Despite having worked in the fashion industry for over twenty years, I have never been one to follow trends. Trends can be beautiful?...Undoubtedly! Stylish? - Certainly! Perfectly matched to ones own design philosophies? - Of course... but then - there's the thing. If something is perfectly in tune with ones own aesthetic, then surely it stops being a trend - and simply becomes something that we like, that happens to popular with a lot of other people at that precise moment in time...
Me surrounded by my quirky mix of new, vintage and antique
Surely it's better to surround ourselves with things that we have discovered ourselves and genuinely love, and then watch happily as they enter in and out of popularity with the ebb and flow of fashion, knowing that for as many times as we are behind with a trend - we are certain to also be propelled unwittingly into the forefront again at some point?
Take the furniture and artwork that we use to fill our houses for instance. Is it really practical to keep replacing major items on an annual basis, simply because a particular period of history is currently 'on trend'?
I personally believe that a mix of modern and new, vintage and antique is the perfect mix for me and my lifestyle at Hill House. I like to be surrounded by things that have a story or a heritage behind them and I particularly like to be surrounded by things that are built or made to last. This can of course to relate to new things just as well as old. There are many wonderful sofa and furniture companies who take pride in their workmanship and have no desire to give you reason to repeat buy within a matter of a few years. Their intention is to create the heirlooms and antiques of tomorrow, and their skill and care is reflected in the final product - and often, regrettably, the price.
So, if one is looking for solid, well made, beautiful pieces of interest for the home, without necessarily wishing to spend an absolute mint - where can we go to get the same feel, without remortgaging our houses as a result?
Why auction houses of course!
Now, mainly in part due to the stereotypical image of the blustering comedian accidentally bidding on a several million pound Van Gogh by yawning at the wrong moment during bidding time, auctions have suffered from a nerve inducing reputation for some people.
Nobody wants to find themselves in an awkward situation, and combined with the mystery that surrounds how, when, and where to bid, many feel that perhaps buying at an auction isn't for them...
Well, let me tell you - most people are therefore missing out on an absolute treat as well as the regular opportunity to bring home a bargain. Whether it be fine art, object d'art, good solid furniture, vintage mirrors or a perfectly aged antique rug that you're looking for, auctions offer the ability to find something of such incredible quality and often, history, that it really is doing ourselves a disservice to strike them off our interior hunting grounds.
Now, interior designers have know this for years. It's a well kept secret within design circles that a sure fire way to achieve an expensive looking, heritage look is to purchase at auction rather than visit a luxury antique shop (after all, auctions are the first stop for every luxury antique shop owner - so imagine the amount of middle men your favoured antique shop item has passed through!)
The first time I set eyes on 'Self Portrait of Artist With A Violin' by The Hon. Marion Saumarez
This is why, when Cheffins Auction House in Cambridge approached me to discuss the idea of helping to demystify the whole auction process, it was an appealing challenge that I felt was a valuable 'public information service' if not an actual duty to my interior lifestyle loving readers who may not be familiar with them.
The Cheffins Warehouse - Pre Auction Day.
Now, as a lover of vintage furniture, which I often paint and sell, I am no stranger to auction houses and auction sites.
However, Cheffins is a step away from the average vintage emporium. At their auction room it is very possible to spend several thousand pounds if one wishes, but it is equally possible to part with a fraction of that as well...
Cataloguing Lots for Auction Day.
Sophie, the lovely head of PR at Cheffins, initially invited me along to the showrooms to take a look at the items that were on offer, and that would be appearing in the upcoming December auction.
Some extremely handsome and distinguished gentlemen heading off to Auction!
We decided that it would be a fun exercise to choose a few of the potential Auction Lots and bring them home to Hill House to see how they would look.
Auction warehouses can sometimes be rather overwhelming with the amount of pieces intended for auction day, so it was a wonderful excuse to get a feel for some lovely pieces of art and furniture against the backdrop of a real family home.
Seeing How 'Self Portrait of Artist With A Violin' would look in a normal home'
I am a massive fan of oversized pieces and romantic looking art, and so this painting entitles 'Self Portrait Of Artists A Her Violin' by the Hon. Marion Saumarez caught my eye immediately. We are so used to seeing large posters and prints in houses, that it's easy to forget, that original pieces of art were actually intended to achieve the same dramatic result in real homes rather than sit art galleries.
'Self Portrait of Artist With A Violin' looking perfectly at home standing atop my dining room sideboard!
'Dog on Tiger Rug' by artists Lionel Edwards
Another pieces that caught my eye was the of a 'Dog on Tiger Rug' by Lionel Edwards. A fun piece and certainly a good choice for the many dog lovers among us.
You can just see the inlaid table fitting in nicely to the right of the sideboard.
Finally came the inlaid wine table, which despite its ornate depiction of peacocks and feathers was an easy piece to place that could fit into any room and provide much beauty and interest on top of it's intended functional use.
When I first saw the inlaid wine table at Cheffins warehouse - the retail is remarkable.
