Saturday, 4 July 2015

Paris Je T'aime

Paris street light
As you may have noticed when I re-designed the blog, (still a work in progress) I included a Paris Guide to the Lifestyle section I thought it only fitting to start those posts with a brief history of my love affair with Paris and why I am always finding new things to love. My infatuation with the city started as a child when I watched a made for TV series about the Bluebell Girls a troupe of dancers founded by Margaret Kell at the tender age of 22 at the Folies Bergère. She had an incredibly interesting life but the backdrop of Paris with the architecture and glamour had me hooked.
Fountain Saint Placide
Bastille Paris
When I was eleven I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Paris, I could not have been more excited. I saw the landmarks, I ate the pastries, I even stood outside the Folies Bergère. Walking through the streets of Paris, seeing the perfectly sculpted square cut trees and eating my body weight in cheese the my enchantment was engrained in my soul. Since that first visit I returned as often as I could. Each time I would find something new to love. When I got the chance to live in Paris it was, for me, a no brainer how could I pass up such an opportunity. 
galerie vivienne Paris
louvre paris fountains
Louvre Paris
Paris is simply over flowing with landmarks many of which are globally recognizable, not only this but even things that are not a landmark look as though they could be. Paris has narrow winding streets that you can happily get lost exploring and wide grand boulevards with perfect trees and an attention to beautifying roundabouts that I have not seen anywhere else in the world. Only in Paris can they create a delicacy from a salad that contains fried giblets and bacon, imagine if we tried that in a cafe in the UK it would be a mess. 
montparnasse paris
palais royal paris
the marais paris
paris cafe bar interior
The government care so much about making sure certain businesses exist they give assistance to certain trades that there aren't enough of in each arrondissement. The children take Wednesdays off school and still manage to speak two languages. Sundays are 'like it used to be', almost all of the shops remain closed and the parks are filled with families teaching children to ride bikes, or visiting art galleries and museums, all of which are free on the first Sunday of the month. I have never lived in a city with so many independent shops. Paris is the reigning champion when it comes to aesthetics, from the beautiful metro signs to the water fountains. It goes further than that even the smallest of stores is carefully curated, staff will be forever tweaking displays, be it interiors, gifts, books, pastries or clothes, attention to the detail in appearance is vital. People dress impeccably, which can be a pressure at times but you get over it as everyone needs to nip out for milk in pjs disguised with a jumper from time to time, or is that just me?
Paris cafe

carrousel Paris hotel de ville
coiffure vintage paris signs
Now for the people of Paris, yes they have a busy manner, just like any capital city but I find a comfort in their ability to be open and blunt publicly. Now as I live in Paris not anywhere else in France I do not want to assume that this is linked with French culture or just Parisian. A knee jerk reaction for any Brit who is used to keeping quiet or at most saying what they want loudly to a friend in a more passive aggressive manner is to think how rude, or how intrusive. Stop and think though as the wonderful upside to this is that they are a community and a community opinion can get your back up at times but it does not mean they are not right. I often hear heated exchanges in my building when someone is not using the recycling bin correctly. I myself have been saved by this speak out attitude. When I was pregnant people would tell others to move out of my way, give up seats, it was great to be honest. The public sandpits, (of which there are so many, with play parks almost every 10 yards), are clean and safe for Sebastian to play in because Parisians speak up.
seine river Paris
seine river  Paris
Tuileries Paris
Okay so Paris is not a utopia, no where is but this is a post about my love affair with Paris not moaning about the few things that niggle, none of which outweigh the fact it is the most beautiful and fascinating places to pavement pound. There is always something to see and no where other than Paris is so dedicated to public arts and events, there is never a weekend when there is nothing to do or see. In short Paris je t'aime and I always will. I hope you enjoy the posts that will appear as part of my Paris guide, I certainly enjoyed compiling them for you, and hey if you are in the 15th give me a shout and we can grab a coffee.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

How To Style The Perfect Ponytail

Summer is well and truly here and in fact in Paris we are set to have a heatwave for the next fortnight if Google is to be believed. For those of you with long hair leaving it covering your neck in this heat is a nightmare. Sebastian has just started a new obsession that mummy should not have her hair up, great timing little one so he is upset with my look in the heat. The ponytail is so overlooked, it is fast and easy and you don't have to have a super sculpted Beyonce vibe going on, as, let's face it if you have your hair pulled that tight all day you will get a headache. No casual is key.
To achieve the perfect casual ponytail that looks great and will not leave you head sore can be achieved quite simply.
1. Tease all of the roots and backcomb about 2 inches beyond the roots.
2. Do not smooth it out.
3. Using your fingers as a comb bring your hair up into a ponytail.
4. Pull out some hair around your face to soften the look.

