Every Saturday in Leek market square you can find an assortment of antique traders and dealers selling bric a brac and french brocante, salvage, old vinyl records and books. Its a great little market, small in size but big in the substance of its wares.

Last Saturday we woke to a misty start but blue skies followed as we sped along the roads, travelling towards Leek and a day of antique hunting. As well as the market, Leek is known for it’s plethora of antique shops.

 

My favourite antique shop is Odeon Antiques, it’s pricy but they have the best of the best and if you’re looking for a bargain, there’s plenty of other bric a brac and house clearance shops where you can unearth a treasure trove of collectables. Odeon antiques, specialise in industrial salvage style and if this is your style you will be spoilt for choice by the metal filing cabinets, plan chests, factory lights and engineers seating in stock. They have a variety of dealers under one space though, so there is also plenty of french antiques, mid century and garden salvage in the basement. Everything is such good quality and each and every piece is covetable.

Strangely I didn’t actually take any photos whilst I was in there, but I think I’m always so fascinated by the stock that I’m otherwise occupied. The image above is from their website and by no means captures the amazing space and objects inside.

What we noticed on Saturday, was that the town seemed to be improving even more and there was a definite sense of Leek being on the up. There were lots of new cafes and eateries and gift and interior shops and a real buzz about the town.

One of the loveliest shops we called in and bought quite a lot of lovely little pieces from was Era. It’s a beautiful double fronted shop front with the original tiled floor and sells mainly reclaimed pieces of oak and wood furniture, some of which have been up cycled with chalk paint. There’s also a lovely collection of small items, which I like to call props, being a stylist I always see things in this way. Some of the items I bought were decorative Victorian shelf brackets, an old soap stone apothecary pestle and mortar and an old bakers wire tray that would have been used for transporting bread and baked good around which I intend to use as a notice board on the kitchen wall, for slotting business cards and flyers into.

Another amazing shop which is just full of the most gorgeous hardware and lighting and beautiful rugs is Period Features. This shop is packed with everything you could ever want for finishing your home. From period light switches, to door handles and bespoke light shades. I could literally spend hours in there and had to be practically dragged out by Mr B with a promise to return with a check list of things we need to buy. If you like traditional country house style with a mix of modern rustic textures, this is the shop for you!

We ate lunch at The Penguin cafe, a quirky mix of vegan and gluten free food with a selection of Japanese house specialities all home made on the premises. We opted for simple fare of gluten free galette with a tuna and cheese melt filling and Mr B had Staffordshire oat cakes with fried eggs on. I know I know, you can take the boy out of Manchester but you can’t take Manchester out of the boy, its a firm favourite of his? There were many more exotic offerings and a lovely selection of salads that you can also take away in recycled cardboard boxes if you prefer a picnic style lunch?

We also called into eclectic cafe Spout to buy some craft beers to take out and after chatting to the owner found out they are licensed and open until 9.00pm in the evening. It was an amazing place, a three storey Georgian building, complete with original features such as tiled floors, wide Georgian floorboards and glass fan lights over the internal doors. There were lots of little nooks and crannies and different areas to dine or drink and a lovely little courtyard garden for alfresco dining. A definite spot for a bite to eat next time we’re in town.

What I really like about Leek as well as the antique shops and lovely independants is the stunning architecture all around the town. It’s predominantly Georgian in style which is my favourite era of architecture but there’s also buildings that date much further back and the names of the streets are evocative of their trading history. It’s a very aesthetically interesting town with layers of history still evident. I mean this has got to be one of the most decorative doors I’ve ever seen?

& there’s original floor tiles in almost every building

This blog post is by no means all there is to see in Leek it’s just a little round up of what we found on Saturday. It’s a great town with some beautiful architecture and well worth a trip for a day out. If you go or have been, I’d love to know what you thought?

 

This month marks the 20 year anniversary of the date we bought our home and I recently came across some old photos that we took of it shortly after moving in and before the renovations began?

It was a beautiful house that had been practically destroyed and all it’s lovely Victorian features removed during the 1970’s when a developer turned it into two separate flats which were let to tenants. It had no redeeming features when we viewed it but we saw the lofty ceilings and the huge windows and the potential to turn it back into a family home. It was also located on a lovely road that we could only dream of living on, but couldn’t afford, but due to it’s state of neglect it was within our budget and we had decided to buy it before the viewing was even complete.

