Renovation Blog, Part Four: We’re here!

It’s been a while since I posted the last renovation blog so I’ve fallen slightly behind all the shenanigans going on in our house! The last two months in London flew by unbelievably fast and before we knew it we were packing our lovely flat up into boxes, accompanied by the deliciously musky tones of Louis Armstrong to keep our slightly frenzied house moving spirits up. (Side note re new favourite Louis Armstong song, Cheesecake. Look it up. The lyrics read: ‘Cheesecake. Munchin’ on a cheesecake, munchin’ on a cheesecake. Cheesecake! Cheesecake. Gobble, gobble. Cheesecake. Gobble, gobble. Cheesecake!’ It’s an excellent tune.) 

Ada ‘helping’ us out with packing

As with true love, the course of house renovations never did run smooth, as Shakespeare once wisely observed. This is exactly what we discovered a week before moving when it turned out our builders were having a bit of a standoff as to which party had the pleasure of rebuilding a particularly awkward wall. I must say, to their credit, they have been otherwise excellent and all their work has been top quality, but this minor blip meant that the renovations were set back by a few weeks. Ho hum, we said. Moving into a house with no water, power, toilet and open sockets/livewires lying around wasn’t ideal so we quickly hopped onto Google to try and find a short let. For a couple of hours, it seemed a bit hopeless as we searched high and low for a temporary let in Wiltshire during a summer in which the entire country is staycationing. Miracles do happen though and Jan found one place listed – just down the road from our new home! – for August only. Hurrah! It took two days to sweet talk the owner into renting it to us with our pup but we got there and, have to say, it’s been a total godsend. Fortunately we were also able to maneuver all our boxes and furniture into the new home (shout out to Jon’s Removals who were angels disguised as removal men, can highly recommend to anyone moving in the future) where the majority of our belongings is languishing in bubble wrap to protect from the reno dust! 

Box chaos
Bathroom slowly taking shape

Although it was sad to bid farewell to our beloved London, it was exciting to pull out of Paddington station and watch as the city disappeared into the horizon and green fields and forests emerged. As I write this, we have been here for two weeks already and are settling happily so far into Wiltshire life! Everyone is so friendly and welcoming which is a relief, I did wonder slightly if the locals might be apprehensive of the London > countryside exodus that has resulted from the pandemic. It seems though that quite a lot of people here also moved from London themselves years ago and have been eager to tell us that they had zero regrets which is encouraging! As a newcomer, this definitely does feel like the countryside, certainly in comparison to London, but our new town is apparently the hub (surrounded by satellite villages) and so the residents are outnumbered proportionately by the number of restaurants and cafes which cater to both locals and visitors. There’s a lovely buzz here which I like, it doesn’t feel frenzied like central London but there are many people around, paddle boarding up the Avon and stopping for cake afterwards! I imagine it will probably quieten down a bit in the winter. 

My parents-in-law were also finally able to fly in after a year of travel restrictions (we haven’t even seen them since before we were married which is crazy!) and so it’s been fun showing them around the area and exploring all the tiny streets in between dodging gusty rain storms. One place in which we spent the best part of a Saturday afternoon moseying around was the idyllic Iford Manor. It has beautiful Italianate style gardens with an abundance of blowsy country flowers – the air was fragrant with late wisteria, which has to be one of my favourite scents! I’d definitely recommend a visit if you’re near Bath and love wafting around lovely gardens. 

Finally able to raise a toast with our parents together!

Besides this, we are mostly over at the house after work to start on DIY projects where it’s possible. The first thing we did was restore the living room floor, which looked a little less daunting than some of the older wooden floors throughout the house. A Friday night watching YouTube videos on how to bring painted floors back to life before heading over early the next morning, the tips and tricks of renovation vloggers ringing in our ears, to await the delivery of some sanders hired from a local company. It took all weekend to get the thick layers of paint off (to fellow DIYers: we tested the paint for lead beforehand and all was safe to go ahead!) using the big sander and its feisty companion, the edge sander. I could now wax lyrical for hours about how much I love my new favourite tool which is, …drum roll, the humble hand sander. We bought our own one at B&Q and I now consider it my trusty steed when faced with pesky leftover bits of paint or rough patches of wood. It got them all feeling silky smooth in no time! In the meantime, we were racing to get the stain and protective wax coating onto the floorboards and dry enough in time for the removal men to cart all our belongings over the next day. It was a late night of eating Wagamama take out and getting slightly delirious on varnish fumes but we made it! Now to tackle the floors upstairs which are pretty uneven, by which I mean the 18th century wooden planks are starting to resemble the Mendip foothills. 

