Christmas 2015 design trends: it’s never too early to start buying baubles!

For many of us, the idea of ‘Christmas design trends’ feels like an over-indulgence too far. Who goes about chucking out last year’s decorations because they are so…last year? And what about all those home-made bits and bobs made by the kids? How do you explain that their ‘creations’ aren’t going on the tree because they are off-trend?

Well of course Christmas trends don’t need to be followed slavishly. Some people will do, and good luck to them.  The rest of us can look out for the latest Christmas trends in the displays in fashion-conscious stores, hotels and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas.

I paid a visit to Liberty’s Christmas shop this week. It offers one of the most stylish and trend-led collections of decorations in the UK. I spotted all the usual suspects (red, green, gold, robins, Santa Claus to name but a few) but I also discovered a few things that could definitely be called a trend. Here they are.

Pink

Not the fuchsia pink of last year, that went with greens, blues and purples to make a jewel box colour scheme. This is an altogether softer, more pastel, sugary pink. Hang these pink baubles on your tree and it will look extremely feminine with more than a touch of Disney princess. And on that theme, there were a lot of fairies, ballerinas and princesses targeted not just at the top of the tree – but all over it as well.

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Owls

According to Style Bible Elle Decoration‘s October issue, owls are now a ‘micro trend’. They certainly rule the roost in the Liberty Christmas department this year. From life-sized feathery owls to display on shelves to bauble-sized owls to hang on the tree, owls are absolutely everywhere. Some are cute, some are serious, others are rather scary-looking. Move over, Robin Redbreast, this Christmas it’s all about the owls.

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Other faiths/belief systems

Christmas has gone multi-cultural this year. If it doesn’t interfere with your own beliefs, designers seem to be saying that it’s ok to include a few other faiths and belief systems in your Christmas decorations. From Buddha to the Mexican Day of the Dead, anything goes. I’m going to refrain from commenting further, and just give you the pictures!

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Full Moon and Autism: Is There a Connection?

Perfectly Quirky

Now, I don’t want to sound a little crazy, but I am really starting to wonder if the moon cycle plays a role in my son’s all around behavior and ability to function at his best. Sometime last summer, when S’s new teacher started, I remember complaining about S having a rough few days. Her reply? “Well, it is a full moon.” I sort of laughed, as I thought she was joking. She wasn’t laughing though, and she told me that in her many years as a teacher, she has become convinced that the moon’s cycle has a strong effect on children with ASD and those with ADHD.

And so, as months would go by, I would notice that on days where S really seemed to be having a bad day, there would be a big white ball in the sky. He tends to have a harder time transitioning, a more…

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Buying and displaying art: a handy guide

Art of any kind is one of the most personal purchases you can make for your home. Unless you are a collector focusing solely on the value of an artwork, you will most likely be buying something because you feel a connection to it. Art may move you, make you smile, or remind you of a favourite place. It could range in value from a £12 Ikea print up to an original painting or sculpture by an established artist – and stop at all points in between.

How to build an art collection

  1. Posters

Anyone who has ever studied away from home will have experienced a hall of residence, and the horrific sight of four bare, white walls. I addressed this problem by buying posters sold on campus and in the local Athena shop (long gone, sadly) and Blu-tacking them to every available space on the wall. Ikea is probably the closest contemporary equivalent to Athena, stocking a good selection of prints and frames. It is an excellent place to start your student art collection.

  1. High Street art

Moving into your first home, you are usually greeted by – once again – bare walls. This is a good opportunity to look for framed prints by unknown artists in high street stores, which helps you to explore your tastes as well as learn how to position artworks on the wall. Good quality, affordable, framed art can be bought from Laura Ashley, Next, M&S and John Lewis, and bargains can be found in the home sections of supermarkets.

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Above: the latest art collections from Laura Ashley

3. Print and photography – numbered editions

As I became a little better off financially, I discovered that numbered editions of photographic and lino prints are a good way to acquire pictures that I liked. You can buy these directly from the artist or from the gallery that represents them. Many galleries sell online, too. Commercial galleries are an excellent place to explore a wide range of artistic styles: Sign up to receive emails from those that represent the type of artists you like: you will get invitations to private views.

There are many excellent photographers who specialise in coastal landscapes so if you visit somewhere you like, visit small galleries displaying their work. Often photographers will also sell prints directly, which can be even better value, especially if you are interested in buying several pictures.

