Our comfy outdoor seating area: the big reveal!

It looks like we're in for a dose of summer this week (at least here in London) so, after what feels like a pretty long winter, it's time to start talking about outdoor spaces again, yay! As an interior designer, I clearly spend most of my time concentrating on the inside, but our garden patio area really felt like it was letting the house down. I'm pleased to say that, having spent most of last summer making over this space (I think we may be the slowest DIYers on the planet), it's finally time to share it with you!

If you missed the original post, where I rant about all the challenges and show you the before photos, then you can check it out here. To recap, we had a few problems to contend with (and when I say a few, I really mean a lot). It was small, sunken, uncomfortable and accessed via a huge step down from our back doors – a bit of a trip hazard for small children and visiting relatives – and, ok, for me after a couple of glasses of Pimms. It was also pretty grey (not in a good way) and unloved, with hand-me-down furniture that we'd not got around to replacing, so we never really felt inspired to sit out here.

THE PLAN: CREATE A COOL, COMFORTABLE OUTDOOR ROOM


The aim was to create a really useable and comfortable outside space that we could enjoy in the summer, and wouldn't mind looking at in the winter months too! The patio leads directly off our openplan kitchen dining area, so we look at it pretty much all the time – from when we're eating breakfast in the mornings to watching TV at night. It may sound like a cliche, but I really wanted to make the patio feel (and function) like an extension of the house.





THE DECKING


The first, and largest job was to sort out the floor levels. The rather grubby looking grey paving was a good foot lower than the inside room level, and had some ugly gutters and an odd little step running alongside the wall.  The solution was to deck over the entire space, raising the patio level to the same height as the wooden floor indoors and hiding all the ugly stuff in the process. Queue a major project for Dave, which he diligently completed over the course of a few evenings and weekends (OK, quite a lot of evenings and weekends). To be honest, Dave and I sit at opposite ends of the DIY spectrum. I definitely fall into the 'that looks great, what's next?' camp, whereas Dave likes to refine and re-engineer and re-do things until they are absolutely perfect. Suffice it to say that our new decking could probably withstand a herd of elephants performing Riverdance without so much as a squeak from those boards (not strictly necessary, but reassuring nonetheless).

THE BENCH SEATING


We decided that rather than turning our patio into a dining area, we would go for more of a laid-back and loungey seating area – the theory being that our large dining table is only about 50cm away on the other side of the sliding doors, so we didn't feel that we really needed a second table. Added to this, the patio is considerably lower than the lawn, and this small, sunken space lends itself quite well to some built-in seating.

Having exhausted all traditional garden furniture avenues, I opted to have something made to measure. We wanted something that would look good all year round but could be softened with proper seating and scatter cushions in the warmer months. MetroRetro, who I have worked with before, created this pair of bench seats using tubular steel and our left over decking boards.  They are simple, functional and slightly utilitarian, but also make perfect shelves for a display of plants when not being sat on! (The green-fingered among you may notice that these photos were actually taken a few months ago, hence the pots are full of winter cabbages and heather!)


Left-over decking makes the perfect tops for the steel bases, and will hopefully weather down at the same rate as the new floor. The metal bases have been powder coated in navy blue to link with the interior colour-scheme (it will also help them to withstand the weather and makes them feel a little more polished).  In the winter you can plonk a few pots on there to add interest, but in the warmer months we will turn this into an outdoor sofa, like so:



GETTING THE SIZES RIGHT


The base cushions were made to measure from sturdy foam, and covered in Sunbrella, a high-tech water-proof, stain-proof, mould-proof fabric.  It's what they use on yachts, so can hopefully stand up to a bit of British weather (and some pretty messy kids).  I chose a neutral grey design with a fine stripe and decided to add colour with the other accessories.

I spent a long time agonising over the dimensions of this seating. I wanted it to be low enough to feel loungey, (but not so low that it's difficult to get out of – I'll admit it, I'm not as nimble as I once was). It had to be deep enough to lounge with your legs curled up, but not so deep that a short-arse like me couldn't sit upright as well. And it had to fit plenty of cushions (because no-one wants to lean up against a hard wall with a stone ledge and frankly, I love cushions).



It was time well spent as this is now officially the most comfortable sofa in the house – without actually being 'in' the house. The corner (which you can see in the picture below) forms a sort of 'chaise' which is officially my new favourite spot. Unfortunately our 2-year old is also laying claim to this as her seat-of-choice. I predict a summer feud. I predict she'll win.

