My best friend at University was Northern Irish so, in between discovering that if you put Baileys into Sambuca it creates a drink that tastes a lot like vomit suspended in petrol, I heard a lot of tales of Finn McCool and the Giants Causeway. My dad's family are actually all Northern Irish but my Grandma Phoebe was the family Black Sheep so we didn't go back to Belfast when I was growing up. Although that didn't stop me alluding to relatives off the Shankill Road if I was trying to sound a bit gangsta at high school (which wasn't really required that much growing up in a small market town in Northumberland). Whereas at one time Eamon Holmes represented the pinnacle of Northern Irish totty, these days Jamie Dornan has a new generation of ladies rushing to storm Stormont. However, since joining Instagram I have discovered that as well cuddly news presenters and sexy TV pyschopaths, Northern Ireland also has a strong stock of stylish lifestyle bloggers of which my absolute favourite is Emma of @littlewoodlife.
Emma grew up not far from where she lives now with husband Andrew and their three kids although, as Emma points out, nowhere is too far away from anywhere else in Northern Ireland. Where Northern Ireland is definitely far away from if you don't use a plane to get there is London. 13 hours away to be precise. I discovered this 10 years ago after my irrational aviation fear lead me to elect to travel to a wedding in Belfast by a combination of Megabus and ferry. 5 minutes after pulling out of Victoria Coach Station a large Balkan man in the seat behind me whispered through the gap in the seats "You look nice" causing me to spend approximately 12 hrs and 48 mins of the journey wondering whether i would be able to use my doors keys as numchucks should he try and abduct me when we stopped at the services in Stoke-on-Trent.
Having taught in a fairly gritty secondary school for some years before becoming a blogger am fairly sure Emma would have had my Balkan Bus Pervert sorted out in no time. Think Michelle Pfieffer in Dangerous Minds and Mrs McCluskey from Grange Hill all rolled into one feisty Northern Irish package. Sticking teaching out long enough for husband Andrew to qualify as an architect, the Pfieffer McCluskey years also helped the couple get on the property ladder. First with a little semi which was then traded in for a detached house doer uper. Having gained a taste for renovation, Emma and Andrew seized the opportunity to build their own home when a plot of family land came up. I really need to encourage my mum and dad to become more expansive land owners, my dad hasn't even succeeded in securing a coveted council alottment yet because, in his own words, not enough people are dying in their local area.
Although it does not sound like building a house is a walk in the park from Emma's description of a build that took place amid redundancy, sick children, a bout of pneumonia and the death of a rabbit. It sounds a bit like an episode of Grand Designs set in Watership Down! Project managing the build themselves meant forging close relationships with tradesmen working on the job. A little closer than Emma would have liked in the case of Neil the decorator who plastered whilst providing blow by blow updates on the condition of his prostate as well as criticising the work of any and all other tradesmen working on the job (including Andrew). An obssessive aversion to mess meant he did at least dry clean his dust sheets although was arguably in the wrong profession if he didn't like getting his hands dirty
After one update too many on his enlarged prostrate Emma paid him off and employed a decorator with no interest in sharing the details of his down below affairs with her.The end result is, however, a gorgeous, warm and inviting family home which Emma has decorated in a style I am going to coin "Scandi Classic Cotswold Farmhouse Luxe" (trips off the the tongue I think you will agree!). Whites and creams create a great backdrop to show off features that add personality and texture to their home such as the parquet flooring in the hallway that was reclaimed from a newspaper office in Fleet Street ( if that floor could talk!), a stunning exposed Belfast brick wall in the living room and gorgeous old cast iron radiators throughout.
They also have the woodburner of my dreams in their Living Room which is on my house wishlist if I can just stop buying cushions long enough to save up for one. Should M15 ever discover that the key to defeating ISIS lies in smothering them in soft furnishings then I would be the lynchpin of the Cushion Counter Terrorism Strategy. Or maybe i will just have to find a woodburner that can burn both logs and cushions.
Emma's inspiration for the soft, luxe interior comes from reading lots of US based lifestyle blogs with Gal Meets Glam, Barefoot Blonde, Love Taza and Somewhere Slower being particular favourites. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in a Pink Clapboard house in Charelston with one of those wraparound verandas then Gal Meets Glam is the blog for you. Be warned, you will come away with serious pastel home and swooshy hair envy.
Although their house is located in the beautiful Northern Irish countryside, it is actually only 20 minutes from Belfast which, over the last 5 years, has benefited from huge amounts of regeneration and is now a buzzy, lively little city with beautiful parks and plenty going on. Those there to Dornan spot (or Eammon spot if you prefer your men chunkier and with greater experience in presenting news items about telepathic dogs) should also take time to visit the University area for quirky coffee shops and brunch stops or the Cathedral quarter for bars and restaurants. Belfast is also home to the Titanic exhibition which was recently voted the number one tourist attraction in the world. I still can't watch the film starring Leonardo de Caprio and Kate Winslet after going to see it with my then boyfriend age 17 who cried through the final third whilst I remained uncharacteristically dry eyed and ended up being offered tissues by a woman in the row in front. Nobody wants another woman to have to mop up their man with Kleenex.
With her parents having been savvy enough to invest in a holiday home in the South of France the Littlewoods often swap County Amagh for the Cote D'Azur, although Lake Como is giving La Croisette a run for it's money after Emma fell in love with it's stunning scenery and laid back vibe last Summer. When in France, favourite places to eat include Angelina in Paris (which, elasticated trousers alert, serves white hot chocolate to die for), or Les Garcons in VilleFrance for delicious dinners in a courtyard surrounded by jasmine. Slightly less French (but right up my fatty treat street) is Emma's favourite bakery back home called Donuts from the Pocket opposite the QUB in Belfast. Having checked out some of their amazing specialities online, I think it would have to be renamed "All the Donuts In my Mouth" if i got within 25 metres of it.
Emma and I share another love beside donuts: Ryan Gosling. Although, Emma would complete her celebrity threesome by inviting Hugh Jackman to join her and Ryan, whereas I would be asking the Gosling to budge up to make room for Lovejoy. Give me a dubious mullet and a penchant for fencing Ming Vases over all those werewolf issues any day. Although Hugh would find himself out in the cold if Emma's other celebrity male crush came rocking into town. Yep, it turns out that having once sold merchandise at his concerts, Emma also has a little soft spot for thigh slapping guitar wielding country music star Garth Brooks. A man with a mullet even Lovejoy could not compete with. On that bombshell I will leave you to go follow Emma's instagram or read her blog for further peeks inside her gorgeous home (and slightly dodgy CD collection).