Monday 23 December 2013

Brit Decor: Happy Christmas

Image / Mike Ahern

Wow, Christmas is literally upon us and after a mammoth present wrapping session at the weekend, I think I'm just about there!

I have just arrived home from an annual trip to the local farm shop where I met with my Mum, my Sister and adorable baby niece. We traditionally buy last minute food supplies for the all important Christmas lunch, followed by a delicious slice of homemade cake and a cup of hot chocolate.

Feeling a little sentimental, as I always do at this time of year, I want to share a personal festive message  with you by including some of my most prized Christmas tree decorations. The vintage hand-painted glass baubles 'above' were given to me and my Sister by our amazing Gran many years ago for a miniature silver tinsel tree that we had both been given and wanted to decorate all by ourselves.

I am so glad that I kept these decorations over the years as they not only look enchanting when they catch the light on the Christmas tree but they also serve as a touching reminder of those people who are dearest to me. Similarly, the handmade wooden reindeer cuts a crisp snow white silhouette  against our own 2013 Christmas tree and was bought by my partner as a gift.

So wherever you are in the world right now and whether or not you celebrate Christmas (not forgetting my Israeli friends) I hope you have a very happy holiday and I can't wait to explore a brand new 2014 with you all!

Mike x

Monday 9 December 2013

Brit Decor: Lemon Circle Cake

Images / Mike Ahern

My weekend was pretty disappointing due to the onset of man-flu, which has come at the most inconvenient of times. However, not to be beaten by the sickness blues, I decided to bake up the perfect 'pick-me-up' with this Lemon Circle cake.

I love the sweet citrus flavours and the the slight crunch to the  the lemon syrup coated base (poured into the cake mould fresh from the oven) and doesn't the grated lemon zest look vibrant and uplifting? This baking project also gave me the opportunity to use my newly purchased fuchsia pink silicone cake mould from Habitat, which worked a treat!

So here's how I did it…


Circle Cake
3 egg whites
2 tea spoons of baking powder
1/2 tea spoon salt
85 g unsalted butter
245 g caster sugar
165 ml milk
235g plain flour
11/2 Lemons (for the grated zest)

Lemon Syrup
50 g caster sugar
Juice & zest of 1 lemon

Lemon Glazing
Juice of 1 lemon
250 g sifted icing sugar

24cm ring mould.

Preheat the oven to 170 oc (Gas mark 3).

Add the sugar, butter and lemon zest to a mixing bowl and beat before slowly adding in the milk. Then gradually add the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat these ingredients until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whisk together the 3 egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks then gently fold  into the cake mixture. Pour the mixture into the mould and place in the oven for around 30-35 minutes.

Whilst the cake is baking in the oven, it's time to make the lemon syrup. Add the lemon juice and caster sugar to 100ml of water and bring to the boil in a small saucepan until it has the consistency of a light syrup. Take off the boil and allow to cool slightly.

Once the cake has been removed from the oven, pour the syrup over the top (bearing in mind the cake will be upside down) and allow to cool slightly. Then tip the cake out of the mould and allow to cool through on a wire rack.

Finally add the juice of 1 lemon to 250 g of icing sugar and mix thoroughly until smooth and pourable.
Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake and decorate with any remaining grated lemon zest. There you have it, a lemon circle cake!

Thursday 28 November 2013

Brit Decor: You've got mail...

Days like yesterday really do make me smile. When I received a large brown envelope with 'please do not bend' printed across it and a bold red & white coloured sticker, which read 'Lucie Sheridan', I knew my day was about to become a whole lot brighter!

Lucie, a talented illustrator and screen printer is based in Bristol and has created pieces for the likes of Heals, The Guardian, The Sunday Times and Penguin, to name but a few.  I love her simple but quirky style and so naturally I was absolutely thrilled to receive three of Lucie's amazing 2014 calendars hot off the press. Lucie has also produced a super-cool sausage dog print and fun textile designs, including some fantastic lampshades - all available via her online store.

