Tuesday, 31 March 2015

B r i t D e c o r : Plant Perfect

Images (from the top) 1/ VLA 2/ Mike Ahern 3/ Etsy 4/ Mike Ahern 

With the somewhat epic return of the houseplant to the forefront of style-loving homes across the globe, it's no surprise that many interiors stores are now showcasing some beautiful accessories to partner with these Co2-emitting additions. My aim today is to showcase some of the ways in which we can successfully showcase plants in our own homes, with maximum style impact. 

This green-fingered trend is currently led by Succulents, Cacti, Palms and Philodendron, to name but a few, and it's probably no coincidence that all of these are architectural in their form, with an emphasis on lush greens and an ability to throw a good shape, or two.

Due to their incredible propensity to grow, even against the odds in some cases, I am a huge advocate of succulents. I prefer to buy the tiny 99 pence plant 'plug' versions because I find there's something quite therapeutic about nurturing and watching a tiny plant grow into something big and wonderful, and because my patience is a little limited, the extremely fast-growing nature of succulents suits me perfectly (see images 2 & 4 'above').

The beauty of most houseplants (with the exception of some larger species) is their portability. Like other interior accessories, they can be moved around to suit a particular scheme. Likewise, pots can be changed around to suit a particular colour palette, or to simply freshen up a room.

For those of us with ample time to maintain indoor plants, clusters of pots make for a strong impact (as shown in image no. 3 'above'). When grouping plants together, aim to include contrasting shapes, heights and textured foliage to create interest and detail. 

My top tip for indoor gardening is to have fun with it - don't take it too seriously as most plants are pretty tough and will endure a little neglect from time to time (not that I recommend this), and play around with pots and accessories too. I love accenting with plant pots, and my blue office at home now has a stunning little glazed blue dip-effect pot from Anthroplogie (Image no. 2 'above') which teams up perfectly with some of my favourite books in the same colour. Also, having a living plant in my workspace adds an air of tranquility and 'realness' - just how I like it.

Another great way to include plants in your living scheme and save space too is to opt for hanging planters (image no. 5 'above'). These look so elegant and create a pendant-effect, which can instantly breath life into a dull corner or serve as living wall-art.
Check out some of my plant related 'picks' below to help you on your way to greener decor!

1/ Owen brown textured planter £8 Habitat 2/ Diamond Terrarium from £44.95 The Urban Botanist
3/ Greenhouse Pot £55 Eastern Biological 4/ Succulent plant pot £4 Between Dog & Wolf 
5/ Organic Scented Candle £14 The Chelsea Gardener 6/ Harlequin Pot £16 French Connection Home
7/ Steel Diamond Hanging Basket £75 An Artful Life 8/ Zig Zag canvas pot $29.95 Hunting for George

Friday, 27 March 2015

B r i t D e c o r : Bakes / Blonde Rocky Roads

All images / Mike Ahern

I may well have already confessed to regular readers of Brit Decor that I'm a huge fan of Rocky Roads, which isn't difficult, right? So today I wanted to experiment slightly with a blonde version of this classic favourite - just in time for feeding guests over the Easter holiday.

The white chocolate makes this an especially sweet treat and the best thing about this bake is - you can cut it up into tiny bite-sized pieces, making the servings go that much further. As it's Easter, I added mini eggs for that extra crunch, which along with the digestive biscuits and the set chocolate makes for a crunchy bite - not for the faint hearted!

Will you be baking or making over the Easter break?

3x 200g Bars of white chocolate
400g Digestive biscuits
300g Mini eggs
20g Micro marshmallows

How to make:
Line a baking tin or dish with greaseproof paper. Melt the white chocolate in a bowl above gently simmering water but do not let the water boil, white chocolate needs less heat than milk choc!

In a bowl gently crush the the digestive biscuits into rocky chunks and then crush or chop the mini eggs. Add the melted chocolate and mix together, adding in some micro marshmallows for good measure. Scoop the mixture into the pre-prepared tray. Place in the refrigerator and leave for several hours to set.

