Thursday, April 30, 2009

Make Do and Mend

Upcycle, recycle,'s post would have made our wartime ancestors proud! I've always been a huge fan of renovation projects whether it's one piece of furniture or a whole house. And in the current economic and ecological climate what better way to go than to make something "good as new"?

One of my favourite interiors sites, Design*Sponge, has been running a very popular thread entitled Before and After, in which readers have the opportunity to send in their own makeover projec
ts. Ranging from the modest to the magnificent, from the successful to the "I kind of preferred it before", all share a creativity and resourcefulness that can do little else but inspire. Below are my picks of the bunch.

Sacrilege or sense? This rather battered Eames chair, rescued from a skip, is shown some love courtesy of tile grout and porcelain tiles. I personally think this would look amazing on our roof terrace...

Patchwork is huge news in interiors, thanks to the likes of kooky company Squint. Below, a 50's dinette type chair is given some multicoloured harmony...

Whilst the owner of this sideboard keeps the 50's love going with a homage to Kandya's painted panel midcentury furniture.

Two variations on a similar theme below; one solution takes colour firmly by the horns, the other plays it safe but serene in pure white.

I have actually, (like in REAL LIFE and not in my imaginary world) sat on the staircase below. They happen to belong to a friend of mine and yes, they really do look that good.

The owner of this rather tasteful ottoman obviously decided that under all that extraneous flesh there were some rather good bones. A brave rebranding.

Whilst this one makes me rather glad that I didn't recently shell out a fortune for a Time Life chair..what a difference some fabulous Scandi fabric can make..and I happen to have four yards of this very one kicking around in my cupboard...

As you can see from the image below, some of the projects were a little more large scale than others. This particularly beautiful house reno is in Alaska.

...And some projects are just decidedly controversial. The picture below shows identical chairs, one in its original state, the other refurbished by the owner. It's always a tough call when you're playing around with a classic and for me, the original fabric (as seen on the right of the image) wins hands down, although as a mismatched pair they still look fab.

Finally, an inspiring and design conscious reality check to toy manufacturers. Rockers good; revolting plush furry things that take up visible house room bad...Just because we became parents didn't make us lose the taste gene completely.

Look and learn...

All Images via Design*Sponge
Title Image via Google Images

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Write Now

If you always wanted to write a novel but never quite found the time (aka motivation), you could do a lot worse than join the annual national novel writing competition at NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month - founded ten years ago by Chris Baty, is described as a seat of the pants approach to novel writing.

Here's the rather Faustian deal: you agree to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your writing chair for one month and turn out 50,000 words of prose towards a first draft novel. in return you get to eat junk food and be excused from the tasks mere mortals have to contend with each day such as hoovering, tidying and taking out the rubbish (ok, so I wouldn't actually condone the last one).

There are no real winners or losers here; you either finish or you don't and it's perhaps testimony to the real hard graft of the thing when you consider that there is a huge drop out rate each year. In the bigger scheme of novel writing one month doesn't seem that big a deal but as soon as you start out you realise that this is much more of a marathon than a sprint. 50,000 words in one month equates to more than 1000 words a day (okay, so I'm also a maths genius) and for me, that's a tall order. On my very best days I can just about manage 1500, but the thing to remember is that this is a cumulative thing; rather like counting calories, it's the number you arrive at at the end as opposed to the daily totals that count.

Whilst 50,000 words (basically a novella) is probably not going to gain you much truck in the publishing world (unless you're
Ian McEwan) it's a great start to a longer work and a fantastic kick up the bum to getting your novel actually written.

Although it's described as a contest there are no real prizes (what did you expect: a medal?) If you do get to your 50,000 word total by the deadline of 30 November each year, however, you get a rather splendid certificate of achievement and a virtual badge of honour plus the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you actually did it. And if you're serious about being a writer this is the only sort of reward you should be realistically aiming for at the beginning, anyway!

