Homing Instinct

interiors, decor and everything home

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

Wanderlust

I’m back… back! 

We had 10 amazing days travelling around New England, followed by a characteristically hectic return to school, work and the chaos real life, hence the prolonged and unusual quiet here on the blog.  In the days we were gone, the seasons definitively turned; frost is in the air, Christmas is in the shops and we seem to be racing towards December already.  At home we’re in the midst of our latest building project as we gradually restore and update the house, so plaster dust lightly adorns every surface, and more treasures are being discovered as we open up fireplaces and lift floorboards – but more on that next week.

Till then, a whistle-stop tour through the very best of our time in the US, guided by your fantastic suggestions of where to go and what to see.  We booked a car and the first night’s stay, but then plotted only a day or two ahead, going where the fancy took us.  Temperatures swung from 70-40 degrees, often from one day to the next, but the relentlessly blue skies and amazing colours compensated for the blasts of arctic chill.  We had a ball…

New England life ring

We began in Connecticut and caught the last of the brilliant fall colour; Harry took to diving into the giant leaf piles that were all around, and also discovered the joys of bagels and cream cheese, pancakes for breakfast and a myriad of other culinary delights.  We pottered through beautiful villages where all the porches were decorated for Halloween, and created the Pumpkin Watch game to see who could spot the most as we drove.

Leaf drifts in New England

New England in the Fall

Inspired by all this seasonal decoration, we tracked down a local farm and discovered pumpkin patches, tractor rides, hay-mazes and apple cider…

Pumpkin Picking

Apple Picking

Despite living on an island, we can never get enough of the sea, so regularly headed out to the coast to claim the deserted beaches as our own.  With the weather bright and breezy and local kids in school, we shared the sand and rocks only with friendly dogs and fishermen.

The Ocean at Newport

We spent two days near Newport, and spent hours hunting for beach treasures, walking the cliffs and running, running, running along the sand.  Again; hardly a soul around – it reminded me of Where the Wild Things Are as Harry raced along the seashore in his new bear hat; his own private kingdom, at least until the turn of the tide…

Ocean at Dawn

Beach treasures

Ten days of amazingly beautiful places and lovely people; ten days without a schedule or alarm clock or a need for early nights and military-level organisation – it was perfect, and came at just the right time for us to decompress.  We came home with hundreds of photos, wonderful memories and – remarkably, even now – a renewed sense of calm.  Also, alas, with a few extra pounds in weight.  Obviously all that beach running didn’t quite offset all the pancakes…

Have a wonderful weekend, whatever you’re doing.  We’re starting preparations for Harry’s 4th birthday in a couple of weeks, which inevitably will be pirate-themed (just what is it about little boys and pirates?!).

Kate x

Angel at dawn

Weekending: Home Harvest

Planted Wellies

Are you having a lovely weekend?  I hope so.  It’s been 48hrs of sunshine and woodsmoke here; the epitome of seasons on the turn and the kind of weather that has you itching to be outside, sleeves rolled up, doing nature-y things.  We planted up an out-grown pair of wellies with vibrant autumnal chrysanthemums, and they now stand proudly outside the door to The Little House.  I lined them with plastic beforehand so that they can be worn again by the feet of smaller cousins in due course, but for now they will be perky sentries at the playhouse door until first frosts arrive.

We bought a new gadget and immediately tore off the packaging and set to work; a telescopic apple picker which makes light work of plucking the biggest and juiciest apples from the top of our ancient apple tree.  A family production-line ensued, with Harry-the-fearless given the task of checking for bug holes and nasties, whilst I cagily packed the safe ones into plastic plant-pot trays salvaged from our local garden centre.  Wrapped in newspaper beds and stored deep in the cellar, I’m dreaming of endless apple crumbles and pies through the winter.

The Apple Harvest

Walking to our local coffee shop for sustenance, we stumbled across this beautiful tree; the only one on a footpath of green which was beginning to turn.  It turned our thoughts to New England and our eagerly-awaited trip (not long now..).  After admiring it, we stuffed our pockets with fallen leaves, and inspired by this picture, had a go at making leaf table confetti with craft punches from my art cupboard.  (The leaves still look lovely at home, but it’s funny how nothing quite compares to seeing them outdoors – I can’t wait for Vermont).