Sadly for me, all of these pieces were destined to return in time for auction day, and so having fallen in love with the 'Self Portrait Of Artist With A Violin" in particular, it was time to see how she would fare in the actual auction...
Auction day at Cheffins HQ in Cambridge.
Auction days are always a hive of activity at any Auction house. The public are invited to come on viewing days prior to the auction and are welcome to leave advance bids on items of interest if they are unable to attend the auction in person. One thing that Cheffins are keen to promote is that there are numerous ways of placing a bid to suit everyones comfort zone - AND time zone! When convenient, I personally find it exciting to place my bid on the day and watch the auction unfolding in person. I like to enjoy the moment, and the excitement that one feels when securing the winning bid is like no other. It's also extremely interesting to watch the bidding process and see which items prove popular, and which ones end up going for a song. Often the result isn't always as expected...
The Bidding has begun!
However, we all live busy lives and for those in a different location or countries, it is encouraged to phone through a bid, place an advance bid or place a bid online. For the nervous among us, these are also all ways in which one can control, set and stick to a spending limit, since you are able to set your top price level, walk away and wait to see what happens....
Another beauty that caught my eye on auction day!
It's important to note that even if you win the bid and end up with your chosen piece, you will not necessarily have spent up to your top price level. If nobody has bid against you, OR competing bids dropped out early, then the end price that you pay will be set at the start price or where the bidding stopped.
The original Cheffins sign.
I didn't end up getting my 'Self Portrait Of Artist With A Violin'. She proved to be a most popular piece and I imagine has ended up in a suitably loving home. I'm happy with that result - watching the bidding was immensely exciting and a thrill to watch, and it's quite satisfying to see a piece you love being loved and coveted by others - even when it doesn't end up coming home with you!
It's true to say that the entire process is quite fascinating and addictive in the most positive and enjoyable sense, and I would highly recommend attending an auction to all of the vintage, antique, art and furniture lovers out there - even if the first few times you attend are purely to test the waters and get a feel for what it all entails. Always feel free to ask the auction house staff to clarify anything for you - they are more than willing to help, and will even help you place a bid if you require. They are also a fountain of knowledge and can talk you through any piece that catches your eye. For the time strapped among us, you can also request an auction catalogue in advance and/or view it online which will give you the basic information of starting bids, the predicted range of bidding and some history on the item.
Also, do look on the Auction House websites (you can find Cheffins Here). There are usually set dates for various types of sales and you will be able to plan your visit based on the auction calendar. It's not all about old furniture either. If your interests lie in a more modern vibe, then there will definitely be something for you. I've seen beautiful Mid Century Modern pieces sat happily next to Arts & Crafts as well as Edwardian and Georgian pieces at various auctions.
The fact is that Cheffins in particular, hold auctions covering everything from fine art and furniture, to old books, and even houses and cars. They even hold farm equipment sales if that's your thing. Personally, I like to dip my toe into a bit of everything - just to see what's what. One never knows when you may find yourself to be the only bidder on your dream item - although perhaps it won't turn out to be an undiscovered Van Gogh...although who knows - a lady can dream after all!
Until Next Time, This post was sponsored by Cheffins Auction House. With special thanks to Sophie Richardson. For details of the Auctions throughout the year, please visit www.cheffins.co.uk The Next Interiors Sale at Cheffins Auction will take place on Thursday 24th January 2019. The Next Fine Art Sale at Cheffins Auction House will take place on 6th7th March 2019. Find Cheffins on instagram Here.
I'm not one to necessarily follow the new trendy colours of the year, I know what I like and I like what I know. However, when a brand such as Farrow & Ball decided to bring out a range of new colours - something that they only do once every a few years, then I tend to sit up and take note.
The New Farrow and Ball Colour Range
You see, I've been using Farrow & Ball paint colours for over twenty years - ever since buying my first apartment with my husband.
We have subsequently used them in every home that we've owned.
It helps, that every home that I have lived in has been a period property, and the range of Farrow & Ball colours, particularly those with their flat finish are particularly - although by no means exclusively - suited to period properties. In fact many of them are based on heritage and existing colours from certain periods in history - and as a history buff, it makes perfect sense to me to use paint from a company that uses titles such as 'Card Room Green', 'Manor house Grey' and 'Dead Salmon'!
Not so long ago I had the privilege of visiting the Farrow & Ball factory down in Dorset. It's where all of the magic happens, and is an incredibly close knit and hands on operation considering that the paints are highly respected internationally and distributed world wide. The Farrow & Ball team pride themselves on working to small, highly controlled batches made to small orders, so that each colour mismatched to perfection. Of course the formula to the exquisitely chalky, yet rich depth to the finish that I love the most - is a highly treasured and well kept secret, and with good reason, as I've never seen a rival to it yet.
My Fellow Bloggers (L-R Nat, Me, Kat, Cara, Reena, Sally, Anna) and I posing at supper on The Farrow and Ball Trip with our lovely host Kat.