And here it is in motion!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

How To Budget House Renovations or Be An Effective Project Manager

mythic paint
Let me begin by admitting that this may be the least catchy blog title I have written to date, it is but in my defense it describes exactly what will happen in this post. When you are creating a budget you have essentially made yourself the project manager so be prepared to own this title. Fortunately for me I worked for charities for over a decade so I have many, many years experience of doing big things with small budgets. The house I am currently renovating is not my first rodeo so I want you to learn from my monumental screw ups as well as my resounding successes. As there is a lot to go through I am going to do the whole post as bullet points, that way I get to intersperse the post with pictures, after all I am a blogger and that is kind of my thing.
garden renovation
IS IT A HOUSE OR A HOME?
This may sound like a nonsense question but think about it for a second. A home is where you nest, where you nurture yourself and your family and is very different from a house, which is essentially bricks and mortar. You may be planning to renovate a house as a rental property and that will effect your decisions or indeed to sell it on fast so you can move up the property ladder. The first house I bought was in fact something that I wanted to turn around within the year and sell on so let's look at that story. I was lucky that I bought this house in a rising market so my mistakes, (which were few), were swallowed up and I still managed to make a profit, phew! It was the first house I had ever bought and even though I knew what my end goal was I still became a little distracted by excitement and spent too much in certain areas. If you are planning to turn your project around fast and sell on look at the ceiling price in the area, there will be one and use that to inform your budget. Don't think just because your house will look so great that it will smash the ceiling, it may clear it a little but that is it. That being said you can still make a house have a homey feel and in fact I insist you should even if you plan to rent it out. My current project is a home, it is a long term, dare I say it, forever house so I can spend a little more and invest in areas that I want to rather than need to invest in. I am not looking to turn a profit in a short space of time so if I want to save up for fancy pants floor tiles in the kitchen I can do.
blocking off a doorway
BE REALISTIC
We all have our budgets informed by what we earn but just because that is what you have available to spend that is what it is going to cost - spoiler alert it never does. You will look at what the final bill is estimated at for completing a room or a job, have a small coronary and immediately just make the numbers smaller. This will not help you, if you are honest with yourself from the outset you will not have as many nasty shocks and trust me you want to keep them to an absolute minimum. You may have to wait longer to complete work which leads me nicely onto my next point.
a bookcase fireplace
IT PAYS TO BE PATIENT
As I mentioned in the previous point the cost of a project may be more than you are able to spend therefore you have two options; can you make it cheaper or wait. Making a project cheaper invariably entails DIY. Now in my current project I have already decided this is a home and will therefore be spending more money in the long run but that does not mean I have buckets of money, far from it so in order to save for some things I need to keep other projects as cheap as possible. An example of this is the lounge in my new home. Now storage is a key requirement and to meet this need I would like a built in cupboard in the alcove, there is also an issue with the chimney stack. The chimney stack and wood burner needs professionals to tackle it is way beyond my capability plus I don't fancy climbing up scaffolding, also any solid fuel heating work needs to be signed off for home insurance purposes. I cannot change this but I can make the alcove built in cheaper by building it myself, the downside to this is I work full time and raise a family so the cupboard is on a long to do list that chops and changes all the time, that is just the nature of the beast. Most house projects also include having to buy some new furniture or soft furnishings, if you are not making them yourself patience can still pay. Everywhere has a sale at some point, hang on for it, trawl the second hand shops and the internet and don't jump at the first thing you see just because you need to fill a gap, wait for the bargain.
loft space conversion
fix a hole in the wall
THINK ABOUT THE TRUE COST OF THINGS
To explain this point it is best if I just use examples. You go to the DIY store you see their own brand paint is cheap as well as the value brushes so you go for it with the saving you can surely paint three rooms instead of one. Well not necessarily sometimes it pays to save up and get the more expensive paint as it has better coverage. I went for cheap paint for one of the rooms in my first house and had to return twice to buy more as it was so thin, this can be the case for some brands too so go on to forums and see what people are saying about products. The value brushes I bought kept dropping bristles so I had to continually pick them out with a pin, lightly sand and re do areas, all in all a false economy.
ripping out a fireplace
new wooden fireplace DIY