THE TABLE


The small bistro table is from French Connection Home. Whilst it isn't technically suitable for outdoor use, it was one of the only tables I could find that was the right height to enable dining from a sofa (about 60cm tall). OK, I know I just said that I didn't need another dining table, but this enables 2 of us to have a quick bite outside of an evening if we want to – or more likely a drink and a few nibbles. It lives in the dining room in wet weather and is light enough to carry in and out easily (unfortunately it's been discontinued, but see here for their latest collection). When we have more guests, we'll simply pick up the side tables from the adjoining room and carry them out to provide extra surfaces (although the wall is actually a pretty good drinks perch, providing there aren't any footballs flying around).

THE CUSHIONS


Then it was time to add the cushions! Using a mixture of sunbrella; cowhide (left over from the business) and hand-dyed indigo I had them all made in a generous 60 x 60cm size. They have polyester inserts so that they can withstand a little damp and the only downside is that they do all have to be stored away in bad weather. We have the dubious benefit of an absolutely enormous shed at the end of our garden, so what better place to put them? (As you can imagine, Dave is delighted that his workbench and power tools are now barricaded in by a large bag of soft-furnishings). But then again, you can't argue with garden comfort, can you? (Similar cowhide cushions and indigo cushions are available from the shop: Hide & Seek. We're always happy to make bespoke items too, just drop us a line).

THE CHAIRS


We already had the 2 Ikea Hogsten armchairs (they're ridiculously comfortable and affordable) and they fit here perfectly, meaning we can fit at least 10 people sociably on the patio, despite it's small 3m x 3m size.  I think these high-backed versions of the Hogsten have been discontinued, although there are usually several knocking about on eBay, and the lower-backed versions are still available here.









STILL TO DO


Of course nothing is ever finished when you're a designer...and there's always a list of things still to do in my house. The walls have already had a fresh lick of paint since these pictures were taken, but the fences are a bit of an eyesore. I hate being able to see all the boundaries and would love to see only plants instead. I've planted some honeysuckle and a vigorous clematis which should hopefully work their magic over time. I have to say I'm very impatient with things that grow, but I love the idea of sitting next to a fragrant living wall (in about 2 years time) so have resisted the urge to paint, cover or otherwise bugger-about with the fence panels for now. (Plus, I can't really paint these panels without doing the entire rest of the garden, and that feels like a lot of work for something that I ultimately want to hide with greenery).

Lighting is another item to be finished – we need to install some LEDs and perhaps a couple of uplighters so that we can enjoy the view from indoors in the evenings (rather than looking at a stretch of black reflective doors – read more on the benefits of lighting your garden here).  I'd like to add some festoon lights to weave through the yet-to-grow living wall too and have my eyes peeled for a bargain.



BUT, all in all, it's a big improvement on what was a dingy garden patio area. I'm pleased to see the forecast is looking good for half term as I'm planning on spending plenty of time out here, planting up my pots for the summer and playing with the littlest DesignSeekers (seen here enjoying our new 'outdoor room' at a party a couple of weeks ago). I'm predicting plenty more barbeques, drinks and water-balloon attacks out here over the coming months (although I could live without the latter). Is anyone else thinking about their garden goals yet? What are your plans?

All images: Carole Poirot (except the last one!)


Dine in design: Bacaro, Roman Road

Today I'm serving up the second in my restaurant design series – checking out fab restaurants that showcase great interior design (if you missed the first one, read it here). This time it's a trendy little Italian on Roman Road called Bacaro. The laid-back, retro interior has been pulled together using locally made furniture and fittings wherever possible, and it's a relaxed, sociable treat!



Bacaro opened just over a year ago in this eclectic part of old East London. Roman Road runs for around a mile between Bow and Bethnal Green, and maintains its community feel with butchers and bakers, artists and pie & mash shops – as well as a market 3 times a week. Bacaro occupies a perfect little spot at number 387, next door to acclaimed plasticine (yes, the kids-play-stuff) artist, Henry Hudson.

LOCATION AND BACKGROUND


Owners Krysia and Marco Barbuti are residents of East London themselves. Krysia trained originally as a chef (in classic French cookery) and Marco hails from Emilia-Romagna, a food hub in Northern Italy. They ran a cafe in Wanstead for a few years, but dreamt of opening their own restaurant. On the hunt for the right location for their new venture, they sought out a non-commercial high-street with a vibrant demographic. Having worked at Aesop for a few years, Krysia knew this part of town well and liked the mix of small businesses and independent shops (not to mention more affordable rent than the likes of Hackney). The proximity to Victoria Park and the young, creative residents (mixed with a few old East End characters) seemed perfect for a modern Italian.


