The kitchen had begun to look messy with too many disparate elements. We decided to scale right back to the original idea, removing clutter and non-complementary colours. This yellow table was crying out to be used in the kitchen which combines sea blues, and sunny yellows with just a touch of bright red for jollity. We removed the pinks and dark greens which had crept in, and the space became far more harmonious. The overall effect will be evident in our forthcoming book 'Mid-Century Modern on a Shoestring'. Note how a simple platter of fruit can add to the feel of a space, adding colour and life - even if 'still life'!
So here it is, not just a new year, but a whole new decade, which has crept up on us - with a hopeful ring about it: 2020. In January, a 'spring clean' might seem a little pre-emptive, but here at Blackbirds, with the nest more than ordinarily empty, with Christmas decorations put away after Old Christmas on Twelfth Night and children 'back to school' and university, it always seems a good time to start getting things ship-shape once again.
And with the clean sweep, comes a chance to look at things with fresh eyes and envisage different colours for the new season, a sorting out of the superfluous, a fitting in with feel. In our kitchen, an accumulation of 'favourite things' had become something of a mish-mash (it happens to the best of us) rather than the desired mid-century modern streamlined idyll: stuff had crept in and the colour scheme seemed to have crept out. Too much stuff weighs down upon us heavily, the mind restless, needing visual guidance, a tranquil path: when this happens, it is time to have a clear-out. Which brings me to an important point: a home is always evolving and new seasons - not to mention new decades - can bring inspiration and the necessary motivation for making small changes, thereby breathing new life into interiors.
And it doesn't mean getting rid of everything: on the contrary, I always plead for the necessity of nostalgia, the importance of keeping solid things which hold meaning, whether one is on a 'shoestring budget' or not. No: more often than not, all that is needed is a little tweak here and there, a toning down of a colour scheme or the clearing of bits and pieces; or perhaps the introduction of an entirely new piece which brings all the disparate elements together. So it's time to get the cupboards in order and scrub the decks here at Blackbirds. 2020 has a balanced air about it, let's live up to it, clear the decks and set sail !
So Advent is truly underway, and our Advent Calendars here at Blackbirds are propped up against the light of the windows shining through. Though our children are older now, they have not lost interest in opening the windows with no thought of a chocolate reward as we've always had the simple sort, the original kind: the ones with a manger scene at their very heart, in which the joy of taking part in an unfolding story adds meaning to what might otherwise be something of a commercialized countdown. This little nativity scene, handed down by family, demonstrates what it's all about: the Christmas Story, forget its origins as we may. So let's at least celebrate the message of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Men (which of course is just old-fashioned-speak for 'everyone' before anyone gets offended). And there's nothing sacrilegious about creating a stylish mid-century modern home at Christmastime: what better setting for this treasured, vintage set than the teak sideboard in the dining room, where many a family meal will be shared, candles gleaming : the 'manger' at the heart of the home.
....So says Jo in the opening lines to Little Women, the beloved book by Louisa May Alcott, and a firm favourite since childhood. There has been much talk, in recent years, of making Christmas less materialistic: it's encouraging to see that there has been a growing 'malaise' about the superficiality attached to what should be a meaningful tradition, the sheer volume of waste, the expectations. Many young people growing up may have come to see Christmas as nothing more than a frenetic festival at which they get to have the latest tech upgrade, and whatever else is on their wish-list, no matter what the cost. So it's good to see that retro has made a comeback, and tradition once again beckons promisingly, at least to some of us!
Younger children - less exposed to peer pressure and more able to enjoy the simple things in life - are often easier to please: sufficient to them, a box containing a few bits and bobs; colourful books or craft items; traditional toys, dare I mention them, such as dolls and cars. As long as they can rip off the bright paper and enjoy the excitement of the moment, after the tremendous build-up of Advent; and watch, with almost equal excitement, as others do the same. Christmas carols and school nativity plays? God forbid, but surely they are all a part of it. Yes, the spirit of Christmas is far more likely to be found in the hearts of the very young, if they're lucky enough to have parents who encourage it. And older folk, who remember how it used to be. Perhaps, might I humbly add, the mid-centurians amongst us who, not quite old and certainly no longer young, treasure that lost age of innocence in which Christmas was really Christmas.
