Tropical Modern Metamorphosis

June 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

Brazil is somewhere I have wanted to go for a long time. But this week, tropicana has been trailing me rather than the reverse – in various guises, all beautiful and inspiring.

Featuring at the 2009 Cannes film festival, Heitor Dahlia’s ‘A Deriva‘, set in 80s Brazil was a whispered find and a surefire hit in this household. The story is one of family metamorphosis that is superbly acted with Vincent Cassel and Laura Neiva the leading lights. But the real deal is the alluring and visually dreamy cinematography. Muted soft tones and faded tropical landscapes dotted with striking modernist architecture setting the background for unravelling and redefined relationships. Sounds pretentious? Well, the film its no doubt an easy target for the same kind of criticism levelled at A Single Man – style over substance. But a marriage of style and substance? Sounds dreamy.

Brazilian composer Antonio Pinto’s film score is another treasure gratefully uncovered. Ausencia Praia is the main theme tune ‘knitted’ into the story and as absorbing and captivating as the film itself. There is an interview with Pinto, who also scored City of God with his partner Ed Cortes at The Creator’s Project and you can listen to the composition for yourself here.

No suprise then that this FAI armchair on 1st DIBS caught my eye or more truthfully my heart. Crafted from Jacaranda brazilian rosewood, it blends variagated deep hues with browny red. Although Jacaranda is now an endangered wood under threat of extinction and new products banned from export, antique pieces such as this, although rare to find in Europe, can be tracked down. Pounce as soon as you find one….it won’t be around for long and you won’t regret it.

Yorkshire based (!) Brazilia Interiors specialises in re-editioning classic furniture designed by tropical modernists such as Sergio Rodriguez, Carlos Motta and architect Oscar Niemeyer – finding brazilian modernist furniture in Europe is not a simple task! I particularly liked this 50s Dinamarquesa sucupira wood armchair by Jorge Zalszupin although I should add here that anything to do with manufacturing from tropical hardwoods makes me shiver, but Brasilia has a watertight policy on recycling and only uses FSC certified wood – a key indicator to look for if you want to purchase ethically.

If this has all really captured your imagination and you want to read more, go to the Etel Interiors ‘XYLOTHEQUE’ – a succinct write up of the characteristics of FSC certified brasilian wood used in their expensive but inspiring catalogue.

Signing off with the ray of sunshine that is Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes and her ‘Coisa Lina’ {meaning ‘beautiful thing’}. Stephen Friedman Gallery is home to her art in London and where you can read more about her geometric and kaleidoscopic creations.


Emery & Cie

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

I think that I must have fallen into painting as soon as I was born! 
Agnes Emery

I’m brimming with excitement about this post ~ perhaps because my favourite colour is green or maybe because the designer behind it all is a refreshing original; an eccentric lady with a talent for combining colours into deep absinthian hues, the makeup of deep dreaming and heady intoxication.

Agnes Emery, a belgian architect and designer spinning gold out of her Brussels town house, is the protagonist of today’s hallucinatory journey and who’s inspiration stems from art nouveau and Arts and Crafts to a worldly Asia, India, Morocco and 18th century Europe. Her visions are channeled into a distinctive offering of Emery & Cie tiles, wallcoverings, rugs, ironworks, textiles, paints and pottery with folky undertones and imbued with spirits of the forest.

The location of her magical showrooms themselves is poignant and intended to be so. In Antwerp and Brussels which I haven’t had the chance to visit, but also in Paris, at the heart of Faubourg Saint-Antoine, an area historically filled with ateliers and craft led workshops. The settings becomes part of her story as she explains, ” its historic roots in the craft furniture trade, and also because of the dynamism and energy generated by the uncertainty of a district undergoing radical change. –  since the 13th century cacophony of the 13th century carpenters, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths and ironworkers nearby.”

In London, Emery’s magic cavern sits in a secret 1st floor corner of Retrouvius the NW10 architectural salvage specialist, which in itself warrants a storyboard. Filled with curiosities, the space is used to reimagine and reawaken a soul in unwanted and abandoned wooden furniture and quirky one-offs, orphans of demolition, as well as modernist classics. An unmapable jumble of corridors and  stairs, in which to stumble upon Emery’s colour blast of offering is akin to finding the heart of middle earth after a long and enchanted adventure.