THE NAME & CONCEPT


The name Bacaro is a venetian term for a winebar where you can eat, whilst Bacchus was the Roman god of wine…appropriately for Roman Road! Krysia explained that the aim was very much to create a sociable, easy-going atmosphere where friends can meet, socialise and experience great food and wine. The restaurant interior design had to support this by creating the right informal but stylish environment. The owners were also very keen to source as much as possible in the local area, supporting other small businesses.




THE TILES


When Krysia and Marco pulled up the flooring they revealed old terracotta tiles beneath, which gives a solid, earthy base to the design. The patterned, encaustic cement wall tiles were then added to replicate some of the design elements of the floor, and help to give the restaurant a relaxed feel. The chipped-away effect works well with the painted brick walls (although Krysia admits this was largely because they couldn't actually get all of the plaster off!) Whatever the reason, it works.  The encaustic cement tiles were supplied by Bert & May, with whom Krysia had worked in her previous job at Aesop. A local East End firm, Bert & May have a reputation for beautiful, handmade interiors – their Vyner Street showroom is well worth a look for some reclaimed/industrial/textural inspiration.






THE BAR


The bar is made from distressed wood planks, arranged in a chevron pattern that, again, references the graphic tiles. It's a little bit rustic, a little bit hip – and can seat a fair few customers too! The tables meanwhile came from an old Italian restaurant in the city, once owned by a friend.  Krysia tells me that they have plans to focus even more on this bar area, creating an area for cocktails and bar food with a new cocktail menu. Sounds good to me!



THE CHAIRS


The very funky chairs are by Olivia Scott Taylor designs, having been spotted by the couple's web designer in Liberty. Krysia approached the company to supply the restaurant and managed to strike a deal for their first destination in East London. They're a retro design, based on old school chairs, and are manufactured entirely in the UK. Most of the chairs were made on site, with every 4th one having hand-painted stripes that give them a real 'Italian Job' vibe. Somehow they just feel very on brand for Bacaro.

Zoe from Muck n Brass in Brockley made the cabinet at the back. She specialises in taking old furniture and turning it into something new – upcycling done very, very well.


THE LIGHTING


The statement chandeliers are one of the only elements of the interior design not sourced locally. Kryisa and Marco took a risk and had them imported, without having seen them. It's a risk that worked out, as they make a real impact and can be seen from all areas of the restaurant as well as from the street outside. They are complemented by simpler lights over the bar, with retro filament bulbs that help to define the area.

Of course every table has candles, for ambience too. Angular, black wire tea-lights contrast with tactile himalayan salt candles from Hide & Seek London – creating a lovely warm glow.



FOOD AND DRINK


And finally, I really ought to mention the food (it is a restaurant after all!) With two foodies at the helm, it's not surprising that the food is top notch. The intention was to produce what Krysia describes as, 'evolved Italian cuisine,' not classical Italian. That's why you won't find pizza or lasagne on the menu, but there is fabulous shellfish, slow-roasted meats and silky mozzarella.

The menu changes regularly, and is influenced by the couple's travels (a recent trip to Poland resulting in the vodka pasta main). The focus is very much on quality ingredients, with a story behind each dish. Sourcing artisanal, seasonal produce from across the UK and Italy is a passion.

A lot of thought has gone into the wine list too – with a Marco keen to source from small producers. It's the perfect accompaniment to the food, or good enough to drink on its own.

WHAT'S NEXT?


So, a year on from the launch of Bacaro, I asked Krysia what is next. She explained that they plan to expand the cocktail menu and might well be looking for another premises. But they won't be rushed, it has to be the right venue (and I'm pleased to say it will also be in East London). Check out the latest menu, or book your table here. Buon appetito!

Images 1-5 Carole Poirot, 6-7 Alex Hadaya.