Fall Leaf Table Confetti

Our hedges are full of rosehips, and I filled a trug with them, mostly just so that we could put them in a bowl and admire them.  My brother mentioned that you can cook with them (“I think they taste like cranberries”), so I searched briefly online for recipes, most of which cautioned gravely about the need to remove all seeds from them to avoid ‘significant gastric disturbance’ and ‘problems of the bowel’.  Hmmm.  As a fairly slap-dash cook this was warning enough, so instead I trimmed them and tumbled them into a vase for a welcome splash of colour.

Hedgerow Foraging

Rosehips

If you thought rosehips in vases were a little surreal, then may I introduce you to my tomato hat;

Tomato Hat

Around this time every year my friend Lou holds an Annual Tomato Festival, which is essentially an excuse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled, competitive merry-making under the guise of a genteel event.  Categories this year included Most Oddly Shaped Tomato, Best Wine to Drink with Tomatoes, and The Crafty Tomato, as well as the more conventional Best Tomato Dish.  Last year’s category of Most Adventurous Tomato was won by a cherry tomato which found itself tied to a sky lantern and set on fire, and was last seen floating over the Thames.  On safety grounds, the category was rested for 2013.

My hat was made with ping-pong balls, red spray paint and the tops of real tomatoes, and that is probably detail enough; I don’t think it could be classed as a mainstream crafting project, after all.  I won a Highly Commended certificate, and as a consolation prize was invited to judge the food, which of course meant tasting every dish.  Delicious, but not without consequence; 24 tomato-based dishes represent a culinary marathon rather than a sprint.  I write this evening cresting on a wave of mild acidic discontent, with  - whisper it – a distinct hangover.

Tomato festival

Good times…

Have a great week!

Kate

 

 

 

Retreating and Restoring

Firstly, thank you for the comments and encouragement and sharing of memories prompted by last week’s post; for me the loveliest thing about blogging is the connectivity and conversation it creates.  The sense of a shared maternal experience of that first day of school, whether separated by days or decades, was potent and wonderful.

Over the last few days, we’ve been in keep-your-head-above-water mode, taking every day as it comes and exhaustedly acknowledging a job well done at the end of each.  For Harry, each day at school has brought a volley of ‘firsts’ and newnesses which have left him glassy-eyed and teetering between giddy exuberance and tearfulness; for us it’s meant juggling work schedules with new school hours, navigating the unspoken rules about drop-offs and collections, pegs and bookbags; the chastisements for wrongly-labelled uniform or missing permissions forms… I’m in yet another maternal learning curve and tackling it with my usual hit-and-miss style.  As a result, it’s been a week of retreating and nesting, where the hours outside of work and school have been filled with the familiar; things which nurture us and guarantee smiles.  Things like..

apple recipes

I took our huge bounty of windfalls and your recipe suggestions and have been revelling in a heady, appley-fog in the kitchen.  Batches of apple sauce, pie and crumble are filling the freezer, and our hands-down winners so far have been more-ish apple & pecan muffins, which we convinced ourselves are healthy enough to be classified as breakfast rather than cake.  Our new apple peeler is a family favourite toy, providing hours of entertainment as we attempt to peel and core every fruit and vegetable we can lay our hands on.

pinceone firelighters 2013

Our walks in the woods coupled with a week of high winds have allowed us to fill pockets full of pinecones; I made a few batches of firelighters for the months ahead and we lit the woodburner one unseasonably chilly night to give them a test-run.

The gradual turning of the seasons has given us a chance for bonfires which beg for marshmallows on long toasting forks.  Soon we’ll be piling foil-wrapped potatoes into the embers and lighting sparklers as we warm our hands with mulled wine, but for now we’re still eking out the last of the summer rituals.

campfire marshmallows

And in a few heady moments of escapism and me-time, I went to a local antiques barn and fell in love with this vintage packing trunk, which is soon to take up pride of place at the foot of Harry’s bed.  A large, wooden trunk complete with working clasps and canvas inlays, it felt very Harry-Potteresque to me and appealed to my current preoccupation with school-life… but I hope it will  grow with Harry’s own taste and look equally good in his room at 14 or 16 as it does now.

harry potter trunk

My other treat this week has been a visit to our local garden centre where the trays and baskets of winter bulbs are stacked high, and where you can stuff paper bags full of papery brown hyacinths which promise to fill the house with scent and colour throughout the darkest days of the coming winter.  It felt like choosing sweets as a child; I limited myself – somewhat – and am looking forward to a weekend of pottering and planting up, aided by a small helper who will doubtless shower soil throughout the house but will revel in the importance of being my Right-Hand Man.

