A little while ago, I gave some tips on quiet decorative ideas to add interest to your home, but this week I thought I’d outline some ideas that go a little bolder.
Painting a rug on the floor is a dramatic and unexpected way to transform your space. Begin by choosing a graphic print or finding a pattern to copy and either draw it on the ground freehand or transfer it using a stencil (ask the local office supply or printing store about their large-format printing options). Paint using a semi-glass or similar durable paint. As the paint wears and weathers, the pattern becomes even more appealing and when you tire of it, you can simply start again. Also, consider an alternative to a feature wall and paint the lower half only. The paint should come to waist level in a similar fashion to wainscoting.
Welcome to my cabinet of curiosities. These customised floor-to-ceiling shelves are based on a design I saw in the glass library of a Venetian mosaic school. They house my shells, bugs and beautiful butterflies, feathers pebbles and other objet trouvé mixed in with all kinds of books and publications. The mini bay window provides essential natural light for the dense display and gives me a lovely little reading haven. Bespoke shelves are fantastic for storage and open display.
Incorporating a quote or words of a favourite poem or song into your interior instantly personalises the space. Use a paint pen, or if you’d rather something less permanent, a pencil. Don’t fret about mistakes and imperfections – it is these that make this kind of decoration uniquely yours.
Zalanpatak was established 400 years ago as a glass manufacturing village. Czechs and Germans were brought in to make glass, & their descendants live on in the area today. We thought it proper to visit the glass museum in light of this history. It was actually just an old couple’s home with a table of about ten glass vessels. The main space was broken up into his & her domain: a man’s quarters with a workshop and the woman’s quarters with the kitchen. The elderly man was in an apron ready to fix or make, and so much more. With his set-up he could turn a wooden bowl, make a harness, repair a hoe, create jewellery and anything else that he was called upon for in order to be self-sufficient. Make your space multi-functional – kitchen as dining room, dining room as workshop, workshop as anything you like.
There’s a real lack of plastic in Romania. Things are not disposable, they can be mended and fixed and this wear & tear speaks of a lifetime. We wandered past a cracked glass window in a village and rather than being replaced, the owner sewed either side with buttons to keep it from falling apart. Choose your materials carefully when you are buying things, perhaps a little more expensive initially but more likely to live to tell tales.
Between the Woods and the Water
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Along the Enchanted Way
by William Blacker
Mrs. Delaney & Her Circle
Edited by Mark Laird & Alicia Weisberg-Roberts
Time of the Gypsies (film)
directed by Emir Kusturica
La Strada (film)
directed by Federico Fellini
Underground (film & soundtrack)
directed by Emir Kusturica
Wild Flowers of the World
by Barbara Everard & Brian D. Morley
Romania: A Birdwatching and Wildlife Guide
by James Roberts
The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
37 Greenpoint Ave
(entrance at 104 West St)
Amazing teas that transport you to far-off places. Choose one with early spring mixes of delicate orange blossom and garlands of marigold petals.
If you missed the start of my journey, check it out here. And for the colour palette I conjured up, you can find it here. Don’t worry if you missed my first styling inspiration from Transylvania, it’s here.
P is for…
Paint instantly changes the mood of a room, and the bolder the colour choice, the more dramatic the transformation. And the beauty of paint: if you don’t like it or tire of it, you can start all over again. If you’re feeling super confident with a paint brush, try a two-tone wall. Click here for my painting guidelines.
The ghost of once was, the memory of times & people gone-by in an object; its history & past use revealed in its wear & tear.
One of the cheapest and most rewarding interior design options is paper and paper products. Stationery, envelopes stuffed with old letters, books, souvenir postcards and those bought at art exhibitions, posters, magazines, newspapers in a foreign language… wherever you go, whether it’s the local school fete or a market in a far-flung destination, look for paper in varying textures, weights and colours. Seek out quirky, handwritten items and printed matter with unusual fonts and typesetting. When you return home, the possibilities will start to present themselves as you begin framing, tacking and hanging them to walls.
