14th February: The plan

I’m going to say it.

VALENTINE’S DAY.

Are you feeling that funny slash hopeful slash ‘am I bovvered?’ feeling yet?

We are all the same. Single or coupled up, half of us KNOWS that the cards and teddies are a huge money-making scam, yet the other half secretly hopes for a bunch of one hundred roses, delivered in a very public place by swan…

If you don’t want to go down this route, here’s a selection of activities for Tuesday, 14th February – SHOULD YOU WISH TO DO SOMETHING – that don’t have to involve scratchy fancy underwear or awkward end-of-date kisses.

Drink
If any sort of enforced romance, or the lack of it, makes you reach for the alcohol, make it a formal thing. Leeds’ Lazy Lounge holds wine and gin tasting sessions every Tuesday. Grab your partner or your partners in crime and you’ll get an introduction to wine, a taste of seven varieties, and a selection of well-matched nibbles to bring out the flavours.

Wine tasting £20pp, gin tasting £25pp, from 6:30pm at Lazy Lounge, Unit D, Westpoint, Wellington Street, LS1 4JY. (Photo credit: godine.co.uk)

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Haters
As a nation, we are excellent at moaning, so it was only a matter of time before someone mixed our skills into a dating app. Sign yourself up to Hater and you’ll be matched with people who hate the same things, including tuna, the word ‘moist’, weed and Taylor Swift. It’s only available in beta form on iOS at the moment, but there are plans in the pipeline for Android.

Churros
I love a good binge at Cielo Blanco, but when it’s rounded off with churros, one can look a little bloaty once home and in the nude. Not ideal if you have plans for a night of passion. This year though, you can try a number of new superfood mains, including superfood tacos, a warm kale and broccoli salad with toasted nuts and a poached egg, and avocado and black quinoa toastadas. You’ll also get a free bottomless superjuice with superfood dishes, to give you a glow regardless of your relationship status.

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Queerology
This year marks the 50th anniversary of homosexuality being decriminalised in England. Now that’s romantic. Queerology showcases all sorts of artwork by LGBT and Queer artists in and around Leeds.

Queerology at Aire Place Studios, Units 2c, Aire Place Mills, Kirkstall Road, LS3 1JL. Open 12 – 5pm until Monday 27th February.

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Culture
Take a seat (and snacks) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, for a “radical” take on Pygmalion, written by George Bernard Shaw in 1913. It’s the story of professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, who makes a bet that he can train Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess, starting with impeccable speech. This new version brings in more video and sound technology and asks questions about today’s class identity and social behaviour.
Pygmalion at West Yorkshire Playhouse, 14th February. Tickets £13.50 – £30.

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Skate
You can approach Leeds’ Ice Cube rink with two mindsets. For romance, cling onto each other and complement your pink cheeks with a cute bobble hat, or rejoice in falling over and bruising most of your limbs while showing no sympathy as your fella or friends hit the deck. The rink, its Snowslide, Starflyer and Glacier Run Simulator, plus the new Ice Jet, is open ’til 19th February.

Go ghost hunting
If you really want to go anti-romance, go on one of York’s famed ghost walks. The Original Ghost Walk of York starts every night outside The King’s Arms Pub, and will combine the city’s history with gruesome stories of its past.

The King’s Arms Pub (Ouse Bridge), at 8pm. £5 for adults, £3 for children, students and concessions. (Photo credit: imgarcade.com)

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What are your plans for Valentine’s Day? Doing anything different?

We need to talk about the bathroom

Hello, and welcome to our bathroom…

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Instead of giving each other big Christmas presents this year, we agreed to put most of our budgets towards the next house project – our upstairs bathroom, which has been lying dormant with its gammy hot water tap (no lounging around in the bath for me), perfectly nice but old fashioned tiles and peeling bath panel since we moved in.

