A house tour in East London full of Scandinavian and Modern Rustic style inspirationRead More
A guide to the perfect Scandi inspired weekend in the UK with ideas for where to stay, eat and shop for a stay full of Fika and funRead More
There is one school of thought which says that to succeed on Instagram you should never talk about politics, your marriage, your sex life, your job or the sleep depriving sanity depleting business that can be raising small children. As you have probably noticed by now I don’t really subscribe to that school of thought, although I am sure there is merit in it. I have probably broken all of those rules at some point over the last 2 years bar the politics one (although major hint I rather gouge my eyeballs out with a spoon than #GiveItToGove or put a tick in Bojo’s ballot box). I never started out on Instagram with a game plan (bar staving off middle of the night breast feeding boredom) treating it more like a journal which, for a good 6 months almost no-one bar me was reading. I just wrote about my life warts (foraged dog piss blow job sticks) and all. I found that if you share something with people beyond your thoughts on the weather (it certainly has been a very mild February btw) then they tend, in turn, to share things back and to then look forward to reading your posts and chatting with you.
So for this blog series I wanted to chat to a fellow Instagram Convention Bucker (who regularly combines pictures of her cushions with chat about her massive areolas) to inspire you to find your own voice and dare be a little bit different on Instagram. Whether that is by sharing a secret passion for stamp collecting or, like Victoria, bemoaning your husband’s flatulence and the smell of his balls after a night on the beers. So without further ado, here are the thoughts of @thecraftyfox.uk on ‘How to grow on your Instagram (without also losing your mind)’.
Introducing the Crafty Fox
I kicked off my chat with Vic by asking her to tell me a little bit about herself and why she first started using Instagram. Despite worrying that her response would, in her own, words, make her “sound like a twat” this is what she had to say.
“I'm a 36 year old Londoner, Mum to Oliver (age - prime bellend) with a bun in the oven and a milky cup size of 36 EE and rising. Married to Rob, ex-rock star (he went on tour once) now a rather jaded cyber security wizz and living in the deepest darkest depths of East London (not the cool gentrified bit). I started my Instagram account on maternity leave as a means of numbing the boredom and loneliness of looking after a newborn. It saved my sanity.”
“I've always loved interiors and have been a serial decorator since I first experimented with stencilling in my bedroom circa 1996. Changing rooms have a lot to answer for. I didn't really have any ambition or aim with Instagram when I started, it was just a distraction and as I was at home a lot anyway, sharing my house seemed like the natural focus.”
The Crafty Fox’s Top Tips for Instagram Success
I asked Vic whether she was and overnight sensation or a slowburn success on the gram to which she replied “I had reached 30K by the end of my first year using insta so I don't know where that places me?! It's weird because there hasn't really been one point where I've thought, wow, this is it now. It's consistently grown - although the biggest most noticeable shift in numbers happened when I shared my fanny confetti cannon and I gained 7K followers in about three days”.
I wanted to know the three things that Vic thinks have contributed most to her growth on the gram (bar the fanny connon). She summed it up shortly and sweetly as: good pictures, banging captions and a massive dose of luck. She has some strong money shots (not all involving confetti shooting out of her clunge) that she uses consistently on her feed and which have helped her account to grown. Her bed (flatulent husband and all) has always done well but has now been usurped by the arrival of a rather eye catching and instagram pleasing green velvet sofa downstairs. Vic is not sure why that has proved such a big hit beyond that the fact that it is it's green and it's velvet
Trusting your instincts when it comes to brand collaborations is one lesson Vic has learnt after working with one brand whose products were, in retrospect, more expensive than things she would be able to buy in real life and didn’t feel like an authentic fit to her home and lifestyle. They were also really prescriptive when it came to what could be in the captions ( no references to bums, burps or bellends allowed) which, in Vic’s words made her sound “like a PR twat”. However it has been a helpful experience ultimately because “it's taught me to be more cautious about who I work with and to also make it explicitly clear that I will maintain my voice, even in an ad”.
Vic has also been an early adopter of video stories (her cooking ones are my particular fave) which she says “wasn’t a conscious strategy for Instagram growth more a reflection of the fact that I clearly like the sound of my own voice. In all seriousness, I just think having a regular presence on there helps people to stay engaged with your account. I love both stories & feed for different reasons but stories are definitely freer. I like that they're reactionary too - so I can respond to something in the moment and it feels genuine”.
Whilst she craft’s a mean caption, she also takes a mean photograph with a clearly recognisable look and feel to her pictures. She started off taking them with a Canon 5D but when that became “a ballache transferring the pics to a laptop and back” she “fucked it off and invested in a Huawei Pro 10 instead. Yeah, I'm probably being monitored by the Chinese government but it takes a banging photo. I use snapseed to edit and that's it”
How to grow your gram without losing your mind
Having grown her account to nearly 80 K in just under two years you might assume that all has been plain sailing for the Crafty Fox but Vic reveals that “I fall out of love with it every couple of months with lulls in engagement that everyone experiences which can make you feel pretty shitty and question the point of it. However, she gets through these by keeping things in perspective and focusing on other things when it’s getting her down. She has had the occasional troll which is never nice but her take on that is that “you just have to remember to take it on the chin and try to remember that trolls are basically massive cunts”.
When it comes to algorithm angst her advice is likewise short, sweet (and potentially a little bit salty) saying “Take some time off, don’t take it too seriously and if all else fails have a wank.” When it comes to working with brands, hold on to your sanity and your authenticity by picking brands that you would genuinely use and can afford and don’t let them squish out your personality or make you go “full advertising dick wad”. For Vic, working with E-Bay on a tropical revamp of her pantry was the perfect collab or her hook up with Modern Rugs who didn’t blink an eye when she ended each of her three posts with a fanny rug gag.
So there you have it, @thecraftfox.uk recipe for Instagram success which, in a nutshell she sums up as “find your own voice, don’t let fear hold you back and if in doubt talk about bumholes.” When I asked her what is next for her account she shared that she would, ideally, like to be able to rely on her Instagram to create an income that would allow her to drop down to working part time. That would allow her pursue her longer term dream of writing for a living. Maybe when she is on maternity leave this time round she will have the chance to come up with something that will top the fanny canon, send her beef flaps viral and allow her hand in her P45. I, for one, look forward to seeing what the Crafty Fox has in store for us in the future. Thanks so much for chatting to me Vic.
I have a confession to make……I like Valentines Day! I realise that probably puts me in an exclusive club of which only me, Barbara Cartland (RIP Babs) and Dolly Parton are members but I can’t help it. I love a bit of regulated romance. Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree with the V-Day haters when they say that romance should be about little acts of love all year round rather than the emphasis falling on one day. But the reality is, when you both have jobs and 3 kids to parent, you are more likely to be reciting daily sonnets about whose turn it is to take the bins out than comparing each other to a summer’s day. However, whilst I like Valentines Day, I am not really a massive fan of going out somewhere to celebrate. Mainly because it is extremely difficult to find a teenage babysitter who is willing to give up an evening snogging her Enfield equivalent of Justin Bieber to look after our boys for the night. So i thought I would share some inspiration for creating a rustic romantic retreat at home instead, with lots of tips that you can put into action at anytime of the year.
Cupid Loves to Cook
They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well the way to this woman’s heart is by creating an amazing flower cloud installation “Signe Bay” style over the dining table. This amazing creation, setting the scene for romance chez Malmo & Moss this February, was the work of the super talented Your London Florist. The base is a ball of chicken wire suspended by a couple of hooks drilled into the ceiling. The main elements of “The Cloud” are magnolia branches, natural foliage and dried flowers which means that this is a cloud which doesn’t have to blow away after the 14th of February. It can stay on and be adapted for Easter, spring and beyond. I also love that Your London Florist used tulips and roses in it which were older and might otherwise have gone to waste because they are perfect for turning the petals out on to create this great trumpet shape.
If you are staying in for Valentines Day and have lost the number for the local Chinese then, having set your tablescape, can I suggest that you try wooing your man/woman with my favourite “I am trying to impress you by cooking something more tricksy than a Chicken Kiev” menu. I always find that when I try and cook three courses simultaneously either 1) we end up eating at 11:47pm after I burn and have to recook at least one of the courses or 2) I forget to include a critical element of one of the dishes and it is usually the one that gives it flavour/a consistency that is not like gruel. With that in mind I am going to recommend ditching a starter in favour of popping open a tub of Pringles and focusing instead on the main course which is a Lorraine Pascale’s Roast Beef with Parma ham wrapped green beans . It is almost impossible to fuck up (unless you have to clean up an overflowing potty incident shortly after putting it in the oven and forget to set a timer).
For pudding why not try my go-to easy pudding: Gingernut, Lemon Curd and Blackberry Cheesecakes. You can make them in advance to reduce the amount of courses you have to juggle. It is my own creation so I will have to describe how to make it rather than linking you to a recipe so bear with me.
1/2 packet of Gingernuts, 20g Butter, I jar of Lemon Curd, 1 tub of Creme Fraiche, 2 Tablespoons of Icing Sugar, 2 Handfuls of Blackberries, Mint to Garnish.
Put the gingernuts in a bag and pound to pieces with a rolling pin. Melt the butter in a pan and then add the gingerbread crumbs, stir until the crumbs start to come together. Take off the heat and pat the crumbs into the base of a glass tumbler. Then spoon lemon curd in to cover the biscuit base. Stir the incing sugar into the creme fraiche and then spoon on top of the lemon curd before adding the blackberries on top. Pop into the fridge to chill and set. Get them out of the fridge about an hour before you are ready to eat them otherwise the biscuit base tends to be even more impenetrable than Hilda Ogden’s knickers.
Romance in the Rolltop
Hands up anyone who has a husband who actually enjoys a relaxing bubble bath? It is my go-to way to unwind but on the rare occasions when I have been able to persuade Mr Malmo to join me he has looked about as relaxed as a man about to partake in a threesome with Toyah Wilcox and Dot Cotton and constantly fretted about the water temperature burning his balls. He would, in his own words, rather go to a Simply Red concert and plait Mick Hucknall’s hair than slip into a bubble bath. However, I personally enjoy nothing more than romancing myself in the bathroom (that is not a euphemism for masturbation by the way) by lighting all the candles sprinkling some rose petals in and pouring myself a glass of proseco.
The bathroom ready for romance rose petals and all
Our bathroom used to be a whole lot less romantic as, when we moved in, it was a third smaller and host to a very tired bathroom suite and some tiles decorated in a range of tile stickers that even Laurence Llewellyn Bowen would refuse to put his name to. We lived with it like that for a couple of years whilst we concentrated on renovating downstairs and then saved up enough to make it bigger by stealing a bit of space from the spare bedroom. That allowed us to separate the shower out from the bath and invest in the roll top of my dreams. I say invest but it is actually my best ever e-bay bargain at £25. It came with silver taps but I asked my builder to have a go at recreating some copper ones I had seen in a kitchen in Living Etc which just involved some copper piping and a bit of clever welding. The dark paint on the walls is Dulux Bowler Hat and the wall and floor tiles were both inexpensively sourced from Walls & Floors Ltd. It is definitely a far more romantic place to linger now
The copper taps that were made by my builder after I saw and fell in love with some in Living Etc
If you are with me on enjoying a bit of tubtime then why not try my playlist for romance this Valentines to listen to whilst you are having a soak.
1. Extreme: More Than Words
2. The National: I Need My Girl
3. Radiohead: No Surprises
4. Cat Power: Wild is the Wind
5. Michael Kwanaka: Home
6. Jeff Buckley: You Should Have Come Over
7. The Beatles: Blackbird
8. Lana Del Rey: Video Games
9. Lauryn Hill: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
10. Bon Iver: Skinny Lover
Let’s Take This Upstairs
Whilst I may not have much luck getting Mr Malmo in the bath it is, unsurprisngly, much easier to persuade him to join me in the bedroom. To be honest, as parents of three young boys, it is usually just to sleep and we are more often than not also joined by a Pre School Camilla Parker Bowles at some point in the night. But regardless of the omnipresence of a junior third wheel, I still love my bedroom so much after it’s rustic makeover (read about that here) that it is my favourite place to retreat to in the house.
This Valentines Day I may have upped the romance factor a notch or two by adding a gorgeous rustic wreath above the bed created by Your London Florist. If you fancy having a go at recreating, then source some bendy type twigs, some sprigs of your favourite natural foliage (eucalyptus is mine) and make them into a roughly circular shape and secure with floristry wire. I always think it is nice to leave some sprigs and twigs loose for a wilder feel. I am really enjoying using dried flowers at the moment because it means you can create things which last longer than a week and won’t drop petals on you as you sleep. Your London Florist used some lovely dried grasses in this one which they had sprayed a pale pink.
If you don’t fancy a rustic wreath above your bed (because you are worried about suffering a #ModernRusticConcussion if it drops on you during the night) then why not add romance with lots of cosy sheepskins, candles and fairylights instead. Or still have flowers but maybe just a smaller posy style arrangement in a jam jar or similar by the bed.
