Friday, 28 October 2011

Hold on, man. We don't go anywhere with "scary," "spooky," "haunted," or "forbidden" in the title…*

It’s the time of year again to make sure you have sufficient supplies of sweets for the ‘trick or treaters’. At the beginning of the week I did have a vast stockpile (a veritable mountain in fact) of drumstick lollipops intended for all the little children who grace our doorstep over the coming days (and are inevitably disappointed when their demands for money are not met – ‘I don’t want sweets… I want money…’ – imagine the outrage last year when we offered them all handfuls of fruit and nuts) – however, this stockpile of sugar, artificial colourings and preservatives seems to have diminished significantly over the course of the week, to the point where my husband has had to hide the Kilner jars that we have been storing them in. It’s ok though, we have plenty of pistachios.

Anyway, that’s enough about ‘trick or treating’… in addition to sweeties or healthy alternatives, but not cold hard cash, Halloween just wouldn’t be Halloween without a pumpkin to scare away the evil spirits. When I was a child, pumpkin carving consisted of simply cutting out triangles for the eyes and nose and a haphazard zigzag for the mouth, but today there is a tendency to go all out and do something a bit more special (and for those with no creative skills whatsoever, to cheat and use a stencil, either hand drawn or downloaded from the internet).

For those of you who are total novices in the fine art of pumpkin carving, outlined below is a step-by-step guide…

When choosing your pumpkin pick one that is tall enough and a good shape (with not too many blemishes) – the width is less important… Carving a pumpkin freehand is the traditional way of doing it - is very easy (if you know how to wield a knife) and only requires a few basic tools. A large spoon, a thin bladed knife and some newspaper will get you started…

1. With a long, thin bladed knife, cut out the top of the pumpkin around the stem (the bit at the top if you have got it the right way round). The hole should be large enough to allow you to scoop out the guts (seeds and stringy membrane) by hand (messy, so no kids…) and with a large spoon (less messy, but probably still no kids). Generally, the size of the hole should be about two-thirds of the diameter of the pumpkin. While you can cut a round circle out, you'll find that cutting a five or six sided opening will work the best. As you cut out the top hole, angle the knife so that the lid and hole will be a bit cone shaped. This will help prevent the lid from falling into the hole when it shrinks a bit a day or two after your piece of art is complete.

2. Now you can use a large spoon (probably the same large spoon that you used for scooping) to scrape the inside walls of the pumpkin clean. Cut away the seeds attached to the bottom of the lid. Clean out all the remaining strings and seeds from inside the pumpkin. Then you can continue to scrape further until the pumpkin wall is about 2.5cm thick. Clean out the inner wall until smooth (or as smooth as possible – it doesn’t need to be perfect) - this can actually be a bit tricky so watch your fingers. Don't forget to scrape the bottom of the pumpkin until it’s flat (for inserting your candles later). After all this, clean out the inside of the pumpkin with some kitchen paper.

3. Now for the fun part (or, for some, the most stressful part) – simply use the knife to carve a truly beautiful and artistic pumpkin freehand... yeah, right. Start by inspecting the pumpkin and deciding upon the best side to carve the face. Either visualise what you want to carve and just go for it (again, watch your fingers) or draw on the face with a marker pen and cut out the individual features – all being well you will end up with your own unique pumpkin! The word ‘unique’ is used quite deliberately – it can also mean ‘completely hopeless’…

Alternatively, you can create a more detailed design using a stencil - either draw your own design on a piece of paper or download one from the many designs that are available on the astonishingly high number of pumpkin carving sites on the internet. Who’d have thought???

4. Attach the stencil to the pumpkin with tape (stating the obvious, but start with the top first and then the bottom and then the sides). You may have to crease the stencil to tape the corners - if so, try to make sure the creases are where the pattern will be distorted the least. With a ‘poker’ (or thick needle as it is more commonly known – just to be clear, not a poker that you use to stoke a fire), poke holes (every 2.5mm or so) along the pattern design outline. The holes should go through the paper and the outer skin of the pumpkin but not all the way through to the inner shell.