Wingback comeback: contemporary wingback chairs


It's been another busy few weeks here with one interior design project drawing to a close and 3 more in the offing. With the kids now off school for Easter, it's not about to get any quieter either! So rather than ramble on about juggling childcare and (not) achieving work/life balance, I thought I'd share some research I've been doing for a current client on the subject of wingback chairs.
Image source
If you thought that wingback chairs belonged in private members' clubs and first-class lounges, then think again! A huge number and variety of contemporary wingback chairs has hit the market over the past few years. No longer should they be reserved for pub-firesides and country-residences, there is now a contemporary wingback chair for every style and location! They might look like armchairs with shoulder-pads but they can do no wrong in my book for several reasons:

a) They are very comfortable.

b) You can have a surreptitious sniffle during soppy films without being spotted.

c) The wings provide excellent support for a lolling head (perfect if you have small children that wake you up far too early in the morning; have stayed up to the wee small hours writing your blog post or have had a night on the tiles – lucky  you).

d) You can sit upright, grip the arms and feel like a Bond-villain (especially useful when lecturing aforementioned small children about not waking you up really early).

e) They just look darn cool!

So here are a few of my favourites. Some are affordable, some are investment pieces, but they'll all strike a grand yet cool note in your living room.


1. // 2. // 3. // 4. // 5. // 6. // 7. // 8. //

If none of these strikes a chord (or fits your budget) then seek out a vintage number and have it reupholstered in some fabulous fabric. Ebay and gumtree are awash with battered old wingback chairs – grab some plain velvet in a gorgeous colour et voila, an instant statement piece. Patterned fabrics look amazing too – go retro with a William Morris design, or pick something by Timourous Beasties or House of Hackney for a more contemporary vibe.

An my top tip is to look for Danish leather high-back chairs. Usually available in black or tan leather, these seem to be a total bargain at the moment (probably the only Danish furniture that still is)!

Right, I'm off to measure up some herringbone flooring. Have a great Tuesday all!

Patterned carpet revival

If you thought patterned carpet belonged in hotel lobbies, your grand-parents' living room and JD Wetherspoons, then it might be time to think again.  I've been pleasantly surprised by the range of sophisticated designs now available, and frankly, I can't resist a bit of an interiors revival (I am the girl currently obsessed with brown 1970s Guzzini rise and fall lamps!) I mean plain carpet is safe and easy, but you've seen one plain griege carpet, you've seen them all, right?


I know there's been a flurry of striped stair carpets over the past few years, which can look really lovely, but for the purposes of this post I'm excluding stripes from the 'patterned carpet' moniker. It's not that I'm anti-stripe (far from it, I'd be ruling out half my wardrobe) it's just that we're not really challenged by a striped carpet anymore and I wanted to give a shout out to other, lesser-loved patterns.

The following 24 patterned carpets would look fabulous on stairs, in bedrooms, playrooms or even living rooms. There are several added bonuses too... if you put down a fabulously patterned bedroom carpet, then you can add neutral walls, some muted linen sheets et voila – instant style!  And of course for the time-pressed (or plain vacuum-phobic), then pattern does hide a multitude of sins. Then think kids' rooms...camoflaging the lego amid a sea of pattern has got to be a good thing, no? (Unless you're in bare feet, maybe I need to rethink that one actually).

1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 9 // 10 // 11 // 12 // 13 // 14 // 15 // 16 // 17 // 18 // 19 // 20 // 21 // 22 // 23 // 24 //

So what do you think? Could you take a risk on a patterned carpet? Apparently we're all striving to make our homes a bit more comforting and more luxe at the moment. So a cosy patterned carpet in your living room? It could be the next big thing.  I'd love to put a patterned carpet in my boys' bedroom. If I can just find something the same colour as Match Attax football cards I'll be laughing!*


*If you don't own any small boys then you are probably blissfully unaware that Match Attax cards are effectively crack for 8 year olds. These collectable, highly addictive football cards are apparently all-consuming to any boy under the age of 11. At least I hope it ends around 11. I can't bear too many more years of random, unpronounceable footballers gazing up at me from various floors around the house – where  the manically coveted cards all seem to end up. (Yep, I know, my fault for buying them...but that's the power of working mother's guilt).



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The 7 biggest lighting mistakes and how to avoid them

The correct lighting can make a huge difference to how a house looks and feels. But if you've put in the latest LED spotlights, added some table lamps and even upped the ante with some picture lights, why doesn't your room look like those moody interior-design books? You could be making one of these key lighting design mistakes. As a nation, we're really buying into the transformative powers of light. You only have to look at the number of professional lighting designers now in business to see what I mean (go on, google lighting designers...told you)!

