Behind the scenes: bespoke cowhide cushions for the Albion Clerkenwell

A few months ago I was absolutely delighted to be asked to contribute (in my own small way) to the creation of the newest Albion cafe, restaurant & bar in Clerkenwell, London. There are a small number of Albions dotted around East London (plus one on the South Bank) and I love everything about them, so being invited to work with them was amazing!


As a lover of food and drink, the Albion concept is right up my street – simple, seasonal, British food and drink, served all day, in relaxed yet stylish surroundings.  The locations combine a cafe with a grocery selling great fresh produce, baked goods and luxurious culinary treats. What's not to love?

The team behind the Albion is Peter Prescott, Sir Terence Conran & Vicki Conran (collectively Prescott & Conran) so it's no wonder that the concept has been thought out and executed so flawlessly.  It was Peter Prescott's team who first contacted me during the planning stages of the Clerkenwell destination. At our meeting Peter explained that for their newest venue he was planning a basement function room, Cheese & Charcuterie Corner and Pie Room in addition to the upstairs cafe, bakery, grocery and bar.  

My task was to provide bespoke cowhide cushions for the Cheese & Charcuterie corner (how could I refuse?) Accessed by a wooden staircase from the main bar, the lower floor has a very pared back aesthetic – stainless steel, exposed flues, breeze-block walls and concrete lighting.  There was definitely a need for a little softening, and what more fitting than some glossy, tactile cowhide cushions? 

The bespoke cowhide cushions we made are double sided in dark black/brown South American exotic hides, with flashes of white. (Originally they specified very little white, but once in situ decided to order several more cushions with more white on show to contrast with the grey block wall that forms the back of the bench seat). Selecting the perfect hides was paramount – and I probably agonised way too much about it. But working with a beautiful, natural product like hide does, of course, involve plenty of natural variance. Each hide has different markings, hair length, colour, texture and curl that needed to be taken into consideration to create a set of cushions that worked beautifully together.*

These cushions were fairly large, meaning that we could only get one 1 or 2 out of each hide – but the end result is large, glossy, single piece cushions that really show off the natural variations. The picture below was taken for the opening...





A few weeks ago, when the venue finally opened, I was invited to a Great British Design Evening at the Albion Clerkenwell – organised for all of us who contributed to this latest venture. I couldn't turn down a chance to sample the fabulous charcuterie and craft beer (I highly recommend the handmade scotch eggs too!) I have to commend Prescott & Conran for their support of small, local business – without people like Peter Prescott it would be pretty difficult for people like me to survive. It was lovely to be invited to a thank you evening and to see so many other local designers and small businesses there. 

Amongst the scoffing and chatting I just about remembered to take a picture of the cushions in situ, a few more were added, together with a wall of vintage mirrors to overlook them! 


Of course the design of the rest of the premises is immaculate – a simple yet welcoming mix of design-classics (angelpoise lamps and pendants; tolix stools with red leather cushions) and textures (concrete, oak, marble and white metro tiles). Even the bathrooms were great – cement tiles and brass basins (you've got to love a good loo!) 



So if you haven't been to an Albion, I suggest you make a beeline for one the next time you find yourself in East London. Oh, and for those fellow-parents out there, you should note that they're child friendly too – free meals for kids under six during weekends and school holidays, all day (until bedtime). That's my plan for Friday sorted anyway!

*I realise that hair-on-hide makes some people feel squeamish, more so than regular leather (although presumably not those sitting in the charcuterie section eating fabulous meats?!) Our hides are all sourced from Argentina and Brazil, where the cattle are reared for their meat, naturally grass fed and are free to roam over 1000s of acres. At the end of their lives they are transported minimal distances and their hides as well as their meat go to good use.

6 things to learn from a Swedish stylist's amazing home

I've become something of a master at squeezing work in around the edges, and never more so than during the summer holidays with 3 children at home for 7 weeks! Typically I am really busy with design projects, so there's no opportunity to just slack off (and I thought having a boss was bad...) I can't complain, this is what I wanted after all! I was picking through some of my favourite rooms of all time for a little inspiration last night and was reminded of the fabulous house of interior stylist, Marie Olsson Nylander. I thought I'd share these images with you for a little hump day inspiration. If you haven't come across her work before, then you're in for a treat. And if you have, well...it never hurts to oggle afresh!