Ready to go

Right now, our contractors are still carrying out work in the house but, slowly, we’re getting there. It is so useful to be able to hop over at a moment’s notice to double check various details as we progress and my hope is that in two weeks time we should have a bathroom and about ¾ of a kitchen installed. Having spent an afternoon in Mandarin Stone last week, our tiles (half a ton, yeesh) for the bathroom and kitchen arrived on Tuesday. Painstakingly, Jan, his mum and I carried each one in like worker ants, stacking them as if they were eggshells in the living room. I can’t wait to see them laid out next week! As luck would have it, some limestone tiles that we had loved were at the end of their line and had been reduced in price by 50%. Cheers to that! They have a subtle pink undertone which will hopefully pair beautifully with some other colours we like for the kitchen.

Kitchen plastered up
Papyrus limestone tiles ready to be laid
Splashback waiting to go into the kitchen

On this front, we’re edging closer and closer to the bit I’m really excited for: paint colours! I have loved walking through each room, looking at the light and how it changes throughout the day, playing around with different tones in my head. It’s great in a way to have this month to get a feel for the space and the light before committing to any decorative choices. I think there should be a blog in itself about final paint colours for fellow colour nerds (lovers) because I could happily chat for days about this subject and always love to know why people went for particular hues in their own home.

On that note, I will draw this blog to a close and probably be back in two months with something less dusty and more colour related! 🙂 Photos below of progress so far.

We raised the ceiling in our office/studio space to make it a bit more spacious.
Testing out the baff
Utility room taking shape in the bathroom
Bye for now!

Renovation Blog, Part Three: Navigating the Arctic Tundra

I’ve been a bit slow to write up the next blog, the theme of which was going to be our first couple of weekends camping out in the new digs. In the blur of the last month, a whirlwind of decision making ahead of the contractors moving in to start work, my recollection of our first few visits are slightly foggy. Nevertheless, there are definitely some highlights that stand out (and lowlights – by the second time we headed out to the house, we’d learned from chilly experience that a storage heater would be a very wise investment). I’ve also never been so grateful for my hot water bottle which I carried around in my hoodie kangaroo-style, underneath sedimentary layers of other clothing. The house hasn’t been heated for quite some time and, we think because the previous owner passed away and understandably stopped responding to bills, the gas was also switched off – I did do my best to crack out the arctic puns but Jan was having Nunavut, rolling up his sleeves and getting to work right away! I’d initially deemed wearing two jumpers under a hoodie and socks thicker than a Giant Sequoia sufficient defence against the chill. I was wrong. Needless to say, both of us clung to the puppy that night, a source of heat greater than the sun, who diplomatically rotated between our sleeping bags. The second weekend, however, we came more prepared, armed with a storage heater lugged up from London, the hot water bottle and a kettle to make hot cups of tea. Bliss.

What did redeem that first cold night was the discovery of the baked goods on offer in the pub-cum-café-cum-deli that exists a convenient (read: dangerous) stone’s hop from our front door. I’m delighted to report that it serves freshly baked cinnamon knots, roughly the size of my fist. The Danes would approve – I’ve never forgotten the sheer scale of the pastries we hoovered up in Copenhagen. Viking fuel, indeed. Anyway, you can bet that every morning we’ve woken up in the new digs, I’ve been first in queue.

First night in our new home!

The first weekend we went up to the house was mostly making plans for what we wanted to do on the next visit. DIY-wise, there wasn’t a huge amount that could be done ahead of the work carried out by our wonderful contractors, but we also couldn’t resist the urge to do something. One DIY task that we probably started on too hastily was sanding down the many layers of paint that covered the stairs and window frames. Luckily, only one had been partially sanded down before we realised, post googling heat guns as a way of quickly removing paint, that the presence of lead might pose a problem. Uh oh. Lead, as it turns out, was a legal ingredient in new paint until the early 1990s and, even then, the sale of previously manufactured lead paint was permitted to continue. Many houses built before 1978 contain lead paint and this house was built approximately 200 years beforehand with enough layers of paint to sink the Titanic. Ho hum – thus arose the first of the many surprises we had expected to encounter during this project. After googling what to do, we quickly sprayed water over the whole area in the hope that it would weigh down the powdered sugar layer of white dust that had settled over the hallway. Luckily, we had some heavy duty face masks and so hopefully didn’t breathe too much of it in. We also washed everything down very thoroughly around the area before sweeping up the sodden dust (note to future selves from the ghosts of Jan and Lizzy past: don’t sand lead paint, ultimate DIY faux pas. Our bad.) Lead dust is very adhesive so, post clean up, everything we were wearing went into a black bin bag and straight into the washing machine on a high temperature. When the repair work is finished, the contractors will also use a special industrial Hepa filter to hoover up everything so that we can give the space a good wash down pre furniture going in etc. On our next visit, we tested paint covered surfaces throughout the house for lead and, sure enough, the main culprits were the doors and window frames. Luckily, the wooden floors were lead free which will definitely make the restoration process much less of a faff! As for the doors and windows, they will be taken out and professionally stripped and restored to their former glory before reinstallation, hopefully sometime before winter. Brrr.

