Friday, 29 August 2014

BRIT DECOR: BAKES / Baked Custard

All Images / Mike Ahern

Brit Decor, baked custard? No my friends, the blog hasn't been hijacked and it's still very much under the control of my own 21st century editorial hands!

This simple and rather old-fashioned bake came to me in an unexpected flicker of inspiration whilst watching one of my favourite old Miss Marple movies, Murder She Said. Shot in black & white in the 1960's and starring the indomitable Margaret Rutherford, these films are among some of my favourite and reflect a very different Britain. So, you know when you have one of those gloomy, rainy days and feel like the only feasible thing to do is find a cosy corner and stay indoors? Well that's often a Miss Marple day for me!

Anyway, in this particular film, the buoyant Miss Marple whipped out a dish of baked custard from an oven and this was to be my inspired bake from the past. The sight of the baked nutmeg topping and the warm tones of the egg custard is a real heart-warming dish, particularly on a wash-out of a day. 

300ml cream
250ml milk
120g caster sugar
3 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
Ground nutmeg (sprinkle)

How to make:
Preheat your oven to 180oc. In a bowl,  whisk together the sugar and eggs before adding the cream, milk and vanilla extract. Once the mixture has been nicely whisked together (light hand workout!) pour into an ovenproof dish. Then sit the dish in a larger tray half-filled with hot water and place in the oven for around 35 minutes until golden on top. One of my easiest bakes yet!

Serve warm for the full comfort factor.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Confession of an interiors addict; Tiles are a source of constant fascination to me, to the point of becoming an obsession! I love the way in which these building blocks of interior design introduce colour, pattern and texture to a scheme. From intricate to minimalist, gloss to matt, handmade to mass-produced, there's a tile out there for everyone. Wherever I find myself in the world, I like to pick out the finer details of my surroundings, and tiles are one of my top design details. 

Classic white brick tiles are a 'win win' design detail, the simple monochromatic palette formed by the white bricks and dark grouting, creates light, contrast and simplicity in a highly effective way. This look also knows no boundaries in the home as it suits bathrooms and kitchens alike - you literally cannot go wrong with this look! For a very current style statement, try adding some citrus yellow detailing like these industrial metal ceiling pendants in image no.2 'above'.

Tiles are surely worthy of a celebration, right? I can't think of a better way of doing this than creating a confetti inspired riot of pattern and colour. This look is busy and full of energy so think about deploying some 'peace-keeping' whites to offset this and balance your scheme, as shown in image no.3.

Monochrome magic is the illusion that keeps on giving, the combinations and styles of this two-tone palette are incredible. The striking monochromatic colouring of these fireplace tiles in image no.4 become more powerful with the repeating uniform pattern which catapults the chimney breast in this vintage-styled lounge, into the centre of the room.

Finally in image no.5 we see how a touch of 70's vintage tiling injects some fun and warming colour into this kitchen setting, which also works in tandem with the rustically warming wood. Smaller concentrated areas of intense pattern can add colour and a focal point all-in-one.

Which is your favourite tile style?


Friday, 22 August 2014


All images / Copyright Mike Ahern

I've been blogging about the Brit Decor HQ makeover for some time now with teasing glimpses of paint samples posted for my instafriends, along with several handmade projects featured here. To re-cap; there's been the Origami lampshade, the hand printed geo desktop pot, dip-dyed curtains, and my newest fad, Polagrams.

However, this project hasn't been all about the new. I've deliberately included some familiar elements too with a skilfully made cowgirl cushion from the lovely Jon Sanderson at The Cantin' Patch, and my vintage Ercol Goldsmith chair - well you'd expect nothing less than a British design classic in the Brit Decor office, right?

Blue is a long-time favourite colour of mine because it awakens something inside me and sets my creative pulses racing, which was always going to be a prerequisite for my workspace. In the end, Farrow and Ball's Stiffkey Blue (no.281) made the cut for its distinctive blue/grey shade.

I love the dreamy depth of this blue and the way in which it creates the perfect contrast to my white desk and accessories. I decided to further crank up the element of drama created by this feature wall by adding some moody greys - the combination of the blue, white and grey evoke a clear sense of stormy skies.

