A house tour in East London full of Scandinavian and Modern Rustic style inspirationRead More
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.
*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:
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.
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.
Growing up the child of Guardian reading muesli eating parents in the 80s/90s meant that our Summer holidays followed a well trodden middle class path across the channel to a French Gite my mum had booked through the Brittany Ferries catalogue. This being the days before the internet the most you had to go off in determining whether your accommodation was tres chic or a shit gite was usually just one picture of the exterior. On several occasions we turned up after an 12 hour journey in our Rover 316 (anyone else remember the faux mahogany trim that made you feel like you were trapped inside David Dickinson’s wet dream) to find what waited behind the keyhole was more ‘A Week in a Romanian Orphanage’ than ‘A Year in Provence’. Happily saying Bonjour to the internet has meant we can say Au Revoir to the horrible holiday lottery and these days Gites even come with their own Instagram accounts. So having followed and drooled over the Vintage Curator House feed it took me all of 20 seconds to say yes when it's owner Sam ( aka @vintagecuratorinteriors) asked me if I would like to go and spend a week there.
The house is located in the Vendee which on the West coast of France. The nearest airport, La Rochelle is just over an hour away but because we have 3 small children and therefore travel about as light as a zumo wrestler we decided to take the ferry and drive instead. Our plan was to hit the road straight after picking up the kids from school thus avoiding rush hour traffic. Obviously the reality was that an hour after picking up the kids we were still trying to find someone to feed the cat and locate the chessboard that my middle son claimed he couldn't live without but then didn't play with all week. A last minute discovery that I had neglected to pack myself any knickers set us back a further 15 minutes and whilst returning to fetch them avoided this blog being called "Malmo's Muff Gets into Merde"it did, on the other hand, result in us both running into rush hour traffic and Hurricane Brian. Arriving at Dover to discover our ferry had been delayed by 3 hours merely confirmed my suspicion that nothing good comes from things called Brian. But when we arrived at the Vintage Curator House the next day all negative thoughts about Hurricanes named after tax inspectors from Wilmslow were forgotten.
Sam and husband Oli bought the house back in 2010 after their search for a holiday house that didn't need much work instead resulted in the purchase of something that needed all of the downstairs beams replacing to avoid the top floor falling in, new windows, new doors, new roofs, the installation of two new bathrooms, a new kitchen and a new septic tank. Having taking care of the sewage and sash windows, the couple then added a swimming pool, outdoor cabana and al fresco eating area. Whilst the renovation may have had its ups and downs (particularly for a French plumber who had to climb into a pit of raw sewage to fix a leak in the septic tank) the end results are nothing short of stunning. The house has modern rustic good looks in spades with oodles of gorgeous exposed stone walls, wooden beams and flagstone floors.
With 5 bedrooms and 4 huge reception spaces it is perfectly set up for big groups and there is just as much space outside as in with a swimming pool, outdoor barn with table tennis, and, to my 7 year olds utter delight, a garden big enough to host a mini football pitch. We visited in October which I think offered us the best of both worlds with warm sunny days and cooler nights when we could light the wood burners in the kitchen and living room and get our hygge on. I would, however, like to go back in Summer so I can use the pool which I wasn't brave enough to venture in this time having seen Mr Malmo jump in and then rapidly get back out with his manhood resembling a terrified field mouse.
The house is located in quite a rural area so every couple of days we would head to the nearest hypermarche about 20 mins away and stock up with provisions. This took me back to my teenage years when I would blow all of my holiday money on Hollywood chewing gum, Galak chocolate and Lafuma pencil cases the moment I stepped foot in a L'Eclerc. My sister is still paying my mum back after suffering a bad case of #HyperMarcheHardOn and sinking all of her cash into buying a crushed silk peach coloured Naf Naf jacket in the Summer of 1993. To be honest though, the house is so well set up that it was a struggle to leave even with the lure of a L'Eclerc.
Even getting out of bed in the morning proved a struggle as our bed in the stunning master suite was so big and so comfortable that if I didn't have an 18 month old who is fond of watching the sunrise I would happily have stayed in it all day. Well, maybe I would have got up, but only to run a bath in the en suite bathroom which has a toll top bath and huge walk in shower. I know Mr Malmo was definitely wishing he had stayed in bed on the day we took the kids swimming at a local leisure centre only to discover an obscure French byelaw was being enforced which requires men to only wear "spot the sausage" swimwear. 60 Euros and 3 pairs of budgie smugglers later we entered the pool with him wearing swimwear shorter than the hot pants Kylie wears in the Spinning Around video. He didn't see the funny side when I told him he had, to quote Alan Patridge, "just popped out" whilst bending down in the shallow end.
