House Appearing

The building work on our house renovation project continues apace. The rubble and chaos are slowly being cleared to reveal parts of the house which seem to be forming before our eyes. Having witnessed the house being ripped apart and stripped down to the bones, it is now exciting see at least a couple of rooms being built up again.

It strikes me as slightly mad that we had to decide which internet provider we will be going for, before we even finalised the layout of the walls, but when one has to embed cables in walls these are primary considerations. I’ve not just had the builders constructing new walls but also false walls, such as the fireplace wall which was brought 8cm forward to accommodate cables. And my builders are quick – they can construct a set of shelving faster than I can design it! I’ve been frantically measuring the spines of books to work out the size of living room shelves (above left) and all manner of shampoo bottles have been compared for height to ascertain the best distances to space shelves in the bathroom (above right).

Partitions seem to rise from the floor as if self propelled, and the next time I see them they have acquired a lovely new skin of tiles, like the shower enclosure above which is pictured before and after. Even just keeping the builders clued up as to which type of tile goes where is complex, given that there’s a pile of £5,000 worth of them sitting in the yard waiting to be used.


Ordering all the materials for the job while juggling a new baby has been a challenge, to say the least. Calculating that I need 153 metres of skirting board, 64 metres of picture rail and 58 metres of architrave, and coordinating the delivery and storage of these five-and-a-half-metre lengths of wood (when our longest room is half a metre shorter) has been fraught with problems when I’ve only had the duration of a newborn nap to concentrate on the figures!

But one or two rooms are now looking a little better dressed!

Read the previous post about the renovation
Read the next post about the renovation

Desire in Chelsea

I nipped along to Chelsea Old Town Hall the other evening for the private view of ‘Desire‘, the jewellery and silversmithing fair. A fair showing work in just one medium can be problematic, but there are such diverse tastes in jewellery that there was a wide range of work which did not overlap too much.

We were there to see Lynne Bartlett, who had invited us, and I loved her new work developed during her stint as artist in residence at the University of Creative Arts in Farnham. She had experimented with digital engraving into the anodised aluminium and heat coloured titanium that has become her signature style. I left with a gorgeous black and silver bangle engraved with a subtle snakeskin pattern.

I was also rather taken with Rebecca Lawley‘s beautiful silver bowls engraved by hand with different decorative patterns. And I couldn’t help but notice Heather Stowell‘s quirky display which made use of gnarled wooden shelves and old glass bottles to show off her silver jewellery based on calligraphic letters and vintage buttons.

A Small Thing on the List

What a strange thing my life has become that I am juggling so many balls in the air so that something so huge and momentous has become another thing on the To Do list….


Yes, I was actually thinking:  send out Valentine’s orders… submit planning application to Lambeth… draw designs for door commission… give birth…

And so it was that in the morning of the 11th of February I drew tiling plans for the bathrooms for our builder, in the afternoon I lay in St Thomas’ Hospital taking a long and complicated phone call from Thames Water about the water reconnection at the new house (while a midwife was waiting patiently to induce me), and later that night I gave birth to our little boy Asa Theodore Powell!

And the next day I was back doing a site visit, discussing radiator covers and flooring…. this time with the baby on the outside of my body not the inside.

Miles and Wilde

I’m finding the whole process of renovating our house fascinating but, now we are at the rebuilding stages after having stripped everything away, it’s getting exciting. I’m really enjoying doing my research and finding companies to supply fixtures and fittings, and one of these such gems is Miles and Wilde who create cast plasterware from original features in residences dating back to the eighteenth century. They’ve been commissioned to install the fibrous plasterware for Bond Street brands such as Hermes and Cartier, and luxury projects such as the Berner Street Hotel.

I had been in two minds about whether to remove the plaster cornicing in our house as it was clearly original. However it had been so damaged with botched repairs that I decided in the end it would be simpler to replace it entirely rather than try and restore what was there. I didn’t have the same reservations about the ceiling roses which were B&Q horrors that were like the ugly cherry on top of the unattractive ceilings that had each been covered in textured wallpaper. It all came down with my blessing, so I then had to source plasterware that was appropriate to the age and style of the house.