It’s only now when I look back at the old photos that I can see what our terrified parents could see, who thought we’d lost our marbles and had bitten off more than we could chew, but over the years we gradually turned it back into a home which we have loved and raised our family in and had so much fun in learning new skills and crafts.

Pretty dire wasn’t it and look at that electric fireplace!

As I love a before and after feature, I thought it would be fun to post some of the many incarnations of our lounge over the years. Bare in mind we had little money then as it was all being spent on the basics, plasterers, electricians and plumbers, so everything was a bit make do and mend, loaned sofas from friends and cushions made from charity shop remnants of fabric. You get the picture? I did however, always seemed to persuade Mr B to splurge on expensive wallpaper, a feature wall as they were fashionably called back then.  I’ve actually looked at some of these photos and thought what was I thinking, but it was such fun and we were young and full of enthusiasm, so hey?

 

Neisha Crosland wallpaper makes it’s first but not to be last appearance at Barlow towers. Why did I ever think red was a good accent colour with this scheme? Can I just add this was before I went to Uni to train as an interior designer, so throw me some slack!

The Neisha Crosland wallpaper is replaced by a Miller Harris Design, which they no longer seem to sell, and some smart grey sisal flooring, when grey was just becoming the new neutral, things were looking up? The electric fire was quickly replaced by this salvaged slate open fire surround and clever Mr B learnt some carpentry skills and made these fitted book shelves copied from a picture I’d seen in Elle Deco.

A bit of a rudimentary mood board just to get some ideas together for the latest look. It’s not turned out exactly like this as we’ve changed our minds on some of the items along the way but it’s pretty similar, as you’ll see in the pictures below, which is what is so great about mood boards, you can quickly see if your ideas are going to work?

The wallpaper has been replaced by simpler painted walls in setting plaster by Farrow & Ball and the paint work in off black also Farrow & Ball, which was a big and very scary decision but we love it now. Wonder if we’ll say that when we look back on these photos in years to come?

The rug I originally put on the moodboard was from French Connection but we decided we wanted to invest in a vintage Iranian rug which we found at Insitu Manchester and the vintage leather 1930’s chair was an Ebay find from a local seller. I made the washed linen curtains from fabric bought from Ada & Ina.

The open fire is regularly used and is one of the changes we made that will stay forever.

The loaned Edwardian chesterfield was gifted to us in the end and recovered in a sand coloured linen fabric and the large antique mirror was a bargain find from Pear Mill in Stockport and restored by Mr B, he even remade some of the missing plaster work! He has definitely learned a lot of skills over the 20 years!

Some of our favourite items from local independent retailers Moth, Room 365 and Object style, all based in and around Manchester, sit on our mantle piece.

If you enjoyed seeing these before and afters, let me know as I have a load more old photos of some of our other rooms that I’ll post in the future, if you like?

 

 

I’m often asked what I do as an interiors stylist and the truth is very far removed from the perception that it is a very glamorous job for which I just get paid to shop & create pretty roomsets? If any of you read my last post here, I think any preconceived ideas have probably been dispelled by now?

For any of you thinking of becoming a stylist it is a great and very rewarding job, but glamorous couldn’t be further from the truth.

As there are lots of very interesting before and after blog posts featuring room make overs for residential properties, which I personally love reading, and I’m guessing you do too, I thought it might be interesting to get an insight into what goes into the job of creating a room set for a commercial photography shoot and how the role of an interior stylist contributes?  So kind of a before and after for a shoot?

The example I’ve used for this blog post, was a recent job I completed for a client and is pretty typical of an average job. I will take you through the steps of receiving the client brief to the completed shot. I know when I first decided it might be fun to be a stylist, after studying for my Interior Design degree, I had no idea what I was getting into really. If I had read a blog post like this first, it would have been really useful and so I thought why not share the knowledge I’ve picked up along the way?

So the first point of contact with the client usually involves them or an art director, giving you the brief. The brief may or may not include a set design. If not it is quite often the role of the stylist to design the set, along with lots of communication with the photographer and the set builder to ensure that your ideas are realistic. The photographer will be thinking about how he wants to light the set and will often ask for multiple windows or doors for light sources. The set builder will know how realistic some of your ideas are regarding the time frame or budget allowed. As well as designing the set, the stylist will also often be asked to source flooring and wall coverings, window dressings and paint colours. This will be determined by the look and feel the client has asked for.