To serve - dust with icing sugar and sprinkled on some of the remaining micro marshmallows.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

B r i t D e c o r : Bedtime Stories with Hästens

Images (from top) 1/ Rilane 2/ Hastens 3/ West Elm  4/ Hastens 5/ Interieur Design 

For those of you who are able to drift off into uninterrupted sleep for the duration of the night, I am very envious. Sleep has never been my forte, but not through lack of trying or willing it to happen. I have always accredited this to having an overly active brain and the pattern of my sleep goes pretty much like this: I wake up from a light sleep in the early hours, processing a multitude of thoughts and then drift in and out of sleep for the remainder of the night.

Generally it is thought that around seven hours of sleep is sufficient to keep our minds and bodies in tip-top condition, with substantial benefits including a longer and healthier lifespan, improved learning skills, better performance, feeling refreshed and energised, improved metabolism, and a younger looking complexion. Wow!

During a recent collaborative project with quality Swedish bed brand, Hästens, otherwise known as the 'craftsmen of sleep' (since 1852), I learned that there is a science to sleeping. With these ten tips 'below' we can all increase our chances of a restful trip to bedfordshire and reap the benefits too...

1. Block out the light
It may sound obvious but it's easy to take for granted the amount of light that can actually spill into our bedrooms, even at night. Excess light prompts certain processes within the body, which in effect tells us to wake up.

2. Bedside companions
Invest in bedside furniture, ideally on both sides of the bed to create symmetry and balance in the room.

3. Give TV the cold shoulder
Avoid watching TV and looking at tablets, smartphones etc just before bedtime. Screen use keeps the brain active and awake.

4. Colour therapy 
To make the space extra personal, choose a colour that you love. If relaxation is your key aim, look at cooler and paler colours, and neutrals. Alternatively, warmer browns, oranges and reds can create cosy feel.

5. On your mark...
Look at your floorpan, if necessary draw a basic plan of the room and see where the bed can be positioned to maximise the layout. Try to place the bed away from a door and with headboard placed up against a wall - for a sense of stability.

6. Clear the deck
I always work on the idea that a cluttered room can create a cluttered mind. Clear away any unnecessary items, particularly from the bed itself. Worn clothes are frequently offending items of clutter, so a good laundry bag is always a great idea.

7. Be cool about it
The experts say that a temperature of between 14oc and 18oc is best for our bedrooms. Too much heat prevents the body from relaxing.

8. Banish
Bedrooms should be a place of relaxation, so try not to use these as an office. Leave work at the bedroom door and allow your mind to switch off from the day's stresses.

9. Breathe
Source bedlinen that will help to isolate heat and moisture to prevent a restless night's sleep. Natural fabrics and linen can work wonders!

10. Test drive
When buying a new bed, be sure to explore the multitude of models on offer because the overall quality of your sleep will depend upon your choice of bed. You need to be confident that you have made the right choice.

Sleep well tonight my friends! If you have any tips for a good night's sleep, I'd love to hear them...

You can find out more about Hästens and their range of beds over at their website by clicking here.

*This is a sponsored post

Thursday, 19 March 2015

B r i t D e c o r : Tile Talk

Images (from top) 1/ Mike Ahern 2/ Lovely Life 3/ Dulux 4/ Yellow Trace 5/ Plastolux 
6/ Home Depot

My friends over at Tileflair recently asked me to help share some tiling inspiration, which for me was a real joy as I'm a big advocate for tiles in interior design. After all, we are looking at a durable and versatile material which provides us with both a highly practical and decorative function, and one which has had a proven track record as a striking design feature since Roman times!

I find that my designer's eyes are often scouring the ground beneath me whilst I am exploring buildings, particularly older ones, because I am always captivated by the striking variations in pattern, colour and texture when it comes to tiled flooring. Just look at the monochrome magic created by these worn Georgian tiles in image no.1 'above', which I snapped in Bath recently, but how can we get it right in our own homes?

For today's feature I decided to hone in on my top five tiling 'looks' for the home and then demonstrate how to 'get the look' with the help of the Tileflair team's own product range.

1. Herringbone
Metropolis brick tile in grey (top) and white (bottom) £1.06 per tile. Herringbone is the happening pattern formation right now, it looks great and adds instant detailing. Try going tonal to create a subtle ripple of pattern, or use contrasting colours for a more graphic look.

2. Pattern Perfect
Dwell wall tile £5.16 per tile. There's an air of modern rustic about these tiles, and the contemporary element is accentuated by the gorgeous grey detailing. Alternatively, give this look a more exotic feel by choosing bright aqua colouring.