5. Remove the stencil and you will see the dots you have made in the outer pumpkin wall. Basically, you're now playing "connect the dots". As a consequence, there is a small piece of technical equipment required for the stenciling option (and something a man would invariably need to add to his collection) – “a pumpkin saw” – who knew such a thing existed, but there are lots available online. Alternatively, and more practically, you can use a knife with a serrated edge. Knives will cut faster, but not quite as accurately. That said, saws are fairly delicate and it may take longer to patiently saw out the outline of the feature. If you choose the saw option some specific technical instructions - saw patiently and carefully along the dotted lines. Saw at a 90° angle to the pumpkin and saw steadily (or the blade will stick). In general, you first saw the smallest pieces (or from the center out) and then work your way to the larger pieces. Push out the cut pieces with your finger and not using your saw blade…

6. When done with sawing or cutting, clean out the carved sections with some kitchen paper. Don't forget to clean out the inner pumpkin as well as bits of cut out pumpkin will end up inside and spoil the effect when the candle is inserted and lit. The pumpkin is now ready for display!

7. The last step in the assembly process is to place the candle inside the pumpkin. Light the candle and let the candle blacken a spot on the lid. You can then saw a chimney in the lid where the blackened spot is to vent smoke and heat.

...there you go - your own Halloween pumpkin! Now go and make some spicy pumpkin soup to warm you up when you get back from trick or treating…

Right, I’m off to give my own freehand pumpkin a go – not sure it will look as fabulous as the images below, but I suspect it will be ‘unique’…

Image from agrablewski

Image from agrablewski

*Shaggy from an unattributed episode of Scooby Doo

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Design is not just what it looks like, design is how it works…

I joke quite a lot with my clients about the fact that I am all about the aesthetic and not about practicality, but in reality this couldn’t be further from the truth...

The recently deceased Steve Jobs really hit the nail on the head when he said ‘design is not just what it looks like, design is how it works’ - and this fundamental design philosophy that contributed to Apple’s resurgence and stupefying success during the past decade is just as relevant for interiors as it is for the latest iThing and, if I am being biased, perhaps even more so.

For an interior to really work in practice you really need to think through the ergonomics of the room. Ergonomics, in very simple terms, is the study of people and their relationship with the environment around them. From an interior design perspective, this is all about the measurement of the distances between furniture, location and adjacencies, spatial planning and the actual dimensions of furniture when designing bespoke items.

A simple example with a simple object… when designing a chair, one of the most important factors is comfort - this is linked closely to many aspects of the design of the chair, including the seating height. Typically the preferred seating height is calculated by measuring the most comfortable height for the person who is going to use the chair. However, if the chair is going to be used by numerous people it is important to measure the comfortable seating height for a range of people and then work out the average height. The average seating height is then applied to the dimensions of the chair. So, you either consider the ergonomics of the chair for one person (the rich people who can afford their own bespoke chairs) or many people (the rest of us who end up sitting on a makeshift seat or on the sofa with a plate on your lap when we have too many people round for dinner).

When designing interiors we need to focus on creating ergonomically friendly spaces that are both comfortable and functional – as a consequence, a designer needs to genuinely understand and be really comfortable with the amount of space that is realistically required to perform different tasks and functions, from simply walking comfortably and in an unconstrained way between two pieces of furniture, to dealing with towels drying on the front of the bath (bit random, but thinking about my house – just been in the bathroom and knocked over a load of drying towels),to the most convenient height for work surfaces and the storage spaces for different items. All of these aspects, including even the most pedantic (yep, I’m still thinking about the towels on the side of the bath) need to be given careful consideration in the spatial planning stage and throughout the design process.

I thought it would be helpful to share some images of things that I think have been wonderfully designed from an ergonomic and aesthetic point of view…

Image from Gaile Guevara

(Image from Gaile Guevara)

Steve will be missed as he was a leader without equal and an individual who possessed and adhered to a simple design philosophy that we all buy in to… but there are some other little quotes that highlight the importance of ergonomics in design… the importance of both aesthetic and function, and the truly spectacular results when these two things come together in perfect harmony…

“Form and function should be one” – Frank Lloyd Wright – Architect

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” - William Morris

…this is what great design is all about…

Friday, 14 October 2011

A chair is to have no backside. It should be beautiful from all sides and angles…*

…but we do have backsides, and we often need chairs to put them in… Given that last week I mentioned that I was drawn towards Ikea, sorry, expensive Scandinavian design, I thought I would share a Scandinavian design classic that I absolutely love. It is called the Wishbone Chair, CH24 or ‘Y’chair and was designed by Hans J. Wegner in 1949. Funnily enough, it acquired the name ‘Y’ chair due to the ‘Y’shaped back and based on that little nugget of additional information, you don’t need to be a genius to work out why it was named the Wishbone Chair.

