Spot the difference between tongue-in-cheek chic and naff knick-knacks. And who gives a f*ck about flying ducks?!

 

Me, actually. I’ve always quite fancied some jolly flying ducks gliding along my hallway. Or maybe some fuchsia flamingos taking flight up the stairway.; as flamingos and other exotic birds are popular guests on lots of brilliant bright wallpapers and fabulous fabrics and it seems are currently considered more de rigueur than your run of the mill mallard or everyday puddle duck, sorry Jemima! Juxtaposition is the key to making ornithological ornaments look more ‘vintage kitsch’ than ‘retro wreckage’. These ceramic curios need to be carefully juxtaposed to your otherwise minimalist and tastefully styled hallway. Therein lies the problem. Sadly, I have no such hallway (it’s still half covered in tattered beige backing paper or peeling candy-stripe wallpaper) or indeed much minimalism in my house, which often feels as if it’s overflowing with an abundance of terrible tatt. And with this crucial element of contrast missing it’s pretty much impossible to inject some irony into your interiors by artfully displaying some more tasteful tatt.

My mostly non-minimalist hallway…a work in progress!

In the year BC* something I used to have a flashing Virgin Mary figurine on the toilet cistern somewhat inspired by my Granny’s sacred heart Jesus statue (sorry Granny-she would have been horrified by my blasphemous bric-à-brac I’m sure), which I thought was the height of tongue-in-cheek chic. Indeed, on my last visit to see my sister I noticed she had a plastic dinosaur perched perkily on the basin in her bijou Parisian apartment, which surely confers bona fide cosmopolitan trendy tatt status! However, again I realise this works to subtly bring a bit humour into one’s daily toilette because it’s the only bit of jolly Jurassic junk in their home and you don’t have the rest of the dinosaur family facing you from the floor (or indeed the whole of the animal kingdom rendered in bright and spiky plastic generally spilling out from any spare spaces) as they trip you up or puncture your feet, which I tend to find brings out mumbled expletives rather than a sardonic smile.

Whilst most of our current ‘tatt’ is child related I do have to put my hand up to claim a few items. In a nod to, or an attempt to display some awareness of, current interior design fashion I do have this gorgeously gaudy gold pineapple bottle stop. This was a thoughtful house warming gift with extra brownie points going to my friend for being doubly ironic in the trendy tatt element and in full well knowing we rarely have an unfinished bottle requiring said appliance (and if we did, obviously DH would insist on using the vacuum pump and stopper-when exactly did we become such wine wankers?)

Magic magnetic moments!

I confess a particular penchant for magnets. This isn’t a dirty little secret; I’m pretty open about it and have always had them loudly and proudly on show. Imagine my horror when we lived in a flat where the fridge was in a cupboard-why?! I immediately had to buy a magnet board (from IKEA obvs). I can’t pass these off as tongue-in-cheek chic, they’re firmly in the naff knick-knacks category…although maybe I could pull this off if I had a more Pinterest-able fridge to display them on. Oh, say for example a gorgeous retro refrigerator from Big Chill  possibly in ‘pink lemonade’, not that I’ve spent that much time browsing Pinterest porn.  Back to my extremely uncool love of magnets: They remind me of happy holidays, fantastic friends and special events as well as being very useful to pin up the bin collection dates in plain sight! My favourite magnet, seriously tough choice (angsting over this major life decision) is probably (hedging my bets here) one from Austria of a couple in traditional Alpine outfits kissing; it was from my husband, then boyfriend, for our first anniversary and it’s the best anniversary present he’s given me (hmm, possibly only anniversary present if you don’t count the card he gave me after we’d been together for 6 months complete with the heartfelt message “congratulations, you’ve passed the 6 month review”)-sentimental schmuck!

Oh I’ve totally lost the thread now, if there ever really was one. Suffice to say I’ll have to forgo the flying ducks for now and make do with the plastic bath ducks (along with rest of the plastic fantastic bath brigade). But one day, when the hallway is empty of buggies, bikes and myriad of ‘essential’ family accoutrements maybe I’ll get a few flying puddle ducks or the odd pigeon-toed parrot for a laugh!

*BC before children

Family friendly furnishings (Part II): It’s about resilience and forgiveness, and shitty stripes (literally)!