Hyacinths ready for planting

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

Kate

DIY Art Installation: The Great Wall of China

I’ve always had a bit of a passion for matt white porcelain; there’s just something about its beauty and fragility, and the understated simplicity of it.  Having neither the lifestyle not budget to warrant actually buying it, I’ve till now satisfied my passion with window shopping and pinning artists and makers like Caroline Swift (below) and Isabelle Abramson (bottom)

carline swift vessels caroline swift bowls

Isabelle Abramson

A couple of weeks ago I was drinking coffee in the kitchen and wondering idly which picture to hang on a long, thin wall when I decided to do something very different – I’d try creating a sculpture wall of porcelain-like vessels and kitchen implements which could hang quietly against a backdrop of white until noticed…

Kitchen with wall installation

 

great wall of china montage

I began by assembling any old and chipped plates we had, plus odds and ends like a couple of baby feeding spoons from when Harry was weaning, and a pair of chopsticks.  I did a quick trawl of local charity shops and managed to pick up a cheap teapot and a couple of china mugs and saucers.  These were a myriad of different colours, but of course that doesn’t matter at all as everything will be sprayed white.  Oh, and remember the teacup bird feeders I made?  I swiped one of the cups and saucers from there to repurpose on my wall.  I gave everything several thin coats of matt white spray paint and then rolled out a length of white paper to play with the arrangement of the items.  I used a leftover roll of lining wallpaper for this – very cheap and super useful.  I moved the items around, repositioning and taking photos to work out what arrangement would look best on the eventual wall…

wall art laid out on paper

It was also at this stage that I gave some serious thought to how to fix the china and objects to the wall, especially those – like the whisk – that I wanted to hang at a particular angle.  The answer was to use a few different methods.  For lighter items like the baking implements below, I just tapped a handful of nails into the wall to secure them in place, spraying the nails white afterwards.  You can see them if you look for them, but otherwise they pass largely unnoticed…

kates kitchen wall

kitchen utensils wall art

For heavier plates and arrangements, I glued the pieces together before spraying them, then used plate discs to adhere to the back before hanging flush on the wall using nails.  The plate discs hold an amazing weight, but you do need to follow the directions and let them ‘cure’ overnight first before testing their strength.junk shop teapot sprayed matt white sprayed white chopsticks on saucer

babyspoon and bowl white plates

The most challenging items were light, individual pieces like the little ramekins and the fish dipping dish.  I wanted them to appear completely flush with the wall and seem almost to be floating.  In the end, I opted for  super-strong velcro tabs which are designed for picture hanging.  One side adheres to the wall, and one to the piece you want to hang, then they simply clip together (see below for more details).  This was great to use for any pieces which I was hanging in arm’s length of visiting toddlers – they can be peeled off the wall if some strength is used, but can’t be knocked to the floor and broken.  Not easily, anyhow…

kitchen wall with a difference

 

Fancy having a go? Here’s what I used; matt white spray paint to get the china a uniform, flat colour.  Command picture hanging strips to adhere lightweight pieces directly to the wall; this is great as you can reposition them and move the pieces around to different positions.  Adhesive plate discs, for invisible hanging or larger items, which are then hung onto nails or hooks; I used these tap-in angled ones below for a near-flush finish; you could use ordinary nails and gently tap them at an angle to avoid pieces jutting out.

wall art materials

 

Our Great Wall of China joins other kitchen features like the mounted boat transom (below) and folded books on the fireplace and completes it at last…

boat in room close up

books on fireplace

It will probably provoke similarly mixed reactions from friends, with some who think it’s the coolest thing ever and others who think we’re completely nuts… and that’s fine too.  Debate can ensue over a Saturday night glass of wine or three…

I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend, wherever you are!