Nylander is a Swedish stylist, decorator, antique collector (and mum) and I just love her hip, eclectic style. It's a little bit Scandi, a little bit industrial, a little-bit boho and VERY laid-back, collected and cool.



I like to analyse what works in my favourite rooms, so here is my run down of the elements that make Marie Olsson Nylander's home so perfect.

1. Texture


First and foremost Nylander is a master of combining texture. Her home is heavily edited, but the pieces that remain are a wonderful combination of textures: she mixes worn wood with glass, vintage leather with french linen, shaggy rugs with concrete...the colour scheme is pared back but the texture gives you so much to look at.

2. Patina


Everything in Nylander's home is perfectly imperfect. From the scuffed dining table to the well worn fibreglass chairs, everything has some history and nothing is too pristine.





3. Art


Art equals personality, and Nylander demonstrates that you don't have to spend a fortune to add some. She mixes paintings with family photos and even torn out pages taped to the wall.  And she is a fan of sculptural elements too – from huge plaster cherubs to African busts. Even oversized planters and wooden spheres have the feel of an installation.


4. Metallics


A little dash of bling goes a long way in Nylander's home...and she's not afraid to mix her metals either. Whether it's this gorgeous little gold side table or the classic chrome arco lamp, the hints of shine contrast perfectly with all that wood and white.








5. Mirrors


Nylander has an amazing collection of mirrors in styles from every era. She is not afraid to make a statement with an ornate venetian mirror; prop a huge floor-standing one behind her dining table, or combine a simple, modernist style mirror with an over the top rococo console. Pure genius every time. This is one area where I need to seriously up the game in my house (I don't even own a full length mirror – aha they cry, that explains her sartorial choices!!)

6. Ethnic touches


Nylander's home is far from all-out boho, but does have a certain collected style. The odd tribal sculpture hangs out happily with some African fabric cushions whose earthy colours (combined with the largely black and white colour scheme) provide pattern and global flair. The strikingly dark hallway is complemented with a Moroccan boucherouite rug.



See? Beautiful, unique and understatedly amazing. Check out her instagram feed for more inspiration: @marieolssonnylander

(Oh, and check out mine @hideandseeklondon for your chance to win a fabulous frazada blanket!)

All photography Sara Svenningrud.



3 ways to style a leather sofa

Just thought I'd share a little design inspiration today – 3 different ways to style a leather sofa. I have a bit of a thing for leather sofas, particularly low, mid-century style ones. They are timeless, go with everything and are virtually indestructible (although that's not a challenge I'll be setting my 3 kids, who I'm sure could prove me wrong on that last point). Leather is pretty much a neutral in my book, so you may as well have fun accessorising and changing things up every now and again.

I am yet to own a fabulous vintage tan leather sofa, but luckily, my stylish friends let me 'borrow' theirs for an afternoon! So here are 3 different looks for one cool sofa.

LOOK ONE: FRESH MONOCHROME






You can never go wrong with a monochrome scheme, but this is lifted and kept fresh with the addition of some greenery. Real greenery is great (i.e. add some plants) but that large palm-leaf print cushion adds some real zing too.

LOOK TWO: GLOBAL COLOUR




This one is perfect for a summer room, if you like a little boho style! The vintage indigo cushions add texture and a good denim-blue base for the colour elsewhere. A vintage mossy-indigo throw over the sofa arm adds a nice bit of texture too. Tan leather and indigo is a no-brainer...it's like your favourite jeans and leather jacket/belt combo – laid-back and understated but always in style. The striped rug is actually a Peruvian frazada blanket – these are so thick and well woven that they work really well as rugs, provided you add an underlay.  Sometimes you really need a square rug, but they tend to be hard to find, so a frazada is a great alternative to consider.  Check out our instagram competition for your chance to win one of these frazada blankets later today: https://www.instagram.com/hideandseeklondon/

LOOK THREE: DARK & TEXTURED


Finally, this darker styling maximises texture. The cowhide cushions and chunky knit merino wool throw add plenty of softness to the smooth leather. An odd number of cushions nearly always looks better than even – 3 or 5 depending on the size of your sofa. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the first 2 styles actually have 4 cushions each, gah! They still work as the styling is asymmetrical and there is a mix of sizes and shapes. What are rules for if not to be broken?)

All cushions and throws are available in our shop www.hideandseek.london.