To his many fans Hans Wegner is ‘the master of the chair’ (although I am not sure how many genuine contenders there were for this title, it may have been self anointed and it’s probably not something that’s going to get you a preferred table at a top London restaurant, unless of course they actually use your chairs) – during the course of his lifetime he created over 1,000 pieces and over five hundred chairs. The essence of his design was centred on simplicity and the balance between form and function. He was passionate about natural materials, which are particularly evident in the wood and rushes he used in the Wishbone. This chair is simple Scandinavian style at its very best. The ‘Y’ chair has a fluid design with a back and arms that wrap around the person sitting in the chair. He also paid particular attention to the comfort (function) of his wooden seating, ensuring the person sitting in the chair would be comfortable for hours (but, importantly, from a form perspective, that each chair was as beautiful from the back and sides as it was from the front).

This iconic chair has been around since 1949 – it’s over 60 years old and it is still in production today – the true indication of a timeless design classic. In fact, to celebrate it’s 60th birthday, it has been given a bit of an overhaul (it’s been ‘pimped’) and they have made it available in a wide spectrum of colours, from Caspian blue, to green, to purple, to juniper… One day when I live in my forever home and my puppy has stopped chewing everything with legs, these will be the chairs that decorate my kitchen table…

(Image from Elin Kling)
(Image from French By Design)
(Image from Stardust)

* Hans Jergen Wegner

Friday, 7 October 2011

He (she) who knows others is learned; He (she) who knows himself (herself) is wise…*

One of the many reasons I love writing my blog is that it has allowed me to rediscover my own personal interior design style (which is absolutely impeccable, as you would probably imagine…). It’s funny - as a designer you spend much of your time designing stuff to meet a particular client’s needs and taste and sometimes you become so immersed that you lose your own sense of self. But, to be fair, this is what interior designing is all about, so I can’t really complain too much… Unless of course you are a designer with a trademark signature style – a style that your client buys into from the get go and expects to see everywhere around their home – I’m not quite there yet, but I have a catchy name (it sounds a bit posh) and I have concluded that I like really expensive stuff, Corian and pretty things…. 

In recent years I have begun to find it increasingly difficult to articulate my own personal style and preferences – this is for the most part driven by the learning curve that I have been on and constantly designing for someone else (and also ignoring the design of my own home absolutely and completely – one definitive critical word of myself in this respect is not enough…). Prior to my blog, if I had been asked to describe my signature style I would have probably said ‘contemporary Italian design’ – for the most part, this is probably still the case, but it has been a fascinating experience researching my weekly blog as I have discovered that the images that entice me most are those that are ‘architecturally simple and clean, and have a slight Scandinavian feel’… so, rather disappointingly, after years of hard work, study and gaining hugely valuable design experience, I have landed on Ikea, but more expensive… (I should probably say ‘not really’ before you pick up your pencils and head off to your nearest soul destroying wonderland, albeit with Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam).

This week I thought I would just share a few simple images of kitchen and dining rooms that I love, for absolutely no other reason than I love them and because I think the spaces are really impactful… they are also in part the genesis of me rediscovering my own personal style and stopping myself from always being beholden to others (and their budgets)…

(Image from Yatzer)
(Image from Rom 1-2-3)

(Image from From Glasgow with Love)

Why not spend some time trying to understand or rediscover your own personal style? I suggest this to many of my clients as their ‘homework’ and it really helps provide a focal point or theme for the design of their homes. So… select a range of interior design magazines (go to a dentist’s surgery or an airline lounge if you want to get some for free) and simply tear out the images that really appeal to you. You will be genuinely surprised by how many consistent themes emerge! Based on the small sample of images I have included in this blog it would seem that I love white walls and I am drawn towards designer/iconic chairs…

So, that’s it – a short but important blog this week. I have decided that once a month from this point forward my blog is going to be focused on the things that mean something to me – the inspirational words and images that are based on my own personal style. A style and philosophy that I hope will be a source of inspiration for you. A style and philosophy that, according to my husband, will cost him quite a lot of money… without the meatballs and lingonberry jam.

* Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (title words in brackets are mine – sexist pig…)

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