 

So, here’s the eagerly awaited (I’m sure) second instalment of my soft furnishings story and as promised this chapter tells all, well a bit anyway, about curtain fabrics and cushion covers. I know, the anticipation must be killing you!

Firstly, I have to admit that we’ve actually deferred the decision on replacing the curtains in our family room. Yes, even after all that effort wallpaper stripping, repainting and ruminations-re-rugs. This is mainly because they’re enormous full-length bay window numbers that are going to cost a small fortune to replace and the entire un-double glazed bay window probably needs replacing too. So I just got them ‘professionally cleaned’ i.e. washed rather than dry cleaned-less chemicals and about a quarter of the price; it’s not often you can save the planet as well as saving some pennies! DH* replaced the curtain tracks, with great manly ego-boosting success, and removed the hazardous child-lynching curtain pulley cords. Hey presto! Now you hardly notice the ‘interesting’ very pale somewhat washed out splodgy green patterned curtains, or at least they seem less offensive now that they’re no longer battling against the peach-pistachio-avocado wallpaper ensemble (see previous blog entry). Anyway, they’re vintage!

But the garish red curtains in both our living room and bedroom really had to go and replacing these went to the top of our pre-baby no.2 DIY to-do list (or at least I put it at the top of the list). Keen to invest in our area we thought we’d support a local business, which was a wonderful experience until we got their quote….So we ordered this Scion fabric ourselves (hilariously I seem to have gone for more green, but I’d say more of a sheepish sage than an assertive avocado in its tone) and sent it to the Granny sweatshop. Which, whilst markedly cheaper, has proved to be a somewhat slower process as unfortunately Granny doesn’t appear to have the same work ethic as third world sweatshop employees so we’ve been enjoying living with one incomplete, but beautiful, curtain for some time now (Mum, if you’re reading this…stop it…get back to work).  And to add insult to injury, or actually the other way around, I’m now suffering from draper’s shoulder; it’s like golfer’s elbow, but if your hobby is battling cumbersome cloth rather than a golf ball. Man vs curtain track did not go so well in this room, which means you have to practically dislocate you shoulder every time you pull the curtain. So from this point of view I’m glad I only have one curtain to close (always look on the bright side hey)!

Despite not matching the paintwork the dubious beige stripey carpet and shiny red floral curtain fabric weathered the newborn shitstorm very well.

Onwards with my curtains crusade…having successfully battled the anaglypta affliction in our bedroom and settled on another lovely tranquil shade of greeny paint (OK I’m realising that I may have a serious ‘green’ addiction, but with a beautiful name like botancial extract who could resist?) I then spent wasted many hours ogling lovely curtain fabrics. I even order several swatches-such fun (or possibly, depending on your point of view, such a loser!) Finally, I found this stunning ‘Bengal Lagoon’ fabric from Kai’s Paradise collection. However, I’d dithered in my drapery decisions for so long that baby arrived before I actually got round to measuring and ordering said fabric so I had to croon over a newborn rather than curtains. This did turn out to be for the best as it later transpired that our beautiful bundle of joy possessed stellar skills in projectile poo-ing and on multiple occasions decorated the curtains, walls and carpet in shitty stripes quite literally. Luckily, the red curtains and dubious stripy carpet proved very resilient and forgiving to this degradation, so we’re keeping them until the poo-nami risk has significantly lessened and for now it’s curtains (groan) for my dreamy fabric of bohemian jungle rhapsody in ‘cool lagoon inspired hues’ unless I want the Bengal tigers featured to become somewhat less regal-looking faecally incontinent jungle cats (imagined below…)

Looking rather less tranquil in the lagoon!

Oops, that’s three paragraphs on curtains. Short and succinct this is not. Must move on to a quick (I promise to try) note on cushion cover choices. So, we’re back in the multi-dys-functional family living/dining/play-room. There’s no room for a comfy sofa in here, but it’s where we spend a lot of our time, so the dining chairs have to do. They’re gorgeous Ercol Windsor “swan back” dining chairs-an amazing Gumtree find (I think I’ll have to blog on second-hand swag another time)-but the original seat covers were so tobacco-tainted we had to replace them. After much deliberating and obsessive compulsive checking of the Ercol Factory Outlet’s stock, I treated myself to some barely-bargainous but beautiful Ercol seat covers in ‘light grey beehive’ having convinced myself that the beehive pattern would endow this fabric with the aforementioned resilient and forgiving qualities necessary for family dining. I really don’t want to be one of those Mums who fusses over everything and makes everyone sit on tea towels, but I could feel panic rising when my friend’s child happily gobbled chocolate cake spraying crumbs aplenty. Predictably, one of my covetable cushion covers was almost immediately splattered with lurid orange paint; devastatingly, I couldn’t even blame the toddler-it was me! Thankfully the toddler’s palette is still strictly water-based and washable, having not yet progressed to making masterpieces in oils, and in this instance a damp cloth did remove said stain!