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To keep costs down – around £350 if we do the work ourselves – we’re keeping the original fixtures but replacing everything else. Here’s what’s left to do:

  • Hope that gammy tap is caused by nothing more than a dodgy washer and replace all taps with fresh chrome ones
  • Replace tiles with white brick tiles. We had LOVED crackle glaze putty coloured tiles but quickly learnt that when it comes to tiles, white is always cheaper. Putty has been earmarked for “the next house” 😉
  • Replace shimmery lino with simple rustic wood effect vinyl
  • Buy and fit replacement bath panel, which doesn’t seem to cost a great deal but who the hell knows how you fit this kind of thing?!
  • Give all fixtures a damn good scrub and polish
  • The fun bit – buy new towels, shelves, accessories and artwork. I’m painfully aware that 90% of our house is grey and that our ‘Maritime hush’ choice is not far from it, so am deliberately pushing our colour boundaries with a peacock feather theme. Think teal, blue, navy and golds…

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Lovely items from:
Zigzag bath mat, M&S; Blue candlestick holder, Maisons du Monde; Peacock print inspiration, Papier; Blue agate bookend, TK Maxx; Green glass vase, H&M; Print towels, Asda; Peacock feather artwork, art.co.uk; Vinyl flooring, Carpetright; Paint – Maritime Hush by Valspar.

Stylists at home: Karl Grant

This month, I’ve been lucky enough to feature in Style at Home magazine, sharing thoughts and tips on readers’ homes.

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On the panel with me were five fellow interior enthusiasts, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be chatting to them and sharing their own interior tales with you.

karl-grantFirst up is Karl Grant from Bedfordshire, who is studying at the British Academy of Interior Design and runs an online homeware boutique – The Whitewash Hare.

He lives in a converted chapel which was built in 1807 and rebuilt in the ’90s, maintaining the external style but introducing a new open plan layout and upstairs gallery: “When we were looking to move from our previous home, we were ready for something that had straight walls and plaster that wasn’t made of horse hair.. but couldn’t overcome the allure of old school houses, chapels and toll buildings.”

 

Karl Grant1.JPGTell us a bit more about The Old Chapel
For us, it represented the perfect compromise between modern build and character home, plus its village location is perfect for raising our young daughter, and happily growing into an old recluse couple.

The original build had cut a few corners in terms of finishing – skirting boards, doors, frames etc. We discovered that one window frame wasn’t fitted to the building itself and the steps leading to the double front doors had all but collapsed. Rebuilding them was complicated as we live in a conservation area, and I still think the local community believed we neglected them to reduce the risk of them turning up uninvited.

How would you sum up your style?
Eccentric British quirkiness built on the foundations of neutral modern country.

Which is your favourite room in the house?
It sounds odd, but right now it’s the downstairs guest bathroom (below) – often the forgotten workhorse! It’s a quirky take on industrial chic which gives a gentle nod to the history of the chapel. The dummy drawer handles, shoelast and obligatory Singer sewing machine give a subtle sense of British eccentricity, but the key piece has to be the vintage drawer wallpaper from Debbie McKeegan British Design. The relationship between the textured paper and photo realistic print is utterly fantastic.

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Where do you take your inspiration from?
The unique personalities of the home owner should be the biggest inspiration, but they must remain sensitive to the property type and the surrounding environment. My mood changes a lot (according to my wife) and I’m inspired by so many things I see on TV, in fashion magazines, in hotels and trendy bars or boutique gastro pubs. The important thing is to show constraint – I’m not keen on seeing a 1960’s mid terrace town house on the outside, with a glorious French cottage shabby chic style on the inside.

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Where do you find your vintage items?
Ebay is surprisingly impressive in this area, and I love to visit antique stores and ‘collectors barns’. Unfortunately there aren’t many of these nearby, so it usually consists of weekends away – which in the cold hard light of day probably explains why my wife is so supportive.

Sometimes it can be pure luck. I have a good friend who frequently gives me things she finds in one of her dad’s outbuildings. One of my favourite pieces is a Kenlite workman’s lamp that she gave me. I stripped and polished it, added some fairy lights and turned it into a lamp.  Her dad couldn’t understand why anyone would want some old rusty lamps that were ready for the scrap yard, but for me, upcycling and repurposing items is a wonderful way to be creative.

My advice is always start by exploring what’s nearest to where you live…and don’t expect that everyone has the same vision as you. If you think something will look great go for it, and don’t let other people’s doubts put you off.

What’s the next big interiors trend?
I think the next trend will counter the neutrals that are so popular right now, with people playing with vibrancy, and warm colours like terracota coming into play. This also lends itself to people feeling more comfortable moving away from traditional white ceilings.