I'd love to know which look you like best, and don't forget to check out the instagram competition for your chance to win that frazada!

All photography Carole Poirot for Hide & Seek London.




Design crush: zellige tiles

I spend a lot of time researching and sourcing lovely things (far too much time some might say) but one thing I keep coming back to over and over again is zellige tiling. These beautiful, pearlescent, handmade tiles from Morocco are cropping up in so many gorgeous interiors that I have a serious design crush. So I thought I'd share that with you!

Zellige tiles have been made in Morocco for about 1000 years and the methods have barely changed. They are handmade from terracotta and glazed to give this beautiful, pearlescent finish. Every tile is unique, so the finished result always includes lots of variations in colour and surface texture creating a lovely patina. They come in hundreds of different colours and work with any type of architecture from rustic farmhouse to modern brutalist.

Source: Isle Crawford


This kitchen (above and below) belongs to design-maven Isle Crawford, who has used the palest shade of ivory/blush on her kitchen walls and worktop. The overall effect is quiet and simple, but with a lot of warmth, movement and subtlety. (I also love that gloss sheen on the ceiling which bounces the light around).

Source: Isle Crawford


Design and salvage firm Retrouvius are also rather fond of a zellige tile. I pretty much love everything that they do, which often involves pairing zellige tiled walls with  reclaimed teak and industrial elements, like this farmhouse kitchen:
Source: Retrouvius


or this bathroom finished in egg-yolk yellow zellige tiles with worn leather and reclaimed teak:





I love this zellige fireplace insert that echoes the kitchen splash back:


Black zellige tiles look very cool in general. The dark colours might be a more daring choice, but they still pretty classic and timeless. I  think I could live with these quite happily...


In fact, in my travels round the inter web I've been hard pressed to find a picture of a zellige tiled room that I don't love. They might become my new metro tile. I've been a big fan of classic metro or subway tiles for a long time but I do accept that they are everywhere. (I have them in my kitchen and 2 bathrooms, so that's not going to change anytime soon!) But if you're looking for an alternative to that metro-tile look I would seriously consider zellige. The downside is that they are definitely more pricey, but they are so beautiful I would consider scrimping elsewhere in a kitchen or bathroom to make budget available for a zellige splash back. Just look at this beautiful shower enclosure...


I have a feeling we're all going to be seeing a lot more of these tiles over the next year or two. They speak to all that is popular in the design world at the moment: handmade, unique, artisanal, traditional, timeless and yet BEAUTIFUL. So, there you have it, my Monday morning design crush. I want some!

Before & after: a dark, welcoming library

Time for the last before & after from my recent interior design project – the library. I should point out that the clients don't call it a library, more of a second sitting room or back sitting room, but in my head it's the library because of all the books they wanted to store (see, there is logic there).

I actually intended to post this on Monday, but childcare is pretty ad hoc at the moment and the summer holidays have added a new level of complication. (Still, our new au pair started yesterday so hopefully that will allow me to deliver my upcoming projects and achieve some work life balance for the next few weeks!) But back to the main point of this post, the before and afters!!

 LIBRARY BEFORE








As with the other rooms in this house, there was a lovely fireplace, fabulous original cornicing and a swirly feature wall! It was definitely time to bring this room up to date and make it work for our book-loving clients. 

THE BRIEF


The aim was to provide some stylish but functional storage, whilst making this room work as a cosy den for reading, gaming and TV-watching.  I wanted to add some drama and a more masculine/gentleman's club feel (if you saw the before and after of the downstairs loo last week, then you'll know we'd definitely got some feminine into this house already). Besides, this room gets less light than the main living room and I often find it's best to embrace that when decorating. 

LIBRARY AFTER




We gave the room quite a masculine vibe – with a predominantly black, white and red colour scheme. I just love the black over-the-door bookshelves and woodwork (that black door looks soooo much cooler than the stripped wood). The black is echoed in the cast iron fire surround and mirror, adding plenty of drama. Taking the bookshelves over the door not only minimises dead space (above and to the left of the door) but also looks far more impressive and intentional, while continuing the shelves around the corner into one alcove (defying the usual rule of using matching alcove units) creates a nice touch of asymmetry. The right hand alcove, which is out of shot, is much wider and contains a long, low black shelf for media and a wall mounted TV. The overall effect might be asymmetric, but is still nicely balanced (if you forgo symmetry, you still need to provide balance). 