Rather unromantically I have been letting Mr Malmo read a lot of porn at bedtime lately.,….Cabin Porn that is. Our big project for 2019 is installing a garden room/cabin at the end of the garden so I have been buying him lots of rustic outhouse and shed inspo books to get his creative and carpentry juices flowing. Although ultimately I think this is a job which may prove slightly beyond his joinery paygrade. If you have built your own garden room or have sourced one from somewhere else that cost less than a small terraced house I would love to know about it.
So there you have it, my recipe for creating romance with your interiors. May 2019 bring you lots of love and, in my case, the #ScandiShed of my dreams. Many thanks to Your London Florist for collaborating with me on this blog post by gifting their services and the beautiful flowers.
When people ask us if we can ever see ourselves moving house, Mr Malmo and I often give contrary answers. He is very much “Remain” on the basis that moving involves a) spending money and b) the very real risk of me “losing” in any move i) his collection of Sheffield Wednesday Programmes dating back to 1989 and ii) the maroon sweatshirt he loves but which I think makes him look like a cross between a teenager on day release from Borstal and a Songs of Praise presenter. My answer is also “Remain” but with the caveat that I would instantly trigger Article 50 and leave for a house with a double width hallway like this.
I have this yearning for double width because our house is semi-detached and the hallway is an L Shape. You can’t see the stairs when you first come in the house as they are located in the middle of the house. If that makes about as much sense as inviting Jim Davidson to be the keynote speaker at a vegan mindfulness seminar then hopefully the two photos below will clarify what I mean.
When we first moved in the hallway was dark, narrow and a bit damp (which I realise sounds a bit like a tagline for a vaginal deodorant). My first tactic to brighten it up was by painting both the walls and floors in a lighter colour. From memory the colour I chose was Farrow & Ball’s Slipper Satin although I could be suffering from a bad case of middle class amnesia and getting my Slipper Satins and Wimborne Whites mixed up.
This definitely helped to bounce more light around the space but there is only so much Slipper Satin can achieve when your only source of natural light is a window on to a side alley and you have to contend with the shadows cast by the army of anoraks that come with having three boys (and a husband with a penchant for a Liam Gallagher mac). I started dreaming of a more radical solution to the problem involving replacing the wall between the hall and dining room with a crittal partition like this.
However, after getting a couple of quotes, I started to realise I had crittal dreams on a cornflake budget. They were coming it at around £7-10K for doors to fill a 2 x 3 metre space. It was actually Kevin my quotes guy (who had come round to price up making the opening for the doors) who came up with the idea of installing timber panelled doors instead of crittal ones. A quick Pinterest later and I realised this was a compromise I could live with. Compared to crittal the price of having bespoke timber doors made was just £2K (with the labour for knocking the wall through and making the opening about £1.5K ).
This is what the space looked like just before “Project Partition” began. Although it was to be hastily renamed “Project Opening” after realising the former sounded less like a plan to remove a wall and more like Hitler’s code name for his plans to annex the Sudetenland. Project Opening admittedly did have slight working title of a 1970s porno connotations but it at least had less #annexationovertones.
The builders took the wall down in stages and I have to confess that I nearly called the whole thing off after they took the plaster off the wall and left me alone with the exposed brick wall of my dreams for a night. #BareBrickBradPitt as it became known even scooped me the honours in #myhomevibe after the addition of some festive pom poms and illuminated Noel letters around Christmas time. But just like Angelina Jolie, I ultimately waved Brad goodbye with the rest of the wall being knock down and temporary supports being put in place.
The builders had originally thought that it might be necessary to put a steel in above the doors as it is a load bearing wall but it turned out there was already a timber beam in place that did the job which saved us a bit of money. After the opening had been made good, the bespoke doors were installed unpainted.
Only one of the doors opens (the furthest to the left if you are looking at them with the front door behind you) but it has hinges that mean it can be folded right back. If I was to go back in time I think I would have opted for them to be concertina doors so that we could have the option to fold all three of them all the way back. However, that is but a minor quibble because with the doors in place we now have a view straight through the house out to the garden when we open the front door and there is so much more light in the hallway.
After much deliberation about what colour the doors should be I ultimately decided to go for a really dark colour and chose Charcoal from the Valspar paint range at B&Q (not an ad!). I am really happy with that choice now but I like the fact that because they are timber I can change the paint colour to change the feel of the room in future if I wanted to. (something I couldn’t do if there were crittal!).
The other big change we made at the same time as installing the doors was to replace the original floorboards with a tiled floor instead. Whilst I love wooden floors there were lots of gaps in ours so that in winter it was like being on the set of “Whistle Down the Wind”. I was really torn as to whether to go for a statement Victorian style floor with some colour in it (inspired by the picture below from Living Etc) or something more muted.
Ultimately I chose a monochrome design from Mosaic del Sur which at about £900 came in about £4000 cheaper than the Victorian tile option! They have proved pretty hard wearing so far. We don’t clean them with any special products (perhaps mistakenly so!) and they actually show up mud much less than the wooden floors they replaced. Every now and again I have a pang and wonder if I actually ought to have gone for polished concrete floors but that is a project for a different house me thinks, maybe one with that double width hallway that makes me trigger my Article 50
The next step in our hallway renovation is to tackle the stairs and bannisters. The sisal carpet we laid after a couple of years suffered a horrendous middle class atrocity when it had a tester pot of Annie Sloane Chalk Paint thrown down it by our toddler. Let’s just say Sloane and Sisal don’t mix. What I would actually like to do is to replace the Jackson Pollock carpet with a runner, painting the stairs and banister at the same time. The current banister is the kind of shade of mahogany that David Dickinson turns after 5 weeks on the Costa Brava so I am desperate tone it down or potentially paint it dark but even thinking about the amount of sanding required to get that project going makes me feel tired so, for now, it is on the back burner.
Thanks for reading all about my hallway overhaul hope it inspires you to see that you can achieve a crittall look on a cornflake budget afterall!
Does anyone remember the TV programme ‘Challenge Anneka’? The basic premise was that Anneka Rice (sporting a blue jumpsuit that made her look like an errant Kwik Fit employee) had 48hrs to complete a seemingly impossible task like reintroducing an obscure species of Owl to the UK or persuading Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen to wear beige. It sadly disappeared from our screens some time around 1994 but I think the BBC should bring the show back and set Anneka a new challenge. Find a holiday cottage near the coast in the UK that sleeps 10-12 people (without anyone having to sleep in a drawer) with interior’s that don’t look like the inside of your Auntie Pat’s conservatory all for less than £5000 a week. I suspect it would make reintroducing that obscure owl look like child’s play. But fear not Anneka, I’ve got this one. In my little black book of holiday cottages is a place that ticks all of those boxes and more: Eden Hall Cottage.
About the Cottage
The cottage is located on the North Norfolk Coast on the so-called secret side (i.e. the stretch that is not overrun with men called Tarquin down from London for the weekend who are partial to red trousers). Eden Hall’s owners are Vicky and Chris White. If I tell you that Vicky is the founder of the beautiful home and lifestyle brand Plum & Ashby you will start to appreciate that this is going to be a pretty special place.
Vicky, Chris and their dog Bertie live in Olney (Bedfordshire) but have always been regular visitors to the Norfolk coast. They got engaged there and, in 2015, they started to look for a property they could turn into the coastal holiday home of their dreams. After two years of searching and several close misses, in November 2017 (on their shared birthday) they went to view Eden Hall Cottage and fell in love.
It took some vision to see it’s potential as a beautiful beach bolthole because it was, at the time, completely run down with rats in residence and a random toilet in the middle of the drive. However they were able to look past the loo and having secured the property, brought an architect on board to help them restore it to it’s former glory. Their ambitious goal was to have the property ready for its first visitors by the summer of 2018.
Having hired a team of local builders following a tender process, their first step was to strip the property back to it’s bare bones (including taking out and replacing all of the upstairs floors the joists of which turned out to be rotten). This is what the cottage looked like when I first popped round “Kevin McCLoud” style at the start of their renovation journey.
By the time Malmo McCloud returned to stay as one of their first guests in October 2018, it was virtually unrecognisable. With the renovation complete, the cottage has five double bedrooms (three of which are ensuite), a stunning kitchen diner with vaulted ceilings, a relaxed sitting room with open fire, a family bathroom with a gorgeous cast iron roll top bath and a boot room and separate utility. There is a lovely secluded patio garden at the front and a large lawned area at the back (perfect for letting our pack of lad labradors off the leash).
Vicky said that her aim for the interiors was to create an English take on an American beach house and it is a triumph of Nantucket come to Norfolk. The walls are painted in a pallet of clean minimal neutral colours which act as the perfect backdrop to some seriously luxurious furnishings from brands such as Neptune, Rowen & Wren, Also Home and the White Company. There is not a jaunty anchor or whimsical shell in sight.
The star of the show has to be the duck egg blue Humphrey Munson kitchen which is at the heart of the house and fabulously well equipped. I loved the way that Vicky and Chris had chosen to leave sections of the original flint walls exposed in the kitchen to provide a rustic contrast to the contemporary units.
We stayed at the house as a group of ten (with 5 friends rather than 5 children I have previously failed to mention in case you are wondering). The layout of the cottage is perfect for groups of friends or families.. Upstairs are two generous double bedrooms (one of which is ensuite) and a further single with bunk beds and some lovely touches for children staying like a minature teddy version of Bertie the dog. Upstairs is also host to the family bathroom of dreams which has Georgian style panelled walls, a huge roll top bath and gorgeous brass taps. The bath products are all from Plum & Ashby’s beautiful range made in the UK.
Downstairs are two further double bedrooms both of which are ensuite. This layout meant that those in our party with kids could sleep upstairs whilst those without occupied the bedrooms downstairs so that they were spared a 7:30am wake up by the Octonauts/Fireman Sam/Mr Tumble emptying his spotty bag.
The bedrooms are all beautiful but the one to fight over is definitely the master suite off the kitchen which has both a four poster bed and roll top bath of it’s own. It is set off the kitchen/diner and is like a mini hotel in it’s own right. I loved the vintage boathouse sign that hangs above the doorway to this room adding a nod to the coast.
We all then enjoyed big communal breakfasts together with papers around the huge kitchen table which can easily seat 12. Bacton, where the cottage is based has a small local shop which stocks all of your bread/milk/Sunday papers essentials. Though it is not the kind of the place where you will be able to source artisan pate or gluten free granola so maybe stock up in advance if those things are your daily essentials.
Evenings were spent slobbed out on the two huge comfy sofas in front of the fire. The zinc coffee table is truly a sight to behold, I am pretty sure that it may be bigger than one of our bedrooms at home. If you have been out taking the sea air during the day then coming back and running a bubble bath in the stunning main bathroom of an evening is also to be recommended.
Bacton woods close to the house offer excellent dog walking/Gruffalo hunting opportunities and if you are in need of a National Trust top up then Felbrigg Hall is just 10 minutes away. The delights of the rest of the North Norfolk coast are also within easy reach with Holt (a lovely Georgian market town) just twenty minutes drive and beyond that gems including Wells on Sea, Blakney, Stiffkey, Holkham and more.
We enjoyed a delicious pub lunch at The Victoria at Holkham and then a run on the vast and beautiful beach. We also called in at Stiffkey Stores for a coffee and spot of modern rustic interiors shopping. The kids loved a) the cabins for sitting in outside and b) the excellent selection of sweets for less than 50p on offer. I should also mention that the Gunton Arms (rated in the Top 50 places for a pub lunch by [ ]) is also just ten minutes away from the house. Be sure to reserve a table well in advance of your stay though as it gets really booked up!
So Anneka hang your jumpsuit back up and return to presenting the Sunday Morning Sizzle on Radio Colchester as this is one challenge I have solved without your helicopter even having to leave Broadcasting House. If you would like to book a stay at Edenhall Cottage click here you can also follow the cottage on instagram here. We were lucky enough to be guests of Vicky and Chris when we stayed but at less than £2000 for a stay even at the height of peak season it is a complete bargain compared to anything I have found of similar size/quality anywhere else in the UK!
*We did not pay for our stay at Eden Hall but I was not asked to produce any content in return for our stay. I am writing up our stay for the blog because it is genuinely one of the nicest places I have ever stayed and I wanted to share it with you *
Do you have a room or area of your house that is off limits for Instagram? Without wishing to sound too Joseph Fritzl, our “hidden room” is our dining room. I call it the dining room because 8 years ago when we first moved in (and prior to doing the kitchen extension) this is where our kitchen table used to be. Once the extension was complete we moved the table to the bottom end of the kitchen, opened up the wall between the kitchen and this room and made it into a second living room. Confused?
I want to say I will artfully sketch you a floor plan in charcoal so you can see how it all fits together but unfortunately I have drawing skills that are on a par with those of a worm drunk on tequila so I am hoping that these next photos will help to make things a bit clearer!
Opening the artist formerly known as the dining room to the kitchen has made a huge difference to our family life and we use it lots as a relaxed family living room but this space very rarely graces the grid for the following reasons:
1) It is home to a toy storage unit which regularly belches out brightly coloured plastic objects and which can only be moved with the assistance of a small crane or Hulk Hogan
2) There is a 1980s radiator stranded behind the sofa shitting on every shot with it’s Soviet Era bad looks (although it does come in incredibly handy for resting a mug of tea on). In all seriousness as well limiting my insta possibilities it’s current location means it is mainly heating the back of the sofa rather then us.