What is your one tip for creating a great room?
I always find that good room schemes follow a 70/20/10 rule. Keep 70% of the room (eg walls and floors) as one colour, 20% in a second colour (eg prints and fabrics) and the final 10% (eg accessories) more vibrant. It’s much simpler and cheaper to change the room look when you only have to worry about 30% of the room.

I also live by the rule of presenting accessories in multiples of 3, 5 and 9, as humans seem to respond better to seeing things presented in odd numbers. I always find great impact is achieved presenting three framed pictures in a row over one single larger piece.

And finally, what do you make of one recent trend – hygge?
Hygge is a great move away from the harshness of the industrial chic movement that was being rammed down our throats a few years back. It is also a natural amalgamation of the Scandi look and the current focus on personal mindfulness and wellbeing. From a design perspective and due to their focus on warmth, soft textures and neutral colours, hygge-styles rooms can also make absolute eye candy.

How to save money the ‘lagom’ way this January

If, like me, one of your resolutions this year is to save money, you could be in luck.

Granted, it’s through another of the hygge-like trends that seems to overcomplicate the concept of just living well and being happy, but this one is about more than just sheepskin throws and candles.

Tipped to be the Scandinavian lifestyle trend of 2017, is ‘lagom’. You pronounce it ‘lar-gom’ and, as it loosely translates to “not too little, not too much, just right”, it may well help us to stick to the penny-pinching and one-ricecake-a-day diets that dominate January.

It’s a big change from hygge, which really just made it acceptable to bulk buy cushions and bury ourselves under them with a tub of icecream for the whole of December. Now, the focus is on living well, recycling, clean living and being a good person.

And (unsurprisingly) there’s no shortage of brands up for helping us on the quest. Ikea is already sharing the results of its Live LAGOM Project, and refers to the concept as ‘living a kinder life’. It asked customers and employees to try products that would help them to save energy and water, reduce waste and live a healthier lifestyle that – you hope – goes on to make people happier.

The following methods and products stood out to me as simple but really useful for saving money:

  • Swap standard bulbs for LED bulbs, or use LED lamps. Despite moving from a small five-roomed house to a larger eight-roomed house, Lydia has seen a 40% drop in her energy bills: “A comparison chart of our electricity use shows that since switching to LED lights in January, we are using around half of the national average”.
  • Water saving Lydia also used a timer to see how long her family spent in the shower, allowing them to save time in the morning and reducing their water consumption.
  • Indoor gardening Juliette tried an indoor gardening kit and went on a composting course in order to grow her own food and reduce wastage. “I have been experimenting with growing on kitchen scraps such as celery hearts, avocado stone and lettuce bottoms, and love that the gardening kit means I can pull off a few leaves for my lunch and there is no wastage”. See how a hydroponics indoor garden kit works here. The kits and components aren’t cheap, but could pay off in the long run. Here’s one from Ikea.
  • Keeping heat in Luke was finding it impossible to keep his house warm as a lot of heat was being lost through the windows. Since fitting blinds in every window, as well as curtains, he has saved £30 per month in heating costs.

The catch is, that to be balanced and go full-on lagom, you need to make a few investments. Here are my top four suggestions, all free or less than £11 (excluding postage), for living kindly but keeping an eye on costs, too. Fill the empty juice bottle with water or pebbles to save water in your toilet cistern, turn food waste into compost with an indoor composter, and never have to buy supermarket plastic bags with a reusable cotton shopper:lagom1

1 litre empty plastic bottle; Eddingtons Eco Composter, Robert Dyas, £10.49; Counter top compost bin, aplaceforeverything.co.uk, £9; Wally personal finance app, Free on Android and iOS; Deer cotton shopper bag, £5.49, eBay.

Are you embracing lagom this year? I’m feeling motivated to make some small changes now and see if they make a difference – even if it’s just pennies. Share your tips below!

7 signs it’s Christmas

For those of you who are still working, you’re probably well aware and repeating in your head every hour the fact that there are FIVE DAYS TO GO ’til Christmas. YAY!