BASKETS


The lovely black and natural baskets at the bottom of the bookshelves are perfect for hiding less attractive toys and clutter (from Habitat). 

LIGHTING


The light is from John Lewis (the original plan was to have a Tom Dixon copper pendant – but whilst it looked beautiful, it didn't really light the room as much as was required). I love the simple shape of this ribbon pendant, which also casts lovely shadows on the walls and ceiling when lit. The wall lights fixed to the over-the-door bookshelves are by Original BTC and are simple, elegant and do their job.

ACCESSORIES


With the drama of those shelves, we didn't need too much in the way of accessories. The red, black and white rug is a vintage Moroccan Azilal – it has an almost Aztec feel to it and brings some warmth into the room. The sofa was the clients' existing sofa – they considered replacing or reupholstering it, but I think actually it works rather well – it's a little battered in places, but that just adds to the overall comfortable, 'come in, grab a book and sit down' feel of this room. 

The clients added kilim cushions in black and natural tones that work really well with the scheme, and we threw in a vintage red Kantha cushion to tie in the reds. 

I can just imagine sitting here on a chilly evening with a crackling fire and a glass of red. I only hope the clients feel the same! If you liked this post, then why not check out the before & afters of the other rooms in this house: dining roomliving roompowder room.

(All 'after' photography thanks to Carole Poirot). 







Before & after: the smallest room in the house

Well, the first week of the school summer holidays is drawing to a close and despite having the trio of trouble at home I've managed to blog 3 times, so I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself! Right now the children are attacking Grandad with water pistols in the garden, so I'm stealing an hour or two to bring you the 3rd room from my recent client project.  This time it's the smallest room in the house, the downstairs loo/washroom/WC/powder room/cloakroom (or whatever other euphemism you care to use).

The great thing about decorating the loo is that you can go a little wild without worrying too much – you aren't going to spend very long in there, it's generally small so you aren't going to spend a fortune, and if you do something a little daring it's easy to change.

In this clients'  house, the loo is under the stairs – pretty common in period homes which would not have been built with one originally – so is small and windowless. Here's what it looked like before (forgive the bad phone camera shot) ...pretty uninspiring!

On the right hand side is the moodboard – dark, feminine and glamorous. I wanted to make this room unexpected, a nice surprise under the stairs. I was fairly confident that House of Hackney's prints would appeal to the owner's love of vintage fashion and Victoriana. The wallpaper shown above is their Midnight Garden print (if you don't know House of Hackney, they specialise in traditional English fabrics and wallpapers with a modern twist – think rich, dark palm print velvets and traditional florals in unexpected colours).

When I presented this to the clients it would be fair to say that she absolutely loved it, whilst he took a little more convincing. It's feminine, floral, dark and glamorous, with a definite vintage vibe. The touches of glass add light and contrast – antiqued glass metro tiles for the splash-back plus the clients' own vintage 1930s mirror. The whole scheme thoroughly embraces this room's small, windowless position – which I often find is the best way to go when faced with a small space, don't fight it!

The decorator thought I was crazy when I asked him to wallpaper the ceiling as well as the walls (and paint the doors and skirtings black). But if we'd left areas of white it would have ruined the overall effect. As it is, the combination of black floor tiles, woodwork and that amazing wallpaper is dark, dramatic and totally fabulous. Far better than playing it safe!

It's a small room, so pretty difficult to photograph, but here is the after...




Like a secret garden under the stairs!

If you missed the previous posts, then check out the dining room here and the living room here. The last room is still to follow, see you next week!



Before & after: warm retro dining room

Yesterday I showed you the before and after photos from my recent East London living room project. If you missed that post you can see it here. Today it's time to look at the dining room. In some ways this was the most challenging room – it is a bit of a corridor room as the only way to get to the kitchen is to walk through it. A quick look at the before photos tells you this was a rather frumpy, sad looking room.

DINING ROOM BEFORE

 As I explained in yesterday's post, the clients are a very cool couple with a distinct sense of style – which this room just did not reflect! All of that stripped woodwork – dado rails, architraves, skirting boards – is not in keeping with the Edwardian period of the property (these details would ALWAYS have been painted) and the orange lines just serve to divide the room up. Far too '90s for this family...

