Homing Instinct

interiors, decor and everything home

Champagne on Ice, Dinner at 8…

Some friends you just know are going to be in your lives for the long run, and our former neighbours fall firmly into that category. In the space of just a couple of years we’ve camped out in each others’ kitchens, set the world to rights more times than I care to remember,  celebrated some of life’s great milestones and donned a myriad of fancy dress costumes whilst sinking an inordinate number of bottles of wine – all the usual stuff that bonds you and transcends the superficial differences in age and life stage.  So it was a no brainer that they’d be the first people invited to dinner the moment the new cooker was connected, and last weekend we celebrated in style.

Of course, anyone who has ever had a new kitchen fitted will immediately recognise my amateur error above, namely to throw a dinner party without having even idly flicked through the 368 page cooker manual beforehand, and indeed such a laissez-faire attitude was foolhardy to say the least. The food was certainly eye-watering, but not alas because of its grandeur and finesse but because of the smoke which billowed from the oven and created an atmospheric if throat-constricting backdrop to the evening.

Still, the champagne helped, and the table decor distracted – I made these personalised placemats earlier in the day using a basic graphics programme and some vintage cutlery clipart, before adding a touch of silver leaf to the knife and fork to catch the light from the candles on the table.  Stencilling the initials of our friends on these slate tags below with a chalk pen made for unique (and wipe-clean) napkin rings, into which I tucked a sprig of rosemary for a flash of colour and a hint of barely discernible scent. Tips and techniques below…

 

For the placemats (I used Powerpoint, but adapt these guidelines for your chosen programme)….

  • Draw a simple coloured square for your background colour, and choose font colour
  • I googled an online dictionary and copied the phonetic layout and invented appropriate descriptors for each guest
  • Either paste your clip-art directly onto the backdrop or carefully print, clip and paste on to each
  • I printed these onto UK A3 sized paper – using recycled paper gave a great matte finish, but normal copy paper would work fine
  • Rub the clip-art image lightly with low-tack glue (I used Pritt-Stick) and brush on a little silver leaf, using a dry brush to remove any excess.
  • Save the template – you can use it infinitely and just change names and descriptors each time – ta da!

 

Channeling Martha with a spot of dip ‘n dye

I was lying on the sofa the other day, idly trying to choose which of the few remaining chocolate Mini Eggs to eat first; should it be the pastel pink one, or the soft purpley-blue one? (Note the deliberate use of ‘first’ here; it was clearly never going to be a trade-off).  It reminded me that Easter is just around the corner and that Martha Stewart is no doubt at this very moment engaged in vigorous preparations for her extensive annual Easter home-makeover.  I prefer a rather more minimalist approach myself, saving the creative double-barrels for Christmas, but the one thing I do love doing is dip-dyeing eggs to make a simple centrepiece, or even a colourful addition to picnics when the weather allows.

The one big drawback here in the UK is the distinct lack of white eggs, unlike in the US where white eggs are the norm.  Apparently sometime back in the 60s, the UK government announced that brown eggs are better for you, and farmers and the general public immediately switched allegiance and the white hen egg was quite literally bred out of circulation.  The health-benefits story turned out to be entirely untrue, but brown eggs are now the norm and so for this I used white duck eggs, from Prince Charles’s very own Royal farms, and thus retailing at about £10 an egg.  Alright then, £2 a box.  Even so…

1. Hard-boil your eggs, boiling rapidly for 5mins then cooling gently in the pan for 15 mins to ensure a gradual reduction of heat, preventing the shells from cracking.  In the meantime….

2. Prepare several small bowls with 1 tbsp vinegar, food colouring of your choice and enough warm water to cover the egg completely. I used plain blue and green (above), then also mixed pink and blue food colouring to create a lavender colour, and experimented with different shades and depths of colour as I went along.