Waging war on the lead dust: a warming sight for any new neighbour who spotted us stalking through the house dressed like an extra from Chernobyl into the dark of night.

One task we could get on with, free of the fear of causing irreversible bodily damage, was stripping wallpaper. Oh, the satisfaction! This was actually quite a pretty print in the spare bedroom but it was very old and stained and we were still itching to start on some sort of reno work. Doused with soapy warm water, the wallpaper came off like a dream (credit goes to Jan for deciphering the perfect removal technique). I’ve recently discovered Desert Island Discs (cant believe this has been in existence since the 1940s?! I only just got the memo) and so we listened to the astronaut Tim Peakes wax lyrical about life in orbit to the tune of Queen’s Greatest Hits whilst we got to grips with Planet House Reno. Ada was in seventh heaven making papier-mâché out of the remnants.

Eyes on the prize

She’s also been busy charming the local fish and chip shop into giving her a few chipz – these were snuffled up even faster than I could get the kettle on. We were happy to learn that our new town is very dog friendly and, going off the levels of Ada adoration (adaration?) we’ve encountered so far, I can well believe it! Hoping that this will translate into making new friends more quickly too – even in London, we’ve been amazed by how much more people talk to each other when you have a dog in tow. We’ll be sorry to leave the whippet commune that has formed here in our local park (Ada has had a better social life than us over lockdown) so it’s encouraging to know that there will be plenty of other pup pals for her over in Wiltshire too. Pup’s gotta play!

In between wallpaper stripping, we’ve also been heading out to explore the countryside. This town is on the toe of the Cotswolds and it’s already been so lovely to step out into the rolling hills and fields. The air is currently very fragrant with the smell of wild garlic which carpets the local woodlands. I foraged for some last time we were there to make into a pesto sauce type thing at home. Next up: mushroom hunting in the autumn! Hopefully alongside my parents-in-law who, like many Czechs, know far more about mushrooms than I do. No slow death by liver poisoning over here, please. The other great thing about walking in this neck of woods is the constellation of tiny villages dotted over the fields, each with its own local pub. Thus, you can motivate any tired/reluctant walkers by hovering a frequent carrot stick-cum-frothy pint (or cream tea as a back up option) in front of their nose to keep pace going.

View from the local pub which sits next to this aqueduct, a hot spot for wild swimming!

At this time of writing, the contractors are now well underway and it’s been exciting to see our renovation plans slowly come to fruition. Our next trip up there will be over the bank holiday weekend and I can already smell those cinnamon knots! Until next time.

Bye for now!

Renovation Blog, Part Two: What have we got ourselves into?

After basking in the rosy glow of having won the bidding war for our new home (get innnnn), we realised that we had to get down to the serious business of surveying the building – which (if like me pre-house purchase, you have no idea what I’m talking about) is when someone comes to inspect the property and assess it for any problems that you will need to deal with as the owner. As a very old house, we soon clocked that the usual modern-build HouseBuyer Report wouldn’t cut the mustard and that we needed to send in the Big Guns, aka find someone to carry out a full Building Survey. After some searching around, we found a great local surveyor who specialised in Georgian buildings and before we knew it, we had a list as long as one arm of things that needed fixin’. Our main fear had been that the house would be declared structurally unsound and we’d have to withdraw our offer. Fortunately for us, it’s a pretty solid house and isn’t going to collapse in a heap of rubble any time soon, although there are a few stretches of timber that will be treated for suspected woodworm. Ho hum.