I recently made quite a dramatic change to the room that we call our Drawing Room at Hill House. After years of a rich, deep red wallpaper, I decided to return to a tried and tested old favourite combination of mine, naturally from Farrow & Ball - French Grey on the walls and Bone on the woodwork. I'd used this palette previously in that first flat and then again in our old London house before we moved to Norfolk - yes - I am a creature of habit, but I also feel that when something works beautifully and makes you feel happy, why not surround yourself with it! After enjoying the cocooning, Victorian study style deep red for so long, the light and fresh feel of these lighter more muted colours was an exciting and uplifting change. However, rather than use one of my familiar colours for the ceiling, where I tend to go lighter, I decided to try out one of the colours from the new selection at Farrow & Ball. Namely, School House White. I already new that I was in love with this chalky white, reminiscent of school chalk, because I had already painted two dining room side tables in this gloriously fresh colour, to highly pleasing effect.
The New colour scheme in painting progress!
Second coat on!
All done! Now to put things back!
I think that the combination of this trio of colours has been a wonderful success, and the fact that I was safe in the knowledge that my existing furniture would work perfectly against the new palette (I've had several pieces - including the red check chair - for many, many years), made it an especially enjoyable experience.
However, I did love the deep red, richness of the previous red, and so when Farrow & Ball asked me whether I'd like to take part in a fun project based on the new colour launch, I jumped at the chance of using their "Preference Red" in honour of the dark richness of the 'old' style drawing room.
The brief was to take one or more of the new seasons colours and give an interpretation of them in my own distinctive way.
Well, as a known lover of old houses and period architecture, and the fact that Hill House, built in the Georgian era itself is often compared to a Dolls House due to it's classic, perfectly symmetrical proportions, I decided that a Georgian Style dolls house painted in Preference Red with furniture painted in School House White, would be a fun and perfectly fitting interpretation for me.
The resulting images make me think of childhood Christmas's past and present. There is an air of nostalgia about a traditional wooden dolls house, and the creamy chalkiness of School House White against the deep richness of the Preference Red really shows off the depth of colour in the Farrow and Ball finish to great effect. It was a wonderful project tom take part in, and the joy that I and the - admittedly teenage - children have taken from revisiting our younger years and playing with the dolls house in front of the Christmas tree has made the experience all the more festive and pleasurable.
In fact, now that the tree has been taken down, right here, playing in front of the fire is where I think I may stay for the foreseeable future!
Until next Time!
(This is not a sponsored post, but some of the paint was gifted. All views are my own.)
One of the main reasons why I insist on keeping a separate dining room - when we also have a large family room table adjoining the kitchen - is that I love to entertain... Of course the whole point of hosting a lunch or dinner party is the pleasure of wonderful guests and convivial company, the enjoyment of good food and whatever tipple takes your fancy... however, if you're anything like me, there's also an immense amount of pleasure to be had from simply dressing the room and table beforehand...
Coming up with a theme is relatively easy when there's a festive occasion such as Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas to guide the decor, but what about those in between moments such as the weeks after Halloween when your pumpkins are past their best, and before the glitz of Christmas decorating officially starts? What if you still want everything to look season appropriate, stylish and jolly but without going down the whole Christmas route a tad too early?
To help me with this styling conundrum, I was lucky enough to be able to choose a few pieces from the Autumn/Winter range of iconic British brand OKA, and together with a few vintage pieces and accessories from textile designer Sophie Allport, I came up with my version of an Autumn table with a touch of woodland mixed in...
My colour palette consisted of a mix of green, blue, natural and blush colours, and was inspired by the colours in a beautiful bunch of faux flowers that OKA made up for me a few months ago. You can find similar Here...
As a massive fan of mismatched crockery, I love mixing colours and patterns that may not at first be an obvious mix, yet they somehow, inexplicably compliment each other. It often helps to look around at planting schemes and every day combinations that occur naturally to gain inspiration as to what will work with what, and so seeing these colours work so well together in 'nature' reassured me that my greens, blues and pinks would work equally as well on my Autumn table.
The crockery is a mix of my favourite vintage cabbage ware, some new OKA green leaf side plates (I also have the equally luscious and much larger dinner plates), my recently purchased 1940's vintage Flow Blue china and some elegantly pretty pink striped OKA dinner plates that I bought last year in the sale...
However, the 'piece de resistance' - and the real prompt for the idea of a 'woodland' theme are these amazing OKA 'Cornamenta' faux antler candle holders, made from polyresin and painted by hand. (There are matching napkin holders that are currently on my Christmas list for when we're deep in snow and I want to go the whole hog with a full on alpine theme!) The dramatic addition of four of these candle holders, combined with their flickering tapered LED candles, created a magical and otherworldly atmosphere that was in keeping with the woodland fantasy...
The napkin rings are vintage and the napkins and tablemats are from Sophie Allport in her delightful Artichoke design.
The pink stripe and inky blue of the plates sit together perfectly, and the two colours are mirrored elsewhere in the room...
