Hungry For Home Design

L shares her interior inspirations.

I have a confession to make…

Despite priding myself on having a strong aesthetic and being self-assured in my “Marmite-ism” – I either ADORE something or completely loath it – I find interior design really rather stressful. Perhaps I’ve earmarked too many glossy magazines, fantasising about my dream bathroom where money is never a consideration. Perhaps I’ve devoured too many television programmes where professionals with years of experience make impossible tasks seem simple; yes, Dick and Angel, I’m talking to you. Or perhaps it’s because deep down I am more of a consumer than a designer. I’m very good at buying pieces to style a room but the larger concerns of balancing the space do not come easily to me.

The beautiful chaos of moving day. Quite “Emin”-esque.

I’m sure E will agree with me that looking back I was never one of those children who got excited about decorating my bedroom. I was quite happy to rock the purple walls well into my teenage years. I loved to draw and yet I don’t ever remember wanting to pick up a paintbrush and help with any home improvements. Now that I’m in my own home, where I have free artistic rein, I suddenly feel… terrified. Yes, I’m confident that I have been grappling with a case of intermittent design block.

The one room where I have achieved the furnishing and ornamentation equivalent of a rolling boil is – appropriately enough – the kitchen. This week we have taken the plunge and ordered tradition plantation, louvre shutters for our picture window. Our existing furniture from the flat works well in the space thanks to the similar Scandinavian-inspired colour scheme. Oh, and we treated ourselves to a matching Smeg kettle and toaster set. See? I told you: quintessentially, I’m a consumer!

Finally nailed our coffee station. Well, when working from home this is essential!

I think I want our hallway to end up as a black and white monochrome affair, like a boutique hotel. This is what I’m thinking…

We had a lovely colourful lounge at the flat which I’d like to replicate in our new place. Currently, we are saving up for the sofa of our dreams, a cobalt blue, velvet Chesterfield that we spotted months ago in Guildford. In the meantime, we are working with a mid-century inspired grey sofa-bed. It is perfectly fine for just the two of us and we will recycle her into the office eventually. I’m planning on adding to our gallery wall over the holidays too. A wise friend once told me that I should always invest in art because it gains value over time but it makes your house more beautiful too.

I also promise to use a spirit level this time!

The bathrooms’ main points of concern are a lack of space; they’re both quite cwtchy. Well, their size, and the lack of frosting in the downstairs bathroom window which was a causing me some uneasiness as the evenings were drawing in. I am proud to say I resolved this lack of privacy issue myself and invite you to check out my instagram for more details. Once we get some shelves and a couple of houseplants in there we should be golden.

The bedrooms, especially the master, is where I’m struggling the most. Vince and I both have mountains of clothes. I know all these garments need a home but, let’s be honest, buying wardrobes just isn’t that fun. I will tackle this eventually, but as my work will see me travelling next year, I’m happy to keep living out of a suitcase for the time being.

Bed… my natural habitat.

The final room we are in the midst of tackling is the office. With Vince using it Monday – Friday and me in there all weekend teaching, it’s important that we feel comfortable and professional in this space. Initially, I was hoping for something contemporary and dark. Vince, on the other hand, was determined this room would feature (heavily) “music, cricket and West Ham FC”. I’m hopeful we’ve ended up somewhere in between!

I’m going to try and be a little kinder to myself after this. There is no rush to get the house “holiday ready” for our socially-distanced Christmas. Speaking of which… where did I put those decorations? ~L.

Self-tape Stories

Once upon a time there was an actress…and then the global pandemic hit.

Once upon a time there was an actress. She spent her days popping in and out of the city, attending auditions and meeting other actors and creatives. Sometimes, she would even book those meetings she attended and wouldn’t have to audition for months on end. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close. Then the year 2020 happened…

What no one knows is that I have a huge spot on the other side of my chin and pyjama bottoms on below my “nice” top

Oh, it’s been a funny one, hasn’t it? What I am grateful for is all the new skills I’ve gained thanks to this pandemic which now include sound engineer, director of photography, editor, creative director, camera operator, broadcast producer and lighting technician. This is all thanks to the rise of the dreaded “self-tape”, my least favourite “s” word.

A “self-tape”, for any readers who aren’t familiar with the term, is essentially a filmed audition that we actors create and then submit to a creative team for their consideration. Now there are plenty of benefits to this style of audition. Firstly, we don’t have to commute into town which saves everyone money and helps us not catch Corona – or something worse – on the Tube. We can also do as many “takes” or attempts to get the performance we want. In my case, this is absolutely a blessing and a curse. Being able to watch an audition back means I obsess over the smallest detail, a hair out of place, a distorted shadow in the background, one note that was held longer in the previous seven takes. Therein lies the danger: my inner perfectionist takes over and I lose all sense of authenticity with infinite takes of the same material. It also sucks the life out of both my phone memory and battery.