  1. Original art

Buying an original piece of art is the next step up on the ladder. Art schools’ graduate shows and The Affordable Art Show are excellent ways to see contemporary art at prices that won’t break the bank. Once you have invested in one artist’s work, you may choose to continue to buy from them and build a collection or – like me – you may flit from artist to artist, buying what you love with no gameplan. Typically, prices go from hundreds up to many thousands depending on how established the artist is (new artists ‘ work will be at the lowest point of the scale, clearly) so is a very serious purchase. Take your time and don’t feel pressured (a good gallery will never pressurise you to make a purchase) and if you need time to think, ask the gallery or artist if they will reserve the work for you for a few days.

Displaying your art

  1. Colour

Unless you have an extremely neutrally decorated home, or a taste for very neutral art, the colours in your art purchases will go better with some colours in your home than others, so consider this when deciding where to hang them. The colour of the walls on which you are displaying your art is also important. It is worth looking at which colours the major art galleries such as the Tate use for their permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions: often the backdrops are quite dark. Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe is a favourite of mine: it seems to offset most art really well.

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  1. Light

Light is also an important factor, as north-facing rooms have a colder light than south-facing rooms, but that northern light will depict the colours in your paintings more accurately. Watch out for direct sunlight falling onto paintings for large periods of the day as this can cause fading as well as making it hard to see the picture. In dark rooms and corridors it may be necessary to illuminate individual paintings. Traditionally this was done with lights attached over the top of the picture frame, but a more modern effect is created with the use of individual ceiling mounted spotlights.

  1. Grouping

There is something aesthetically pleasing about grouping pictures. The number of pictures you group together will depend on space as well as how many pictures you have in the first place, but as a rule of thumb, trios of pictures are very harmonious as are four pictures of the same size, set out as a square. But a more informal melange of pictures grouped loosely together can also look excellent in a more casual environment. Galleries will have people standing around holding paintings in different positions in order to get it right: enlist friends and family with strong arms to help you to plan your layouts. In terms of what to group together, you may have works by the same artist that are part of a set, or are related in some way. If not, you may wish to group paintings of the same size, or that have a colour or a theme in common.

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  1. Proportion

It goes without saying that a tiny painting will look lost placed in the middle of a large blank wall, and a large one will look awful if the edge of it is hidden behind the curtain because you didn’t measure the wall before buying the picture. If you live in a small flat, be aware of the space limitations: although a large picture can make the room seem bigger, it doesn’t work if the picture is cramped or obscured by furniture. It’s also worth thinking about the height of the person most likely to be looking at the pictures (is it you, someone else of a different height, or both of you?) and place the paintings accordingly. When hanging pictures in a children’s room, you need to get down to their height (literally!) to see what they see.

  1. Where to avoid

If you have any art of value, it is best to avoid anywhere damp, such as poorly ventilated bathrooms. Similarly, direct sunlight should be avoided because it can fade both originals and prints. Valuable purchases also need to be protected from children, who can so easily knock pictures if they are hung within reach. Apart from that, art should go wherever it looks best, whether it’s your bedroom or the downstairs loo!

Displaying art in a rented property

 Many renters are faced with strict tenancy agreements that forbid so much as a picture pin being knocked into the wall. If you are renting an older property with picture rails on the walls, you have a ready-made picture hanging solution. If you don’t have picture rails, here are a few ways you could display your pictures:

  • Small, affordable table-top easels can be bought from art shops and can be used to permanently display smaller works on chests of drawers, console tables and so on. You could make a feature of a larger painting by displaying it on a full size easel.
  • Screens and room dividers. Some folding screens have spaces on them on which to mount photographs, others are suitable for hanging small works on to them. Others are works of art in themselves.
  • Propping paintings up on shelves is a popular option in contemporary interiors. If your shelf doesn’t have a lip at the front, make sure you secure the painting onto the shelf, to stop it slipping off.
  • The floor. This is another popular option, which works well for large paintings and mirrors. Again, you must secure the picture to stop it falling over. This option is best avoided in areas of heavy footfall, where children and dogs are running around.

Copyright Olivia Fawkes 2015.

Michelin House: a quirky London Landmark

I love London and its incredible range of architecture and interiors. Michelin House, on the Fulham Road, is one of London’s more unusual buildings and is definitely worth a visit. It houses the wonderful Bibendum restaurant, where you can see the carefully re-created stained glass windows featuring Mr Bibendum (or the Michelin Man, as we tend to know him) but you don’t have to go into the restaurant to appreciate the building’s many features. In January 2011, Michelin House celebrated the 100th anniversary of its opening (although Michelin had vacated the building in 1985 when it was purchased by the publisher Paul Hamlyn and the restauranteur Sir Terrance Conran).

