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
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!
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.
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
*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.
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.
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.........
I spent my formative years in the North-East of England where my only contact with Scandinavia was the Gateshead branch of Ikea and even on trips there I was initially more interested in the mini hotdogs and 50p whippy icecreams than the bleached birch Billy Bookcases, Sodermalm sofas and fabulous faux sage. But somewhere along the way I discovered my inner Agnetha and this North-Eastern girl went Nordic. I began to dream of moving to a Scandinavian country and even went to so far as to take Swedish lessons with Mr Malmo who proved his undying love and devotion to me by spending his Thursday evenings desperately trying to form a Swedish sentence that didn't just sound like he was trying to clear a sticky piece of flem out of his throat. When it became obvious that we would struggle to ask for a Daim bar in a Netto we downgraded the plans to emigrate to frequent holidays there instead. Two Summers ago we went Scandi with the kids for the first time (if you don't count frequent trips to Edmonton Ikea) staying in Copenhagen and then crossing the bridge (yes, The Bridge) to Malmo to stay in the house of one of my all time favourite bloggers My Scandinavian Home. We had a brilliant time so this year, having sired another son (in medieval times I would surely have been given a cow or something by now) we decided to head back to Copenhagen.
Where We Stayed
I am one of life's nervous flyers. I am about as comfortable on a plane as Nigel Farage would be at a Liberal Democrat conference in a vegan cafe. However, it was not my extreme fear of flying that led to our last minute decision to drive rather than fly to Denmark. It was rather the fact that I left it until 2 weeks before the date of departure to book seats by which time return Ryanair flights were about the same price as a small helicopter. But 14 hours with 3 small children crammed into an overpacked Audi were quickly forgotten the moment we stepped inside our Air BnB apartment in Copenhagen. Even with my right eyeball still manically twitching from the 4 large cans of Redbull consumed to keep me awake on the autobahn, I could see that it was the apartment of my Danish dreams.
It is owned by a couple in their early thirties called Signe and Mark who live there with their two young children. They describe themselves in their profile as civil servants and design entrepreneurs causing me to radically re-evaluate my previous stereotypes of civil servants as people who wear short sleeve beige shirts, keep pens in their top pockets and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Common Agricultural Policy.
The apartment is part of a block in which the Danish Prime Minister lived during the second world war. But as you can see it is no gloomy underground Anderson shelter. The main living space is a huge, double reception room with high ceilings and gorgeous sanded original wooden floors. The rest of the rooms lead off that main space and are all painted white creating a beautifully spacious, light and serene feel.
It was a case of love at first sight for the boys as well. However, it was the massive smart enabled TV loaded with car racing games rather than the Dinesen reminiscent floorboards that captured their young hearts. Whilst their new found precious bought us a few uncharacteristic holiday lie-ins, the downside was that anytime we left the apartment to take in some Danish culture at one of the many brilliant museums and galleries Copenhagen has to offer, they had a tendency to ask us at 10 minute intervals when we would be going back to the holiday home to play Nitro Blast.
My favourite part of the apartment was, in contrast, the kitchen. It featured all the modern rustic elements that I love. Rough hewn wood: tick, earthy collections of ceramics: tick, accents of dark metallics: tick. It was a lovely space to sit with a cup of tea flicking through one of their Nordic cookbooks pretending that I am not the kind of person who thinks that rye bread should be reserved for hamsters instead of humans. We tended to eat out at lunchtime and then come back to have dinner at the apartment around the lovely rustic kitchen table having picked up ingredients from the local Meny (the Danish equivalent of Waitrose) on our way home.
There was also a branch of Lagkaghuset next door to Meny so at breakfast time, whilst one of us put the kettle on and stood in the weetabix firing line, the other would pop out to pick up the best cinnamon buns I have ever tasted (and believe me when I say I have tasted a lot!). It is a chain so you can find branches all over Copenhagen should you need a cinnamon top up at any time during the day. I guess they are the Danish equivalent of Greggs but with polished concrete floors, pale wood, twinkling candles and handsome bakery assistants called Lars.
In the evenings once we had the kids in bed we would light some candles in the kitchen (when I say we I obviously mean me as there is about the same chance of Mr Malmo independently lighting a candle as there is him suggesting we sit down to watch a Vicar of Dibley boxset) pour a glass of wine and make plans for the next day together. One of my favourite features of the kitchen was the black pendant lights hung at different heights over the table and worktops, they added a little bit of edge to all the natural textures and got me thinking about changing up our kitchen lights at home.
The kitchen looked out over a gorgeous internal courtyard which was a lovely spot to sit in the sun, watching the boys play with toys shared by all of the apartments with the Danes not being territorial over their tiny tikes. When we visited in late July there were mounds of hydrangeas in whites and pinks in full bloom to enjoy.
There were 3 bedrooms. The master bedroom was a beautiful tranquil space as it was flooded with light from the two big windows which looked out over the quiet street and a small park. The only blot on the bedroom landscape was that the bed had, as is the Scandi way, two separate single duvets on the bed rather than one double. I am not sure if this is because Danish men are chronic duvet stealers so the divorce rate is kept low by everyone having their own duvet, but I found that it meant that I frequently woke up in the night to find that Mr Malmo had rolled off with both duvets leaving me exposed to the Danish indoor elements.
Although the other two bedrooms were used as kids bedrooms, one had a double bed in and could easily have been used as an adult bedroom if you didn't mind waking up with the squad of FC Copenhagen (on the wall rather than in your bed that is unless you had enjoyed a particularly wild night on the Aquavit.) The other bedroom had a small cabin bed in and the only adult it would be suitable for would be wee Jimmy Krankie. Although the bathroom didn't have a bath it had a huge walk-in shower which was perfect for hosing down three mucky boys at the end of every day.
The Local Area
The apartment is located in the Østerbro neighbourhood and is about 15 mins walk from the City centre. It is known as the old wealthy neighbourhood in Copenhagen with lots of beautiful old architecture, broad shopping streets and leafy squares with cafes and shops. Whilst it is definitely not as hip and trendy an area as say Norreborre or Vesterbro, it is super family friendly so will work well if it is first class playgrounds rather than pulsing nightclubs you are after. If your kids are good at walking without claiming their leg batteries have run out, then take a stroll down to the lakes where there are some great restaurants and a section of townhouses so drool worthy that you will be wondering if having watched every episode of the Killing, Borgen and The Bridge will be enough to qualify you for Danish citizenship post Brexit.
2 minutes walk from the apartment was Faelled Park which our kids completely loved. It has an adventure playground, outdoor trampoline park, beach volleyball courts, football pitches, a mini traffic roadway system, a play equipment recreation of the Danish equivalent of Buckingham Palace and vast expanses of green open space. The home stadium of FC Copenhagen also borders the park if you have football fans in the family. Mr Malmo took our eldest son to see a match, buying tickets on the day that cost less than £30 for both of them.
Make sure you tune into the blog this Autumn when I will be sharing more Malmo & Moss tips on where to eat, shop and entertain kids in Copenhagen (when you can prise them away from Nitro Blast that is) and how Danish design has influenced my interiors style at home.
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.