Since March, nearly all the auditions I’ve been submitted for have transitioned to self-tapes and let me tell you, it’s been a journey. There was an excellent occasion when I had less than 24 hours to get a tape filmed, edited and successfully dispatched via “We Transfer” and all on the hottest day of the year. When filming, it’s important that no extraneous noise is picked up by the microphone and, obviously, to achieve this I normally close all the windows and doors. This is very much less than ideal in the middle of a heatwave. Estimate how quickly the prickle of SULA (sweaty upper lip alert) began in this airless room once I’d added a ring light, a face full of make-up and a healthy shot of audition adrenalin to the mix. I grabbed a towel to dab my shiny face between takes, but completely forgot about my neck. It wasn’t until later, when I was editing the footage, that I realised that my neck and entire décolletage were slick with shiny perspiration. To quote the old adage, I was simply glowing!

I also noticed on the re-watch that my hair gradually got bigger and bigger, just like Monica’s in The One In Barbados episode of Friends

Another fun memory was the day that my tripod broke during the middle of shooting. I was already in a terrible mood as the brief I’d been given was really complicated and involved lots of scenes where I had to mime the action, which is always tricky to make look convincing. I’d banished poor Vince to working from home in our bedroom so I could have full access to our lounge and all was going well until I heard the crash of my tripod hitting the floor. Miraculously my phone was intact, it was actually still filming but the tripod had completely shattered, meaning I had no way of stabilising my camera. In a wave of panic, I phoned E, seeing if she had anything that could work as a replacement. Although she wasn’t able to lend me anything, she did manage to calm me down sufficiently to allow me to get my thinking cap on and I created a Jenga-like tower of coffee tables, piano stools and cook books. I balanced one of my Stan Smith’s at the top of the makeshift mountain, like an angel atop a Christmas tree, and nestled my phone into its new bed. All this Blue-Petering was worth it as I booked the job.

I wish I could say things were less comical once I moved and had a whole house to use as a studio. Sadly this is not the case. Just this week I had to film several scenes for a big commercial campaign but they were all set outside. I grabbed my phone as I only had a few hours before the sun set and rushed out to film. I can now add location scout to my list of skills! All was going well until my new neighbours caught me filming one scene in my car where I had to cry on cue. They rapped on my passenger window to see if I was ok…”no, no, I’m fine – I’m just filming something”; “yes, I’m an actress”; “oh, no, I haven’t got the job yet, this is the audition”; “yes, it will be on TV…if I get it”; “yep-I have been on TV before”; “I don’t know if I’ve been in anything you’ve seen”. I really do hope I get this job now, if only to validate my explanation!

I’ll leave you with a sneaky snippet of this day. I was hunting for a background which was pretty and scenic, but far enough away from any road so I avoided vehicle noises in the background. I stumbled across this field and began filming, just before a local farmer and his dogs arrived to hasten my departure. Oh, the glamorous life! ~L.

The farmer didn’t mind once I’d explained, just in case you’re wondering!

For more theatrical insights and horror stories, connect with me on Instagram!

Recycler Avec Ma Famille

Do your family recycle?

Does your family recycle? I don’t mean do you diligently separate your paper from your plastics from your metals, rinse them all and leave them kerbside in neat caddies every week, thought this is a VERY good thing to do. I mean, does your family recycle things between its members? Perhaps does your family cycle, as in rotate, things between its members is a more accurate question. This family does, in a big way, and I conclude that my little cottage, in the far South East corner of Surrey, acts as some form of homing beacon for all the family detritus in circulation. Eventually, it all ends up here. Usually, after a few months of contemplation, we upcycle, and find a new purpose for the item. Thank goodness the cottage has surprisingly generous attic space and a couple of sheds for storage. Permit me to share some examples.

