Stuff is a lovely word and one of its meanings is fabric. I went to a fantastic exhibition this weekend at Raven Row in Spitalfields. ‘The Stuff That Matters’ features the collection of Seth Siegelaub, which includes early silks, linens and embroidered pieces, alongside textiles made of palm bark and fabulous headdresses. If you ever wondered where Picasso, Brancusi and Dali got their sources of inspiration, look no further. Apologies for the softness of the pictures, taken on my iPhone in low light.

Also at the gallery was an ingenious way of stopping people from sitting on the antique stamped velvet upholstery. Thistles…I liked that!

Joy in January…

Joy in January…can be  a little hard to find. Three things have cheered me up.

The first was going to see The Artist at our new local cinema, the Hackney Picturehouse, at a sold-out afternoon showing. Proof that silence can be as meaningful, funny and moving as sound. Also that black and white can be as rich as colour – those velvety shadows and sequined highlights.

The second was an artist. Courtesy of my sister, who is a member, I went to see David Hockney’s A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy. Pure colour and nature joy. Hockney’s landscapes are of the East Yorkshire landscape near where he lives in Bridlington – my father-in-law lived there and it’s a part of the world I know. He gets the light so right. A couple next to us said: ‘That’ll be five o’clock in the afternoon.’

Then this weekend I called into Chase & Sorensen for lunch and coffee with my daughter and spotted the ceramic bottle you can see in the picture. It’s only about seven inches high, but it’s a lovely thing. The pattern reminds me of those talismans you get in Greece to ward off the evil eye and the shape with its little beak of a spout reminds me of a bird. I didn’t need it, but I’m so glad I bought it. (The black and white photograph in the background is a picture of my mother, taken in the late 1940s.)

Sunday morning colours

Lovely October light this morning in the kitchen. Couldn’t resist another colour post.


Danish Modern and the London Riots






Last month we went to the opening of a new shop near where we live. It’s called Chase & Sorensen and it’s right opposite the Pembury Estate, which was one of the flashpoints of the recent London riots. Brilliant shop, stocking vintage Danish furniture and decorative objects in beautiful condition, plus a very nice café at the front – I can recommend the smoked salmon. I wish them well with it!

Chairs on fire

Just back from a blustery week spent walking along my favourite coastline in Northumberland. Huge skies, empty beaches and more than enough wind to blow the cobwebs away.

The windiest day by far was last Wednesday, which we spent on Lindisfarne (Holy Island). The gusts were so strong I had difficulty standing up. Looking towards the Castle (restored by Lutyens) I was struck by the similarity between its shape on the skyline and the bonfire pile under construction for Guy Fawkes Night. Lots of chairs on top. It reminded me of the work of Doris Salcedo.

In the walled garden, designed by Gertrude Jekyll, the flowers were dancing.

The Ship Inn was a good place to shelter.

Colour speaks for itself

In praise of darkness

Years ago I discovered Anthony Trollope and read a number of his books on the trot – what I always do when I fall for an author. In one of them – I can’t remember which – there’s a scene that takes place in the evening. A character comes into a room and can’t make out the faces of everyone gathered there. It took me a while to see the scene with 19th-century eyes, when light levels were low and candles expensive.

We do experience darkness these days, but there are always light switches to be fumbled for. And in the city it never really gets dark.

I was thinking about this when I saw – experienced — took part in? Punchdrunk’s immersive performance today. The Uncommercial Traveller is based on Charles Dickens’ writings about his London walks. After an audio tour guided us through Hackney we ended up in an empty shop that had been transformed into a 19th-century eating house. We stumbled in from a bright sunny day into a deep obscuring gloom. When I was told where to sit, I almost missed the bench and nearly landed on the floor. Gradually our eyes adapted, but the mystery of the low light remained and with it came a powerful feeling of stepping back into time.

Urban inspiration

Nature has always been a source of inspiration for designers – plant and animal forms, in particular. Think of the organic skeletal shapes of Santiago Calatrava’s bridges, the swirling naturalism of William Morris patterns, or Arne Jacobsen’s Swan and Egg chairs.

But cityscapes throw up surprising riches. This photograph, taken in King’s Cross station when it was recently being revamped, is by my daughter. The peeled wall, with its smeared colours and vestiges of lettering, is really pleasing to me.

Duvets and chicken bricks

Friday’s news about the closure of all but three Habitat stores was sad.

Habitat was ground-breaking. With its launch in the early 1960s Terence Conran transformed British attitudes to home design and furnishing. Simple glassware, brightly coloured enamelled mugs and coffee pots, flatweave rugs were displayed en masse in tempting visual displays, along with such exotic imports as the ‘continental’ duvet and the chicken brick. It took my family a while to give up sheets and blankets, but we did have a chicken brick.

I remember visiting the Tottenham Court Road branch in my early twenties and being amazed at the range of paints they then sold – really delicious colours that weren’t available anywhere else.

Later I bought four red wooden slatted folding chairs (three are still going strong), a sofa bed that was so well-made that it only gave up the ghost last year, along with other bits and pieces. When Habitat decided to reissue Robin Day’s iconic polyprop chair in the late 1990s I bought six of those too (in pale translucent blue).

End of an era.

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