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Alek, of ‘From the Right Bank to the Left coast’ threw down the gauntlet big style to interior designers the world over to find one picture that most closely represents our interior style. I’ve spent many an evening poring through my back catalogue of Elle Decoration, Dwell, Living Etc., Metropolitan Homes, Diseño Interior, Ideat and Casa Viva magazines, as well as files stuffed full of interiors ripped out of newspapers and supplements over the years and my many books. I came up with a shortlist of favourites but none were quite right – apart from two, that is. Yes, I know that is cheating, but both represent slightly different sides of me. One is my ‘reined in’ side, which aspires towards understated perfection and sleek glamour, the other is my more ‘everyday’ side, which loves laid back-ness and comfort. Not as much of a contradiction as you might expect!

So, the first room I have chosen is from a relatively recent Elle Decoration from February 2008. There are elements that I greatly admire about this room that reflect my own style, but there is also room for my own touches of improvement.

Style Picture 1What do I love about it? Well, firstly I love the pendant light shade, its architectural shape and the sense of whimsy it adds to the room – who doesn’t love a bit of whimsy? I love the light airiness of the space, the colour – monochrome brown, black and white, the use of wood which adds warmth, the texture of the surfaces, the structure of the kitchen and furniture layout, the clever use of structural space, allowing for the double-height ceiling and mezzanine level. I love the chairs and simple dining table and tableware with the teak salad bowl. The repetition of rectangular shapes in the kitchen space which is continued to the stairs and the wall of the mezzanine, as well as the way each step has two layers is a great touch. I also love the abstract picture next to the oven, oh, and the way the oven is mounted on the wall. The wonderful black and white portrait and anglepoise lamp, as well as the (just seen) red flower fairy lights tumbling out of a ceramic vase on the mezzanine add personality to the space.

What would I change? Not much! I perhaps would have installed more texturally-interesting tiles as the ceiling-high splash back in the kitchen space. An architectural shaped plant, perhaps a Swiss cheese plant, would look great on the mezzanine level to the right of the chair. A ‘barely there’ runner on the dining table patterned largely in monochrome but with a splash of dark green. In the winter, I’d throw some small sheepskin rugs over the dining chairs and line the stairs with tea-lights and the table with candles in a mid-20th century Danish stainless steel candle holder.

Perhaps it’s my love of collecting Danish tableware (stainless steel and teak) that provides the same attraction for me to this space. I love the room’s sleekness, with its nods to classic Scandanavian as well as retro style and its wonderful architectural pieces, full of movement. It is modern but also personal with carefully chosen objects that are genuinely beautiful and well-designed. It is not surprising that the owner, Maria Löw, and architect, Gun Ahlström are both Swedish. I couldn’t get further from being Swedish myself, but this room reflects my own personal taste and aspirations as closely as it is possible to get. Until the next picture, that is…

Picture two, ripped from the Saturday Times magazine, probably a good five years ago (don’t have the date, unfortunately!), is one that I discarded for being, on the face of it, too boring, but I kept coming back to it. It’s actually a perfectly laid out multi-functional space that works wonderfully and includes interesting structural elements which are happily married to the modern sensibility of the furniture.

Style Picture 2I love the space, the huge amount of natural light that just saturates the space, and the positioning of the furniture to naturally define the different areas. The exposed brickwork of the walls and fireplace and, of course, the fact that it is all painted white, is also extremely appealing to me. The wood floor off-sets this, as does the pale blue painted kitchen wall. I love the Louis Poulsen pendant lamp hung low over the super long dining table and the colour scheme of the items in the room in general which provide warmth against the white backdrop. I love the shelves in the window, and the way that the storage scheme cleverly makes use of every nook and cranny. I love the casually slung table cloth and the wonderful architectural shapes of the flowers on the table. I love the kitchen cupboards and black unit top. I love the owner’s desk area and the black painted radiator.

I would only change the (visible) sofa as I can’t imagine that the low back would make it very comfortable, despite its good looks, and, to me, comfort really matters. I’d also exchange the three cushions for two with different patterns. The dining chairs are almost there but I’d prefer the Eames DSR chairs (with Eiffel Tower base!) in this space.

