Ceramic Discoveries in Sheffield


While on a recent visit to Sheffield (visiting the cousins-in-law), I paid a visit to the rather spectacular Kelham Island museum, which celebrates Sheffield’s industrial past complete with a huge working steam engine.  As luck would have it, on the weekend we were there, there was a mini festival on and the museum was filled with various traditional craft stalls; from lace makers, to wood turners and quilters.  Whilst the husband was lured away by the real ale stall outside, my eye was caught by the wares of Caroline Lee Ceramics, which had a stall overflowing with beautiful pieces.  I picked up a couple of Christmas gifts (early planning!) and also picked up a small  white vase for our mantlepiece, which has a gorgeous crackled glaze and rustic feel.

Caroline’s a native of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, and her website lists the various craft festivals and stores in which you can find her work.  Below are some of my favourites from her gallery (which might be appearing on my own Christmas list…).

Grey and copper ceramic bowl

Sawdust fired copper bowl

More under the cut….

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How To Buy Vintage Furniture On eBay


Liz is the queen of the charity shop furniture find. She ferrets out a bargain like a true Yorkshire lass – those poor Mancunians mustn’t know what’s hit them.

I, on the other hand, am a dab hand at the eBay furniture auction. I’m generally a mild mannered sort, but an eBay auction brings out the competitive side of me.  I’m not proud to say it but I do get a bit of a thrill from making a last minute bid to swipe away a bargain from my fellow vintage furniture hunters.

When we first moved into our house from our little two bed flat, we had a small amount of (mostly Ikea) furniture and a lot of space to fill.  I wanted to invest in pieces to last, but also didn’t want to bankrupt us (particularly as we’d just spent most of our spare cash on buying the house itself).

eBay turned out to be our saviour – the dining room is furnished completely from eBay buys – the table, chairs, sideboard, settle, drinks cabinet and dresser all came from the auction site.


It does take some getting to grips with though, and you have to invest a bit of time to sort the wheat from the chaff and be fairly savvy to not pay over the odds. Here are some tips I use to make the experience easier:

1. Narrow down search results - when you’re searching for items you can us the ‘minus’ sign to exclude certain words (or certain sellers).  For example if you want to search for cabinet, but exclude filing cabinets you can search for “cabinets -filing”.  Filter options are also handy – I always use the item location filter to see if any items are within pick-up distance of my postcode (to avoid paying delivery costs).

2. Choose your words carefully – when an eBay search brings hundreds of items back, I add in descriptors  (like ‘rustic’ or ‘farmhouse’) to narrow it down to a specific style (though ‘vintage’ – it can return a lot of dodgy second hand stuff!).  If it’s quality you’re after, look at the period filters in the ‘antiques’ category.   Within ‘antique’ you’ll see items that are new but antique ‘style’, but if you filter to ‘Edwardian’ you tend to get the real deal.  If painted furniture’s your bag, try searching by paint names like ‘Farrow and Ball’ and ‘Annie Sloane’.

3. Check out the going rate -for an item like a kitchen dresser where there are a lot of vintage options on eBay, it can help to look at previous prices to get a sense of what’s good value.  To see what price similar items have gone for, go into the advanced search, type in your search terms, and check the box to search ‘sold listings’.  It’s a useful gauge to check that you don’t pay over the odds, but remember that if you’re looking at vintage furniture, factors such as condition and provenance can affect price.

4. Bidding techniques – don’t bid too early and never get into a bidding war – it can force the price up, and you’ll be showing your hand to other bidders early on. My golden rules are:

– set myself a budget

– set an alert on my phone to remind me of when the item is due to end

– get myself logged in within 10 minutes of the auction ending

– bid close enough to end of the auction to beat other bidders, but give myself enough time to re-bid if the offer isn’t high enough. Even if you’re the only person bidding, you may bid under the (hidden) reserve price set by the seller, so you need time to put a second bid in before the auction closes.  I usually go in at about 20-40 seconds to go (depending on how long I can hold my nerve!).

