a way of life...

Month: February 2018

Cultural Week End

I have just enjoyed an immensely cultural end to my week. On Thursday evening I attended the opening of Haidee-Jo Summers’ one-man exhibition at The Russell Gallery in Putney.

Entitled “Capturing the essence and poetry of light” the show encompasses a wide range of Haidee-Jo’s work. Spread over two floors the exhibition runs until March 17, 2018, or on-line at www.haideejo.com.

Haidee-Jo Summers’ catalogue

On Saturday I chose to visit the Lightbox in Woking to view the Turner in Surrey exhibition which ends this coming week.

Lightbox, Woking

On entering the Lightbox I was directed to the Main Gallery on the first floor. I chose the staircase rather than the lift as I feel it emphasises the scale and structure of this amazing building.

Staircase to upper levels

The exhibition focuses on Turner’s work in Surrey in the early 19th Century. He lived on the river in Twickeham and enjoyed the delights of the Wey Navigation Canal by boat.

Turner in Surrey

I was particularly interested in his interpretation of landscape views in Richmond and Guildford as I have had the benefit of growing up in the midst of this stunning countryside. I was surprised to learn that Turner purposefully played down the buildings, that might be considered a blot, on these otherwise idyllic images.

Two of my favourite ruins that he did commit to canvas are Newark Priory in Ripley and St. Catherine’s Chapel in Guildford. These landmarks never cease to amaze me, and I guess, must have held a fascination for Turner as well.

This Lightbox exhibition runs until March 4th, 2018, and I would highly recommend it.

Carefully Curated Cupboard

“Curated” is a word that crops up time and time again in design speak. What exactly does it mean? Dictionary.com’s definition is “to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit)”. It is certainly a word that is more commonly associated with galleries and museums and, to my knowledge, has only recently been used when describing a domestic interior. My interpretation would be a “the careful selection of items put on show”. In someways similar to “pared back” but perhaps not quite as minimalist – just choosing  a selection of objects that you wish to have  on display.

With this in mind, I have been busily rearranging book shelves to ensure that the contents look attractive; curated, even. It is very easy to display books in a conventional fashion, side by side, but with a bit of imagination they can look far more interesting if interspersed with ornaments and photographs.

Cook books as part of the curated display

One evening this week I literally had a lightbulb moment. For many years I have owned a beautiful hand-painted vase which would look far more at home in an art gallery than in my country cottage. I have tried it in many different places but none seem to show it off. I also have the worry of it being knocked over and broken. Not to mention the time my father offered it to my next door neighbour for her to put some flowers in. Fortunately, she realised that it hadn’t come from the local store and declined his kind offer!

My flash of inspiration came as I gingerly put it back on top of the kitchen cupboard from where it had come. It had been put there, semi on display, but also out of the reach of little hands, and clumsy ones. The cupboard itself is glass-fronted, and lit internally from above. It has glass shelves which have been home to dozens of mis-matched drinking glasses, and a selection of china which was chosen as it matched the general colour scheme of the room.

It occurred to me that if I removed one of the glass shelves the space would be tall enough for me to display the aforementioned vase.

I set about emptying the contents of the cupboard and took out each glass shelf and wiped it clean of dust and debris. I then put the vase on, what was, the middle shelf. It achieved the desired effect of shining light onto the beautiful hand painted vessel;  finally bringing it to life. It was, however, a little low in the void that I had created so I looked around at the objects I had removed to make room for it. There were a number of cook books which only get the occasional glance, but have been kept as they contain real one-off gems.

Some of their jackets were ripped, or stained, so I removed these and uncovered some beautiful hardbacks underneath. I chose several that created the mood that I was looking for and piled them high for the vase to perch upon. I was really pleased with this arrangement.

Hand painted vase on cook books

I still had the task of rearranging the objects that I had taken out from the cupboard. This gave me the opportunity to take charge and organise. This inevitably led to some being rejected and some returned, but in a different position. I was careful to put glassware on the top shelf to allow the light from above to filter down to the other shelves.