3. Luxe Look
Marbles Estatuario Neo (marble effect) floor tile £9.77 per tile. Marble is another timeless material which has long been associated with luxury. For the ultimate in luxe-looks, team this material with trending metallics such as brass or gold.

4. Raise the bar
Michelino embossed tiles £1.24 per tile. Here the game is raised - literally, with these embossed tiles. These look great and add very subtle detailing, particularly when cast in light and shadow. 

5. Metallic Magic
Foil Moonlight Mosaic wall tiles £24.48 per tile. As mentioned in my Luxe look 'above', metallics are huge right now and here's why; they add stunning reflective light to a room and can bring shimmering colour - mix one or more metallics to go all-out and make a true style statement.

Which look is your favourite?

You can find more tiling inspiration over at the Tileflair website by clicking here.

*This is a sponsored post.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

B r i t D e c o r: Back to Black / The Edit

Images (from the top) 1/ The Chive 2/ Jenny Wolf Interiors 3/ Behr 4/ Carla Aston 

When I was recently asked by the lovely team at Amara to contribute to their 'Top 50 Beautiful Bedroom Ideas', I chose to take a rare trip to the darker side of the decorating palette with the alluring charcoal-coloured loft apartment bedroom (image no.2 'above'). I love how the scheme is instantly warmed by the blonde tones of the the striking herringbone flooring, without compromising the intensity of the charcoal wall colour. Throw in some lighter textiles to freshen the look and we have a highly sophisticated scheme on our hands!

Whilst my personal preference is towards lighter pastel tones because of the sense of calm these exude, I do find that during the Winter months, my choices can ebb into darker, richer tones. The way in which these evoke feelings of warmth and comfort as nature's own palette darkens outside, seems to fit perfectly. But as we move into Spring/Summer here in the UK, I'm going to show how black can be for every occasion and Season.

Firstly, black doesn't have to be black. This may sound a little contradictory but actually there are now so many shades of black that we are spoiled for choice. These can range from charcoal greys, to blue-black, to jet black. I am really digging the urban-Scandi feel of this chalky charcoal lounge in image no.3 'above', where warmth is injected into the room through the deployment of rich cream textiles and the fiery red wood of the mid-twentieth century furniture pieces. And look at how striking the black frame of the bicycle looks against the dark grey wall, and how artwork adds instant colour, pattern and interest.

When people ask me about choosing bolder colours for their homes, especially for the first time, I totally understand why this can seem like a big deal. For some the prospect can even feel terrifying! My advice in these situations is to try some 'dip your toe' decorating - by creating one feature wall, as shown in image no.4 'above', to really get a feel for the colour. In this instance, a standalone striking black feature wall makes the perfect backdrop as a gallery wall, which contrasts perfectly with the artwork to create one large frame.

Of course no scheme has to be exclusively one colour to work successfully. The epic classic colour combo of black and white, is a sure way of delivering high-definition detailing to a scheme. I love how this contrast has been very subtly softened in the bathroom (no.5 'above') by the introduction of a third colour - grey, to bridge the gap between the opposing white and black.

Finally, it's hard to ignore the current winning streak of gold and metallic accessories currently gracing many stylish interiors, as shown in the home office setting (no.6 'above'). This accent colour provides another knockout contrast when paired with black decor. Gold instantly brings glamour and a luxe feel to any room but when teamed with black, it creates a very high-end look.

Have you used back paint in your home? I'd love to hear from you...

Friday, 13 March 2015

Brit Decor Bakes / Mint choc cookies

All images / Mike Ahern

Before I even begin to comment on the taste sensation these little chocolatey treats deliver, I have to say that I am also rather partial to the colour combo of the rich dark chocolate and the contrast this creates with the delicate peppermint green icing and chocolate sprinkles - a visual feast!

The highly delicate crunch of these peppermint flavoured cookies combined with the velvety texture of the chocolate chunks provide a melt in the mouth moment, whilst the sweet peppermint icing adds a friendly 'kick' to the overall taste sensation. The key is not to overcook these, which gives a softer chewiness to each bite.

I chose these cookies for today's bake because we were recently expecting my folks to visit the cottage and I always love to have some kind of tasty treats strategically placed on the coffee table, ready for our guests to indulge. Some freshly baked and decorated cookies seemed the perfect choice for morning tea don't you think? (Although I wouldn't say 'no' to these at any time of the day!)