If you prefer day trips that don't require you to leave your dignity and loose clothing at the door then our favourite local town was Fontenauy le Comte which has pretty winding medevial streets to lose yourself in with plenty of instagrammable doors in arrays of fading pastel colours. Slightly further afield is the Il de Re which has to be one of my favourite places in the world. It is an island just off the coast of La Rochelle and about 1 hr 15 mins drive from the Vintage Curator House. In the height of Summer you can't move for Chic Parisians on holiday enjoying it's impossibly pretty villages, wide stretches of sandy beach, cyclepaths through salt marshes and daily food and antique markets. However it was much quieter in October and we had a great day pottering around in the Autumn sunshine and cycling out to a lighthouse after somehow managing to find a configuration of bikes for 4 adults, 2 toddlers, 1 cycling seven year old and a non cycling 4 year old.
Back at the Vintage Curator House the weather was so mild that we even managed to squeeze in a couple of BBQs on the outdoor terrace and a mini drinks and (L'Eclerc) canapes reception up by the pool cabana before we set off home. Obviously we were only one Vol Au Vent in before one of the kids had thrown a shoe in the pool and broken the temporary Come Dine with Me calm but if you are child free or have older children less prone to throwing things in water then you will absolutely love all the spaces the house has for entertaining.
If you would like to find out more about how to book a stay at the Vintage Curator House then click here to book through Air BnB or visit www.vintagecuratorhouse.com. To find out more about Vintage Curated Interiors, the business through which Sam sells some of the gorgeous french vintage items she has found whilst visiting the Vintage Curator House visit www.vintagecuratorinteriors.co.uk
As regular readers of the blog will know, we spent our Summer holiday this year in Denmark visiting both Copenhagen and Tisvildleje on the Danish Coast. It was a dream of a trip for a Scandophile like me. I came home more convinced than ever before that I am in fact a Danish Girl trapped in a Geordie Girl's body (Danish girl in the sense of a female from Denmark rather than the Eddie Redmayne man wanting to be a woman film sense). Unfortunately my actual body returned home looking less Helena Christensen and more Danny Devito owing to my excessive consumption of kanelsnegles. Whilst I am waiting for Nationality realignment surgery to become available on the NHS I thought I would share with you some of the fresh Danish interiors inspiration for the kitchen and garden that I picked up on the trip and how I have been translating it into the Malmo & Moss house now I am home.
Let's Go Outside.....
Whilst staying in Tisvildleje we stumbled upon a cafe somebody had set up on their front garden to sell their own home brewed slow drip coffee. The contrast with our own front garden couldn't have been greater. There wasn't a wheelie bin or fox poo in sight. What they had instead, which I fell more than a little bit in love with, was a garden seating area constructed out of palletts. It was totally inexpensive but looked amazing and I loved the seating cushions they had made to fit it which were a mix of muted greys and monochrome and looked great against the backdrop of abundant lavender, mint and rosemary growing in the planters.
I had already seen pallets used in other Scandi gardens on pinterest and loved them so when I got home I started scanning skips in search of some I could use to recreate the look. Luckily @vintagecuratorinteriors came up trumps before I had to go full #StigOfTheSkip. My long term plan for them is to create a coffee table on wheels but it has been a busy Summer and any time I have started the sentence "could you just pop to B&Q to get some castors" Mr Malmo has given me the kind of look that suggests I have got more chance of getting him to go on a crochet blanket making course with out 75 yr old neighbour Margery. But for now I kind of like the way the look just stacked one on top of the other.
I have also added an extra shot of Scandi to my outdoor seating area through the purchase of some new cushions and a rug. All in a mixture of patterns and textures but sticking to a monochrome palette. I sourced some of the cushions from two of my favourite independent stores for Scandi homeware, Grey September Store and Jo & Co Home, but also picked up a cushion and the rug from B&Q who, in amongst the endless drill bits and polyfiller supplies actually have some really great soft furnishings at bargain prices (this is not a sponsored blog either!). The large zig zag cushion was just £7 and the rug a mere £15.
Now that Autumn is upon us, I have also borrowed another trick from the Danes and introduced a shot of hygge to the garden with a gorgeous rusty firepit from Cox & Cox. I did a lot of research before choosing this one #firepitbore. You can easily spend hundreds of pounds but this one is just £80 and is super lightweight and easy to move around the garden. We gave it a debut burn at our tenth wedding anniversary party in October which was themed around recreating a mini version of the Woodstock festival in our garden.
Unfortunately as we are only amateur urban arsonists we did not dry our hastily purchased petrol station logs before chucking them on the fire. Therefore, instead of creating a warm blaze around which people could huddle, drink hot chocolate and chat, we instead had a smoking inferno on our hands that sent people running inside for a drink of water. I have since discovered that you can actually buy smokeless logs from Tesco should anybody else find themselves hosting a middle class party and not have twenty four hours to dry their wood out in advance.
Bringing Scandi to the Kitchen Table
I follow lots of beautiful Scandinavian instagram accounts for inspiration but my all time favourite has to be that of Signe Bay, a photographer and stylist based in Copenhagen. Her feed often features of two of my greatest Danish loves: cinnamon buns and ceramics. Our Summer holiday featured lots of both. I could have piled the car high with pottery but the reality of going away on holiday when you have 3 children is that you have to travel with essentially all of your possessions so slipping a small dinner service into the footwell was sadly not an option.