Despite the solid bones, the house is still in need of some serious TLC. The previous owner was an elderly antiques collector who had lived there for the past twenty years before passing away and, I suspect, possibly found it quite tricky to maintain in his later years. He must have had a good set of knees though to get him up and down all the stairs! Judging from the million nails that Jan extracted from the walls on our last visit, we think that he must also have filled the house from top to toe with paintings – which I kind of love!

Anyway, the list of things that we want to repair or bring up to a modern standard is fairly hefty. It’s fair to say we’re becoming well-versed in the language of period houses – last summer I couldn’t have told you anything about K11 tanking systems or stone lamination! Here’s a rough summary for those interested in the nitty-gritty of old house renovations (if not, skip ahead!):

Cosmetic changes:

  • Bathroom renovation, including removing a plaster wall in the two story extension on the first floor. This plaster wall is to be reconfigured, to create a separate walk in closet, and a utility room.
  • Repair of the sash windows where wood has rotted. Replace broken glass panel on the second floor (done according to the original Georgian design and using reclaimed antique glass with Listed Building Consent) 
  • Treatment of stone lamination on exterior walls, and the chimney stack
  • Repair the stone hood to porch
  • Replacement of tiled and slate roof coverings where they are damaged
  • Repairs or replacement of the casement windows on the rear extension, as these are in a very poor condition
  • Kitchen renovation 
  • Removing existing carpets, and restoring original wooden floors where possible
  • Repair the bottom of the front door
  • Reattach skirting boards where they came loose within the property, and replace any that have been damaged by damp
  • Take down the front downpipe, wire brush, repair and re-erect. This is currently leaking onto the exterior walls, causing their deterioration (including lamination). Replace the lower section plastic segments of the downpipes with metal sections of the same design as the upper sections. Clean or similarly repair the rear downpipe and gutter arrangement, as they appear blocked and cause penetrating dampness to the south east corner of the first floor drawing room.

Structural changes:

  • Damp-proofing treatment:
  • Plaster to be removed to full height in the basement and varying heights in the ground floor
  • Installation of a horizontal and vertical damp-proof course and a K11 tanking system to the basement walls and the kitchen floor
  • Re-render and skim the walls with a lime-based breathable plaster, fitting thermal insulation board dry lining where required
  • All accessible timbers throughout the property to be treated for woodworm using fungicide/insecticide preservative
  • Electrical rewiring throughout the property including an integrated fire alarm system and new lighting, plug, ethernet and access points
  • Plumbing to be updated in the kitchen and new bathroom/en-suite 
  • Internal insulation of the two story extension 
  • Installation of new chimney flue lining
  • Replace the former cole hole to the cellar with a V-shaped ventilation system, to stop dampness from entering the basement while allowing for ventilation to occur
  • Possible replacement of caps to parapet wall, and the installation of damp proof courses beneath the caps and over the head of the parapet wall, to reduce the risk of penetrating dampness coming down vertically

So yeah, there’s quite a bit! Are we mad? Definitely not ruling that possibility out. After all, neither of us has renovated a house this old before. Or any house, for that matter! I suspect that, after taking on this lovely house, we’ll probably want to live in simple new-built white box for the rest of our days. Although, I’m not sure I really mean that. I’ve never found they hold quite the same magic as period buildings, brimming with quirks and the patina of those who have lived there before us. On one of these windows in the photo below (our bedroom to be), we found that someone had etched in tiny swirly fairy writing the name ‘William Pearce’ into the uneven glass – I have no idea if it’s been there for 50 or 200 years. I can’t wait to discover more details like this!

Anyway, the building survey was way back in October and, after a brief moment of wondering if we should opt for something a tad more straight forward (and lots of contractor visits and quotes to work out if the renovation was affordable), we decided just to go for it. We feel it’s a wonderful opportunity to steward such a beautiful old house and breathe some new life back into it. It has a really friendly atmosphere – I can’t help but imagine that the previous owner was like the rosy-cheeked Narnian-esque old Professor and would be happy to see this home full of life and colour and people again.