...As can be seen here with another warm and Autumnal addition - these stunning pleated linen lamp shades and matching scatter cushion are in OKA's Sotota print. The blue and rouge tones against a neutral background add a pared back yet exotic bit of colour to the otherwise pale background, and provide a lovely contrast to my red check Ian Mankin fabric on a side chair. See below.
Above all, I adore colour as much as I adore having a bit of fun with my table settings. Of course, there is so much more that I would love to add - more plants, more playful accessories, more colourful dishes, a complimentary table cloth perhaps (although I do love the look of the table setting on bare wood)... and then I remember that my guests also need room to sit and eat amongst the woodland landscape - and I reconcile myself to the fact that occasionally - but not always - less can more....So life sized Bambi be gone - and now I'm off to plan a belated menu! Ah well!
It goes without saying that holidays can be wonderfully invigorating, joyful and restful occasions. With any luck, we come home feeling refreshed, renewed and ready for fresh challenges...
...Exploring new places and seeing foreign cultures at first hand can be incredibly exciting, or perhaps your idea of the perfect holiday involves sampling foreign cuisine and trying out local restaurants or visiting museums and places of architectural interest and fully immersing yourself into the lifestyle of your chosen vacation spot...
Our home for the summer, designed by owner James Michael Howard
I am all for everything listed above. Architecture and food are definitely on my top priority list...
However, being somewhat of an interiors addict, I find that for me, the most successful holidays are the ones where I stay somewhere that inspires me and opens my eyes to new interior ideas and ways of living that I can bring home with me to reinterpret in Hill House...
Me & My 'nephew' Jake!
Our recent trip to The Hamptons was a perfect example of providing something for everyone in the Sutton household. My family enjoyed the delights of the pool, the beach, the fabulous restaurants and glamorous shops...
Jake enjoying 'The Good Life'!
While I went around practically drooling at the houses, the immaculate planting, the perfectly tended gardens and the abundance of exquisite 18th century shingle buildings and estates hidden behind high boxwood hedges and swathes of bobbing hydrangea bushes...
Classically inspired landscaping.
As a lover of traditional houses with perfect symmetry, The Hamptons provided a visual feast of architectural periods, styles and interpretations all executed along this similar theme...
Being guests of my family who were leasing a house for the extended Summer season with a view to potentially buying in the region (Yes please - we want to come back!), we were able to throw ourselves fully into the joys of Hamptons Living - almost feeling like locals by the time we left...
For those who aren't aware, 'The Hamptons' is the name given to part of the East End of Long Island. It compromises of a group of villages and hamlets in the towns of Southampton and East Hampton, which together form the South Fork of LongIsland in Suffolk County, New York.
The house we stayed in is the vision of interior decorator extraordinaire, James Michael Howard, who worked with architects McAlpine to design what to me is close to being a perfect Hamptons home (although to be honest, similar to a child in a sweetshop - almost every home I saw was an exquisite example of a "Perfect Hamptons Home"). Not forgetting, the exquisite landscaping of the gardens and grounds done by Michael Derrig.
Each room in the house - and there were many to explore and enjoy - is an interior design lovers dream - bedrooms included...
Me thinking about the bedding spree that I intended to go on when I arrive home!
What was particularly inspiring is how James Michael Howard has managed to give a contemporary feeling to the interiors, without compromising on a traditional and homely feel. There were many interior details, bespoke pieces of furniture, and decorative groupings that wouldn't look out of place at Hill House despite our classic English Georgian design...
I like this idea for displaying books on my dining table when not in use for its primary function,
Me living the Hamptons Life!
In fact, the whole space was a perfect example of the synergy that exists between good classical design and good architecture. I find that in most cases beauty is beauty, and when it is expertly executed, it can work well whatever the period of backdrop or location.
I have always loved a good 'grouping' of d'objects, whether in my case it be vintage food domes, a group of paintings or Victorian kitchenalia, so it was a joy to see the beautiful groups of collections featured around the house and used as a decorative feature...
A beautiful curated display of found turtle shells.
Artwork grouped to perfection and wall light beauty!
Classic architectural details and a love of symmetry play a big part in the overall cohesive beauty of the interiors...
The beauty of symmetry on an upstairs landing.
A 'Tudor' inspired shape for the front door - I love this nod to classic interiors.
The Main reception room with it's almost 'ecclesiatical' vaulted ceiling.
...As does a very evident love of modern as well as traditionally inspired lighting...
The dining area with its cleverly grouped contemporary lighting.
This wouldn't look out of place at Hill House.
...And contemporary art...
Contemporary art against panelled walls - a good example of James Michael Howard's clever skill at mixing styles.
..Yet, always with an eye for comfort and remembering that it's a family home...
This could be a detail from Hill House - but it's not!
Of course, no Hamptons home is complete without an ultra glamorous kitchen...
The Kitchen Island - and the best use for a kitchen island below...
A particularly favourite area of mine - The breakfast 'nook'.
...and naturally the beauty and glamour was not just confined to the interior spaces. The outdoor living spaces were treated with equal attention to detail...
The decked bedroom terrace.