In many ways, the vintage and retro communities in which I have found myself immersed through my love of mid-century modern and mid-century, lead the way: a fondness for old-fashioned things like books, board games and soundly-made stuff which bring back the nostalgia of yesteryear, and send a message of reuse-recycle-remember rather than upgrade-degrade-forget. We are the collectors who attach value to things we've been given, who have kept those little bits and bobs from Christmases past. Who cares about upgrades? I want my beloved things to last forever, not just of themselves, but because of the memories they embody, the meaning they embed. What we get for Christmas now, ought to include, at least in small measure, things we treasure, tomorrow's vintage.
So, making Christmas less materialistic isn't about not giving: Dickens' Christmas Carol has surely made clear once and for all that, with life's many hardships, the joy and atmosphere of Christmas are something even the poorest should be able to look forward to, with a little helping hand from the community and their own extended families. It's about giving what you can afford to give, with thoughtfulness and generosity; and not just within your own little world, but within the community too, where others might not be lucky enough to have a family like yours; where everyone can make a difference, no matter how small. And by all means buy a new decoration or two for the tree each year, because that's part of the fun and helps keep the economy going (buy from small businesses or vintage sellers if you can!) but keep the old ones too: there in that box of memories, you will find the spirit of Christmas encapsulated, ready to be brought out each year to bring comfort and joy.
Are charity shops losing the plot? A few years ago, it was possible to pop into a high street charity shop and pick up a nice little bargain. On the odd occasion, you still can. But more often than not, and increasingly so, I walk out empty-handed. Soon, I doubt I shall bother walking in at all. Why? This might be a contentious statement - and I would love to hear about exceptions to this trend - but I think that charity shops have become - dare I say it? - greedy; not only this, but in their greed they have also become out of touch with reality. If I want to pay 'what it's worth', I will go to an antiques, quality secondhand or bric-a-brac shop which, after all, are paying higher rates and are often struggling to stay open; charity shops also clearly do not offer the same 'shopping experience' as an independent shop which has put its objects into an inviting interior with an attractive backdrop. No: the enjoyment previously experienced when visiting charity shops was the joy at scooping up some coveted item which one had little hope of affording elsewhere. Now, such items are picked up with excitement but, on seeing the price, put back down again in disappointment. Recent examples have been: sets of vintage plates with faded designs which might have tempted for a tenner, but not when offered at an eye-watering £45; Hornsea pieces at around £10 an item - or at any rate, more than I would pay for them on eBay; and books I'd gladly snap up for my collection, were they not hastily replaced once the price on the inner cover was revealed.
The shops will argue that their job is to raise as much money as they can for their charity and that only by putting the highest possible value on objects will they achieve this aim. But in reality they are alienating the very public on whom they rely for support, and in the process, shooting themselves in the foot. Would it not be better to have a greater turnover of goods than to price products irritatingly high (I mean, who would pay the same (sometimes even more!) for a used item of clothing in a charity shop than what it costs in a brand's 'as new' sale?) ; then have customers walk away, and items which could be filling the shelves and rails sitting in bags waiting for spaces? Often, the customers who donate goods are the same ones who, in turn, would like to spend a little money in the shop and pick up a bargain, so it's a shame that the pricing deters them from effectively making a double donation.
But it's not just this. Many members of the public donate these items in good faith, not only because they want to help the charity itself, but also because they want to do their bit for their community: in charity shop days-of-old, this was where people on the breadline could find a lifeline: in clothing; toys and books for their kids; kitchen essentials; something for a pound or two. At a car-boot sale last year, I was shocked to hear a seller say that they were taking everything they didn't sell that day to the recycling centre. "Couldn't you drop it off at a charity shop?" I asked. "I don't do that anymore," they replied, "the people I want to benefit can't afford to go to charity shops, so I'd rather donate to clothes banks and recycle." Hmm...her comments struck a cord as I'd been having a couple of begrudging thoughts myself lately. Charity shops need to listen up. In denial about it they may be, but they have a dual function and duty: it's not just about the charity they represent, it's also about the community they serve. Charity begins at home.
We are honoured to have been nominated by the vintage community on Instagram for the Vintage Pony Awards 2019 in the 'Best Blog' category. The Vintage Pony Awards are hosted by @wishvintage and @retromental, who quite evidently put heart and soul into their vintage efforts. Anyone who knows us here at Blackbirds and me will know that we are fairly anti social-media normally speaking (I have never had a Facebook account and don't post selfies) so we have been pleasantly surprised at how rewarding it has been to find our little niche on Instagram amidst lovers of retro, vintage and mid-century modern, and the appreciation and support shown.