Kate

 

Treasure-Hunting…

Ardingly IACF Fair

Images above via IACF

One bright day two weeks ago, we piled into the car and headed for Ardingly, which periodically hosts one of Europe’s largest vintage & antiques fairs.  It’s an annual pilgrimage for me; a hunting ground for treasures and improbable, beautiful finds.  We have clearly defined roles; I spot something I adore and then shriek, loudly, before bouncing around distractingly in the background whilst my husband attempts to negotiate the price, and to create an impression of casual interest. Often, I am dispatched for coffee as a way of removing me from sight entirely.

Prices anyway are low; this is predominantly a dealers’ event, and bargains are many. Whether you are looking for a set of tiny vintage patisserie tins, a 20ft high reclaimed, columned stone porch for your country manor or a turn-of-the-century copper bathtub, you will undoubtedly find it here.  Sellers come from all over Europe and it’s as much a reunion as a business event; currencies, embraces and gossip are all freely exchanged and there’s a festive air.

I gave myself a strict budget of £100 and went rummaging.  Here’s what I bought;  firstly, an armful of vintage French linens; monogrammed tea-towls and a long, hand-woven length of heavy linen which will work beautifully as a rustic table runner.  They’re perched on a £5 old milking stool, which will make a lovely bedside book table once I check that the woodworm, too, is definitely vintage…

vintage french linens

My unexpected find was a collection of huge 19th Century tin stencils of deer and stags – including the ‘inner’ cut-outs, which I love; I’m thinking the inner pieces will look beautiful resting on shelves and mantels at Christmastime, whereas I might actually put the stencils themselves to use to decorate tablecloths and fabric placemats (watch this space…).

19thC Stencils

I’ve been searching for a while for some little copper pans to use when serving individual puddings or sauces, and at last found these 9cm Mauviel pans which polished up beautifully; I’m picturing hot chocolate fondants with liquid centres, dusted with icing sugar… mmm.

brocante copper pans

These champagne buckets below will add to one I have already and look good in a row at parties filled with ice & different bottles (wines, beers, soft..); I’m imagining them on my cart once I get around to restoring it…at 2 for £10 it seemed worth it even if they’re only used a handful of times a year.

old champagne buckets

My next purchase was another surprise find; four vintage postal sacks (Belgian or Dutch, I think), which Harry immediately decided would be brilliant for a sack race (and how right he is..).  Once the summer is over I’ll give them a good clean and may turn them into over-sized lounging pillows or even hang them up in a row as laundry bags – though it could be weeks before we manage to fill them up.  What would you do with these?  They’re incredibly strong and well-made, and the years have made them very soft too… I’m sure there are a myriad of uses for them.

vintage postal sack

sack races

And finally, a pile of naturally-shed antlers to decoratively fill our kitchen fireplace out of season, sold by a charismatic, ancient Scotsman who collects them from across the moors.   If you come across antlers and like the look of them as decor accents, check that the ends are rounded and unmarked, which will indicate that they’ve been naturally shed during the spring  - hence their prevalence now.

deer antlers in fireplace

Large antlers and giant tin stencils may indeed be great finds, but they are somewhat hard to manoeuvre safely through crowds, so after inadvertently poking several bystanders we decided to head for home with our boot-load of treasure…. at least until the next year.

Are you a dedicated junk-hunter?  I’ve always had a passion for old, reclaimed objects and materials, and now our very old, unusual home gives us the perfect blank canvas for them.  Our last house was a minimal, modern space  - equally lovely but completely different, and much less suited to battered and worn furnishings.  How lovely to have an excuse now…

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

vintage tin stag form

The Little House

The Little House in Winter

House-painting can be a relentless, unforgiving task.  Slaving away in the burning sun and occasional rain, painting never-ending woodwork atop a wobbly ladder.  My advice?  Buy yourself a house that’s all of 8 foot high and you’ll find you can paint it in approximately an hour, including varnishing.  Trust me; it’s enormously satisfying.  A little small, perhaps, for the whole family, but perfectly proportioned for a 3yr old.