Apart from these things, this room pretty much says ‘me’!  It also has a loose Scandanavian element to it, and the use of natural materials and texture, as well as the white and dark wood, is similar to that of picture 1. My Danish party-ware would sit perfectly in this space and it is also open to the addition of more vibrant colour – more so perhaps than the more minimalist scheme of picture 1. I can see my cockerel collection being quite at home on the higher shelf to the right of the desk!

So, that’s me anyway. I love poring over and collecting these images because I have a passion for seeing how other people live – some would call it ‘noseyness’! I’m always looking for ways of improving spaces and taking inspiration from little parts of things that just sing to me. Remember that I’m talking about my own personal taste in both of these pictures, too. I would never try to influence a client against their will and would make sure that their space reflects their own unique taste. There’s also nothing wrong with mixing in a bit of aspirational magic in with your personality too, though (I’m thinking of picture 1!), as what would life be if we couldn’t dream?

Other pictures that were considered but did not make the final cut:

Style Picture 3Style Picture 5

From Easy Living and the Saturday Times Magazine respectively, I love the beautifully displayed sombrero collection, the low shelving, the exposed brick work of the first picture (and the presence of a cockerel collection!) and the wonderful dining chairs, black painted floor and rosy under unit light of the second picture.


Summer homes, Istanbul

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While I was thinking of ice cream colours on buildings and ‘icing’, I remembered the wedding cake-like summer houses that line the banks of the Bosphorus outside of Istanbul, on the way to the Black Sea. The architecture in Istanbul itself is just breathtaking, and these houses are a kind of juxtaposition to the enormity of the Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque. They are so pretty, some with little boats tied up outside. I daydreamed about living in one of them whilst sipping my çay on the ferry…

Istanbul Summer house 1Istanbul Summer House 2

An ode to Torbay

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I recently spent a weekend in Torbay, Devon, and as we drove through Teignmouth, I was struck by the prettiness of the architecture. Houses are really different by the seaside to in land. In my neck of the woods, I’m surrounded by either Bath stone, rough stone, or red brick. The seaside buildings of England’s ‘Riviera’ display a host of ice cream colours and shiny white cast iron swirls of balcony and gable, like icing.

In Torquay, vast Victorian manor houses, now retirement homes, hotels, or split into apartments, line the hillside outside of the town, with beautifully landscaped gardens. We walked part of the coastal path there and stopped for a drink on the terrace of the Osborne Hotel, a bright white Georgian-style crescent, looking out to sea.

We walked the breakwater in Brixham and beheld the higgledy piggledy terraced houses nestled into the slopes leading up from the harbour, painted every colour in the rainbow. They looked like little jewels in the evening sun, the windows glinting in the light.

Beach Huts, Broadsands_WmThe beach huts that line part of the sea front of Paignton are all white clapboard with the doors and roofs painted in different colours. They are extremely photogenic and just delightful to see in their long rows. Alek, on her blog ‘From the Right Bank to the Left Coast’ recently commented that it would be wonderful to live in a hut by the sea,  and illustrated this with pictures of a fabulous contemporary beach hut. Well, these little huts are too small for living in, but they’re lovely for a day at the British seaside – just add a deckchair and bucket and spade!


Summer flora (part 2)

Further to my original post on the wonderful wild floral displays that I’ve been seeing (see bottom), as the strange weather this summer is continuing, even more roadside ‘meadows’ are appearing. I saw a bank full of marguerite daisies on the way to Bristol yesterday. It’s lovely to see but I’m wondering when the summer is going to return. It seems like July is now the UK’s monsoon season – I don’t think I’ve ever seen rain in this country like I saw today, even in the winter!

Be gone blustery showers!

Interior design on TV

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I’m considering how the tradition of UK interior design television programmes always contains the ‘element of surprise’. This is not surprise in the design sense, where a ‘je ne sais quoi’ is introduced to a scheme, but a surprise in the sense that the owners and inhabitants of a space have no input or idea about the work that the designer is carrying out in their beloved homes! In these programmes, people frequently return to homes that they were forced to evacuate and find that their familiar surroundings have been obliterated and replaced with the designers ideal, but in which they themselves have had no say or involvement. They mostly feign delight but do sometimes cry – it makes me sad!