3) The kids treat the sofa as both a trampoline and dinner table meaning it looks like the kind of two piece suite you often find in a mini cab office that has been sat on by 27,876 15 stone men called Keith eating kebabs whilst waiting for a cab.
But I have some plans for this space which may see it making more of an appearance on Instagram in 2019 which I thought I would share with you here (mainly to give myself a kick up the arse to get on with them)
Step One: Re-positioning the Shits On Every Shot Radiator
This is 95% because all of the heat it emits gets lost behind the sofa and 5% because it limits my insta possibilities in it’s current position (ok maybe more like 75%/25% but still…). Kevin my quotes guy has been round to suss out alternative positions and assures me it can fairly easily be removed from this wall and a new vertical column radiator positioned on the wall leading to the kitchen instead. I haven’t mentioned this plan to Mr Malmo yet on the basis that it involves taking floorboards up and he will probably therefore receive it as warmly as an invitation to set his own pubic hair on fire. There were some murmurings from Kevin about BTUs (which I believe relates to heat output rather than the currency of Moldova) which may slightly restrict the choice of radiator I can go for but I am thinking of either a white or light grey one so that it is not too noticeable in it’s new location.
Step Two: Pimp My Wall Rustic Industrial Style
With the radiator shot cock block out of the way I am planning on making the wall behind the sofa more of a feature wall. Not in the Lawrence Lwellyn Bowen flocked wall paper sense obviously. It will not surprise you to learn that I have a more rustic/industrial plan up my sleeve. I currently have three of these gorgeous old Brooklyn ceiling tiles on the wall but I now want to go large and cover the whole wall with them. I know that you can now get wall paper with them printed on but I really want the texture and feel of the real deal. My inspiration comes from Baileys Home and Garden where they have done this to stunning effect. Nailing 50 of them to the wall should be simple right? If in the big room reveal it actually turns out to be a feature wall of LLB’s new satin flocked wallpaper you will know that it has turned out to be anything but.
Step Three: Saying Goodbye to the Seatdrop Sofa
There is a school of thought that says that we should hang on to the minicab office sofa until the boys are of an age when they are able to eat a banana without nearby surfaces ending up looking like they have a bad case of fruit based thrush. However, I am going with a different more visually pleasing school of thought that says that if we have the corner sofa of my dreams in a smoky grey velvet they will love it so much that eschew their previous #badbananamanners. Has anyone else combined velvet soft furnishings and three boys without having to take a Valium anytime they go near it?
Step Four: Trimming down the Toy Storage and Creating a Magazine Library
We are currently in the midst of a lengthy rearrangement and redecoration of the boys bedrooms which make building the Taj Mahal look like a quick project. Once that is complete I am hoping to relocate the current toy storage holder upstairs and replace it with something that belches plastic less frequently (ideas on a postcard please!). I would then love to add some more picture shelves to this wall to display some of my abundant collection of interiors mags because what woman doesn’t love to get her Kinfolk out for the lads? Although do you think that having more picture shelves might be too much with the wall of many rustic tiles as well?
So there you have it my Living Room makeover plans for 2019. Apologies for the slightly analogue presentation of them. Learning how to create a digital mood board is one of my life goals for 2019 after I have nailed more regular (by which I mean more frequently than twice yearly) maintenance of my bikini line and the art of loading the dishwasher so that it doesn’t look like it has been done by Gazza upon returning home from a night on the lash.
My Instagram Journey So Far
I started idly dipping my toe into Instagram in late 2016. I was on maternity leave with my third son and looking for something to help pass the time that didn’t revolve around the contents of Mr Tumble’s spotty bag. I have never really been one for Mumsnet. I can’t get over the feeling that it is slightly wrong to be discussing baby poo with strangers online so I thought I would try out Instagram instead. I never set out with a grand plan, goals or a strategy. It was just me sharing pictures of my bathroom and finding, to my surprise, a community of fellow interiors fans who liked the cut of my rolltop bath and shared a love of metro tiles and blow job gags.
Since posting that first murky shot of my bathroom 2 years ago I have gained 80K followers, had my pictures regrammed on some of my all time favourite Instagram accounts such as Apartment Therapy, seen my home featured in My House Beautiful and 91 Magazine, collaborated with some of my favourite interiors brands and been lucky enough to go on trips to and write about some amazing places including Malmo (my spiritual Scandi home).
In the last 9 months I have also started, for the first time, to earn money from my Instagram and blog. Not the kind of money that enables me to make Ryan Gosling an ‘Indecent Proposal’ he would actually accept (although Ryan if I have misjudged this and you would in fact be my Demi Moore for £20 and a Grab Bag of Roast Beef Monster Munch call me). But the kind of money that means that my dad no longer tells me to stop wanking over pictures of other people’s cushions (not literally I stress).
However, I have also discovered that whilst Instagram can build you up it can also knock you right back down again and, in the grip of algorithm angst, it can become easy to lose sight of why you started using the app in the first place. So finding myself with five minutes free when no-one is asking me to wipe their bottom (I have told Mr Malmo he really need to start doing his own) I thought I would share with you five lessons I learnt in 2018 about how to grow your Instagram without losing your mind in the process.
Serve up a Killer Shot
Errr duhh Malmo isn’t that the whole point of Instagram? It is but it is a basic principle I confess I have at times been guilty of forgetting! When a post bombs it may well be because the evil algorithm has hidden you down the back of the Instagram sofa but sometime the truth is that actually you just served up a bit of a shit shot! Take this one of my bedroom for example. At the time I thought I was unleashing #gridgoals but it struggled to get past 1K likes and then died. But when I look back at it now I can see that I totally over did it with the filters, zoomed in too close on the bed cutting out the windows to the right and shaving off half of the bedside table.
In comparison in this shot I showed more of the whole room so you can see the bed in context and told more of a story in the image (in this case wife eats croissants in bed and sets off husband’s over sensitive crummy alarm). I also edited the picture in a much lighter way. Same room, different picture, different result with this picture receiving over 6k likes
Filters Can Be Your Friend Afterall
In my last blog about Instagram back in 2017, I wrote that I had learnt to go easy on the filters after an early addiction to adding borders to my images that made them look like they were trapped behind #beigebars. But what I have learnt this year is that filters and editing tools (if used less cack handedly) can turn a photo from meh to marvellous. They also allow you to create a look and feel to your feed that people start to identify with your pictures making them stand out from the crowd.
I have started using third party apps like Snapseed and VSCO to edit my pictures and my goal for 2019 is to get to grips with Lightroom. They have a much wider selection of preset filters to chose from than Instagram and allow a broader range of edits you can make to a picture. It has been trial and error ( I still get it wrong sometimes as shown above) and you may prefer to leave you pictures au naturel. However, since making this change to the style of my pictures they have got picked up and regrammed by some huge interiors instagram accounts like My Interior, Apartment Therapy, Home Adore and Room Porn. Those regrams have added about 1000 followers a time to my account.
Fuck the Numbers
I am not going to pretend that I don’t care the number of likes my posts get or the number of followers I have. The ping of a blue notification can be intoxicating! But what I learnt the hard way this year was that if the number of likes and follows you get becomes your main motivation and validation then Instagram can fairly quickly go from thriller to killer. 2018 started out well for me, I had a couple of pretty big regrams and gained 4.5K followers overnight when the Frugality mentioned me in her stories. But then out of the blue my account suddenly ground to a halt. For the first time I was losing more followers than I was gaining and my pictures attracted a fraction of the likes they had been getting when my account was much smaller.
My first thought was that I had been shadow banned but I was still showing up on hashtags and after the normal two weeks it would take for shadow ban to elapse I was still in insta purgatory! I drove myself crazy trying to work out what I had done wrong googling “why does Instagram hate me” and reporting the problem with pleading messages along the lines of “Dear Instagram please can I come off the naughty step".
It was frustrating to watch what felt like everyone else surge past me whilst my account went into reverse. I had got totally sucked into a “race” mentality. But then my husband put it all into perspective for me by reminding me of ‘Wanted’. A truly terrible action film starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy from the late noughties. The first 30 mins or so of the film are an enjoyable enough action caper in which Jolie and McAvoy team up to defeat a mysterious bad guy. But then it is revealed that the bad guy they are battling is, in fact, a weaving loom of the type that might appear in an episode of Cranford. The weaving loom in this analogy is of course the algorithm.
In the absence of a degree in computer science (or even a basic understanding of Microsoft excel) it will remain a mystery to me. So instead of worrying about followers I didn’t have, likes I wasn’t getting or how big other accounts were growing I decided to focus instead on engaging with the followers I do have and creating content that I think they will like and which I am proud of. That is what my stay in insta jail taught me and I have been happier and enjoyed insta much more ever since. Which brings me to my next point.
Get Authentically Social
Getting regrammed by Apartment Therapy may have been one of my highlights of 2018 but so was the night when, home alone and relaxing in my favourite #FlaccidPenisFlanelettes, I shared a picture of them and asked people to show me their favourite #PyjamasPenisesLoveToHate in return. I received over a hundred entries into the Boner Crusher Hall of Fame with nightwear featuring everything from fleecy festive owls to erection extinguishing ice skating penguins that had me howling with laughter.
I didn’t share my pyjamas as part of any grand Instagram engagement strategy. I shared them because Mr Malmo was out and I was sitting on the sofa eating doritos and fancied some bants. Instagram is “social media” and I am sure you have all read advice which says that the best way to grow your account is to be social and engage with other accounts. There are many different ways you can go about that. You can comment “love this” or “nice room” on as many accounts as you possibly can before you get thumb fatigue. But the rather long winded point of my flaccid penis pyjama story is that when you forget about being strategic and make your followers laugh, or share something that allows you to build real rapport with the people following you they stop being a number and instead become your tribe, your champions and, in many cases, your friends in real life!
Step away from your Phone
“Put Phone Down Mummy”. Four words spoken to me by my toddler this Summer which, combined with my stay in insta jail, caused me to reassess my relationship with Instagram. Prior to that point I had posted religiously every day at the most “insta” appropriate time and driven Mr Malmo mad by constantly being heard to say “just give me a minute whilst I” insert one of “reply to this comment, check my DMs, post this to stories”. Instagram had become like a job and it was zapping the fun out of it for me (not to mention those around me!). I already have a job (in sustainability) that I enjoy very much and I realised that whilst Instagram has brought me some amazing opportunities I don’t want it to become my full time career. And I certainly don’t want to miss out on times with my family worrying about the algorithm or how my posts are performing.
So I did what my toddler suggested and put my phone down. I now take at least 1 or 2 days off a week from posting and do it at times that fit in with family life rather than being preordained by Instagram insights. My account has not fallen off a cliff. I am still being offered opportunities and my account is still growing. Maybe not as fast as others that post more frequently but that is ok with me. Whilst Instagram does seem to penalize you if you disappear for long periods, a day or two off a week doesn’t seem to have angered the insta gods too much. Indeed I think my engagement has been better since I stopped posting as frequently, maybe because it is a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder?! To quote a truly great philosopher (Ray Winstone in the Paddy Power adverts) when the fun stops stop. Whether it is for a day, a week or a month a little insta break every now and then can sometimes be what you need to get your mojo (and sanity) back.
So there you have it, my advice, for what it is worth, on how to grow your instagram without losing your mind (or being a dick). Thank you to every one of you who follows me, banters with me and encourages me on a daily basis.
Mr Malmo and I are not really country people. He grew up in Nottingham surrounded by bus fumes rather than bushes and, although I hail from Northumberland, 20 years of living in London have rendered me twitchy whenever I am more than 300 metres away from a filament bulb and a flat white. However, having three boys has given us a new found appreciation of wide open spaces where you can let lad/labradors off the leash with less people around to hear you loudly telling them to stop what they are doing and go for a poo or to take a SuperZing out of their nose. With this in mind my google holiday search have increasingly started to feature more escapes to the country than city breaks which is how I discovered Ivywood Cottage on the Norfolk/Suffolk border .
About the Cottage
Ivywood Cottage is owned by Laura and James who live in the big house next door with their 3 year old identical twin boys and new baby. It was the discovery that they were expecting the twins that prompted them to trade in their one bedroom flat in Islington for James’ native Norfolk and a Georgian House in the country with the added bonus of Ivywood Cottage attached. Moving from such a busy part of North London to Redenhall was, Laura admits, a massive change. Instead of the emergency services hurting past at all hours of day and night and noisy neighbours stomping around, they now have the odd tractor trundling past and a cockerel crowing next door. But having grown up on a farm herself and James a country village it wasn't the huge shock it could have been.
Their adjustment to country life has, therefore, been fairly smooth bar some standard country-newbie errors (running out of oil...several times, forgetting they have a septic tank, not realising they had a soak-away pond, not realising the lush green garden was actually thick with ground elder and bind weed…. Reading this list revealed the depths of my own #urbanignorance because I initially thought Laura was referring to running out of olive oil here and thought a soak away pond might be some sort of cool Grand Designs style contemporary garden water feature rather than a tricksy pond drainage system.
Downstairs at the Cottage
Ivywood Cottage has been beautifully restored so that you get the best of old and new. So there are gorgeous flagstone floors, exposed beams and quirky staircases but also the comfort of having a beautiful contemporary kitchen in soft grey with metro tiles and on trend copper taps and the very 21st Century pleasure for soft linen bedding from Loaf on all the beds.