Here are some photos of the house as it looks currently:

Living room
The kitchen which will be removed and replaced. The floor will be extended to make room for a dining space.
Entrance hallway
Our bedroom
Spare bedroom
What will become our office/studio space
Courtyard garden with a hidden face in the ivy

I just realised I don’t have any photos of the current bathroom on my phone. At the moment, it’s quite an awkward shape sitting parallel to a long corridor that leads to another small room. We thought that this could be reconfigured to make better use of the space available and so our builders will remove the non load-bearing wall between the bathroom and corridor/extra room. They will then reconfigure that wall to create a bathroom, utility room and an additional space leading off from our bedroom that we will probably use as a walk in closet. Originally we wanted to turn it into an en-suite but, after some thought, it seemed a bit pointless to have two lovely bathrooms when it was mostly just the two of us (and family in future if we decide to go down that road) in the house. At this point, we would definitely find the extra storage more useful. Our plumber will make sure all the plumbing is installed for an en-suite to give some flexibility down the road and also if should we sell the house in future and that’s a bonus. So hopefully this grand plan will help us make the most of the new bathroom area!

Next time, I’ll write about our first (rather chilly) weekend camping in our new home but I hope this blog gives some background to the work that we’ll be carrying out. We’re grateful to be working with contractors that have come highly recommended from other Georgian house owners and who so far have been brilliant and really helpful. Time for all hands on deck!!

House Reno Part One – Upping Sticks to the Wild West

My husband Jan and I think we’re doing something a bit mad. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it’s definitely not that radical. Couple leave London for the country… a tale we’ve seen play out on many an occasion before. However, this time we’re 28 and not 35 with a herd of toddlers in tow. Lockdown has quite possibly sped up this process for us! Our decision to move did happen quite quickly. To cut a fairly common story short, here’s how it played out: went to the countryside with friends, stopped by for a casual recce in beautiful Wiltshire town on way home, stumbled upon mysterious old house for sale in need of some tlc, the global pandemic meant we could now work permanently from anywhere (perhaps that part doesn’t happen too often), we had a pint in the pub, shrugged our shoulders and said, why not? To be fair, there was quite a bit more thinking (and prayer!) through the decision to casually up sticks and move to what feels slightly like the Wild West. But there also wasn’t that much hesitation before we went for it. Low and behold, eight months later we finally exchanged last weekend and now proudly own our very own 250 year old fixer-upper.

On the rare occasions I’m now sitting on a bus (writing this just as lockdown number three starts to slowly lift), I watch as my beloved London passes by – merging from Ethiopian corner cafs to pretty terraced streets winding around little squares and twelve different eras of architecture reflected back at me in glossy glass buildings – and wonder just how much I’ll crave this lovely rumbly city when we’re gone. This is the city I was born in and then moved back to when I was 18 for university. Despite being a metropolis of 9 million people, it feels very safe and familiar. I know how one part merges into the next and all the little backstreets in my 3 mile radius and how not to interact with people on the Tube.

Nevertheless, the wind of change is blowing through our little corner of Stoke Newington and after almost ten years in London (six for Jan), we can’t wait to set down boots on new turf! For the sake of internet safety, I probably won’t mention exactly where we’re going but it’s a lovely small town nestled in the valley on the border between Wiltshire and Somerset. In one sense, choosing this place does feel quite random – neither of us knows this corner of the world and we don’t have an existing community waiting for us. Normally the first question we get asked in London is, ‘Wiltshire, huh? Nice! Family out there?’ To which we reply, ‘Nope, we don’t know a soul!’ Fortunately, our friends here and families are keen to come and visit and we’ll now actually have space for people to stay too. It’ll be a fond farewell to the joys of blow up mattresses crammed into the living room and a welcome hello to having loved ones stay for long weekends with space to stretch out both arms. We really hope that, with some effort, new friendships will grow out of our home too. When we first did a recce to check out the town and surrounding area, I was really struck by how friendly everyone was. It was really easy to strike up conversation in the pub (the good ole days when we had a break from lockdown last summer) or out walking around and about. To Jan’s bemusement, I asked almost everyone who would chat to us if they enjoyed living here. The uniform answer was either ‘Been here my whole life, wouldn’t change a thing’ or ‘Moved here from London, should have done it ten years ago’ which definitely ignited our curiosity. To be fair, this is not the place for avid ravers or anyone who needs Pad Thai at 3am. It’s definitely more a country-rambles-along-the-river-pub-lunch-followed-by-cream-tea type place but that suits us down to the tee. I’ll miss the galleries here in London but seeing as we spend the majority of time in our neighbourhood anyway and not in the centre, I don’t *think* I’m going to experience them that differently on the days we head back into town. My friend who moved to rural Wales a few years ago says London is all the sweeter (sweatier?) for not being there all the time. Plus, London isn’t going anywhere so we can pivot back in a few years if pining after city life. Does this sound like the swansong of someone nervously leaving the city? Somehow, I suspect we won’t be back… but never say never.