So to fire that excitement up a little more, and prepare you for the highs and lows that might hit over the festive period, here are seven signs that we’re nearly there. The majority are good but, if not, here’s what to expect and how the bloody hell to cope:

1) You’ll skip the Queen’s Speech
According to a survey on the radio the other day, only 27% of families actually tune into Her Maj on Christmas Day. Our family is not one of them. If she’s on screen as we’re rolling back to the lounge from the dining  room, we might give it a glance, but it’s typically drowned out by a deafening round of tea-pouring or loses out to festive drivel like The Gruffalo (sorry). This year, though, I’d like to watch it. This 89-year-old woman has been fighting our battles for 64 years, taking all the crap that comes with it and having to dress up in pastel suits and speak to people at weekends when all she probably wants to do is Netflix and Chill. She’s packed on the pearls and stayed off the drink ‘til 3pm  on Christmas Day, and that alone deserves a bit of our time.

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2) You’ll  forget someone’s present
With so many friends to catch up with in the run up to Christmas, you’re bound to experience a gift mismatch. You went for a card, she went for a gift… FUCK. Surely this has happened to everyone, and depending on the situation, you either brazen it out, have a laugh about it or die on the spot. This has happened to me once or twice and I found that acknowledging it and having a giggle, then surprising them with a lovely, unexpected gift in January works quite well. True, they’ll think you’re a complete heartless wench until then, but come mid-January, you’re back in the good books.

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3) You’ll bump into Someone You’d Rather Not
This is a simple sod’s law scenario which becomes ten times more likely when every one of your old acquaintances flocks back to the town you grew up in, just as your week month-long diet of truffles, pigs in blankets and salted peanuts by the bag starts to show. This happened once to me, with an old boyfriend. The split was amicable so there was no threat of tears or an unplanned rant outside House of Fraser but it completely caught me out. I wasn’t expecting it, didn’t know what to say and flushed up like a big red balloon. And he noticed and laughed at it. HAHA! Not. Help yourself by being prepared – think in advance, just for a second, how you’re going to position your life. Are you a) on the verge of signing a record contract b) married to a millionaire or c) doing just fine, thanks very much? Think what you’d do and say, just in case.

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4) You’ll have one too many
The most awful part of this scenario is that there’s a large chance that one too many will be had in the company of relatives, rather than friends who have seen it all before. My parents and brother have not yet had the pleasure of witnessing me winking at the kebab man, posing with a lamppost and generally grinding around the dance floor. Anything I say here is probably not going to help once you’ve consumed several glasses of wine – all you can do is hope they all end up as sozzled as you and/or fall asleep and miss the final hours of debauchery.

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5) You’ll have to share space with friends and relatives
Bedrooms, bathrooms… you’re going to get closer to relatives. One terrifying, 100/100 on the trauma scale element of this for me is sharing bathrooms. Four years into my relationship with Paul, I am still incapable of “going to the loo” (in human speak, doing a poo, dropping the kids off etc) without cordoning off and soundproofing the room and surrounding areas before, during and after the act, and barking ‘WHERE ARE YOU GOING?’ if Paul should even look in the direction of the bathroom. I have been assured that I am not the only person with public poo fear so.. if this is you, too, and the thought of sharing your personal space makes you strongly consider fasting over Christmas, I’M WITH YOU.

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6) You’ll treat yourself in the sales – and feel guilty about it
Scrolling through sale items on Christmas Day feels like a massive kick in the teeth for Santa. But the cheap chunky knits and glittery dresses can’t be ignored. If you’re going for something branded that’s available from more than one shop, check out Kelkoo, which will tell you where you’ll find it cheapest, and sign up to Quidco which will get you cashback with loads of retailers. Right now, there’s 13% cashback at Topshop and Debenhams.

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7) You’ll spill Something Bad on Someone’s Carpet
This is the festive moment that will automatically activate slow motion mode and cause multiple swear words to escape your mouth without any consideration or filtering. Thankfully, if your host is cool enough to be having people over for a meal or drinks, they’re probably also sane enough to know that a spillage could be on the cards. But still… #facepalm.

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The general rule of thumb and common sense, whatever the spillage, is to scoop or mop up excess fluid and then (thanks, Good Housekeeping):

For carpet:
1. Blot up as much of the wine as possible;
2. Use plain water or mix one tablespoon of liquid hand dishwashing detergent and one tablespoon of white vinegar with two cups of warm water;
3. Using a clean white cloth, sponge the stain with plain water or the detergent/vinegar solution. Apply a little bit at a time, blotting frequently with a dry cloth until the stain disappears;
4. If using a detergent/vinegar solution, sponge with cold water and blot dry.