We visited in January so took full advantage of the cosy woodburner in the living room which comes complete with all the urban comforts you need to ease you into country life gently i.e. ready access to the latest copy of Kinfolk. I loved how Laura has carefully mixed interiors styles together in this room, introducing vintage pieces such as two 1950s midcentury armchairs covered in gorgeous mossy green and smokey grey velvet.
The nearest town to the cottage is Harleston where we stocked up on locally baked bread, bacon from Norfolk bred pigs and fresh orange juice for breakfast (and if I am honest also Weetabix, Nutella and Robinsons squash because my kids regard Granola and Fresh Orange Juice as their breakfast enemies ). The kitchen has a gorgeous farmhouse table, bench and tolix seats and I loved the industrial touches like the vintage lights over the island and the concrete worktops.
Upstairs at the Cottage
Upstairs are two double bedrooms (one with an ensuite) and a large landing area with vaulted ceiling which houses a sofa bed meaning the cottage can comfortably sleep six making it ideal for a family break, a weekend away with friends or a romantic retreat with your partner where you can enjoy spaces in your togetherness i.e. escape their snoring if you need to!
There are a plethora of lovely country walks you can do from the cottage and a host of country pubs dotted all around. Laura’s favourite walk is a big loop from the house which just happens (!) to pass three pubs along the way. The last pub (about a 10 minute walk from the house) has a super children's play park a stones through away #parentingwin. After you have been out to take in the country air come home and warm up in the huge roll top bath. I have never been a huge shower curtain fan but the yellow and white candy striped one at Ivywood totally changed my view. I would happily have it cling to my naked body (if you are reading Ryan Gosling have similar thoughts about you).
Exploring the surrounding area
Whilst the cottage is perfectly positioned for enjoying the best of the countryside there are also plenty of lovely coffee and cake shops nearby should you need a #FlatWhiteFix. One of Laura’s favourite cafes, Marsh Larder, is on a local farm and when it's warm, you can sit outside with a glass of prosecco, eating homemade cake whilst the cows in the field next to you gaze on. Or, if, like me, you have a slight fear of bovine animals, why not try the Earsham Street Cafe in Bungay who serve up an awesome homemade cake. Bungay also has some great antiques and interiors shops and Laura recommends checking out Naken Interiors in Beccles who stock great brands like Ferm Living. Slightly further afield are all of the delights of the Suffolk coast. We worked our way over to Southwold one day via Darsham Nurseries which serves up delicious breakfasts and lunches in a garden nursery (think Petersham Nurseries rather than Dobbies Garden Centre).
There are great beach walks to enjoy at Dunwich, Covehithe, Aldeburgh, Thorpness and Southwold to name but a few and even more great pubs and bakeries to sample. No self respecting instagrammer (or donut fan) should leave Suffolk without calling in at the Pump Street Bakery in Orford. And if you are looking for the perfect place for Sunday lunch look no further than the Unruly Pig near Woodbridge.
We stayed at Ivywood Cottage at a discount but even at full rates it is great value for a weekend away at around £100 a night depending on the time of year. A single hotel room can easily cost that without any of the comforts, luxuries and style that Ivywood offers. We are already thinking about coming back not least because I can’t wait to see the renovations that Laura is carrying out on their neighbouring Georgian House. I am hoping I can convince her to let me come back and do a house tour when she is finished! In the meantime if you would like to book a stay at Ivywood Cottage the link is here
Christmas can be an expensive time of year with presents, parties and panto combining to mean you have taken on the national debt of Belgium by the 1st of January. I love decorating my home for Christmas but I don’t think you need to spend a fortune doing it or to invest in loads of stuff that you are going to chuck away after Santa has set off back to the North Pole. If, like me, you are operating with more of a Morrisons than Macy’s budget then going for a Scandinavian inspired Christmas look is ideal. Our Scandinavian friends like to keep things simple and minimal and to use lots of natural foliage that you can forage from your garden or local parks under the cover of darkness.
At our recent Hygge for all Seasons workshop at the Occasional Home Store, Reena (@hygge_ for _ home) and I created a Modern Rustic/Scandi inspired Christmas table scheme featuring 3 simple ideas for table decorations inspired by our favourite Nordic instagram accounts and nature. If you are not already following our inspiration accounts then you are in for a treat
The space we were transforming for Hygge for all Seasons was a big lecture room overlooking a beautiful reservoir. It meant we were working with quite high ceilings and a bigger table than the average family would be sitting down to on the 25th December. But to show that the ideas can work in any setting I have also recreated them at home so you can see just how easy it is to do
We used a dark grey linen tablecloth kindly loaned to us by Chalk Pink Linen for the base of our table along with some of their lovely crisp fresh white linen napkins. They also do all of their linen in a gorgeous dove grey which I used when I styled my table at home. For our tableware we used earthy ceramic plates and beakers in muted neutral colours from Igigi General Store and then added interest to the table with some simple Scandi candle holders in the shape of stars from The King and I and I and for a tiny touch of twinkle some vintage crystal ones from Hellish Designs. We added a bit of Nordic drama to the table with our dramatic pampas table centrepiece and hula chandeliers.
After feasting on Bronuts from Norahs Brownies (it turns out that combining two of my favourite cakes together creates a third cake I like even more) our work shoppers went home with a luxury botanical candle from Join London which are hand poured in Jen’s South-East London riverside studio and use only natural ingredients. If you were not able to come along on the day but would like to create a similar modern rustic look for Christmas table then read on and find out how to use chicken wire, a hula hoop and fencing wire to create a Nordic Noel.
Make your own rustic advent chandelier
What you need: One hula hoop, approx 1 metre of linen or hessan, masking tape, floristry wire, mixture of faux and real foliage of your choice
Ok so you maybe reading this think a chandelier?? I thought she said this was going to be full of affordable ideas not looks to steal from the Palace of Versaille. But bear with me because the chandeliers in question are made using the humble hula hoop. I sourced mine off E-Bay for about £3 but charity shops often have them too. To cover them I used natural linen but a cheaper alternative would be to use hessian which is roughly £5 a metre.
Start by cutting the hessian into 10cm wide strips. Either tie on to the hula hoop or, for a neater look you can use masking tape to secure it in place. Wrap the strips around the hoop until it is fully covered, this is your base. The next step is to wrap a foliage garland around the hoop securing using florists wire. I used a simple garland made by Parlane that cost me £8. Depending upon how dramatic you want your hoop to look tie on mixture of faux and natural foliage (eucalyptus is good as it looks fine even when dried). I wanted mine to have a bit of drama so i tied springs of eucalyptus on pointing downwards using florists wire. Finally, cut four lengths of twine (mine were about 60cms long but it depends on the ceiling height you are working with) and tie each length on about 30cm apart around the hoop.
Once you have completed all of those steps, all you need to do is find a way to suspend it from your ceiling. I got Mr Malmo to screw a small hook in (i think I made this request after he had had a couple of beers as screwing things into plasterboard usually sets off his ‘no fucking way’ alarm). You could equally just use command hooks if you are willing to accept that at some point in December they may lose their stick and deposit a chandelier on your crackers.
Pampas Grass Table Centrepiece
What you need: 30cm x 20cm wooden box, chicken wire, plyers and 10-15 stems of pampas grass
Pampas grass has been all over Instagram this year which either means swinging is having a big revival or that there is a massive trend towards using natural dried grasses in floral arrangements. I am really hoping it is the latter as I don’t fancy throwing my car keys in a bowl and going soixante neuf with my 86 yr old neighbour George who last possessed his own teeth sometime around 1987 and favours using an outside toilet. I have seen some great ideas for using pampas in your home, from creating a stunning hanging installation (check out the account of Signe Bay for inspo) to the more suited to a surban semi option of using it in a vintage box that I have gone with.
Because the scale of the venue at our Hygge for all Seasons workshop was big with high ceilings I was able to go a bit more dramatic creating lots of height with a vintage Canadian Dry box (which I am careful never to leave Reena alone in a room with in case she disappears off into the modern rustic mist with it). However back home I used a smaller box I picked up for £10 from Sunbury antiques and a bit less grass to create a slightly pared back version.
My box was about 30-40cm long and 20cm wide. If you are struggling to source a vintage one then H&M Home also have some similar size ones with a rustic look to them. All you need apart from the box is some chicken wire, plyers and a bunch of pampas grass. I got my chicken wire online (which am fairly sure may have placed me on some sort of Interpol list) but you can also source from petshops.
Cut a roll of wire that will fit inside of your box (maybe wear gardening gloves to do so as I emerged from my skirmish with it looking like someone who had stuck their arm in a holly bush). Then basically just poke your pampas grass into the holes in the chicken wire in a manner that creates an arrangement you are happy with! If you have you mother-in-law coming round for Christmas lunch and want to avoid making chit chat with her about Barry from her Bridge group’s prostate then leave the stalks long. But if not maybe cut them to a more conversation friendly level of about 30cm. You may want to be careful about how closely you position it to candles as pampas is right up there with a shellsuit in terms of flammability.
Mini Eucalyptus Wreaths
What you need: euclyptus, wire and floristry wire.
To add some greenery into our Christmas table we made mini eucalyptus wreaths which acted as a backdrop to beautiful calligraphy christmas labels from Oysterbridge Co. My original idea was to make mini rosemary wreaths having seen them on Pinterest. I don’t know if it was because my supermarket rosemary was just too short but 45 minutes into my minature wreath making all I had was a herb heavy lap and a sprig of rosemary balder than Kim Kardashian’s bikini line tied in a circle. So I went back to the drawing board, rejected the rosemary and turned to the far more plyable eucalyptus instead.
The wire helps to create structure and it means you can secure the foliage in place using floristry wire. You can make them as big or as small as you like in terms of the size of the hoop (this idea would equally work to make hoops to hang on a wall as the wire is quite sturdy). And you can go simple or more dramatic in terms of how much foliage you add. I kept ours quite simple because we were putting the labels on top and didn’t want to detract from them. The mini wreaths will also make your christmas table smell amazing.
We would like to say a huge thank you to the 31 lovely people who came along to Hygge for all Seasons in November and made it so much fun. We have loved seeing how people have incorporated the ideas from the workshop into their Christmas decor already. We would also like to thank all of the brands that collaborated with us in providing gifts for our works shoppers (including Join London, Sevin London, Malako Skincare, Igigi General Store, Love Struck Interiors, Thornback & Peel, Kate and the Ink and Chalk Pink Linen) and items to use in our table styling (Chalk Pink Linen, Igigi General Store, Lights 4 Fun, Hellish Designs and The King and I).
There are a couple of job interview questions I always struggle to answer. The first is “what is your greatest weakness”. This is not tricky because I think I am perfect but more because the answer on the tip of my tongue is always Cornish Cruncher Extra Strength Cheddar Cheese and a packet of Pickled Onion Monster Munch rather than the more employment friendly “a small blind spot when it comes to understanding full functionality of the wrap text field of Microsoft Excel.” Second on my list of dreaded questions is “tell me about your hobbies”. I am pretty sure the “You’re Hired” answer has something to do with running triathlons whilst reading ‘A Brief History of Time’ whereas in truth one of my favourite ways to while away my leisure time is creating seasonal tablescapes. So when Sainsbury’s Home asked me if I would like to pick a few items from their Autumn/Winter range for my kitchen I was in my hobby heaven
After 11 years of marriage and 14 years of dating a remarkably high percentage of our shared kitchenware still dates back to our student days when it was put through its paces cooking high end cuisine such as beans on toast and fish fingers on a bed of super noodles (don’t knock it until you have tried it people). With the motely selection we have accrued approaching the end of its life I chose a selection of kitchen and tableware from the rustic retreat and escape ranges that Sainsbury’s have introduced this Autumn/Winter. I selected Scandinavian inspired items in a neutral colour palette of soft greys and natural materials such as wood that would stand the test of time in my kitchen beyond this season. Affordable homeware doesn’t have to mean disposable homeware.
I put them through their paces cooking a couple of my favourite autumnal recipes, taken from a book I cook from on repeat: Seasons by Donna Hay. The photography and the food are both amazing. The recipes I selected both use just 4 main ingredients and can be whipped up with about 5 minutes preparation: perfect for a quick but delicious midweek meal if, like me, you often need to cook with a toddler attached to a leg and whilst shouting at someone to stop playing FIFA and start doing their homework.
I sourced all of the ingredients for the recipes from our local Sainsbury’s which I think it is fair to say is where I spend about 35% of my life in trying to keep up with the insatiable appetites of 3 hungry sons who consume sliced bread, bananas and milk at an alarming rate.