So, why this particular corner of Wiltshire/Somerset? My mum and dad always thought this was a beautiful place and had come out here themselves a couple of times so it was vaguely on my radar. Bath is not far from our new digs and I’d always thought it a stunning city too – although possibly (definitely) lacking in afore-mentioned Ethiopian cafes. Still, what it lacks in metropolitan cuisine, it makes up for in friendly people, nature, oxygen and eye-wateringly lovely architecture. (Luckily we’re not a million miles away from bigger hubs, London is only 1.5 hours by train and Bristol is just around the corner. There’s an airport nearby. You know, all the frenzied calculations city dwellers make when leaving the Big Smoke, blissfully unaware that we will probably hunker down in our new rural abode and never be seen ever again anywhere with a Pret.) The airport, to be fair, was quite important to us as Jan’s family live in the Czech Republic so we wanted to be able to hop back and forth without a slog back to London.

First recce around town.

Without a doubt though, the house itself was the main catalyst behind the move. It did help that it was somewhere friendly and beautiful and affordable. We had been prepared to spend much more on a property in London for about a quarter of the space so we couldn’t quite believe our luck when we found this hidden gem and realised it wasn’t a completely unrealistic opportunity. Walking around it for the first time, antennae wobbling furiously at all the decorative Georgian details that had miraculously remained intact during the 70s annihilation of period features, it wasn’t hard to see this lovely house come to life once more. It was a probate property, meaning that the previous owner, an elderly antiques collector, had passed away. The house felt like it was waiting for us to crack open the windows and let air back in again. I also liked that the lion knocker on the front door looked a bit like Aslan, it gave us good vibes. The house itself is five floors tall (going to keep fit on those stairs!) including a cellar, which we plan to fill with general crud and lots of sauerkraut. It has three bedrooms, one of which we’ll turn into an office/studio for us both to work in. There’s a little courtyard with high stone walls, a holly tree, giant ferns and a face that peeks out through the ivy. (When Jan told me he’d found a face in the wall, I was glad to discover it looked fairly amicable and not as creepy as it sounds).

Anyway, a week after that first visit we were back on the Great Western Railway headed out to see the house again. About two weeks and umming-ahhing after that, we made an offer. There was some bidding – apparently the eagle eyes of another London couple and someone else besides had spotted it too – but eventually a month or so later we found out that we had managed to win it. Blimey. Now, after eight months of surveys and conveyance solicitors and a mountain of paperwork, Pearce House is finally all ours. Last weekend we zoomed up to collect the keys and camp out for the first night in our new home, whippet and all. In the next blog, I’ll include photos of the house as it looks now (in need of some tender loving care and several licks of paint!) and run through the l-o-n-g list of things that need doing. If you enjoy house renos, stay tuned!

dutch painting 18th century floral still life watercolour

Step by step watercolour study of an 18th century floral painting

The original oil painting. Source: wiki.com

With the long winter lockdown evenings, I was looking for a project I could really get my teeth into to pass the time. For a while now, I’ve really admired a floral still life in a Dulwich Picture Gallery catalogue of Dutch and Flemish painting that I have. It’s by a little-known Dutch painter called Francina Margaretha van Huysum, who trained under her father Jan van Huysum – a family of floral painters! This beautiful still life takes up just one quarter of the page in this catalogue and is only a quick reference. Nonetheless, it’s the page to which I always turn and it sprang to mind when I was wondering what to paint.

My flat is a bit too packed to set up shop with an easel and oil paints and so I decided to use my go-to medium of watercolour. I wanted something with lots of intricate detail to delve into and the cacophony of botanical textures and forms in this still life was just what I was looking for. It’s also been glorious to spend time staring into those luminous pale pinks, set against inky shades of teal and indigo. The colour palette is probably what most drew me to this still life although, like so many others, I can never resist a billowing vase of fluffy peonies. Painting this study has filled me with anticipation for peony seasons to come!

When I first shared the final artwork on Instagram, I was asked if I had any progress shots and I actually do – for once! I should really take photographs of new work as it develops more often as I love to see this with other people’s creations too. So I’m sharing below what I do have, apologies for the phone quality. I hope it’s interesting to see how it progressed. The final painting is at the very end and is also now available as a print.