Although I would love to be ultra greedy and keep all three,  I have decided to give a calendar away to one lucky reader via the Brit Decor Facebook page. To enter, all you have to do is 'like' the Brit Decor FB page - simple! The closing date is 6th December and the lucky winner will be picked at random.

A big 'thank you' to Lucie and watch out for her in 2014 #BrightFuture.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Brit Decor: Midweek Bake

Okay I know all of this sweet baking is becoming a bit of habit but how could I resist making these Malteaser crunch biscuits!? They are so easy to make and with minimal ingredients, plus I had the added bonus of relieving some stress using a vintage spoon to crush the Mateasers ready for the biscuit topping.

Here's how to make around 12…

220g of unsalted butter
170g caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 eggs
300g self-raising flour
135g of Malteasers

Preheat the oven to around 180 oc /Gas mark 4 and line two baking trays.
Mix the butter together with the caster and muscovado sugars until creamy then add the eggs and the vanilla extract until the mixture becomes fluffy. Slowly add the flour until the mixture is nice and thick.

Spoon or freestyle 6 blobs of the mixture onto each tray and bake for just under 10 minutes. Meanwhile crush the Malteasers up, leaving a dozen or so whole & untouched and place to one side.

Remove the biscuits from the oven and press the whole Malteasers into the soft biscuits. Then sprinkle over the remaining crushed chocolates.

Yes it really was that easy!

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Brit Decor: Handmade

Does anyone else become overwhelmed with the urge to craft and create in the run-up to Christmas? Well no prizes for guessing that I have been busy rolling up my sleeves for a little bit of festive creativity!

I am usually drawn to striking graphic print cards and very nearly opted for the V&A Printmakers range but instead I decided it was time to explore the homemade option and release some creative energy…

My brief was to go for a handprinted look with something of a vintage 1930's feel (it's been a very 'Gatsby year' you know) so this Indigo blu rubber stamp really ticked the boxes. I wanted to keep the overall design simple and I loved the natural feel of these recycled postcards and envelops. In keeping with my vintage theme, I opted for a very traditionally festive red ink which offered the perfect contrast against the textured brown card.

There was something extremely satisfying and therapeutic about gently dabbing the stamp against the ink pad and then hand-printing it onto the card. The end result was exactly the look I was hoping for and I can't wait to start posting them out to friends!

Have you chosen your Christmas cards yet?

Friday 15 November 2013

Brit Decor: Bakes

Something for the weekend…I have wanted to make some red velvet cupcakes for too long to remember, so in a eureka moment I decided to roll up my sleeves and have a good old fashioned baking session this week. The deep rich red colouring of the fluffy sponge set against the pale cream frosting makes these little gems look so tempting and so it seemed only right to add some glamorous gold cupcake cases to complete the luxurious look! As with many of the Brit Decor bakes, I tend to opt for simple and speedy recipes and this one is no exception...

You will need:

60g unsalted butter
150g plain flower
150g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
10g cocoa powder
20ml red food colouring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
120ml milk
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
11/4 teaspoons white wine vinegar 
Cream cheese frosting (recipe below)

12 hole cupcake tray.

Preheat oven to 170oC or 325oC gas.

Place the milk and butter into a mixer and beat until light and fluffy before adding the egg. In a separate bowl mix the cocoa powder with the red food colouring and add the vanilla extract to create a thick red paste. Add this to the butter mixture and stir in. Gradually add the milk and flour before adding the salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar - beat these ingredients together well.

Put the mixture into cases and place in the oven for 20-25 mins (mine were perfectly cooked in 20).

Cream cheese frosting:
300g icing sugar
50g unsalted butter 125g cream cheese

Gently sift the icing sugar and add the butter before mixing together and adding the  cream cheese -  beat until light and fluffy. I chose to sprinkle some freeze-dried raspberry pieces over the frosting and couldn't resist adding some cute little flags.

