Friday, 30 May 2014


All images / Mike Ahern

Brit Decor: Bakes/ Cookies & Cream Birthday Cake

What to do when your somewhat picky Dad needs a birthday cake? My initial reaction, in true Mike-style, was to panic before eventually calming down to contemplate the task ahead. My awesome Dad has always liked his sweet treats and I have long suspected that my own sweet tooth is inherited from him, so I began thinking along the lines of 'the sweeter the better'.

I have always been a fan of Häagen-Dazs cookies and cream flavoured ice-cream and its contrasting textures of silky smooth creaminess fused with crumbly Oreo cookies; one moment please whilst I compose myself...So I then set to work on baking up a triple (because it was my Dad's Birthday) layer  sponge cake with some rather indulgent mascarpone frosting, not forgetting the all important ingredient; cookies!

Needless to say, the cake went down a storm although we all felt just a tiny bit over-indulged by the end of the perfect evening. Happy Birthday Dad.

Ingredients: (For the Sponge)
300g Caster sugar
320g Plain flour
100g Unsalted butter
3x Large eggs
1tsp Salt
4tsp Baking powder
310ml Whole milk
154g Oreo Cookies (keep 4 spare for the frosting)

500g Mascarpone
900g Icing sugar
300g Unsalted butter
4 Oreo cookies

How to make the sponges:
Grease 3x 20cm cake tins and preheat your oven to 170oc. Using an electric mixer, combine the sugar, butter, flour, baking powder and salt until smooth and sandy. Separately, mix together the milk and eggs before adding to the flour mixture - keep mixing until smooth and creamy (now is great for one of those cheeky lick the spoon moments).

Then loosely crumble the Oreo cookies into the mixture and blend together using a fork to lightly fold in the cookie chunks. Pour the mixture evenly into the three tins and then place in your oven to bake for approximately 25-30 mins.

Now for the frosting:
Slowly and carefully mix the softened butter together with the icing sugar using an electric mixer. Once the mixture is smooth, gradually add the mascarpone and increase the speed until you have a light and fluffy consistency.

And finally:
Remove the cakes from their tins once completely cooled and then assemble into a tower formation with a layer of frosting on top of each sponge - use a palette knife to smooth as you go along. Then ice the sides and top of the cake before finally crumbling the remaining cookies over the top and sides for that gorgeous light and dark contrasting colour.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Brit Decor: Heavenly Marble

Images (from top) 1/ Shannon McGrath 2/ Alice Gao 3/ Mr Perswall 4/ Alvhem

Let's face it, Marble has rarely been out of fashion in some shape or form over the centuries but once again, and deservedly so, this timeless material is once again making the style headlines. Due to its enduring appeal, this expensive, essentially metamorphic rock, is what I would term as an investment material, at least in its solid and somewhat decadent form. Often found in historic and beautiful religious buildings, this is also a material with a slightly divine quality, so definitely one to worship in the home don't you think?

As with any current trends, it pays to think outside of the box and look at the growing number of creative alternatives to the real thing such as Mr Perswall's marble wallpaper (image 3 'above' and no.3 'below'), which looks so realistic, it borders on the truly illusionary! To really compliment the marble paper and create your very own homage to this heavenly material, why not pair the wallpaper with a print like this striking Dune print from Etsy (no.5 below) - quite frankly I am crazy about it!

There is also an exciting array of textiles printed in a marble-effect and these create a much softer and tactile contrast to the cool glossy feel of real marble - try Ferm Living's Fusion triangle cushion (no.4 'below') a means of incorporating this monochromatic pattern into your seating area. 

Of course, if an entire solid marble floor is too cold for your liking, or kitchen worktops are a budget stretch too far, there is the option to accessorise in this material. I found a small but unsurprisingly stylish and simple selection at The Conran Shop, with this stunning triangular trivet in grey marble (no.1 'below') and the grey rolling pin (no.6) both are bound to become future classics. My budget find has to be this marble cheeseboard from BHS for just £10 (no.7), which shows that beauty doesn't have to come at a high price!

1/ Triangle grey marble trivet £59 The Conran Shop 2/ Bethan Gray Carve coffee table £ 1,394 Nest
3/ Magic Marble wallpaper by Mr Perswall £111 Wallpaper Direct 4/ Fusion triangle cushion £65 Selfridges
5/ Dune poster £11.12 Etsy 6/ Grey rolling pin £45 The Conran Shop 7/ Cook & Co cheeseboard £10 BHS

Friday, 23 May 2014

Brit Decor: Store!