Word totals are verified by automated bots following submission after which time you also get the opportunity to upload your work to the site for feedback and comment from other readers, although I would say be realistic about how good the quality is going to be after a month and don't unknowingly put yourself out there for a public flogging too soon.

To date there are over 71,000 winners of NaNoWriMo, testament to its huge success. Last year alone 1,643,343,993 words were written by its participants. It also receives funding from quite a few relevant American sponsors including Writers Digest and Create Space who, along with the other supporters, offer considerable discounts off their products for NaNoWriMo participants.

Sign up anytime you want. The start date for this and every year's competition is November 1 and the deadline is midnight November 30.

No Plot No Problem, the companion book to the competition, written by its founder, is also available to buy, and whilst it probably won't teach you much about the actual craft of writing is a fun motivational aid to the process and a good read.

In addition the NaNoWriMo site is full of great stuff to keep you informed, including a members' forum area plus articles and interviews on writing, including how to take your novel to the next stage.

So get your pencils sharpened, your cupboard stocked with Pot Noodle, and get ready to write...

via NaNoWriMo
Title Image via Google Images

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Five Things I'm Loving Right Now

I've decided that along with Shop of the Week, this is going to be a regular blog spot. The reasons for this are twofold: firstly because the things I am loving right now are notoriously transient and won't justify a whole individual post, and secondly because I know the majority of blog readers are lazy buggers and have the attention span of goldfish. This means that they can't get to the end of my long and beautifully crafted posts without losing the will to live. This I conclude from the lack of comments. Thanks.

So, here for your delectation and delight are five pithyly crafted lovlies:

1) Dog Noses:

Mother Nature has all the best designs and in creating these she really did do herself proud. Part fly eye, part Henry Moore sculpure, dog noses are one of the most beautiful things in the world to me. And if you think I'm just weird, be assured that this is a fetish mainstream enough to warrant its own photo stream on Flickr. And they smell good, too...

Above image and title image via Your Dog Nose
on Flickr

2) Whigby:

I would have been more than happy to nominate Whigby for my Shop of the Week slot but they only ship to the US and Canada (Boo) so they have been relegated to the still rather hallowed slot of Things I am Loving Right Now.

The brainchild of Todd Temporale and Frank Viva, two lovely Canadian chaps, I first came across Whigby when my house appreared on Design Sponge's Sneak Peeks. Frank's beyond gorgeous house was another featured domicile and so a lifelong association was formed. Well, not really, but Frank was wonderful enough to make an exception to Whigby's shipping policy and send me one of their fantastic George Orwell screenprints.

Specialising in print and pattern, Whigby also promise to hand deliver all orders totalling one million dollars or more. You can't say fairer than that.

via Whigby

3) Blog Widgets:

Someone came to visit me from Canberra, Australia last night....not literally of course, but thanks to my rather wonderful widget I can now see where all my blog visitors are coming from. It's all abit Big Brother, I suppose, but it's nice to know that the interboogle continues to make the world a smaller and more friendlier place. Other visitors have hailed from Canada, Italy, Finland and of course, good old Blighty. If I haven't scared you all away please continue to come and keep me company and leave a message inbetween watching your telly programmes. If you can be bothered.

via Google Images

4) Family Guy

The TV show. This is just how we are. Enough said.

via Google Images

5) The Upper Room

I''ve got this Brighton based band's one and only album, Other People's Problems on repeat at the moment. It takes me back to my uni days of jangly guitar based bands and smoky nightclubs. Not as self-referential as some of the shoegazers from that day, The Upper Room manage to write feel-good tunes about feel-bad situations. Sadly, they split in 2006 but thankfully their music lives on...

via Amazon

The Upper Room TV on MUZU.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Raiders of the Lost Art

Most people have films that inspire them, that they revisit for the rest of their lives and which occupy a special place in their heart. Not many, however, decide to remake them...

