Art for art’s sake?


Image from Domino April 2008

Apart from the fact that Drew Barrymore’s much hyped production offices were brown and old-fashioned and fugly as hell, I was somewhat saddened to see this wall of thrift shop finds was proudly emblazoned as having been ‘scored in one day’.

Leaving aside the fact that it is one of the ugliest walls of art I’ve ever encountered, aren’t art walls supposed to be full of precious treasures tracked down over years, each with its own memories attached and story to tell – winning a nailbiting Ebay auction; discovering an unknown artist on Etsy,; saving up for a piece by your favourite artist that you can’t really afford and yes, tracking down something genuinely delightful in a thrift shop or flea market?

Or is  it just me?


Come Into My Garden – April


This month the garden is all about blossom and tulips and the colour scheme has become more subdued again as the bright yellow early daffs and lipstick pink tulips fade away.



The cherry tree was in her full splendour earlier on in the month but now a confetti of tiny white blossoms cascades down over the garden every time there is a slight breeze, leaving a dusting of ‘snow’ all over the flower beds.  It is all very lovely.


The espaliered apples are also looking stunning.  I had forgotten how beautiful pink-tinged apple blossom can be.


This is the view looking across to our neighbours’ house and over towards Lake Union.


I have been talking sternly to the squirrel to make sure he doesn’t get all our apples this year.

Some gorgeous new tulips have arrived which I like much better than the rather gaudy lipstick red ones we had last month.  I wish I could remember their names though.

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Somewhat foolishly though I planted these in the bed on the side of the garden where they can’t be admired easily from the patio.

Close to the patio I appear to have inadvertently created a ‘black’ garden where the black violas I planted last autumn are still going strong, mixed with the dark new leaves of the berberis and the velvety black of ‘Queen of the Night’, one of my favourite tulips. I love how it’s completely not ‘springlike’, though I wish I’d planted a few pink or orange tulips here to liven it up a bit, and it is really difficult to photograph.




The back of the garden in contrast is now a white garden full of white daffodils, counterpointed by the lime green of the fading hellebores and the sprinkling of tiny white flowers on the daphne.  I’m loving the way that bluebells are growing up naturally through the woodland garden at the back.


We’ve been working to spruce up the patio a bit as well.  The pansy which I planted last autumn is now enormous, so I moved it to the pot where the gaudy tulips were, awaiting further instructions.
















I’ve also given up on my dream of growing dwarf chamomile in between the flagstones (I couldn’t find the ‘lawn’ variety anywhere) and have been putting in this pretty little thyme.

All the sprucing is in honour of the newly painted Adirondack chairs, now complete with little table from Target.




Cirque du Soleil – Corteo

or a lesson in customer service.

“We live in an often sad and baffling world.  I remember my grandmother used to tell me never to look at the floor, only look up. Corteo is a show that looks up.”

Daniele Finzi Pasca, Creator and Director


So yesterday we had tickets to the circus. 

The Minx was extremely excited and all dressed up in her posh red velvet frock, though she had no idea what a circus was. We had been keen to take her to see it because, since the beginning of the year, she has been attending Seattle’s famous and fabulous ‘circus school’ where even at the age of three she has been learning basic acrobatics, trampolining, trapeze work, tightrope walking, juggling and balancing on balls.

We were very excited because we had already seen two Cirque du Soleil productions (Saltimbanco and Alegria) in London and knew that we were in for the most amazing treat.

I printed off our emailed tickets, and we were all ready to jump in the car, when I happened to glance down at said (very expensive) tickets and realised that they were for Saturday’s performance, not Sunday’s.  I suspect you can imagine how I felt, particularly when I looked down at my terribly excited little girl.

