Friday 25 September 2015

Brit Decor: Sunday Slouch with Soak & Sleep

 Images / Copyright Mike Ahern

I literally couldn't wait for last weekend to arrive, comforted in the knowledge that after enduring a truly manic week, I had the perfect excuse to indulge in a 'slouchy Sunday'. A few days earlier I had received some very special treats in the post from one the UK's leading bed and bath brands, Soak & Sleep, also voted 'Top Rated Duvet Brand' by Which? magazine, and so Sunday was to be my 'test-drive' day.

My delivery consisted of a men's brushed cotton flannel PJ set and super-soft Egyptian cotton bath towels - I had all of the ingredients to kick-back and relax my way through Sunday. I began my day by perusing some of favourite magazines in bed, and a cup of peppermint, nettle and ginkgo tea, which always helps ease me into the morning. 

One of my treats, when I can afford the time, is a long soak in a hot shower, and this became my next indulgence, even more so with the aid of my new Egyptian cotton bath towel in dramatic 'Smoke' colour. At home I tend to opt for the more expensive blend of cotton towel because of the comfort factor and their longevity compared with more economical equivalents. The dark smokey-grey tone of the towels now also looks great against the white brick wall tiles in our bathroom.

Showered and refreshed, I then slipped back into my soft and dreamy brushed cotton flannel fabric PJ's in chalky grey, with accompanying white cotton t-shirt, and made my way downstairs for a cup of vanilla coffee on the sofa, where I love to gaze out at the garden.

It's amazing how a slow and relaxing start can really set the pace of your day, I felt utterly relaxed and ready to face a new week, thanks to my friends at Soak & Sleep.

What constitutes a slouchy Sunday for you?

This post is in collaboration with Soak & Sleep

Friday 18 September 2015

Brit Decor: Bakes/ Plum's the Word!

Images / Copyright Mike Ahern

Plums seem to be a bit of a family tradition for me, although I confess I don't grow my own at the cottage, my grandparents and great-grandparents were home growers, and I can distinctly remember my childhood curiosity at being able to pluck food from their trees and eat it!

Well today, I am turning to the good old Plum once again for some much sought after comfort eating.  This bake is packed full of flavours and textures with the chopped hazelnuts delivering a subtle crunch to the sponge, whilst the dark chocolate chunks bring a sweet and indulgent twist. The softened baked plums are divine and their juices released during the baking process, bring together the overall flavour.

A must-have Autumn bake!

5 Plums
170g Self-raising flour
170g Light Muscovado sugar
170g Unsalted butter
3 Medium eggs
50g Dark chocolate chunks 
50g Chopped Hazelnuts
1 tsp Baking powder
3 tsp Plum jam (or flavour of your choice)

How to make: 
Grease a 20cm cake tin and preheat the oven to 180oc. Take 3 of the plums, cut these in half and de-stone. Place the halved plums to one side. De-stone the remaining two plums and chop into uneven pieces. Roughly break apart the dark chocolate into uneven small-ish chunks.

Put the butter, flour, sugar, eggs, chopped hazelnuts and baking powder into a mixing bowl and using an electric mixer, blend these ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Add the chocolate pieces and chopped plums and gently mix in with the other ingredients. Add the mixture to the baking tin.

Position the halved plums on top of the mixture, pressing down lightly and then place the cake tin in the oven to bake for around 40-45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool slightly before removing from the tin and placing on a wire rack. Once the cake is completely cool, gently heat the plum jam until runny, and then brush this over the top of the cake.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Brit Decor: Explores/ Kew Gardens

All Images / Copyright Mike Ahern

Shameful confession alert: It's not often that I get to spend quality time with my partner, Simon, but after an incredible week together in Vienna, we having been doing our best to set aside quality non-work time together. We've found that the best way to achieve this is to step aside from home-life and it's associated routines whenever we can, and go discover new places.

High on my checklist for many years, astonishingly it has taken me the long to make it to the world-famous Royal Botanic Kew Gardens in London. One of my many architectural icons has to be the incredible Victorian wonder that is the Palm House at Kew with it's elegant curves and condensation - no wonder it's one of the world's most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structures. This glass-house is epic and so are some of its inhabitants...

If like me you are a fan of foliage, there are some VIP specimens housed at Kew. I love the relationship between plants and manmade structures, with the latter throwing organic architectural shapes, or vogueing perhaps?

As always, I did manage to squeeze some work into our visit to Kew, as I spent time thinking about the relationship between the lush array of green foliage and colour-popping flora, with the current trend for houseplants and foliage-inspired decor. I also couldn't resist popping together this leafy shopping palette to bring a little piece of Kew home.

Have you been to Kew - what did you think?