3. Add the eggs in turn and check colour regularly – leave for anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes for deep colour, before extracting with gloves or tongs. Don’t wipe the eggs but instead rest of a piece of kitchen roll or place in egg cups.  Martha’s minimum wage elves apparently build her custom-made draining boards with a grid of nails specifically calibrated for optimal egg drying, but for us mere mortals an egg cup is more than sufficient.

4. The eggs look beautiful just grouped on a tonal plate as below (this one is from Wedgwood’s Vera Wang ‘Chalk’ range and I use it constantly…), or you can experiment with speckle effects using either undiluted food colour (if you’re intending to eat the eggs) or artist’s ink or paint if not.  Be warned that using anything pink/red based could leave your kitchen looking like a scene from CSI, with extensive blood spatter pattern effects across every surface.

The good thing is, once you’ve finished displaying them (no longer than a week after cooking, and keep in the fridge in the meantime), they taste really lovely too, despite H’s obvious suspicion…

Unnatural Passions…

So there I was in the new kitchen, sniggering at a story in the news about a lady in the US who was experiencing a distinctly unrequited passion for the Statue of Liberty, whom she intended to marry at the earliest opportunity.  ’A rare disorder’, mused the gravely serious experts, which meant that she was ‘irrevocably attracted to inanimate objects’, causing the same pulse-racing, obsessional behaviour that might occur in a normal woman were George Clooney to move in next door.  The Eiffel Tower too, it seems, has a flurry of admirers who become a little skittish and flirtatious when in its presence.

Imagine my surprise when my husband looked me in the eye and asked me, gently yet firmly, whether I recognised any of these symptoms.  He drew my attention to the way I stroke our Italian granite worktops, sigh contentedly at the soft-close doors and am happy as a clam just gazing at our new range cooker for the entire 45 minutes it takes to cook a Findus Ready Meal.  My denials faded rapidly…. in my defence, at least a new kitchen is – generally speaking –  a lower maintenance and less threatening lover than the usual alternatives.

So here it is; the object of my affections….

The room used to be a shag-pile carpeted living room, before we reconfigured the space to create a kitchen/diner. We had a mould made of the original coving and will continue it along the new back wall (above). The flooring is engineered artisan oak with a linen whitewash; it’s probably my favourite thing, and is great for tricycles…

A pair of dressers hold a collection of white and neutral china, including this cow creamer which holds a place in my heart as the quirkiest yet most utterly useless milk jug ever.

It would be untrue to say that the whole kitchen was designed around this beautiful and organic light from BTC, but we certainly had it in mind from the outset; six porcelain bell-cups cast a soft glow over the dining table.  Assembling it and wiring in without dropping a clanger (literally) is a feat of engineering and would make  a good game show challenge.

An off-white sofa may seem a ludicrous choice for a family kitchen, but this one is treated with industrial-grade stain guard and has so far resisted wine, chocolate, mud and just about everything else a 2yr old can throw at it.

The range cooker from French company Lacanche looks the bees-knees but its opaque doors and my resultant inability to peer inside without opening the door means that my baking skills are going to have to improve…

We kept the original fireplace and added a stone surround from London company Chesneys. After a frenzy of chimney sweeping we held our breath and built a fire; now evenings are spent pottering around the kitchen whilst logs spit and crackle in the hearth.

We’re taking our time with accents (not least because we need to earn some more money first…), and will add counter stools, in due course.  For now a clock and blackboard lean against the wall and can be moved around as we decide on their ultimate position.

And finally, the fireside log basket doubles as a stool and portable play table when fitted with our barrel-top breadboard

Spring Fever

After a couple of stuttering false starts, it’s clear that Spring is just around the corner and Harry and I are alternating between indoors and outdoors at the drop of a hat.  Thank heaven for wipe-clean wood flooring. When the sap is rising and the buds are bursting into colour, it makes me come over all green-fingered, so this week we’ve been experimenting with growing cress, the ultimate in instant-gratification gardening.  There’s something so bafflingly magical about being able to toss a generous and unfettered handful of seeds onto some damp cotton wool and see them sprout forth overnight. For those with patchy childhood memories, each stage is demonstrated with gusto by Harry, below. Our admittedly rather camp collection of Cressmen are now 5 days old and ready for a first trim…



Step 1: moisten some cotton wool in lukewarm water

Step 2: Insert carefully into your egg cup.  Pause to wipe hands on your jumper.