A major design factor that I had to take into account for this room was its compact dimensions, so there needed to be plenty of light to compensate for the darker tones. To achieve this I whitewashed the remaining walls and used semi-sheer curtains to maximise the inflow of natural light. There's also the sleek white Bobby desk lamp from Habitat and some cunningly concealed IKEA strip lighting behind the desk (great for uplighting the gallery wall above). And not forgetting my handmade origami light pendant, complete with vintage twine electric flex.

In terms of how this workspace is going to function on a day-to-day basis, I also needed to incorporate the comfort factor. For this design element I wanted to keep it casual and so I threw down some plush grey velvet scatter cushions next to my bookcase and Bose sound dock, this way I know there's a quiet corner waiting for me whenever I need a break from my desk.

What's my verdict? Well sitting here writing to you guys has never felt so good! Let me know what you think of the scheme too...

Happy weekend,

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Brist Decor: Panel Pitch

Today I am pitching for panels in our homes; why? Because this once classic look has packed it's bags and travelled into the 'here and now' to bring us a multitude of facades, from cool and calm, to vibrant statement, hardwood to fabric, plain to patterned - there's something for everyone, or more specifically, for every home.

I love how the owners of this quintessential country kitchen (in image no.1) have updated the classic panelling with a breathtaking deep cobalt blue, which sets the theme for the entire room with elements of the cobalt echoed in a pattern-fest of blues.

From country we then move to urban with this uniform grid panel (image no.2) painted in a sophisticated smokey grey from Little Greene. Note how the dark formality of the wood is softened by the use of layered textiles and bedlinen, whilst the monochrome chevron throw provides a show-stopping contrast to the square panels. 

I find it difficult not to swoon at the sight of a Liberty print as a statement of enduring British design but look how exciting this cupboard panel (image no.3) becomes when a print is cleverly applied! A star is born, or in interior styling terms, a centrepiece is created. This is a great example of how fabric and wallpaper offcuts can be applied to panelling as an instant and inexpensive means of updating a room. Do you feel a project coming on...?

Blonde wood is so Scandinavian and those guys really know how to mix style with practicality. The natural glow of the panelling in image no.4 exudes warmth, so no wonder it's the dominant material in this cosy setting. Layer with natural knits for maximum contrast and crank up the comfort dial to maximum!

Finally in image no.5 we look back to classic with this vintage panelling. If you are a big fan of wood detailing and architecture, then think about keeping it simple with a chalky white coat of paint and let the lines and shadows do the rest of the work. There is something so simple and elegant about a paler panel, don't you think?

Friday, 15 August 2014

Brit Decor: Geo Pots #2

All images / Mike Ahern

The Brit Decor HQ redecoration works at the cottage have been moving at a snail's pace recently, with tantalising bursts of progress squeezed in whenever I've had a moment or two to spare. Thankfully, I am now at the final stages of the design process and the really fun part; accessorising! 

Whenever decorating I love to add my own handmade touches to give the scheme a personal and unique touch. Sometimes it can be the smallest of detailing but importantly, I know it's there. In this case I was pondering over desktop accessories - the scheme needed something light and simple so I turned to a previous Brit Decor 'make' project; my Geo pots. This time around I opted for an off-white card to mimic the detailing on my origami lampshade which will also feature in the new room scheme. For an added twist and a focal point, I broke out my letter stamping set (I so heart the hand-printed look). A personalised geo pot would also make a great gift don't you think?!

I am really looking forward to sharing the final room scheme with you! It shouldn't be long now...

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Brit Decor: Lounge Love

1/ Monochrome check mat £60-185 John Lewis 2/ Boucle cushion cover £7.99 H&M
3/ Tom Dixon Hex bowl £45 Nest 4/ Polar white single spot light £35 Heal's
5/ La Chance Big Vulcain table lamp £912 Nest 6/ Lovbacken £40 IKEA
7/ Regency cushion £25 Habitat 8/ Knit stoneware vase £16 HouseEnvy (Room image / Pinterest)

We all like to dream from time to time, don't we? My favourite pastime (when I have any time to spare) is to imagine a room, real or fictional, and then give it a mental makeover. Letting our imagination run away like this can be hugely liberating and a really useful way of brainstorming ideas and identifying particular 'you' trends.

Lately my creative thoughts have been taking a strong leaning towards mid-twentieth century styling. My starting point for this particular pattern of thinking was my treasured 1960s Danish armchair, which I inherited from my beloved Gran. In fact, it's now formed the basis of the entire design scheme for my own lounge at the cottage. 