When we got home I started looking for places I could source some of the beautiful ceramics I had seen on holiday here in the UK. My inner Signe lit up when I came across Feather & Marble, a small independent business set up by Emily & Ollie in 2016 after they too visited Copenhagen and fell under the Danish spell. They now stock over 1000 handpicked items from Danish brands including the beautiful tableware of Broste Copenhagen whose Salt cup and saucer is my new favourite mug and believe me I don't bandy that title around lightly. It takes quite a cup to come along and turn my tea drinking head.
Having secured ceramics fit for a flat lay, I started researching cinnamon bun recipes so I had something #suitablysigne to serve up on my Danish table. I am not, by nature, a patient baker. If a recipe features more than 5 steps I tend to turn over. This BBC Good Food recipe for "simple cinnamon rolls" has, therefore, proved perfect for me. If I had to sum it up in 4 simple steps it would be mix dry and wet ingredients together to make a dough, roll out into a rectangle, smear huge ammounts of melted brown sugar, butter and cinnamon on said rectangle, roll up and cut into segments like a swiss roll, cook for 30 mins then cram into your mouth fresh from the oven. The slightly more detailed version is set out below should you be the kind of person who likes to know actual quantiies of ingredients, cooking times and the like.
I made them on the morning of the Occasional Home Store Autumn Fair for our stallholders and they got hoovered up very quickly. I have had a few mishaps along the way witht them though. For example, if you add more cinnamon to the dough than the recipe dictates because you don't think they will be cinnamony enough all you will achieve is giving your buns an off brown appearance that is reminiscent of a pair of corduroy trosuers your dad might wear in. Leaving them in too long/cooking them at too high a temperature has also caused me problems as then the sugar filling bubbles out and goes black leaving you with buns that look more like lumps of coal than kanalsnegle. But other than those two small glitsches I would say they are pretty much fool proof and I would love to know how you get on with making them.
Simple Cinnamon Buns
350g/12oz self raising flour
Pinch of salt
2tbsp caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
100g/3.5oz butter, melted and extra for greasing
2 egg yolks
200ml/7 fl oz milk, extra for glazing
1 tsp ground cinnamon
55g/2oz brown sugar
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp butter, melted
125g/4.5 oz icing sugar, sifted
2 tbsp cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp butter, softened
about 2 tbsp boiling water
1 tsp vanilla essence
Grease a 20-cm/8-inch round tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.
Mix the flour, salt, caster sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Whisk the butter, egg yolks and milk together and combine the dry ingredients to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a large piece of waxed paper, lightly sprinkled with flour, and roll out to a rectangle 30 x 25cm/12 x 10 inches.
To make the filling mix the ingredients together, spread evenly over the dough and roll up, Swiss-roll style to form a log. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 8 even-sized slices and pack into the prepared tin. Brush gently with extra milk and bake in a preheated oven, 180C/350F, for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin.
Sift icing sugar into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Place the cream cheese and butter in the centre, pour over the water and stir to mix. Add extra boiling water, a few drops at a time, until the frosting coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the vanilla essence, then drizzle the icing over the rolls. Serve warm or cold.
Recipe reproduced from BBC Good Food.
When I was up in the wee small hours breastfeeding my second son, I used to download Jilly Cooper books to read to make sure I didn't fall asleep on the job. It was as close as I am ever going to get to Rupert Campbell Black keeping me up all night. By the time I had my third son it became clear that Jilly wasn't churning out the menage a trois as fast as I was churning out children so, having exhausted her romping repertoire, I was forced to find a new way to keep myself awake on the milky job. Enter Instagram. Prior to that point, my only presence on social media had been a work related Twitter account focused on promoting energy efficiency (the Cinderella of European climate policy don't you know). It was mainly followed by my poor friends who had to endure regular tweets about boiler lagging and solid wall insulation roll outs. They were no doubt horrified when I told them that I had joined Instagram fearing that they would soon be finding their feeds full of LED lightbulbs and smart thermostats. However, luckily for them, I ultimately ended up focusing on the interiors rather than insulation of my house.
My first few posts were an eclectic mix of shoes, choux pastries and stately homes (think Imelda Marcos takes the National Trust (and then has a nice French Patisseries afterwards) with it taking me a while to find my tribe in cushion corner. If you told me that one year on I would have over 30,000 followers and my own blog, I would have said there was more chance of me writing a cookbook about my love of lentils (aka Satan's Pulse). I can honestly say I have not really much of a clue how it happened but here are a few of the pointers I picked up along the way that I thought it might be helpful to share.
Lesson One: Filters Are Not Always Your Friend
If you scroll back to the beginning of my feed you will notice that my pictures both had weird borders on them in varying shades of taupe and had been put through a filter favoured by 1970s porn directors (and me). It left the house looking like it had a bad case of jaundice. What can I say, I thought it looked arty. It was Mr Malmo who gently suggested that maybe I should step away from the #BeigeBars, dispense with the #HouseofJaundice filter and go au nataurel.