And this is where I stopped documenting the progress on my phone – behold the final study below! (Once I scanned it in to my computer so you can see it properly). If you’d like to see the giclée print available in my shop, I’ll link it here.

corsica travel blog writing

Discovering the lush mountains of Corsica

When we rocked up to Corsica (no pun intended) in June 2018, I was taken aback by how much this stunning, mountainous island should have been on my radar all along. It is so beautiful! I think we timed it well going in early June, because the summer heat hadn’t yet set in and we arrived just after weeks of rainfall. This meant that everything was incredibly lush and green, with forested mountains covered in tiny wildflowers and tumbling waterfalls.

alphabet letters watercolour handpainted baby print bedroom

Wonderful, whimsical and wild alphabet letters

I think these alphabet letters might be one of my favourite series of paintings. It would be very easy to say that at the beginning of each new project, when you feel the familiar tingle of inspiration, but this has been extra lovely to work on. It’s been the antidote to doing work at the computer, to stick on a podcast and apply thick sweeps of colour to my sketchbook.

Each time I take on a new letter, I feel a fresh surge of anticipation about what it will end up looking like. I don’t really follow a plan, other than using hues of colour that will work both well together on the individual print but also collectively with the other letters. It’s quite magical to see it all come together on the page. I find that painting is a bit like putting a jigsaw together, taking time to puzzle together the various features until it ‘works’. Which colours sit most beautifully on the page together? Does it need a little dose of another hue to make it sing off the paper? How to temper the scheme with just enough moody colour to stop it being sugary?

alphabet letter print watercolour handpainted folk design

One of my favourite combinations is in letter C. The cherry red mushrooms, lovely spindly things, are set against a pale periwinkle blue. There is enough purple in both hues to give them a subtle prettiness, rendering the duo joyful without needing overly bright colours. I also love the stormy teal – the colour of Scottish seas – paired with a blush pink in letter A. They look like ferns caught in the early sunset.

alphabet letter print watercolour handpainted folk design

To me, there is always something a bit special about hand-painted design. I think this is why I feel such a connection to the folk tradition, which embodies the charming, painterly quality of art created by hand and with natural materials. This is very possibly just me, but when I paint by hand, my work feels so much more soulful. There is something relaxed and happy about the loose, illustrative style. I’m always thrilled when, with a deft stroke of the paintbrush, it is possible to create beautiful marks and patterns and watch the delicious pools of watercolour swirl and set across the paper. Although I have gone over these prints with the Photoshop healing brush (a friend to us all) and cleaned up some contours, I’ve intentionally left many of the textural ‘imperfections’ in place to maintain that hand-painted aesthetic.

alphabet letter print watercolour handpainted folk design

So, what’s my vision for these alphabet letters? I hope that people will enjoy them as bunting, maybe to spell out children’s names or other messages. I think they would look beautiful in a bohemian bedroom or above a fireplace. The letters will be interchangeable so that it is possible for people to pick their favourite borders and colour combinations. Anyone with an eye for beautiful, natural colours and playful folk markings will hopefully find as much delight in these letters as I had in painting them!

alphabet letter print watercolour handpainted folk design
Follow my work @indi_skoven_prints
vintage chair autumnal product photography props styling

Autumnal reflections and styling seasonal props

As many have said before, there are largely two groups of people – those who mourn the end of summer and those who break out into gleeful anticipation of the misty Autumn days to come.  I confess to belonging entirely to this latter group. My milk and cinnamon skin is made for this season – high summer by contrast recalls long weeks of sunburn and lethargy (although – washed down with crisp G&Ts, which is no bad thing). Joining the hoard of autumn fanatics that appear from their caves once the heat of the summer has died down, the first chill in the air sends a genuine shiver of excitement through me and I avidly begin to eagle eye the trees for any first tinge of gold or orange. It’s a total cliche, but one that I’m all too happy to embrace.

