Thursday, July 30, 2009

it's getting better

It's four years now since we moved into this house, so it's time for the annual look back at the photos to encourage ourselves that we're making progress.

Here's the old kitchen. As we pointed out to the estate agent when we made an offer on the house, it's pretty yucky - you'd dash in for a slice of toast and quickly out again. No butter, no jam, minimal grim sensory input.

And this is a corner of the new kitchen, which is much more of a family room where we all gather for warmth and chitchat and slow-cook good dinners in pink casseroles.

The next urgent projects are the main bathroom and the hall (which still has those same reddish tiles as the old kitchen). How does one make a long, narrow corridor beautiful...?

Beatrice O'Connell

New Shoes, by Beatrice O'Connell

I seem to have a predilection for impressionistic representations of children. Vivienne St. Clair's work was previously featured here, and I've recently discovered Beatrice O'Connell, whose muted palette and broad brushstrokes yield images that seem to be quietly hopeful of telling a story.

I'll be keeping an eye on her blog for more of her intriguing paintings.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

a preponderance of pink

Anyone who read the occasional posts about my house will notice a preponderance of pink. This is inevitable when living with two little girls, one of whom is hardwired for a pink preference, while the other favours blue but is thwarted by the pinkness of preschool girl culture.

Myself, I lean toward raspberry pink and chalky pink, and will have to persuade myself to move on from pink, yellow and green combinations.

And how, you ask, does the only male of the family manage amid all the pink - does he yearn for camel brown and navy blue? Well, no, he has a good eye for design and colour, and is happy with our pink choices so long as his is implemented: the dishwasher must play Pink Floyd's 'Welcome to the Machine' whenever it is opened.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Martha Rosler: bringing the war home

One of The Onion's occasional gems was called Chanel Develops Durable, Low-Cost Perfume For Third World - Chanel 3rd. The article states:
... 3rd marks Chanel's first-ever attempt to appeal to a low- or no-income consumer market, and is part of the fashion world's desire to "give something back" to developing countries that have offered much in the way of photo-shoot locales and labor outsourcing. After six years of trial and error, Chanel's 17-member development team was able to bring the perfume's cost down to a more affordable $100-an-ounce.
I was reminded of this inspired piece of satire when I came across the photomontage art of Martha Rosler, who uses context displacement to bring together war and interior decoration in a medley of incongruities.

Martha Rosler, Red Stripe Kitchen

Martha Rosler, Red and White Shades (Baghdad Burning)

In these collage images from her exhibitions Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, 1967-72, and Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, New Series (2004), news photos of the Vietnam War and the Iraq war are combined with images from contemporary design magazines.

An old-fashioned and effective technique, and one that makes choosing the right kitchen light-fitting seem trivial when set amid a more grim reality. And yet this is how our society is constructed, with well-delineated areas of interest that co-exist unremarkably side by side until they are nudged a little too close together for comfort.

Intriguing art? A cheap trick? A truth? An artificial juxtaposition?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

hiatus and hydrangeas

It's the height of hydrangea season in my garden, and that means it's time for me to go on holiday. No, I didn't grow the oranges and lemons, just the flowers. See you in a while!

stark luggage aspirations

It's nearly time to pack, and these are the suitcases I wish I had, the Safari range from Globetrotter of London.

Their website says it has a "stark, instantly recognisable aesthetic", which I'd imagine would be very helpful for identifying it on the luggage carousel amongst all the inferior luggage with a less stark aesthetic. 

I once pinned a silk peony to my suitcase to add to its aesthetic, but it caught fire in Atlanta airport, so that was that. I console myself that it wasn't stark enough anyhow.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

vanilla on turquoise

I idly open the junk food drawer and there's nothing there except oat cakes. That's because In Defence of Food wisely and reasonably tells me that we should eat real food.

But there's always sugar and butter and milk, and as Beatrice, the imaginary assistant, has gone home to re-trim her best hat, no one reminds me that fudge isn't full of vitamins. So I make fudge.

And because it's late in the evening, the children are asleep and there's no one to clamour for chocolate fudge, so I get to make vanilla.  That's the best kind.

Friday, July 10, 2009

French Country Living

In the dying days of economic abundance, there appeared a spate of what I think of as Versailles atrocities: flimsy French-style furniture, made of MDF, spray-painted white and enthusiastically distressed, with curved legs, rickety drawers and gilt knobs.

