Holiday Finds

I’ve just spent a week in the Isle of Man. I’ve been many times before but I think I can say that the weather this time was the best I’ve ever known and my head is now full of the colours of the island and the hand crafts I saw there. But what I really loved this time were the lighthouses – and at least the pictures I took were easy to get home.

Isle of Man

Isle of Man

We all come back from holiday with souvenirs – be they large or small – and so often when we get them home deciding where to put them is a bit of an issue. There’s something about the romance of shopping at odd times of the day, or after you’ve had a few drinks that leads you to buy things you wouldn’t normally. It’s the equivalent of sale shopping just for the sake of a bargain. And we all know how that works out – with the item never being worn because it doesn’t actually fit very well anyway! So how do you incorporate your holiday treasures into your every day life?

railways poster

First of all, decide what it is that you love about the country you’re visiting. Is it the colours of the land/sea scape? The hand crafts, glass ware, textiles or carving? The furnishings at the hotel or the authenticity of the places you eat in? Is it the contrast of intensely blue sky and tiny shady alleys or the vast interior spaces of the museums and galleries? Without us realising it, the environment we’re in plays a big part in the reason we want to ‘bring it home’ with us. If we can identify what we’re most attracted to then it’s more likely that the purchases we end up making will relate to that aspect of the holiday. For example one of my first holidays in Greece about 25 years ago, I came home with several very simple ceramic pots glazed in blues and greens. It was all about bringing the colours of the villages home with me – I still have them.

greek ceramics

Then, put your practical hat on. How will you get the purchase home? Don’t get caught up with the excitement of haggling in the souk and think you’ll just be able to take it on the plane with you. If the cost of shipping it is a deal breaker, walk away! Some countries have very strict export laws and won’t allow you to just tuck it under your arm; carpets from Turkey spring to mind. And if you’re shopping for a specific item to go in a specific room, please, please measure it before you go on holiday! Even take a picture of that room on your phone so that you can see the space in front of you while you shop. That sounds mad I know, but it’s so easy to forget the exact shape of a room – and the other things that live there.

Next, keep in mind the other colours in your home. Buying something because you love the colour is perfect – I do that all the time – but does it go with the decorative palette of your home? If it doesn’t, exercise restraint because it’ll stand out like the exotic raspberry that it is – unless you intend to change your decor as a result of the holiday! And there again I would suggest caution. The clarity of light in hot, sunny climates is very different to that of the British Isles and some intense shades, especially in the red/orange/yellow end of the spectrum will seem uncomfortably ‘hot’ in this climate. For this reason it’s better to use shades that give the ‘feel’ of the location than to try and replicate them exactly.

Isis and Nefertari

Isis and Nefertari

Then there’s the matter of how to display things when you do get them home. Textiles will get all dusty and look less than fabulous if they’re left out in the open and ceramic tiles or carvings will be vulnerable to chipping or being dropped if they’re not protected. Consider getting them framed, it makes a piece so much more special to enclose it. It demands attention and will be persevered indefinitely if care is taken in the way it’s presented. Glass domes also work well for more bulky treasures and add a feel of the exotic to a piece.

New Zealand Treasures

New Zealand Treasures

One of my clients has incorporated her holiday purchases to great advantage in the decorating of her home. They add character and personality and each piece has a story, both about the experience of purchasing it and its history as an object. But here’s her secret, she edits. Regularly. Some parts of her home are on their third decorative ‘tenant.’ And as she loves to travel, I imagine that there will be more in the future. And then there’s my friend who loves her snowboard so much – she chose it for the artwork – that she’s purchased hooks to suspend it from the wall in her bedroom.

adding character

adding character

It is very easy to get it wrong too. I got completely carried away in Marrakech one time and came home with more light fittings than was practical. They weren’t well made and I didn’t have any idea where I would use them but I just got swept up with the excitement of haggling and every time I walked away, they’d add to the ‘deal.’ Before I knew it I had six light fittings of various sizes – if you don’t want something or have no idea what you’ll do with it – don’t buy it!

Have a happy summer and enjoy your holiday.

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Colour Me Happy

When I wander about in London I’m always captivated by houses that have been painted in colours that are a bit more daring, a little different from the norm. Ok, some don’t quite hit the mark like the magenta house in Wimbledon or the BRIGHT yellow one in Battersea, but others attract attention in a good way and really make the most of a property. After my windows are replaced, I’ll be painting the exterior of the house too, so now is the time for me to decide what colour I’ll go for. It’s not an easy decision!

painted street front, Thaxted Essex

painted street front, Thaxted Essex

Clapham, London

Clapham, London

I have to admit that I love colour and right now my house is yellow, which is not my favourite. So how do I play this? Embrace colour and be bold – or choose a neutral and blend in with the rest of the street? As you know I’m much more interested in personality and individual style than that. But I’m struggling to decide if the move toward dark, moody colours should be an external expression or just reserved for interior drama. And there are practical considerations as well. A strong colour will need a better coverage and thus require more paint. The pigment in strong colours, will over time, fade with exposure to the elements. A neutral will be easier to touch up if there are any running repairs needing to be done after the painting is complete and will compliment many different accent colours if I want to change my door colour in a year or two.