A Perfect outdoor entertaining space for Summer OR Winter!
Now I want 'festoon' lights just like these!
It's certainly a dog's life...
Above all, I came home inspired - as well as several pounds heavier, but that's a story of 'gastronomique' excess for another post...) - and buzzing with fresh ideas on how to incorporate some of these Hamptons Style elements into my interiors at home, without compromising the integrity of Hill House - which is after all, an English country house, with its own merits, beauty and identity.
One of my main aspirations is to attempt to 'streamline' whilst still maintaining my collections and love of colourful English textiles and soft furnishings - however there is a fine line between 'collection' and clutter and I fear that I must remember that! I loved how despite the abundance of art, lighting features, books and decorative items, the house always maintained a feeling of airiness, space and light. It felt fresh and sophisticated, but still cosy and welcoming. Now this could be due to the basic fact that there was a lot of floor space to be enjoyed, but in truth, it owed much of it's success to the lightness of hand of its interior designer / owner, James Michael Howard, who certainly knows how to turn a luxury house into a beautiful and liveable home.
The Finished Bedroom Featuring Desenio Art Prints.
I can quite clearly remember the joy that came with realising fifteen years ago, that not only was I pregnant with twin girls, but that after the fun that I had experienced decorating my sons' nursery 18 months earlier, I would now be able to expand my creative juices and replicate the euphoria by diving straight into the domain of girls bedroom decor!
The Copper Desenio Frames Complimented the other Copper Accents.
The wonderful thing about decorating your children's bedroom in the early years, is that you usually have a free reign to go as all out crazy as you like. Have you always harboured a desire to have a totally pink room? Now you CAN! Want to cover a room in baby blue stripes, fluffy clouds and hot air balloons - GO AHEAD! For those first few blissful years you can do whatever you want with no objections, no opinions and certainly no alternative decor tastes to conflict with your own. Its a truly blissful state of affairs - albeit often short lived....because one day they hit their teens...
Every Room Needs A Bit Of Sparkle!
In all honesty, I've actually been rather lucky when it comes to my teenagers and their decor choices. They appreciate the fact that we live in an old, Georgian house, and so the chance of successfully achieving a truly minimalist, futuristic, modern environment are rather unlikely with wonky walls, classical architrave and original wooden floors. As a result, they've more or less gone along with the general elegantly vintage and antique vibe that permeates the rest of the house...
Graphics & Botanicals Mixed Beautifully Together.
However, in these days of YouTube and Instagram, there has been an increasing trend for a certain look that has been a particular draw for one of my daughters. The new ideal is for a personal space to look stylish, and cool and of course 'Insta ready' at all times. It needs to be a multi functioning space for social media savvy millennials - gone are the days when a bedroom merely served as a functional space for homework, sleeping and the occasional sleepover, and teens were happy to put up the odd poster of their favourite band. Now it needs to have the potential to be the backdrop of a 'Creator Studio', suitable for making YouTube videos, Snapchat memes, and of course as the defining shoot backdrop for Instagram selfies.
So how did I, as an original art loving, vintage and traditional interiors obsessed Mother, manage to reconcile my daughters need for a bedroom style that encompassed all of the above mentioned needs whilst not jarring with my own English country style?
Well, it started with her desire to have clean, beautiful art work and copper accents. Those were her two prerequisites that we needed to work around, and the rest could flow from there.
She was particularly adamant that she didn't want her art work to replicate my vintage vibe with their chunky original picture frames and 1930's floral oils. She definitely wanted it to be her take on the things that interest her. Coincidentally enough, her aesthetic interests are actually very close to mine - fashion, florals, elegant lines all play a big part in what she wanted. Although, the word "MODERN" had to prefix all of these subheadings - lest I forget whose room it was...
This is where DESENIO - known for their affordable, stylish wall art, was an absolute dream. Tasteful, elegant designs, with an overall muted colour palette, the huge range of posters have an ingenious way of all seeming to go together - whatever the subject combination. This meant that I could sit back and let her choose to her hearts content whilst I could rest assured that there would be nothing garish and out of place for either of our tastes!
Just after We'd Put The Posters in Their Frames.
She was also able to choose sleek copper frames that complimented the rest of her bedroom furniture, with clean, graphic art work that clearly put her personal stamp on what was now her very own personal teenage domain...
Prada Marfa This Way!
Like mother, like daughter, she has a love of fashion and the iconic images and people that have populated that world. With a particular interest in graphics and typography, her choice of two posters that combined fashion and graphics made a perfect combination. The addition of the two softer, more botanical prints - 'Pink Flower Dream No2' and 'Monstera Three' - add a layer of femininity without being too girly, and are a nod to my own love of floral paintings, whilst the overall muted colours and copper accents place it firmly in the modern present...
Daisy looking thoroughly delighted with her new room!
As they used to say in The 'A' Team - "I love it when a plan comes together!", and judging by the fact that I have one smiley happy teenage daughter, and a teen bedroom that I would also happily spend time in, I think that it's a plan that certainly has!
