Dulwich Surprise

Being between houses, this is the first time in eight years that I have not had a house to open in order to participate in the Dulwich Open House! I thought (briefly) about finding someone else’s house to show my work, but then decided that I would instead enjoy the freedom of spending entire weekends go off and looking at other open houses.

It’s a wonderful experience to be able to mooch in and out of random houses in Dulwich and see how other people live (as well as the art, of course!). It is such a quirk of the Open House that you can be standing in an empty room looking at some prints and then you look up to find the room is suddenly packed with a crowd!

I love that you can walk into a room that literally looks and feels like a nightclub with a glitterball and neon artwork adorning three walls and then you turn around to the fourth wall and realise it’s just an ordinary Dulwich kitchen!

And where else would you stumble upon a headless mannequin in a 9 foot display case in a beautiful garden without questioning it?!


House of Horrors

Some of the rooms in our house renovation seem to be coming to the completion stages, so it was a bit of a shock to go upstairs the other day to go and look at the progress in the bathroom and to discover that the entire ceiling on that floor had disappeared! This is a ceiling that was drooping as a result of stupid decisions that the previous owners had made in the loft above, namely installing a water tank (weighing literally about a tonne) on an unsupported loft floor. So at some point this ceiling had to be replaced, but my builder evidently got fed up with waiting for the local building authority to come and inspect the site, and took it upon himself to remove the whole lot!

You will see that I took the photo on the left standing in the bathroom and I looked up above the beautifully constructed parts of the bathroom cupboards that had just been built to see right up another floor into the roofspace! A board had been left over the construction, just on the off-chance that it could prevent anything falling from above.

The hatch that used to be the only access point to the loft (before, above left) had been ripped open to reveal a gaping hole (after, above right). Every joist that had previously been holding up the ceiling to that entire floor had now been sawn off and removed.

I stood in awe-filled admiration at the cathedral vault of a space that had opened up above my head, when I suddenly realised with utter horror that the entire roof was now resting on one wooden column which, as far as I could see, was using nothing more than gravity to balance on the wooden innards of the original Victorian wall below. And that line of wooden pillars had no side to side bracing, so if anyone were to fall against a pillar, the whole lot would have come tumbling down!

It was Good Friday and the builders were gone, so I spent the rest of the long Easter weekend living on a hope and a prayer that nothing would slip before the builders returned on Tuesday to put in a few reassuring  RSJs.

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

Quick decisions

Rereading the brief for this year’s Stevens Competition on the train up to London Bridge, I was reminded what a lovely potential commission it is going to be for some lucky budding architectural glass artist. So it was no surprise to find out that we had more than double the number of entries of last year. I was to act as one of four judges to assess the 46 submissions at Glaziers’ Hall so I knew it was going to be a busy day.

It was a rush to get through so many entries in the first round and the overall standard of the submissions was higher than last year, so there was more to look at and more to think about. I suspect a lot of entrants do not realise how short a period of time we have to look at each presentation, and I found myself getting slightly frustrated that so many statements included a lot of information about the commission that we already knew. As judges, we want to read about what is unique to the panel we are looking at, not the general information we already know from the brief. However there were a few gems in there which had made good use of background research and stood out as well thought out responses to the brief.

Surprisingly despite a broader range of good submissions to choose from, the four judges came to consensus pretty quickly and painlessly, with none of the arguments that happened last year. We’re looking forward to the seminar day on Tuesday 31st May at Glaziers’ Hall when we will discuss a selection of the entries.

Read more about the brief here.

NOTHS nonsense

You may have heard of Notonthehighstreet.com. If you have been eagle eyed, you might have spotted its sporadic yet polished TV adverts. If you like unique, handmade products you may well have even bought something from the site.

noths logo

I have been a seller on NOTHS from its inception in 2006 and I remember its founders Holly and Sophie coming round trade shows looking for interesting makers to promote on their site. Over the years I felt the emphasis change from an organisation which supported its makers to a slicker operation which exploited them. These two women built their business on the backs of craft makers like me and made themselves millionaires in the process.

The business was sold in 2015 and it then appointed the chairman from …. wait for it…. Poundland. For me, that was the writing on the wall.

Sure enough the email came on the 31st January this year saying that I had not brought my products in line with their curation policy and so they were closing my storefront on the NOTHS site.

Unfortunately I was a little distracted as I was due to give birth that day, so I wrote to them asking for an extension to the deadline. I was given an extra few months to update the products in my virtual storefront so I took the time to read their curation policy


Frankly there was nothing in there that I wasn’t already doing – I had my brand story, I had good quality photographs, my products are not mass marketed. What it seemed to boil down to was the accompanying document that was intended to be a guide to trends.

And oh Lord, do I wish I had taken a screenshot of that while I could!

The nonsense that comprised their trend guide was a master document in the art of marketing bullsh*t and encapsulated everything I hate about our consumerist culture. Nebulous themes such as ‘Family’ were illustrated with images of young models interacting as though they might vaguely know each other, and these were asserted to be the upcoming trends for Autumn/Winter 2016.

What?! As though somehow ‘Family’ was cool this season but we’d all be over ‘Family’ by next season! As I say, total nonsense.

So I wrote to them to ask for some clarification.


NOTHS wrote back with this advice – and I quote verbatim – “I would suggest increasing the amount of newness you add”. In the context of all the other documentation I took this to mean: “Make new products that we tell you to make”. 

In that moment I decided that I was having none of it.

I want no part of an organisation whose only language is marketing-speak. I want no part of an organisation which prides itself on its unique product offering, but then issues edicts based on mass market trends. I want no part of an organisation that builds its reputation off the hard work of makers whom it then screws with punitive financial constraints while its shareholders make their millions.

So after 10 years of selling my glassware on Notonthehighstreet, my products have been withdrawn from the site. I would suggest that if you are keen on unique handmade craft, you also withdraw your custom from the site. And tell your friends to do the same.

And for anyone who is still shopping there, I urge you to look at the Axed Nothsters page on Facebook to see just how many makers they have done this to.

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

January Bowl Making

January saw another bowlmaking course being held at West Dean where I taught a lovely group of students. I always enjoy the slightly longer courses where it doesn’t feel like such a rush to get the information across and students have a little longer to develop their skills and ideas. The bowlmaking course in particular is fun as I bring so many different moulds to which students don’t normally have access: kids in a candy store” is the phrase that often comes to mind!

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.