Light filtering through glassware

I returned the cook books, some with their jackets, and some without, and even added more.

Cook books

Finally, I added my tagine to the display as it had been sitting in a sideboard where it was never seen and rarely used.


I’m happy with the end result as it creates a wonderful picture that displays the objects I love rather than the ones that didn’t need to be on show.

Carefully curated cupboard

And my beautiful vase finally has a home where it can be seen but remain safe from harm.

Curtains for all seasons

Window shutters, without a doubt, look fabulous. Smart, minimalist,  and super versatile. That said, I think they have become, dare I say commonplace, and I think curtains are about to come back into vogue.

Curtains are for all seasons. They provide warmth and comfort in the colder months and protection from the sun and insects in the warmer ones.

Choice of style and colour is infinitesimal. A beautifully made pair of curtains can be the defining factor in an interior scheme.

There are options depending on budget and time frame. High street retailers such as Next sell ready made curtains whilst Laura Ashley sell both ready made or made to measure. They also stock a range of fabrics and linings that allow the keen seamstress to make their own.

Interior design studios and specialist stockists can provide a fully bespoke service. They will do everything from taking measurements, providing fabrics, making the curtains, and hanging them in the desired position. Job done.

Manuel Canovas at Colefax and Fowler Chelsea Harbour

At the other end of the spectrum Ikea sell unlined linen curtains, black-out curtains, roller blinds, and slatted blinds, starting at a price of £3 for a pleated blind!

Having had a sewing machine from a very young age I have, over the years, become competent in the art of curtain making and as much as I would sometimes like to handover the task to a specialist I invariably take on the task myself.  The sense of satisfaction when hanging the final product is well worth the effort involved.

Self-taught, I have relied on trial and error and The Laura Ashley Book of Home Decorating. First published in 1982 by Octopus Books I have the Revised edition which was published in 1985. It is my “go to” book for all things related to soft-furnishings. With great illustrations and straight-forward language it explains how to make everything from a roller blind to a tented ceiling.

Recently I finished making  a pair of loose-lined curtains and valance for my guest room. I used two different types of linens from Laura Ashley; one floral and one spotted. Choosing fabric can be quite difficult as there is such a variety of colours, patterns and weights.

Hand made curtains and valance in Laura Ashley fabrics

If making your own curtains for the first time I would recommend an unlined curtain in a plain fabric with a simple gathered or pencil pleat heading. Measure the width of the window and finished length prior to making any purchases as these measurements will be critical when calculating how much fabric and heading tape to buy.

If a pattern fabric is preferred an allowance has to be made for the “pattern repeat”.  This repeat is multiplied by the number of widths to calculate how much fabric is required.

Once happy with the concept of making a pair of unlined curtains the next step is to make loose-lined ones. The advantage of using a lining is that the pattern only shows on the inside of the window thus giving a uniformed look from the outside. A lining will also protect the curtain fabric from being bleached by the sun.

The ultimate goal is to make a pair of curtains which are lined, and inter-lined. An interlining is usually a fleecy fabric which provides body to the finished curtains and adds a touch of luxury. It also acts as an insulator to the cold or to draughts. I think is more suitable for larger windows that require full length curtains. My experience of using it in small, cottage style windows, is that it is too bulky.

Luxury interlined curtains with contrasting fabric on reverse

If feeling creative a complimentary curtain fabric could be used as an alternative to a plain lining. This is ideal if you have internal doors that require a window dressing as each side of the curtain will have a decorative finish. An example of this might be a set of internal doors opening into a conservatory.

One of Chelsea Harbour’s showrooms

Having become confident making curtains I quickly progressed to valances and tie backs. These seem to dip in and out of fashion but in the right setting they can look very effective. The great thing about them is that a contrasting fabric can be used to add interest to a scheme. Stripes and spots can sit happily alongside one another as can geometrics and florals. The combinations will depend on the scheme in mind.