Whilst it galls me to admit it, Mr Malmo was right. Without the #TaupeTramlines my pictures instantly started to get more likes. That is not to say that I am now 100% filter free. As time has gone on I have tried to "curate" (sorry I know that word makes me sound like an instagram Alan Yentob) my feed a bit more and create a Malmo & Moss look by using the same couple of filters on my pictures consistently. I used to be Team Valencia/Slumber but lately I have definitely started to be #LuredByLudwig.
Lesson Two: You Don't Need a Big Gun to Have Fun
The big gun I am referring to here is a digital SLR camera rather than a Kashelnikov rifle. After I had been instagramming a while and wanted to make the move into blogging I started thinking that maybe I needed to invest in a proper camera (aka a big gun) rather than relying on my trusty Samsung phone. I will admit that this was 35% influenced by how cool the Olympus Pen looks. But the Pen don't come cheap so before I remortgaged the house I decided to call in the lovely @tiatalula to give me some advice. Over tea and cake we talked Apertures, ISOs and Megapixels and it turned out anything the Pen could do my trusty Samsung S6 could do better. Obviously I hadn't bothered to read any of the camera instructions when I first got my phone but it turned out that if I took it off auto and played around in pro I could do all sorts of cool stuff including, most importantly of all, that cool blurry background thing that makes you look like you know your Fuji film from your elbow.
Lesson Three: Turn the lights down low (well off actually)
I am a big fan of soft lighting. So much so that it would seem I have a reputation as a bit of #HalogenHitler in our family as relatives are always quick to apologise when they put the "big" light on when they visit. However, when it comes to instagram, I have learnt that I need to ditch the dimmer switch and let the natural light flood in. This can be challenging to achieve as with 3 kids and a job, there are approximately 23 minutes of any week when I am in the house alone during daylight hours without being surrounded by a swarm of plastic. However, if you can fight off a fleet of Octonauts and get in before dusk falls, the daylight shots do always do better.
Lesson Four: Crafting a Killer Caption
I know it seems hard to believe but I used to be a woman of very few words on Instagram. The words I usually used described either getting up early with the baby or going to bed late with Poldark (sadly only on the iPlayer rather than being given an in person sycthing to). However, one day I lost control of an electronic cockroach in the kitchen (like you do) and shared the story on insta and I noticed that as well as my post getting some likes it also got a lot more comments than usual. So little by little I started sharing less generic captions and before I knew it people were eagerly awaiting the next instalment of #ChroniclesOf ABlowJobBranch and interiors with a side serving of innuendo kind of became my thing. Now I realise that not everyone will want to share stories of their husband being cock blocked by a hot water bottle (Mr Malmo's struggle is real) but I guess my point, as Oscar Wilde once said (or I read on a card in Clintons) "Be Yourself Because Everyone Else is Taken"and people are more likely to engage with your feed. Although I guess I have also learnt that including hashtags in your posts like #Don'tShitYourShellSuit might mean that some brands cross you off their collaboration list.....
Lesson Five: If in doubt get your bathroom out
I don't want to say that my bathroom is solely responsible for my instagram success but.......The first picture of the it I shared got selected by @jtcollings to feature in a midweek #myhomevibe montage and it is responsible for all of my most liked posts. So whilst I encountered a severe case of #BaffledBuilderFace when I asked him to weld me some taps out of copper piping it has definitely been worth it's weight in insta gold. The only problem is my bathroom is frequently off limits for photos because either a) one of the quartet of todgers I live with has dropped something off in the loo that would make you want to amputate your own nose if you popped in to take a picture (of the bathroom not the mega log) or b) I have had to unleash 6 toilet duck refills in a bid to mask the smell of said mega log meaning it is impossible to take a photo because your eyes are stinging too much from the chemical sunset that has created. If the Mega Log-Chemical Sunset combination puts your bathroom out action then my advice would be go for the kitchen instead, another reliable instagram performer.
So there you have it, my top tips for moderate instagram success! I would love to know if there are some secrets of success I haven't discovered yet. Well ones that don't involve posting a belfie that is.........
When we moved into the Malmo & Moss house 7 years ago, we inherited a colour scheme with lashings of lilac, the kind of shade favoured by sanitary pad and vaginal wash manufacturers. Once we had the keys one of our first steps was to de Always Ultra the walls. As this was 2010 aka 'The Days before Downpipe' going over to the dark side was more likely to be a reference to accidentally crossing the A10 and ending up in Ponders End than applying inky hues to your walls. So we played it safe and went Wimborne White on the walls in the front room and slipper satin on the floorboards.
Having said sayonara to #SanitaryPadPurple we were intially happy with the newly decorated living room but, after a while, the combination of the white with draughty floorboards and sash windows insulated with cotton wool started to make it feel like quite a cold room. After we had the rear extension done to create a kitchen/family room, we started to notice we were using the front room about as often as any of the 25 different fitness dvd I have ever bought.