We interior designers need to stay ahead of the game too, so on the hunt for inspiration and expertise, I went along to a John Cullen lighting masterclass earlier this week. Held at their showrooms on the Kings Road, the masterclass was a truly enlightening (ahem) experience and a great way to catch up on the latest developments and ideas. I joined about 30 other designers, property developers and design-obsessives, to see the impact that lighting can make on living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, gardens and even wine cellars! Their showroom is a must-see destination if you want to be wowed by the power of light (and I’ve included much of their photography to highlight the point!)

The John Cullen team walked us through all manner of lighting schemes with plenty of dos and don’ts. They have worked on some amazing projects – designing and supplying lighting schemes for city pads, country residences and ski chalets. They’ll even make sure that your indoor and outdoor pools are appropriately lit. If your requirements are a little more pedestrian (ok, budget) then there is still plenty to learn from. By knowing the biggest lighting mistakes (and how to avoid them) you can make a real different to your interior design projects.


Lighting mistake No. 1 – lighting the floor, not the walls. 


If you place a pendant light in the middle of a room, a row of spotlights down the centre of a corridor or (worst of all) a grid of downlights across the ceiling then you are guilty of lighting the floor. Although this layout looks neat and symmetrical on paper (e.g. on the architect’s drawings of your new extension) it is NOT the best way to light your space. What you're doing is lighting the floor (rarely THAT exciting in design terms) and creating a space that can feel pretty uncomfortable. In reality, no one likes standing or sitting under an overhead light. Not only do these types of light glare irritatingly, but they also highlight thinning hair and cast unflattering shadows over faces.

The solution is to instead light the walls. Place spotlights close to the perimeter of your rooms (about 15cm from the edge is good) and angle them towards the walls to provide a wash of light that is reflected back into the room. In kitchens, angle these lights at the cupboards. If you have any texture, such as an exposed brick wall, or grass-cloth wallpaper, then this wall-washing is particularly effective. The John Cullen team recommend adding one or 2 down lights to highlight features like a vase on a coffee table, or a dining table. The overall result is much softer and more flattering.  And if you need any more convincing, then lighting the walls draws your eye to the edges creating the illusion of more space. Don’t worry if it looks wrong on paper, it’s how it feels in reality that matters.

Lighting mistake No 2 – lighting everything evenly.


Another common mistake, particularly when building an extension or new house, is to over-light everything. Rather than creating bright rooms, this tendency to add rows and rows of lights in fact creates flat spaces that lack depth and interest. You need to have some shadows for contrast and interest – and so that your table lamps can create that lovely cosy glow. And you don’t need light across every square centimeter of the room (unless you want it to feel like an airport lounge).


Lighting mistake No. 3 – no low-level lighting 


You probably know that a few lamps and wall lights soften an overall scheme, but have you considered low-level lighting? If you haven’t then you’re missing a trick. Uplights at floor level can cast beautiful patterns and shadows onto walls and are ideal for creating a lovely evening lighting scheme. Think about adding floor uplighters to highlight features such as a fireplace or free-standing bath. This is definitely easier to do if you are at the planning stage, but there are things you can add retrospectively too, for example placing uplights at the base of large indoor plants, or small eyelid LEDs in kitchen and island kickboards. At night you can turn off your overhead light sources and have a lovely atmospheric glow.


Lighting mistake No. 4 – no dimmers 


Having lights that you can’t dim is a huge lighting mistake. It used to be that LEDs were hard to dim, but technology has come a long way in the past few years (just make sure your switches are good quality and compatible with your lights so that they dim sufficiently and the bulbs don’t blow). Everything should be dimmable – lamps, wall lights, spots and pendants. If you feel like skimping on the investment in all those dimmer switches then Sally Storey, Design Director at John Cullen, advises spending your budget on your main living areas and saving money upstairs if you really need to. Dimming is essential to control the mood of a room.

Lighting mistake No. 5 – having a single lighting circuit


Ideally you want to create different lighting circuits that allow you to have different “scenes” at different times of day. This basically means that you can control certain groups of lights from different switches. If you’re starting from scratch, then your electrician can plan this in, providing different circuits (and switches) for different combinations of lights, but it is possible to add an extra lamp circuit without too much disruption. Failing this, there are plug-in timers and wireless solutions you can use to control all of your lamps remotely for example.



Lighting mistake No. 6 – no outside lighting


If you have a room that looks onto a garden or balcony, or large glass folding doors (hands up anyone who's done a kitchen extension in the last 10 years) then you should really consider lighting the view outside. This prevents your windows turning into huge black mirrors at night. Lights beyond the windows (e.g. in plants, on the patio, dotted through the flower beds) extend the perceived size of the room and create a totally different night-time view. Simple, but so effective!