Step 3: Scatter a small handful of seeds carefully into the cup, covering the cotton wool

Step 4: Abandon this plan; instead, scatter seeds flamboyantly over all surfaces

Step 5: Your work is complete. Retire for a nap whilst Mummy clears up and entertains herself attaching eyes and moustaches to your efforts, in homage to The Village People.

And then… For something a little more grown-up, and to give the impression that great culinary endeavours occur in my kitchen, I also planted up a few wilting supermarket herbs into a variety of different decorative containers (including a copper coffee tin, right), and am diligently watering, trimming and tossing into any dish which may warrant additional greenery… aesthetics may outweigh flavour here, but at least they look pretty. Maybe a little understated compared to the Cressmen, but then there’s only so many things you can attach fake eyes to…

Hearth of the Home

Tonight’s the night, at long last! Sparks will fly, flames will ignite… but before I am accused of over-sharing, let me reassure you that I mean this in the most literal sense.  After months of preparation, we now have two open fires, one with a wood burning stove, just itching to be lit. Armed with firelighters, kindling, kiln-dried logs, scented wax pine cones and seemingly every other conceivable piece of fire-starting equipment, we are determined to raise a glass of weekend-is-here wine to the accompaniment of the crackle of logs and the warming glow of the hearth. All that remains are the two necessary precautions of alerting the local fire brigade and gaffer-taping our toddler son to a comfy chair, and we will be ready.

The journey began some weeks ago with the arrival of the promisingly-named Gareth The Sweep, who we chose at random for the completely irrelevant reason that he sounded like an extra from Under Milk Wood. In the event, Gareth proved to be a chirpy cockney who vanished up our admittedly spacious chimney breasts and reappeared smuttily the following week having exhaustively cleared all our nooks and crannies.

It has not escaped me that Spring has stealthily marched on whilst we have been labouring through the necessary preparations, so here are a few ideas which caught my eye for when warmer weather arrives and the fireplaces become simply decorative…

Since buying a giant 80cm glitter ball on Ebay from a nightclub which had folded, I’ve been looking for how to use it in the house… genius.

A contemporary twice on the traditional bust in a fireplace; the coral keeps it fresh, as does the angle.

Pumpkins would make a great Autumnal / Halloween accent

Antlers (faux or naturally shed of course..) would look great piled randomly in the hearth, or stacked in a fire basket

Too permanent for a simple seasonal shift, this nonetheless would look great in a disused hearth or – if the logs are cut shallowly enough – as a faux fireplace with a deep surround attached to an otherwise plain wall

Walls worthy of worship

One of the best things about having a new home is that once you’ve fixed the incredibly DULL things like boilers, rotten windows and Artex ceilings, you get to justifiably build a stockpile of gorgeous home decor magazines (known as ‘house porn’, I was informed by a hipper, cooler friend of mine..)  The fact that you have no money left after said renovations is irrelevant.  Elle Decor, like all good porn, is about the things you really want but can’t have, and know secretly that they wouldn’t actually work in your real world at all (though try telling a guy that Pamela Anderson would not work in their real world; most will vigorously disagree).

Once again I digress.

So back to my fantasy interiors list, which this week is devoted to the lovely Piet Hein Eek and his utterly gorgeous and preposterously expensive wallpaper.  I know this must be because it is hand-woven by spiders and printed by artisans using the rarest ochres and inks, but £200 a roll still makes me quiver with awe.  Still, behold the beauty of the Scrapwood range, which would look simply amazing on my wall (or inside my cupboards, or as an accent feature in a dark corner, or just ANYWHERE, frankly…).  The only way I will own some is by marrying Mr Eek himself, so I will instead stroke my small sample piece lovingly, and return to reality.

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