1/ Banana leaf wall mural £229.15 Etsy 2/ Panama wallpaper £28 Wallpaper Direct 3/ Maury vase £20 Habitat 4/ Vintage 1970's wallpaper £13.52 Etsy 5/ Florentine tile by Neisha Crosland £10.98 Fired Earth 6/ Little Greene's 'Garden' (no.86) matt emulsion from £4 Go Wallpaper 7/ Cactus mural £189.03 Etsy

Friday 4 September 2015

Brit Decor: Win/ A signed copy of George Clarke's 'More Amazing Spaces'

All Photos / Copyright Mike Ahern

This feels like it might be a feel-good Friday, and what better way to celebrate than with a giveaway!?

I consider myself to be something of a creative sponge (for want of a better term) when it comes to interior design and architecture, rather, I tend to soak it all up in a frenzy of inspiration. It's one thing to merely spot a piece of incredible design, but so much more enlightening to discover the story behind it, don't you think? 

George Clarke (may I call you 'George'?) brings us oodles of design inspiration in his latest book More Amazing Spaces, based on the highly addictive Channel 4 series. This treasure trove of small space ideas includes detailed insights into a fascinating selection of design/build projects, including a total re-fit of a fire damaged narrowboat, a classic Airstream now converted into a quirky family home, and George's own tree house project, to name but a few 'thinking outside of the box' moments featured in this must-have book. 

Design and build projects are rarely straightforward, hence books like this one, but the rewards that can come with the successful completion of a new living space, tend to be worth every struggle endured along the way. This book offers the perfect insight into the entire process of creating a dream space, however small or challenging the brief, budget or build might be. Inspired - hell yes!

Okay so how do you get your hands on a signed copy of More Amazing Spaces? It's easy - just enter your details in the Rafflecopter widget 'below' and keep your fingers crossed...

This book was supplied by

Good luck!

Closing date: Midnight, Friday 11th September 2015. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions
One entry per email address. The winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter after the closing date on Friday 11th September. The lucky winner will be notified ASAP via email. Open to UK residents only.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Brit Decor: Travels/ Vienna

Oh Vienna...oh Daniel! This reads like one hell of a holiday romance, right? Well of sorts it was, I did truly fall head over heels in love with the industrial-styled Hotel Daniel, and the city which this urban oasis of cool, calls 'home'. 

Whether you have been to Vienna or merely read about this European gem of a city, one of the cleanest in the world in fact, you will probably know that the architecture is a visual feast of history and modernity, fused together like an intricately constructed Viennese cake (how could I not mention the famous confectionery!?). However, none of my pre-holiday thumbing of city guide books could quite prepare me for the overwhelming beauty and sheer volume of architectural grandeur on offer.

By day two of our trip, both Simon and I had given up on attempting to negotiate a straightforward A-to-B route. Instead we chose to let our curiosity take us from one immaculate street to another, soaking it all up brick-by-brick. Luckily I took a capsule wardrobe which combined comfort and style (with my grey flex chinos from new menswear brand, Spoke) I didn't feel out of place walking amongst the chic men and women of Vienna, many of whom were on bicycles.

Our choice of accommodation, Hotel Daniel, opened in 2011 and is situated next to the fairytale Schloss Belvedere. This simple glass fronted building comes complete with a rooftop art installation by Sculptor, Erwin Wurms. His playful vision of a sailing boat, 'Misconceivable', looks precariously placed on the rooftop and sits alongside 100% real honey bees and an apple orchard!! Are you sensing a particular quirkiness to this building yet?

In a city brimming with design, this hip hotel is thankfully no exception when it comes to architectural excellence, but it was Austria's first building to feature a curtain wall facade and is now subsequently listed, complete with its own updated reinterpretation of 'smart luxury'.

However, what really sets this hotel experience apart from the 'norm' is the laid back approach which permeates throughout the fabric of the building, and the staff. After all, a hotel which has hammocks in some of its 116 rooms, strongly suggests that relaxation is a key feature, and as a guest this is exactly what you get.

There is no pomp and ceremony on arrival but that's not to say that we weren't given a warm welcome - the staff are as friendly and approachable as we could have hoped for. The informal feel of the hotel lobby and adjoining open-plan bakery and restaurant immediately beckoned us into a world of informal style and concrete-cool, not forgetting the on-trend abundance of foliage too!

The interior design of our top floor room with its commanding views over the city was equally as striking as the panoramic view. With it's exposed concrete ceilings, complete with original chalk mark-outs, and  soothing whitewashed walls, simple pendant lighting, and neutral pinstriped bedding, the entire scheme exuded industrial-chic. 

The icing on the cake (yes another confectionery reference) is the branding - from a graphics point of view, the 'Daniel' body-wash, headed note paper & pencil, and simple drawstring bag, all brought a successful design aesthetic to the mix. Such is the hotel's confidence in their brand, guests can purchase branded goods from the ground floor shop, including the famous hammocks.

All Images / Mike Ahern

Would I visit again? Yes, during just five days of constant exploring we barely covered a fraction of this incredible city, so there is much more that my inquisitive traveller's eye needs to see. And would I kick-back and relax with Hotel Daniel again? Again, yes, because when a hotel experience is as relaxed as this, and you get an industrial dose of style too, there's nothing I'd like more than to visit again.

I hope that you've enjoyed journeying with me.


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