Until Next Time!
This post was written in collaboration with Desenio who kindly gifted the posters to me and have also offered me a discount code to share with my readers.
The Code "hillhousevintage" gives you 25% off posters on the DESENIO website between today - 28th & 30th August 2018 Only. *Except for frames and handpicked-/collaboration posters'
Posters used in the room are; 1) Prada 2) Pink Flower Dream No2, 3) Coco and 4) Monstera Three.
It has to be said that my dog Coco would be the first one to admit to her own capacity for genius and ingenuity in the canine intelligence stakes - No - she's never been one for false modesty and I am not at all biased..!
A puzzle feeder is to put it simply, a food dispensing toy. The main aim of which is for your pet to work out the necessary movement needed to reach the delicious treat enclosed within. It's a wonderful aid to mental stimulation for both dog and - if I'm really honest - the owner...
Of course, you can go out and buy a perfectly adequate puzzle feeder from your local pet store, but the challenge for me was to build one out of everyday household supplies.
I started with three empty plastic water bottles of a similar size.
Coco giving me a look that says that she would have had this finished hours ago...
I then found a bag of bamboo garden supports in the potting shed, and chose the thinnest one...
I knew that these would come in handy one day!
Hurry up Mummy!
It was then time to measure a place to pierce 2 identical holes on either side of each bottle in order to allow the bamboo cane to pass through...
All set to drill a hole, although a sharp pen could also be used.
Lining up the holes.
...Now push the bamboo through the holes.
The holes were made slightly higher than centre and at the thinnest end, in order to maximise 'swing potential' when filled with treats...
All three bottles threaded through.
I then needed to create a holding structure to attach the canes so that Coco could confidently attempt to reach her 'prize' without everything collapsing on her!
Patiently waiting for Mummy to secure the bamboo cane at either end.
Something to secure the cane to the stools.
Tying the canes to the stools.
Just the treats needed now!
"Waiting until we're allowed to start..."
"We'll try this end one first..."
"No - I think that this middle one is the weakest link!"
"There you go - I knew I'd get there in the end!"
"Rather delicious, and definitely worth the wait!"
"Kibble? What kibble?"
Well, the whole exercise was a wonderful success. Coco found the 'challenge' highly entertaining and was happy to keep challenging herself over and over - and over - again...
I was left confident in the fact that I had done something special and creative for my dog, and Coco in turn was encouraged to 'think' and stay mentally challenged, whilst indulging in a little light exercise and boredom busting activity.
It was a win win situation all round, and as I have since read that Puzzle Feeders can actually aid in weight control, as well as encouraging your pet to eat slowly, I am wondering whether the same concept may work with me and my predilection for frosted donuts - although finding a bottle with a mouth wide enough to fit a donut through may be challenge enough in itself!
I've never been one to pass up the opportunity to dress my table for a seasonal event, so when textile designer, Julia Brendel approached me and asked me whether I would like to style an Easter table using textiles from her collection of luxurious soft furnishings, I naturally jumped at the chance...
Julia's crisp and timeless pieces are based on traditional folk embroidery, quality and craftsmanship and her use of strong colour is just a vision of pure joy to my maximalist colour and pattern loving eyes!
Linen in both pure linen and cotton/linen composition give off the most beautiful sheen and are heavy, thick and reassuringly luxurious. As I was styling an Easter table, I chose an egg yolk yellow tablecloth featuring the most incredibly detailed white contrasting embroidery, coupled with matching napkins in plain egg yolk linen. Julia describes the tablecloth as being "an elegantly rustic Jacquard woven Hungarica tablecloth, with playful bird motifs in a Hungarian style incorporated into a timeless design." It sounds like something that one would wish to have as part of an old fashioned wedding troussau doesn't it - even more so when you realise that although Julia Brendel is a British based company, as with much of her fabric, this particular design is manufactured in Poland using historic looms - like something out of a fairytale!
As so much of the table was based around the colour yellow, and to inject some extra contrast, I chose to accessorise with Juia's raspberry cushions, with a pom pom trim. I felt that the contrast of these two warm and sunshiny colours were a particularly joyful way to welcome in Spring after months of gloom and grey weather, and looked particularly fetching alongside - not only my new multicoloured carpet runner - but also sat upon my recently re-covered grain sack seat covers...(which I had tentatively attempted myself a few weeks previously...)
White dishes from Dibor were the perfect accompaniment to place against the yellow of the tablecloth, and with the addition of traditional Spring flowers such as daffodils, pink tulips and purple mascari, the entire setting was crisp, colourful and elegant.
My chunky French glasses from Catesby's, with their strong footed stems sat amongst the more feminine elements beautifully, and were in keeping with the rustic & folksy theme...
I always like to mix old elements with the new in all of my home styling, and so I used vintage aged brass napkin rings which worked beautifully against the stark white of the dinner plates - and whose metallic tone was a feature that was also picked up in the vintage candlesticks...