Back in 1911 when it opened, the building offered everything the motorist of the time required. Fitting bays at the front of the building allowed motorist to have their tyres speedily changed by Michelin fitters from the stock of over 30,000 stored in the basement. Tyres were brought up on a lift and rolled to the front of the building along the purposely sloped floor. A ‘Touring Office’ provided maps and writing implements to help the motorists plan their journeys. Michelin House was designed by was François Espinasse (1880–1925), who was employed as an engineer in the construction department at Michelin’s headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand.  While it is known for its distinctive decorative design, It is also notable as an early example of concrete construction in Britain.  It also featured automatic doors into the entrance hall that were very ahead of their time!IMG_4123IMG_4116

Although many people assume that Michelin House is an example of Art Deco architecture, with its streamlined shape, glass cupolas shaped like piles of tyres on the front of the building and pastel colours, it actually pre-dates the Art Deco period by about 20 years. Some of the details of curling leaves and flowers around the arches and windows are Art Nouveau in style as is the decorative metalwork around the front entrance: it was in fact constructed at the end of the Art Nouveau period. It has also been described as an example of Secessionist Functionalism and of geometrical Classicism as well as ‘the most completely French of any Edwardian building in London’. The truth is that Michelin House is one of those buildings that refuses to fit neatly into one category.IMG_4114IMG_4105

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Inside the main Atrium, the walls are decorated with a number of beautiful tiled images of motoring scenes. The ceiling lights are decorative and even the floor has a tiled mosaic of Monsieur Bibendum. But going out of one of the doors towards the staircase, I discovered a little bar area that was decidedly more Art Deco in feel. Even the supports of the shelf table are designed to look like piles of tyres, just like the cupolas on the building’s facade.

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There is much to inspire here – and amuse, too. This is a building that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yet the artistry and technical skill that went into designing and decorating Michelin House should be taken very seriously indeed because it is of a very high standard.

Michelin House: 81 Fulham Road, London SW3 6RD

Copyright Olivia Fawkes March 2015.

Alexander McQueen – Savage Beauty and Working Progress exhibitions

As a longtime admirer of Alexander McQueen’s ability to take fabric and transform it into art, I have been looking forward to the ‘Savage Beauty’ retrospective, originally held in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, coming home to London. The V & A Museum has staged some excellent fashion exhibitions in the past, with Versace and Vivienne Westwood staying in my mind as particularly good, so I had high hopes for the presentation of McQueen’s work.

And I was not disappointed. This is a large retrospective that pays particular attention to ensuring that the design sensibilities of McQueen’s collections are reflected in the environments in which they are displayed. So his early collections, that were originally shown in warehouses, are presented against a grey concrete backdrop while pieces from the 2001 “Voss” show are displayed in a reproduction of the glass box that formed the basis of the show, where the models looked out at the audience. At the end, the lights go out and all that remains is a reflection of ourselves. Fittingly, the finale of the exhibition features McQueen’s last complete collection, ‘Plato’s Atlantis’, before his death in February 2010. Six statuesque mannequins stand in front of a huge projection of the film that was played during the catwalk show. Aggressively beautiful, their stance and clothes sum up McQueen’s vision of woman: sometimes beautiful, sometimes not, but always powerful and dominant. The sets were, in fact, designed by long-term collaborator of McQueen, creative director Sam Gainsbury, and production designer Joseph Bennett and it is clear how much effort has been spent in making each room offset the clothes perfectly.

The centrepiece of the exhibition, Cabinet of Curiosities, is reminiscent of a room in the Bowie exhibition which featured floor to ceiling displays of artefacts and video clips accompanied by a patchwork soundtrack. In ‘Savage Beauty’ the room becomes almost overwhelming in terms of the number of items included, the different soundtracks that fade in and out, the darkness and the quantity of people in the room (and this was preview day, so it wasn’t too crowded). It is an amazing showcase of the imaginative mind of a man who chose to design a skirt out of plywood, a corset with a metal spine attached and a hat with a bird’s next attached.

The most poignant part of the exhibition – for me – is a display case in the Romantic Gothic Room housing five exquisite pieces from McQueen’s last – unfinished and unshown -collection. They provide a snapshot of the creative direction he was heading next, as well as a stark reminder of what we have lost in terms of a creative talent and a visionary designer.

