a way of life...

Month: June 2017

Mid-summer madness

A touch of mid-summer madness took over this past week when I decided to renovate this wooden bureau which has been in the family for at least four generations. Once in my workshop I was suddenly unsure how to proceed.

Family heirloom

My initial thoughts were to use  Annie Sloan Chalk Paint™ to finish the outside in Antibes Green with an Emperor’s Silk red interior. However, after some deliberation I felt this was a rather old-fashioned combination and not one that would give this ugly piece of furniture a contemporary feel.

Annie Sloan inspiration

Looking for inspiration I came across a project in the Annie Sloan Paints Everything book. Here she transforms a chest of drawers using her Oak Leaf stencil and a selection of Chalk Paint™ colours, most of which I had in stock.

Base coat; Paris Grey

For the base coat I chose an old favourite, Paris Grey. This immediately made the bureau look less imposing and more contemporary. Although it is not shown in this photograph I had  painted the internal surfaces in Antibes Green and the shelf in a a mixture of Giverny, Duck Egg Blue, and Old White.

Annie Sloan Oak Leaf Stencil

Before embarking on applying the stencilled pattern to the bureau I practised on a piece of card. Using a small sponge roller and the Annie Sloan MixMat™ I was surprised how easy it was to achieve the required effect.


Spurred on by a surge in my confidence I applied my first colour, Aubusson Blue, to the bureau. I was thrilled – it looked just like the photograph in the book!

Aubusson Blue Chalk Paint™

My next choice of colour was Antibes Green. Initially I mixed the blue and green together before transitioning to the green as a standalone colour.

Antibes Green oak leaves

I could have left it there but I had as I had some of the blue mixture leftover from painting the internal shelf I decided to add more leaves in this colour. This provided a connection between the internal and external colour schemes.

Blue mixture Chalk Paint™

The finishing touch was to add some warm colours in a random fashion using an artist’s detail brush. This brought the whole scheme to life and gave the impression of real movement in the image. A thin layer of clear wax was applied for protection.

Hand painted detail

I am absolutely delighted with this transformation. I was pleased to have been given the bureau in the first instance but it took a long while to decide how to bring out the best in it.

Transformation complete

I hope you agree that this wild and whacky scheme is an improvement and that this ugly duckling has turned into a beautiful swan. Sometimes a little mid-summer madness is a good thing!

Packhouse, Tongham

In a ramshackle building in the tiny village of Tongham you will find Packhouse. I’m not sure how it’s name came about but it describes perfectly this “house” which is completely packed with stylish hand picked items. Even the outside yard is full to overflowing with decorative garden miscellany.

Packhouse Antiques Tongham

Venturing there on a Saturday afternoon my first port of call was Bears Restuarant which serves a variety of light meals and refreshments. Sitting in the alfresco dining area in the summer sunshine I enjoyed a freshly made salad before embarking on my shopping expedition.


The Packhouse is a series of rooms spread over three or four floors and each room appears to be the domain of an independent retailer. This arrangement provides an enormous selection of gifts, furnishings, and clothing, as well as genuine antiquities. It is the ideal venue to buy original and unusual items for the home and garden, or to procure the perfect present.

Colourful curiosities

My particular indulgence was a new lampshade to revamp an old table lamp and some faux flowers to add to an arrangement that fills a Laura Ashley jug that sits on a chest of drawers in my guest bedroom. Delighted with my purchases I made a note to self not leave it so long before my next visit.

For opening times and directions visit www.packhouse.com

High Clandon Vineyard

Imagine a wild flower meadow on a perfect summer’s day in the heart of the Surrey Hills. Add to this a collection of sculptures by a variety of contemporary artists set amongst the flowers, which in turn are juxtaposed to the slopes of a successful English vineyard.

Sculptures in wild flower meadow

The occasion was a charity event hosted by the owners of High Clandon to raise funds for Cherry Trees, a respite home for disabled children. The day could not have been more perfect to view the sculptures and to taste the exquisite sparkling wine. Crafted from a trio of champagne grapes, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, and with a maturation of over five years, the end product has won a number of coveted awards.

Musical frogs

Amidst the wild flowers stood pastel coloured beehives and ponds covered with water lilies, alive with tadpoles and newts. Many of the sculptures took their inspiration from nature and included the most handsome fox to the classic hare and tortoise.

Pastel coloured beehives

Ordinarily, High Clandon can be visited by appointment only for a tour, talk, and tasting. There is a permanent exhibition of “art of the moment” in the atmospheric Glass Barn and, on a clear day, views from the main terrace take in London and beyond. For more information go to www.highclandon.co.uk

The Heat Is On

When the heat is on and we have the opportunity to eat our meals in the garden I often get the urge to invite friends and family over for something to eat. I love it when I stumble across some really quick and easy recipes that make entertaining that much easier when we all live such busy lives.

Recently I found three inspirational recipes that made that move to the kitchen really easy.

Two were published in You Magazine and take moments to prepare whilst the third was published in Country Living magazine. The first has become a breakfast staple, the second a simple summer desert, and the last is an excellent choice for a tasty lunch or light supper.

1) Breakfast Tartine

Spread a generous layer of ricotta on sourdough toast, sprinkle with chopped pistachios and drizzle with honey.

2)Boozy Berry Fool

Pour a glut of Cointreau over seasonal berries and leave for 1 hour (or more). Spoon over crushed meringue and top with whipped cream and fresh mint.

3)Salad Leaves, Saffron Lamb and Pitta Bread


  • 200ml natural Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 150g mixed salad leaves
  • 1 cucumber, peeled
  • 2 red onions, thickly sliced into rings
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 pitta breads
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season

For the marinated lamb

  • 1 onion, roughly grated
  • 565g lean lamb fillet or leg steaks, diced
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • a large pinch of saffron threads
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season


  1. Put the grated onion in a bowl with the lamb, olive oil, lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Grind the saffron with a pinch of sea salt and mix into the lamb. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Heat a griddle pan or BBQ to a high heat.
  4. Put the yogurt into a bowl and beat in 5 tbsp of cold water. Season to taste.
  5. Place the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan and toast over a high heat, giving the pan an occasional shake.
  6. As soon as they smell delicious remove from the heat and grind to a powder. Sprinkle over the yogurt.
  7. Wash and dry the salad leaves. Rip into easy-to-eat lengths and place in a bowl. Slice the cucumber into half moons and mix into the leaves.
  8. Coat the red onion rings in 2 tbsp olive oil and season. Place on the hot griddle or BBQ and cook for 2 minutes on each side until golden. Tip into the salad.
  9. Place the lamb chunks on the hot griddle pan. If using a BBQ thread onto skewers before cooking. To serve medium rare, cook for 3 minutes on either side. Mix into the salad.
  10. Meanwhile, warm the pitta breads in a toaster or on the edge of the BBQ.
  11. Toss the salad in the lemon juice and 2 tbsp olive oil and season to taste.
  12. Split open the pitta breads, fill with the lamb mixture and drizzle with some of the yogurt. Serve immediately.

Preparation 20 minutes, plus marinating. Cooking 10 minutes. Serves 4.


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