Discovering that Miles and Wilde were a local company based in a warehouse in Peckham, I dropped by to see how they make their products. Their small team were busy creating casts for the numerous projects they had on the go and one corner of their workshop was stacked full of finished lengths of cornicing. It was a cornucopia of beautiful eighteenth and nineteenth century detailing.

One of the directors, Leigh Miles, showed me around and described how they make moulds from the existing plasterwork in grand residences in and around London, which can then be cast from only a handful of times before the detail starts to be lost. He showed me how the inconsistencies and imperfections in the plaster finish are part of the appeal of these plaster pieces and set them apart from the perfect but soulless commercial products. After casting, the plaster roses are taken to their drying hut and slowly dried out with a warm lamp, before being sent out.

I was sold! I went straight back to site and measured up and made cardboard cut outs of the ceiling roses I had my eye on to double check that the size would work in the space. The ceiling roses were ordered and a few days later I had these plus a huge pile of coving on site, ready to be installed.

By my next site visit the plasterware was up and I was delighted that I’d made the decision to start afresh. Seeing the ceilings taking shape immediately gave each room character and form. The dentil coving in the hallway could have posed problems in the corners and at the ends, but I was thrilled to see how well my builders had hand-cut and finished the cornicing. I am rather a perfectionist so seeing this first test of their finishing skills boded well for the rest of the project.

Read the previous post about the renovation
Read the next post about the renovation

London Lights

Sometimes there are moments which remind me how much I love living in London. I was out for drinks with my friend when I realised it was the last night of Lumiere: the Festival of Light in London, so after our evening we ventured up Regent Street to see the sights.

An illuminated elephant standing within the pillars of a building at the Piccadilly Circus end of the street was shifting from foot to foot and – with full sound effects – emitting the occasion grunt. The wonderment continued further up the street, which had been pedestrianised for the event. Enormous coloured fish floated ethereally above the crowds in the freezing London night.

We just managed to make our way through to Piccadilly to see that the elephant also had a backside – a huge elephantine bottom illuminated between the pillars on the other side of the building – which we glimpsed just before the lights were switched off at the stroke of midnight.

New Year, Green Shoots

Over Christmas our new house was looking like a total building site, but now in the new year I can see a few things which feel like green shoots emerging out of the rubble!

Never would I have thought I’d feel that way about a plastered wall or an installed toilet, but it is wonderful to behold…. like seeing the promise of our new life!

Read the previous post about the renovation
Read the next post about the renovation

Dressing Down

Glass is a difficult medium in which to work. I am often left feeling envious after watching my neighbouring makers at trade shows who seem to set up their stands in about a quarter of the time I do and with a lot less hassle. Glass is heavy, bulky and fragile and frustratingly it requires pale surfaces and good light to make it looks its best, so displaying glass well often involved bringing one’s own plinths and lighting.

So I thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about display and I attended a two day course at Craft Central with Diana Furlong who was as a Senior Window Dresser at Harrods for many years and has worked extensively as a lighting technician in West End theatre. She has a wealth of experience in devising and installing eye catching, effective displays.

And yet once again I found myself wishing I had been drawn to a different medium! I watched as Diana did what she knows best and came up with a multitude of different ideas of displaying and styling the products that the other participants had brought. We all learnt a lot about placement of objects, the use of colour backdrops, creating little scenes with props and how to make stories through all these techniques to help sell the product. There was so much possibility for different styling with the jewellery, scarves and cushions that the other particpants

However when it came to my products, it became clear to me that there wasn’t much I could add to style these in a similar way without it becoming a distraction. Diana did not give up, however, and she created various lighting schemes for my Sapphire Bejewelled Bowl, illuminating the bowl from underneath and behind and creating colour washes with lighting gels to see how to display it best.


Much as I would have liked to have to be able to style and accessorise my products in the same way that everyone else had, I realised that when it comes to my glass, keeping it simple is probably the way to go.

Christmas Shopping

Over the Christmas break the house lay in a state of suspended indignity. It had been stripped right down to the bones, and then left with all its innards showing! All the floors had been pulled up so the builders could to rewire and lay new plumbing in between joists. We had to tread very carefully as nothing was nailed down and all that was left standing was the stairs (minus the banisters).