In the example I’ve shown below, my brief was to create a coastal inspired bedroom to showcase the product which were white fitted wardrobes. The design board determines the look and feel and will help to confirm that your ideas are the same as those of the client.

I mainly use google sketchup for the set design and Photoshop for the design boards, so that they can be emailed to the client and any amendments easily changed until the idea and props have been approved by the client. There are also other ways of making simple mood boards, on apps such as Canva and morpholio.

A budget for props is confirmed and it’s important that you have a good source of props hire  and reliable independant retailers, who will hire their stock to you for a small percentage of the retail price. I also have a collection of my own props that are useful for bringing to shoots, such as neutral pottery, linen covered books and interesting salvaged pieces which I regularly pick up at boot sales and antique fairs.

As well as sourcing props, the client will usually ask me to collate a design board of pieces I am using, so that they can approve them.  They have to be quite comprehensive so that the client has a good understanding of the key pieces that are being used on the shoot.

There’s a lot to think about and as well as being creative an interiors stylist has to have an excellent background and knowledge of all interior styles and periods so that you can interpret the brief. It’s essential that once the sourced items have been put on the design board, that you can ensure that they will be in stock and available on the day of the shoot. It’s ok making pretty design boards to present but if you then can’t bring the goods to the shoot, you’re going to have a disappointed client?

You’ll also have to be resourceful and knowledgeable and able to make decisive decisions quickly. Sometimes when the client sees a key piece on set, they decide it’s not working as they imagined and you need to know where alternative key items can be bought. This happens, believe me.

Being a creative stylist is also being a team player and communication skills are vital, through your interpretations of the brief from the client to working on set with assistants,photographers, hair and make up professionals, models and the client and their team.

As well as bringing all the props to the shoot, it’s vital that you bring your own tool box as you can’t always be sure that every studio you work at will have the supply you need and of course if you’re on location, it’s imperative you come fully prepared for any eventuality.

So here’s a run down of what I bring in my tool kit. Again it’s not a comprehensive list and some stylists will have different essentials but this is usually what you can guarantee you’ll need in most situations.

  1. Staple gun and spare staples
  2. Fishing wire
  3. blue tac
  4. double sided tape
  5. masking tape
  6. tape measure
  7. small electric cordless drill
  8. pins
  9. spray starch
  10. needle & thread
  11. small hammer
  12. small panel pins and nails
  13. florists wire
  14. string for hanging pictures
  15. scissors
  16. set of allen keys
  17. hole punch
  18. small nail brush (great for smoothing the pile on velvet upholstery)

So from brief to finished shoot, this is the final result of all those hours of preparation.

I’d love to know what you thought about this post. Did you find it interesting and helpful? Are you surprised about what is expected of a stylist or is it just what you thought? I love to hear back from you, so do get in touch x

 

After spending quite a bit of time in Spain over the last few years and recently just returned from a week near Barcelona, I have a bit of a love affair going on with Rattan at the moment which is used in so many interesting ways over there.

It seems that I’m not the only one either? My Instagram feeds and Pinterest suggestions are awash with balearic style shots of rattan furniture, styled up with lush plants.

 

I first took notice of this humble material when Ilse Crawford delivered her range for Ikea and those magnificent straw pendant lights sold out within weeks.

Then of course there were the beautiful decorative jute rugs that stole our hearts.

So if like me you are loving the tones, textures and tactile nature of rattan, here is my round up of some of what the High Street and online retailers have to offer.

For a rug similar to the one in the image by sfgirlbybay above, try this Asele rug by Urbanara.

This gorgeous occasional table is available at Moth in Didsbury Manchester. Hazel the lovely owner of my favourite shop, is also a lover of Balearic style and her beautiful shop has a selection of rattan objects to choose from.

Made.com are always on top of every interior trend and have these fab Java lights for only £59

These cute Tiki style mirrors are from La Redoute, for £69 and currently with 25% off.

 

If you feel like bringing a bit of the tropical garden vibe indoors, this hanging Ibizan style chair is perfect? Available through Wayfair.