Lighting mistake No. 7 – using cool rather than warm bulbs


With LED lighting there is a lot of talk about 2400s and 2700s. This refers to Kelvins, a measure of bulb temperature, but what it essentially means is cool versus warm light. In 99% of residential installations, you want to go for warm light (2700) which more closely resembles the warm, yellowish glow of incandescent bulbs. The exception might be utility rooms (and ocassionally, inside shelving units). But beware, bulbs from different manufacturers can look very different, even if they are both apparently 2700.

I know that I want the furniture, finishes and accessories I've spent hours choosing to look as good as possible, which is why I love being able to design the lighting early on in a project. In my own home there's still a bit of work to be done too – #3 and #6 in particular are being added to the to-do-list! How many of these lighting mistakes have you made? Which ones?





How to pull off eclectic global style: á la Malene Birger

I'm a firm believer that your home should be full of the things you love and collect along your way through this life. If you like to travel, or have connections with other cultures, then a few global treasures can evoke fond memories and add personality to your home. I've always liked a bit of eclectic global style, but it is a very tricky look to get right – one Indian mirror-embroidery cushion too far and you risk ending up with something that looks less like a spread in Elle Decoration and more like student digs circa 1993!


So if you're wondering how to make that Day of the Dead skull work with your shisha pipe, Moroccan wedding blanket and didgeridoo, then you'd be well advised to take a look at the homes of Malene Birger (Danish fashion designer and, more recently, founder of her own interiors line).  I have a serious design-crush on this very chic lady. Her take on eclectic global style is jaw-dropping – she pulls together amazing rooms that mix global artefacts with classic Danish furniture, vintage lights, natural textures and a hint of the1970s, without looking totally crazy (well, maybe a bit crazy, but definitely in a good way!)






Because I'm a design-nerd (and I'm taking inspiration for my new office) I thought I'd break down why this seriously cool and stylish take on boho works.  (Plus I have a few choice finds to help you shop the look at the end)...

The monochrome colour palette 

Black and white is a classic interior choice, but the key here is that there is plenty of black, to stand up to all those white walls. It's simple but strong, which means it can handle plenty of 'stuff' whilst still feeling structured. Birger also warms it up with some brown and tan neutrals to keep things from feeling too stark. 

Great rugs

I bang on all the time about rugs – I'm definitely a bit obsessed. Birger's penchant for a classic, monochrome Moroccan Beni Ourain rug is clear to see. A Beni Ourain grounds almost every room – providing both structure and softness. And when she's not using a Beni Ourain, she's using that other monochrome staple, a zebra-print rug. Love it!


Pattern

Strong graphic motifs are repeated throughout the rooms – classic black and white stripes, checks and diamonds abound, adding interest and keeping your eye moving. She uses pattern on textiles, pattern on furniture and patterned accessories – but all within that very simple, monochrome colour palette.

A touch of 1970s chic

Chrome coffee tables and retro accessories add contrast in both form and texture. There's something about putting a primitive African sculpture next to a curvy chrome arc lamp that just makes both look even cooler! Maybe it's because I'm a child of the 70's that these styles feel very nostalgic, but whatever...I love it. (Just don't get me started on the amazing brown glass Guzzini table-lamp I missed out on last weekend on ebay. Sob.)

Utilising every surface

This is certainly not a look for the minimalist decorator – every coffee table, console, sideboard and shelf is used as a display surface. The walls are filled with art, either propped up on shelves or conventionally hung. This gives plenty of vertical interest, and even the tops of tall cupboards and shelves are not ignored (so many people stop decorating somewhere around shoulder height, but these images go to show how fabulous a room looks when decorated vertically as well as horizontally).

Shiny accents

This is key to avoiding the aforementioned student-digs look. With so many textiles and ethnic artefacts going on, you have to add some hard edges to keep things interesting. The metal tables/lamps/shelves add some shine and polish to offset the patina of the wooden objects. Shiny plastic chairs and reflective surfaces (like that great black lacquer desk) do the same job.