Enjoy your weekend friends!

Monday 11 November 2013

Brit Decor:ate

1/ Natale Gold LED Fairy Lights £20 Habitat 2/ Bentzen Crystals £10 twentytwentyone
3/ Arran Cream Wool Bauble £3 Habitat 4/ Grey 9 Point Star £9.95 Idyll Home
5/ Cream Paper Christmas Decoration £10 Starling Store 6/ Driftwood Christmas Tree £48
Idyll Home 7/ Noah Cream Felt Reindeer £3.50 Habitat 8/ Set of 3 White Paper Decorations
£8 Rockett St George  

One of the great things about blogging is the editorial freedom that it brings me and so when friends and family make a special request for a feature, I like to make it a reality for them, simply because I can. So when my amazingly talented Sister recently asked if I could offer her some inspiration on re-modelling her Christmas decorations this year, I leapt at the task with elfish skips of joy! 

As luck would have it, shopping for Christmas decs is one of my very favourite things to do at this time of year and having built up quite a collection over a number of years, including a beautiful glass bauble from a recent trip to Venice, I love to treat myself to one or two new items each year - this way I feel like I am the curator of a growing collection. I also love the intricate process of un-wrapping each of the more delicate decorations after their year long hibernation and re-familiarising myself with each of the designs, especially some of the more sentimental objects like those passed to me by my Gran - it's the #SimpleThings.

With the growing number of temptingly good decorations to choose from each year, this festive period is the best yet! Therefore, I have broken down my selections into three different styles with the first being 'Simplicity'. True to my minimal roots, I love the simple elegance and sophistication of paper decorations which I am pleased to see are trending massively this year and these work really well in neutral tones mixed with greys for subtle contrast. With this theme it's more about texture and design than it is about colour but don't forget to add in some simple chain lights to add a magical sparkle to your scheme.

Which style will you be opting for this Christmas...?

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Brit Decor: Midweek Bake

Photography / Mike Ahern

Oh my goodness, how intensely delicious are these biscuits!? The perfect sugary treat for midweek if you are in need of some culinary inspiration to get you through to the weekend. Actually, who am I kidding - these gorgeous chocolate treats are really good for any day of the week, not just Wednesdays! 

I made the batch above to take to my Sister & Brother-in-Law's house as a little 'thank you for having me' gift and they went down a treat after dinner. Equally, I think I may make these again next time somebody visits for a cuppa - the sweet baked smell in the kitchen is enough to make anyone feel welcome and they are so quick and easy to make.

25 g granulated sugar
50 g dark brown sugar
35 g unsalted butter
35 g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 egg
185 g dark chocolate
15 g cocoa powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to around 1750c or Gas Mark 3 and prepare two baking trays with greaseproof paper. Melt around 80 g of the dark chocolate together with the butter then separately mix the sugars, egg and vanilla until you have a smooth paste. Add this to the melted chocolate before sifting in the cocoa powder, flour, salt and baking powder. Roughly chop up the remaining chocolate into chunks and slowly add to the mixture but keep several pieces to one side.

Scoop the mixture onto the trays using a teaspoon and sprinkle the remaining choc chunks over the top (be as tidy or as freestyle as you like!). Pop into the oven for 8-10 minutes and then leave to cool before transferring to the fridge. The insides should be nice and soft, which makes the perfect contrast with the slightly harder choc chunks!

If you make these biscuits, I would love to hear (or see) how they turned out...

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Brit Decor: Pick-me-up

Image / Mike Ahern / 1/ Red Lace Chair by Jo Gibbs £250 The Mint List
2/ Havet Red Cushion Cover £22 Quince 3/ Kitchen Aid Artisan Mixer (Raspberry Ice) £389 Selfridges

I am having a 'foodie week' which I am firmly blaming on this very wet, windy and British weather. The week has only just begun and I am already in need of a sugary 'pick-me-up'! Isn't this alluring baked doughnut sweet with a capital 'S'? As if this wasn't tempting enough, adding this treat to a charming Peony Habitat plate (a past gift from two very dear friends) just made it look all the more delicious.