Patterns & blueprints
These come in many shapes, materials and forms. At present I’m into old blueprints, which are more of an artwork for me. I’ve even seen some in brown.
I like the idea that things can be created more than once, each time with a different hand and perhaps ideal or set of skills. The product of someone’s decision-making process to create a template of all their thoughts and ideas – some kept, some rejected – to finish with a final pattern, mould or plan. I attempted dressmaking when I was young, but it was not to be. I was way more interested in the paper that the pattern was made from. A soft tissue with printing all over it, which is great for wrapping presents or papering a wall. I have since expanded on this, and love the more professional patterns of thick brown card that hold their form for multiple uses.
Hand-tooled, whittled & carved, each wooden peg has its own character and function. My mother once gave me a gypsy peg: split wood with a band of thin brass at the top and tiny nails to keep the pieces together. A peg is a utilitarian object that reminds me of a time when crafts were an everyday part of life. I imagine them travelling in an old chipped enamel bowl in a colourfully painted caravan, and used to peg up many layered skirts on a line strung between the trees by a river.
I have a bundle of pencils wrapped in brown paper, all identical, a supply for a far-flung isolated place, such as the South Pole.
On one of my first trips for an American magazine, I was sent to Little St Simons Island off the coast of the US state of Georgia. The story goes that, in the early 1900s, a pencil baron bought the island for the oak trees that thrived on the growing land (it’s a sand-shifting island that is constantly growing). What a treat for me, for once it became apparent that the oaks were too gnarly & windswept for pencils, the island was converted into a private residence & retreat for the family.
I write my notes with pencils sharpened with knives.
Pierce [things that]
Nails, pins, tacks, hardware & stationer stores on foreign shores fascinate me and I cannot help but peruse their aisles to see what the locals are using. Hand-forged nails from Baileys, T-pins from the States, brass-dome-topped tacks, upholstery tacks both decorative & functional, dressmakers’ pins, tiny bead pins, thumb tacks etc. Each has its own personality suitable for specific display requirements.
Eye patches, seafaring scoundrels, swordsmen, looters & wooden legs, parrots, ships & sailing the high seas. I feel like I’m part pirate, and celebrate that sailing spirit in my crockery range.
My paper obsession saw a new outlet when I began to collect porcelain versions of classic-shaped paper vessels. A strawberry punnet, a hot chip container, espresso cup: I love that something usually tossed away after one use suddenly has a longer life by being made of something precious. I first saw this approach by Australian artist, Nicole Lister. After buying her cups, I found other curious pieces in NYC, London & Paris. I stick to white, and let the pieces speak for themselves in their simplicity. I like the surprise element of the traditionally disposable becoming permanent.
Look upon stamps as miniature works of art with an historical timeline. Cut them from old envelopes – glue marks and all – or letters from international friends, or save a few from your own round-the-world-journeys. Stick the here, there everywhere.
Prizes, rosettes & other rewards
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love to win an award of some description. I haven’t won enough in my life, so I have to improvise and make or buy my own. Although self-anointed, I still feel every bit the winner and suggest you follow my lead. Make your own brown paper rosette, award yourself a gold star and stick on your forehead, purchase a porcelain trophy and felt tip your name on it or tie a beautiful ribbon on your arm and write ‘you’re the best, chuck out the rest’.
Using what you have at hand to create vignettes and arrangements will make your interior unique. Here are some more ideas to get you started.
This improvised sculpture of rusted barbed wire – could art cost any less? – casts curious shadows on the wall. Consider not just the objects themselves, but the way they meld in with their surroundings.
For the win
An afternoon to be enjoyed lakeside. Instead of standard centrepiece selections, use an old chessboard as a trivet and scatter some of your gaming pieces among your glassware, not to use, just to look at. Your things will spark a memory, and conversation will be sprinkled with your stories.