Sculpture

Lots of people think about art when they're decorating a room, but not so many about sculpture. Admittedly we don't all own a Henry Moore figure to pop on our coffee tables, but you can use candlesticks, interesting-shaped lamps, even oversize shells or stones to add a sculptural element. Although a warning to anyone else with small boys in their household – anything you might see as 'sculpture' they will see as 'weapon.' Beware of anything a). heavy – potential shot-put  b). tall –potential sword or c). fragile – potentially smashed to smithereens.  Using those high shelves is probably your best bet for combining sculpture with little darlings, although I do find that a briefing along the lines of "touch this object and the iPad will be removed for 3 months" is semi-effective too.

Authentic and handmade 

If you're going for the eclectic, global look then in my book, it works best when the items you display are authentic and mean something to you. Maybe you have a carving that reminds you of a holiday; a basket that was handmade by a women's collective or paintings that support a local artist? Of course you can buy knock-off moroccan rugs and look-alike boho cushions on the high street, but you can't build an eclectic, global interior like Ms Birger's entirely from mass-produced items – it's the craftspeople, stories and memories behind your objects that make it feel special (and yours!)  I'm not saying you can't add in the odd high street find (we can't all travel as much as Ms Birger) just keep it meaningful.

So, when work gets a bit less crazy, I'll be putting my own tips into action in my new home office. I think I've decided that a simple, monochrome scheme will work best (without distracting me too much for whichever projects I'm currently working on). Unfortunately, working on several interior design projects, delivering a few bespoke pieces of furniture and trying to make time for marketing/social-media and networking too mean that, as ever, my own project is a bit of a slow-burn. In the meantime, here are some cool picks to create that eclectic global style...




Grape light  //  2 Brass Bowl  //  Stool  //  4 Chrome table lamp  //  5 Vase  //  6 Tassle cushion  //  7 Arc lamp  //  8 Beni Ourain rug  //  9 Sculpture  //  10 Chair  //  11 Antique lassi cups  //  12 Zebra print cowhide  //  13 Mud cloth cushion  //





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How to be a successful Mumpreneur – with Kura Perkins, CEO of Art Hide

Starting your own business is like being plunged into an entirely different world. You have so much to learn and so many plates to spin that you wonder how anyone ever manages to do it successfully! Which is why I’ve become fascinated by other entrepreneur’s stories, and particularly stories of other working mums. So I am delighted to be sharing today my conversation with a brilliant entrepreneur (and mum) – Kura Perkins, CEO of Art Hide.  I just wanted to add that this post is in no way sponsored, it's just one entrepreneur giving a 'digital high-five' to another. (And picking up a few tips along the way!)



Kura started Art Hide with her sister, Bree, to produce beautiful and incredibly stylish interior accessories made from cowhide. Their cowhide rugs come in a rainbow of classic and contemporary designs and colours, and they also produce beautiful (and practical) cowhide cushions, pouffes, bags and a range of accessories. Not only are the products to die for, but the brand itself is fabulous too: committed to natural, unique and sustainable products, whilst at the same time having a great eye for trends. If cowhide conjures up images of old-school 'mid-western cowboy' style, then I can assure you that Art Hide's laser-cut and patchwork cowhide rugs are about as far from that as it is possible to get, with amazing and innovative designs, colourways and patterns. (You know I love a good cowhide!)


So how did they do it? 

As someone said to me yesterday, running your own business is a bit like having children. You can’t talk to your child-free friends about the reality of life with kids, because however genuinely interested and caring they are, they are just not in that boat (and frankly, you might not want to put them off!) Well, it’s the same with having your own business. It’s only other entrepreneurs that really understand the stresses, motivations, anxieties and complexities that go with giving birth to, and feeding, your business ‘baby'! So it is with great pleasure that I share this real-life start-up story with you...

I first met Kura at a trade show 3 years ago, when I was just setting out on my own journey as an entrepreneur. She is Co-director of Art Hide & Amigos de Hoy, a businesswoman, PR person, designer, innovator and mum, who has built up a phenomenally stylish business (well, she is from Australia, which seems to be having something of a design moment).  I was lucky enough to catch up with Kura about her journey so far – the good, the bad and the ugly! 

The background

Art Hide was born out of a spirit of adventure, a love of people and a vision for what brings beauty to an environment. The company was formed by Australian sisters, Kura Perkins and Bree Hay-Hendry in 2009. Entrepreneur and former PR executive Kura’s travels in South America inspired the Art Hide vision and Bree’s skills as a textile and fashion designer brought the concept to life.


Kura, how would you describe your business brand?

Kura: Classic yet original; traditional yet progressive. We create originally designed and ethically sourced leather products of an heirloom quality. Our extensive range includes floor rugs, cushions, furniture and accessories.

