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22 posts from October 2007

31 October 2007

Separated at Birth

This will mean beans to anyone in the US, so I suggest you carry on trick or treating and come back again tomorrow.

 

                         Kelly Brook                                               Edwina Currie

Pun-kins!

Inspired by such Halloween geniuses as Nicole and Megan, the Minx and I set to work with a will yesterday to create our own fabulous pumpkin.

Actually we were even more inspired by that seminal work Teletubbies and the Magic Pumpkin which features a little video on how to make your own happy pumpkin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ours has a paper mouth and nose (mummy really couldn't be bothered to procure bark and felt as in the video), marshmallows and raisins for eyes, raisins for teeth and nostrils, leaves for ears, cupcake sprinkles for 'eyebrowns' and pampas grass for hair.  He is a very happy soul despite the fact that the morning dew made his marshmallow eyes rather soggy.

I knew Halloween was big in the States, but had no idea it was THIS big. The Minx has taken to trick or treating like a duck to water (surprising, not).

On Sunday evening a small witch (last year's costume still fits hooray!) met up with an even smaller crocodile  belonging to an Instant Hausfrau for a Pumpkin Prowl at Seattle's Woodland Park zoo.

It was spooktacularly well done - we were almost as mesmerised by set pieces such as dry ice and ghosts hanging over a pumpkin-laced pond as the Minx was.

The Hausfrau has become a great friend since we arrived in Seattle and has taken it upon herself to educate us in the ways of the pumpkin.

Here is a picture of the Minx and the Husband er, enjoying themselves hugely, as we all hunted for pumpkins in their natural habitat at The Farm, just north of Seattle, as the rain lashed down and the corn maize nearly drowned in a sea of mud.

Actually the day at the pumpkin patch was fab.  Whereas in England everyone would have stayed in with tea and toast and telly, the whole of Seattle appeared to have turned out  in the rain to go sliding down bales of hay in the barn, play with new kittens, learn geography in the map of Washington corn maize and thrill to the story of the three little pigs acted by real pigs.

 
Photo courtesy of the Instant Hausfrau

29 October 2007

Magnolia

Some of you may have seen this on my Flickr.

It's a photo I took at Kew Gardens ooh, about eighteen months ago, but I was wondering if it might work blown up big and printed on canvas.  I'm a bit worried that it might be too blurred and/or too pink. What do you think?

Hehe - thought I'd take advantage of all the people visiting from Design*Sponge to get lots of free decorating advice...

27 October 2007

Colour games

I love every sort of colour (and am a colour/word synaesthete, which sometimes makes life interesting) and so found these colour games from Livelygrey (via Hue Consulting) a very fascinating and enjoyable way to procrastinate, instead of writing yet another email about Christmas for our press list.

Image from Livelygrey

26 October 2007

Pappa al Pomodoro

One of the nicest things about food shopping in September and October here in the States are the 'heirloom' tomatoes which can be found everywhere in the supermarkets and farmers' markets. 

Traditional varieties of lumpen, misshapen, thin-skinned tomatoes all bursting with juice and flavour, and all such beautiful colours.  I have no idea why such things are not available in the UK.

As a result we have been eating a lot of 'pappa al pomodoro' (which translates as 'tomato gloop', the word 'pappa' is also used for baby food).  Most cookbooks translate this as a soup, but it is much more filling than that.  Use it instead to replace a pasta first course and follow it with a bit of cheese or prosciutto and a salad or a side dish of spinach with butter and nutmeg.

We use the recipe from the first River Cafe cookbook which we've adapted a bit (mostly because the original recipe serves 10).  It's definitely one of those recipes which is much more than the sum of its parts and highly recommended if you have a good supply of tasty tomatoes.  The recipe's use of huge quantities of olive oil is, however, not for the faint-hearted.  It is necessary to give the dish its creamy, rich texture but I doubt if it's going to be showing up on Weight Watchers any time soon.