Or if you prefer to keep your feet firmly on terra firm and are looking for something more like this, there is this chair below, from Maison Du Monde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of my trips away with Mr B, without our off spring, are never more than 2 or 3 nights, due to our youngest still being only 15, we rely on one of our lovely friends, who has a daughter the same age as Amber, to look after her for us, and we don’t want to take advantage of her kindness. Consequently. we have become very good at maximising our time in a city and it’s amazing how much you can see and do in 48 hours if you plan ahead and ensure that you are located in the very best part of the city.

So recently we returned to Barcelona, a city we haven’t visited for over 20 years, before our children came along. Our hotel was located in the El Born area, which I had figured out was the part of the city where all the best bars, restaurants and independent shops were. It has a lovely neighbourhood feel such as La Marias in Paris or Notting Hill in London, which is just our kind of place and is also perfect for hanging out in the evening without having to schlep back into the city centre on public transport or spend your money on taxi fares. El Born did not disappoint, in fact quite the opposite, it was love at first sight. You know that feeling you get as your taxi approaches your hotel and you get butterflies in your stomach because you just know you’ve hit the jackpot? El Born is a labyrinth of old streets right in the heart of the gothic quarter with the right amount of traditional Tapas bars and cool cocktail bars, beautiful independent clothes and shoe shops and amazing vintage shops.

A couple of people have asked if I’d write a blog post about our trip as a bit of a guide for their anticipated visit. This is obviously not an exhaustive list of what to do, but it’s what we did and some of the places we saw and would visit again and I can whole heartedly recommend.

So first up, how to get from El Prat airport to the city, you might ask? I know it’s something I always check as it’s not always necessary to jump in a taxi and waste your hard earned euros to get from A to B?  I would definitely recommend getting the Aerobus into the city centre. It runs frequently, every 30 minutes, from both terminals and costs just over 10€ return. The train is a bit more complex, depending on which terminal you land at, you might have to get the shuttle bus that runs between terminals, to take you to the train station and then you have to change midway at another station to get the train into the centre of Barcelona?

We chose to stay at Chic and Basic Hotel in El Born. They also have other hotels around the city. It was a lovely hotel, in a great location with a good breakfast and very helpful staff. I wouldn’t say the decor was totally to my taste as it was quite contemporary in the bedrooms and had a bit of a night club feel with LED lights that you could change the colour of by remote control, but it was still very cool and for Barcelona prices, the name of the hotel was a perfect description, working out at about £100 a night for a double room. Breakfast was 18€ each but for that you could help yourself to cereals, eggs, hams, tomatoes, breads and jams, fresh fruit juices and great coffee. They also, as promised, had gluten free bread waiting for me in the morning, which I just had to order the day before with the reception staff. As the El Born area is a warren of small streets it’s perfect for cycling around and the hotel provide their own bikes for hire.

As we arrived quite late in the evening, we ended up eating in one of the first good Tapas bars we passed, which was an interesting mix of North African and Spanish. Cal Pep had been recommended as one of the best Tapas bars in the area and I’m sure it is, but to be honest every place we passed was packed and the food all looked amazing and our choice for the first evening was fantastic. Sometimes we’ve found you can send too much of your precious time looking for a certain restaurant and when you only have two evenings you need to go with your instincts? In El Born your instincts will be on high alert, as I’ve said it all seemed good. The area has it’s own mini Ramblas which is lined with convivial bars and music well into the night and around the old market hall there are also lots of eateries and late night bars.

The morning of our first day was spent at the Museu Disseny which was host to the “David Bowie Is” exhibition, that had first appeared at The V&A a few years back. This was our reason for visiting Barcelona, my birthday present to Mr B was tickets to see this exhibition again. The Museum was about 1/2 an hour walk from El Born which was a great way to take in other parts of the city, stopping midway for a coffee and to soak up the sun and the atmosphere.

After the exhibition, we made our way to La Sagrada Familia which we had pre booked  tickets online for.  We had viewed this amazing structure from the outside many years ago but obviously a lot of work had been completed since then and after watching “The Art Lovers guide to Barcelona” well worth watching btw, we were intrigued to see what the interior of this formidable building was like. Now I’m going to be honest here, and it might not go down well with the tourist office of Barcelona or fans of Antonio Gaudi, but it didn’t really do much for me! It was a little bit theme park for my liking and although I could appreciate the craftsman ship and skill involved in this build, it was a bit too touristy for me? There were literally hundreds of people within the cathedral all taking selfies on selfie sticks and there was no sense at all that this was a religious place of worship. We even heard one young American lady ask very loudly to a guide “So who was this Gaudi guy then?” In short I’m sorry to say it left me a bit cold and we both agreed after our visit that were a lot more interesting places to see in Barcelona. If you are going to go though, and please don’t listen to me, that’s only my humble opinion on the great building, it is very wise to pre book tickets online before your trip so that you can queue jump and get in there straight away on arrival.