Writing this towards the end of November, I’m already feeling nostalgic about my favourite month of the year: October. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that. Or rather, heaven. It is hard to wax lyrical about any season without sounding twee but sometimes you just have to tell it like it is. The sunlight is simply so beautiful in late September and October, tinted with that shimmering rich golden haze. It all feels very romantic! The mornings are equally wonderful whether they arebrightly cold and sunlit or cool grey and misty. I’ll take them all! Squirrels in trees begin chucking conkers down at unsuspecting passers-by – I’m pretty sure you can hear them tittering with glee – so take a stroll in the park at your own peril. Even in London you can dupe yourself into thinking that the autumnal air is crisp and clean.

vintage chair autumnal product photography props styling
Image: Elizabeth Rider

Autumnal reflections

I’m not sure how this infatuation with autumn began but suspect it is one rooted in childhood that has been gradually reaffirmed throughout early adulthood. One fond memory I have of my time spent living in France was a beautiful autumn walk through Nantes’ Jardin des Plantes with a kind elderly gentleman who took the time to point out various trees in the arboretum, all ablaze, as he put it, with ‘les teintes d’automne’ (autumn hues). A more recent highlight was when Jan’s parents came to visit from the Czech Republic. I came back from work to discover that an autumn fairy in the form of Jan’s mum had wafted through the flat leaving in her trail everything from red berries, Chinese lantern fruit, handfuls of beautiful leaves collected from the Czech forest to pine cones – and even a delicate swirling snail shell.

autumn photography portrait edinburgh props styling
Autumn in Edinburgh Image: Jan Polášek

Seasonal mood board inspiration

This is also very much the season where I feel most animated and raring to create. The first leaf falls and the cannons of inspiration fire! This year I had great fun playing about with various seasonal finds in my home, arranging leaves and conkers with anything remotely autumn coloured in the flat I could lay hands on. Weathered chopping boards and tartan scarves all sprang into action. I made the obligatory trip to buy some mini pumpkins from the grocer across the road. Autumn was on.

This season is abundant with natural, tactile finds. From the waxy surface of gourds and pumpkins to shiny smooth conkers and knobbly pine cones, I wanted to capture the myriad of colours and textures. The great outdoors embraces maximalism in the best way! Mood-boarding is a surefire way to detail all of these references in one place and it makes for a fabulous cosy afternoon task to assemble together all of the things that most inspire you. It doesn’t have to complicated. In this mood board, I have snatched the mat by the front door to create a lovely rustic texture against which to dot around some apples, postcards and anything that I felt lent interest. Even the kitchen salt has a made an appearance!

moodboard products styling autumnal props photography pumpkin
Image: Elizabeth Rider

Styling seasonal accessories

Growing up, my mum instilled in me a real appreciation for artisanal design and so I have collected various pieces along the way that made the perfect accompaniment for these outdoorsy finds. Among my favourites is this pair of beautifully curving wooden candle holders that I found in the MoMA gallery shop in San Francisco – that place is amazing! They feel akin to holding a shiny round conker in your hand, cool and smooth. With some beeswax candles, they look beautiful sitting among scattered autumn leaves on the sideboard.

product prop styling autumnal rustic decor wooden candlesticks japanese fan kanazawa
Image: Elizabeth Rider

Every single pine cone in my flat, bar one, has come from the Czech Republic. It’s a dangerous job smuggling pine cones, great and small, into the UK from lands afar but someone has to do it. These huge pine cones sit pretty as a centrepiece on the table, like a giant forest in which dwells this little bear carved from a nut! Living in an age which celebrates wabi-sabi (read: the art of imperfect decoration) is brilliant – just scatter anything you love around with no faffing required.

autumnal styling product pinecones
Image: Elizabeth Rider

 

This one is a favourite because it embodies all sorts of lovely things. I like to be able to see delicious foraged things, like these dried mushrooms and linden tea leaves, so I keep them in old jam and mason jars. Folk who know me well know that it’s hard not to hoard old cards from friends and family and there are some really beautiful prints in my card box. Which again make for great additions to styling shots!

olive wood product photography brand styling autumn
Image: Elizabeth Rider

Autumnal greeting cards

You can’t have a brand called Indi Skoven ‘Into the Woods’ and not feel inspired to paint the season onto paper. Two of my favourite illustrative prints – one, an autumn leaf motif designed for my friend’s parents’ wedding anniversary, the other a nod to London’s rambunctious fox population – are on greeting cards. A perfect way to send love to a fellow autumn fan, especially as the days draw into winter! So there you have it, the autumn meter has brimmed over and, although I’m sad to see the peak of this magical season fade, I’m not going to complain that Christmas merry-making is around the corner. Although those pine cones on the dining table are going nowhere. 😉

fox illustration autumn leaves print watercolour painting stationery greetings card   illustration autumn leaves print watercolour painting stationery greetings card

 

Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

– John Keats

 

owls watercolour childrens literary illustration bird print
Owl illustration by Elizabeth Rider

Say hello to me on Instagram @indi_skoven_prints