Alongside the traditional linen used for the tablecloth, there are also the softly lush Hungarica throw made from a heavy wool/cotton mix - seen here on the chair - and heavy damask velvet cushion covers which add a fabulous new texture and regal charm into the setting...This one is called the India Cushion in Peela/Gold.
I hope that you will agree the finished result with its beautiful colours, textures and rustic elegance was a treat for the senses and will be the prefect Easter table setting - Coco certainly thinks so!
As a special treat, Julia is also offering readers of my blog a discount code that gives an incredibly generous 50% discount on all of her products (apart from fabric). The Code is SPRINGFUN2018 and will be available to use on her website until the 7th April 2018. Happy Easter All!
As much as I absolutely adore a crisp, cool Autumn day, or even the cold and frosty brightness of an early Winter morning - it is the dreariness of the post New Year period between mid January and March that has me climbing the walls for signs of Spring to emerge!
However, it is these weather hardened early days of the year, where the ground is far too solid for garden work, and the lure of the log burner proves a tad too enticing, that provide the perfect backdrop for new discoveries made from the cosy comfort of ones own armchair.
The fact that this enforced period of home based discovery - also known as 'shopping' - coincides with thoughts of Mother's Day gifts in the UK, is an extremely happy coincidence, and one that has ensured that my own dear Mother's gifts are not of the last minute variety (unlike the usual frantic panic buys at Christmas!) So here are a few suggestions of things I have enjoyed over the past few weeks - just in case you are in need a bit of inspiration. After all, to quote Miguel de Cervantes (the 16th Century Spanish Novelist) - "To be Prepared is Half The Victory!" ...and shopping for gifts is a war worth winning!
My First Suggestion are these absolutely darling books from the Macmillan Collector's Library - a series of reissues of over 206 classic book titles, that are petite, beautiful, gold edge and hard backed editions which are perfect for collection and display.
As a prolific reader myself, these have been the perfect addition to my ever growing book collection - owing to the fact that their tiny size is completely justifiable to squeeze into even the smallest of libraries - or large ones where there are limited shelves left to house more books!
Me Pretending To Be An Able Game Show Hostess!
As an added bonus, booksellers, WATERSTONES are offering an exclusive on-line discount of £2 off any title in the Macmillan Collectors Library range until 11th March 2018. The offer code is LIBRARY and you can find the collection to buy HERE.
Staying on the subject of books, I also recently received the lastest book in Ros Byam Shaw's 'Perfect English' series of coffee table books. This latest gorgeous offering is entitled "Perfect English Townhouse', and the description reads that it 'examines the timeless English style of decoration in a variety of Georgian, Victorian and contemporary townhouses.' Which sums it up perfectly. However, what I particularly love about Ros's choice of houses is that they always come across as truly and honestly 'lived in' and loved. In fact, it's rare that I see a house in her carefully edited series of Perfect English books that I couldn't imagine myself actually living in - which is a testament to her eye for what make a house...well - as it says in the title - 'Perfect'! You can purchase a copy of this particular title HERE.
Ros Byam Shaw's Latest book in her 'Perfect English' interiors collection.
Coco Enjoying The Coffee Table Book Collection Including Ros Byam Shaw's 'Perfect English Townhouse'
Moving on from books, getting organised is always something that is at the very top of my list for a New Year, and there is no pursuit that gives me greater pleasure than the purchasing of a crisp new, multi faceted diary on which to scribble down those well thought out, and world changing plans and intentions. Yes, yes, forget the fact that it may be a few months into the year, but it is better to be late than never, as someone possibly great once said - Perhaps it was the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland? Well, whoever it was, it's quite true, and I shall add to that that the act of purchasing and using a diary three months into the year, completely negates the first 11 weeks of disorganisation and all you will remember at the end of the year, are the remaining nine months of pure, unadulterated logistical excellence and time management...(Here's hoping..)
Well, that is what I believe my new 'Hello Day Planner' will give me. I'll let you know how that goes in December...but in the mean time, behold the sophistication and beauty of this glamorous organiser.
A Few Wise Words of Encouragement from the Hello Day Planner!
So, now that our planner has us organised, we shall be able to remember everybody's birthdays, anniversary's and all other important dates... We shall also be able to remember to write those often forgotten 'Thank You' letters that seem to get caught up in the quick burst of an e-mail or 'tweet' these days. Remember, when the receipt of a (non brown) envelope though the post was a heady and joyfully regular occurrence? I remember during my childhood, that all direct correspondence from Aunts, Grandmothers and kindly retired teachers came via hand written letter or card - usually along with an oversized and well handled one pound note (this WAS the 1970's...). Well, thanks to incredibly talented artists and designers like Isla Simpson, who has started her own 'Letter Writing Campaign', we can start hand writing meaningful and traditional correspondence on beautiful hand printed envelopes and cards - reinvigorating (as Isla herself says) the 18th & 19th Century tradition for illustrated envelopes. You can see more HERE.
Isla Simpson's beautifully Illustrated Envelopes based on an 18th & 19th Century tradition.