The true cost of things can go further than this, let me use the new lounge again as an example, (the lounge is really proving to be a great blogging tool today). The fireplace was awful, a huge marble thing that was too big for the room, it was not original and I felt no guilt about ripping it out and replacing it with a fireplace that I designed myself. This left an issue with the hearth stone that needed covering. I had originally planned to sand the floorboards but then thought hey why not put solid wood flooring down and fix the hearth issue. Then I looked at the price of solid wood flooring and ouch does not quite cover it. So I was determined to go back to plan A. Before I did I made a cost comparison on Excel, boy do I love Excel for these things. I added up the cost of hiring the sander, the sandpaper, the varnish, the new floorboards that I would need for the areas where repairs needed to be made and of course a new hearth stone. I then compared that with the cost of the flooring and there was £186 difference. So it was still cheaper to sand but I then factored in the extra insulation I would get from the solid wood flooring and boom we have a winner. To be fair I also looked at carpet for insulation and that did not come in cheaper plus carpet in a high traffic room needs replacing. Don't always assume that the most expensive thing is not the most cost effective option. If you don't have the money yet, which I don't I refer you to the patience comment I made earlier.
EXCEL spreadsheet house budget
BE A BEAN COUNTER
Okay I say bean counter as that is the term people use for accountants but really nuts and bolts counter would be more accurate. People plough into a house budget and remember all the big things; sofa, paint, wallpaper, kitchen worktop but what about everything else? What about the cleaning cloths, the drop cloth, the screws, the sandpaper, the nails, the grout. Have you ever been to Ikea? Of course you have even people who hate Ikea have been to Ikea at some point. Well it is the Ikea effect, you walk through the marketplace after winding your way through the endless displays of perfectly square rooms and are met with multitudes of signs for things that are £1, £5, £2, and you think hey pretty cheap. Then you get to the till and the cashier asks you for £100, WTF, but this was only £2, yes but you filled your trolley with that stuff and it adds up. The lesson here is avoid nasty surprises by knowing exactly how much you are spending, right down to the masking tape.
<looking at radiator catalogues is my new Saturday night>
GET GEEKY
I have already mentioned that I love Excel spreadsheets when it comes to anything that involves the slightest amount of maths and here is why. You can get them to keep a running total, you can program the maths in at the beginning so  that it will automatically make changes for you and you are not re calculating from scratch every time. You can have a budget and actual spend column so that you can see any areas where you are losing a grip, it will also allow you to steal from one area to give to another, (more on that later). You can add all sorts of other information and notes also such as measurements, where to buy and best of all it is all in one place and you can edit it without destroying a rainforest.For this house I am keeping all of the spreadsheets in one workbook and each tab is a room, easy.
Farrow and Ball yellow paint
BE FLUID WITH FUNDS
Have you ever heard the expression 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' well you have now and if you were like me then you will have done it. In my teens/early twenties it was not uncommon for me to send a cheque to the Gas company with the money I had put aside for the electric, but I knew that I had a weeks grace with the electric so would have earned some more tips by then. In your house you will have to do this as no one has an infinite pot of cash, well no one I know anyway. You have saved for the carpet in the bedroom it is the last thing you need to do in that room but then the guttering need repairing so the carpet goes on hold and the funds are moved around. You could find a dining table of your dreams, not the one you originally budgeted for but if you don't do the papering and make the blinds yourself you can move some money around. You see most of planning a budget is knowing how and when you can juggle the budget and you can do that effectively when you have a clear and meticulous plan all nicely noted in your Excel spreadsheet
painting a ceiling
HAVE A CONTINGENCY FUND
Okay this is easier said than done and it is really only very important when you have a third party completing work for you, unless you pay yourself to do DIY an idea I am warming to. You are no fool you have had your joiner/builder/plumber give you a quote but with the best will in the world it does not end there, ready for another spoiler alert...it never does. So you need a new front door and you have already noticed that this will probably mean you need a new door casing as the current one has seen better days but what about when they take out the current one, what horrors are lurking in the brickwork. I once decided to redecorate a room with a bank holiday weekend, no problem I thought. I pushed on the walls the plaster felt sound, not blown. So I got the steamer out and started to take the wallpaper off the walls and with it came the plaster, all of the plaster. It was a DIY, one that I thought I had everything ready for but there I was covered in plaster and miserable and no contingency fund to get a professional in. So after endless trips to the tip, I re-pointed the brickwork, cleaned it up with a wire brush, sealed it and painted it and in the end had a nice loft apartment like space. If I had asked someone to do some work in the bathroom and was left with £500 more to pay that would have been a darker tale. So how much, well how much is a piece of string but I save 1/3 more than the quoted price, every time. You see why it takes me so long to get room makeover photos on here now don't you.