 Clearly the floor had seen better days and the wall colour was cool and unwelcoming. As for the wallpapered chimney breast...it was probably pretty in its day (if I'm being very generous) but it's just not a good look.


Technically this room would have been built as a breakfast room – designed to be a smaller, less formal eating area directly adjoining the kitchen, rather than the formal dining room – but for these clients it made sense for this to be the main dining area. They are a family that eats at the table every day, so it was a key room for them.

THE PRACTICALITIES

This room presented a few design dilemmas. First and foremost, the clients wanted this to be a functioning and much-used dining space to seat 6-8. It needed to include some additional storage (as the adjoining kitchen is on the bijou side) and we had to make sure that the dining table and chairs didn't obstruct access to the kitchen, which is only accessible via the opening you see at the end of this dining room. There would be nothing more annoying – to me, at least – than constantly having to squeeze past a table and chairs to get in and out of the kitchen; particularly with constantly hungry/thirsty small children in tow! 

So, the first thing I advised the clients to do was to move the column radiator that can be seen on the left hand side in the pictures above to the other side of the room, under a window. This removed one obstacle en-route to the kitchen and is also more energy efficient.

Next the clients got the rather manky (that's a technical term) wood floor sanded and refinished. Finally they removed the strange, extra-long net curtains from the 2 alcove windows. They wanted to maximise the light, as the room faces East and gets little sun after mid-morning, but I knew we had to provide an alternative window-dressing as those windows look straight into next door's kitchen/dining area. (Let's face it, it's bad enough having to look at your own family first thing in the morning, without having to watch your neighbours eating cornflakes in their PJs!)

DESIGN SCHEME

So the design scheme looked something like this...lots of wood and pops of colour against a neutral but warm backdrop. 





The solution for those windows was a pair of muslin roman blinds. Left down, they softly filter the morning light and provide privacy whilst looking fresh and tailored (they also hide the UPVC window frames effectively).

As you can see from this shot, painting out all of the woodwork to match the walls has made the room feel much lighter, brighter and more spacious. You immediately lose the visual boundaries and focus far more on what's in the room instead. This included painting the fireplace surround. This was a little controversial to start with, but I think it really works. I do love wood, it adds warmth and texture to a room, but that fire surround was an inexpensive softwood and not an attractive colour. We've brought in plenty more with the table and sideboard and just didn't need that wooden surround as well. Painted in Farrow & Ball Shaded White, it blends in with the walls and looks fresh and clean.




KEY PIECES

As it is a relatively narrow room, there is no space (or need) for extraneous furniture. The key items were:

The table

This is made from reclaimed scaffold boards on a steel base. The clients really wanted a wooden table, although had been thinking of something more farmhouse in style. After a thorough scouring of vintage and off-the-peg options, we agreed that having something made-to-measure was the best route to go. This allowed us to specify a relatively narrow width without compromising on the length (and maintain that all-important through-way to the kitchen). The style has a slight industrial edge that balances all the wood in the room and echoes the living room shelves

The lights

The simple glass pendant lights from Heals add a warm glow to the room. I love the retro colours – amber, rose and smokey grey. The client also added a copper floor lamp (which is just out of shot next to the right hand window) which nicely reflects the copper ceiling roses of those ceiling lights.

Sideboard

The sideboard is made from teak and provides storage for crockery and dining essentials within easy reach of the kitchen. It is a new piece but with mid-century style, and the faceted teak doors add some much needed texture to the room.   

Chairs

We mixed 2 chair styles to keep things informal and interesting. The tan leather chairs again have a mid-century appeal, whilst the classic black thonet-style chairs tie in with the black of the fireplace.

The Rug

Finally the rug grounds the whole scheme whilst softening the room. We opted for an overdyed, vintage rug in a gorgeous teal colour. It's always key to ensure that a rug under a dining table is large enough to allow the chairs to be pulled in and out without any legs catching on the edges – this one is wide enough to do the job perfectly. The style is also fairly forgiving as it is already relatively threadbare!

ACCESSORIES

Finally, of course, there are the all important accessories. The clients had some great items to use in this room – from the gold mirror that sits nicely above the fireplace (adding another metallic accent) to the Chinese art print on the sideboard. I just love the designer whiskey collection on the mantlepiece too – very cool.

So, there  you have it, a warm, retro style dining room. I'd love to know what you think! Stay tuned for 2 more before and after posts from this project soon.