For upholstery:
1. Mix one tablespoon of liquid hand dishwashing detergent with two cups of cool water;
2. Using a clean white cloth, sponge the stain with the detergent solution;
3. Blot until the liquid is absorbed;
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the stain disappears;
5. Sponge with cold water and blot dry.

What else would you put on the list?

How to be this couple when cohabiting..

We all want to be the couple on the left when it comes to living together, yes?
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It’s generally acknowledged and accepted that – as with most things in life – there is a honeymoon period for cohabiting couples.

What starts as a fart-free, dinner-at-the-table, sex on tap and pillow fight prone household will eventually succumb to life pressures. Pillow fights will ruin the posh pillows, as you upgrade, sex will lose out to sleep, and farts, well, they always find a way out.

Of course this is all entirely normal. Just as you might put more effort into make up or make more romantic gestures when you are in the early stages of dating, you put a bit of a gloss on living together and keep out the bad habits.

What’s key is keeping an eye on the important bits, like closeness and quality time, that could impact on your relationship as a whole.

Based on the three years during which I have lived with A Boy (a prospect that TERRIFIED me until we were about two weeks in), here’s what I think is key:

Celebrate the good times
You’re not going to feel refreshed, look ravishing and forget all your troubles/deadlines every day of your life. So when you do, and you’re together, remember it. Take and display photos of those great days. It doesn’t have to be a ball at The Ritz – just nights out, walks and holidays that remind you of the great times.

Sex
Have it. Find out how to up-sex your bedroom here.

Eat together
We SO have this down. But it’s usually on the sofa while watching TV. Together time = 0. Make an occasion of meal times. Whether you have a huge oak table or a little bistro set, cook together, sit your asses down and talk about your day.

Sleep together
There’s been loads in the news about couples who sleep in separate beds/rooms in the last few years. I think we can all see where these people are coming from – you probably get a much better night’s sleep without someone else fidgeting and the inevitable unforgiveable duvet hog. But, don’t you just deal with it? Many psychotherapists, including Dr Barton Goldsmith, believe that sleeping next to each other and the physical closeness that comes with it, can strengthen emotional bonds and therefore your relationship.

Make the effort
This can apply to most things you’ll encounter when living together. Emptying the dishwasher so they don’t have to, taking the bins out if they’re that tiny bit more tired than you. It just shows that you care. Similarly, don’t forget that goodnight kiss, a sneaky massage, and to snuggle up if you’re going to watch TV. They’re tiny things, but without them, you might as well be flatmates.

Count the numbers
It sounds horrible and scientific, but just as you might do at work, keep a track of the good and not so good things you’re doing at home. If you find your body contact waning, or start to feel a bit ‘samey’, set yourself a target! It doesn’t need a spreadsheet (unless you like a spreadsheet..) Mentally tick off those daily kisses, cuddles, nice things, and set yourself a target if you’re not getting through the list. No-one’s going to complain that you’re kissing them too much.

Take time out
Most people I know like a bit of time alone every so often. Whether it’s to get things done, sit and watch rubbish films (that’s me) or just sit and pick your nose, the urge doesn’t go away when you move in with your other half. Don’t be afraid to spend the odd weekend apart, go out with separate groups of friends or go off and do your own thing upstairs while he’s downstairs. You’ll get the reflection/quiet time you need (and can also pluck unsightly facial hairs etc on the sly…) WIN.

Him vs. her: The dream kitchen 

We dipped our toes into A Big House Project last weekend, as we strayed into the kitchen section of B&Q.

After doing an initial walk round the different ranges with an assistant and pointing out what we liked, we had a meeting with their kitchen designer. He created the size and shape of our kitchen on screen and one by one added in our units. Here’s where we got to – a relatively modest but clean and modern shaker kitchen, with walnut worktop:kitchen mock up.JPG

Then came the serious bit – how much would it cost us and do we want to take the plunge? *Deep breath* We’re looking at about £9.5k for the whole caboodle at B&Q, and a rough estimate at Wren came out at about £6k, so whichever we choose, it’s going to need some saving first.

So we (I) thought we’d get ahead and plan out our perfect kitchen, which we might not be able to afford unit-wise, but could definitely aim for in terms of overall style and feel. Paul’s done one and I’ve done the other but which do you think is which, and (most importantly!) which do you prefer?

White and sage:

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Rustic shaker:

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