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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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The Artist is in Residence

I am in the unfortunate position of having every single member of my family – both parents, my sister, my husband and my son, as well as a good friend – celebrate their birthdays in the month around my annual Open House. It always makes life impossibly busy in April and May, both workwise and socially, as one birthday after another is celebrated.

However I reckoned by the end of April, when my other half turns a year older, I’d be a bit fed up with nonstop work, so I decided to give us both a couple of days off in celebration and I booked a little break in a boutique hotel. We packed our bags and headed off to central London with the Artist Residence hotel in Pimlico our destination.

We strolled down from Victoria station feeling distinctly like tourists in our own city, and as we approached the building we were marvelling at the mammoth first floor windows in the Victorian building. The reception gave a flavour of the hotel’s characterful decor – a heady mix of reclaimed rustic furniture, luxury Victoriana inspired fixtures and modern graphic artworks. We were delighted to discover that we had been upgraded to the Grand Suite, the room which boasted the three enormous windows, and the eclectic urban rustic theme continued in here with a wonderful open plan room with a magnificent claw footed bath.

We drank champagne from the hotel beakers, ate cupcakes and I had the most indulgent 4pm bubble bath looking out onto the streets of Pimlico below.

I had planned to take my man out to a private view of my friend Eryka Isaak at the Skylark Gallery near the Oxo Tower that evening and then dinner at the Mondrian Hotel next door, so I thought it would be rather stylish to travel down river Bond-style in a boat from Millbank and alight at Blackfriars Bridge. I had left us plenty of time to get to the pier, but somehow my efforts to dress up in heels and a nice frock was our undoing. Between being a bit drunk from the champagne and trying to manage the verging-on-obscene thigh-high split in my dress, I got flustered and took us to the wrong bridge, resulting in is missing the last boat of the evening. So after a frankly annoyingly long walk in high heels, we arrived at the gallery flustered for Eryka’s private view and late for supper. James Bond would have managed that journey with more panache!

However the walk afforded me a few lovely photo opportunities for what was a stunning sky in perfect evening light. And after a lovely meal at the Mondrian we took a cab back along the river to our fabulous hotel.

The next morning we took a stroll to Chelsea Farmers Market for brunch. I lived in Chelsea for about 15 years but I haven’t often been back since and so it was a bit of a walk down memory lane as well as a lovely urban ramble through the back streets of Chelsea, past the wonderful wisteria clad entrances to the grand houses of Cheyne Walk and back to Pimlico along the river.

Designed | Crafted Christmas

We’re really delighted to announce a new Designed | Crafted show at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery in December.

Designed Crafted E-invite

After the success of our show during London Design Week in September, we thought we must do another show for Christmas. Being in the festive season, the emphasis of this show would naturally be a little different. Whereas we curated our last show to include a range of large gallery pieces with a sharp design edge, the new Designed | Crafted incarnation will be more of a pop up shop with a myriad of handmade gifts.

My fellow curator, Brett Manley, and I absolutely loved the process of finding new makers for the new show. We wanted more artists this time to offer a wider range of products and I think we’ve achieved a really good balance of materials with some absolutely gorgeous pieces which fulfill our manifesto of curating objects which lie at the boundary of craft and design.

We have also brought together a pretty dynamic group of artists. We’ve discovered some exciting new makers whose graduation work has attracted a buzz and mixed them in with some well established artists with a loyal following. For the full list of artists, check out our new Designed | Crafted website.

The pop up show will launch on the 15th of December and it will stay open right until Christmas Eve for any last minute East London shoppers. We will have two late Christmas shopping evenings until 9pm, and we would cordially invite you to join us at the Private View between 7 and 9pm on 16th December.

Do get in contact if you would like to come along, we’d love to see you there.

Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, 24 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3DU
15-24 December, Mon-Sun 11am-7pm


Party dressing

I went to a party in Islington last Friday night for the launch of a new space on Essex Road. It is the office and showroom for Reis, a new interior design and architecture consultancy, and our glass was used to dress the space with a longer term view to be held on show for clients coming into the office.


The mayoress of Islington came to launch the store with a ribbon cutting and lots of photographs. She and her husband stayed for a few drinks and before going off to their next launch (apparently they do 300 events a year!). There was the most unbelievable feast of canapes which we barely dented, despite feeling like we were constantly picking at it.The photographers were snapping away while we quaffed, dined and mingled to our heart’s content until the late closing and stumbled back to Kings Cross for the last train home.


The Treasures of Decorex

I wasn’t relishing the journey to get to Decorex 2014. It’s former location in the grounds of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea was minutes from my old flat, but Syon Park for goodness sake?! But a remarkably smooth journey – involving three trains and a (complimentary) coach ride – later and I found myself standing outside a rather bleak looking tent in a bleak field on a bleak day, looking forward to seeing the treasures inside.

The entrance to the show lead visitors past a series of eight contemporary vignettes based on scenes from The Rake’s Progress by Hogarth. It was an odd conceit, the point of which wasn’t clear until I looked it up later on the Decorex website and discovered there was an association with the Sir John Soane’s Museum. However the realisation of these concepts was little contrived and seemed little more than an opportunity for some product placement.

The one set that caught my eye was The Orgy by Russell Sage (above left), though perhaps for the wrong reason. It reminded me of my friend Huma Humayun’s styling on the After Hours shoot for Schon magazine (above right), but where Huma’s styling was considered and artful, I thought Sage’s interpretation of the brothel scene just looked like the pile of clothes on my bedroom floor before I put the washing on!


However once inside I was more impressed with the exhibitors’ stands. My favourite was the Vessel Gallery stand which displayed a gorgeous collection of various glass pieces, including my friend Brett Manley’s fabulous cast glass mirror (detail, above). Brett’s work has always drawn inspiration from many different sources, but her hexagonal mirror is quite clearly the culmination of her work casting glass from ornate picture frames, something that she started in 2010 for our show ‘Era’ at the Cochrane Gallery.

My eye was of course trained for other makers that I know, so I was thrilled to see a beautiful display of glass pendants in various shades and shapes from Michael Ruh at the Design Nation stand and I couldn’t miss Eryka Isaak who filled 10 square metres with her huge glass bowls with a tough industrial edge.

Most spectacular was Christoper Jenner‘s Cloud installation made from his blown glass ‘Urbem’ lights (above) which, as Christopher himself explained to us, were inspired by the meeting of craft and technology in 19th century street lighting in Milan. My glass radar had quite clearly been switched on as I noticed the same lighting in use on the Lapicida stand.

Studio Lucid

Finally another favourite from the show appeared to be lighting of some sort from Studio Lucid but hung like a sculptural installation within its own little walled off section at the end of the Heathfield & Co stand. I stood for a few minutes trying to work it out but, because of the wall, I was as invisible to the stand holders as they were to me and no one came to relieve me of my confusion… perhaps a lesson that though the stands rightly should look beautiful, practicality has its place too?