–  make my maximum bid just higher than a round number.  If the most I’m willing to pay is £100 I would actually bid £101.10, as some people will bid £100.10 or £101 to try to pip you to the post in the dying seconds of the auction (it’s a vicious game!).   Remember – eBay will only bid just enough to beat the highest bidder, so you don’t actually have to pay the maximum unless someone puts in counter bids to drive your bid up.

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Carpet Copycat – The Wonders of Natural Flooring

Liz's Coir CarpetLiz’s living room with ‘tiger’s eye’ sisal carpet

Admittedly carpets aren’t the sexiest thing to blog about.  Even interiors magazines give them pretty short shrift.  You never have to consider such things as a renting dweller, but when you buy your first home suddernly have to start thinking about things like flooring choices.

When replacing our living room fireplace, we found ourselves with a nice new hole in the carpet as the replacement was smaller than the previous hearth.   Being thrify types we repurposed the carpet by shifting it to the upstairs offce, which saved money but we now had a bare living room floor.

My first port of call for inspiration was Design*Sponge (the US design blog), but every single living room I wanted to emulate had a wooden floor.  Every single one.  I was beginning to think it was a situation akin to the great hidden TV conspiracy – there wasn’t a carpet in sight.  Much as  I love the original floorboards look, it just wasn’t going to work here – not only are the original floorboards a bit of a mess and missing in places, but the room is north-facing  and a touch on the nippy side in the middle of a Yorkshire winter, so it really needed full-floor covering.

I happened upon an interesting alternative – a sort of half-way house between the natural, rustic look I wanted with floorboards, with the warmth and coverage of capet: natural flooring.  Often it’s looked to as an option for hardwearing spaces like hallways (especially the jute and coir types), but some of the finer materias like sisal and seagrass are less rough and can make for an interesting and unusual carpet covering for living rooms.

living room wth sisal carpet2Kath’s living room with copycat carpet (spot the difference!)

Unbenownst to me, Liz was also looking for the same stuff for her newly redecorated living room.  She’d seen pictures of it but didn’t know what it was called.  I think she was typing things like ‘hairy brown carpet’ into Google which was bringing back some interesting results…

I realised what she was talking about, and pointed her in the direction of Kersaint Cobb and Alternative Flooring (UK manufacturers of natural flooring).  She found a local stockist and swifly narrowed the vast array of choices down to the Kersaint Cobb ‘Tiger’s Eye’ sisal carpet in amber.  As usual I dithered for ages, before sheepishly choosing exactly the same one as I loved the look of it when it was out on display at our local stockist in Baildon.

You’ll need someone who knows their stuff to lay it, as it’s trickier to work with than normal carpet and it needs ‘resting’ in situ for 24 hours before they pinning it down as it can shrink slightly after it acclimatises to your house.  It hides the dirt really well, but it’s not a fan of spills as it can’t be washed as easily as woolen carpet, so you need to think about the usage before you go for it, but we’d definitely recommend as an alternative option to floorboards.


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Dachshund, Pug or Whippet: The choice is yours


I choose the Whippet. I’m not responsible enough yet for a real one so this was a good second best. Children’s illustrator Polly Horner has collaborated with Magma bookshop to create a series of pooch inspired products for your home. Her characterful depictions capture these creatures personalities perfectly. Only three (Dachshund, Pug & Whippet) made the final cushion cut but check out her site to see the complete collection.



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In Search Of A Hallway Light

glass pendant light

Taste in light fittings is sadly not something we shared with the previous owners of our house.

The hall light was the most extreme case in point. It was a chandelier with ivy leaf and butterfly detailing, which we inherited as they were emigrating to Oz (sadly I have no pics of the original but it was similar to this).