 

Pappa al Pomodoro

2kg tomatoes

2 sliced cloves garlic

4 fl oz (ish) olive oil

salt & pepper

1 loaf ciabatta (large) or similar well-structured bread

basil

Take about 2kg of delicious-looking tomatoes, drop them in boiling water to skin them and remove the seeds. You can also add some tinned chopped tomates if you don't have enough gorgeous fresh ones. And take '2kg' as a guideline, it should just read 'a lot'.

Chop the fresh tomatoes into bits.  Here's the Husband chopping ours at the speed of light.

Put a very generous chug of good olive oil in a pan and gently soften two sliced cloves of garlic.  Don't let the brown. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer gently for about 40 minutes or until the tomatoes become concentrated. 

Add salt and pepper and 1/2 pint of boiling water and bring every thing to the boil. Cut most of the crust off the bread and then add it in chunks to the soup, with a handful of torn basil leaves.

Add another very generous slug of olive oil, turn it off the heat and leave it to cool slightly. Add a bit more boiling water if it's too thick.

Serve in bowls. Add a bit more olive oil to each bowl if you're very thin.

 

Orbs

OK, first of all I want you to imagine that the landing has walls painted this sort of colour (which is currently the colour of the Minx's playroom and the only colour in the house I like very much - though I'm going to change it to give her a jollier colour scheme).

 

Then imagine all the woodwork/millwork (?) painted white and no horrible burnt orange wall visible in the kitchen and the 'Spray' rug (which should be arriving fairly shortly) visible in the bedroom beyond. Oh and the ghastly panelling in the bedroom painted dove grey or something. (Yes, I realise that this would all be a lot easier if I just photoshopped it for you, but time is money round here).

 

And then tell me what you think of our new runner - a custom colourway of Emma Gardner's Orbs design.

Yes you were right.  We did indeed choose option 3 (see the poll here) of the custom options we were given.

What you can't see is how utterly blissful and soft the rug is.  Even though it's the least expensive of their three quality options, it feels wonderful underfoot.

Now I need you to tell me where I can find a ironing board cover which will work with this runner, for our rather funky built-in genuine 1909 ironing-board, which, yes, is hidden 99.9% of the time (I'm not big on ironing). I think this might be the interiors equivalent of making sure your collar and cuffs match.

Yes, yes, I know.  We are going to be talking to painters soon, so can get the whole house done and I don't have to keep telling you how much I hate all the existing colour schemes.

25 October 2007

Best Product of the Year

OK, you've all got about half a day to vote for Interior Design's Best Products of the Year.

Lots of lovely eyecandy, though I was a bit surprised at how pedestrian some of the products were and thought the actual voting site could have been better designed *cough* larger thumbnails *cough*.

Anyway here are just a few things which caught my eye

Patrick from Emma Gardner Rugs wrote to let me know about this because he's hoping that you'll all scurry along and vote for their gorgeous 'Jewels in the Sand' rug, which is indeed very voteworthy. 

The Minx's Room

The colour scheme for the Minx's bedroom was pretty much decided after we got a good deal on the pink Nurseryworks 'Storytime' rocking chair.

I decided to incorporate green so that it wouldn't all end up too Barbie, but still be fun for a little girl.  And then we found a strange inflatable 'Frog Prince' at Ikea and decided to build him a 'lily pond' with little flower mats from Target and a cheap and cheerful flower bean bag, which sort of dictated a daisy theme. (Note that in the end we settled for an embroidered quilt from Pottery Barn, which is currently much too big for the Minx's todder bed.)

So this is where we are today.  You will notice that the existing purple walls don't quite fit in.  The main problem with them is that the room is north west facing and so is quite dark during the day so I want to lighten them up quite a lot.

These are the options I'm toying with at the moment.

A pale, not too girly pink

A pinky white

A light celery green

I'm worried that either pink or green would be too 'matchy matchy' and the white will be too boring.

What do you think?

I'm also thinking of getting enormous daisy decals from Apple Pie Designs to funk up the walls a bit, either in silver on a coloured wall, or coloured for a white wall. (Check out great posts on Apple Pie Designs on Decor8 and Designers' Block).