Ercol “swan back” dining chair complete with new seat cover; beautiful, comfy and as yet not totally covered with cake crumbs and/or paint! (Not pictured-crazy lady hovering nearby with damp cloth).

A quick plea…don’t let me become one of those crazy people who cover their beloved furniture in transparent plastic protective covers until they fade and became covered in undisturbed dust à la Miss Haversham-amen!

 

*DH-dear/darling/d*ckhead/desperate hubby-depending on situation. NB. Also stands for designated hitter in baseball…when I started reading various blogs via my social media scrollings I didn’t understand the acronyms. DH cropped up a lot. I googled it and initially thought why are so many mums playing baseball?!

 

Family friendly furnishings (Part I): It’s about resilience and forgiveness, and shitty stripes (literally)!

 

Everyone tells you that when you have children everything changes. True, it does. And no amount of warnings and well-meant advice can prepare you for this. It’s a truly life-altering, mind-blowing, earth-shattering, fother-mucking game changer that’s for sure. Some things I was more prepared for, or at least aware of, than others; for example, sleep deprivation, because literally every parent on the planet warns you about this. Other things have taken me more by surprise like umm my first sneeze-wee post birth and more importantly, well for the purposes of this blog anyway, the effect children would have on my interior design decisions. Yeah, that’s right I’m talking soft furnishings and shit (by which I mean actual human soil). This blog deals with the serious issues.

For the love of wallpaper-yes that’s 3 different patterns and a dado rail!

When we moved into our house the top priority was to redecorate the main family living room. It looked more than a bit dated and was covered in a delightful trio of wallpaper in an ‘eclectic’ mix of pastel peachy hues and various shades of green ranging from pale pistachio to a more classic-1970s-bathroom-suite-avocado, mmm tasty! We decided to jump on board the ‘paint it grey’ bandwagon, which seems to be the millennials’ magnolia. It turns out that there are far more than 50 shades of grey. Indeed the choice was quite overwhelming-did we want a warm grey, a grey-neutral or a not-so-grey-grey? Not sure, and I was getting distracted by the names-enigmatic elephant or dappled dove? (Inventing alliterative paint names, what a top job that would be!) Literally the best family friendly DIY advice we’ve had from friends (with kids obviously) was to get wipe clean paint. Not only did this dramatically reduce the number of shades of grey to choose from but it’s also very handy for easily cleaning up the toddler’s drip and splatter à la Jackson Pollock painting style used for liberally adorning the walls with paint and food.

The winner is Chic Shadow, Dulux Endurance+ (other brands exist)
The HM laying it on thick.

That’s the walls sorted. What about the floor? I was quite tempted to leave the sticky-back-plastic protective floor covering in place, practical but fairly unap-peel-ing to the eye (sorry, couldn’t resist). The parquet floor was aesthetically the best bit of the room (and wipe-clean-able) so full carpet coverage wasn’t on the cards. Time to review rugs…

 

Don’t know the difference between hand-tufted and hand-knotted? Neither do I. I need my furnishings (and friends and family for that matter) to be resilient and forgiving. I want to know how they cope with stains and how forgiving is the pattern i.e. can stray shreds of marmalade subtly blend in? And they need to be pretty tough, by that read man-made, because I’m not talking light soiling; I’m talking heavy duty family ‘wear and tear’ – melted crayons, trampled-in mud (oh no, maybe it’s fox shit) and crusty bogeys amongst other bodily fluids. As much as I love Mrs B and the C.W.A. (see previous blog entry) their advice on stain removal seems heavily reliant on organic solvents and whilst they’re pretty up there on cleaning marble and banishing mildew they don’t really address the aforementioned matters afflicting my furnishings.

