Tuesday, June 30, 2009

the interrogation

Coffee or tea? Gin, but I nod to summer with pink port.

What’s for dinner? I'm only cooking for myself tonight, so perhaps a nice slice of Shropshire Blue cheese.

What are you listening to right now? My typing. I think I'm constantly told by my occasional office companion that I type too loudly but I'm not sure - what with all the typing noise it could have been that I skype too proudly.

Which language do you want to learn? I'd move to France for a year if I could speak French with subtlety and nuance, but I can't. That's the trouble with all language learning, isn't it? All that subtlety and nuance going on around you while you and Yves are still gamely searching for the boulangerie.

What is your dream job? Dictator of some small European Country. San Marino would be a good start. I would have myself depicted on their postage stamps.

What book are you currently reading? Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, by Margaret Atwood. About "debt as a human construct, and how this construct mirrors and magnifies both voracious human desire and ferocious human fear". Strong adjectives, those.

Describe your personal style? Dictatorially lacy.

What inspires you? In a tight corner, it's always helpful to wonder what Alan Clark would have made of the situation.

Do you collect something? There's too much clutter already. We'd all love some of those Daily Telegraph mahogany effect showcases of RAF thimbles, but economy and space considerations must prevail.

What are you most proud of? I'm particularly proud of the Atlantic ocean. All those fish.

What’s your biggest fashion mistake? Well, they weren't really mistakes, were they? They were an example of fitting enthusiastically in with the styles of an era.

What is your worse decorating disaster? I don't think I've had one. I've painted most things white and put colourful things on them. Very safe, you rightly remark. I'll go for the grand gesture next and then everyone can say "oh how advanced and forthright that lime chaise longue is against the bird of prey wallpaper, my dear", and be secretly glad that it isn't in their house.

This is quite long enough, isn't it? Yes.

paint it white

One of the former owners of my house, clearly a member of some Cult of Pale Yellow, painted the house pale yellow. Harmless enough, but insipid and not very jolly.

Four years after moving in and many good intentions and rainy summers later, it has finally been painted white and settled contentedly onto its foundations. 

Friday, June 26, 2009

wonderful Woollight shades

I came across Woollight shades via the 3rings blog as I searched for a lovely lamp or lampshade, a surprisingly difficult task

The shapes and textures of these knitted shades, designed by Ellen Seegers and Arno Tummers of Dutch studio Beelden Bouwers, are wonderful, and I love the simplicity of their designs. Warm colours and stripes, with some use of white or ivory for freshness: several of my soft furnishings criteria are fulfilled all at once.  And they look so snug: just the thing to settle down beside to read old-fashioned mysteries on a rainy day.

It makes me inclined to dust off my knitting needles and see what I can create (with scarves to match).

[Photo from Beelden Bouwers]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

googling for lamps

You know the way it is with google images: you start searching for some home accessory, say a new lamp. Click click click and no luck. You believe that all you have to do is tweak your search ever so slightly and a world of perfect lamps will open before you. Click click click; no. Before you realise it you've wasted a whole hour and missed yet another heartstopping episode of Today in the Dáil.

It shouldn't be so difficult. As I search through hundreds of lamps, I see that they can be categorised as follows: too busy, too twee, too childish, too frilly, too gimmicky, and too bleak. The reader may rightly categorise me as too fussy, but I've made lamp mistakes before.

Look, this is my current bedside lamp. Ok, not too bad, you remark, though you're not sure about those metal leaves and flowers. But it stabs me when I switch it on, it's too faux ladylike, and the annoying shade only allows for a particular shape of hard to find lightbulb. I think it would make a better hatstand.
This is my very favourite lampshade, the Afhild Fagel crewelwork one from Ikea. Yes, I know I said I don't like shopping in Ikea, but don't bother me now; I'm busy. This shade is in my daughters' bedroom and I don't have the heart or the courage to steal it.

Along the google path, I learn fascinating facts, such as that the only acceptable striped lampshades are in Australia. And that 'handcrafted' ones tend to be uglier than the norm, as though they need to be over-engineered or over-adorned to justify the price.

But I still haven't found a new lamp. Is yours beautiful?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

escape to the toile chair

In these long afternoons of sunny haze, everything has to stop for awhile.

While Beatrice, the imaginary assistant, is busy about the house preparing goat's cheese soufflé with rhubarb foam, highlighting contentious points of the Lisbon Treaty and teaching the children that they must always refer to our cupboards as armoires, I sneak upstairs and loiter in the toile chair staring into space and listening to the grasshoppers.

Nothing looks better than space, or sounds better than the grasshoppers.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Junk Style

I was initially drawn to Junk Style by the enviable name of the author, Melanie Molesworth (which evokes memories of Nigel Molesworth, hero of my youth). First published in 1998, it has been reissued and is particularly relevant now when conspicuously recessionary consumerism is in vogue.

The focus is on genuine 'shabby chic' - inexpensive French-style interior décor using old furniture and accessories and found objects. Good ideas include an old wooden gate as a strong bedhead, flour sacks as rustic cushion covers for a painted bench, and an armchair reupholstered using a faded blanket.