As you can tell I've been playing a lot on the Benjamin Moore site today, and was amused to note that they actually have a paint colour called 'Seattle Grey'.

Which, funnily enough, is exactly the same colour as the view out of our bedroom window this afternoon.

24 October 2007

Much Excitement

Yesterday and today have been good days.

Two of my Emma Gardner rugs have arrived (pictures to follow shortly). 

I've just got an exciting new product on the site.  Now, I love all the products we have, but I'm feeling a particular frisson of childish glee about this colouring book for grown-ups! (Although they call it an ideas journal.)

 

And today an interview with yours truly appears on the Design*Sponge guest blog, courtesy of Megan Not Martha.  

If you're dropping by on your way from Design*Sponge, I do hope you'll pull up a chair, have a cupcake and stop for a chat.

23 October 2007

Things I've Learned The Hard Way About Product Photography

I've been spending a lot of time over the last few weeks or so on product photography and had an interesting chat with Megan Not Martha about it a few weeks back, so I thought it might be useful for those of you with Etsy or Ebay shops to put together a list of things I've learned through trial and error about photographing and styling.

I don't pretend to be any sort of an expert, but since the initial mirrormirror photoshoot where we did the styling and a photographer friend came and shot the images, I've done the styling and product photography for mirrormirror myself.  

Most of what I'm going to say below is nothing but common sense.  But these are all mistakes I've made not once, but several times.   (Mind you, it's possible you've got more common sense than I have.)

  • Get the best camera, and particularly lens, you can afford.  My photography has dramatically improved since I bought a dedicated 60mm lens for my Canon EOS 350. There is a reason why pros have all that fancy gear.
  • Use a tripod.  It's a pain to adjust it, but you'll thank me I promise. Perfectly sharp shots always look best.
  • Experiment with depth of field (how blurry the background is).  I try to shoot a number of shots at different apertures so I can choose how much or how little of the background I want to blur out.  But always have at least part of the picture perfectly focused and sharp.

Maybe the photographer was drunk.  Early prototype of the shot that was recently featured in Homes & Gardens.

  • Make sure your camera and lens are clean.  It's a pain to have to Photoshop out fluff on the lens from otherwise great shots.
  • Underexposure can be corrected.  Overexposure can't be.

Never knew a shiny printer could be so useful

Cropped and lightened.  How did you get that reflection?
  • I don't use artificial light, preferring to take my chances with daylight.  Mostly because I wouldn't know where to begin with lightmeters and suchlike.  Remember though that bright sunlight will give you dark shadows, without the subtlety that you see through the viewfinder. Soft diffuse light is generally best unless you want your pic to look really 'summery'.

Hard dark shadows work in this case (I think) 
  • White light is best.  I've learned to my cost that light diffused through sheer green curtains will give everything a sickly green cast.
  • Crumbs and dirt will always, always, always show up. It's easier to brush them aside than spend hours photoshopping them out.
  • Creases.  Always show up more in front of the camera for some reason. Copious ironing is essential. Unfortunately.
  • Check what's in the background.  I photograph in odd corners of my house, so unattractive piles of filing always seem to get in the shot.

Hey nice cot!
  • But remember, the crop tool is your friend.

Hey presto, no more telephone point or scraggy bit of torn watercolour paper

  • Collect beautiful linens and fabrics - which are not too patterned and distracting.  They're the easiest backdrop.  Use any fabrics that come to hand - teatowels, bath towels, napkins, pillow cases. 

I hope that changing table is clean

 

 Very obviously a baby muslin

Shot which has appeared in The Times amongst others

 

Is it usual to eat brownies off an old pillowcase? 
  • Collect beautiful and interesting objects. Small things which can add a bit of life or beauty to an image.  I've photographed products on books, bars of chocolate and matchboxes amongst other things.  Cakes, biscuits, fruits and flowers are cheap additions for a hint of human interest. 