You may remember we bought a second-hand playhouse (above) for Harry’s birthday last winter, and it has sat looking picturesque but slightly weary through the harsh winter months.  Soon after buying it I added curtains made from tea towels and a slate ‘Little House’ sign, but we waited until the Springtime before tackling the interior.  Last weekend I gave it a proper overhaul, painting sills and gables, planting up hanging baskets and turning the bare interior into a proper bachelor pad. If you’ve time for a cup of pretend tea and a plastic cake, come on inside and have the tour…

the little house sign

When the playhouse was delivered, the inside was bare wood – and somewhat battered from having legions of small feet pattering in and out over the years in its former home.

playhouse renovation

We gave it a couple of coats of whitewash and glued inexpensive carpet tiles to the floor, and then decked out the interior with Harry’s play BBQ, table and chairs…

playhouse interior

harrys kitchen diner

All of these furnishings have simply been moved out from the playroom for the summer, freeing up some valuable space indoors.

Here’s the ‘loft’ sleeping platform before….

harrys loft before

And after…

little house loft

Above the sleeping platform hangs – securely –  a watchful angel; in reality a photograph I took of a folk-art Christmas decoration I bought years ago in New England.

little house angel

There’s enough space to hang your hat above your pillow, and a clock to wake you from a nap, should the bird chorus outside fail.  A decorative driftwood garland hangs by the ladder, and some well-worn old linens make for a comfortable den to retire to with a favourite book.  The paper animal garland was leftover from Harry’s first birthday party a couple of years ago and has found renewed purpose in bedecking the playhouse walls – I give it a few more months before it is declared too babyish and relegated to the (real) loft.

play loft

Do you remember Harry’s Hardware Store (below)?  With the advent of warm weather this has found a natural home inside the playhouse, where young drivers can park their scooters, pedal cars and balance bikes at the door and come in for tools, coffee or petrol.  It does a roaring trade..

harry store main shot

playhouse with built in store

Externally, The Little House is ready for summer; I exchanged the faux-topiary balls of winter for some low hanging baskets which Harry and I planted up with strawberries; they are just reachable for 3yr old hands, but tantalisingly out of reach for slugs.  Geraniums burst from the window box, mirroring those of the main house, and a passion flower climbs alongside the door.   A bird box mounted near the eaves will hopefully attract residents next winter, and a brightly painted cockerel weather vane adds a distinctive finishing touch.  And finally, I can’t forget our sunflowers, which now sit along the side of the Little House, where they can turn to the late afternoon sun, protected from the mayhem of small people crashing in and out of the playhouse itself.

The Little House in Springtime

the little house exterior

Work over, we all hunched inside for a celebratory cup of tea, served up with a hard, wooden play sausage and half a head of garlic.  Whatever else Harry does in his life, I doubt that a future in the kitchen beckons.

amish star

And finally, before I go; this week Pinterest is launching formally here in the UK, to great excitement.  For those who haven’t yet come across it, Pinterest is a very visual way of collecting together all the things you love, by ‘pinning’ images to your boards from all across the wide world of the web.  For those who are already converts, you can find me (and images from all of the projects on my site) here, or by searching under pinners  for ‘Kate Curates’; for those who are new and want to explore for the first time, you can register using the link here.  One word of advice; don’t do this if you have a deadline looming, or a child soon to wake from a nap, or indeed anything which requires your undivided attention for some time; it can be absolutely, deliciously addictive…

And now breathe…

egg hunt vintage bicycle sign

It’s been a glorious long weekend; a rich and hectic mêlée of friends and family coming and going, of feasts and wintery walks, with the frenetic, chocolate-fuelled hedonism of toddlers tempered  by evenings in front of the fire with a glass of wine and some exceptionally fine grown-up company.  It was blissful.