So there we have it house budgets 101.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Aubergine & Ricotta Ravioli - Recipe

homemade pasta recipe
A little while ago I discovered HEMA in Paris, it is actually a Dutch store and it has great quality stuff for cheap, my American friend told me it is not a patch on Target but I am in Paris, HEMA is in Paris and HEMA had a really cute heart shaped ravioli cutter so Target Smarget. So armed with my 3€ ravioli cutter I set about making some ravioli. I served the finished product with the Tomato & Caper Sauce Recipe
aubergine raviloli recipe
you will need;

(for the pasta)
4 eggs at room temperature
400g '00' pasta flour

(for the filling)
2 aubergines
250g ricotta
salt & pepper
4 shallots
10g butter
home made ravioli recipe
make your own ravioli at home
method;
  1. Place the pasta flour onto a clean dry work surface and crack the eggs into a well in the centre. Incorporate the flour into the eggs and knead for 5mins. The dough should not be sticky or wet. Wrap in a teacloth and rest at room temperature for an hour.
  2. Meanwhile you can prepare the filling. Put the aubergine on baking tray whole, no piercing or oiling and leave in the oven at 180C until they are soft inside. You will know this as their shape will collapse in on itself when touched.
  3. Finely chop the shallots, in a pan soften them in the butter on a low heat.
  4. Scrape the flesh from the aubergines and add to the shallot pan, mix well. Transfer to a sieve over a bowl and let any excess liquid drain out.
  5. Once drained mix with the ricotta.
  6. Now you can get a pasta rolling machine and I do plan to get one but with patience and effort you can roll it by hand. Make sure you roll the pasta very thin. Remember to roll out two layers, a top and a bottom for your ravioli
  7. Very gently make a mark on the base pasta sheet with the ravioli press so you know where to put the mixture. Then spoon a small amount of the ricotta into each space taking care not to overfill.
  8. Place the top sheet of pasta over the top and press out the ravioli shape. Leave the pasta shapes to dry our for an hour or so.
  9. Plunge into boiling salted water to cook. Serve with a light sauce.
how to make your own pasta

Monday, 22 June 2015

Pink Grapefruit & Sea Salt Facial Scrub

So I am outdoors a lot right now to make the most of the lovely weather and to fuel my little boys obsession with play parks and given that Paris has a play park every 10 yards or so we are spoiled for choice. The problem with being out and about in the city is that you do feel a little mucky, even in a clean city there are exhaust fumes to contend with. Even many of the natural scrubs that are on the market contain parabens and the super posh ones are super expensive. And there is always my old adage of if you can make it yourself, make it yourself because it is satisfying. This scrub is light and can be used on the face or the body.
you will need;

1 cup course sea salt
1/2 cup fine sea salt
6tsp vodka
1tsp coconut oil 
and pink grapefruit juice (enough to form a paste)

method;
  1. This is pretty simple but let's go through the motions anyway. Mix the 2 salts together in a bowl, add the vodka and cocnut oil and stir well. 
  2. When fully combined add some freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice just enough so that the mixture becomes a paste. 
  3. Store in clean airtight jars.
This should keep for a month.

If you use this on your face in the evening you can skip your moisturiser.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Choosing Colour In Your Home - Part One

little greene paint company paint colours
You searched and searched and then you found it your new home. You put an offer in and then after months of waiting, solicitors letters, packing poxes, finding the kettle, making a cup of tea you are ready to decorate. I remember my granny's house was mostly woodchip wallpaper, (does that still exist) and magnolia, good old safe, rental friendly magnolia. Or should I say bloody magnolia! Today I feel we are spoiled by paint colours and wallpaper ranges. Technology has moved on so that we can wash all of our paints out with water only if we choose which is far nicer for the environment than horrid turpentine. There in lies the problem we have thousands of colours to choose from, different paint finishes, modern wallpaper, retro wallpaper and then you could always dress your walls with a collage of maps, a mural or wallpaper you have printed yourself. In short it is overwhelming and it is easy to understand why people end up playing safe and going cream instead of drowning in paint chips and sample pots. I hope to give you some tips to help you though the decision making process.

First of all it is tempting to rush in and start decorating straight away, perhaps because you are excited or maybe the decor that is there is truly horrific. My advice is to wait because you need to see how the light behaves in each room and how you use the rooms. You may have a very clear idea of how you will use each room even down to the best chair for reading in but when you start to live in your house your ideas will evolve and change organically. Whenever I have moved into a property I have ended up re-arranging cupboards and furniture to suit the flow of how I live in the space. 