Fame at last for my old teddy

Books are a great prop
  • Use Picasa for most photo enhancing applications.  It's much easier than Photoshop.
  • Identify the elements you want to highlight and focus on them. Make sure patterns, labels, jewels or other design elements are clearly visible and pin sharp..
  • Jewellery needs a lot of adjusting to make sure it hangs properly. Focus on arranging the necklace not the model.
  • Having said that, get the model to comb her hair and touch up her make-up between shots.

Get a hairbrush!
  • Look out for unwelcome reflections in mirrors and windows.  Photographing mirrors is a nightmare for this reason.

Oh and check out Abigail, Ursula and Corey for very different, but wonderfully effective ways of styling products.

Has anyone got any more tips they'd like to share? Or seen other great online stylists?

Colour Scheming

I was knocked out by this gorgous photoshoot and fabulous pastel colour scheme in this month's UK Elle Deco.

 

Stylist Frank Vissers is currently spending a few months working for Chinese Elle Deco, and this is how he has prettied up his temporary apartment in Shanghai's old French colonial quarter.

Apparently the rented furniture is a bit hit and miss so he's covered it up with fabrics, put some in storage, and then picked up a few pieces in Ikea. And then he smothered everything with bits and bobs he's found on various photoshoots.  

 

 

Though the shoot is styled to within an inch of its life - like we all live with a billard table cum work table which is positively dripping with blousy roses - I adore this colour scheme and the soft take on chinoiserie.

This simple cup filled with paint sample cards is my favourite photo of the lot.

 

Somehow I suspect he doesn't have a toddler at home though.

20 October 2007

The Daily Dress

Seattle Daily Candy came up trumps last week by spotlighting these gorgeous paintings of vintage dresses by Seattle-based artist Liz Tran, which she displays on her blog The Daily Dress.  

I love the idea of using them in a kid's room as in this photo from Seattle Homes & Lifestyles.

Actually I'm rather taken by her other paintings as well. The Husband and I are thinking of buying a piece of art as a 10th anniversary present for us to share, so I might just drag him along to her Open Studio, which I see from her blog is happening at the beginning of November.

I suspect the dresses though are a bit too girly even for the Husband, who prides himself on his 'metrosexuality'.

17 October 2007

Fireplace Tales

I've been feeling like a bit of a fraud recently. 

My post on the miraculous Soy Gel paint stripper had been picked up by various people, most notably Apartment Therapy and Not Martha, while all the while my fireplace was still looking like this.

So much for walking the talk.  Please note that this is not because of any problems with said miraculous paint stripper but because of sheer laziness on behalf of the fireplace's new owners.

So, shamed into action, said owners spent last weekend slathering the fireplace with what remained of the miraculous paint stripper.

We again left it overnight, to be greeted by this the following morning.    I have to say that this time, because we used a lot more gloop, the smell was rather unpleasant, but not unbearable and certainly not like it might be causing you a nasty chemical-induced death.

Here's close up of how the paint bubbles up and falls off of its own accord.

After a lot of peeling and a bit of scraping, this is what we ended up with.

As you can see, a 1 quart bottle got rid of most of the red, most of the white layer underneath and quite a lot of the greyish (primer?) under that. We've deliberately kept the upside-down brick pyramid thingies underneath mantel red, as we were thinking of painting them white, and likewise keeping the bricks at the bottom white (thought the Husband did mistakenly put paint stripper on the righthand upside-down brick pyramid thingy, so the paint has bubbled and needs to be sanded).

A new bottle of SoyGel has just arrived from Amazon, so this weekend it's onwards and upwards.  Tune in for another gripping instalment (hopefully) next week.

Online ordering is now back on the site!  It just remains to be seen whether Lynx Internet has indeed lost the entire customer database (thank goodness most of it was uploaded into our separate email database) and the historic order database. It also remains to be seen whether I can sue them for all the additional grey hairs they helped create at the weekend.  