Today we had the long-awaited Great Egg Hunt, and the day dawned chilly and bright, with anticipation reaching fever pitch by lunchtime.  Eggs were laid throughout the garden, and this tantalising invitation was visible from the kitchen window and the driveway as Harry’s friends began to arrive…

easter egg hunt sign with bicycle and playhouse

Lola the rabbit  - Harry’s favourite hand puppet – welcomed guests from her lofty basket on this ancient delivery bike (another eBay find), surrounded by narcissi, balloons and golden chocolate eggs; a promise of what awaited our hunter-gatherers.

easter basket in bicycle

Inside the house, egg-hunting baskets stood ready for collection, from pint-sized hooped baskets for those still a little unsteady on their feet through to magnificent wicker hold-alls for those determined to speed like minesweepers through the undergrowth in search of every last egg…

easter baskets waiting for the egg hunt

The race was on; stragglers who were still wrestling with wellies or dithering over basket choice soon caught up and the hunt began in earnest

egg-hunting

Every garden nook and cranny was investigated in the hunt for Easter treasure

Playhouse

The eagle-eyed followed signs placed in vintage chimney pots and scattered throughout the garden…

egg hunt sign in chimney pot

egg hunt sign on bird table

The egg hunt was followed by a festive party tea of sandwiches and cakes for anyone who still had the space left for it after the chocolate-fest of the afternoon, then every small egg-hunter left with the contents of their basket and a bag of Bunny Tails, made by filling disposable icing bags with marshmallows and adding gift-wrap paper top cut with pinking shears and a free graphic from here;

DIY Easter Bunny Tails; marshmallow treats for Easter

easter bunny tails - marshmallow treats

Guests could also choose a bunny balloon, which I made by customising simple pearlised balloons with bunny ears cut from vellum, and a hand-drawn face.  I added a bow and then threaded and glued a stripy straw onto each stick (I got quite into this; I can forsee a future post with a menagerie of balloon animals; consider this fair warning..)

DIY bunny balloon

Bunny balloons

Tea was followed by games and general mayhem, as the sugar kicked-in.  The clear-up was worth it…. a day thoroughly well-spent.

honeycomb tissue balls strung on door

Tomorrow brings a return to the fray; nursery for Harry and work for us.  Bags must be packed and diaries checked; alarms set and clothes located.  Until then though, plenty of time for one more favourite activity.  This book might finally be the one I manage not to drop in the tub…

reading in the bathtub

An Easter welcome…

Easter approaches, but not the vibrantly green Easter of sudden unseasonal heatwaves, spring picnics and al fresco fun.  Instead, Easter in our small corner of the world promises to be sprinkled with snow flurries, with only the hardiest early apple blossom and narcissi spikes braving the chill.  We don’t care; at Easter each year the house fills with family and friends, and we’ve been adding some decorative touches to spruce things up for their arrival.  Let’s start with lunch…

wallpaper table runner

I wanted to create an interesting Easter table that will see us through a number of meals and provide some distractions for little hands; I used a leftover piece of wallpaper for a simple, natural table runner.  It’s wipe-proof, unlikely to tear and means there’s no need for a tablecloth beneath.  I love using wallpaper for table runners – our local DIY store lets you cut sample lengths and I have a bundle of offcuts from when we were decorating bedrooms; some vibrant and some, like this, more subtle.  Simple brown kraft paper looks great too, or you could use a roll of black paper to mimic a chalkboard; I’ve done this for informal dinners with friends and it looks gorgeous when decorated with white chalk pens (leave some on the table for guests to doodle with..)

spring hare napkin rings DIY

I made these seasonal napkin rings by cutting toilet rolls in half and glueing a length of fabric around each.  I sourced the archive image of the spring hare from here; it was once a bookplate in a dictionary…  I printed it out several times on a sheet of white paper and cut into strips before glueing around each ring.

I used the same image for placemats, printing onto A3 recycled paper, and creating a set of hares racing around the table…

march hare placemat

For the centre of the table, I trailed a variety of spring elements to create a narrow but interesting feature, that can stay in place throughout the long weekend…

tonal spring table

We dragged a mossy log back from the park and this, when dried out, provided the backbone (n.b. if you do this, I’d suggest leaving it in the porch overnight for any existing many-legged residents to seek alternative accommodation, thus avoiding a mass exodus across the lunch table). Homemade nests were placed at each end, with smaller ones tucked along the log.  Old terracotta pots planted with narcissi are scattered at intervals, and should come into bloom at just about the right time…

easter or spring table centrepiece

Hard-boiled white duck eggs sit alongside faux eggs and blown quails eggs, filling bowls and egg cups, and even a tiny vintage silver tea pot from Harry’s play kitchen.