1/ Vase no.3 by Traci Yau 2/ Block cushion cover by Ellie Bradley
 3/ Pink & Blue Overlapping Circles by Britt Castellano 4/ Lavender candle by Zannah Hunter
5/ Canopy Stripe Cylinder vase by Jill Rosenwald 6/ Cheers mini bowls by Araya Jensen

What an evening I had yesterday! I am still reeling from our local Estate Agent's visit in which he estimated a substantial increase in the value of the cottage - property prices truly are going mad in the UK. Of course, naturally I began to blush when it became clear that the agent could barely contain his excitement about how much he loved the interior design and "presentation" of our home but it also felt really good to undergo an appraisal of my design skills because, after all, the cottage is a mirror reflection of me as a designer, which made the valuation process extremely personal. I should also take this opportunity to mention that my other half also received high praise for his awesome efforts in the garden, so we were both left feeling rather elated last night! 

In reality, I'm not sure that I do actually want to sell-up because this really does feel like home but I will keep you posted on this one. In part, I do credit some of my home's design to the accessories that I have accrued, or some might say 'amassed' over the years. For somebody like me who is quite literally obsessed with trawling the internet for the latest interior goodies and inspiration for my home and for Brit Decor, I literally jumped at the chance to work with an exciting new concept in online interiors shopping; NY based This online source puts talented designers and 'makers' in touch with style hunters like me, who then collate their favourite maker's items to create a boutique.

I really hope that you'll check out the Brit Decor Store and let me know what you think? I've selected some of my favourite picks 'above', which are the type of accessories that I would choose for my own home and, hopefully, you will too #hellogreatly

Wishing you all an inspiration-packed weekend.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Brit Decor: Palette/ Grey Vs Pink

Image / The Fashion Hash

Images/ 1/ Valkoinen Harmaja  2/ Stockholm Vitt 3/ The Life Creative 4/ Northern Interiors

A large dose of smokey grey fused with pale rose pink make a perfect partnership that will deliver an inviting and sophisticated scheme in any setting. That's quite an opening statement but one that I stand by as this is a combination that really works in interior design. The pale pastel pink creates a softer feminine feel whilst also adding warmth to the, by contrast, masculine greys, which add depth and foundation to a room. 

To help you envisage a scheme, why not let your imagination do some of the work? Within an urban contemporary setting, I tend to think of greys in terms of materials like concrete, whilst I see them as pebbles on a beach in softer and more relaxed schemes, which was in the back of my mind when I spotted this beautiful House of Rym grey blanket (no.2) from Starling Store with its pebble-like curves. For our grey and pink palette, I can picture a beautiful dusky pink sky peppered with streaks of fluffy grey cloud. What do you picture?

If you are looking to add some additional detailing to this palette, try layering up with a few striking flashes of black for the ultimate contrast as shown in this fun and stylish Black & Pink Triangles doormat (no.5) from House Envy, or a burst of fuchsia pink to increase the heat for Summer, like this Fluro notecard and envelope from The Conran Shop, (no.6).

1/ Bounce dining chair by Naughtone £295 Heals 2/ House of Rym grey blanket £39 Starling Store
3/ Zinc oval bucket £25 Idyll Home 4/ Brera Lino Pale Rose cushion £55 Designers Guild
 5/ Black & Pink triangles doormat £29 House Envy 6/ A5 Fluro notecard & envelope £4.95
The Conran Shop 7/ Geometry Vase €42 Ferm Living

Monday, 19 May 2014

Brit Decor: Totally Tropical

Images (from top) 1/ Barbed /2 John Lewis /3 Habitat

When the heat is ramped up there's only one thing to do, go tropical, right? Sometimes the heat can go to my head a little as I become filled with a strong urge to rush out and purchase numerous species of palms and other exotic plants for the garden, only to remind myself that I don't actually live in a tropical climate here in Somerset and it's likely to rain sometime in the very near future!

However, one of the things I love about interior design and styling is the magic, the power of illusion which allows us to dress up a room whether it's indoors or out and suddenly find ourselves transported into another matter how far it may seem removed from our actual surroundings.

Today's 'totally tropical' style is all about luscious greenery peppered with vibrant and exciting flashes of colour, it's also about celebration with a strong sense of partying and entertaining. What the heck, yes there should be a palm or two in this scheme too, afterall there are many hardy species suitable for the UK climate. Alternatively there are a number of hot palm prints currently available, including Sanderson's 'Manilla' wallpaper in the image directly 'above', which is guaranteed to make a graphic statement.