To quote McQueen himself:

“There is no way back for me now. I’m going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible.”

The exhibition takes us on an amazing journey through Alexander’s McQueen’s creative output and shows us the work of a true creative genius. It is 2015’s “must-see” exhibition.

The illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition can be purchased, along with other wonderful McQueen gifts, from vandashop.com Further information is available on the museum’s website: vam.ac.uk

All photographs are the copyright of the Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Clockwise from top: The last unfinished collection, promotion image taken from ‘Horn of Plenty’ collection, Plato’s Atlantis display, Cabinet of Curiosities.

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Now to Tate Britain for a smaller, less glitzy, exhibition about Alexander McQueen, but just as revealing about the man, his work and his creativity. ‘Nick Waplington/Alexander Mcqueen: Working Progress’ (10 March – 17 May) is a photographic exhibition featuring a section of images taken from an ‘access all areas’ photography project commissioned by McQueen to document the birth, development and public debut of his 2009 ‘Horn of Plenty’ collection. The collection was a pulling-together of many of McQueen’s favourite and previously-used themes and ideas and therefore had a feeling of recycling about it. To push the theme even further, Philip Treacy can be seen grappling parts from old washing machines and driers into hats. And to push the theme perhaps a little too far, the McQueen shots are interspersed with images taken at recycling plants in London and Israel. No matter, the shots of McQueen deep in concentration as he pins fabric to an expressionless model are worth the price of admission alone. We see mood boards, fabric boards, and interns laboriously glueing feathers to a garment with a hot glue gun. The final room features the catwalk-ready creations on the verge of facing their fate on the catwalk. In a couple of the images we see McQueen, still hard at work, adjusting fabric seconds before the show begins. Poignantly these were the last images that Waplington took of McQueen: a few short months later, the designer took his own life.

More information: Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process

Olivia Fawkes

March 14 2015

Two Temple Place – a hidden gem on Embankment.

I was fortunate to visit Two Temple Place yesterday, primarily to view the current exhibition “Cotton to Gold” but also to marvel at the interior (and exterior) of this extraordinary building. To give you some insight into what the building is, and who lived there, I quote from the website:  “Two Temple Place is one of London’s architectural gems, an extraordinary late Victorian mansion built by William Waldorf Astor on Embankment. The house was designed for use primarily as Astor’s estate office by one of the foremost neo-Gothic architects of the late nineteenth-century, John Loughborough Pearson. Astor had emigrated to England in 1891 as (arguably) the richest man in the world and no expense was spared when work began…in 1892.”

The house is designed and decorated in the Gothic Revival style which grew in popularity during the nineteenth century in England. Interiors are dark, wood panelled and highly ornate with exquisite carvings. The ecclesiastical feel is heightened by the use of stained glass windows in the main hall and roof over the central staircase. In fact the stunning pair of windows in my photographs were designed by Clayton and Bell, who were responsible for many key windows in churches across Europe at the time. Where wallpaper is used, arts and crafts patterns are used and light fittings also follow the gothic style.

The exhibition “Cotton to Gold” is on until 19 April 2015 and is well worth a visit. Check the website for opening times: two temple place It showcases some of the weird and wonderful collections amassed by Victorian Northern Industrialists. From cases containing beetles to Tiffany glass, Turner watercolours and stuffed birds, it is an eclectic mix. Best of all, entry is free of charge. Not only that, but the cafe has a wonderful range of cakes!IMG_3940IMG_3938 IMG_3941 IMG_3943 IMG_3944 IMG_3945 IMG_3946 IMG_3950

Spring 2015 in M&S – if you go down to the woods today…

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If you go down to M&S Home furnishings today, you can be sure of a very pleasant surprise indeed. Spring has sprung, and with it comes a host of soft furnishings and accessories bathed in soft, natural greens, delicate flowers, ferns and grasses as well as some pretty amazing insects! Yes, there are the ubiquitous butterflies, but M&S has also placed bees, dragonflies and even moths (shudder!) on their cushions and wall art. In fact, two of the cushions featured in this post have more than a passing resemblance to the amazing designs of Glasgow-based designers Timorous Beasties. I particularly like the bedlinen covered in a meadow of watercolour painted flowers in blues and greens.

Unfortunately the Jolie armchair (covered in glorious ferns) had not made an appearance in my local M&S, but here’s a photo so you can see what a beauty it is!

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Apart from the Conran range, M&S is not really associated with design-led interiors, preferring to play it safe. Maybe this is the start of a new direction? I hope so!