Our mission was to find a way to make it warm and cosy whilst retaining the Scandi look I love. The boringly practical first step was getting a carpet. In my twenties I was 100% Team Stripped Floorboard but, as time has gone by, I have realised that in some spaces I like to feel a tread between my toes. Olga at the carpet shop' was desperate to sell us one of those velvet effect carpets favoured by premiership footballers, Russian oligarchs and high end brothels (although obvs have never actually been inside one of those so that is probably a wild sex carpet stereotype) but, much to her chagrin, we went sheep over synthetic and got a loop wool one instead. The next step in upping the warmth was getting rid of the shonky old radiator that was on the wall behind the sofa and replacing it with a vertical one that could actually release heat into the room. This was an easy project if you ignore the fact that it fell off the wall in the middle of the night initially.
We went for a dark grey radiator because the other huge change we decided upon was going over to the dark side with the colour on the walls. By that point in 2016 we were pretty much the only people in North London not to have a downpipe feature wall. But when I brought a sample of it home I just couldn't shake the fact that, in our front room, there was a weird green tinge to it. So we went back to the Farrow & Ball drawing board and ended up going even darker with Railings. Because Mr Malmo and I possess the cutting in skills of a pair of toddlers let loose in a crayola factory we got the pros in to apply the paint whilst we went away for the weekend.
I was nervous about returning home to see the results, as the last time I had gone over to the dark side was age 13 when I went the full De Niro and died my hair black to play a minor member of the Sharks in West side Story. Growing up in the North East with a shade of pale skin that is one shade off albino I was perhaps an unusual choice to play as a Puerto Rican and the black hair merely lent me an air of bus station goth instead of hot blooded latino. Happily this dalliance with the dark side worked out a lot better and we have no #RailingsRegrets. Everything looked just instantly more dramatic and because we have big Edwardian sash windows we get plenty of light in the room so it never feels gloomy. Well I say that but my 10 year old niece does refer to it as Auntie B's black front room so maybe it is a little more batcave than I think it is.
Having bold walls has made me a little bit bolder about what I put on them too. Like this giant wall hanging I fell in love with in the home of @sara_lou_c on instagram (watch out for house tour coming to the blog soon). It seems that I am not the only one to have fallen head over wall hanging heels as Sara has now set up a lovely website selling them called Fern Art & Interiors. Whilst it had been love at first sight for me I was a little bit concerned that Mr Malmo would not experience the same level of lust but it turns out he is more of a modern bohemian than I gave him credit for as it didn't even come close to setting off his "What the f#uck have you bought now alarm". He is also a massive fan of the new, stylish magazine storage solution I was sent by Life Of Riley as we were previously a couple of Living Etcs away from being buried under a magazine mountain.
The other big change we made was to replace our oldest sofa which was purchased in the Designers Guild sale nearly a decade ago but had never really recovered from the 4 month's Mr Malmo's brother spent sleeping on it when he had just finished Uni. Not because he was spilling kebabs and bodily fluids on it (although to be fair he might have been age 21) but because our cat weed on it and his possessions everyday until he finally moved out. It seems that we had some sort of #CatConservative on our hands who had strong views about the young people of today pulling their bootstraps up and going out to work rather than watching repeats of the Brittas Empire on our sofa. Top of my dream sofa shopping list was a dove grey velvet button backed chesterfield until I remembered that we have 3 boys and that owning a velvet sofa was another thing to add to the "maybe in another 15 years time list" along with driving a car that doesn't look like a variety club minibus and going to work without a bad case of #BananaCrotch. Having come to my senses, we compromised on the Dixie sofa from Loaf in a brushed cotton finish and it is such a comfy sofa.
There are still a few more bits and pieces I would like to do to finish the room off. The biggest of which is swapping the gas fire for a woodburner #MiddleGlassLifeGoals. But whilst we save up for that on my more immediate hit list is a new pendant light as I am not sure the chandelier works in here anymore. What do you guys think? Is it too delicate for the Batcave?
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).
I was thrilled when my husband agreed to a last minute holiday to Cornwall this Easter. First and foremost because it is one of my favourite places in the world but secondly because it meant I could sneak in a visit to the home of Lucy Whitehouse on the way down. Her modern Scandi inspired house in Wells is one of my absolute Instagram favourites. New to the blogging game I was hoping to turn up on Lucy’s doorstep rocking a cool, creative and vaguely Parisian vibe. Unfortunately the M4 had other plans and after spending 2 hours in a traffic jam in a car with three small children I turned up instead desperate for the loo and rocking a look that was much more frazzled mum than French ingénue. I also realised when I took off my shoes that in my haste to get out of the house, I had mistakenly pulled on some novelty socks my mum got me for Christmas that had flying pigs all over them. So far so not Juliet Binoche. Luckily Lucy was a lovely as her house so I will stop talking about my bladder and bad socks and introduce you to her gorgeous home instead.
After growing up in Edinburgh, going to University in Newcastle and moving to London as a graduate surveyor, Lucy ended up in Wells after meeting husband Paul at an army ball in Middle Wallop whilst he was both dressed as a woman (it was a Halloween Ball I should point out at this stage.) and wearing the same dress as the friend that Lucy was with that evening. Paul is excitingly a helicopter pilot, the kind of profession that action movies starring Tom Cruise get made about as opposed to banking law (my husband's chosen profession) which is more BBC4 documentary about the collapse of Enron territory.