They were cheap, but overpriced. It was time for a recession.
So I approached French Country Living with suspicion, wondering whether all this was a retailers' theme park or had any connection with reality. Here's what I learned from the book about French Country style:
  • Furniture is old and mismatched, and there's no such thing as a three piece suite. Much of it, both metal and wood, is painted. Chairs, sofas and beds are gracefully perched on legs, and elephantine divans are nowhere in sight.
  • Rooms have an effortlessly curated rather than a purchased or designed look.
  • Colours are powdery and muted, like flowers that have faded prettily in the sun.
  • Fabrics used include toile, ticking and dainty floral prints. (Have you noticed that when stripes are called 'ticking', they are twice the price of stripes called 'stripes'?) Quilts, cushions, and window seats bring warmth and colour.
  • Storage isn't built in, even in the kitchen, and armoires play a queen mother role, stately and dominant. There's an air of orderly clutter, with many everyday items on display.
  • Opulent touches finish some rooms - a gold painted  bath, toleware or crystal chandeliers and huge gilt mirrors.
  • Sinks are ceramic, and there's no visible chrome or stainless steel; if anything has an industrial look, it's 19th century industrial.
So no, French style needn't involve buying disposable furniture, but rather being imaginative with good quality existing items, and perhaps buying fabric and paint (and an inspirational, charmingly illustrated  book such as this one).  I suspect it all needs to be done very slowly. 

And how suitable for our new ethos of more frugal living and imaginative economy; we can all tuck our credit cards safely away in the toile-lined armoire (ok, the brown paper lined cupboard or press will do for now) until the junk shops abandon their gilt bird-cages and close down.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What's Your Style?

Alek of From the Right Bank to the Left Coast has issued a 'What's your style in one picture?' challenge, so I thought I'd have a rummage for a suitable candidate photo.

It wasn't easy - as I browsed I found myself becoming more critical, dismissing a room here because of overuse of plastic, there because of murderous touches of purple.

But in the end, this one from David Giles Photography (well worth a look for lovely interior shots) looked like a good bet to me.

And what do I like about it? The painted wood furniture, the use of white as background, the bright touches of colour, and in particular the informality. It adds up to a fresh and pretty functional look that I admire.

And I have a certain allegiance to it because of that focal powder blue range. When we were buying our yellow range, the owner of the shop was told of our request and rushed out especially to tell us that we wouldn't be wanting yellow; we'd be wanting green or black. But we insisted. It turned out to be a darker yellow than the sample, but there it is now and I'd miss its brazen presence if it were to go.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

chaos and fairy cakes

The stonemason has finally arrived to build our wall after dishing out six months worth of very imaginative excuses.  Outdoors is chaotic: a tractor, a digger, flying rocks, a fallen tree, tradesmen reminiscing about fishing adventures. 

Beatrice, the imaginary assistant, took refuge in the kitchen and made these fairy cakes.   Soon we'll hide under the stairs and eat them.  

Monday, July 6, 2009

relentless white: fireplace before and after

Here's the living room fireplace two days after we moved in.

"What lovely Doolin slate!", visitors politely said. "How dark and depressing!", I thought, feeling a bit sorry for Doolin.

So when the boxes were unpacked I applied my notorious predilection for white paint (which probably stems from a teenage fascination with Tippex) and painted it.

I quite like it now, but it's only a stopgap. When I can bear the negotiation and the din of dealing with builders again, that fire surround will come off.
We suspect there's a much larger original old cottage fireplace behind it, so, God Willing, that'll be exposed and replastered in white, and we'll put in an ivory enamel stove and merrily burn up the turf and the tax demands.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

a struggle with blue

I struggle with blue - so difficult to use in interior design without going for the nautical look, the beach-house look, the Habitat oppressive look, or the Laura Ashley imitation French look. But I've found an interior that may be my salvation, from Marie Claire Maison via the amusing and artful The City Sage blog.

So I've been trying to identify the elements that endear this room so much to me, and here's what I have to aim for:

  • a careful and diverse balance of warm bright colours

  • a high ceiling (this is difficult; half of my house is an old cottage)

  • plenty of floor space

  • and, crucially, a painted white background

In practice, I think this room is inimitable, but these are good clues for me for future use of blue. And I like the idea of multicoloured sofa cushions; hours of happy rearranging and coordinating with my frocks.

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