Have a great weekend friends...

200g Plain flour
100g Sugar
120g Unsalted butter
40g Cocoa powder
80g Dark chocolate (chopped into rough chunks)
1 Egg
1/4 tsp Peppermint essence
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1/4 tsp Baking powder

For the icing:
100g Icing sugar
1/4 tsp Peppermint essence
1/4 tsp Green food colouring

How to make:
Preheat the oven to around 180oc. In a bowl, mix together the sugar and butter before adding the egg & peppermint to create a light and fluffy consistency. Then gradually add the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Finally, add the chocolate chunks and mix well.

Whilst waiting for the oven to heat, I popped the mixture into the freezer for a few minutes but this is optional. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Roll out the mixture into small tablespoon-sized balls (approximately 12) and place onto the baking trays. Gently press down the top of each ball with your thumb and add a few more chocolate chunks on top.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes (the centres should still be soft). Allow the cookies to cool completely before mixing up the icing (I dare you not to try a warm one!) Drizzle the green icing over the tops of the cookies and sprinkle with some of the chocolate debris.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Brit Decor: Dream Island

Images (from top) / 1 Style Logistics 2/ Design Attractor 3/ Robson Rak 4/ Nicety 5/ Arch Daily 

Space in our homes is increasingly at a premium for many of us these days, so it is no wonder that kitchen islands are becoming a must-have feature, bringing with them additional storage and functionality.

Unfortunately my compact cottage kitchen can't afford the space needed to accommodate an island but I am still a huge advocate of this as a feature in kitchens - I love how my parent's central island, which straddles the kitchen and dining room, seems to draw everyone into its orbit as we sit around with our cups of tea and share the weekly gossip - it's not merely at the centre of the room, it feels as though it's at the centre of the universe!

The functionality of a kitchen island can cover a hugely broad range of uses from simply providing additional worktop surfaces, to housing appliances and utilities such as an oven or sink.  For larger kitchens, central islands can provide a firm anchor or focal point, helping to pull the overall scheme together and fill unwanted empty floor space. Longer, rectangular islands can create a very powerful dividing line between a kitchen and dining area for example, which is particularly useful for open plan living, as shown in Divide & Conquer 'above'.

If you are not 100% sure if an island is right for your kitchen, a great compromise can be the portable kind, like the wheel-based version in the Rustic Revival look 'above'. This is also a highly practical solution as it can easily be moved around the space and adapt to the user's needs at any given time.

Personally I'm a big fan of integrated islands with seating, which enables greater interaction between the cook and their co-inhabitants or guests and really does help to make a kitchen the 'hub' of the home. This is also fantastic for serving up freshly cooked food in the most sociable of settings, including those on-the-go express meals! Throw in some shelving for books, as shown in the Multi-functional look 'above' and you literally have it all.

Do you have an island in your kitchen? If so, would you be without one?

Friday, 6 March 2015

Brit Decor Makes: Shibori Cushion

All Images / Mike Ahern

Once again the cottage was a hive of activity at the weekend with the swirling of fabric dye, followed by the buzz of my sewing machine - yeah I can sew! It felt so good to be making my own home accessories again.

The Spring-fuelled excitement was all about creating a new cushion for the lounge, which was born out of my decision to introduce some blue accent colouring to this space for Spring/Summer (it's a south facing room and blues take on a slightly mediterranean look when bathed in sunlight). In terms of pattern, I opted for the stunning and ancient Japanese Shibori technique and its beautiful watercolour-effect.

There are many different versions of Shibori, but here I have used the Kanoko technique, which is basically a tie-dye process. Here I have taken a large square of fabric and neatly folded it into squares until I was left with one small square. I then placed a small square of wood on top and another underneath (I used some old coasters). Finally I bound the fabric and squares together using elastic bands (as shown in images 2 & 3 'above'). 

I then soaked the package in water before immersing in navy fabric dye for around 10 minutes. Afterwards I removed it from the dye, left the fabric to drain and oxidize for a few minutes before carefully  unwrapping and rinsing with cold water.

I have to admit that I was pretty thrilled with the final result, which I quickly ran through the sewing machine with a thick textured white cotton backing for the perfect contrasting white versus navy cushion.

Have you used this technique before and if so, what was your experience?

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