Butternut Squash, Mozzarella and Palma Ham Salad
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
2 Butternut Squash, 375g Mozzarella Cheese, 500g Palma Ham, handful of thyme, salt and peppper to season
It is so simple to make there is almost need to type out instructions! Basically you peel the Butternut squash then chop into wedges (this is the hardest part as I ending up sweating like a shotputter trying to slice through a particularly stubborn butternut), place on a tray, drizzle with olive oil and season then cook for 25-30 mins. In the meantime tear up the mozzarella and cut the palma ham into strips. Take the butternut squash out of the oven and combine in an instagram friendly fashion on a plate scattering chopped up thyme on to taste. Simple to make but totally delicious
Having emerged victorious from the #BattleOfTheButternut I set to work on the fun part: creating my tablescape. I chose dinner plates and pasta bowls from the Urban Escape range in a lovely muted grey. They are the kind of plate that you can use everyday without fear of chipping and stick in the dishwasher but their simple Scandi good looks lend themselves to fancier dining as well (featuring non-beige food). To compliment the plates I also selected a really lovely carafe and set of wine glasses in a smoked grey and I loved the contrast they create with the plates
For pudding I turned once more to Donna and selected a delicious sounding maple and pear tarte tatin.
Maple Pear Tarte Tatin
Ingredients (serves 4-6 depending upon how greedy they are!)
6 dessert pears, 375g puff pastry, 4 spoonfuls of golden syrup, 80g of butter
Peel and slice the pears to about a one pound coin thickness (which are a joy to work with compared to the bastard butternuts). Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat and then add to syrup and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer for 2 minutes and then remove from the heat. Arrange the pears to cover the bottom of a 20cm oven proof pan and then pour over the butter/syrup mixture. Then place over the top the puff pastry cut to a 22cm circle and place in the oven. Cook for 20 mins (or in my case until the smoke alarm goes off because some of the syrup mixture has escaped the pan and formed a mini bonfire on the bottom of the oven). Serve with creme fraiche or clotted cream
It is a stunningly easy and delicious dessert to make and it was a dream to use new kitchen utensils which had not seen active service in the University of Manchester Halls of Residence kitchens mainly stirring supernoodles. I love the earthy contrast of the oak handles of the rural retreat range against the scandi inspired grey. They look great against the white metro tiles in my kitchen and make my utensil selection about 100% more stylish!
With the tarte tatin in the oven I performed a quick turnaround on tablescape number two. Whipping away the table cloth to reveal the natural texture of our vintage farmhouse kitchen table and adding in some gorgeous dried flowers in autumnal colours and some scandi white pumpkins to up the autumn factor. I love the contrast between the texture of the table and the simple pale grey of the plates. The pasta bowls are great for serving dessert in as you can add in a drizzle of maple syrup and dollop (is there a more satisfying word known to man?!) of creme fraiche without fear of it escaping!
I also added in these lovely rattan table mats from the Urban Escape range (available in store but not online) to provide a bit of additional contrast, they are a timeless style and colour that I know I will get lots of use out of. I used the oak chopping board to display the tarte on which turned out pleasingly like the picture despite its emergency evacuation from the oven
So there you have it, two ideas for autumnal tablescapes with a rustic Scandi twist. I hope you enjoy giving the recipes a try and updating your kitchen with the Rural Retreat and Urban Escape ranges from Sainsbury’s Home.
This blog post was kindly sponsored by Sainsbury’s Home
If you attended our last Occasional Home Store in March you may have been mistaken for thinking it was our Christmas rather than Spring event on account of the Beast from the East blowing in and rendering Stoke Newington indistinguishable from Siberia. The extremely non spring like weather conditions temporarily transformed me into my dad for the week leading up to the event, frantically shushing anybody who came into the room whilst I was watching the weather forecast.
However, despite the fact that we were shovelling snow when we thought we would be draping spring blossom it all turned out alright on the night with loads of you lovely people coming to the West Reservoir Centre in Hackney to enjoy the array of beautiful vintage & contemporary homeware that our stallholders had battled the Beast to bring you.
Having had six months to recover from the #posttraumaticsnowstress I am now extremely excited to share with you that the Occasional Home Store will be returning to the West Reservoir Centre on the weekend of the 17th and 18th of November in association with Plum & Ashby and our gorgeous new partner Igigi General Store to bring you a festive shopping extravaganza.
In the beautiful industrial surroundings of a 1930s water filtering station we will be bringing you a handpicked selection of the very best vintage and contemporary homeware complimented by a programme of workshops and talks to inspire you to renovate, decorate and instagram your homes this Christmas. If this sounds like your idea of a perfect weekend then read on for a preview of just some of the delights we have in store for you
Plum & Ashby
We are thrilled to once again be working with Vicky and Freya, the team behind Plum & Ashby. Together with their team (including four legged friend Bertie) they work to produce a range of elegant, high quality, carefully considered products that always lift a space. Their extensive range, from washes, lotions and bath salts to hand poured candles, is made in the South of England. And we’re certainly not alone in our admiration for this brand, their fan base includes interior publications, online blogs and they were shortlisted for the Best British Design at the prestigious Elle Decoration Awards and at our last Occasional Home Store they completely sold out of their candles. This time round they will be introducing some gorgeous new scents in their range as well as stocking their highly sought after Christmas advent candle.
Igigi General Store
Do you have a favourite interiors shop that your heart skips a beat when you think about visiting it? For me that shop is Igigi although sadly for me (but perhaps fortunately for my bank balance) it is situated 150 miles away from me in Brighton. I am, therefore, incredibly excited to announce that Igigi General Store will be partnering with us on our Christmas event and bringing their distinctive brand of modern rustic homeware to the Occasional Home Store including unveiling their brand new range of Igigi designed furniture and lighting.
Owners Alex and Zoe describe Igigi as an ever evolving hub of creativity where they blend a handpicked selection of contemporary homeware with one of a kind vintage finds. From wooden bowls, baskets and spoons from Morocco to beautifully scented Turkish soaps and handwoven Kilim cushions to Balinese water pots and garments handmade from vintage fabrics.
One of our favourite things about organising the Occasional Home Store is bringing a little bit of brocante to the city by hand picking sellers that help to conjure up a marketplace in the South of France in Manor House. We love seeing how our sellers curate their beautiful finds to create instagrammable scenes in every corner. We have some of our favourites returning from last time round including beetle & WILDE, Hellish Designs (aka my mother-in-law), The King and I, Enamelama, Vintage Curator Interiors, My Nook Shop, Fabulous Vintage Finds, Grow & Gather,All the Fun of the Fair and Early Bird Vintage. But we also have some knockout newcomers: Beulah’s Attic, The Shed at Tenby and Little Wren
I describe myself in my instagram profile as Sarah Lund meets Lovejoy. This is on account of my love of mixing vintage finds with Scandinavian inspired homeware rather than because I have a thick black mullet, penchant for icelandic knitwear and encyclopaedic knowledge of Chippendale furniture. Bringing the Lund to the table at the Spring Occasional Home Store is a stellar line up of independent stores and online businesses including Home of Boho, Nabo Shop, Meylor Stationery, Peastyle, Lisa Valentine Home, Tinker Tailor, Fich Ceramics, Chalk Homeware and Ondine Ash. There is simply not space here to talk about all the amazingness that these brands are going to be bringing to the Occasional Home Store so make sure you are following @occasionalhome where we will be profiling them each individually.
Our festive Occasional Home Store will be the perfect place to get started on your Christmas shopping. In addition to amazing homeware, we have also picked a selection of broader lifestyle stalls for you to shop from in case your beloved is not a fan of cushions and scented candles. So make sure to visit the stands of Woven the Agency, Buddug, Gil Fox Hats, Meylor, Malako Skincare and Your London Florist to fill your stockings with beautiful clothes and accessories, handcrafted jewellery, one of a kind hats and head pieces, stationery, skincare, plants and succculents (Your London Florist will also have gorgeous fresh flowers to take away on the day rather than to save for Santa). And if all that shopping makes you hungry make a beeline for Norah’s Brownies who will be serving up delicious brownies and bronuts and book in for an express manicure with Minicures London to get your nails ready for the Christmas party season for just £10.
Workshops & Talks
The Occasional Home Store is not just a place to shop. We also have a fantastic programme of workshops and talks to inspire you to renovate, decorate and instagram your homes as well as hands on festive craft activities. Set out below are some of the highlights of our two day programme with more details to follow shortly.
Hygge for all Seasons
After our hugely popular Hygge for all Seasons workshops in Cardiff and London last year, I am excited to be joining forces once more with @Hygge_for_Home in association with Join, to bring you another seasonal styling workshop designed to inspire you to create a relaxed rustic home and instagram feed this Christmas.
Join us as we will be share ideas and inspiration for how to style your home the modern rustic way this festive season and then, over coffee and Fika, we will provide you with our five best instagram tips. There will be a live table styling demonstration (what could possibly go wrong), the return of our famous gifting Christmas tree (with some lovely hygge themed prizes) as well as an opportunity to ask us absolutely anything you like about instagram. From filters to followers fire away.
The workshop will run from 10:30am to 12:30pm on Saturday the 17th of November. Tickets will be £40 and include a drink, a Scandi inspired Bronut from Norah's Brownies and a luxury botanical candle from Join London. To book your place click here
We’re delighted to welcome fellow North Londoner Alex Stedman, aka The Frugality, to the Christmas Occasional Home Store! In conversation with Malmo & Moss (me aka the lightweight Jeremy Paxman of the interiors world) Alex will share the inspiration behind her hugely popular fashion-focused blog and instagram account.
Offering practical tips for those keen to follow in her footsteps, Alex will retrace the process of setting up and growing her successful blog, reflect on how her content has evolved with time and discuss how instagram has changed the blogging landscape. And, as anyone following her accounts will know, despite juggling motherhood, social media and her career as a freelance fashion editor Alex has spent the last 3 years (and all her money) renovating her Victorian terraced house in North London. As a result renovation dos and don'ts and the secrets of her interior style will also feature in our talk. Finally we will open to floor to questions – so come along and quiz the Frugality yourself.
The talk will run from 11am - 12pm on Sunday the 18th of November. Tickets are £20 and include a Norah’s Brownie. To book your place click here.
We have even more great talks up our sleeve for you as well, including top tips on how to tackle a successful home renovation or revamp from Rebecca Wakefield, interior designer and owner of Studio Fortum based on her hugely popular blog, Six Things. If you have always dreamed of owning your own business or are a small brand starting out then make sure to come along to our panel discussion with Vicky from Plum & Ashby and Emily from Aerende Store when they will be sharing the story behind building their brands, the lessons they have learnt along the way and five top tips for running a successful business (without having to approach Alan Sugar).
In addition to our programme of talks, we also have a series of hands on practical workshops planned where you can learn to make a festive scented candle with Join London, learn the basics of modern calligraphy and create your own Christmas card with Cherry Rebecca, make unique Furoshiki fabric wrapping paper with upcycling Queen Shed Homeware as well as making festive hoops and learning how to make vintage inspired Christmas decorations using paper craft with the Occasional Home Store team. More details on all of these workshops to follow soon
How to book you ticket to the Occasional Home Store
So if all that has wet your appetite and you would like to come and join us for the Christmas Occasional Home Store here is everything you need to know about visiting.
The Venue: The West Reservoir Centre, Green Lanes, N4 2HA
Getting there: The nearest tube/rail is Manor House on the Piccadilly Line (10 mins walk away) and Finsbury Park on the Piccadilly and Victoria lines and overground (15 minutes walk or 5 minutes on the 106 bus). Bus routes stopping close by include the 341/141/106.
Opening hours and tickets: We will be open 10am - 4pm on Saturday the 17th and Sunday the 18th of November. Single day tickets for either the 17th or 18th will be £5 each. A weekend ticket covering both days is £8. Although some tickets will also be on sale on the day, these will be on a first come first served basis and only those with a pre-purchased ticket will be guaranteed entrance so we would strongly advise booking in advance. CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKET
*Please note that all tickets are non-refundable and tickets to the workshops do not include entrance to the Occasional Home Store which will need to be purchased separately *
Thanks to @tiatalula for the beautiful pictures used throughout this blog. We are thrilled Tia will be coming back to capture our Winter event
*This blog post is a paid advertorial with Corian Design*
When we extended and renovated our kitchen back in 2012 I had just given birth to our second son and was about to embark upon a career change that would involve forfeiting two thirds of my previous salary (remind me why I thought that was a good idea again?!). That meant we were working to quite a strict budget and so there were certain items on my wish list that I had to compromise on. Worktops were one such item.
I had my heart set on marble, concrete, or Corian surfaces but it was a case of champagne taste and lemonade budget. In the end, we ended up going for wood. Five years later, I still regret that decision. It is not that I don’t like the wood it is just that I don’t love it and I have been slowly working on persuading Mr. Malmo that it would be a good idea to upgrade the worktops ever since.
So when Corian® Design asked me to try their new Moodboard Maker tool I jumped at the chance! I am one of those people who is literally unable to visualise anything using only my imagination so the Moodboard Maker is the perfect tool for me.
Who is Corian® Design?
Corian® Design is a designer and manufacturer of high quality Solid Surfaces which are made using a blend of minerals and acrylic and can be shaped into literally any design or size you want. There are over 100 different colours and patterns available to choose from so whatever your interior style there will be an option that will work for your space.
The Corian Moodboard Maker
If you are ever having a bad week at work or the kids are winding you up, forget yoga, pilates or meditation and get mood boarding! It may be less likely to tone your abs, improve your core or flexibility, but I think it is one of the most relaxing and therapeutic things you can do as it allows you to escape from reality for a little bit and get in touch with your creative side. The mood boarding I have done in the past when planning out room schemes has been of the analogue variety in the sense that it involved pritt stick, scissors and lots of ripped out pages from magazines. I was really keen to try the much less messy digital version.