But I digress, as usual, so back to rugs… clearly there’s no point lusting after luxury items, which aside from being ludicrously expensive aren’t tough enough for a family home, like some bespoke organic hand-tufted (or knotted?) Himalayan alpaca tapestry-esque delight. Hmm, there may be no point but clearly, I still do!  In my parents’ dining room is my Granny’s beautiful pale green oriental silk rug, which I remember from my childhood. Specifically, I remember me and my cousins repeatedly being told not to make a mess on it and my Mum desperately blotting at various stains when we inevitably did. When we visit said rug now gets covered by a plastic fantastic floral tablecloth from the random aisle in Lidl that works wonders as a splash mat for family dinner times. Praise be for #Lidlsurprises.

The LEKPLATS rug in action

Can a rug be tough enough, on trend and on the cheap? There’s THE La Redoute Afaw Shaggy Rug that’s so popular it’s got its own Instagram account with over 2K followers (jealous, moi?) that boasts photos including small children and pets, but they look suspiciously well behaved and are pictured snoozing or playing happily (no messy snacks or potty-training incidents). The website states the rug is “easy care, vacuum regularly. Remove stains immediately with a clean, damp cloth. Dry clean recommended.” Hmm, I’m not convinced my vacuuming regimen is regular enough and for my household stains a damp cloth just won’t do. So, it’s back to the temple of IKEA for the ubiquitous family-friendly multicolour, low pile, 100% nylon children’s LEKPLATS rug. The website highlights its key feature as “the rubber backing keeps the rug in place when the child runs/plays on it”, it’s machine washable and it’s only £14-sold! (Disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with or sponsored by IKEA. Although just for the record I would happily be.)

Oh lordy, I’ve rabbited on about paint and rugs for too long so I think cushion covers and curtain fabrics will have to wait until next time. I know…you can hardly wait…cliffhanger!

Big up to Mrs Beeton and to not following the rules (or recipes)

Why would a modern-day mama, uh I mean household manager, want to style herself on some fussy old country-bumpkin Victorian matron? Good question. But Mrs B wasn’t a stuffy old matron at all. Far from it, she was a young urban entrepreneurial woman, an inexperienced housewife who lifted most of her recipes from other people’s books, a pioneer of the working mum commuting to her city office on the train and alleged syphilis sufferer after contracting it from her husband (this last bit is somewhat less inspirational I grant you). So why are you modelling yourself on a Victorian-era syphilitic plagiariser?! Better question. Let me explain…

My love for Mrs B started in my childhood kitchen, where a well-loved, dog-eared and food-splattered copy of her Everyday Cookery book was revered as the kitchen bible (alongside the Cranks actual bible that is). I have happy memories of me and my cousin baking cakes with varying success; most notably our wonderful ‘crunchy’ coffee cake where we neglected to dissolve the coffee granules (props to my Dad for eating this without gagging). Despite my love of cookery books, I’m not sure my culinary skills have improved that much. This is mainly due to two things;

1. My inherent inability to follow a recipe. I just can’t resist adding something or simply can’t be arsed to go to the shops to fetch the specifics. Is flour really an essential ingredient in a sponge cake? Yes, as it turns out, unless you have a really good whisk (I didn’t, and it seems a brisk stir with a fork does not achieve the same thing). Et voilà! Behold the “Omelette cake”, with a texture more akin to memory foam than an edible sponge! This bodged up baking would have better served for an infant mattress than a birthday cake, waste not want not and all that. Um where am I going with this? It’s all getting a bit tangential. I’m scattier than Scatman John (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop)…seriously, move on woman…

The Omelette Cake or gâteau aux oeufs!

2. I see cookery books as interesting reads rather than a chance to better my baking. Mrs B’s works are fascinating history books, not only for the Victorian era, but also for whichever decade your copy was printed in. Imagine my unbridled delight when I found a 1963 edition in a local charity shop complete with the inscription To Jean and Tim, Hope it comes in handy for both of you. Good luck from Michael and Wendy 1975” and featuring colour photos of some fabulous 1960s tableware and epic food styling involving aspic -it’s truly joyous! And now I know to put toothpicks on the table when I serve guests a large plate of cauliflower. Thanks Michael and Wendy, what an ace present.

Clockwise from top left: Beef in aspic, cauliflower with white sauce, aspargus ‘au naturel’, brussel sprouts with chesnuts. Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery, Ward Lock, London (1963).