easter table display with teapot

 

I wandered around the house collecting any small vases or bowls of the right sort of palette, like this duck-egg blue vase which normally sits on a mantel but looks just right here…

easter tablescape detail

I decided to make a decorative banner for the fireplace in the kitchen, so set about painting some eggs in fantasy colours and designs (don’t try looking these up in any bird book; accuracy was never my strong point).  These beautiful paints are from legendary Parisian art store Sennelier, and were a gift from my father; I don’t break them out very often but when I do they’re a joy to use.

watercolour eggs

I painted my eggs onto watercolour postcard paper, then scanned them in so I could cut out enough for a banner; I like how they turned out, and think I’ll use them as individual place cards, or maybe transfer print them onto a plain tea towel in the future; if you want to use them for anything seasonal I’ve attached my file as a PDF below, which looks like this when you open it;

bird egg collection

If the weather-man is right, we’ll be lighting the log fire more than once and it will be the centre of attention, so I’ve arranged the folded books from a couple of weeks ago to add a spark of humour and interest…

easter fireplace

And as a final touch, on the large cook’s table sits a vase filled with plastic eggs and a fallen cherry-tree branch, a victim of the recent storms; we rescued it, trimmed just a little and then decked the branches sparingly with speckled eggs.  To do this, I placed a drinking glass inside the vase, filled it with water and inserted the branch, before carefully dropping the plastic eggs all around, filling up the space between the glass and the vase.

easter vase filler

Elsewhere, a collection of  wicker baskets which we’ve collected over the years sits waiting in the hall for the small hands of eager egg-hunters on Easter Monday.  We’re all ready to lay out the hunt (below), but are waiting till the very last minute to decide whether this is a bracing outdoor escapade calling for wellies, scarves and hot chocolate, or whether instead we’ll be placing eggs in nooks and crannies around the house before unleashing indoor chaos…

egg hunt signs

Our next task is a spot of seasonal baking; these baby chick cupcakes went down well last year so a newly hatched batch is top of the list.  If you click on the picture below you can find the details of how we made them.

Hatching Chick Cupcakes

Have a wonderful Easter weekend, wherever you are and whomever you’re with; may spring sunshine and good chocolate find their way to your door…

March hare tablemat

Six Speckled Eggs by Kate

Dream Home Restoration Part III: The Playroom and Book Nook

I’ve talked before about the life’s-work that is our home restoration project (if you’re a newish visitor, you can read about it here and here).  We’re probably about 10% through our list of projects, having tackled the kitchen and the more pressing – and depressing – stuff like turfing out the mouse population and reducing the bracing fresh air which gusts through every seemingly-closed window.

Next on our list was a play space for Harry; we’re lucky enough to have a perfect room for this, sandwiched between the kitchen and Snug, and featuring an ancient but very cool wrought-iron spiral staircase which leads straight upto his bedroom.  When the last owners lived here, the playroom was used as a games zone by their sons, complete with black walls, slightly crusty green carpets (let’s not consider that further), a myriad of sockets and cables, and wall-to-wall posters.  What little natural light there was had been blocked with heavy curtains, gloom being the preferred natural habitat of the teenage male.

Painting walls and replacing the carpet was an immediate priority, but the rest we’ve done gradually, adding homemade furniture and toys here and there, and evolving the space as Harry’s grown from a wobbly toddler into a little boy.

Playroom Stairs

The original fireplace appears to have had its legs sawn off at some point in the last 300yrs, but we decorate it nonetheless with string ball lights, garlands and bunting, depending on the season; at Christmas it had a curtain of cotton wool snowballs, and a vintage glitter ball currently sits in the grate waiting for us to find a new home for it (though I think it’s pretty settled at this point).

Playroom with fireplace

Nooks and crannies are used for storage; these sturdy chairs fit around the art table when we’re painting, but then retire, Shaker-style, to the peg rail to free up floor space

Playroom Chairs

A giant bookcase found on Ebay houses toyboxes, Lego and other treasures like the animals from Harry’s Ark and his collection of fireman helmets (one for each of us; teamwork is everything).