I am not naturally good with technology. Actually, I am naturally terrible with technology. I have an innate ability to crash an app at 50 paces and I think the IT guy at work has now started fielding my calls to avoid the almost daily questions I have about how to use Microsoft Excel. Therefore, when I say if I can use the Corian Moodboard Maker tool, then anyone can. I really mean it! It is super simple and straightforward. The end goal is to create a visual mosaic with several pieces that represent different surfaces, textures and materials to create a design story for your space.
The first step in the process is to choose a style that you think best represents you. The options include Organic, Minimal, Relaxed, Modern, Refined, Bohemian or Edgy. The different styles come with a different range of inspiration pictures to choose from. But, you can also upload your own images to the tool quite easily to give you extra choices and personalization. I played around with Organic and Bohemian styles but in the end decided on Minimal as I felt it best captured my Scandi-inspired look.
You then have a blank Moasaic shape with several different segments to fill. The first step is to pick a Corian® Design swatch that you want to showcase and then you can build the rest of the mosaic around it. You can select more than one Corian® Design Solid Surface swatch if you are struggling to narrow down your options or want to play around with the look and feel. I chose Corian® Solid Surface in Silver Gray and Arrowroot because I am most drawn to these two and am struggling to make a decision.
You then fill up the rest of the segments either using the bank of pre-existing images available in the tool or by uploading your own images which could be anything that inspires you, it doesn’t have to be strictly interiors related. So if you have of a beautiful sunset from your holiday that you really like the colours/feel of then add it into the mix.
I used a combination of images from my own home (both room shots and close ups on textures such as the front of one of my cupboards) and then also drew upon some of the existing Corian images as they blended really nicely with my own pictures.
You can easily drag and drop images in and switch them around if you don’t think you have the right combination. Et voila one finished moodboard which you can download to your phone or computer, share on your social media platforms, pin to your Pinterest board for your project or even order a framed print of! Here’s my final moodboard:
This blog post is sponsored by Out & Out Original who kindly provided me with the sofa set pictured
We started our kitchen renovation in 2012 shortly after the birth of our second child. At times it felt like he would be leaving for University before it was finished on account of the fact that our builder was also doing work for Chris Martin at the time and would frequently disappear at short notice with no explanation. I presume this was because Gwyneth was changing her mind about consciously uncoupling her kitchen fittings or deciding she didn’t have enough space in her ensuite for her vaginal steaming regime but who knows. By the time the project had finished we had run out of motivation and money to tackle the jungle that was the garden so for a couple of years it looked like this
It was home to a trampoline roughly the same size as Jupiter as well as a host of plastic ride on toys all missing a crucial part which meant it looked like we were setting up some sort of Tiny Trike Scrapyard. It was about as relaxing as bedding down for the night in the rainforest surrounded by poisonous tree frogs and Sting singing A Capella in your ear. However last year we finally summoned up the courage and cash to tackle getting it landscaped. We bid farewell to the #TitanofTrampolines and said hello to a nice new lawn, some contemporary raised beds and a lovely sandstone patio area. Through trial, error and frequent trips to the garden centre (it is perennial plants not platform shoes on which I spunk all my cash these days) we even managed to create what I think Alan Titchmarsh would refer to as a successful planting scheme. All of this conspired to mean that the garden is now somewhere we actually want to spend time.
With England finally enjoying temperatures in common with Spain rather than Siberia, I was, therefore, on the lookout for some garden furniture to help me create a stylish seating area. It won’t suppose you to hear that I was on the lookout for something with Scandi good looks. Think white washed wood and pleasingly neutral coloured cushions rather than plastic your bum sticks to and patterns inspired by your nan’s curtains. When I spotted this gorgeous Miami sofa and table from Out & Out Original it was a case of love at first sight
Out & Out Original are a UK-based online furniture store that supply beautiful, functional and importantly ethically sourced designs from across the world. The company was founded in 2013 by my fellow northerner Daniel Fairburn who comes with impeccable Scandi credentials having worked as a furniture designer for a Danish company for over 8 years as well as for homeware heavyweights such as Ikea and Habitat. He has curated a really beautiful collection of minimal, contemporary Nordic inspired pieces for the home and garden all of which are at the affordable end of the homeware spectrum.
The Miami set for example, is £800 which includes a detachable three seater and two seater sofa which you can link together as a corner sofa or use separately. The set also includes lovely low coffee table. Equivalent sets that I was looking at from other companies were easily three times more expensive. The quality of the fabric and materials is also great and it is super easy to construct (although admittedly I was spectator rather than master builder but it certainly didn’t cause any #constructioncussing from Mr Malmo). It also comes with waterproof covers just in case you don’t have a shed big enough to accommodate a sizeable sofa (ours struggles to home a #modestmower).
Since it's arrival we have been doing lots more entertaining in the garden, having family and friends over for lunches and early evening drinks as well as just sitting out here to have coffee whilst being called upon to referee Italy vs France in the World Cup Final (as reimagined by an 8 and 5yr old in a suburban garden and sadly not featuring Thierry Henry).
Cauliflower Caesar Salad, my favourite Summer lunch
I have heard rumours that the sun is coming back and is going to hang around until October so if you would like give your garden a Scandi inspired makeover then enter the code Moss25 at the checkout for a huge 25% off ALL garden furniture (including my Miami sofa) from Out & Out Original from now until the 22nd of September
If you have enjoyed reading this blog I would be super grateful if you would spare 1 minute to vote for me in the upcoming Amara Interior Blog Awards. I have been nominated in the Best Use of Photography category click here to vote
Tell people you are going on holiday to the Maldives and you will be greeted with reactions such as "wow that sounds amazing" or "you lucky thing I am so jealous" or "you are going to have such a fabulous time". Tell them you are going to spend a week taking in the beaches of the North Sea in Holland and you are more likely to encounter perplexed looks (think Joey from Friend's smell the fart acting face) and querying comments such as "Holland? That is an unusual choice" or "What made you decide to go there?" Chances are nobody will say "Ohh Holland, you are going to love the stunning coastline, oodles of beach clubs with amazing boho interiors and tiny hamlets over looking the water with cobbled streets and clapboard houses." Well, unless you tell Kinship Creative, my Scandi Sister from another mother that is.
It was on her instagram feed a year or so ago I first spotted an amazing looking beach bar with bleached rattan furniture and rustic textures galore that I mistook for a hotspot in Ibiza but which turned out to be on the Dutch coast just 30 mins away from Amsterdam, a city we had a one night stand with (not in) last February. One night was enough to make me think I would very much like to go steady with the Dutch capital city. Dotted as it is with beautiful buildings, amazing cafes, cool lifestyle and homeware stores and great museums and parks to keep kids entertained.
So just after Christmas I started doing my Air BnB research. It quickly became apparent that to stay in central Amsterdam itself in the Summer holidays in something that was not a shoebox or a youth hostel (although to be fair some of those looked quite nice) would potentially cost more than the UK's Brexit bill. I was about to give up when I widened out my search area a little bit and spotted a clapboard house located on a dyke (an inland sea) about 15 mins drive outside of Amsterdam which fitted the bill perfectly.
Sometimes in life things which look great in a photo or on the TV turn out to be disappointing in real life. Like Dermot O'Leary for example who I used to be rather partial to until I spotted him in Euston WH Smith and realised he is about the size of a small Irish Leprechaun in the flesh. Happily when we arrived out our home in the Holland for the week it turned out we had the luck of the Irish on our side. Click here for the Air BnB link but the pictures really can't convey what an amazingly idyllic setting it is in. Durgerdam is a tiny Hamlet of impossibly appealing houses looking out to sea. Our view to the front of the house was of boats bobbing in the harbour and sailing in the sea beyond and from the back there were meadows with sheeps and cows grazing with a stream running out throught the field.
The house is arranged over 3 levels and is a perfect base for a family break. The owners also have three sons of very similar ages to ours so there were a wealth of toys and activities to keep the trio of todgers entertained including a pool table, a mini astroturf pitch a full scale basketball net and a sandpit all in a safely enclosed garden. This meant that I actually managed to spend ten minutes lying in the huge hammock on the veranda which wraps around the house without anyone under the age of 8 appearing to tell me they were bored, had accidentally flushed their lego down the loo/wanted to use my phone to play a game that involves a sausage on legs running an assault course that would consume my annual data allowance.
There are 4 bedrooms, two double, two single kids room and two bathroom all decorated in a crisp clean Scandi inspired style with some gorgeous rustic features like the pine cladding wall in the main bedroom and concrete sinks in both of the bathrooms. It is a style I am going to call Netherlands Nordic.
The real jewel in the crown though is the kitchen which leads out on to the wrap around veranda I mentioned. This is where we spent most of our time with breakfasts around the huge oval table which had a really cool built in plywood benches to sit on with lots of storage incorporated. Dinners were taken out on the deck watching the sun go down over the fields. The kitchen leads through to a living space and kids play corner and I loved the crittal style windows that linked the two spaces and the timber ceilings in the kitchen which added a touch of cabin chic to proceedings.
10 minutes up the road from the house is a Landmarkt supermarket for all of your grocery requirements. I think it might be the Dutch equivalent of Whole Foods judging by the amazing range of mouthwatering fresh produce and slightly eye watering prices. It is definetely not the cheapest place to stock up on nappies and bin bags but all of the food on offer was delicious. There is also a lovely little restaurant in Durgerdam with tables right on the water and seems to be the place that Amsterdammers like to come and moor their boats and grab a bite to eat and glass of wine of a weekend so make sure to book in advance.
The weather when we were there was amazing so we were happy to have the option of cooling down by going or a swim in the sea from the pontoons leading out to sea or to let the kids paddle in the shallow waters from a little beach just 5 mins walk from the front door of the house.
If you can tear yourself away from this little corner of paradise then Amsterdam is just on your doorstep and you are within an easy drive of the beaches to the North. I have rounded up below a few of my favourite places that we visited but it is a far from comprehensive guide to all of the delights that Amsterdam and the coast have to offer (and definitely doesn't include delights including ping pong balls I am afraid). I hope to go back many times to this gorgeous area to build up the Malmo & Moss guide gradually!
Having kids is a wonderful life enriching experience but it does mean sacrificing some of the things you previously took for granted. Like the ability to cough without also doing a little wee or any hope of going to the toilet without someone bursting in within two minute of your cheeks hitting the seat. Mooching whilst on a city break is another one to add to the list. By which I mean idly wondering pretty streets with no clear aim other than pottering in and out of little boutiques and stopping in whichever bijou winebar, cute cafe or rustic restaurant takes your fancy. If, like me, you are exploring Amsterdam whilst also keeping an eye on 3 boys, 3 footballs and with a buggy more heavily loaded than an Eddie Stobbart lorry then head to the Westerpark neighbourhood and explore the Westergasfabriek, the site of a former gas works which has been redeveloped into a beautiful park and cultural complex with indie shops, elecetic eateries, an arthouse cinema and brewery all housed in gorgeous old buildings. We ate at Westergas Terrass which had statement boho lighting, industrial textures and vintage features and tables opening onto a huge public space in which the boys could run around and play whilst we waited for the food to arrive.
On the other side of town, the Vondelpark runs through the centre of the City with miles of cycle paths, open space and playgrounds for kids to explore. Just aroound the corner from the park is Dignita which sounds like it might specalise in Euthansia but which is actually a kid friendly cafe that serves a mean brunch, They have a play area to enterain the kids and a licensed bar should you fancy a bloody mary with your eggs benedict.
If you are in Amsterdam unencumbered by junior chaperones then the 9 Streets is the area to head to for mooching. There are a myriad of gorgeous lifestyle stores and cafes to while away the day in. By allowing the boys to plunder my annual data allowance watching Thomas the Tank Engine/Angry Birds/Fifa rerun videos on my phone we managed to squeeze in an instagrammable brunch at Pluk, a cafe within a lovely lifestyle store with plenty to tempt you in the way of food and homewares.
Zandvoort & Noordwijk
The nearest beach to Amsterdam is in Zandvoort about 30 mins drive away and then slightly further up the coast is Noordwijk. The towns themselves are nothing to write home about (there is a slight air of Soviet by sea about the drab concrete buildings that line the seafronts) but when you get down onto the beach all thoughts of Gorbachov will be forgotten. The beaches are miles long, wide open and, compared to Majorca or the South of France, relatively deserted. The sea is perfect for swimming in and surprisingly warm and there are shallow inland channels perfect for kids to paddle in without any fear of being swept out to the North Sea.