neutral tones

Rye, East Sussex

Rye, East Sussex

Because my house is both pebble dashed and brick I have a combination of different surfaces to consider and as the previous owner painted the brickwork as well as the pebble, whatever paint I choose has to be suitable for both. Something with a heavier texture that can be applied with a roller over both surfaces is the type of preparation that will work best I think. I’ll pick out the window frames and woodwork in a different colour and then finish it off with the door colour. But this is where I get stuck, what palette do I go for? Right now I’m hankering after a rich aubergine colour, or a dark stormy grey. These deep tones will compliment my garden so well and it has to be said, after the Chelsea Flower Show and most recently the Hampton Court Flower Show, I love the relationship between the built environment and the natural world. The idea of living somewhere that enhances both is very appealing to me. It’s a bit like creating a picture, arranging the shot and getting the balance right, I know that every time I come home, I’ll be excited to see my little corner of the world. It will welcome me and I’ll feel happy to be there.

smart and imposing

smart and imposing

That’s a whimsical sentiment, I know, but I genuinely believe that we get back what we put into our homes because our satisfaction is raised with every effort we make to create a space that works for us. Of course there are people who wouldn’t look further than white for the exterior of their house, but as I create schemes for people every day that enhance their lives, I want to do the same for myself – and that doesn’t involve having a white exterior to my house. It has been suggested to me though that deep colours are not really for domestic use, they’re for commercial buildings. I hadn’t considered that and actually I’m not really sure I buy into that as a concept – I’m too taken by the creosote beach huts at Walberswick for that. Choosing a dark colour – and I haven’t completely decided that I will – is a bold choice and not everyone is adventurous with colour.

beach huts Walberswick, Suffolk

beach huts Walberswick, Suffolk

Deciding on the colour for the outside of your house is as much about what makes you happy as it is about presentation and ‘kerb appeal.’ It’s about defining your space to the outside world. This is an expression of confidence and a little taster of ‘who you are.’ As I’ve only been here three years (in September) I’m not planning on moving any time soon. I’m now a part of the ‘street,’ people know me and I’m feeling ready to make my mark on the place!

How Times have Changed – or Have They?

I have this totally brilliant book in my library (I use the term as a collective noun for my books, rather than an actual room of books) called ‘The English Home.’ It was written by Banister Flight Fletcher and Herbert Phillips Fletcher (fabulous names) architects, barristers and brothers, in 1910. And it contains floor plans, sections and in depth discussions about the way the English House has been built since the 11th century and Saxon times. We think of our approach to updating our homes as being thoroughly modern and ‘of our times’, but these men were advocating the same planning and checklists for work done one hundred years ago. So how is it that we’ve lost the common sense approach when considering the health of the building as having equal importance to the aesthetics?

The English Home

Is it that the DIY revolution has introduced a level of enthusiastic but uninformed renovators who have made ‘mistakes’ because they don’t know enough? Or is it that the contractors themselves don’t feel they can offer alternatives? Or is it that as products have advanced and changed they’ve been applied incorrectly? Or is it that clients are so determined to have ‘what they want’ that no amount of caution will dissuade them? Can you see where I’m going with this?

Buildings with problems don’t develop them overnight. There is always a sequence of events leading to the damp, smelly, unsightly patches that appear inside a property. And water is the worst offender – it will always find its way. Simply putting a patch over something can be the worst thing you could do! How a house performs in terms of weather proofing is down to the health of the building in general. The condensation that is allowed to build up on the windows and isn’t wiped away regularly, will eventually contribute to the timber frames rotting. A blocked gutter will eventually back up and contribute to the brick work becoming porous. A leaky down pipe and standing water will eventually drive the water into the foundations of the house. A slipped roof tile will eventually cause the roof trusses to rot. All of these things can be avoided. All of these things are simple maintenance. In fact they’re the structural equivalent of taking your bins out – we’re all programmed to do that weekly, so why should we not think to wash the windows every few months and clear the gutters and downpipes on a regular six monthly basis?

taking care of the exterior

taking care of the exterior

You might consider these jobs to be the domain of the ‘house proud’ but any refurbishments you undertake will be easier if the building has been maintained regularly, because having to put things right first is like trying to find the end of a ball of wool that a cat has gotten to. And that will eat into any budget you might have put aside. When you think of the relative costs of getting your windows cleaned and gutters cleared versus the cost of repairs, its a no-brainer!

I have some experience in this area. The people who owned the house before me had tenants living on site for five years and in that time, the guttering had slipped out of the clip over the front window and never been repaired. I have to replace my front windows because of this! The two fixed windows and the sill are completely rotten and as with my shed roof, the lack of maintenance has led to a costly bill. There’s nothing more to be said, if the gutter clip had been repaired, I wouldn’t be replacing my windows.

window sill damaged by slipped gutter

window sill damaged by slipped gutter

Maintaining the exterior decoration is also important – though more costly. Why? Because when we have winters – or summers – of extreme temperature, the fabric of the house takes the full force of the elements. Both of my next door neighbours and I have had leaks come in from the driving rain we had last winter because the paintwork on the window sills was a few summers old. Admittedly the rain came from an unusual quarter but it was in such a volume that we all now have patches on our interior walls where water was driven in behind the pebble dashing and the brickwork became porous. Although we couldn’t have known that this was going to happen, we all of us had looked at the paintwork and said ‘its time to redo the window frames.’ As I said, water will find its way.

The English Home

The English Home

Back to Messers Fletcher and ‘The English Home’ who confirm that “the adaptation and alteration of existing houses, in order to bring them into line with modern requirements or to suit the special idiosyncrasies of the purchaser, is perhaps the most interesting of all work that comes to the hand of an architect.” They also talk repeatedly about ventilating a house, that the fabric of the building will be healthier – and so will the humans who inhabit it – if a building is allowed to breathe. This is very true when it comes to repairing any areas of damp in the house. Let it dry out completely – this is essential – before replacing wallpaper or plaster that has been affected by water damage. This could take as long as six months and always investigate the outside of the building to see if moisture can continue to be trapped in that area.