On the off-chance, we phoned up their customer service helpline to see if there was anything they could do. They were able to ascertain, using their extremely high-tech ticketing and barcoding system, that we had indeed not attended the day before and then said, ‘I’m afraid we have to remind you that tickets are non-refundable’.  Oh well.  ‘But we’re going to let you have some comp tickets for this evening’s performance.’  If they hadn’t been on the other end of a phone line we would have kissed them then and there. 

As it is we are even bigger fans than we were before and I feel I owe it to them to blog about it at least.  GO RIGHT THIS MINUTE AND BUY TICKETS FOR CIRQUE DU SOLEIL.


So what do you get for your money? Firstly, as I mentioned, the tickets are expensive, but they also represent the most incredible value for money.  Everything about the experience is perfect, from the ticketing and customer service helpline, to the carparking arrangements and huge Dr Seuss coloured big top.

As we took our seats, clowns were performing in the aisles and huge ghostly chandeliers could be seen through the semi-sheer scrim. The Minx was both mesmerised and overwhelmed by the noise and spectacle.

And then lights went on behind the scrim and we could see a clown on his deathbed with angels flying up above and a crowd forming his ‘corteo’ or cortege. And then began a celebration of the clown’s life.


We saw ladies of the night spinning and swinging from sparkly chandeliers (which delighted the interior design obsessed part of my soul); kids bouncing on beds; clowns riding bikes in the sky; upside down tight rope walkers; and little people flying round the big top carried by helium balloons.  I love how Cirque du Soleil both represents the very best in modern circus technology, but also carries on the old circus traditions with nods to commedia dell’arte, gypsy folklore and  vaudeville.

The music is all original and fabulously sung and performed, including symphonic whistling from the ringmaster and a woman who plays the gypsy violin behind her back.  The costumes and lighting were sensational, the set and props amazing and the attention to detail is extraordinary. Every single member of the large cast is a master of his or her art.

After being initially somewhat nonplussed the Minx got right into the swing of things and kept shouting ‘wow’ very loudly, and was so inspired that during the intermission she treated a small crowd gathered outside to an exhibition of fantastical dance moves and many views of her undergarments. (I have realised that I am so not a stage mother, as I find such exhibitionism cringingly embarrassing). Very cutely though, she cried when it was over because she didn’t want the circus to end.

And so closed an evening that was not only a hugely inspiring feast for all the senses, but also hugely inspiring from a business perspective.  Cirque du Soleil is as close as it gets to a perfect customer experience.


All images scanned in from the programme.  I so wished I could have taken my camera.


Sock yarn – not sure


So I’m working on my next pair of socks – since I’m still in the throes of my obsession. I got another yarn from Violet Green which looked like this when it was in the skein.

silascs2I was assuming, based on my previous experience, that it would come out softly variegated, or perhaps in some nice stripes.

Instead I seem to be creating splodges of colour which make them look a bit as if I’ve been treading grapes in turquoise socks, which I’m not entirely convinced is the look I’m after.

The good news is that I’m absolutely adoring the Jaywalker sock pattern I found online – complex enough to be interesting and easy enough not to be a complete and utter PITA.  It’s a shame that the yarn doesn’t show off the intriguing zigzags though. But definitely a pattern I will try again.






Here is a gratuitous pic of my knitting on our new bedroom chair – a bit of a bargain from Urban Outfitters – of which more later when the bedroom is tidier. 463


Britain v America – Magazine Covers

Ever since I moved from London to Seattle, I’ve noticed that there is a very different design sensibility between Britain and the US, not just in interiors but in every aspect of life.

So I thought it would be fun to launch a series of posts where we can compare and contrast everyday elements of British and American design and just have a chat round the differences.

First up, here are the May 2008 covers for British and American Vogue, which to me exemplify the two different design aesthetics (even though American Vogue is famously edited by a Brit).


May 2008 cover of British Vogue featuring Natalia Vodianova

The cover of British Vogue is simpler and cleaner, with far fewer words and simple fonts (though note the use of the serif font).  Colour though is brought into the typeface.