Their current home was built in the 1930s and used to be a farmhouse to a Dairy but had been badly redeveloped around the Millenium by owners with a penchant for mustard shagpile, peach wallpaper and vertical blinds. Despite being initially put off by a weird layout and 1970s porn movie set decor, a combination of light spacious rooms and a location staggering distance from Well's city centre won the day and Lucy and Paul moved in just days after the birth of their second daughter.
They quickly set to work renovating the place to produce a more family friendly contemporary open plan layout. During this process the name Fred and the date 1887 was discovered etched into one of the walls and, despite raised eyebrows from the builders, Lucy has left it exposed to create a talking point in the downstairs loo. I have to confess i didn't notice it when I burst in there to relieve my traffic jam bladder but that is probably because I was staring in horror at my airbound porcine novelty socks (note to self to ask Hexham branch of Fatface not to admit my mother during the sale as the socks join some cut price fingerless gloves I was also gifted which make me look like an alpine cross between Michael Jackson and Fagin).
Despite the Victorian toilet graffiti, the house otherwise lacked period features so Lucy and Paul decided to embrace this and go for a light, modern Scandi look with white walls, pale floors and lots of light flooding in through the huge bi-fold doors in the kitchen/living space. The doors provide access to a lovely big deck and garden which is perfect for their two daughters Mariella (4) and Beatrice (2) to run around in. Alas for Wells, Lucy has put her student streaking days behind her and whilst at one time she was regularly to be found sprinting starkers down Jesmond High Street after a night on the toon, these days she keeps her Middle Wallop firmly under wraps when out in the garden. Growing up in the North-East I never managed a streak of Jesmond High Street but did nearly catch hypothermia of the fanny wearing an indecently short miniskirt on a night aboard the Tuxedo Princess in December.
Putting a brief flirtation with Shabby Chic behind her (well in the garage to be precise) these days Lucy is firmly a Scandi gal at heart with not a distressed pastel coloured piece of furniture in sight. It is Scandi with a vintage/industrial edge though with e-bay and flea market finds looking right at home alongside the cool, calm nordic colours. Inspired by an episode of Grand Designs that featured a house with climbing walls, secret passage ways and hidden passages ways for the kids, Lucy has tried to incorporate some of those fun touches into her house, with Beatrice getting a secret reading nook in her bedroom and Mariella a secret fairy kingdom under the stairs. Although apparently Lucy's west country builders hadn't caught that episode of Grand Designs because the request for the reading nook met with the kind of reaction I would reserve for someone asking me to nail sanitary pads to their front door. Lucy must have a better #KellyHoppenRestingBitchFace than me because she duly got her reading nook which makes Beatrice's bedroom a brilliantly fun space.
Lucy's favourite places to shop include La Redoute, Maisons du Monde, H&M Home, Rockett St George, Bath & West Flea Market, charity shops, Ikea, Ebay and MonPote Home in Bristol. I think the Scandi gods must like Lucy because she seems to have managed to track down some really great Ikea finds which I swear have never graced the aisles of my Edmonton local. Although that was the store where someone lost their shit trying to bag a £50 leather sofa on opening day and stabbed another customer so maybe they dare not stock the instagram cat nip weaved baskets for fear of a shoot out.
Whilst I was trying to look like Mario Testino (sans the camera skills, close relationship with the Royal Family and Peruvian accent of course) I asked Lucy to tell me a bit about her home city of Wells. Pub quiz fact to be stored away, Wells is in fact England's smallest city but instead of tower blocks and inexplicably complicated one way systems it has a beautiful Cathedral and a Palace with a Moat surrounding it. It was also the backdrop of the film comedy Hot Fuzz. A term which I discovered when researching this piece that you should be very careful about googling unless you are keenly interested in the pubic hair of Brazilian porn stars as well as the cinematic back catalogue of Simon Pegg. As the wife of a huge Hot Fuzz fan (to clarify am talking about the film rather than the Brazilian Porn Star pubes now) I decided to keep this information under my hat so that our brief time in Wells was not spent trying to track down places where Simon Pegg duelled with murderdous village busybodies. If we had been visiting in Summer I much preferred the sound of the openair cinema and theare events staged at the Bishops Palace.
Food wise, Lucy recommended a great sounding industrial style dive bar called Subhouse that has both great atmosphere and great burgers and helps her to feel like there is a little slice of London in her corner of the West Country. I also liked the sound of Da Luciano in Wells which is family owned and includes a welcome from Nonna with your Pizza. It also apparently serves deep-fried dough balls, a dish which would almost certainly cause Deliciously Ella to have a gluten induced meltdown but which sound right up my quinoa averse street.