The origins and properties of sourced materials are important to Agnes and beautifully expressed on her portal which is filled with stories that imbue her creations with the culture of distant lands and indigenous people. The affectionate expression in and around her creations is the antithesis of today’s mass produced soul-dead goods and a clear heralding of the values base of the ancient and skilled artisans. At times a lament.

“One can certainly regret it, but in the meantime, the mere fact that such an anachronistic production survived till this day, while so many other wonderful crafts disappeared, turns it into some kind of treasure. It’s a magical shred of the past times, but unlike those circulating on the antiques market, this one’s still alive … at least, as long as we keep buying it ! …”

Agnes Emery – an old soul  that not only fell into a painting but down a rabbit hole and never came back. I for one am grateful for that.

Back from Denmark

April 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Night after night, we’ve spent the last 2 weeks and 20 hours projecting The Killing onto a big white wall in our London cocoon. Avidly watching Sarah Lund obsessively skit around Copenhagen; east to gramaphones and west to green hued family portraits, perhaps thrown off the scent, again and again, by the crackling fireplace beneath her. But finally we have closure; now that we know who killed Nanna Birk Larsen life is slowly returning to normal, but try as I might, echos of Sarah, Troels, Theis Pernille and Meyer are still lurking in the shadows of our flat. I miss them.

In an effort to fill the void, I will be keeping myself occupied with the following delights over the next few weeks:

15 April – 13 May – Tinsmiths’ Printmakers show, Ledbury, Hertfordshire

If you can make it to this then you won’t be disappointed – a showcase of works by printmakers Sarah Chrisp, Paul Farrell, John Richardson and Sarah Young. The image below is of the lovely limited edition letterpress invitation to the opening. Illustrated with “The Liverton Fox” by John Richardson you can get a copy by emailing Tinsmiths directly.

Sunday 1st May – Wills-Moody jumble sale

Rummaging. Three generations of 1980s polkadotties were very very good at this and dedicated to rising at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings and heading for the nearest jumble sale – local church hall, school, garage, you name it, we were there. The Wills-Moody take place at St Aloysius social club for the last time before {hopefully} relocating to a new spot. Go seek bargains and vintage delights. And if you don’t get lucky, eat cake.


Friday 13th May – Museums at Night

The UK’s version of the parisian nuit blanche, here is a chance to explore London’s museums and galleries after hours. I’m keeping an eye on the listing but an unmissable takes place on the Friday night when you’ll find me creeping around the John Soane museum by flickering candlelight!

Sunday 15th May – Midcentury Modern comes to St John’s Wood!

I’ve never made it to Midcentury Modern, THE place to source modernist furniture and homewares. Usually held at Dulwich College, us northerners are being graced with the grand affair in the Lords Cricket Ground. Back to Denmark then on the hunt for an Arne Jacobsen ant chair or 1950s german toucan lamp. If you want to cheat, you can get one at Sable and Co, but don’t tell me, because I’ll be very very jealous.

17-22 May –  Kettles Yard Pop up

Kettles Yard, the home of modern art in Cambridge will be popping up in the Brompton Design District in May. I’m going for Paul Klee but there will also be an auction one-off artworks, found objects, textiles, ceramics and crafts in-store event to raise funds for the gallery’s development appeal.

The pop-up store will be at The Brompton Garage, 1 North Terrace, London SW3 2BA.

Dream City by Paul Klee

19-22 May – Made in Clerkenwell at Crafts Central

Made in Clerkenwell takes place at Craft Central in Farringdon and is a weekend of open studios. I’m hoping to pickup a Vivienne Ivory Necklace made by Miwako Yoshioka of Bark Jewellery, but you’ll find everything from handmade cards to ceramics here and well as an insight into a warren of boutique artisan studios.

ICA – Strange attractor salon

Strange Attractor is an unusual organisation that prides itself on ‘celebrating unpopular culture’. Undefinable yet the pure definition of curiosity, the mystics have installed themselves in salon at the ICA until the 12th May where you’ll find an excellent program of talks, film and music. Frankenheimer’s ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’ is showing on the 21st April – a film adaptaion of H G Well’s story of a scientist trying to turn animals into people. If you’ve ever wished you could talk with your dog (am I alone?!) then this might be for you.

Letterpress love at Harrington & Squires

March 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

A long love of all things Letterpress recently led me to seek out an inspiring location in which to gain some hands on experience of this ancient artisanal skill. Last Wednesday, a fusion of synchronicity and inky threads led me to the door of 136a Fortess Road in Tufnell Park; the home of Harrington & Squires, a small and very special private press hidden away in leafy north London.