Terracotta Tuscan Ovens

Terracotta Tuscan ovens. This particular sequence is one of our longest running. At 17 years old, I got engaged to my childhood sweetheart (no, of course it didn’t last, but we are still in touch and he is definitely one of this world’s good guys). We had a party to celebrate and though I don’t recall asking for presents, my very generous family and friends bought us various gifts for our “bottom drawer”. Nana Mary bought us a Tuscan oven which sat in its box for the next seven years as I finished Sixth Form, went off to uni, and came back, then headed to London and a succession of rented flats. I recall using it a few times to roast a chicken for Steve and Lily decades ago, but that’s about it. This Tuscan oven is still around, having an extended rest at the back of a kitchen cupboard. It might not have been in use very often, but on one of the occasions it was doing its thing it evidently caught my Mum’s eye because she hotfooted it to Lakeland Limited (probably still called Lakeland Plastics in those days) and bought herself her very own Tuscan oven. Earlier this week, Lily and I planned a pre-Lockdown 2 walk, exploring her new neighbourhood. Naturally, before our walk I had my second guided tour of her new house to see how she and Vince are settling in, during the course of which I had the opportunity to make many very helpful Mum-suggestions about what I would do if I was her (she loves that, as all daughter do). Opening one of the drawers in her kitchen to show me how Kondo-like she has been utilising her storage space, Lily spies the Lakeland Tuscan oven as asks if I want it because Nan gave it to her, she never uses it, and it’s just taking up space. I hesitate, I actually hesitate and for a moment thinking I’ll tell her to bin it, and then I just can’t. So I return home with a second (and never-used, by the way, not even once; it is in pristine condition) Tuscan oven. Thirty-six years, almost to the day, after acquiring the first one, I now have two Tuscan ovens. I’ve just done a quick calculation: between me, Mum and Lily, those two Tuscan ovens have done 15 house moves and have been used less then ten times. But fear not, I woke up with a start at 5:15 this morning with the genius idea of how to upcycle them: I will use the lids as seed trays and the deeper bases as planters next summer. Give me a bit of thinking time and I invariably come up with an upcycling idea.

Golden Creeping Jenny tumbling out of the recycled chiminea

Exhibit two is a cast iron chiminea purchased by Mum and Dad in, I would estimate, the mid 1990s. It stood proudly, and infrequently used, in the garden of my childhood family home. A year or so after Dad died, Mum understandably wanted to downsize and enjoyed a Goldilocks series of moves, first a couple of flats, which were too small, then a countryside bungalow, which was too big, before settling on her now-home, which is just right. During the “too small” stage, the chiminea headed my way, along the M4 and round the M25, in the back of someone’s car that was pulling a brilliant wheelie the whole way cos, let me tell you, that cast iron baby is heavy. In my garden for the past decade, the chiminea has been lit precisely twice. On the first occasion by Will (my son), on the afternoon he finished his GCSEs, when he used it to burn all his school notebooks (thank God he didn’t have to do any resits. The supreme confidence of youth, eh?) The second time was three years ago, on Bonfire Night, when we had visitors over for nibbles and sparklers and thought it would add to the ambience if we lit it. What a mistake. The thing belched like it was trying to turn us into Arbroath smokies. The garden stank of smoke for weeks. Never again. The chiminea has been upcycled to a distinctive planter for a golden Creeping Jenny, which tumbles from the main cavity like the contents of Ladybird’s/Vera Southgate’s Magic Porridge Pot. And Mum has since bought a new, just-right size chiminea for her garden; but it’s only for looking at, not for lighting.

Other notable examples include a dismantled pine-slatted wardrobe which seems to have journeyed from “our I”, my Mum’s cousin Irene, to our cottage, where, after 18-months seasoning in a shed, it has been upcycled to smart softwood edging for my new flower borders; Lily’s post-Japan bicycle, which lived for a while in the porch of her flat in Hither Green, and found its way to the cottage several summers ago, and has been literally cycled, very slowly, by me this summer, in an attempt to get healthier. My favourite item on rotation at the moment is a battered Fiat Punto. Bought by me and Steve eight years ago when we needed to replace our second “run around” car, Lily used it for work; Will learnt to drive in it and ownership transferred to him for a while; Vince (Lily’s boyfriend) then bought it off us to use for work; eventually Vince upgraded to a snazzier car and back it came to the cottage; then it went off to Bristol for Will to use while he’s studying there. No wonder the insurance company groans when I call to advise of a change of registered keeper and main driver. It’ll be back at the cottage when Will comes home for Christmas, and it’ll be lovely to see it, dents, scratches, “funny smells” and all.

We de-la-Haye Girls quite often end up sharing and swapping bags, shoes and clothes too!

You know what, I’m going to have to cook something in one of these Tuscan ovens before they are relegated, or maybe that should be promoted, to the greenhouse. Let the search for vegan recipes for Tuscan ovens begin.

Please do assure me that your family engages in similar rotation of chattels. ~ E