Showing posts with label interior design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interior design. Show all posts

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Photos from home

I'm in a retrospective mood. December is a month for sorting through our photos and thinking about the year that has passed. It's no surprise the events of 2020 will stand out in my memory. A few years ago it was a road-trip through California that dominated; this year our holidays were equally unusual but somewhat closer to home (literally).

An English garden
Holidays in the garden
Scrolling through our archive, the photos reveal a few other themes too: fun in the garden during lockdown-lite (summer), new crazes for paddle boarding and home-decorating, as well as an obsession with food (homegrown veg, homemade sourdough, celebratory cakes). Towards the latter end of the year, it was the new kitten who stole the show - romping with the dog, curled up in my son's hat, or perched nonchalantly on the roof of our house (three storeys up 😩).

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Youthful thinking

The depressing thing about getting older is that you'll never be young again. Yes, an obvious point (but bear with me). I look in the mirror every morning and I think, Rats - is that really me? What happened to my skin? Then I reach compulsively for my anti-ageing face cream...

The writer in a boat in New York
My glory days in NYC - boating in Central Park 
The other day, I was flipping through old photos and observing how youthful I used to be. But then it struck me: it's likely, when those snaps were taken, I'd already started worrying about my wrinkles. 

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Spring house makeover

At long last, spring is in the air! I can't say I feel the urge to spring-clean, but all this lovely sunshine is raising my energy levels on the house front. We moved into a period home last October and are in the throes of figuring out what needs renovating. The to-do list seems to keep on growing...

Fliers of exhibitors at the Henley House & Garden Show 2019
Exhibitors at the House & Garden Show

We could live here quite happily for another year or so without doing anything, but we're under pressure to get the heavy lifting out the way before my daughter takes her GCSEs next summer. 

Friday 7 February 2014

The agonies of interior design

This past week I thought I had a bad case of PMT. Turns out it was IDT (interior-design tension). I can accomplish most tasks in life with a modicum of organisation and some hard graft, but there is something about home-decorating that ties me up in knots. Nothing like a wallpaper dilemma to keep me awake half the night. So why is it that I can write a 140,000 word novel, but the thought of re-decorating my lounge fills me with trepidation? 

Decor in kitchen extension
The completed extension project, with dog crate! 
(see suppliers below)
I spend hours (or even weeks) agonising over the precise shade of paint: a shade too dark and the room might appear smaller; a shade too light and it feels like a wishy-washy compromise. I know my Farrow and Ball colour chart like my 10-year old daughter can recite times-tables. Pigeon? Too dark, too London. French Gray, Blue Gray, Elephant's Breath? Being literary minded, I can cope with the names better than the actual colours.

The options don't end there. Apparently I could team up Pigeon on a feature wall with Blue Gray on my supporting walls. And that's just the foundation. After that, we are talking furnishings, lighting, accents and even the colour of the skirting boards. These days we can't just resort to Brilliant White for our woodwork. The F&B website advises us to soften the contrast between walls and wood with different kinds of white so the confines of the room disappear. (That was the fruit of yet another feverish hour spent sweating over interior design sites.)

Thursday 12 September 2013

This is the house that we built

There was an intriguing article in our local newspaper in May last year, which opened with the line: "A man has won an appeal to extend his home." Unbeknown to us, our humble kitchen extension had become breaking news in Henley-on-Thames. The article continued:
"William Lam... can now demolish his conservatory and outbuildings and build a single-story extension incorporating a kitchen and dining room."
Scintillating stuff, although I was a bit miffed that Henley's newshounds had overlooked Mrs Lam's role in the project. Now, after two years of planning, design and various setbacks, this same man (and his wife) have finally finished their extension.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

The art of good lamp-making

People watching: 
Karin Willems, co-founder of Zenza

About seven years ago the renowned Dutch designer Li Edelkoort helped to kit out a restaurant in Paris' Galeries Lafayette. As part of her scheme, she chose to accent a modern, white space with Middle Eastern flair. Hammered brass lights were hung above the restaurant's tables, casting their shadowy patterns onto the tiled walls. A new trend was born: the lamps were featured in Harper's Bazaar and an explosion of interest followed.

Karin Willems and other founders of Zenza, a Dutch producer of home accessories
Karin with her husband Hussein
and business partner Yasmina
The company behind those lights is a Dutch producer of handicrafts called Zenza. Last week I interviewed co-founder Karin Willems, who has just launched the company's newest store in Rotterdam. The company prides itself on crafting handmade home accessories, using oriental designs and artisanal techniques. It operates mainly as a wholesaler, but has two other stores in Amsterdam and Maastricht. 

About 18 years ago, Karin spotted the lights in a souk in Egypt - they were traditional lamps with closed bottoms for burning oil. "We made the design cleaner, more modern and easier to use with an electrical system," she says. The company's design mantra is to reinterpret objects of the past, giving them a more contemporary feel. The lamps have been Zenza's best seller ever since. Last year, Heineken even used them in an television advertisement to sell beer.