The Blackbird has spoken blog, I like to think, covers not just what I post here on this website, but also the tips, inspiration and comments I share in my Instagram posts and on our stories: as a writer, I put a lot of care into the words I use, and my photographer, @isabellasynekherd_photography, always puts a lot of art into the photography: none-the-less so for being a 'mere Instagram' post. My aim is to inspire through our own modest interior here at Blackbirds, but also to raise a little smile or to reinforce feelings of nostalgia - something I believe to be important for the human psyche. It's nice to know that, as Blackbird has spoken, some of our words have been heard.
This month, as I put the finishing touches to the ground floor bedroom with its 'library corner', I am drawn to the colour combination of blue with brown; there is something very sophisticated about this duo, and the colours themselves - sticking to deep browns and dusky blues - are soundly mid-century, or at any rate, seventies. I love the warmth and earthiness of brown, and adding blue provides an appealing lift which prevents any danger of it becoming fogyish...which it might on its own!
Colours have such an impact on our interiors that much care must be taken in their choosing. However, it's important not just to pick hues which personally appeal: they also have to suit the space, and this can mean living with it for a while and sensing what will go. Three years into our move here at 'Blackbirds' it became gradually apparent that the initially much-favoured burst of retro orange was just too overpowering for this corner: what works here are blues, greens and browns. And a pop of maroon. If you're finding it hard to picture this, all will be revealed in Mid-Century Modern on a Shoestring! Working on it.
As the nights draw in and the clocks are soon to go back, it's the perfect time of year to stay warm within with a favourite book or two. These vintage Observer Books have lost none of their original appeal and, dotted about the house, add depth to the decor and interest too.
At the moment I'm busy putting the finishing touches to the 'library corner' of the house, which, in the spirit of my motto (building a mid-century modern nest on a shoestring budget) consists simply of a sectioned off zone in the ground floor bedroom. It will feature in the book I'm working on entitled 'Mid-Century Modern on a Shoestring', with lots of inspiration to help you create your own 'little book room' or library corner. Watch this space!
And it's a tempestuous end to September. Time to batten down the hatches and curl up with a good book; if you don't have the luxury of an open fire, the warm glow of a candle can be a substitute of sorts... also helpful in power cuts! John Faulkner's Moonfleet, set on the Isle of Portland, must be one of the best books to burn the midnight oil by, the classic 1950s cover adding to its appeal.
As I write in my forthcoming book, Mid-Century Modern on a Shoestring, working to a modest budget doesn't mean that luxury must be excluded: saving money on big-ticket items allows one to indulge in a few of life's little luxuries without a guilt-trip. Here a 'russian leather' scented candle from Molton Brown adds understated atmosphere and sophistication. Buy when on offer, (or request as birthday gifts, as did I!) and re-fill with humble tealights!
September, my favourite month! (also my birthday month, which may have some bearing!) Back to school, back to those projects which were on the back-burner, back to relative (but comforting) normality after the crazy days of the holiday which were fun but maybe just a little frazzling... A bit of sunshine hopefully still, but without Summer's sometimes harsh glare. Time to go for a gentle stroll wrapped up in those woollens tucked away somewhere, or to cosy up with a good read, where else but...at home. Good to be back.
Refurbishing a bathroom on a budget can be surprisingly easy. My main rule? 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it!' Coloured bathrooms are back in fashion don't you know? Pictured is the windowsill in our 'Pampas' bathroom (a little lighter than avocado, but near enough for me to have fallen instantly in love with it...(blame it on nostalgia - but also the fact that white has become so boring). So, if you're lucky enough to have retro tiles in good order (just clean & regrout) and a lush coloured bathroom, whether whisper pink, avocado, pampas or primrose yellow, embrace the character and colour. Replace any broken elements (it's surprisingly easy to order 'discontinued colours' from various online sources : see: http://www.discontinuedbathrooms.co.uk/; OR www.oldcolourbathrooms.co.uk/ OR https://brokenbog.com/ ) Ensure all is clean and gleaming and give a fresh coat of moisture resistant bathroom paint to ceiling and any untiled walls (it's really that simple). Last but not least, the savings you'll have made will enable you to splash out on some luxury toiletries ( how about the lush colours of Molton Brown or if strapped for cash, Baylis & Harding or whatever best suits your colour scheme. Don't forget new towels: Orla Kiely & John Lewis for upmarket luxury;or IKEA for perfectly adequate towels which come with convenient hanging loops and as a bonus happen to be fast drying. See pictures below!