It was a quality Laura Ashley-esque pendant, but jarred with the simple, traditional feel we were trying to create. And replacing it became an increasing priority, as more and more visitors to our home assumed it was our own newly-purchased style statement (“wow, I love your light, is it new?” “Er, no, we’re getting rid of it.” “what, why? It’s gorgeous.” “um, it’s not that we don’t like it, it just doesn’t really fit with the rustic vintagey style of the other furniture we’ve bought”… “that second hand stuff?” *awkward silence*)

But who knew the search for a hall light would prove so hard? I spent over a month scouring UK websites with not one respectable candidate. Success came as we extended our search to the US and came across a glass bell pendant from Pottery Barn.

The simple design is exactly what we were looking for – something that wouldn’t jar with our Victorian house, but isn’t overly traditional and twee. It’s rather susceptible to dust, but worth the effort as it part of the first impression to visitors, and the first thing you see when you come home every evening. We also managed to sell the butterfly light on Gumtree to a delighted buyer who drove all the way from Chester to Leeds to pick it up, so it too found a an enthusiastic owner and loving home – happy endings all round.

We bundled the bell pendant in with shipping for a rug – to buy alone with tax and shipping currently comes to around £100. Of course, as soon as we bought it I started to see similar classic glass pendants everywhere (sod’s law!). So if you like the style, I’d recommend UK retailer Fritz Fryer which has one of the best selections of classic glass pendants.


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Newbies Guide To Prepping Your Walls For Painting: Part 2

Picture of Kath's living room with holes in wall filled

Why yes, your walls will look like they have measles after you’ve filled, sanded and given the filler a lick of paint….

In part 1 we covered the things you need to do to get you and your room ready for the prep work (which mainly involves stressing that paint/plaster dust is EVIL and you need to cover everything in sight).

So once you and your room are ready, here are the steps for getting lovely smooth walls all ready for your fresh tin of paint:

1. If you have any wall paper on the walls you’re going to need to strip it off (don’t paint over it!). Use one of these – they’re easy to use and actually quite fun once you get going.

2. Wash the walls down – if they’ve had wallpaper up, or are a bit old and dirty or have any grease / smoke stains then use sugar soap and rinse with water. If not just use water. In either case make sure you wring the sponge out well – you don’t want sopping wet walls.

3. Once dry, sand the ceiling and walls with 120 grit sandpaper. Start with the ceiling (if you’re painting it) – if you don’t fancy doing this on a ladder you can use a pole sander. Use a side to side sweeping potion using firm pressure (but not too hard – you don’t want to gauge bits). Change the paper when it starts to get clogged with dust (or if you’re using a wet & dry sponge sanding block you can rinse it off).

4. Once you’ve done an initial sand you need to wipe the walls down with a very slightly dampened cloth so you can get rid of the dust and see where you have any holes and imperfections

5. If there are any gaps where moulding meets the wall (eg between skirting boards and wall) you need to run a thin line of caulk into the crack and smooth it with a wet finger or a putty knife to leave a nice finish – this video is a good tutorial

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My Orange Ercol

My orange ercol

(ignore the floral paper – we’ve yet to decorate this room)

We went shopping for a coffee table and came back with a new chair. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m not usually one for impulse buys, even if there is a jacket in the sale for a tenner I like to go away and think about it – perhaps spend the equivalent in coffee and cake and then go back to buy it.

Vintage furniture markets have a strange effect on me though, maybe it’s the added pressure of knowing that often there’s only one of them available and I don’t have the option to sleep on it or order it online later.  In this particular instance though I knew I had to have this chair, it was perfect for our dining room, somewhere comfy to sit and listen to records. It was also reasonably priced – a rarity at a vintage fair. I’ve featured the sellers from Your Vintage Life before, their site is well worth a visit.

I’m sure you recognise the design, it’s an Ercol chair complete with the original fabric, featured in the ad below (an advert it seems which is still effective, as I really want the matching stool now too!)