Lamps designed by Zenza, a producer of home accessories
Zenza's lamps are crafted by hand in Egypt
Karin maintains that her company is not run on conventional lines, using business tools such as strategy and research. "I always follow my heart and rely upon my taste and intuition," she says. "That's who I am and how I do it... and I like having the right people around me." 

Not surprisingly, the company was forged out of a relationship: while Karin was visiting Cairo's souk 18 years ago, she met and married Hussein. At first, he wasn't keen to join Karin's fledgling venture in Amsterdam - he offered to help carry boxes until he found his own way. It turned out he had a gift for dealing with customers so he stayed on. Now he also helps Karin with her designs, often handling the more technical aspects.

The couple have a daughter and moved to Egypt three years ago so that she could grow up in two cultures. Unfortunately, their move coincided with the recent political upheaval. "In the beginning it was very exciting, adapting to a new culture," recalls Karin in a soft voice. "But it is a difficult time now and people are losing their businesses and there is all this sadness around us. Now I admit I am counting the days until we go back to Amsterdam." As an exporter, Zenza is not so affected by Egypt's troubles.

Furniture designed out of mango wood by Zenza, a producer of home accessories
Workshops in India make wares out of old print blocks
The company has its own factory in Cairo and also provides microfinance to various workshops making its goods. "We didn't want to be everyone's boss," explains Karin. The workshops often repay Zenza's loans in six months and are able to hire more staff as required. The company also uses the workshop model in India to produce furniture made out of (sustainable) mango wood. 

Karin is committed to maintaining ethical standards and is "very confident" that Zenza operates on a fairtrade basis in Egypt, providing safe conditions for workers and paying good salaries. With a degree of honesty, she admits that it is harder to achieve such standards in India. "I am sure there is not child labour and I am sure the mango wood is not harvested illegally, but it would cost me so much time to find out more." Despite having an agent in India, keeping tabs on Indian suppliers is one of the challenges Zenza faces.

Lamps designed by Zenza, a producer of home accessories
Zenza's lamps have caught the attention of designers
The company is also, to some extent, a victim of its own success. Demand for its lamps is outstripping its capacity to produce - many of its retailers in the UK are out of stock. Karin is ideologically opposed to mass production, but it can take months to train up new craftspeople. "Good things take time and I don't like it, but this is our reality. We don't want to compromise on quality." 

Remarkably Zenza seems to be weathering the slowdown in consumer spending, even bucking the trend in Rotterdam. Some of the local outlets for Zenza's products have been forced to close down, giving the company a unique opportunity to open its own shopfront without treading on any toes. With all this going on, you wonder how Karin ever gets time to rest. Although Hussein sometimes tells her that he doesn't want to hear about work for a while, she finds it hard to switch off. "Even on vacation, I see a new material, or I find a location for photo shoot," she says, laughing.

On paper, such squeaky clean credentials make for good marketing. During the interview, however, Karin's passion for craft and fair trade come across as genuine. It appears to be a peculiarly female success story: a design-winner bred out of intuition and generosity, rather than hard-nosed business nous.

UK suppliers of Zenza's products include John Lewis and Pomegranate Living with Style. Zenza's lamps also recently featured in Homes & Gardens magazine. Please note that I was not paid or incentivised in any way to write this article.


Wednesday 6 March 2013

Dream kitchens

Nostalgia is a funny old thing. It is something that I suffer from on a periodic basis. The term nostalgia is defined as a sentimental longing for the past, deriving from the Greek compound for 'homecoming' and 'ache' or 'pain'. Rather appropriate in my case as today I am mourning the loss of our home - or at least parts of our home. 

Building project for Edwardian house
Nostalgia and innovation in the making
At the end of February, we embarked on a project to extend the kitchen into the side return. In architect's speak, we are taking an innovative approach to reflect the needs of a rapidly changing world. We are contrasting a lightweight, modern extension with the red bricks of our Edwardian terraced house. In terms of old and new, it will be a bit like the Louvre Pyramid, except we are building a nice bespoke kitchen with a comfy family area (as opposed to a world-class art gallery).

As the new parts of the house take shape, however, we are bidding farewell to the old kitchen that has served us so well for seven years. My children have grown up in this kitchen - they have learnt their table manners on black granite, showcased their artwork on cupboard doors and even taken their first steps on the slate floor. In other words, I associate a bank of happy memories with a few kitchen units. And today the builders have ripped them out!

Of course I still want my new kitchen with its painted doors and double the floorspace, but I can't help feeling discomforted by the loss of familiar surroundings. Exciting as the new project is, I am still pulled to the past. That, I suppose, is how we build our identities. Our lives are indexed by the past and invigorated by everything the future promises. By holding onto that duality, we can perhaps appreciate the delights of the old and the new. 

Which, incidentally, is what we are trying to achieve with our new extension: nostalgia, innovation, some sliding doors to the garden and forty square metres of underfloor heating. May the old kitchen rest in peace.