The focus is very much on the model. Note it’s a model not a celebrity – celebrities do appear on the cover of British Vogue but comparatively rarely.  Though admittedly the lines get a bit blurred with celebrity models such as Kate Moss, who seems to be on the cover of British Vogue all the time.  The colours are very bright, clean and fresh and to my eyes very English.  The whole thing seems much more uncluttered and spare.


May 2008 cover of American Vogue featuring Gwyneth Paltrow

American magazine covers – and this is no exception – seem to have a lot more going on.  There are more words and more different font sizes (though only one sans serif font is used throughout).  There are more emphatic caps and italics and a quote is included. All the words mix lower case and upper case. 

The image used is much busier (and more obviously photoshopped?) – more Gwyneth, more dress, more background. There’s a lot more Hollywood glamour – a movie actress, big hair, silver and sequins. And with the mask, even obvious movie product placement (for the Iron Man movie, starring, you guessed it, Gwyneth Paltrow). The colours, though, are more muted and soft than on the British cover.

So, which one do you like best?  Which one would you buy? Do you prefer the cover from your ‘home’ country?  Does the other cover seem very different and/or strange?  Does the British cover seem scarily uninformative and gaudily bright? Does the US cover seem more old-fashioned (as it does to me)? Or does the serif font on the UK cover look old-fashioned to American eyes? If you’re neither British nor American which one stands out for you? Am I the only person who thinks Gwyneth look strangely like she’s been carved out of wax?


(Just adding a poll, because your answers are intriguing me.)

So the thing that’s intriguing me, is that not a single person has said they prefer the US cover, but surely Anna Wintour et al must do focus groups and stuff about this sort of thing? And must think that the US-style cover will sell best? Can anyone out there explain?

By the way is the poll working properly? I’ve had all sorts of trouble getting it up.


The Lab


You know what it’s like when you organise a party and you’re not sure if anyone is going to turn up? Well, that’s how I’ve been feeling over the last few days about the Lab. 

And then of course I was worried whether the people who did turn up would actually be NICE or not 🙂

But of course I had no reason to be anxious.  People CAME.  Everyone was fantastically friendly and charming and interesting.  There were even people who, scarily, read this blog.

Matte Stephens and his oh-so-cute wife and muse ‘the real Vivienne’ were everything you knew they would be and more, and hugely inspirational.  Matte has been plugging away at his art for the last thirteen years and, it seems, almost literally starving in a garret, before John Tusher from Velocity discovered him on Ebay of all places, became his friend and mentor and Matte turned into an overnight sensation.

Anyway it’s late and time for bed now, so go and read Mary T’s (who actually had her camera with her at the beginning of the evening) great write-up over on Shelterrific, Tim Gunn’s alter ego Uncle Beefy has also written a splendid post.

Thanks as always to John and the Velocity gang, our literally gorgeous sponsors from Dry Soda, Matte and Vivienne for making the trek up to Seattle from Portland just after moving across country from Alabama.  And of course to the wonderful Grace, who was the catalyst who made everything possible.

Apologies for the very bad photos. I sensibly forgot my camera so had to wait until the Husband could bring it at the end of the evening, by which time I’d had too much champagne and everyone had gone home.

Apologies too for rushing off so quickly and not saying goodbye to everyone.  Due to monumentally bad planning on my part, I had a date with an egotistical rap  artist immediately afterwards.

Next month’s Lab is going to take place on May 28th and will feature a panel of Seatttle’s finest craft and design bloggers .  You would be mad to miss it.


John Tusher and knitting neurobiologist Jerylin indulge in a little interpretive dance while Megan Not Martha looks on. 


Matte Stephens holds court


Matte’s work on display



Glow in the Dark – Kanye West


Kanye West in rehearsal at Seattle’s Key Arena (all pics from Kanye’s EXTREMELY cool blog)


One of the CDs I listened to while I was in labour was Kanye West’s The College Dropout.  The midwife kept asking if I’d like to listen to something different (I think she hated it) but I found all the expletives to be just the thing. 