Further afield Chez Bruce in Wandsworth is one of Lucy's favourites (it used to also feature on my friend's restaurant top 5 until her husband fell sleep mid meal when she was berating him about not putting enough effort into their marriage) and she also loves a pre-dinner martini in Dukes, the Mayfair bar where Ian Fleming allegedly decided James Bond would be a Martini Man. Before children (BC) when Lucy was being romanced by husband Paul, Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden also used to be a firm favourite for French food in a magical setting full of trees and twinkly fairly lights. It is also just around the corner from the Royal Opera House should you, unlike me, be able to sit through one without 2 minutes in wishing it was in English and about 2 hours shorter.
Lucy's bedroom style makes great use of a statement wallpaper and since I visited a new bed has arrived in the spare room so things are looking even more stylish. Her dream holiday destinations when she can tear herself away from these lovely rooms include Cape Cod, Malyasia and Singapore with the Andaman on the Island of Langkawi being Lucy's absolute favourite hotel. Having googled it I think it could become my favourite hotel too if I can just persuade Mr Malmo that a long haul flight with 3 young children would be an enjoyable experience instead of right up there with pulling his pubic hair out with tweezers as something he would like to do.
Having popped my house tour cherry with the very lovely Lucy I said goodbye and went off to find the boys, wondering if I could get away with reprogramming the SatNav to detour past Bristol Ikea on the way to Bodmin without Mr Malmo noticing.
When I was growing up I used to want to be a vet. This was despite the fact that bovine animals kind of freak me out and so having to put my hand up their anus would probably cause me to have the kind of panic attack that Lawrence Lywellyn Bowen would suffer if you asked him to decorate a room without using any flocked fabric. With that dream dead in the water I moved on to environmental law where ironically my first case involved defending a rogue meat renderer (aka the people who turn dead cows into dog food/soap/cleaning products). My real (bovine free) dream is, however, to open my own interiors shop selling Scandi/Vintage items against a backdrop of soothing whites and greys somewhere by the sea (not Skegness just to clarify). Bar the absence of ocean, Belinda Fulton’s shop Of Special Interest in Crouch End, London, pretty much sums up my dream. Belinda agreeing to let me come and look round her house for my blog was, therefore, on a par with Ryan Gosling turning up on my doorstep and offering to give me a naked footrub (to clarify he would be the naked one in that scenario as not sure I would be able to enjoy said footrub if I was worrying what Ryan might be thinking of my overgrown lady garden and mum tum).
Since discovering OFSI 5 years ago, I think I have spent, on average, about 33% of my monthly salary in there. When on maternity leave, I seriously considered asking Belinda to erect an electric fence around the entrance to prevent me from frittering my meagre statutory maternity pay away on candle holders and gloriously realistic yet still reasonably priced faux foliage instead of nappies and baby wipes.
Belinda started off life in Malpas in Cheshire but has been a city dweller ever since leaving home at 18. She is, like me, more of a gastro pub and café than fields and sheep kind of lady. I start to get sweaty when I am more than 5 miles away from a café with a filament bulb, bare brick wall and flat white (I don’t actually drink them, I just like to know I am somewhere urban enough to serve them). After studying textile design at Leicester (whilst secretly really wanting to do Fine Art), Belinda moved to North London with her then husband buying a flat and opening the shop together. It started off life as a junk shop selling a mix of auction house finds and their own possessions. If I had sold my possesions age 24 it would essentially have been a shop full of Ikea crockery, posters of Kurt Cobain and Bob Marley (RIP Kurt and Bob) and a CD collection that lent heavily upon the work of 90s Indie Bands. Despite divorcing they still run the business together today, a fact I marvel at. Running a business with my significant ex boyfriend would almost certainly have ended in me wanting to run over him in a tractor (as it was he was lucky to escape with my best friend just using his tooth brush to clean the toilet when we parted ways). Though, to be fair, it sounds as though Belinda has been tempted to reach for the tractor keys herself a few times over the years.
These days she is happily married to husband Lewis (who, along with daughter Mack (18) she describes as the love of her life). She spotted him in a bar over twenty years ago and plucked up the courage to ask him out, figuring she would be unlikely to be returning to that bar again so had nothing to lose. Luckily he said yes and turned out not only to be a great cook but also a builder too. He has carried out pretty much all of the renovation work on their house himself and is currently in the process of building them a studio in the garden. Am thinking that I need to persuade Mr Malmo to swap professions if I want to progress my own Grand Design dreams. Working in banking law he could whip me up a great loan finance agreement if I wanted to buy a shopping centre in Grimsby but a studio in the garden not so much.
Belinda was living in a one bedroom flat in Tottenham at the time and managed to persuade Hampstead boy Lewis to leave the Heath behind and come and join her. When Lewis was away on a work trip to Greece, a pregnant Belinda spotted their current house and loved the garden so much she put in an offer that day. She therefore met Lewis from the station slightly nervous about telling him that a) she had bought them a house and b) that said house was opposite the slightly notorious Broadwater Farm estate. Luckily he took the news well and they have never looked back, loving living sandwiched between two beautiful parks and surrounded by warm, friendly people from all walks of life. In fact I am wondering if I can borrow Belinda’s West Indian neighbour Hyacyinth who brings her a bottle of wine if she has had a bad day (unlike my octogenarian Jeovah’s witness neighbour George, who is more likely to pop round with a copy of the Watchtower and tell me that the world is about to end).