After polishing off this naughty doughy snack, I felt inspired to source some equally tantalising accessories to further brighten my mood and shun the gloomy weather outside. Take the very delectable Kitchen Aid with the rather cool name of Raspberry Ice - I would surely want to make cakes all day long if I owned this model! Equally, look at how the heartwarming mix of pinks and yellows on this re-styled vintage chair from The Mint List sings out, and I just want to sink into this vibrant freestyle design Havet Red cushion from Quince.

Just in case you are tempted to tuck into some fresh doughnuts, check out the fab book below by Rosie Reynolds, in which she gives the humble doughnut a mouthwatering makeover, including Maple Pumpkin flavour for Halloween!

Is it wrong to go for doughnut number two now...?

Doughnuts: A Classic Treat Reinvented by Rosie Reynolds
£9.00 Waterstones

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Brit Decor :: Things to like

My name is Mike and I am a shopaholic! I have been busy scouring the shops for new and inspirational buys and thought I would share some of my favourite buys with an Autumnal palette in mind. From the burning yellows and reds of the changing leaves to the moody grey skies, this scheme definitely has drama!

My ongoing fascination with the geometrics trend is seeing no end in sight, which is hardly surprising with bold and striking designs like the Rug Geometri(1) £155 from Idyll Home. If you are looking for striking floor detail, this is the rug for you. 

I am a huge fan of chocolate (2) but even more so when it's wrapped in a duck egg blue & gold geometric wrapping and all from far away Vietnam! The added bonus here is that dark chocolate is reportedly good for you too...right? Marou dark chocolate bar, £7.50 Harvey Nicholls.

I love the bold and vibrant fuschia pink of the OMG greetings card (3) from Big Jon £3.50 (have you checked out his quirky instagram page?). I like to keep a handy selection of eye catching cards and postcards to put up around the house for added interest and detail. 

I am a huge advocate of taking interior design outdoors and if you are looking for a striking statement in the garden, then look no further than this Zinc Provence planter (4) £65 from Idyll Home

Have you seen the gorgeous mustard yellow Locksmith print by James Brown? (5) £65, one of many fab, fun and colourful prints available from Bloomsbury Store. Try adding quirky artwork to a funky kitchen space for a relaxed feel and  prints bring personality to a space. There is also the line-tastic Great Seas & Oceans tea towel (6) £10 from Bold & Noble which is perfect if you want some urban styling. 

I recently stumbled across lampshade designer, Sweet Mei, on Twitter and her Flying White Crane lampshade (7) £34.99 is just so elegant - the cranes look stunning against the navy background and remind me of birds migrating for the winter. I hope this design flies into my home!

Also from Harvey Nicholls is Menu, a Norm Thermo Cup (8) - just what I need for those chilly Autumnal mornings and aptly in this beautiful frosty pastel blue. I love it when design meets functionality and this cup certainly has just that with its double isolating walls for added insulation, £12.95. 

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Brit Decor: Palette / New F&B 2013 Colours

This week sees the launch of some inspirational new additions to Farrow & Ball's paint collection, so imagine my excitement last week when I was invited along to their Bath Walcot Street store to preview the collection...

I first began using F&B paints when I moved into my cottage three years ago. I wanted to treat the old interior walls with the respect I felt they deserved and considering the deep heritage of this brand, I considered F&B to be the right 'fit' for me and my home. I love the branding, the colour palette (even more so now) and their use of traditional production methods. 

In total there are 9 new shades which compliment the existing colour sets and provide some striking accents too. I was pleasantly surprised to see the addition of several brighter & bolder colours such as the vivid St Giles Blue and the burst of light that is Yellowcake - these immediately caught my eye as I eagerly scanned through the new 2013 colour chart.

