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 }


February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

The discovery of a bundle of yellowed dog-eared letters and postcards in an empty Paris apartment in the 6th has cast a spell over me. Enchanted by spidery scrawls and scattered sentences, their sense disjointed by missing pages, I have been trying to weave together these found fragments of correspondence between two beings I shall never meet.

Driving me, I think, is my lament at the loss of handwritten letters in my own life and the stories that their missing presence will keep eternally hidden. Call me sentimental, but there is a lot about the good ole’ times that I miss.

If you are familiar with french, you may know the word griffoner, meaning to scribble or scrawl and a griffonage is therefore an illegible scrawl. If like me, you feel the need to bring some griffonage back into your own life and reawaken that slumbering cursive hand, then here is some inspiration to set the scene!

Griffin and Sabine: An Extrordinary Correspondence’ is the first of a trilogy {followed by Sabine’s Notebook & The Golden Mean} penned by Nick Bantock, about a lovelorn postcard artist in England and the mysterious Sabine, a lady from the South Pacific who can see Griffin’s work in her mind’s eye. Filled with mythology and symbolism the story tells of their correspondence and sometimes wavering belief in each other’s existence which spans across different dimensions. The books are filled with surreal postcard images and envelopes containing actual letters that you can take out and read a la voyeur. I discovered these books 15 years ago and remain enchanted every time I reread them.

Present and Correct, if you don’t already know it, is my favourite source of handmade, vintage and beautifully designed paper goods and desk accessories. I’m obsessed with it and in particular, these pretty scandinavian writing sets.

Dempsey and Carroll of New York city have specialised in engraved stationery since 1878. You can find their classic cotton fibre writing paper at Ben Pentreath’s wonderful curiosity shop off Lambs conduit street.

Fans of grid paper might prefer Rhodia – the french paper merchant does a nicely presented box set.

Colour heads like me should check out heritage label G. Lalo Verge de France who do a pretty range that is also good for minimum bleed if using a fountain pen.

For recycling and reusing envelopes I find these japanese paper tapes indispensible to reseal and decorate. (Brilliant for wrapping with brown and newpaper too!) You can get them at Papermash, another excellent online stationer that sources indie paper goods from around the world.

My first letter of the year is addressed to Mr and Mrs A Greenman, treasured but long lost friends.


Yuletide wishes

December 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Hello hello. I have just received these beautiful beautiful Christmas cards in the post. Made by Poplar & Birch for La Jotta, they come as a HUGE relief as I had almost given up on finding any that weren’t covered with glitter, inane words such as ‘joy’ or white doves. Phew. Its not easy being so fussy!

They remind me of a place in my head which I’ve never been to but know is there. Its hard to explain when something captures your imagination and takes you somewhere, elsewhere, but I’m pretty sure there are polar bears manning the lighthouse. Which is what I think it is. That or guiding lights from a Bavarian castle in the snow.

They are limited editions with only 50 printed so if you like them, you’d better get your skates on!

Another happy discovery and realisation that all is not lost in the land of Christmas cards is the Rifle Paper Company. Their enchanting illustrations nearly possessed me to ship packets and packets of delights from the US to London…but as a testament to unfailing will, I searched high and low to find them in Regents Street Anthropologie. The selection isn’t huge but its a nice introduction to their work and perhaps next year I’ll go for their customised cards, if only to see us animated by their fair hand.

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