I love browsing cookbooks as they conjure up nostalgic moments for me. Whilst Mrs Beeton and the Cranks bible take me back to my childhood kitchen among others I have a beautiful book of Sri Lankan cookery that reminds me of a wonderful holiday spent eating amazing curries, a cookbook from the C.W.A. (country women’s association, which is the Aussie women’s institute) that makes me think of my time in Oz plus it will definitely come in handy next time I try to make jelly in a heatwave as it has some great tips for getting jellies to set in hot weather (natch) and a delicious Ottolenghi book that reminds me of being a young professional child-free city dweller who had the time and money to eat out in trendy North London eateries-sigh!

So, in summary, for those of you I’ve lost along the wordy way, I love Mrs B for reminding me of happy childhood times, inspiring my attempts at cooking and house-wife-ing, pioneering the idea of a working mum whilst raising the profile of the housewife and probably being one of the first mumtrepreneurs. I’m damn sure the Daily Fail would have hated on her and she would have stuck two fish fingers up at them (although I can only find her recipe for fish cakes) so big up Mrs B! #solidaritea

Next time, shit gets real with (or actually on) family friendly furnishings!

Does an IKEA potty count as Scandi-styling?

But my house will NEVER remotely look like that! Or my garden, or my cooking, or my family for that matter. This is what I often always think when I flick through glossy lifestyle magazines and peruse Instagram feeds or Pinterest boards chock-full of beautiful matching monochrome nurseries with teepees made from various vintage fabrics, tasteful on trend living spaces that team key mid-century modern furniture pieces with a muted matching colour palate and stunning gardens overflowing with whimsical wisteria or featuring wildflower lawns. Oh, woe is me!

Before we bought our house, I had spent years pondering what my dream home would look like. Indulging in Rightmove property porn and browsing quaint bric-a-brac shops for copper pots that would hang in my country-style kitchen in which I envisaged myself pottering around in a Cath Kidston print apron baking nutritious meals for my family in a pastel coloured AGA (with a matching fridge). Not that I spent much time thinking about these things! Unfortunately, for my chances of living in my ideal dream home, we became homeowners (or technically co-homeowners with a large high street bank who hold our mortgage) after we were already the proud owners of a small person. And so, when we finally started making our house a home, the copper pots, which were exorbitantly expensive anyway, had to make room for the toddler’s plastic baking set, the parquet flooring was immediately covered in a grotesque green foam playmat and I thought I’d have to to give up on my lofty interior design dreams.

Hang on, maybe there is hope…does an IKEA potty count as Scandi-styling? Hmmm, I don’t think so, even though they have cool names (we have both the LOCKIG and the LILLA don’t you know) and at the moment they definitely are ‘key pieces’ of functional furniture in our house. But it definitively isn’t very ‘hygge’ though is it? Certainly, the accompanying aromas are more stomach-churning than heart-warming. And I’m pretty sure artfully placing a sheepskin potty cover wouldn’t be very successful either aesthetically or hygienically. There’s a potential gap in the market there though maybe, or is someone already onto the bespoke bedpan covers thing?

Often, or as often as I can being a mummy of two littlies and wife of one biggy (i.e. flipping busy), I like to lie on the floor spread eagle like a shitfaced starfish (I think this is the name of an actual bona fide yoga pose) and stare gormlessly at the white ceiling, which is pretty much the only part of our home that is clean and white, as long as you don’t look at the cobwebby corners obviously. From this vantage point I try to ignore all the garish plastic tatt, disconcerting unidentified stains, mismatched furnishings and general untidiness around me. But more recently I’ve thought ‘sod it’ (about several things), this is how we live and so I’ve decided I need to embrace it and to jump on board the blogosphere bandwagon to share my mostly mediocre housekeeping, somewhat dubious décor decisions and revel in, or at least try and see the comedy in, the chaos of our family home. And it seems like a more fun way to spend my spare moments than steam cleaning the kitchen cupboards, which I can’t do as I have neither the inclination or in fact a steam mop.

Do we really need another middle-class mid-thirties mummy-blog? Probably not, but it’s just for shits and giggles so join me, if you can bear my train of thought typing, overuse of commas, asides in brackets and alliterative phrases for my musings as I style myself as a modern-day household manager in homage to the Victorian housekeeping heroine that was the late and great Mrs Beeton (more of her next time I think).