The book's photography is fresh and graceful, but something makes me think that this look could easily be taken too far in a non-photoshoot setting in my home, where two energetic children create their own junk look in no time. And the chapters on collectibles and found objects are not for me either, as such things as driftwood,  flat-irons and religious icons would only annoy Beatrice, my imaginary assistant, as she goes about her diligent dusting.

But the effect of the book was to make me want to return to my student days and take this imaginative  approach to rented apartment décor rather than tolerate their dark leather sofas, wonky tables and Argos wardrobes.  Landlords please note: why not let out bare, freshly painted student apartments with a functional kitchen and a copy of this book to promote design, initiative and frugal comfort?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

ikea as art

The theme for this year's Venice Biennale is 'Making Worlds', interpreted by the British installation artist Liam Gillick, representing Germany, as a kitchen of sorts. Waldemar Januszczak describes it entertainingly in the Sunday Times:

Filling the German bunker with a stripped-down Ikea kitchen that meanders dully through the rooms like an unpainted train set, Gillick is making his usual point about the banality of modern textures. Curators like his work because it offers them limitless opportunities for extensive displays of curator-speak. But I have never met a member of the public who enjoys a Gillick exhibition. The man is a world-class bore...

I felt that I had to see this kitchen, and found it here. And although indeed banal, it was a remembrance of things past: my only visit to Ikea (the Nottingham branch, since you ask, around the year 2000). Depicted above is my own piece of installation art from this visit. Curators will note that the tall pile of tiny bowls signifies the many, while the solitary one signifies the few. The rug signifies a rug, and the fact that it is nearly the same colour as the bowls (I must have been having an orange/yellow day) is an interpretation of the uniformity of existence. I call this work 'All I Own from Ikea".

To be fair, Gillick is quoted as saying that the kitchen is "between Ikea and something much more modern". But it is still true that I have no inclination to return to Ikea. Yes, some of their furniture and accessories are fine, and indeed lovely, and I applaud their use in many finely designed houses. But it is so large and ubiquitous a presence and so frequently used in whole house/apartment furnishing that it makes my heart sink, and I would rather feel that I have created my own space, or sourced it from a less dominant influence, even if it isn't a success.

Mind you, if anyone is going there anytime soon, please bring me back this rug. I'll cut off the Ikea label and no one will know.

Friday, June 5, 2009

pink and yellow kitchen

My reader has asked whether I have a photo of the kitchen with pink and yellow accents. I do. When we moved in here, an extended old land commission cottage, the kitchen was north-facing and small. We knocked two rooms into one and raised the ceiling.

Later, I realised that the new room reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen in their old house in Mayo. There must have been a vogue for painted furniture back then - I always liked their big table and dresser in cream and pale green, and the large plastered fireplace with its hooks for the cauldron and kettle, and an armchair on either side. No fireplace for my kitchen, but the range serves the same function as the focal point of the room.

This is the island and the cooking dresser, and below are the dining dresser, west window and the table. One day that'll be a round table...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

make these chairs bigger

As with children's clothes, furniture designed for children is often nicer than that intended for adults. Why is that, I wonder? Do designers think grown-ups prefer dark brown and fuss? Are they right...?

Look at these beautiful Junior Chairs. They are made of ash, and the very helpful man running Little Dreamers jumped up and down on one of them when we bought them to show us how strong they are. There's a matching table as well. The chairs are currently discounted on their website.

[Photos from Little Dreamers]

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

a heap of rocks

This heap of rocks has been adorning the corner by the back door for some time now, as it rained and rained. If the fine weather continues, the stonemason will soon appear and turn it into our new front wall.

He has asked whether we'd like our house to have a name. We thought perhaps a bilingual name, 'Casino Seaweed' in English (for local authenticity) and 'Cupán Tae?' in Irish.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Vivienne St Clair's beach paintings

In this sudden summer, looking down at the ocean and the soaring gulls, it's easy to forget the wetness of winter and consider the west coast of Ireland an idyllic place to live.

In the early evening the girls go down to the sea for a last adventure on the sand and rocks before bedtime. Shells, crabs, feathers, seaweed, whatever they bring back appears in odd corners to keep the eternal tidy-up going. Some of it is designated their hoard and mustn't be touched.

Vivienne St Clair's beach paintings evoke these mellow days. Timeless and idyllic in their subjects, they remind me of sketches for children's books, coloured with impressionistic light.

Vivienne is from London, she originally worked as an archaeological illustrator in Hertford, and now lives in Tralee. Her latest paintings are available here as well as her giclée prints and she has a blog of postcard paintings of everyday things.

Anne Enright on travel and homecoming

In a very entertaining piece in the London Review of Books, Anne Enright describes her homecoming after being away on the writers' circuit:

Back home, I pause at the door to arrange my conference face: ‘My goodness I am tired, and I certainly had no fun, and I worked so much and drank so little, my goodness it is just such a relief to be back with you all.’ Meanwhile, he gets ready to throw the family at me like a rugby ball, and head out the door, and not come back for quite some time. We do not fight. Much. A mercy.

And, of the design of her many hotel surroundings, she has "a faint, geological interest in the tiling" of the bathrooms which are lent hope by "the possibility of a sewing kit".

The full article is well worth a read for its insight into airport and hotel life, so novel and entertaining for the occasional trip, so much of a setpiece if it is regular travel for work.

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