The real stars of the show are, however, the beach clubs which, with their relaxed rustic boho vibes will have you thinking you are in Ibiza not the Netherlands. Think bleached wood, rattan lampshades and lashings of botanicals mixed in. Our three favourites (all under the same ownership) were Hippie Fish on Zandvoort beach and Tulum and Branding Beach Club in Noordwijk. The atmosphere was super relaxed and friendly with great brasserie type food with an asian fusion twist being served up. The prices were not the cheapest but definitely not as eye watering as St Tropez. When the sun goes down bonfires are lit and festoon lights turned on to add to the magic
One of the main attractions of our house when we bought it was that it had 4 double bedrooms with the loft already having been converted to create a large master bedroom with ensuite. However whilst that meant we had all the space upstairs we needed, the finish of the loft conversion was about as inspiring as the interior of a portakabin. It had clunky white pvc doors with a metal rail across the outside that lent the room a feel that was one part dentist surgery to two parts lunatic asylum. The previous owners had installed laminate wooden floors in a shade I would describe as satsuma and the ensuite was En Vogue around the same time the girl band of the same name topped the charts. I will leave the story of the bathroom renovation until another day when I have finished the course of therapy I had to embark upon following my dealings with Brian, the right wing misogynist tiler with strong views about my abilities as a housewife and the Enfield cycle lane scheme. For now let's stick with the bedroom. We carried out an initial round of cosmetic changes including painting the floors and walls and wallpapering a corner to use as a dressing table space
After a couple of years we saved up enough to get rid of the #lunaticasylumdentistdoors and replaced them with a big picture window instead which gives us an amazing view out over the garden and makes the loft extension blend (or speak as Kevin McCloud might say) much better with the contemporary style of our kitchen extension.
I also went for a darker paint shade on the walls (Dark Lead from Little Greene) and added a gallery wall to create more of a focal point. The room started to feel a little bit less portakabin but I wanted to make more a feature of the wall behind the bed so I wallpapered it with some faux wood effect wallpaper from Andrew Martin. Whilst it definitely made the room more interesting and looked pretty convincing in photographs I couldn't ignore the nagging feeling that my dad (who I usually don't defer to on decorating decisions on account of his love of #clutteredgothicchic) might be right when he said it looked a bit naff up close.
I also couldn't get this picture from my pinterest out of my head which featured a bed against a wall of reclaimed wood. I loved the texture and warmth it created. However I was pretty sure that my DIY skills didn't extend to cladding an entire wall in wood on the basis that they are yet to encompass changing a light bulb so I got my next door neighbour who is a carpenter to give me a hand. Note to self if you ask your neighbour to nail a ton of old scaffold planks to your bedroom wall he will regard you in much the same as way as if you are asking him to nail Sanitary Pads to the wall. However it was worth enduring #AlwaysUltraWallFace because I absolutely loved the finished result. If you are London based and looking to recreate the look then Forest Recycling Project based in Walthamstow is a great place to source your reclaimed wood. They have a huge stock of scaffold boards all for a reasonable price compared to some I have seen being sold on ebay for the same price as a small convertible car.
The final big change I have made is to upgrade our mattress and bed which, after 10 years and the arrival of three kids had seen a lot of action (although latterly probably less of the kind Mr Malmo would prefer!). The fabric on our old bed had started to fray and the mattress was getting saggier than my spaniel's ears. I had always wanted a button back head board but they can stray into foootballers wives territory (and alas I am not Victoria Beckham). I wanted to find one which was less Rooney and more rustic.
I therefore jumped for joy when I spotted this picture of a Button & Sprung bed in a magazine featuring not only the bed of my dreams and with a wooden wall behind it to boot! Button & Sprung are a predominantly online bed & mattress retailer (although they have a showroom in London) and all of their beds come a right to a free return within 100 days. However there is no chance I will be sending my bed back. The fabric and frame are both brilliant quality and it fits perfectly with my rustic/scandi style. It is the Foxtail in Nickel soft wool but there are a range of other great fabrics to choose from including some lovely linens and velvets in both neutral and brighter colours.
When it came to the mattress I was lucky enough to be approached by Emma Mattress and asked to try out one of their memory foam matresses. I was, I confess, initially quite skeptical when it arrived in a box that looked liked it contained a hole punch rather than a kingsize mattress but after a couple hours out of the box it was ready to roll. If you like your mattresses firm without it feeling like you are sleeping on a concrete slab then this is the baby for you. It genuinely delivers an insanely good night's sleep and having err fully road tested it so to speak, I can confirm it also copes well with activity of a slightly more vigorous nature than sleeping. If you would like to see for yourself (the mattress rather than us road testing it) then you can get £100 off any original or second generation Emma Mattress with the code Malmo100.
With the new bed and mattress in place our duvet and pillows, which had seen Mr Malmo through his student days at Manchester and somehow joined us in marital life, were seriously letting the side down. The duvet was about the same consistency as cold rice pudding and the pillows could easily have been used as sandbags should the Environment Agency require extra flood reinforcement this Winter. Their replacements are from the Secret Linen Store and it now feels like we are sleeping in Angel Delight (in the sense that the duvet and pillows feel gorgeous, light and fluffy rather us emerging covered in pink mousse of a morning). We went for a goose down all season duvet which means it has an extra layer of fluffiness you can clip on when our weather front once more steps back in line with Siberia rather than Spain. Secret Linen Store were also kind enough to gift me some of their bedding to try out.
I went for the pebble linen bedding and dove grey striped undersheet. The linen is just the right kind of no need to iron but still looks amazing slubby and I can really tell the difference in quality compared to budget linen sets I have bought in the past. I am also a sucker for beautiful packaging so I loved how all of the bedding arrived parcelled up.
There are still a few tweaks I am thinking of making to finish the renovation of this room off, including most importantly acquiring either curtains or a blind for that big picture window as am fairly sure my neighbour doesn't want to see #MalmosMuff when he is taking his bins out. But for now I am pretty happy with how it has all come together.
Many thanks to Button & Sprung, Emma Mattress and Secret Linen Store for partnering with me on this project and helping me to transform it from #SuburbanPortaKabinPants to the relaxed rustic bedroom of my dreams.
Oh goodie our plane is delayed by two and half hours said no parent travelling with 3 young children ever. With all electronic devices capable of playing C-Beebies having been drained of their batteries before we even left the tarmac at Gatwick, by the time we arrived in Malmö at 1am in the morning I would, quite frankly, have happily slept in the stockroom of the local Ikea. I think the passenger in seat 11E who was hit in the face by a polystyrene recreation of Mr Tumble during an in flight toddler meltdown would have happily seen us locked in said stockroom. Luckily, however, we did not end up bedded down amongst the Billy Bookcases and below is my round up of the best places to stay in Malmö whether you are travelling Hans Solo, in a couple, with friends or as a family.
The Story Hotel
The first hotel we were booked into the was the Story Hotel. Centrally located on the waterfront, it is a great place to stay if you are after somewhere that has Scandi interiors with an industrial edge. Rooms come with great views over Malmö although you may find yourself just lying in bed staring at the amazing concrete ceilings instead. If that sounds a little bit multi-storey car park then let me assure you there is not a whiff of the NCP about the decor as industrial features are balanced by warm tones and textures such as velvet chairs in deep burnt orange, warm copper lighting and thick natural linen curtains.
The hotel is also home to the only rooftop restaurant and bar in Malmö which has amazing views across the city and then out across the water to Copenhagen. Being in the company of three kids under 8 we naturally had about as much chance of sipping a quiet cocktail at sunset as I have of slipping into size 6 skinny jeans and going out on a date with Ryan Gosling but we did get to enjoy the views of Malmö over our museli in the morning instead.
Downstairs off the lobby looking out over the harbour is the restaurant Lokale 17. It mirrors the industrial interiors of the hotel and had a really great atmosphere, with a cosy seating area and a buzzy bar. Whilst the Story Hotel may not be predominantly marketed at families we did still find it worked really well as we had interconnecting rooms (the wholly grail for a family of five) . It had a really relaxed friendly atmosphere and there were lots of lovely touches like a teddy left in the cot for our youngest and chocolates in the room for the eldest two (even there beige palettes were slightly affronted by the liquorice flavour choice). It's location is also perfect for exploring Malmö.
If I was travelling with just Mr Malmo or some girlfriends and therefore had more than a 1 in 1.6million chance of a lie in, then the other hotel that caught my eye is the Hotel Duxiana. The rooms all look beautifully designed with less of an industrial edge and more of a classic Scandinavian simplicity about them and because the hotel is owned by the luxury bed manufacturer Duxiana, you are pretty much guaranteed an amazing nights sleep!
If you have less Kroner clunking around in your pocket then the Clarion Hotel & Congress which is literally right next to the Malmo Saluhall (so maybe pack extra elasticated pants if you stay here) also looks a good option. I did not visit it personally but I like the industrial styling in the restaurant and bar area from the website
The OhBoy Hotel
For the second half of our stay in Malmö we moved to the OhBoy Hotel which has 31 loft type rooms split over two levels and equipped with kitchenettes meaning you can easily self cater if you are facing a #ryebreadrebellion from your kids. The interiors are light and bright using natural textures such a wood and brushed concrete and all the rooms feature locally designed and produced furniture from southern Swedish creatives. There is a strong emphasis on sustainability with every room being provided with a bike free of charge meaning you can easily navigate Malmö without needing a car.
The hotel is located in the Västra Hamnen area of the city which is a former industrial area by the water which has been completely redeveloped and is now one of Malmös most exclusive neighbourhoods . It is the perfect place to stay if you are travelling with kids as there are some lovely cafes, brilliant playgrounds, a beach and gorgeous long wooden walkways stretching along besides the sea which are perfect for scooting and cycling down. Oh and if your kids are of the teenage variety they will love the shiny new skate park that is just opposite the hotel.
Air BnB Options
The Ohboy is a good compromise between a hotel and self catering accomodation but if you would prefer a little bit more space then there are also some great Air BnB options in Malmö. Two to save to your wishlist include this 1 bed close to the city centre with great Scandi/Industrial interiors or, a little further out, this 3 bed villa with rugged Swedish good looks would make a great base for a family.
We used the small town of Ängelholm as our base for exploring Skåne County which is about 1.5hrs away from Malmo. It is quite a quiet small town and we stayed in the Hus 57 whilst we were there which is part of the Best Western group. But this was no functional business hotel it has been designed with an instagram generation in mind as the decor is an super cool mix of industrial textures, luxe fabrics and quirky design touches all for a super affordable room rate. I particularly loved the velvet sofas in the lounge areas and the restaurant design.
We stayed in interconnecting rooms on the top floor (the ultimate family of five travel goal!) which opened on to a securely enclosed roof terrace. The hotel works great if you are travelling with kids as the rooms are really spacious and in the basement there is a huge games room with table tennis, table football and lots of board games. It was hard to lure the mini malmos away from it to explore the stunning coastline! There is also a small spa, pool and jacuzzi to enjoy.
If you want to stay somewhere a little more lively and closer to the sea (and have a bit of extra budget!) then without a doubt I would say book the Hotel Skansen in Båstad. It overlooks the most stunning golden sandy beach and had a gorgeous restaurant with floor to ceiling windows that let you lap up that view as the sun goes down. It was home to the Swedish football team when we popped in for a drink meaning I got to sip a glass of wine whilst taking in an even more pleasant view.
Air BnB Options
There are a pleotora of lovely Air BnBs you could make your base for exploring Skåne County. A few of the my favourites include this gorgeous modern bungalow with a pool in smart seaside town Bastad or this simple, contemporary timber house in the countryside need Torekov
*Thank you to Visit Sweden for hosting us whilst we were in Malmo and Skåne County and covering the cost of our accomodation*
When I was pregnant with my first child, one of my friends (who is admittedly a pessimist) told me that there is no such thing as a holiday once you have had kids. By which I think she meant I could kiss goodbye to the days of lounging around an infinity pool with nothing more pressing to worry about than where my next margarita was coming from and whether I had brought enough books with me to last the fortnight (#kindleluddite).
It is certainly true that the arrival of the trio of todgers has cut down the amount of time I spend horizontal on a sun lounger (it is hard to lounge when you are worrying about a toddler falling/pooing in the pool) and ensured that I am now more likely to go home having read the New Adventures of Spot rather than anything off the Booker Shortlist. However, I am a firm believer that you can still have a relaxing time on holiday with kids without handing over 3 months salary to Centre Parcs. If you are looking for a destination where you can lap up great design, interiors and impossibly beautiful blonde men named Lars whilst the kids experience premium playgrounds, sandy beaches and acres of open space then look no further than Malmö and Skåne County. Here are five reasons why it is the perfect place to holiday with kids and my top tips for things to do with them whilst you are there (none of which cost the earth).
It is fair to say that with 3 kids under 7 approximately 33% of my time is spent either in search of or in playgrounds. So I know my swings from my roundabouts when it comes to what makes a good one. Malmö has hands down some of the best I have ever experienced. There was not a dog poo, broken swing or treacherous slide in sight (I am looking at you Oakwood Park). In fact they are so good that you will need all your best parental negotiating skills to get the kids to leave them without the kind of reaction Donald Trump would have if he was served a quinoa burger.
Our favourites were one off Lillas Varvgatan near where we were staying at the OhBoy Hotel, the Slottsträdgårdens and Folkets Park but rumour has it Pildams Park is also well work a visit (we didn’t make it there on account of my 5 year old’s leg batteries running out that day). The Swedes are also great at combining their stellar playgrounds with instagrammable cafes. My favourite has to be the Slottsträdgårdens Kafè (@Slottsträdgårdens Kafè.) where we headed for for a cup of tea and some fika after a sphincter clenching hour of letting the boys climb the trees in the neighbouring park. I am not sure my Swedish vocabularly extends to "please could you call the fire service, my son appears to have climbed a tree the size of the Eiffel Tour and got stuck". You can recover your calm siting outside under the shade of rippling trees or duck inside the greenhouse strung with bunting and dotted with candles
I love almost everything about Scandinavia but if you are travelling with companions who turn their noses up at anything non beige/vaguely textured/potentially containing vitamins it’s cuisine can, at times, be a little bit of a challenge. FYI if you ever want your kids to tidy their bedroom just plop a herring rollmop down in front of them and tell them it is that or putting their lego away. However, take them to either Malmö Saluhall or Höganäs Saluhall and you can guarantee you will have no ryebread revolution on your hands.