If contemplating updating your interior scheme with new window dressings The Design Centre at Chelsea Harbour is a fabulous place to look at fabrics and styles. With 120 showrooms and over 600 of the world’s most prestigious luxury brands, it is the largest of its type in Europe. Normal opening hours are 9.30am-5.30pm from Monday to Friday; closed on Saturday and Sunday.  Each year DCCH hosts London Design Week and 2018 is no exception. It runs from 4th-9th March inclusive, with Trade Preview from 4th-6th and All Welcome from 7th-9th. This is a great opportunity to view imaginative installations and bespoke pop-ups, and to discover the latest offerings from 120 exhibitors from around the world.

What Is Interior Design?

Recent years have seen a huge increase in the popularity of interior design. There has been a whole series of reality television programmes on the subject; Changing Rooms, Grand Designs, and The Great Interior Design Challenge, to name but a few. But what is interior design? What differentiates one building’s interior from another, albeit it a grand concert hall, or our own homes?

From my perspective a lot of commercial buildings’ interiors are dictated by their purpose and budget constraints. Some elements of the interior design will be incorporated into the fabric of the building for the neatest and most effective results. For instance, communication networks, building management systems, and acoustic treatments. In this respect it is essential for the interior designer to be appointed at the concept stage of the building as all of these elements will impact on the final look, feel, and functionality of the space.

The same could be said when building a new home, whether it be by a commercial developer or by an ambitious self-builder. It is certainly worth considering involving an interior designer from the outset.

For those of us with a home of our own, and all that comes with it, interior design is still  relevant at a conscious or sub-conscious level.

At a conscious level one might consider anything from engaging a professional designer, to thumbing through numerous house and home magazines, or enrolling on a design course ourselves. All of these options are readily available.

At a sub-conscious level the whole process is a lot less formal. The starting point might be acquiring the requisite amount of furniture, carpets, white goods, and other essential items that meets one’s own needs. Colour, scale, style, and accessories might not be considered until much later in the process. Nonetheless, home-making almost certainly involves an element of “interior design” regardless of budget.

The excitement at the prospect of having a home of your own often leaves little or no head space to plan the interior as a whole. Impulsive purchases could lead to expensive mistakes in the longer term. To address this issue and to provide a simple guide here is a short Q&A which will not only help the first time home owner, but also offer practical advice to anyone who loves their home.

Ownership or rental?

Home ownership allows far more freedom to decorate and furnish. Rental is likely to be subject to approval by a landlord and permission should be sought.

Investment in a home of your own is far more tangible than money spent on a rental property, so try to determine from the outset how long the landlord is prepared to let you stay.


A great phrase used by Kirsty Allsopp in TV’s Love It or List It is “future proofing”. Will the property provide adequate accommodation off into the future? Will it provide sufficient space for a growing family whether that be the arrival of children or the need to house an older or infirm relative?

If this isn’t going to be a “forever home” then careful consideration should be given as to how much money is going to be invested and how personalised it should become.

If it is only a stepping stone, then only spend money that will add value, and keep the backdrop neutral to ensure an easy exit.


If you have acquired a property that suits your needs from day one then this is not relevant. However, if changes to the internal layout are required ensure that you engage a professional to guide you through the legalities and practicalities before embarking on any DIY projects.

Condition of construction including wiring and plumbing?

A  Homebuyers’ Survey will often highlight any obvious problems prior to purchase and it is therefore advisable to have one carried out. The best advise I was offered was to try and attend the survey in person. This way you may learn about matters that aren’t necessarily part of the written report. Always ask the surveyor’s permission to do so otherwise they might not be as forthcoming as you would wish.

Once the property has been acquired if any remedial work is required seek the advise of a professional before undertaking any DIY. They should be able to advise you on health and safety, building regulations, and planning consents, that might need to be taken into consideration.

Age and style of building?

It maybe that you have acquired a building that is of a particular era or style. If Listed, permission may be needed to make changes to the interior and/or exterior. Advice should be sought, in the first instance, from your Local Authority.