But in 1982 this is exactly what three schoolboys did, and the result, a 100 minute shot- for- shot homage to Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, called Raiders of the Lost Ark: an Adaptation, will receive its London premiere tomorrow night in Leicester Square.

Chris Strompolos, Jayson Lamb and Eric Zala, three friends who first met on the long bus journey to school in Mississippi, were just eleven when Spielberg's film came out but there was no doubt about the effect that it would have on them. "Coming down" from the Star Trek phenomenon, Indiana Jones, the rough and ready adventurer was exotic and yet somehow accessible, a true hero for teenage boys everywhere.

Indeed, it was probably their youthful exeuberance and, some would say, naivite, that enabled them to overcome the small hurdles of absolutely no budget and no filmmaking exerience to persevere with a project which would end up taking seven long years to complete.

Substituting money for imagination and sometimes pure chuztpah most of the scenes in the film were shot in and around Mississippi, enlisting the help of most of the local youth as stand-ins and extras for the crowd scenes. For example, the Cairo street scene was filmed in the Gulfport business district where the trio were almost arrested after a local businessman assumed they were making a porn movie. Interior scenes were shot at the boys' homes, usually without parental consent. These included a faithful replica of the Well of Souls aswell as the burning bar scene (hilariously, in one of the out-takes, a pre-teen is seen studying the instructions on one of the fire extinguishers as flames spread through the basement of Eric's house...).

Given the financial and technological constraints of the film don't expect it to look all that slick; shot on a Betamax camera, the visuals are shaky and grainy and the audio track sometimes inaudible but despite this, and maybe because of it, the love for the source material always comes through.

The seven year process and $5000 total budget almost ended the boys' friendship for good, but in 1989 on its completion it received an enthusiastic reception at a small hometown premiere before being consigned to the vaults.

Fast forward to 2003, and through a six degrees of separation type happenstance, the film made its way into the hands of producer and director Eli Roth who then made two of the most influential decisions he could have: first he gave a copy to Harry Knowles (of Ain't it Cool fame) and second, he gave a copy to Stephen Spielberg himself. Bearing in mind the complete and flagrant disregard for copyright that the film demonstrates (including its illicit recording at the cinema in the first place), it would not have been surprising if Spielberg's response would have been to slap a law suite on the trio. Instead, he wrote them all letters describing the film as the nicest compliment he and George Lucas had ever received and invited the trio to meet him.

In an ironic twist of fate with a particularly American flavour, the producer Scott Rudin bought the life rights of all three filmmakers in 2004 with a view to making a film of their lives. The screenwriter Daniel Clowes is now on board and Paramount in place with funding.

Thanks to the growth of concepts like You Tube, we now tend to have a rather cynical view of the whole premise of DIY filmmaking and it might therefore be tempting to downplay the enormity of what these three guys have created. It is only when we place it in context, that of two and a half decades ago, that the true wonder of their achievement shines through. It's just a shame we don't all start that young; as Zala himself has been quoted as saying: "(Kids') motivations are the purest, and they aren't unduly swayed by commercial considerations or a Teamsters strike or even the mortgage. It's about the love of the story."

The Making of an Adaptation:

All Images including title image via

Shop Of The Week

How I miss the old London Routemasters...fond memories of travelling to school in the Elephant and Castle each day with a walkman the size of a house brick and the smell of eau de Silk Cut wafting around on the top deck...

Nothing beats the sense of excitement of trying to jump on at the lights, hanging on for dear life to the handrail and watching the grumpy conductors shoving prams in the cubby hole under the stairs.

I also remember the bad times, like when my sister slipped off the platform at Kennington and ended up dislocating her leg, showing her knickers to the whole of South London. Sadly, like my youth, they are gone; big red dinosaurs consigned to museums and the occasional private trip to the seaside.

It is with great pleasure, therefore, that this week's Shop of The Week promises to deliver that shot of nostalgia in spades. London Transport Original Signs is the place to get your fix of transport yesteryear. Run by the fantabulous Haydn, LTOS is a vertitable treasure trove of signs and memorabilia from both the bus system and London Underground.

