vanity unit

washbowl

For aesthetically-pleasing storage of the things we use all the time, we found these poured-concrete planters at our local garden centre (a bargain at £15), which easily hold bits and bobs like hairbrushes, toothpaste and so forth.  Hand towels are stored in the vintage dough bowl which again you may recognise from our apple-picking and other adventures – so much of this bathroom is recycled from other parts of the house.

concrete planter dough bowl bathroom storage

An old French milking stool (a flea market find last year) acts as a stand for shower essentials;

milking stool

‘That’s all very well’, I hear you cry; ‘but where do you store all your un-beautiful bathroom products, hmm?’  I can imagine you saying it, because that was exactly my husband’s question when I described to him my vision for a bathroom with nothing in it (or near as dammit).  Well.  Not that I am going to confess to owning anything unsavoury like haemorrhoid cream, waxing supplies, dandruff shampoo etc, but IF I did, they would surely all be housed in the magnificently huge cupboards we retained and which hide all manner of sins.  Believe me, it’s like the episode of Friends where Monica’s secret closet full of junk is discovered.

bathroom wardrobes

We’ve only been able to use the bathroom for 24hrs so far, so we’re still pondering where to place things and wall decor.  We’ve moved a huge picture up from downstairs which we love and are living with to see how it all works together.  We’re hoping that we’ll be able to turn the old cupboard doors from the units we removed into window shutters, by stripping them and adding hinges to produce period, fold-back shutters…we shall see.

There are gremlins and small irritations, of course; the limitations of ancient plumbing and old houses means we have had to site the heated towel rail on the opposite side of the room to the sink, for example.  We knew that we would have to plan this room somewhat on the fly, as we wouldn’t know what was underneath and behind the old bathroom until everything had been stripped away.  All told though, we are very, very happy – not least because we’ll have no more midnight sprints along a cold corridor to the bathroom, stubbing toes and shivering as we go.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the colours we chose and fittings we used, for any bathroom fetishists or if you’re about to start a similar project yourself…

Now, time for a shower.  Only my third today; the thrill of the new, eh?

Kate

Bathroom Sourcebook