Set up in 2002 by graphic designers Chrissie Charlton and Vicky Fullick – my teachers for the day, the H&H hideaway is akin to entering a magic alphabet kingdom at the top of a Papyrus tree. Found a to z carved letters sit like broken jigsaw pieces in floor to ceiling plan chests; dripping ink pots stand piled under wooden work benches abord which beautiful red glistening Adana letterpresses wait patiently for their next master crafter – in this case, me.

“…this is our workshop – it is 1.2 metres wide by 3 storeys high. It smells of ink, white spirit and coffee. The ground floor is for typesetting, the middle floor for printing and the top floor has the computer, nipping press and little kitchen.”

In the company of the lovely Praise, a student graphic designer on secondment, we began by exploring the rings of our treehouse. After a welcome tea and biscuit upstairs we descended to the roots where we explored the different fonts on offer. I hadn’t any specific project in mind but was very quickly drawn to Bembo, a beautiful serif typeface originally cut by a 15th century Venetian punchcutter named Francesco Griffo. Contrasting with an 18 point Gill Sans – a well known sans-serif adopted by the BBC and London Underground, I began, with the aid of 2 composing sticks (handheld trays) to piece together a 2-colour design.

Here I reminisce about folding dough with Jane at Virtuous Bread and come to the sorry conclusion that I am all fingers! Arranging 12 point Bembo in a composing stick takes some getting use to and I found myself enviously watching the deft formation of beautifully arranged sentences by my mentors, but I persevered and with one line proudly completed, graduated on to lead spacing – the gaps between my lines.

Once finished, I happily transferred my work to the chase,  a metal frame housing the overall design, which I then had to pack out with ‘furniture’ and ‘quoins’ and tighten it all together to avoid a disastrous printers pie – the curious term that refers to the jumbled chaos that ensues when type unravels. Relieved that all talk of baking stopped there, I ascended with my masterpiece to the holy grail – the middle kingdom, home to the Adana 8×5.

These striking red machines are the REAL DEAL. Inked up, paper aligned and chase set I spend the following hour in a letterpress trance, churning out pink, blue, brown paper creations with my Polkadotty coordinates firmly, beautifully and colourfully stamped onto every bit of spare paper I could get my hands on.

And here are the results: In love. Buying a letterpress. This weekend.

{ Thanks to Chrissie and Vicky for a marvellous day }

Virtuous Bread

February 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

It is a Sunday evening and I’m contentedly sitting at home enjoying a steaming bowl of kale and onion soup from a bowl potted by Rob Bibby (a warmly received wedding gift from a dear friend) and munching on a very delicious slice of buttered homemade courgette and sage spelt bread. Homemade, that is, by ME. The first loaf of bread that I have EVER baked has turned out remarkably well and truth be told, I do feel a little virtuous.

But niggling in back of my mind is perplexion as to why I have never attempted it before, what with being nearly 35. Bread has always been an integral part of my life – as nourishment but also in how it relates to my polish heritage. Brought up in West London as part of a strong polish community, the bread on our table (usually rye) was sourced from one of the many local polish delis and its symbolism, in particular for my father, born in Krakow, was in its ties to our homeland.

Despite its importance, the skill of actually making bread was never passed down to me. Luckily, in the spirit of reclaiming the artisan craft of baking, I was given the inspired present of a bread baking lesson with Jane Mason, founder of Virtuous Bread and my endearing and infectiously enthusiastic demystifier of ‘the loaf’. Thanks to Jane, I have achieved something I have been wanting to do for years.

Last Saturday morning, I broke out of NW6 and headed south under a crisp blue sky, over a bottle green Hammersmith Bridge and in to Jane’s home in Barnes to cash in my present. Below is a photo diary of the day – make sure you scroll past if for more about Virtuous Bread!

Our day started with a welcome cup of tea, chat about the neighbourhood and life by the river ~ Jane clearly connects with her locality through her bread as reflected by her unique knowledge of the area . The kitchen balcony flung open, river flowing and starboard stroke rowers sweeping peacefully past us, we set to work. Deciding upon spelt, rye and wholemeal as our preferred flours, we added water, yeast and salt and then a pause and chance to quiz our teacher with bread related questions – as Jane says, the brilliant thing about making bread is that there is a lot of time when you don’t have to do anything because the bread is doing something on its own. 15 minutes later, our yeast active, we got to kneading…by far my favourite part of the day and from witnessing my mother and sister’s technique…the first demostration of why each loaf of bread is different! There are so many factors that contribe to the the final product from kneading to oven temperature to the amount of down time that you give your dough ~ each loaf is as individual as its maker.

