Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kitchen Comfort with Sally

Number 59 was my favorite kitchen ever. In the back of a quirky Victorian home in London, it fed every part of my creative being (I just didn't know it at the time). Because it went down a step or two, and had a separate door, it always felt like I was going into another world. In reality, years ago, it was probably the Maid's quarters; a place where they chatted and relaxed after cooking a meal, politely separated from their employers, whispering about the events of the day.

Whenever I opened the door, I didn't go in there to cook, I just wanted to be there; a fireplace, a table, and some squishy armchairs invited me in, and the warm comfort asked me to stay. I can feel the kitchen as I write this, and remember the shape of the chair that I always sat in (if Sally the dog didn't get to it first. I think it was actually hers, she just allowed me to borrow it when she went outside). Through the sitting area was the tiny kitchen, and a door leading out to the back garden. Sunny days led to picking flowers and clothes drying on the line, and rainy ones a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

I baked my first ever Victoria Sponge cake in that kitchen, and had my first cup of Earl Gray Tea (which I still don't like); I felt very grown up when I drank it, knowing it was quite posh, while trying to ignore the perfumed Bergamot that made me almost want to be sick. Even so, making loose tea in a teapot was special, a treat that I never refused (or told anyone that I didn't really like it).

My Auntie cooked and baked all the time, and the kitchen (to me) was the best room in the house. We would wander in after work, poke around the cupboard, grab a chocolate biscuit, collapse in a chair, and tell her about our day. It was warm, and we would always ask what was for dinner, and when would it be ready. She would keep doing whatever she was doing, and she would listen.
Like many mother's, she had learned to let us talk, figuring out our own answers by the time we reached the end of the story. Sometimes, there were no words, just a cup of tea, or a nod of the head. It was a safe place to go; a problem solving kitchen.

On Saturday mornings my Uncle loved to cook. After walking the dog, he would make us the most delicious hot sandwiches, and we would just sit and eat, in yummy silence. (Maybe some people would have a nap afterwards, while the rest of us complained about doing the washing up).
It was a quiet part of the week. Our bellies were full, Monday seemed far away, and I think I was quite lazy. I didn't do my own laundry, but I would happily chat to my Auntie as she folded and ironed for hours on end. I want to believe that she never minded, that she secretly loved the repetition of the iron, and the nice, clean pile of teenage clothes.

Sometimes, it was really hectic, and we would be told to get out of the tiny kitchen; but we never went too far, and we could always curl up with Sally, and wait for things to quiet down.

It wasn't a fancy kitchen. I couldn't tell you if the stove was gas or electric, or what the counter was made of, but I know that it was a true gathering room; a magical place that made you feel warm and welcome, where the people in it were far more important than the things....

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Paint Matters

Years ago, I fell in love with someone else’s bedroom; the furniture, the simplicity, and the color on the walls were absolutely gorgeous. I had been entertaining ideas of painting my Living Room blue, and had never found the right shade, until that day.
After I stopped gushing, my friend gave me three samples of the blue for me to take home.  Lovely, little pots of promise, just waiting for me to paint with them. As soon as I got in the door I grabbed some giant newsprint (not ideal, but what I had) and painted the colors on several sheets of the paper.
I barely waited for them to dry before I had them taped all over my Living Room. As I stood back, I nearly burst into tears; it was horrible. The gorgeous grey blue that reminded me of a serene retreat in my friend’s bedroom, looked like a hastily thought out, baby boy’s nursery in my own home. The blue was too light, and it just looked cheap and silly. The richness of the color was gone, and all I saw was a bad blue.
You see, the light was totally different; my Living Room is larger, filled with too many things, and has a lot of windows. The warm blue became cooler, more basic, and far less important.
I moved the samples around again, and it just kept looking worse. Even as  a decorator, it was hard for me to accept that the color looked nothing like I had imagined. I thought if I stared at it long enough, it would change, and the room would be just as beautiful as hers. But that didn’t work; I took down the colors, folded up the paper, and frowned.
Am embarrassed to admit, that years ago I would not have taken the color pots. I would have asked her for the color that she used, bought gallons of paint, and been really angry at the manufacturer. Then, I would have either gone and bought more, or, still been disappointed, and continue to paint my walls a color I wasn’t very keen on.
I honestly thought that it was just another marketing tool, to make consumers spend more money. But, when you are faced with millions of different color options (yes, millions) how the heck could you possibly choose just one from a small piece of paper in an artificial environment? Even the natural light in a paint store isn’t natural, and it certainly has no relevance to your home, your windows, and your suede La-Z-boy recliner.
I know that it feels like a lot of extra steps, when all you want to do is paint a room, but it is more than worth the effort. Most custom paint colors can’t be returned, so why would you not take the extra time to get it right. Yes, it is just paint, but there is nothing worse than that awful feeling when you roll on the color, and it looks nothing like you had imagined.
Since my blue experience, I have tried lots of other paint pot colors, but still can’t seem to find the right one. My Living Room is still, a very sedate…. Antique White.
Photograph from Remodelista