Rethink your notion of what constitutes wall art – it’s not just frames and canvases. This kimono has been hung using a length of bamboo tied with twine. Colour and texture are drawn into your scheme via the elegant silhouette of an article of clothing.
All in the detail
Many people would not take a second look at forgotten hardware, such as this, but for me it holds as much wonder as a treasure chest. The spectrum of colours that springs from a basic mix of ageing wood and tarnished metal is a perfect example of my foundation colours and offers new ways of creating larger displays in your home.
Missed my other ideas on everyday styling? Check them out here.
In Zalanpatak and throughout our Transylvanian travels, it was so springy underfoot – I knew the buds & new growth were just about to explode! Where we were staying, there was a royal botanical painter ready to lead a class in two weeks when the springtime bloom revealed itself. The patterns on this bed linen are abstract floral for me.
A highly recommended read if you are visiting Transylvania, or simply want to be transported there from your armchair, is Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker. He talks of gypsy girls with ribbons and shells plaited through their hair and strung around their necks to ward off evil spirits. Create your own protection for your house to ward off the bad and invite the good. I have wrapped raffia around a found antler and hung it alongside threaded cowrie shells and mirrored jingle-jangle from Jaipur, India.
I encourage you to pick flowers, tendrils or branches from your local surrounds, the garden or the side of the road – whatever they may offer. If you go for flower markets or florists, don’t buy a pre-arranged bunch, but many individual flowers and greenery and loosely arrange them together. Imagine you’ve collected them as you traverse the Transylvanian countryside in the springtime, grouping them as you find them and popping them in vessels once home without another thought.
Tune in next week as I wrap-up my Transylvanian tour, with more interior inspiration as well as my tips for spaces & places to check out if you find yourself in that part of the world.
O is for…
An ordinary object, found. A strand of sequins, a hand-stitched flower, threads & buttons. Things discovered with pleasure, in a long-abandoned attic or at the bottom of a beaded opera purse; faded & frayed, pre-loved & glorious. Origin: France, found object.
I think the word ‘souvenir’ gets a really bad rap. I want to conjure up all the romance of travel and the idea of coming into the port of a place that was so foreign, the desire to take a piece as a memento was too strong to deny. Souvenirs were often made by local artisans for visiting tourists (also a word that gets a hard time).
Things like shell cameos from the Amalfi Coast, Native American beaded purses from Niagara Falls, pin cushions out of conch shells from the Bahamas. A little kitsch, maybe, but the set of bamboo-handled knives & forks with ‘Surfers Paradise’ hand-painted on each handle that my great friends Donna & WIll gave me many years ago have long been treasured many times used.
During my years of styling , I developed some strange habits (or were they always there?). I styled food shoots for many years, so was on the constant lookout for unusual table props. Travelling constantly, I began picking up wrapped sugar cubes and matchbooks from various nooks & crannies. As well as the souvenirs, I grew very interested in paper food wrappings, particularly vintage ones like tapas paper napkins, cupcake patty pans, foil chocolate wrappers, berry punnets and amaretto papers to incorporate into my photographs.
Old cardboard boxes hold the romance of days gone by. Not only because of the shop’s stamp & labelling that might be on them but also for the box’s specific shape & size, the quality & texture of the cardboard structure, the attention to the edge details and even the hardware that holds the corner. I upcycle old boxes when they come my way to house my own collections of ribbons, bulldog clips etc. Not only are boxes practical, but they look beautiful, too.
Bell’occhio, a favourite shop in San Francisco sells, among other things, handcrafted French papier-mâché boxes of fruits, nuts, shells and the like. I have one in the shape of an oyster. I love the romance of oysters, and have been known to ask the very obliging waitstaff at Balthazar to wash my dozen mini Kumamoto shells after a particularly pleasant lunch as a memento. The shape for me is iconic, irregular and one of nature’s naturally crafted vessels. The colour varies so much from shore to shore, and inspired, both in colour & patina, one of my paints, aptly named ‘Oyster Grey’.