Zara Home is doing some extremely cute kids’ accessories at the moment. Like the best children’s homewares (or maybe it’s just me) you kinda want them for yourself. If I had a decent little home office I’d definitely be resting my back against the sheriff’s badge cushion.
Wobbly, imperfect glassware always lends a hand-made touch to your home. This wonky vase in a stormy blue-grey looks like an artisan piece – but it’s Littlewoods (£32)
I saw a green, floral patterned sofa in a Florida thrift store about two years ago, and I’ve been unable to put in out of my mind. So, when I buy a new sofa, it’s not going to be plain, or neutral, it’s going to be upholstered in a gorgeous floral patterned fabric. And don’t say I’ll get bored of it, or it’ll go out of style, because there are plenty of much more important/dull decisions that need to be made based on what I’ll be doing in ten years, so I might as well have fun when it’s a only a sofa. I’ve long been a lover of Scandinavian fabrics, especially the botanical ones on a dark ground, so the colour jumps out at you – the absolute cream of the crop is Swedish designer Gocken Jobs’ bright and beautiful flower prints, actually rather more like botanical drawings than the usual stylised Scandinavian style, and slightly weird in its choice of flora (rhubarb anyone?). I’ve yet to find anything that comes close in my price bracket, but a lengthy search did throw up some other beauties – not all of them upholstery fabrics, but good for curtains, cushions etc – that are pretty reasonable. My absolute top tip, if you’re a sucker for higher-end Nordic brands like Marimekko but have no cash, is to get yourself to Ikea; its fabric ranges have all the graphic punch and occasional forays into surrealism, but at much nicer prices (it’s also often the quietest place in the whole shop, useful if you’re suffering from Ikea Stress Syndrome). Here are my finds; and if anyone can find me a Gocken Jobs-alike for under £70 a metre, let me know….
Eivor Leva, £7/m, Ikea
Cherry orchard by Marianne Westman, £28.94/m, from New House Textiles
Rhubarb, by Jobs Handtryck, £143/m, Skandium
Amalfi Ofelia by Sandberg, £71.50/m, Tangletree Interiors
Spira Haga, £29.95/m, Hus & Hem
Kvitter blue, £22.95/m Hus & Hem
In my twenties I used to love Urban Outfitters’ homewares; fun and affordable, they were a good way to spruce up your flat with what little money you had left at the end of the month, and there wasn’t really anything else like it on the high street. Some of my purchases endured, like the scandi-style graphic ‘bedspread’ (ie giant square of cotton) that my mum made into a roman blind for me, but I’d never think of going in there now – too much plastic, too many office novelties (step forward, Jesus action figure. Or perhaps, wheel forward).
But I urge you to take a look at its online shop at the moment, because there are good things to be found at small prices there. It is true that there is a lot of nonsense to wade through (iffy art by Rankin, toucan-shaped shower caps); I have no idea who their buyer/brand manager thinks their customer is. But clicking on the ‘online exclusives’ filters out a lot of it; bedding, rugs and retro-style furniture are particularly strong. Squint a bit and it could be Anthropologie, but without the heart-attack at the till. Here are some best bits (I bought the grey bedspread. Happy customer).
Multi half stripe rug, £65
Grey tufted cotton bedspread, was £75 now £40
Colour block quilt, £120
Yellow Brimfield Bookcase, £80
Having written a couple of features about garden furniture and furnishing your conservatory over the past few months, plus having been on the hunt for a good budget garden furniture set myself, I reckon I am well placed to give you a rundown of the best contemporary garden furniture currently on the (lower end of the) market. A lot of high-street shops are starting to really get into the idea of ‘inside out’ furniture – products in plastic or powder-coated steel that look as good on the patio as in a kitchen-diner – and there has also been a trickle down of the intricate, retro-inspired pieces in chunky weaves that have been a mainstay of (mostly Italian) designer brands such as B&B Italia and Emu. Sadly ‘budget’ seems to be a relative term when it comes to garden furniture, but these are all good-looking pieces that are sturdy enough to last, and some of them come from places you wouldn’t normally think of looking first.
Habitat’s Nicoll range is up first, for one simple reason – it’s half-price at the moment. This high-backed chair is £175, and there’s also a lower-backed one for £100. I love its clean lines and curves, and that jade green used for the seating pad adds to the tropical feel.
In a similar vein is IKEA’s Högsten Easy chair, £79 (like the Nicoll chair above, it also comes in a low-backed version – I can see how it might look a bit over-the-top if you had four giant wingback chairs in a small town garden, so it would be good to mix and match). There is no mistaking that it is quite, um, plasticky, up close, but at least this means that it will be weather-proof.
Now this was a surprise – a sophisticated chinoiserie-inspired Jasmine bench from Very (but you can tell people it’s from Jonathan Adler, if you like), £199. I would ditch the patterned scatter cushions so you could see more of the fretwork back.
And finally, B&Q’s own-brand Blooma has come up with the boxy, crate-like Cavallo seating set (£699). If you want a proper sofa set, but, like me, are fundamentally allergic to those dark-brown fake wicker things that have just stepped off the patio of an Ibizan beach bar, then this is the one for you. It looks very simple, and the lavender-blue cushions will fit well with the colours of an English garden.
There’s a rash of furniture around that plays around with the contrast between plain, pale timber and slashes of bright colour. It seems that you need to get the balance right (lots timber, and a little colour) and also get the colour itself right, which needs to be blisteringly bright to catch your eye. For designer brands look to Colombian Reinhard Dienes, whose Le Belge shelving fits together with bright green butterfly screws, or Brit Charlie Crowther-Smith, whose Dowel desk features a coral-coloured brace linking its rear legs (both designs are unified by their simple construction). And on the high street, Terence Conran’s Webster dining table for M&S hits the spot. It’s a bit of frivolity in a serious world.
Le Belge shelving, Reinhard Dienes
Detail of Le Belge shelving, Reinhard Dienes
- Dowel desk, by Charlie Crowther Smith
Webster dining table, Terence Conran for Marks & Spencer
I love a bit of neon, so much so that I practically crashed the car the other day while trying to get an eyeful of this neon shop in Walthamstow (I wonder if they ever have sample sales?). But most of the ready-made signs you can buy are skewed towards retail, or people with full-sized bars in their cellar, so you’d probably have to get one made bespoke if you wanted something good. But then I saw Italian brand Seletti’s brilliant build-your-own version, where you buy one letter at a time and make up whatever word you want; there’s even a heart-shaped one, aww. It’s in a lovely typewriter-esque typeface and you wouldn’t need many to make an impact – maybe even one initial letter would do it. The transformer that links the letters together, which you buy separately, does look a bit clunky, but it sort of seems to go with the no-nonsense style of the typeface so I’m not gonna go on about it. Available from Panik Design.