The most important element to consider when creating your very own totally tropical paradise? Fun - in abundance!

Below is a selection of accessories fit for our tropical setting. I absolutely love the handmade look of Anthropologie's 'Grasslands' butter dish (no.1) with its freehand patterns. Then there's the graphic leafy 'Green Elm' prints adorning these cute little planters from Liberty. For sheer vibrancy, why not throw a colour bomb at your tropical scheme? The abundance of greenery means the palette can well afford some bold colour additions like the hot detailing of Habitat's 'Bam' bamboo bowl and this incredible 'Splash' print platter from Liberty.

Whatever you are doing this week, I hope it's as exciting and uplifting as the totally tropical style!

1/ Grasslands butter dish £12 Anthropologie 2/ Bam small orange bamboo bowl £15 Habitat 
3/ Green Elm print pots £9.95 Liberty 4/ Pineapple tray £6.99 H&M 5/ Faceted Saffron green
planter £65 Habitat 6/ Jungle rug £159.99 Zara Home 7/ Splash print serving platter £46.50 Liberty
8/ Pineapple seat cushion £6.99 H&M

Friday, 16 May 2014

Brit Decor Bakes/ Doughnut Cupcakes!

All images / Mike Ahern

Well hello weekend! The sun has been shining brightly here in many parts of the UK this week and there seems to be that very typical feverish feeling amongst the masses, which drives us to take to the outdoors. Bars and restaurants with outdoor seating are suddenly transformed into hives of excited chatter.  Is this exclusively a British thing?

Here at the cottage, the sun has brought the garden on a treat and everything is now bursting with life, including my creativity! So for today's bake, it could only go one way; fast, bright, sweet and absolutely delicious.

I do have a 'thing' for doughnuts but this time around I fancied something a little lighter but with the same sweetness and pretty glazed coating, so there was only one thing to do - create my own hybrid!
I chose a sweet raspberry jam filling but this recipe will work with any flavour and the same goes for the colouring of the glaze. Like many of my recipes, these were oh-so easy to make with minimal ingredients and time required, plus they look great when grouped together on a plate.

I feel an afternoon tea party in the garden coming on...

150g Unsalted butter
150g Caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
Raspberry jam
3 Large eggs
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:
50g Icing sugar
2-3 Tea spoons milk
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
Pink food colouring
Stardust (yes really!)

How to make:
Line a 12 case cake tray and preheat your oven to 1800c. Mix together all of the cake ingredients, apart from the jam, using an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Spoon half of the mixture into the cases and then place a tea spoon of jam on top of each one. Finally add the remaining cake batter on top of the jam. Place in the oven for around 15-18 minutes.

Now onto the glaze. Mix together the icing sugar, vanilla essence, and milk until you have a light and runny syrup, then add the food colouring and create a shade that you are happy with. Once the cakes have cooled, remove from their paper cases and dip each one into the glaze mixture. Finally, sprinkle over some silver 'star dust' which gives a pearlescent-type finish.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Brit Decor: Shoestring Style

So here's the thing; we are officially out of recession and moods are generally more upbeat as city bankers begin to regain some of the colour in their cheeks. However, before we go breaking into those champagne cocktails it is still worth taking a look at the budget-end of the interiors market for some surprisingly high-end finds.

Whatever the financial climate, I have always enjoyed a little savviness when it comes to my own purse strings. It's great to splash out and treat myself on the occasional luxury item for the cottage but I also get a strong sense of satisfaction from sourcing some bargains. In reality I tend to save my hard-earned cash for investment or statement pieces and mix these with more affordable accessories, which also applies to my wardrobe. Either way, some clever sourcing can leave your home looking like a million dollars, even if you spent a whole lot less. 

This week I have been quietly impressed my finds during an online trawl of interiors goodies, and despite being a low-cost range, there is actually a wealth of style on offer from, in particular, some of the British Supermarket chains, with Tesco coming out on top. So here is Brit Decor's very own round-up of some of this season's hottest colours and trends - shoestring style.