After we left the Sagrada Familia we made our way towards La Ramblas & the amazing Placa Reial that runs off it. This has got to be one of the most beautiful, grandest squares I have ever seen. So much so, it has been etched on my mind as one of my enduring memories of our last visit to Barcelona over 20 years ago. I remembered the breathtaking architecture and the majestic rows of palm trees that line the square, so vividly and of course it looked exactly as i’d remembered it, all those years ago. It is a must for any visit to this city to wander through this square or sit a while with a glass of Estrella or Cava.

We then stumbled across the famous Boqueria food market, just off the main Ramblas. This is an assault on the senses, a riot of colour, sound and smells. It is similar to lots of these types of markets throughout Europe, but as Barcelona is a coastal city, it’s main attraction is the varied and fresh seafood, ranging from oysters, to fresh lobster and langoustines and the unbeatable pleasure of being able to sit at a bar with a plate of fantastically fresh food and a cold drink whilst watching the world go by and observing all the frenetic energy of the stall vendors. A definite must for any food lover visiting this City.

Making our way from the market back onto the Ramblas we had a quick look at one of Gaudi’s other masterpieces of architecture, Casa Batllo. We have seen this amazing structure before so we just took a couple of “We was ere” snaps outside in memory of our visit but if you have never been to Barcelona before or seen this fantastical building, a guided tour is highly recommended.  Casa Batllo has a varied range of concerts and events throughout the year, such as live music on the roof in the summer months, with canapes and cava included and a full tour of the interior of the building is included in the ticket price, which you can view here.

Next door to Casa Batllo is Casa Museu Amatller another fine Art Nouveau building and the former home of Chocolate heir, Antoni Amatller. As well as turning the existing family chocolate business into a leading industry, he also spent his time and money as a photographer and collector and employed skilled craftsmen and artists to decorate and furnish his home, which can now be viewed. Looking at the video of the interior which was playing in the entrance to the building, it looks absolutely amazing and a real insight into the life of the Spanish upper classes during that period. We are going back to Barcelona in a couple of weeks and this is one place we really want to go back to.

As you enter the Gothic Quarter of the city you’ll come across the Picasso Museum, which is amazing if you’re a fan of the great man? Across the street from the Picasso museum you’ll find Palaudalmases a small theatre like space where regular live Jazz and Flamenco shows are held, starting from 6.30pm in the evening. The beautiful sun light dappled courtyard as you enter has a real sense of Spanish history and is untouched by modernity. Flamenco is a lovely example of preserved Spanish tradition and culture and I love the excitement of  the live performance and the accompanied guitar playing and always try to see it performed whenever I’m in Spain. I’ve been lucky enough to see Paco Pena perform live and I can’t promise that standard of performance but I’m sure it will be authentic and fun?

On our final day we decided to take the pace slowly and ambled around the streets of El Born looking in the many vintage and independent shops, which are all of such quality. Here you’ll find lovely boutiques such as Angle specialising in Scandinavian brands of clothes and shoes for men and women and Little Creative Factory who specialise in artisan made linen clothing and accessories. You could easily spend a day in this area wandering around and getting lost?

A short 20 minute walk away took us to the port where we stopped for lunch at a street food market. The choice of food was vast from sea food, to succulent pork and steak sandwiches topped with caramelised peppers, paella and churro dipped in chocolate. From the handsome port, which is lined with more restaurants and bars than you can shake a stick at, you can take the funicular to Montjuic hill top where you’ll find the Joan Miro Foundation, the only other museum in Barcelona dedicated to just one artist. It’s also a great view point to see the whole city below.

There is so much to do in Barcelona, we didn’t even touch on any of the other Gaudi buildings and Park Guell where the artist lived, as we have visited these sights before, but they are definitely worth a visit if you haven’t been? We also didn’t get to the beach, Barceloneta, which has some of the best seafood restaurants the city has to offer. But there is always next time?

If you have any favourite places that you’ve visited in Barcelona that you want to share with me, leave me a comment, as we are going back very soon and I always love to hear from you x