I instantly fell in love with the depth and drama of Mole's Breath, which sits at the darker end of the neutrals palette. I predict that the strong neutral Purbeck Stone (resembling the stone found on the Isle of Purbeck) will be a big hit for 2013/4. Tip: Compliment this with Dimpse for a great partnering of colours!

This launch is a pretty big deal for F&B fans as new colour launches are not a regular occurrence with this brand. I guess it's more about quality than quantity here but a big thumbs-up from Brit Decor!

Which is your favourite F&B colour?

Monday 9 September 2013

Brit Decor: Simple Sunday

Last week was all about getting back into the swing of things after an amazing two week break. However, before even setting foot into my office, I had anticipated a bumpy return due to a number of factors outside of my control but that's life isn't it? Although these problems did materialise, I remained resolute not to forget my holiday romance with Italy and my new official status: 'Relaxed'. 

Therefore, each morning I successfully prized myself away from the desk to indulge in some cafe culture and chatter with colleagues. It was incredibly liberating to simply tell myself that for a brief pause the emails would wait and the phone could ring - the world was not going to end just because I was taking a break!

Now I remain determined to focus less on the complicated and more on the uncomplicated things in life. Simplicity was key at the weekend and I selected a handful of light chores, took plenty of breaks and made a shift down in gear. 

It actually felt really exhilarating chopping up logs ready for winter and taking time to step back and admire the different warm textures of the woodgrain and barks. Equally satisfying was deadheading the Hydrangeas and watching insects scurry away from the petals including a pretty little striped snail (photographed below). 

I also took great pleasure in planting up a seedling Basil plant which is now sitting in the kitchen window ready for the yummy Italian meals I plan to cook. And of course there was the all important breaks, my favourite being late morning Nutella on toast with a mug of Earl Grey...bliss!

This way it's much simpler and, ultimately, I have more energy to devote to being creative, happier, and just being me. #Complexity is no longer trending in my world. What about about you?

Friday 6 September 2013

Brit Decor: Surprise Delivery!

Imagine my surprise and excitement this week when my neighbour called out to let me know that she had taken delivery of a parcel which was addressed to me! I knew that I hadn't ordered any treats for the home (I have been good recently) so my mind began working overtime as I tried to guess what on earth it could be...?

After a frenzied opening of the outer packaging, to my delight, inside I discovered a beautifully wrapped cushion made by The Cantin' Patch, who I recently featured on Brit Decor in a profile special. 

I was so touched by this gesture of thanks and equally thrilled to have my very own piece of the very talented Jon Sanderson's work in my home. I love the bold vintage style of the Alexander Henry 'Cowgirls' fabric and I really haven't stopped talking about it since so I had to share my excitement with you! 

Thanks for making my day and for adding a unique piece of British upholstery to my home Jon! 

Have you recently received a nice surprise through the post? 

Thursday 5 September 2013

Brit Decor: Venetian Palette

During my recent trip to Venice there were so many incredible sights that I wanted to share and I am still drawing inspiration from these now! 

As I mentioned in my August 'Brit Abroad' post there is definitely a romantic beauty in the decay of architecture so I couldn't resist snapping this striking arched Venetian doorway for today's palette. I love how the rising tides have eroded the paint over time to reveal a rich palette of colour and texture down to the raw wood. There is also something mysterious about these doors with no numbering or name plate...what lies behind them?

This scene has also inspired me to search for corresponding interior goodies on today's shopping list; The dramatic architecture of Young and Battaglia's wrought iron paperwork set against the vibrancy of the teal cushion from Clippings and I definitely need the geometric patterned Wino Tatu notebook!

I hope you enjoy!