My dream room 'above' is dominated by the dramatic jet black feature wall and co-ordinating wood burner, fused with the warmth of the golden blonde logs for an awesome contrast. I love how this black colouring is then pulled like a thread through the rest of the room with the sexy black Ercol chair, oval coffee table and the striking monochrome stripe rug, which accentuates the flow of this dominant colour and guides the eye to and from the feature wall. 

Warmer tones are cleverly injected into this scheme through the inviting beech wood of the armchair with matching footstool, and through subtle accessorising; the chic copper bowl and tantalising mix of ochre yellow and rose pink cushions. Crucially the sheer full-length curtains maximise the influx of light through the ceiling-to-floor windows. Quite simply, I love it!

What would your dream room scheme look like? Good to be home is a new online home and garden magazine that looks at interior design, home improvement, gardens and architectural innovation, with regular posts from industry experts, handy how-to sections and oodles of competitions. The guys there are currently offering the chance to win £750 worth of John Lewis vouchers for your own dream scheme so it's definitely worth a look!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Brit Decor: Bakes/ Chocolate Raspberry Cake

All images/ Mike Ahern

What to do on a welcome break from the world of work? Of course comfort food is always high up on my list of priorities and a cake is a great item to have in the house for those unexpected visits from friends seeking chat and a cuppa. So cake it was but it needed to have a Summery twist too, which is the reason I decided it had to be a chocolate raspberry sponge cake. 

The sweet cream cheese frosting with raspberry flavouring offers a perfect partnering for the rich velvety chocolate cake. The pale pink frosting also looks so innocent against the darker sponge, creating a striking colour contrast. We have to get our colouring right, don't we?

(For the sponge)
180g Caster sugar
175g Unsalted butter
120g Self-raising flour
60g Cocoa powder
1tsp Baking powder
3 Large eggs

(For the frosting)
190g Icing sugar
130g Cream cheese
2tsp Raspberry jam
2-3 drops of pink food colouring
Dried raspberry pieces

How to make
Preheat the oven to 190oC and grease two 20cm baking tins. Begin by mixing together the butter and sugar until creamy. Next mix in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt - add the eggs one at a time until all the ingredients have combined and you have a thick creamy batter. Evenly divide the batter into the two tins before placing in the oven for around 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and then leave to cool.

For the frosting, place the cream cheese in a bowl then add the icing sugar along with 2-3 drops of pink food colouring, blend these together until smooth. Spread some of the frosting over the bottom layer of cake before placing the second layer on top, then repeat with the top layer. I chose to sprinkle some dried raspberry pieces over the frosting but you could try some dark chocolate pieces if you are feeling uber-indulgent!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Brit Decor: Goes to market

All images / Mike Ahern

I would imagine that I am no different to many of you, in that I tend to take the easy, dare I say it, lazy option when it comes to shopping; I head to the High Street. So at the weekend I decided to turn my attention to the independents and took a long overdue trip to Frome's monthly Artisan market, otherwise known as 'More than a market' where the main street in this pretty Somerset town is reclaimed by a plethora of market stalls, selling their handmade, independently produced wares, food stuffs and oodles of personality. 

We arrived at about 2pm on Sunday by which time the market was in full swing and the smell of freshly cooked mouthwatering food was everywhere. Add a large crowd of relaxed shoppers, some bunting, and a huge dose of sunshine and we had the perfect recipe for outdoor shopping heaven!

Whilst intentionally loosing myself in the sea of people and stalls, I discovered some new and exciting homeware brands to add to my little black book of inspiring interiors stockists, including Hector and Haddock for their vibrant prints, and Decorator's Notebook with a beautiful selection of goodies, especially their white terracotta dipped mugs which were to die for.

Of course I couldn't leave Frome without a visit to my favourite menswear-meets-homeware store Assembly (previously featured on Brit Decor back in January) and the lovely Anthony. 

So what did I take away from my trip? Cookies and cream cupcakes and a mustard yellow wallet aside, I left Frome with fresh inspiration and a renewed determination to shop independently more often. Whilst the High Street is here to stay and thankfully so, I think it's important to embrace a little antidote to full-on consumerism too. Let me know if you have recently visited an independent market - was it inspiring?

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