style

Beachcomber Chic

Beachcomber place settings

Regular readers will know that I have a passion for the sea and all things coastal; whenever we can, we pile into the car and head for the shore; there’s something about the endless skies and water, the sea-salt and the sand that is magical.  We’re heading for Cornwall soon to go rock-pooling and to brave the Atlantic waters, but till then I’ve brought the sea a little closer to home with these bauble place-settings filled with beach-combed finds, made for a casual al fresco dinner with friends…

Coastal style place settings

I bought a set of fillable Christmas baubles from Michaels when we were in New England last Autumn, and in the frenzy of festive preparations managed to forget about them completely until, inspired by the endless beautiful pictures of coastal dining and projects in magazines (especially the current issue of Country Homes and Interiors), I decided to use them as summery place-settings for a simple outdoor get-together.

I gathered up a hodgepodge of beach treasures from previous holidays and added in bits of ephemera I’ve gathered on my travels (including some old watch faces which I bought by the bagful from the eclectic  Marché aux Puces flea market in Paris, bits of broken jewellery and feathers collected in the springtime on our many trips to feed the ducks..)

Beachcombing finds

..And dug out a handful of corks, gathered over the years from various celebrations  - celebrations as big as weddings and as small as the arrival of the weekend at long last…

corks

I prised the top off each bauble and tipped in some sand (I used a scoop of play sand from Harry’s old sandpit), then dropped in my treasures.  You might want to use a pair of tweezers or cooking tongs to move things around; it’s like learning keyhole surgery without a textbook…

Making coastal bauble place settings

Push in a cork, and then tie on a simple paper tag with each name.  I printed names onto a sheet of cardstock then cut into strips before  punching a hole in each and tying on with household string.  Broken shells look beautiful threaded on to the tie;

Coastal Bauble Place Settings

And voila, a simple yet stylish summer place-setting which can be played with endlessly as your guests get tipsy and start trying to fish out interesting contents with their cutlery, adding a dash of sand to each course in the process (trust me on this; or maybe it’s just my guests…)

Summer dinner party style

If you want to try this but didn’t have the foresight to buy a fistful of empty baubles at Christmas before leaving to gather dust in the back of a drawer, there are a number of craft shops which either stock them year-round, or - quelle horreur! - are already showcasing their festive collections for this year.  Online, try eBay or craft mecca Etsy for beautiful glass versions.  In the UK you can find them here, or Baker Ross has a slightly different design.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

handbag logo

Primal Instincts

Naming things; it’s a very primal instinct, isn’t it? From the time that I could write I have been carefully inscribing versions of my name onto everything I own, and indeed many things which I don’t (possession being nine tenths of the law and all that).  A therapist would doubtless put this down to my being briefly but significantly called David for the first few moments of my life, as during the general distraction and euphoria of childbirth at least one of my parents was apparently heard to cry ‘It’s a boy! Let’s name him David!‘ before being eventually corrected by the midwives. As my parents are both doctors, this anatomical oversight is hard to explain.

Like all stories that one’s brothers tell you, this is probably wholly untrue, but ever since then I have been keen to write my correct name, very clearly, everywhere.  Of course the excellent thing is that this kind of territorial behaviour is not something we’re expected to grow out of once we leave childhood behind; instead, we call it Personalisation and consider it to be a very on-trend and chic thing to do.  Hurrah. So today I have been busy personalising the entire contents of the china cabinet, using up some leftover chalkboard paint. Having hosted a bunch of friends for coffee this week and realised the error of having ten identical mugs, I’m wishing I’d done this sooner…

Tips and techniques below for those interested in giving this a whirl…

Making chalkboard teacups:

1. Choose your materials.  I used; 1) porcelain teacups; I had these at home but if you’re starting from scratch choose mugs with a matte finish for greater adhesion, or use a primer as I did for glossy bases like these. 2) Chalkboard paint, from any craft or DIY store. 3) A selection of brushes; thick for the main tag and fine for finishing edges. 4) Repositionable tape for straight lines when painting. 5. A ceramic pen or paint for your ‘thread’. 6. Sharp craft scissors for scraping unwanted paint and making the hole in your tag.

2. Mark up and paint; I used a simple tag for the outline and marked the long straight edges with tape to help me.  Don’t worry about being too exact; the chalk paint is forgiving and can be gently scraped away before finally dry.  Prime if necessary, then give it two coats, following the manufacturers instructions about drying time, before gently scraping out a circle in your tag with the tip of the scissors.  Your finish should now be pretty resilient (though not dishwasher proof), but you could also coat with a clear varnish for even more staying power if you like.

3. Add your coloured thread; I used a sparkly ceramic pen for this, and continued the thread into the cup so that it looks fun when filled with coffee.  Again, check drying times – some brands require you to bake on a low heat to fix the ink and make it permanent.

4. Personalise! I used a chalk marker pen, but all of these options (pictured) work equally well, and wipe off easily with a wet cloth so you can change whenever you like.  Of course, if you’re truly having a retro moment and find yourself mentally back in the schoolyard, this means you can rewrite the names hourly, as you change your friends and ditch your former BFF for someone far cooler and more popular. Ah, those were the days…

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!