Playroom shelves

A ratty sofa allows shoppers to queue in comfort when waiting to be served at Harry’s store, and doubles up as a boat, life-raft, island, den or car depending on what game we’re playing.  One of the first things I ever made for Harry, his family tree, hangs on the wall and is regularly updated when family members are matched or hatched.

Playroom wall with shop

My favourite part of the playroom is the newest; a former cloakroom was awkwardly squeezed into a corner of the room and hoarded the only precious direct natural light.  We knocked down the wall and ripped it out to extend the main room and create a small reading area with books and cushions.

Playroom book nook

book nook montage

The ‘book of the week’ corner utilises the boxed-in plumbing for the former faucet, and holds a rotating series of Harry’s favourite books, accessorised with paintings and pictures we’ve made, or things from the Dressing Up box, like this Halloween Hat and Broom.

harrys book nook 1

Scattered around are some folded books, which I made one evening last week in front of the television, inspired by this amazing window display from US store Anthropologie.

anthropologie book window

I played around with folding a couple of charity shop books which we won’t read again, and had a lot of fun.  Next time I’ll work my way through the whole book and make some over-sized hanging pendants, perhaps at Christmastime.

Playroom Book Art and Stag

book nook 2

I added a junk store vintage sofa which I painted in off-white chalk paint and reupholstered in faux (wipe-clean!) suede; it was previously unfashionable mahogany so I bought it for a song and spent a couple of days overhauling it.  It adds a touch of grace to the playroom and shows you don’t have to be surrounded by plastic-fantastic ‘kids furniture’ all the time.

Upcycled vintage sofa

Elsewhere paper stars & Harry’s artwork adorn the twisting staircase, acting as a height warning for unwitting grown-ups.  The Jeeves & Wooster pendant light is made from a gilded bowler hat and is one of the few light fittings we’ve managed to reuse from our former, very modern house. Two squeezable trumpet horns are used in the summer for garden games and races, and frighten the life out of newcomers with their ear-splitting exuberance.

bowler hat light

trumpets

Old favourites like the cardboard rocket have miraculously managed to survive months of heavy-handed play; the rocket currently houses Harry’s most precious treasures and anything else which catches his eye around the house (car keys, watches, bananas… it’s an eclectic and hazardous mix).

Playroom 5

We’re lucky to have a dedicated playroom, and one which sits so perfectly at the heart of the home, close to the rest of the action.  Its layout and palette gives space for Harry to grow and for his tastes – and stuff – to evolve.  I know that one day I too may be painting the walls in dark and manly teenage colours and shuddering as I peel up the once-oat coloured carpet, but till then we’ll enjoy the space, light and fun of a room filled with the passions of a 3yr old, who I hope will take as long to grow up as is humanly possible…

An Eclectic Collection of Happinesses

My wonderful Valentine’s gift last week arrived at the foot of the bed in an enormous, dusty cardboard box, and gave me thrills; this vintage Imperial typewriter was a total surprise and is  - for me – the perfect choice. Grimy, weary and with a handful of stiff keys it will polish up a treat, and my mind is already racing with possibilities.  I think it will find a temporary home on the writing desk in our guest bedroom, perhaps with a welcome note typed out on it..

Typewriters

I’ve also been thinking ahead to the Easter holidays, and whilst we plan out trips and social events my mind has turned to decor, food and festivities; I’ve been having a go at making faux birds nests to fill with blown, dip-dyed & hand-speckled eggs; this (below) was an early attempt, and I’ll share with you the full how-to and some suggestions on materials and styling soon.  I think I’m going to place ours under the cloches we used at Christmastime, on a cake stand; but the possibilities are endless.

faux bird nest DIY

The weather briefly turned last weekend, shooting up a veritable 11 degrees and giving us a preview of Spring.  It was the only invitation I needed to brighten up the house, gathering these beautiful, vibrantly-Spring like hydrangeas from the garden centre, planting up a battalion of eggshell Cress-men to adorn our windowsills, and swapping my favourite woodsmoke candles for a hint of freshly mown grass.

spring blooms

Have a lovely weekend!