If, of a particular style, this is something to be considered before choosing furniture and finishes for the interior. Ultimately, the decision should come down to personal preference as, unless restricted by some form of preservation order, there are no hard and fast rules.


Nowadays there are some great software packages that can be downloaded from the internet for free which will assist in planning room layouts. It is certainly worth taking the time and trouble to measure an item of furniture before committing.

In the absence of a computer a good old-fashioned way of working out whether a piece of furniture would fit would be to use newspaper to create its footprint. Measure the dimensions of the object in question and, using the newspaper, lay this out on the proposed floor area. This will give an indication as to fit , but remember to measure height as well, as this is equally important when furnishing a room.

Apart from fit, choosing furniture that is the correct scale for a space is important. Too big and it will dominate the space; too small and it will look completely lost. If a cohesive look is required choose items of a similar scale.


Personally, I think colour is one of the trickiest elements to address in an interior scheme. That said there is a huge amount of information available in printed form and on the internet.

One of the most important things to consider is that the type of light will change how the colour looks. A painted wall will look completely different in daylight as does in artificial light. I have quite a funny/embarrassing story to prove this point.

In my home I had one wall painted in F&B‘s Churlish Green. To update the scheme I asked my partner to repaint the wall in Neptune‘s Sage Green. Having bought the new colour I left it in the hall. After several days the can of paint remained in the hall and I was beginning to feel a little impatient. I decided not to complain as I thought that would be counter-productive and, as they say, patience is a virtue, so I remained quiet. This paid off as the next day I noticed that the can of paint, despite still being in the hall, had evidence of being used. I quickly went into the living room and to my great joy the wall had indeed been painted Sage Green. Overjoyed I rang my partner to say “thank you”. He didn’t seem to share my elation. As it turned out he had painted the wall several days beforehand and had deliberately turned the can of paint around so that I would eventually notice that it had been used. My only defence, was that I had not been in the living room in daylight since the wall had been painted and I really hadn’t been able to tell in the subdued artificial lamplight!

Going back to the matter in hand, to trial a paint colour, used at least an A3 piece of lining paper painted in the colour(s) of choice and put it in the room that you intend to decorate. Look at it in bright light, dull light, artificial light, and any other combination of light that might be relevant in that room. Move it around the room and do the same. Hopefully, this will aid your decision.

If you have a room with little natural light, contrary to belief, using a dark colour will enhance the space more than a light colour. F&B have many examples of this in books and on their website.

If you are decorating a home for resale, standard advice is to use a  neutral shade. This is also a great, non-contentious, backdrop for furniture, fittings, carpets, accessories, and pictures of choice.

Lastly, on the subject of colour, it is very fashionable to have a cohesive scheme throughout. This doesn’t necessarily mean using the same colour but using the same weight or depth of colour. I think the easiest way to achieve this is to use either the same brand of paint throughout, or to use ones with similar qualities.


When I think of contemporary pattern, I immediately think about the beautiful fabrics and wallpapers designed by Bluebell Gray. Stunning, colourful florals to hang as curtains, to upholster furniture, or to paper walls. Add to this a collection of their china and scatter cushions and you would have a truly colourful home.

The use of clashing patterns is also in vogue at the present time and the clever use of several different prints can provide a truly unique look.

In my opinion, patterns, like furnishings, are best when scaled to the object, or to the room, where they are to be used. Too big and they can be overwhelming; too small and they become insignificant.

Personal taste?

I firmly believe a house should be a home. Furnished with love, hand-me-downs, and the odd extravagance. There are guidelines that can be followed, but to my mind a home should be comfortable and practical. Personal touches are what makes a home unique and these can’t be bought or prescribed. Fashion is a money making industry and should only be looked to for inspiration not to be a slave to. Life is too short to be in debt for the latest style sofa!


I live and work in the UK and have been awarded a Diploma with Distinction in Interior Design & Decoration by Rhodec International and a Diploma of Higher Education in Interior Design by London Metropolitan University . The content of this blog is written with knowledge gained from my studies and life experiences.

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