16 October 2007

Grrrrr

And there I was, just feeling that doing our own PR was one of the best decisions I'd made in a long time (check out another fab mention on Di Overton's awesome Designer's Block) when the mirrormirror website just disappeared from the Internet...

Cue a Sunday of panic as we tried in vain to contact the hosting company to find out what on earth was happening.  They finally deigned to let us know late on Monday morning that they'd had a major outage and that various servers required reconfiguration. 

The site is now back online, but online ordering still isn't working (36 hours later), so if you're thinking of buying something may I suggest that you call us on 0845 257 3079.

And if you're foolish enough to be thinking of setting up a online e-commerce site, may I suggest that you avoid Lynx Internet's hosting like the plague.

15 October 2007

Homes & Garden

I'm so excited about this - an utterly fabulous bit of coverage in November's Homes & Garden magazine.

 

There we are, right in the middle, and in company with some of the very best online shops in the UK.  And they've even used the photo of the Hannah Tofalos stacking jars, which I took on our dining room table.

11 October 2007

Purple and orange and blue

The clouds have started rolling in again over the Sound and while Seattle is usually covered in its customary grey pall, occasionally the clouds part, the sun shines through and the sky does extraordinary and mesmerising things. 

Silver linings

Purple rain (the light really was this colour) 

Sunrise over the I-5 (thanks to the Minx for waking us up this early)

Sunrise over Seattle (again courtesy of the Minx) 

This sunrise was so spectacular we all had to head up to the deck in our pyjamas and watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Original photos on Flickr

10 October 2007

When I Was One-and-Twenty

She is quite small, only 6"x8"

XIII. "When I was one-and-twenty..."
by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
'Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
'The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.

I've fnally treated myself to one of Michelle Caplan's little collages. I can't tell you how thrilled I am with her.  I have no idea yet where to put her, but she is currently propped up against one of the little speakers on my desk and her eyes follow me round the room.

Michelle somewhat prosaically named her Sally3 but I think I will call her Melissa, because she looks like Melissa from 'thirtysomething'  (she says, dating herself quite a lot).

09 October 2007

Atelier LZC

And a couple more nice bits of recent coverage.  

The Matryoschka tea towels were mentioned in Ideal Home magazine as well as on the House to Home website .  The coverage has been generating a few orders, though not as many as we usually get from that magazine. It's strange how sometimes a bit of coverage can get stuff flying off the shelves, whereas sometimes it doesn't have much of an effect.

I was amused to see that the Russian doll effect noted by sfgirlbybay is also alive and well in the UK.  Is it wrong of me to really like those boxes by Asda (!) in the bottom right corner?

The Atelier LZC hanging peacocks also had a very nice mention yesterday on the wonderful UK-based design blog Print & Pattern.  If you haven't seen this blog before, go check it out, it really is a daily dose of inspiration.

I've got the new Atelier LZC catalogue in front of me today and am just about to place a new order, including some new products, so watch this space.

Diane and I have been spending a LOT of time this summer putting together our own in-house press list.  It's been a huge amount of work, but we're hoping that we'll still get some press coverage without having to pay a PR company a big retainer. 

So far it seems to be working.  We've had some good Christmas call-outs (doesn't guarantee they'll be used mind you) and hopefully have some other bits of coverage lined up. If you're a journalist or design blogger and would like to be added to our list then please email to get in touch.

06 October 2007

With thee

Ten years ago yesterday I went to church, took a walk in a graveyard, travelled across London on top of a double decker bus, held a cocktail party in a bijou London hotel and went for dinner at the Ivy in a corset.

Here's one of the readings we had during the service.

With thee conversing I forget all time,  
All seasons and thir change, all please alike.  
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,  
With charm of earliest Birds; pleasant the Sun  
When first on this delightful Land he spreads  
His orient Beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flour,  
Glistring with dew; fragrant the fertil earth  
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on  
Of grateful Eevning milde, then silent Night  
With this her solemn Bird and this fair Moon,  
And these the Gemms of Heav'n, her starrie train:  
But neither breath of Morn when she ascends  
With charm of earliest Birds, nor rising Sun  
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, floure,  
Glistring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,  
Nor grateful Evening mild, nor silent Night  
With this her solemn Bird, nor walk by Moon,  
Or glittering Starr-light without thee is sweet.