While the builders were putting their feet up over Christmas, I was busy shopping. We visited so many bathroom showrooms, I started seeing shower attachments in my dreams, but the compulsion to get the best price we could while the January sales lasted was too strong to stop. I started making mockups of the main bathroom to make sure our decor choices worked before committing to the shopping list, and then the money was spent. Cash haemorrhaged out of our account as thousands of pounds were spent on tiles, taps and the piece de resistance, a very beautiful stone resin freestanding bath. Buying for two bathrooms, an ensuite and a downstairs wc became confusing when only trying to pay the lowest prices and somehow, despite my meticulous record keeping, the relentless website comparisons meant I slightly lost my mind and ended up ordering an extra toilet!

Read the previous post about the renovation
Read the next post about the renovation

Now You See It

As soon as we bought our new house, I felt the pressure was on not to waste a moment and get on with the business of finding a builder. I had seven different builders come over to give me a rough idea of costs for the extensive building works needed. Horrifyingly, the first builder quoted a cost so high we could have bought another house at that price! Interestingly, not one of the builders turned out to be English. I ended up going with my gut feeling and asked Jonathan – a Chinese builder who bizarrely had a hint of a Yorkshire accent – to start the first part of the job immediately.

I would have assumed that the demolition and stripping out of a house is possibly easier than rebuilding it, but when Jonathan brought only two men for the job – Ming and Lin – I had my doubts. Ming turned up with a trendy haircut and slim cut jeans and looked like he might have just graduated from a graphics or illustration course at Central Saint Martins. Lin, while slightly older and more robust, was nonetheless still disconcertingly small. How on earth would just the three of them manage to dismantle and rebuild a whole house?!

And yet within a few days, they had completely stripped back pretty much everything. I did not even have time to take photographs of the house before work started and half the house was in the skip outside! Layers of wallpaper, tiles, and plaster were stripped back to reveal the original lathe and plaster construction.

Entire bathrooms were reduced to piles of rubble and pipes…. above are pictures of before and after Ming and Lin had done their thing!

The bath in one bathroom was left plumbed in while the entire room was dismantled around it to reveal the fireplace and window of the bedroom beyond!

December turned into a series of surprises. Every couple of days I would turn up for a site visit to find new things. One time I walked into a room to find the bottom six inches of the wall missing (above, left); the next time I came in, all that was left was the original Victorian beams within the wall (above, right).

The back chimney was crumbling away so the builders removed the old chimney breast which connected three rooms at the back of the house. The brickwork left behind showed the shape of the chimney that had been hidden behind the wall all these years, but when I got too close I had the vertigo-inducing realisation that there was now a gap in the floor through which I was looking down three storeys to the ground (above, right).

Eight skips were filled with detritus from the house and the space was cleared for the next stage after Christmas.

Read the first post about the renovation
Read the next post about the renovation

The Next Challenge

It’s finally ours! My next challenge is to project manage the full renovation and refurbishment of this, our new house, and (eventually) to custom design and build a glass studio in place of the existing garage. We were specifically looking for a corner property to allow the studio to have its own entrance, and there weren’t that many in the areas we were looking, but we finally found this oddity in West Norwood.

Side of house

I could kind of see why the builder from across the road said it was like a castle – it is a strange building with different roofs, windows in seemingly random places and parts that look like they’ve been added on as an afterthought. The last owners made it even uglier by adding a very badly constructed wraparound extension with cheap bricks and then bricking over the garden and adding high walls which led neighbours to describe it as ‘a prison yard’! As a final flourish, they built the new brick patio about eight inches too high which left the whole ground floor with a damp problem. 

Inside is even stranger with a front-heavy layout, where the rooms at the front are enormous and the rooms at the back are small. This unbalanced layout has been made even worse by the people we bought it from who carved up the small rooms into even smaller rooms by adding small bathrooms everywhere so that they could have guests with their own ensuites.

All in all, quite a project and one which I have no idea when it will be finished.

Right…. to work!

Read the next post about the renovation