Ercol chair

Ercol are British furniture manufacturers established in 1920 and famed for their innovative, affordable and long-lasting designs.  Their bentwood frame and the arched wooden back has become something of a signature, and is a timeless classic that’s still going strong today (take a look at the originals section on the Ercol site). Good design stands the test of time and this piece certainly has. Now the real test – whether it can survive another 50 years in my company…


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Newbies Guide To Prepping Your Walls For Painting Part 1

In my introduction to this series of posts about painting and decorating I made reference to the torturous process of preparing your room for painting. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s by far my least favourite DIY activity.  Unfortunately it’s also very, very necessary – otherwise you end up wasting time and expensive paint on shoddy looking walls.

Liz and I are hardly pro’s but we’ve learnt a few things along the way – some by trial and error, some by encounters with helpful DIY nerds on handyman message boards.

So here are some tips based on our experiences, that painting and decorating newbies might find useful:

skimmed walls in ultility roomLovely smooth walls in our utility room post skimming

Before you start….

Before you start out on the laborious journey of filling / sanding /smoothing / prepping your walls, take a long hard look at them and see what kind of state they’re in (especially if you’re in an old house):

1.  Are there any signs of damp? In our bedroom we noticed some dampness in the corner of the room.  This turned out to be the result of a crack in the pointing in the roof which needed to be fixed before we could start decorating.

2.  Are the walls so bashed / uneven that you’d be better just skimming them? Skimming is where a professional (don’t try this at home kids!) comes in and smooths a thin layer of plaster over your walls to form a nice even surface to paint on. We opted for this in our utility room as it would have taken us days to get the walls in a half-decent state, whereas it took our joiner John half a day to skim the whole lot (including the ceiling). Well worth the effort (though you need to factor in drying time before you start to paint – give it at least a week).

Tips continue under the cut…. Read More

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A charming chai tea set

Chai tea glasses

I was innocently browsing in  Manchester’s Fig and Sparrow when this charming tea set caught my eye. Originally from Fairtrade company Nkuku the sets are handmade from recycled glass and then encased in a wire frame reminiscent of old milk trays.

They’re actually designed for sipping chai tea but I didn’t realise this until I was informed at the till. Instead I had them in mind as water glasses that would sit permanently on the dining room table. They’re pretty small though so no good if you’re really thirsty but I love the informal ‘help yourself if you want’ attitude they have. I’ve also found them an ideal size to accompany wine or coffee, so perfect for dinner parties.

I’ve since had my first cup of chai tea too – turns out it’s pretty nice. Now all you need is a teapot, take a look at some of our favourites...



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The Miraculous Metamorphic Chair

I admit that library steps aren’t on everyone’s priority purchase list when buying your first house (unless your house looks like this). But being 5ft and determined to have floor to ceiling bookshelves, I justified that they were a necessity.

In traversing the breadth and depth of the internet for “library steps”, I stumbled across the revelatory invention of the metamorphic chair. This genius 2-in-1 piece of furniture is both a chair and a mini step ladder. You just flip it over and voila:

metamorphic chair changing from chair to steps

Obviously I had to get myself a set, and I picked this set up for about £80 on eBay.  When it was delivered I had a moment of doubt, wondering if they were an impulse purchase that might embarrassingly gather dust in the corner, but it has turned out to be one of the most used and commented upon pieces of furniture in our house.

You can also find metamorphic chairs on Antiques Atlas as well as the more traditional library steps. In fact, after missing out on a beautiful set on eBay (which really stung as I lost out by forgetting to bid rather than a fair and square bid-off), I’ve been eyeing up this set of traditional foldable steps on Dig Haüshizzle for our study:

antique folding library steps

For those with more of a modern eye,  those clever Italians have been working on some (prototype) designs to bring them into the 21st century.

This is the ‘suppergiù’ chair/ladder by Milan-based designers Studioventotto which changes into steps via a split in the seat:

studioventotto metamorphic chair ladder

And this is the ‘Elda’ chair by Scoope Design with a more traditional mechanism, brought up to date with a white finish and colourful felt ‘hood’

Elda Metamorphic chair


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