More down time. Whilst our dough rose, we sank ~ into comfy chairs where we feasted on a delicious lunch and chin wagged and daydreamed about world bread domination. Jane not only runs courses but bakes in schools, hospitals, prisons and is also in the process of finding a site for a pop-up DIY bakery where anyone can come to use a communal oven and create their own masterpieces. Virtuous bread also supports ‘Bread Angels’ who want to set up their own home baking business and the website is dedicated to providing a knowledge bank of all things bread, demystifying the baking process and creating a community of likeminded bakers. In her own words, “ gives back to society and forges the link between eating well and doing good by using bread and bread events as catalysts for social change. Baking and baking bread brings people together. It is an act of creation that is quickly shared and always appreciated, feeding us in every way.”

The next stage was all about stretching, folding, rolling, stretching, folding, rolling and finally rolling into a tight sausage to beautifully fit into a greased tin – one I had prepared earlier of course. Baked for 45 minutes in Jane’s beautiful swedish oven, our loaves emerged picture perfect and warmly received.

Most of us will have read about the intensive processing of industrial bread on supermarket shelves or mock high street bakeries – packed with additives and fat in order that the production line may be sped up and shelf life extended. Known as the ‘Chorleywood process’ even its name sound like some distopian nightmare and this alone should inspire everyone to take up the mantle of making their own bread at home or with an excellent teacher such as Jane.

Our bounty in hand and brimming with pride we said our goodbyes with promises of following up on all the ideas we had come up with during this wonderful day. In all the excitement we forgot the bananas Jane offered us from her surplus, but I’m sure with her enterprising skill and imagination she put them to good use somehow.

Tom Dixon at Portobello Dock

January 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

When it comes to finding new and inspiring spaces, be they restaurants, venues or delightful emporiums of whatnots, I often find myself disappointed in situ. But I am finding it very hard NOT to be excited about that which has blossomed at Portobello Dock over the past year. The development has demeurely sprung up at the no mans land end of Ladbroke Grove and added a much needed bolt hole/focus for design inspired and creative minds of the area.

Housed in a beautifully converted wharf building on the site of a former victorian good yard, this box of delights can be discovered at the lost end of Ladbroke Grove. (The unassuming entrance is easy to miss with many visitors I’m sure, flying over the Grand Union Canal headlong into Harrow road chaos and the edges of ‘edgy’ Kensal Rise). Tom Dixon has chosen a brave and interesting location for his new home which houses his collection and a carefully curated selection of other talented designers of all ilks.

At the Dock Kitchen, now a permanent fixture,  diners can enjoy an excellent menu created by Stevie Parle (ex Petersham Nurseries, River Cafe and Spotted Pig) whilst seated under Tom Dixon signature copper shades and surrounded by the ghosts of punk rockers who left their hearts and hopes in the former Virgin recording studios. I can’t think of anywhere else where so many energies, present and past, collide and conspire to create such an excellent eaterie and inspiring shopping experience.

Favourite pieces include Tom Dixon’s Etch candle holder (£30)

Tom Dixon’s Bronze Copper Shade (£285)
The ridiculous but divine Dada candle from Cire Trudon, Europe’s oldest candle maker. With notes of eucalyptus buchu leaf, tea, mint and chamomile, it comes exquisitely presented in absinthian green hand-blown glass. The scent is inspired by the artistic literary and surrealist movement Dadaism, but I like it for being handcrafted from a secret blend of palm oil, rice, soy and coprah, and being 100% free of petrochemicals. (£47)

Bella Freud’s Ginsberg is God jumper (£200) (This reminds me how excited I am to see ‘Howl’ about the American poet, which comes out in the UK on the 7th January 2011 – you can catch it at the Curzon Soho on the 25th February.)

You can buy many of these items online, but I would recommend aesthetes go to Portobello Dock for a hedonistic hit of kaleidescopic colour and eye candy – there is more to discover here than these tantalising finds!

Portobello Dock formalises a design direction in this formerly non-descript and curious part of Ladbroke Grove that has never really known what it is. Not only with the kudos of Tom Dixon in residence but with its role as a space for ideas generation and inspiration. An easy target for labels of pretention, it does what it does well. It is an evolving space so worth keeping and eye on especially at Design Festival time 2011.

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