I’m inclined to think that this makes good television but it does little to fly the flag for interior designers who genuinely want to hear and understand the needs of their clients and work the design scheme around a mutually agreed ideal. It is also lovely for the owner to then fill their homes with meaningful objects that they fall in love with over time. The problem with bringing in everything new for a client is that there is no room for anything else that they might come across in future, and where’s the fun in that?

My approach to design in my own lovely flat is just the same. I’ve lived here for three years and still the walls are bare of art work. Not for long though – I’m starting to put together a collection that gives me pleasure and tomorrow I’m going to pick up my newly framed painting of palm trees bought on the art walk at Santa Barbara and an illustration of Stag’s Leap vineyard from the wine tasting Napa Valley, both treasured mementoes of my recent California road trip!

from http://mervynseal.com/MervynSeal/60%27s%20House%20design.html

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Mervyn Seal was something of a trailblazer of modern design in the otherwise sleepy fishing town of Brixham, Devon. His architecture must have been a real talking point at the time with, no doubt, much ‘opinion’ being voiced.

The façade of his Parkham Wood House conjures up thoughts of space travel and Futurism and the positioning of the windows and the light and dark behind them forms a geometric pattern that is also reminiscent of the work of Piet Mondrian.

Its location is awkward, perched on a cliff, and the cantilever engineering allows it to seem as if it is floating, almost like a tree house. Overcoming such difficulties and assimilating buildings with nature is a heavy nod to Frank Lloyd Wright – Fallingwater in particular. Seal has bravely taken on a location where more traditional home designs would not have been possible or appropriate, and injected a sense of modernist glamour.

The innovative use of materials and techniques, such as cantilevering, steel, concrete and plate glass, is very much like Wright, but also the work of John Lautner and Mies van der Rohe. The budget must have been, however, a fraction of what these renowned architects had to work with.  It does have an undeniable charm, nonetheless, and was and still is the only building of its kind in the town.

The shape of the roof slants from the left, creating good drainage and a pleasing ‘space butterfly’ shape. The building is entirely composed of long horizontal lines and makes good use of the split-level style, as well as the almost entirely glass frontage. The almost precarious balancing of the house on the cliff, among the trees, makes it all the more intriguing. It is reminiscent of a Bond villain’s cliff-top lair, and is a superb example of 1960s British architecture.

In the same way as Frank Lloyd Wright, Seal also worked on the interior design of this home, building in furniture and using stone cladding, again like Wright and Lautner. Inside, as outside, there is evidence of innovative design and techniques, the ‘fishbone’ steel staircase and the modern take on a chandelier – coloured glass tubes extending from the wood panelled ceiling – in particular. The split-level design makes maximum use of space and light and the sunken living area is as unashamedly 1960s as the exterior is modernist and futuristic.

The Twentieth Century Society was making a bid to have the Parkham Wood House listed. Another of Seal’s designs, the equally accomplished and grander scaled ‘Kaywana Hall’, Kingswear near Dartmouth (1961), has recently been demolished.

Pictures and details of his work can be seen on his website: Mervyn Seal – 60’s House Design


Mmm, that title reminds me of the technicolour dream world that is ‘Oz’, and it’s not too far from what I’m thinking in regards to colour. I love a riot of colour, all kinds of colour and pattern clashing together. However, I find that I have ‘colour corners’ where the clash is concentrated. In my apartment these are in my kitchen where a mixture of interesting food packaging and label design lifts a small corner, in my studio where the ‘wonderwall’ above my desk is choc-full of inspiring and sometimes weird images and objects, and is also home to my beloved Cuban cockerel, and, last but not least, in my utility cupboard in which I house otherwise mundane objects and collections of nails in colourful jars and boxes. I also sprinkle colour around in smaller ways – red ribbons that were wrapped around Charbonnel et Walker champagne truffle boxes, Pimms spoons in glass jugs, colourful postcards on the fridge and small Chinese lion heads on display, all against a canvas of all-white walls. My ‘relaxation’ spaces are another story, however, where the bright colour makes way for watered down versions mixed with neutrals and monochrome pattern. I am passionate about colour, and do have a penchant for kitsch, but use it to fire me up with inspiration! When I tear myself away from my desk at night, the paler colours of my bedroom are a wonderful counterbalance as I sink in to my marshmallow soft bed…mmm, lovely sleep!