Notwithstanding the fact that it brings back memories of the most hellish hours of my life, I’ve always liked Kanye’s music (yes, I know he himself can be a bit of a jerk).  So when I found that he was opening his Glow in the Dark tour in Seattle, and was promising the mother of all stage shows, with lights by the same guys who had created Daft Punk’s kickass pyramid then I just had to get tickets.  I’m a sucker for a good light show.

The support was pretty awesome too – Lupe Fiasco, N.E.R.D and Rihanna.  We arrived in time to catch the last bit of N.E.R.D’s set (Pharrell Williams is SO pretty and She Wants to Move was banging ) and all of Rihanna. She looked like a supermodel – all black PVC with dayglo pink and green accents and the most amazing neon pink lipstick. She can actually sing too and Don’t Stop the Music and Umbrella were pretty hot.

Then we had to wait for about an hour for Kanye to hit the stage – he obviously doesn’t have to worry about paying babysitters.   I have to add it wasn’t because he was being a prima donna, but because they were clearly having issues with the set. 

When the show started, we could see why there’d been issues. The set was indeed incredible – a raised stage like the rolling hills of an apocalyptic landscape, the most enormous back screen and a hydraulic platform that tilted and moved up and down.  All accompanied by pyrotechnics, smoke machines, underlighting, overlighting, everywhere lighting, giant lit up globes, an anime blow up doll, a gold painted stripper hologram, a sexy computer and….just Kanye – the self-proclaimed brightest star in the universe – alone on stage for ninety minutes. 

In a act of either extreme hubris or bravery, what was apparently a huge contingent of musicians and backing singers (all his tracks have been reworked for the show) were dressed in black, hidden under the stage in an orchestra pit and practically invisible, leaving Kanye on his own, acting out a (very, very silly) hip-hop space soap opera with all the technology.

I’m not sure it entirely worked for me – call me old-fashioned but I like seeing musicians perform – but it almost did, and Kanye is the only hip-hop artist with enough ego and charisma to get anywhere close to pulling it off. And it all got very moving when he appeared to be close to tears after a stripped down version of Hey Mama. And there really is nothing that compares with seeing a state-of-the-art, money-no-object, no-technology spared stage show.

Just to bring this post vaguely close to on-topic for this blog, do check out Kanye’s surprisingly fabulous blog – full of his design and creative inspirations.  He’s got some really cool stuff on there.  Oh and couple of reviews of the show here and here. And goodness, the sound system at the Key is cr*p.



The Three Chairs


We finished painting them over the weekend and I think they’re OK.  They’re pretty dazzling when the sun’s out, but brighten up a dull grey day like today no end.  We just need a little round cedar coffee table, which will stay resolutely natural in colour.

It’s going to be interesting to see how they go with the garden colour scheme as it develops over the year. The yellow of the daffs will fade away and be replaced by lots of purple and chocolate plants enlivened with splashes of hot pink, red and orange. Though next year I may avoid such very pink tulips.


Bowl-ing bowl-ing bowl-ing


I’ve just knitted a small green hat.  It is the very first article I’ve ever knitted on circular needles and it knitted up incredibly easily and quickly as I used big fat needles and big fat wool (Lamb’s Pride Bulky in Pistachio). I can’t believe that on the couple of occasions I’ve knitted hats before, I’ve had to sew seams.  This is so much the better way.


Except that actually, it’s not really a hat. If you turn it upside down, bit becomes a, currently rather porous, bowl.  These felted woollen bowls were mentioned on Design Sponge a few weeks ago and I was completely intrigued. They are from the book Oneskein, which also gives instructions.on how to felt it in the washing machine  And that’s where I’m a bit stuck at the moment as felting sounds a bit tricky. Is it really possible to turn my hat into this?


Image from Design*Sponge