It's been a lifelong passion for Haydn, starting with his first acquisition of a handful of old enamel signs, rescued from a derelict factory not long after the war. But transport was always going to be in his blood; both his parents were conductors and many of Haydn's earliest memories revolve around the sights and smells of those times.

These days Haydn's mind bogglingly huge collection is sold through prestigious lifestyle boutiques but do yourself a favour and get them straight from the source. Not only will you get a large dose of charm and personal service, you also get the opportunity to have them framed (by the wonderful Steve) and delivered at a fraction of the other shops' prices. I am lucky enough to have several of these beauties framed and displayed in our house, including an old Northern Line diagram and a Not In Service sign which I have chosen to hang over the bed as a postmodern form of contraception...

Aswell as orginal bus blinds and signs, the site has a wealth of great London Underground pieces which make wonderful gifts. Not only are they a remarkable and unique piece of our social history, they can also serve to remind you of a particular time in your life. Whether it's the station where you first met your partner, or where you got off for the football, you are sure to find it here.

Like Haydn himself, the actual site is abit of an oddity (and I mean that in the nicest of ways!). There's none of the slick graphics that you might be used to, infact it's abit like a rummage sale where you have to trawl for its infinite treasures. For me, though, this is part of its charm and with enthsiastic feedback from all four corners of the globe you can be assured that you won't be disappointed.

And don't forget that these are original pieces, and won't be manufactured again. Love them for their smells and their stains, for the sense of the stories they tell, because once they are gone, they are gone....

All images via London Transport Original Signs
Title Image via Google Images

A wonderful picture of Haydn's mum in all her finery, June 1943.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pinch Me

In the lexicon of modern furniture design, Pinch is ccertainly a brand to conjure with. Founded in early 2004 by husband and wife team Russell and Oona Pinch, the collection debuted at the 100% Design show with 10 original pieces that went on to win the coveted Blueprint 100% Design Best Newcomer Award.

Since then Pinch has gone on to win a swathe of prestigious accolades, including the Homes and Gardens Design Classic Award for Furniture, and the Guild Mark for Excellence in Modern Furniture Design.

Championed by Elle Decoration and with collections for Heals and Son the brand has gone from strength to strength and now counts lighting and architectural designs amongst its oeuvre.

Born in 1973, Russell Pinch graduated from Ravensbourne College of Design, London. After graduating he worked as Sir Terence Conran’s design assistant and in 1995 he became a Senior Product Designer for the Conran Group. Here he was responsible for developing a diverse range of products for the Conran shops and restaurants and many of the designs for the Conran Collection, Conran’s benchmark homeware collection.

Look a little closer, however, and you will see more than a passing resemblance between Pinch's twenty first century designs and classics from the mid-century period.

Take Pinch's Pendal Sofa, a star amongst its current collection with its sensual, curves:

via Pinch Design

Look familiar? For me, it's a homage to Finn Juhl's classic Chieftain sofa from 1949:

Other looky-likies include the Yves Writing Desk (as seen in the title image, above), perhaps influenced by a whole raft of midcentury desk designs such as this Danish teak example by Lovig:
via ebay

or, indeed, George Nelson's swag leg desk:

via Google Images

...The Harper Dining Table:
via Pinch Design

...and Hans Wegner's teak side table:

via OurShowHome

The Vigo triple shelving Unit: via Pinch Design

...and Kandya's kitchen series: via Google Images

and finally the Maiden Stool:
via Pinch Design

...and the Ubiquitous Time Life Stool by Charles and Ray Eames:

via Google Images

So what is all of this saying? There's absolutely no denying the quality of materials and craftsmanship that goes into the Pinch design process; I, for one, would be happy to give any of the above pieces house room. But perhaps the point is not that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but rather that, much like there are no new stories to tell, perhaps there are no new furniture boundaries to explore.....