Monday, January 20, 2014

January Newsletter

                                          Click here to read our January newsletter

Photograph from the UK daily mail (originally Tiffany Mumford)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Clutter Confessions

Well, I finally took down my Christmas Tree, and a small part of me was glad to see the house back to normal. For most people, normal means a house without a Tree is less cluttered, but for me, it means several hours of rearranging and hanging pictures, just to end up with a home that is once again filled up with stuff. I like to say that it has personality, which is kinder than having to explain why I accumulate lots of random bits and pieces.

It's not that I don't like minimal spaces, I do, but they just seem to work better in other people's houses. It is lovely to help someone sift through what they have, change the way they see their home, and discover a wealth of space that they didn't know they had. I completely understand; I will happily sort through the knick-knacks, control the growth of family portraits, and create beautiful, wide open living spaces. Just not in my own home.

No matter how much I organize what I have, I am constantly drawn to the details that make up my life; the tiny glass ladybug that a friend gave me years ago, some seaweed from a recent walk along the beach, and a piece of ribbon that someone once tied fondly around my hair. All are precious, because they remind me of people and places that I love.

I don't know why, but I often have a need to see and touch these things, as if I worry that my mind is never quite enough. I am fascinated by words, images, and the way in which the world is composed. A jam jar of pencils will have my mind wandering into a pile of curiosity; why is each yellow so different, is it one person who thinks up the names of the colors or an entire team (and how long does it take?), should my pencils be facing up or down, what pencil should I sharpen so that I can make a cape for my Matador, am I too old to have colored pencils on my desk, and why can I never sharpen the green one to a nice point without it breaking?

At this point, you may be thinking that this is all a little crazy, but it is actually a wonderful contradiction; wanting to see and appreciate what is there, but often needing order and function in order for it to be successful. How we decide to combine life into our design is entirely up to us. The trick is in finding what works, what we need to make us happy, and unashamedly accepting that part of who we are.

Of course, I am not suggesting that filling your home with a lifetime collection of seaweed, ribbon and pencils is perhaps the best idea, but surrounding yourself with what you are truly comfortable with is always a good place to start.
If seeing too many bits and pieces scattered around makes you feel untidy and claustrophobic, then please don't do it; enjoy the calm quiet of your home, organize what you have, and have fun storing it in drawers, cupboards and boxes. (Be secretly glad that I will always envy your restraint, and that you weren't the one who packed the stinky seaweed inside your new pair of shoes).

But, if you are like me, and need to see the colored pencils, the seaweed and the ribbon, accept the clutter, smile at the memories, and let them be your decoration; pop them in a jam jar, sit it on your windowsill, and watch it puddle into a favorite bowl....

Photograph borrowed from the talented and funny Marta Altes