Well, I hope that you've enjoyed these little snippets of Mother's Day inspiration. Like William Morris, I endeavour to only have in my home what I truly believe to be beautiful and know to be useful, and I am sure you will agree that this little round up falls happily into both categories at once!
There can be nothing better recommended to blow away the cobwebs of carbohydrate induced inertia, than a pleasant post lunch stroll through the gorgeous streets of the North Norfolk coastal village of Blakeney.
Perfectly restored brick and flint houses, tastefully faded old wooden doorways, clusters of what were once fishermans cottages, and a panoramic view over the Blakeney salt marshes provide a picture perfect and genteel backdrop for the traditional Easter pursuit that is known as 'Looking At Other People's Houses'...
...It also provides a beautifully co-ordinated colour chart of what I imagine to be Farrow & Balls finest...
...It all made me want to immediately bound home and rethink the colour of my front door...
Mmmmm...a light 'Bone' or perhaps a more dramatic 'Stiffkey Blue'...?
...Even the quaint village Stores was picture perfect...
Such welcoming facades, which I suspect look quite magical lit by lamplight in the evening...
Some - equally as splendid - faded grandeur...
...As well as a few secret doorways...
...Small alleyways, populated by gravel roads and beautiful, neatly kept cottages...
Each garden beautifully tended...
...And many that I'd gladly move into straight away if asked...
Our impeccably decorated lunch spot...
The view on the way back to the car...
...And if you fancy a longer stroll, there are numerous nearby coastal walks - perfect for a spot of dog walking, crabbing and bird watching, or simply just to walk off the sticky toffee pudding that somehow found itself sitting eagerly on your plate at lunch - begging to be eaten whilst shamelessly lavishing itself in cream right in front of your very eyes...Not all so restrained after all!
I am extremely late to the party when it comes to Pinterest, and to be quite honest, perhaps that has been quite a good thing. My head is already full of a thousand potential home improvements and prettifying ideas, and adding yet another social media platform for me to feed off and gain inspiration from is simply adding an extra book to the British Library sized pile of research images that already exist in my head!
But Ho Hum - I firmly believe that one can never have too much knowledge - or inspiration, and Pinterest really is a visual treat to behold and get lost in. Due to this latest obsession - as well as some inspiration from a friend's Instagram story, I recently decided that I simply HAD to have an outdoor chandelier in order to experience the sort of romantic, candlelit evening feasts that one sees on the pages of wedding magazines - usually depicting scenes of fabulously chic marriage proposals...
I naturally ignored the fact that I am already married and have no need for a romantic proposal site - after all, there really doesn't need to be a specific reason to set the scene for romance - regardless of whether the actual reality involves a boisterous chorus of supporting characters including a dog and teenagers who want to dine by candlelight too!
So, having stared, pondered and scratched my head in confusion at a garish red and gold baroque style chandelier that had been left in the basement by the previous owners of Hill House when we first moved here seven years ago, I suddenly realised that thanks to the addictive habit of social media giving one reasons to 'need' unnecessary things - it did in fact have a purpose after all!
This 'purpose' was helped by the fact that my husband had obviously had enough of my hoarding ways and had recently left the offending chandelier by the dustbin in order to discreetly transport it to the dump when I wasn't looking...
Having rescued my 'treasure', all it needed was a bit of stripping down, polishing up and spray painting to even out the colour, and convert it back to the original purpose of a chandelier - to hold candles!
A quick trip to the DIY shop to get a few supplies was necessary, and having pondered over how quickly attaching the chandelier to some lovely rustic rope would cause it to go up in flames and land on my head, I settled on some solid and flame friendly metal chain link...
Having decided on the perfect branch in the garden, and in the absence of my husband who had hightailed it (one chandelier lighter) to the dump regardless, (I believe that the dump is his 'Happy Place'), there then came the difficult task of getting the chain over said branch and down again without getting it entwined and caught up amongst the leaves.
After a few failed and rather perilous attempts, where the chain came back hurtling towards me with seemingly more force than I had thrown it, I realised that it would be easier (as well as safer) to throw a far lighter ball of twine over the branch instead, then by attaching the heavy chain to it's end I could hoist the chain up with ease.
Once this epic feat of engineering (as I proudly relayed the experience to my husband upon his return...) had been achieved, it was left to attach the chandelier at the perfect height, and secure it with a heavy duty link.
This done, and owing to the particularly fine weather over the back holiday weekend, I was able to give the red areas of the chandelier a quick spray of gold metallic paint in situ, which then dried within minutes.
Five neutral tapered candles completed the look, and all that was left to do was to set the table and wait for sunset!
I think that a dining area lit by candles is quite fitting for Hill House - a country home that was completed in 1822, at a time when all lighting would have been either firelight, candlelight or if one were extremely modern - oil lamp!
If you'd like to see the whole experience in 'live action', please head along over to my YouTube Channelhere.
In the mean time, I shall be sharing a quiet, romantic, candelit supper a deux...plus 2 x 13 year olds, a 15 year old and a dog...Who said that romance was dead...!