Where did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

Kura: Since University, I have always worked for myself. I had a fantastic PR career in both Australia and the UK and in 2009 I left London on a high after heading up communications for the Olympic Village for several years. We travelled around the world, first stop Argentina, and there I fell in love with the natural beauty of cowhide. I saw great design potential in the product and from there, Art Hide was born!

The duo’s expertise, combined with the traditional skills of their meticulous leather-craft team and an array of cutting edge technologies, have created timeless everyday masterpieces for hundreds of clients. Over time, Art Hide has grown tremendously, and in terms of project portfolio, about 50% of Art Hide's portfolio globally is custom work that spans over residential, hospitality and commercial projects.

Who are Art Hide’s customers? 

Kura: People come to Art Hide because they're looking for something long lasting, natural, and tactile that always looks great. The remainder is made up of a growing and loyal following of customers that love the wow factor and beauty of Art Hide.” I understand that some people are skeptical abou the ethics behind cowhide. But Art Hide’s premium quality cowhide is sourced as a by-product of the meat industry – from regulated, non-pollutant tanneries, where methods involved in tanning and dyeing are always safe for workers.

We're (Bree and I) proud to work with the most talented leather craftspeople and the most reputable suppliers. Everything we do is vetted for quality, safety and sustainability. It was especially important to us to source a material that was sustainable, but also of the highest quality in both aesthetic and longevity. Art Hide also employs Indonesian Artists, to create some of the signature styles, such as the hand-etched designs on the Antika Cascara goat hides. Such opportunities provide these artisans with a platform to showcase their skills while enabling them to support their families by providing employment.


Where do you find the inspiration to create your unique designs? 

Kura: My very talented sister Bree is our designer. She and I work together closely on our collections and, coming from a beautiful country like Australia, we love nature and are constantly inspired by the natural colours! It is hugely important to us and we're always developing new tones; many are showcased in our recent designs – like the luscious Emerald Green Trilogia rug – which received a phenomenal response. Apart from this, we are constantly travelling, which is also a huge source of inspiration for us.

How have your past experiences influenced your current pursuits? 

Kura: I am a firm believer that no time is ever wasted in one's career and that every experience, no matter large or small, always serves as helpful in one's future career. I have always worked with people, be it media, design professionals or local communities and this experience still benefits me today. 

Which 3 things do you wish you’d known when you started?

Kura: The 3 things are pretty basic, but these are things you need to keep in mind at all times,  not just when you start off,  to ensure smooth functioning on a work and personal level.

1). It is extremely important to set a clear vision and strong values for the company, as these form a firm foundation for everything else.
2). You need to work out what works for you and your business – the road is long and varied, full of many opportunities and also pitfalls!
3). And as Al Pacino says, 'never underestimate another man's greed'...when you find great people to work with, enjoy it, as not everyone is like that, sadly.


How do  you maintain a balance between business and personal life? Is it harder for women? 

Kura: It is always harder for women, right? Perseverance is key. Don’t give up! Sometimes business is just about keeping on doing what you’re doing, even when things get tough. I’ve learned to work smarter, not harder – it helps free up more time in the business, which in turn will give you more time with your families. Also, you can’t expect too much from the business in the early years, so no matter what, try to enjoy the ride! (Noted Kura, I’m trying!!) 

What do you always make time for? 

Kura: Exercise, my friends and my kids. In fact, my resolution this year is to prioritise my health and fitness and spend time relaxing with my family and friends.

And finally, what do you have planned for the year ahead?

Like I mentioned, we will be focusing on colours this year by releasing new shades in some of our best-selling rug and cushion collections. Accessories-wise we will be looking at using our laser burnt hide technique on new key shapes for the season. That’s all I can give away right now, stay tuned for more!

Thanks so much to Kura for her time. I hope some of you find it inspiring! Whether you have just the seed of an idea for a business, or have been working for yourself for many years, it is always fascinating to hear how others have made it work for them. And whether you like the term ‘mumpreneur’ or not, the rise of the self-employed mum is a growing phenomenon – and one I think should be celebrated. Kura and Bree are proof that you can create something truly unique, rewarding and successful from a simple idea (plus a lot of hard-work and dedication!)

I, for one, am inspired. I'd love to hear from any other 'mumpreneurs' out there. I'm also thinking of turning this into a regular slot, speaking to entrepreneurs about their business journeys. Do let me know in the comments who you'd like to hear from and about what. Oh, and happy Friday everyone!