Like all good wives skilled in the art of “Renovation Deception”, Belinda promised Lewis when he viewed the house that they would wait until after the baby was born and they had lived in the house a while before embarking upon any major renovation work. Needless to say Belinda was still pregnant when she set started removing doors and demolishing a polysterene mock brick fireplace. Over time a loft extension was added which is now Mack’s domain and, when Lewis finishes the garden studio, Belinda is looking forward to having somewhere to paint again.
What I loved so much about Belinda’s house is that whilst it is ridiculously stylish it is also most definitely a family home, with the stunning gallery walls that line the stairs mainly featuring daughter Mack’s artwork from age 3 onwards (Mack seems to be far handier in the art department than me though, a gallery wall featuring my early and, if I am honest, current artwork, might look like Morph had been let loose with a crayon after one too many Barcardi Breezers). Throughout the house there is a great sense of light and space as doors have been removed so that as you step into the hallway you can see straight through to the garden beyond and clever tricks like a glass panel on the stairs keep the light flowing through the rest of the house.
Although Belinda can never see them leaving Tottenham, if they were to move it would be down to their little place in St Ives (insert link) which they head to whenever it is not rented out or perhaps to a warehouse in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham with it’s vibrant mix of old buildings and beautiful metal cladded armadillo type modern architecture. I feel like I should give Birmingham another chance as Belinda is not the only person to sing its praises to me. I just have terrible memories of the environmental consultants conference I was forced to attend there 5 years ago where, inbetween talks about the latest developments in contaminated land identification (pointers it smells bad and your hair stands on end when you step on it) I was forced to watch two balding middle aged men called Colin and Andrew put on a medieval jousting display. 3 hours of my life I will never get back and the image of paunch straining to escape chainmail is still seared on to my retina.
Over the years Of Special Interest Interiors has grown from a junk shop into the interiors gem it is today, taking over two neighbouring shops as their owners moved on and then the annex behind when it came up to rent. Lewis has also joined the business, taking on many roles, including, on occasion that of Judge Judy if the Of Special Interest Exes are locking horns. In the shop, Belinda is inspired by the Dutch look of muted colours mixed with gorgeous natural textures but I love the fact that nothing is too regimented and it is very much not the kind of shop where entering with a buggy causes the owner to pull a face at you like they have just accidentally chewed a 3 year old piece of bubble gum.
As a fan of concept stores that mix interiors with fashion, gardening and other lifestyle products such as Daylesford Organic, Belinda would love, if she had the space, to be able to offer something similar in Of Special Interest Interiors (although without the hefty price tags found at Daylesford along with hordes of chauffeur driven Range Rovers and women called Clarissa Fortesque-Bowles-De Montfort-Hedges). Having fallen in love with some gorgeous Spanish jewellery at a recent Trade Show, Belinda may yet dip a toe into Daylesford waters or, alternatively, if it doesn’t sell, be turning up at work like Crouch End’s answer to Mr T (if Mr T favoured delicate Catalan crafted jewellery in muted colours). When she is not in the shop, Belinda loves both Instagram and Pinterest and enjoys following both interiors and artists accounts. Favourites include Cornish Artists like Kurt Jackson and Gareth Edwards, the interiors photographer Paul Massey (whose holiday home in Mousehole I have a stonking insta crush on), Hans Blomquist and Sally Denning (whose other account Black Shorestyle is also one of my all time favourites).
Local places Belinda likes to eat out include the Banc Café in Downhills Park minutes from their house. Our kids love this park as it has a mini roadway for scooters and bikes that they can zip around whilst you tuck into Union Coffee, big breakfasts and roast lunches. Although Belinda is a veggie (having grown up as the daughter of a butcher and being put off meat by early encounters with offal and other dubious offcuts) if Lewis is missing meat they go to The Westbury in Turnpike Lane or The Maynard in Crouch End, both of which do great burgers. Down in St Ives favourites include it’s Porthmeor Beach Cafe,The Alba and Porthminster Kitchen.
As well as letting me look round her amazing home, I must also take this opportunity to thank Belinda for having introduced me to the wonders of Primark pleather leggings. I spotted her wearing some on a previous visit to her shop and was delighted to discover they were £6 from Wood Green Primarni rather than £600 from Armani. Their ability to make me feel a little bit like Chrissie Hynde whilst also being wipe clean have made them a “Rock Mum” wardrobe staple (even if my husband never fails to ask if my legs have been abducted by Doreen from Birds of a Feather when I wear them).
Whilst it may yet be a few years before I am Open All Hours (as a shopkeeper that is) drinking tea and chatting with Belinda in her lovely garden has helped keep my dream alive. I now just need to convince Richard Branson instead of spending billions trying to fly Clarissa Fortesque-Bowles-De Montfort-Hedges and pals into space he should, instead, be investing his cash in my coastal modern rustic interiors empire. Failing that, maybe the shop will have to be in Skegness rather than Salcombe.