There are a host of different stalls catering for all palettes and both are located in gorgeous old industrial buildings meaning you can lap up the bare bricks and rustic textures whilst they are tucking into ice cream from Favvo Glas, Pasta from Papi or cinnamon buns from St Jakob Stenugnsbageri.
If, like my kids, sitting down for longer than 10 minutes at time, you can grab the makings of a gorgeous picnic and head around the corner to Slottsträdgårdens where there is acres of green space and trees to climb to burn off some post lunch energy. If you have kids old enough to understand the concept that if you throw yourself out of a boat you will get wet and force your mum to make like a podgy Pamela Anderson to rescue you from the water, then you can also hire a boat to gently explore.
Malmö itself has a small sandy beach which looks out over the water to Copenhagen but hop in the car and within an hour you can be exploring impossibly pretty cobbled fishing villages with miles of unspoilt coastline to enjoy. Our favourite spots were Mölle, Torekov and Båstad. We spent a very happy morning exploring the dunes and rocks of Torekov where old ladies whizzed passed in dressing gowns on their bikes on the way for their daily swim. In the Summer you can catch a ferry across to Hallands Väderö an uninhabited nature reserve (thanks to @myscandinavianhome for the tip). If you are in Mölle head for Mölle Krukmakeri. You will initially think I am crazy telling you to take kids to a pottery but swerve the pots and head to the quirky café where they will be too distracted by quirky things like a giant stuffed tiger dressed as an airline pilot to cause any ceramic calmamities.
Our favourite beach of all was in the upscale resort of Båstad where the Swedish Tennis Open is held everyyear. There is a long flat golden sandy beach, shallow waters perfect for splashing around in and pontoons leading out to sea off which older/more proficient swimmers will love jumping off. In the Summer months there is cool beach club at the top of the beach and if you can hose them down and wrestle them back into their clothes then the swish Hotel Skansen is actually remarkably child friendly with friendly waiters and kids activitiy packs on hand.
Going round museums with kids can be somewhat of a hit and miss experience. Find a good one and they will be channelling their inner David Attenboroughs or Mini Monets but visit a dud and you will find yourself setting a new Guinness World Record for the number of times one person can say sshhhhh, don't touch that, don't climb that in one hour. Luckily Malmo has some great ones. Our favourites were the Malmo Hus which is a castle in the middle of a moat inside which there is a mini interactive aquarium and ramparts to explore. The aquarium was a particular hit with my kids because it had lots of things they could touch and climb on without setting off any alarms. Even Mr Malmo couldn't resist sticking his head inside a giant diving helmet in the middle of a tank of eels.
For an experience that doesn't involve eels then head to the Konst Hall. It is in a beautiful old orangery building and had a giant sculpture exhibition inside when we visited. It looks on first glance like the kind of place that might not love an invasion of sticky fingered noisy kids but it actively welcomes them, running free crafting workshops in a room off the main exhibition space. There is also a gorgeous courtyard cafe where they can be as noisy as they like and another brilliant playground literally right outside. If art is your thing then the Moderna Museum is also not to be missed.
Strolls by the Sea
If you are staying in Malmö with kids then I would recommend basing yourself in the Västra Hamnen area of the City, a former shipyard which has been transformed into a sustainable area of contemporary housing with a harbour bobbing with boats. There are stretches of wooden walkways looking out towards the sea dotted with beautiful Scandinavians (young and old) who have come to enjoy the sunset and a swim in the sea off bleached wooden pontoons. There is plenty of room for kids to run/scoot of some steam and then Vespa is a great spot to grab a pizza and watch the sun go down/watch the sun go down whilst also watching the kids to make sure they aren't about to attempt to swim to Copenhagen. This area is also home to the famous turning torso building which fascinated our kids. Questions they asked that I couldn't answer, how do they clean the windows, why does it look like a twiglet and why can't we live there (well I could answer that one, it is something to do with not having a spare 500 million Kroner down the back of the sofa)
I have never known a tantrum that can’t be quelled by a cinnamon bun (well apart from the one Mr Malmo had when I gave away to Oxfam a jumper which he loved by which I thought made him look like he was on day release from a juvenile detention centre). If you need a little cinnamon related bribery up your sleeve then there are numerous spots around the city to pick up a bun to stifle a toddler rebellion. . Some of our favourites were from Söderberg & Sara in the St Knut area of the city and on the other side of town the cardamon infused buns from Bagaren & Bonden were out of this world.
Thank you to Visit Sweden UK for hosting us whilst we were in Malmö and Skåne County. Whilst our stay on this occasion was in partnership with Visit Sweden UK, we have visited and loved Malmö as a family and will definetely be returning in the future. If you have any questions at all about travelling there with kids please feel free to ask in the comments below.
I’ve never really been one for wearing prints. Or dresses. Or skirts, or that matter. Until this summer, when I’ve suddenly gone crazy for all three. It started with an apple green and red floral print maxi dress by Rixo which I picked up in the sales (after some very focussed and intense online stalking). Then a post-box red dress with tiny blue and yellow flowers by Ghost which I spotted on an Instagrammer. Then a leopard print silk skirt from Danish brand, Ganni. All special pieces which I love so much they have relegated my jeans to second place this season. The shops are practically bursting with a riot of dresses and skirts in ditsy florals, bold stripes and statement animal prints at the moment. Here’s my pick, with some items already in the sale.
My favourite brands for summer dresses are overseas ones – in particular, LA-based Faithfull the Brand, and online only brands Rouje and Realisation Par. The only problem with these is the blah blah tedious overseas charges they come with, although a limited range of Faithfull is stocked by ASOS and Net a Porter (you have to be quick off the mark though, it sells out quickly) and Realisation Par is opening a London pop up early July (big woop). Closer to home, this pale yellow button through dress from & Other Stories is a sunny gem, and this vibrant red dress from Zara will look killer with a tan. I am generally not a fan of waist cut outs in dresses as they can look a little meh, but the length of this floral Top Shop dress keeps it modest. If you’re going floral, I think it’s nice to toughen up your look a notch with a vintage look denim jacket.
I’ve never met a long, floral skirt I didn’t like, but then I was a teenager in the 90’s and grunge will always live on in my heart. This red maxi from Urban Outfitters takes me right back to my weekly pilgrimages to Camden Market circa 1991 to seek out falafel and red hair dye. It’ll look great paired with a loose t-shirt, tucked in, maybe one by an old school sportswear brand, such as Hilfiger, Fila or Champion (stocked by Urban Outfitters, or pick them up second hand on eBay). I like the candy coloured stripe and the front slits of this super flattering linen midi from Mango, into which I would tuck this simple linen camisole from Topshop. At the other end of the spectrum is this quite loud animal print skirt from Zara, which is similar to my Ganni one, which I wear with this cute (and very good quality) embroidered t-shirt by Meylor Goods (picked up at one of the Occasional Home Store fairs J!)
I think prints look best with simple footwear and this summer, I’ve been living in my Veja trainers. Veja is a Parisian “eco-friendly” trainer brand, which you can pick up at Arket and elsewhere in an array of styles and colours - I like their classic canvas sneaker the best. I’ve also thrown in a pair of neutral Gazelles as they are a timeless classic – I really like these in deep burgundy too. I’ve seen so many gorgeous leather flats on the High Street this season, particularly in Topshop. These from Dune look remarkably similar to a Hermes style which cost a gazillion pounds, and this pretty braided pair, again in leather, from Zara look a lot more spendy than £30 and also come in black. For when you are feeling truly pedi ready, there are these super simple strappy sandals from Free People.
Remarkably, in some shops, you can still buy a bag that is NOT made of straw or raffia. I’ve recently brought a larger, striped, jute macramé bag from Maison Bengal (a fair trade company, stocked by lots of fancy shops but I bought mine direct from their website and it arrived super quick). Their shaggy number might divide opinion (my husband thinks it looks like one of Chewbacca’s cousins), but they have plenty more amazing options on their website, all handmade in India. This red macramé tote from LF Markey is now in the sale, but a quick search on Etsy will unearth literally dozens of vintage versions in this style for around the same price or even less. And then there is the classic French string shopping bag – stocked by Grey September amongst others – just don’t pack anything in it which you don’t mind losing.
As regular Malmo & Moss blog readers will recall, when we moved into our house 7 years ago one of our first decorating steps was to paint the previously sanitary pad purple front room Farrow & Ball Wimborne White. However, the white combined with original sash windows that looked great but which were about as energy efficient as a pair of your granny's moth eaten pants, meant that we actually rarely used the room or at least not without our winter coats on. To up the hygge factor and reduce the freezer aisle at Tesco factor we laid a carpet, got shutters and went over to the dark side (on the walls) to create a cosier space that we actually wanted to spend time in without an electric blanket. With those changes complete it ceased to be #SittingRoomSiberia' but there was last change I had been hankering after making: installation of a woodburner.
We had inherited a gas fire when we moved in which, when lit, gave off about as much heat as a mouse's fart and when unlit had fake stones which our toddler was fond of stealing and then throwing around the living room cackling like a contestant at the Highland Games who has drunk too much Iru Bru.
However, just as I had started to throw myself into some serious woodburner research, a slew of headlines hit the Daily Mail which basically suggested that the sole cause of global warming was not cows, energy intensive industries or the rapid growth of the Chinese economy but too many middle class people installing woodburners. It turned out that the Daily Mail story was not actually 100% accurate. In fact it was not even 1% accurate and they had needlessly caused the kind of middle class panic that ensues when Waitress runs low on olive oil or pomegranate molasses. Sadiq Khan had expressed concern about particulate emissions from woodburners in a letter to Michael Gove but not from stoves manufactured in accordance with the latest Ecodesign standards which are designed to destroy a huge amounts of those nasty particulates meaning more of the warmth is emitted to your front room instead of vanishing up the chimney. So when you are choosing a stove just make sure it is one which complies with the Stove Industry Alliance's "Ecodesign Ready" label and you are all good. If you want to read more about it all our installers Stoake Ltd have produced a really handy Q&A.
Having reassured myself that my woodburner would not be plunging the Capital back to the Great Smog of 1952, I got to work on the fun stuff, choosing the tiles and stove of my dreams. My main dilemma was whether to keep the existing marble mantlepiece and go for some statement tiles or replace it with a more rustic looking surround and keep things more au natural in the hearth. In the end Option 1 won out because I just couldn't get these Grey Santona tiles from Bert & May out of my head and I wanted to experiment with having a bit of pattern in the house so it was either getting the tiles or getting Mr Malmo to get a huge chest tattoo of them.
I wasn't quite sure what installing a woodburner actually involved. I had visions of Bert from Mary Poppins scampering around on my roof singing chim chimmney chim chim chicheroo as he dropped a flue line down our chimney pot. Luckily this is where the lovely guys from Stoake Ltd (a local North London business) came in. The first step in the process was for them to come round a do a site visit and they then followed up quickly with a written quote setting out the installation process and how much each stage and the associated materials would cost. They are able to arrange scaffolding for you or you can do that bit yourself. We did it ourselves as it worked out a bit cheaper although that meant dealing with a guy who punctuated his conversation with farts rather than commas *Apologies to any more #SophisticatedScaffolders out there*
With the scaffolding finally up, the process of removing the existing fire surround, capping the gas supply and rendering and tiling the new opening took just 2 days. We decided to keep our existing hearth stone to keep the costs down which also saved time.
2 weeks later, just as the Beast from the East blew in, Nigel and team returned to install the stove itself. By the time I had battled the beast to and from work (which sounds dramatic but in reality just involved me walking to the station in wholly impractical shoes squeaking "gosh it is windy" every now and again) the stove was in.
I chose a Skye stove from Charnwood in a lovely cream colour which is handmade on the Isle of Wight and, in Charnwood's own words is "a new state-of-the-art stove with a remarkably efficient combustion system. It’s innovative burn technology ensures efficiencies of up to 86% and exceeds the new Eco Design standards and Defra exemption limits; allowing wood to be burnt cleanly in smoke control areas". If you have space in your hearth there is also an option to chose a version of the stove which has an integrated log store adding to it's rustic good looks. Charnwood are a family owned British company and can help you to find a trusted local installer in your area.
I am no boy scout (I look terrible in Khaki for starters) so I was a little bit worried that I would struggle with the lighting the fire aspect of having a woodburner. However, the Skye is honestly so easy to use that it renders Ray Mears completely surplus to requirements. You literally just assemble a mini pile of kindling wood around a firelighter, strike a match, shut the door and within seconds you will have a blaze ready to chuck a log on. My biggest challenge now is stopping #chriswaddlecat from blocking out all of the heat by plonking himself in front of the stove whenever it is lit and embarking on an epic clean of his feline nether regions.