1. Glass star pendant £25 George at Asda 
2. Happy Vase Sunshine £8 Wilko
3. Blue Rain porcelain mug £5 Tesco Direct
4. Whale cushion £8 Tesco Direct
5. Oversized navy vase £25 Tesco Direct
6. Framed NYC print £12 Tesco Direct
7. Large Pillar candle in Grey £3.50 Tesco Direct
8.  Dragonfly vase £10 George at Asda
9. Pastel paddle board £15 Tesco Direct
10. Pink Ombre vase £8 Tesco Direct
11. Set of 4 Dip Dye side plates £12.50 Tesco Direct
12. Kafe desk lamp in Surf £30 Wilko

Monday, 12 May 2014

Brit Decor: Sea Breeze Style

All images / Mike Ahern

After a week of Birthday celebrations, resting and researching, I literally couldn't wait to get back to blogging and, of course, you guys! Following the UK's first May Bank Holiday of the year, I always find myself thinking about the fast approaching British Summer, for better of for worse, but this year has been a little different...

My latest creative read, My Greek Island Home by Claire Lloyd, which captures her inspirational journey through text and stunning photographs, has led my thoughts a little further afield this year, to my own memories of exploring Greek islands (see the pics 'above') and how much more I want to see. The Greek island of Symi with its colourful houses built into the hillsides bathed in Sun, left such an impression on us that we decided to call our Siamese cat after the island. It's this kind of association - be it mental or a physical souvenir, which can lead our minds on a very personal journey without even leaving home, which is rather cool don't you think? 

There is also a wealth of inspiration back home in the UK for our own interiors-based journey into Summer styling, including a captivating palette of deep vivid blues, through to paler sea breeze pastels. Yes, a simple makeover can also transport our homes to a Summery place! For some Seaside cheer, I couldn't resist this cute kid's anchor cushion from Tesco (no.4) 'below' or the cable & cotton 'Sea-Salt' coloured string lights from Zanders & Sons (no.6). 

For a little more sophistication, the 'Sea' Anglepoise table lamp from Salcombe Bay Trading (no.1) is perfect and I love the contrast between the beautiful blues and the copper detailing on Present & Correct's 'Seaside' Geometric print (no.2). Finally, our makeover wouldn't be complete without some stunning textiles and this gorgeous tie-dye print cushion from French Connection Home will make the perfect statement cushion (no.3), particularly if mixed with some bright whites.

So will you be taking your home on it's own holiday makeover this Summer?

1/ Anglepoise table lamp - Sea £99 Salcombe Trading Company 2/ Seaside Geometric print
£45 Present & Correct / 3 Cotton Blue Guy cushion £45 French Connection / 4 Anchor cushion
£8 Tesco / 5 My Greek Island Home, Claire Lloyd £25 Waterstones 6/ Cable & cotton string lights -
sea salt £22.50 Zanders and Sons

Friday, 2 May 2014

Brit Decor Bakes: Chocolate Gelato (Gelato Al Cioccolato)

All images / Mike Ahern

My over-active sweet tooth still pangs for the taste of delicious Italian gelato, scooped into cute little cardboard cups and served with neon coloured plastic spoons. In fact, this little treat became quite the indulgent staple of my diet whilst I was holidaying in Venice last year, but it has taken me this long to attempt to recreate some of that iced-Italian magic back here in Somerset.

The great thing about gelato is that it contains less fat than regular ice cream due to the absence of any cream in the ingredients, which makes for a more intense flavour and boy can you taste the chocolate in this particular recipe.

I just couldn't resist a few wickedly indulgent spoonfuls whilst writing this post, which has led me to the conclusion that there will definitely have to me more gelato recipes featured on Brit Decor throughout the Summer months. Even with the predicted downturn in temperatures here in the UK this Bank Holiday weekend, I simply won't be able to leave this batch alone. So come on friends, let's transport our taste buds to Italy!

(Ideally you will need an ice-cream maker for this recipe - I used a Panasonic model but there are heaps of choices on Amazon).

750ml Milk (full fat)
6 Egg yolks
120g Caster sugar
100 Plain chocolate

How to make:
Begin by boiling the milk in a saucepan before removing from the heat and placing to one side. Break the chocolate into pieces and then gently melt this in a heatproof bowl over boiling water, adding a couple of spoonfuls of the milk. Once completely melted, pour the chocolate into the boiled milk and stir well.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks together with the sugar until you have a light and fluffy consistency. Gradually whisk this into the chocolate mixture and place on a low heat, repeatedly stir until this resembles a thick chocolatey mixture.

Leave to cool before adding to an ice-cream maker to freeze as per the manufacturer's instructions.

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