1 Horseshoe Arch in Teal cushion £45 Clippings 2 Concrete 'big' pendant £140 Clippings
3 Black wrought iron wallpaper £70 Rockett St George
4 Pewter paint £32 2.5L 5 Oval Room Blue £32 Farrow & Ball, both from Designer Paint
Kartell FI/Y Colour pendant light by Ferruccio Laviani £159 Heals 7 Savine Indigo Rug £850 Designers Guild 8 After Lowry tiles £8 each, Clippings 9 Wino Tatu notebook £10.27 Clippings

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Brit Decor: Tweet Tweet

1 Errol embroidered owl cushion £35 Habitat 2 Birdy: Thrush cushion £20 Hunky Dory Home
3 Organic Bird print cushion by Peris & Corr £40 Not on the High Street 4 Pelican Patrick floor cushion £100 Yoke 5 Flame Flamingo cushion £45 Clippings

Thursday 22 August 2013

Brit Decor: Palette/Woodland

1/ White resin Stag Head with antlers £55.00 Graham & Green 2/ 'Forest' paint by Morris 3/ 'Forest' paint by Albany (both from Designer Paints) 4/ DeGross Lectiolux Table Lamp £160.00 Heals 5/ Cole & Son Nottamblue wallpaper frieze £100.00 Heals 6/ Kristjana Williams Twin Stags cushion £120.00 Heals 7/ Fireside Easy Chair (Oak) £1275-1699.00 Heals

Earthy greens are set to trend on many of our interior store's palettes this AW13. Think British woodland, luscious leafy greens, country walks and, of course, think of the amazing variety of wildlife. Just writing about this setting makes me feel very tranquil - green tones have long been known to have a calming effect, quite possibly because they subconsciously take us back to nature? Whatever the psychology behind this colour, it works for me!

I have selected some of my top picks inline with the green woodland palette (above) to give you a head start with your interiors shopping. I am crazy about the Twin Stags graphic print cushion from Heals and the resin Stag Head from Graham & Green!

Thursday 15 August 2013

Brit Decor: Brit abroad in Venice


The Holiday countdown has truly begun for me, just a few more work related tasks to whizz though in the office and then over the weekend I can throw myself into some frenzied packing and last minute shopping for those essential holiday items which I just haven't had the time to pick up. 

There is something about these last few days of anticipation which I find rather touching - the way that friends and colleagues begin to share in the feverish excitement and, of course, the heart warming goodbyes. After all, it was during an excited conversation about Italy with my colleague Mark that I first became inspired to explore this year's chosen Summer destination.

My holiday adventure actually begins next week when I fly out to Venice for the very first time (why has it taken so long!?). As this will be my 'virgin' visit, I intend to catch the boat from San Marco Polo airport, which will enable me to approach the island from the water for maximum visual impact and I dare say that a blast of invigorating sea air following my flight will be a welcome tonic.

I feel rather like a sponge right now, eagerly waiting to soak up all of the amazing sights and sounds of the vibrant Venetian culture, not to mention the wonderful Biennale, which sees much of the Art world travel to Venice for countless exhibitions and glamourous parties.

However, the real beauty of this experience will be that through the wonders of social media and my trusted iPhone, I will be able to record and share my sights and experiences with you so just close your eyes and imagine you are there too...

Monday 22 July 2013

Brit Decor: At the Seaside

The searing British Summer heat is getting to me...but not in a negative way. Okay it's a little uncomfortable trying to sleep on a balmy Summer's night but the heat is constantly drawing me outside where I can take in the sight of masses of blooming flowers waving in the breeze, the bright & bold colours of Summer clothing. Even the nights offer inspiration too with the golden summery moon suspended like a cheery face amongst masses of twinkling stars, or watching the curtains float in the evening breeze.

Today with the humidity more intense than ever, I decided to head to the nearby coast for some cool breeze, sea and of course, ice cream! I had forgotten all of the sights and sounds of the great British seaside so it was great fun to reminisce and soak it all up. Oh and just in case you are wondering, no I didn't do that very British thing and escaped without sunburn today!

So wherever you are, I hope you get a window of opportunity (however small) to step aside and take in some inspiration, wherever you choose to seek it.

Happy Summer.

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