If the decor is hard to live with I would suggest that you buy copious amounts of white paint and paint the whole house white. This may sound crazy but having a blank canvas will clear your mind and allow you to view the room for the shapes, light and shadows without having your vision clouded by the past horrors.

Light is one of the most important factors when you choose a colour scheme. The time of day that light hits your room means it will have different degrees of warmth to it and can even change the appearance of a colour on the wall, meaning that you could paint your house entirely one colour an it would different nuances in each room. People often use the rule of thumb that if a room is dark or small that it should be a pale colour, this is not necessarily the case. Lets face it we have all succumb to an optical illusion from time to time but painting a box room a light colour is not going to fool anyone into think it is a double bedroom. Sometimes it can be fun to embrace a rooms nature and you can end up with some dramatic effects. I have a toilet in my house that is, well quite simply the smallest room in the house but I have painted it Brinjal, a deep aubergines from Farrow & Ball. As the room is small I have kept the woodwork the same colour also. I looks very dramatic and adds interest to an otherwise dull room. I refuse to show you as it is almost finished and I want to save it for a big reveal, here are some examples that I found to illustrate my point.
bohemian design attic bedroom
<source>
This wonderfully cozy attic bedroom embraces the lack of light by painting the walls black and using a William Morris print wallpaper  with a dark background. The look is softened by layers upon layers of rugs, blankets and quilts in rich colours. The bed looks so inviting.

The small living room below does not have the same bohemian look as the attic bedroom instead it has a  cool crisp look. Dark grey walls complimented with shades of grey on the sofa and floor to give a cohesive look to a small space by sticking to one colour pallet.
cool dark grey living room
<source>
Of course dark walls can look equally as awesome in a large room like the very large bathroom featured below.
very cool dark blue bathroom
<source>
Another way to use dark colours is in the hallway, no I am not crazy hear me out. Having a dark hallway that has light rooms coming off it will make those rooms feel larger and airier than they are by contrast, a light at the end of the tunnel effect.
dark bohemian hallway interior design
<source>
Of course you can just go for it and team up your dark walls with jeweled colours
dark hallway jewel colours interiors
<source>
When you think about a colour scheme you have a number of options; neutral, spectrum, contrasting, analogue & complimentary. There are a few others but let's stick to the main ones. I made a rudimentary colour wheel to show you how colours relate to one another. Lets look at each colour scheme.
colour wheel
Neutral 
Okay so I have not painted these colours on the wheel so let's pretend. Neutral colourways are creams & whites but it is not as simple as that as you can choose neutrals with different bases. Traditional neutrals have an earthy tone as a base and will easily accent with blue/green textiles. If you are wanting a very traditional look in your home this is the way to go. You also get yellow based neutrals which are easy to use and popular. Red based help create a warm feel and then the more contemporary loft like neutrals have a cool blue/grey tone. 
red based neutral lounge interior design
<source>
terrance conran neutral lounge with natural wood
<source>
Spectrum
This one is easy to pull off. We have all been to a local DIY store and seen the paint chips that go from the very dark version to the almost white version of a colour. That is basically what it is. There is an example below based in blues.
nursey in blue spectrum design
<source>
Contrasting 
These are the colour pallets that are for the brave and bold, the colourways that bare no relation to one another on the wheel but just work. If you think about it so many colourways exist in nature that do just that. Below is an example of a red and blue room and one that is filled with many colours that should jar but just work. To pull this look off you have to be confident and use your eye and instinct.
red and blue room chromologist
<source>
contrasting colour interior design tips
<source>
Complimentary
I know I shouldn't play favourite but I think this one is my favourite. If you think about the colour wheel again the complimentary colours sit across from one another, and the pairings are as follows; blue & orange, red & green and yellow & purple. You can have a little fun with this an go a little rogue and pair blue with yellow by jumping over from its true partner and that works too.
blue and orange complimentary colour design
<source>
a beautiful mess elsie home tour
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Analogue
Now for the last colour way for this one you take colours that sit next to one another. For example blues and greens. This does not mean you have to be dull about it as you will see from the two very different blue & green rooms below.
blue and green room The Chromologist
<source>
blue and lime green room Bright Bazaar
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Wow that is a lot of information so I will shut up now, but not before I say this one last thing. Keep an eye out for Choosing Colour In Your Home Part Two.......