              From Paradise Lost by John Milton

I would still have the same reading today.  Thank you for all the love and laughter.

03 October 2007

Gorgeous New Gift Ideas

Before we went to London I was manically photographing some new stuff to get on the site, but realise I forgot to show them to you. 

Click to enlarge. More photos on my Flickr

I photograph everything in natural light (I have no idea what to do with lights and lightmeters etc.) so I was pleased to catch the last of the summer sunshine (goodness the weather has been awful here this week).

I decided to ring the changes and get some different things from Karin Eriksson - one of her ceramic mobiles, her set of three little dishes and some porcelain tealight holders. The only problem with photographing these is showing  how utterly gorgeous they are.  Believe me when I say they're a hundred times more beautiful than I've managed to show.

We're also thrilled to have two new designers in the collection. We love the delicate Hummingbird design on these bone china 'breakfast for ones' and mugs from Lillibulle Ceramics and the graphic black and white prints on these tea towels from Grace & Go.

Last but not least we have the most wearable pair of earrings ever from Abigail Percy.  I snuck a pair for myself in when I ordered them and I don't think I've stopped wearing them since I got them.

Coffee Break

We welcomed a new member of the family at the weekend. His name is francisfrancis! and we already love him to bits and stroke him lots.

Please ignore yellow wall 

Since moving to Seattle the Husband has developed a serious coffee addiction, and it was such a pleasure to get him a birthday present that didn't involve X-Boxes. 

I, on the other hand, am *this* close to developing a serious Illy coffee cup addiction. I've always loved using Illy coffee cups on my trips to Italy - my cousin has several Illy Collection boxed sets which are brought out on special occasions - but without a machine had no excuse to buy them.  But now...

For our everyday cups I found some Biennale di Venezia 2005 cups.  These aren't a signed and numbered Illy Collection set and were just made for use in bars all over Italy.  I think they're gorgeous and they have that very satisfying Illy heaviness and feel in the hand. There are lots on eBay if you want to indulge as they're not particularly rare.

For our special occasion cups (see what I mean about an addiction?) I'm in the process of acquiring a signed and numbered Illy Collection set of the Tazzine Ballerine.  These ones aren't particularly rare either as they only came out in 1999 but I do like the design.

Now I need to start working on cappucino cups. If anyone fancies selling me a complete set of Dream cappucino cups you know where to find me.  I'm indebted (in every sense of the word) to this site for feeding my growing fascination. Look on eBay and specialist sites for the cups themselves.  Some of the rarer editions are already fetching crazy money, since they're no longer just cups, but signed and numbered art works by top artists.

I'm sort of wishing that we'd got it in one of the more iconic francisfrancis! colours, such as red, orange or sky blue, but we want to keep him for life and I'm not sure I'm going to be wanting an orange kitchen when I'm ninety.  And this way he matches my KitchenAid and we get to paint the kitchen any colour we want.

01 October 2007

Go Mariners!

Apologies for poor quality phone pic

So we are now officially Seattleites.

This afternoon we all went (with one of the Minx's friends from nursery and his family) to see the Seattle Mariners - our first ever baseball match.

I can't pretend that I understood everything that was going on, but that didn't stop it being the most tremendous fun.  Torrential rain having returned to Seattle with a vengeance this weekend, Safeco Field was also by the far the best place to be in all Seattle, as it has a retractable roof.

The Minx had a whale of a time cheering along with everyone else though her appreciation of the finer points of the game was a tad sketchy, and it was just a grand family day out - and a huge contrast with the aggressively macho atmosphere of football matches in the UK.

Just so you can all orientate yourselves a bit, here's a picture I took earlier this year from the Space Needle, with Mt Rainier in the background and Safeco Field to the far right (the stadium to the left is the NFL stadium).