Wednesday, 24 August 2011

24 Hour Party People: Anglo-American Extravagansa

So we had a bit of a 'knees up' over the past weekend to celebrate the anniversary of my arrival here from the US to the UK a full 10 years ago.  It was a good excuse for a party, if only for the reason that we'd not really had a big one in our home since we'd moved in and it gave me an excuse to get different groups of friends and family together for drunken mayhem a bit of pleasant conversation and some BBQ food.

The theme was quite loose with red/white/blue being the colours to match both the US's Stars and Stripes and the UK's Union Jack.  I probably should have used England's St George's flag if I wanted to be technical but I thought the balance of the colours was better using the Union Jack.  I know, I know, it's a bit sad but what can I say - that's just how I roll.

The first thing I have to share with you was my dress.  You may remember my post on Traffic People?  Well, I couldn't resist the fabulous Union Jack dress in chiffon and silk.

Of course, it was only after I had looked at all the pictures that I realised I didn't get any where you can actually see me wearing the dress!  But that's mostly because after I took the initial pictures of the decor and food (whilst simultaneously trying to keep W's nieces from eating through the sweets table before anyone else got there), I didn't pull the camera out again until it was well into the evening when most of us were trollied merry and the afternoon crowd had long gone...  so apologies for the lack of pics.  However, I will definitely be rocking the dress again.

I think my biggest fear was that it would look like a July 4th party (America's Independence Day) but I started to pull ideas from all over the internet that were firstly, achievable and secondly, affordable.  If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know I'm a bargain-hunter.  I didn't want to spend hundreds of pounds buying things that I knew I'd only use once.  Plus, as I've said recently and by my obvious slow down of blog posts this summer, work has been mad busy lately, I've been travelling quite a bit as well and trying to pull a party together, get the kitchen to an acceptable level of done-ness as well as working and travelling and carrying on a normal relationship with my other half... well, it was probably a bit of a big ask.

So, I enlisted the help of the very lovely and ridiculously talented Rachie from A Chi Chi Affair who made me the most gorgeous moodboards for both the decor and the food...

Here's the decor board - vintage flags, gingham, coke bottles and teacups with flowers and lots more.

Her theme was vintage Americana meets vintage English - surprisingly complimentary.   The food moodboard features a gorgeous red spotty teacup, beautiful cupcakes, scones with jam, mini burgers and teabags as favours!  I told you this woman was talented.

I absolutely loved her ideas.  If you haven't visited Rachie's blog, she features lots of great party ideas as well as creating her own and friends' parties and she is in the midst of planning her own wedding.  She's never short of a few fabulous ideas and inspirational images!  In fact, she's featuring these moodboards early next week so pay her a visit and tell her I sent you!

As much as I would have loved to implement every single idea from her boards (I struggled to find inexpensive vintage items), I did pick up on a few items here and there that I knew would create a bit of impact.

The other thing that Rachie helped me with was giving me some focus.  In the run up to the party, I was in a panic, trying to do a million things at once and not really having any clue whether I had enough of a cohesive theme or not enough, what I was lacking, what I already had or where I was going with any of it.

I picked up on a few of the little things on Rachie's boards and collected other ideas in my Anglo-American Party Ideas Pinterest board.  Concentrating on just a few simple things instead of tackling everything at once, helped me to realise that a few nicely chosen items and a bit of DIY could potentially make a difference.

I've decided to show off the pictures along with the inspiration photos here and there so that you can see how I either realised the ideas in their entirety or loosely interpreted them.  You'll see lots from the moodboards above and from my Pinterest board.

The easiest project was the popular Martha Stewart tissue paper pompoms grouped en mass which I was able to do weeks in advance and they were fun to make.  Everyone was asking me where I got them and it was great being able to tell them them I made them myself and how easy it was!

I also sewed metres and metres of bunting using red and blue gingham which came out so well, I'm almost sorry that I have no where it can go permanently!  I used this tutorial I found online and just used a wide red ribbon instead of bias binding because 15 metres of bright red silk ribbon was cheaper than 15 metres of binding.

The bunting is made to be reversible and alternates red and blue.

The kitchen wasn't left out either, with the homemade bunting and union jack bunting crisscrossing the ceiling.

I also loved the polka dots in the cup and so both table cloths were spotty PVC - a must on my dining room table, especially with little ones around.

W's nieces and two of my most favouritest kids on the planet.

Cupcakes were provided by a talented cupcake-making friend.  I had given her some inspiration pics and she did a sterling job recreating them and giving me three different but cohesive styles.  Aren't they gorgeous?  Let me assure you they tasted even better than they looked.

I also found a pic of white chocolate covered strawberries on Pinterest which went down a treat with the kids and I used edible glitter to make them even sparklier!  Oooh I do like me a bit of sparkle...

A simple American flag hung behind my second table (in front of my calalily print) which held plates, napkins, glasses and some of the salads.

Of course, I couldn't have a great big American flag hanging without having a Union Jack hanging as well.

I got a bunch of inexpensive white, red and green flowers (chrysanthemums and mini carnations) just to give the tables a little bit more colour and dotted them around in various containers... From bottles to Union Jack mugs.

Cheap cutlery was disguised by being wrapped with pretty spotty napkins and then tied with a bit of leftover blue gingham fabric and some twine.  Set in little scattered galvanised pots on the table gave it a more summery feel.

I also served scones thanks to Rachie's suggestion - decidedly English, no? - with fresh cream and jam...

W's homemade New York-style Cheesecake (he's multi-talented that man) and a friend's homemade pumpkin pie were also served for decidedly American balance.

All the little flags were created using Photoshop and then cutout and glued around a toothpick.  Cheap and cheerful (just like me)!  Of course, we also had homemade burgers, hotdogs, sausages and chicken but I didn't get pictures of those things so you'll have to take my word for it.  I only took pictures of the food that matched ;)

So that, my friends, is how my Anglo-American Extravagansa/Extravaganza worked out.  Never having tried to create a party atmosphere like I'd seen on other blogs, I'll just ask you go easy on my rather amateur attempt!

To be fair, it was the lovely friends and family that made the party a success in the end and not the decor but I do think it added to the atmosphere and it was certainly a fun and different challenge for me, especially considering my rather tiny budget.  But the appreciative feedback I received makes me think I'd like to do it again sometime.  Not this year, mind you, but sometime in the future.

Have you had a 'themed' party lately or have you come across any that you thought you could recreate?  Do tell (and link) in the comments, I'd love to see what you're loving at the moment!  And don't forget to stop by Rachie's blog as well for loads of inspiration!

Rachie's write up is here!

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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Less Is More: Kitchen Counter Tops

I've made a few little tweaks to the kitchen recently because I'm learning a few things about open shelving and I wanted to share them with you.

And very simply, here's what it boils down to.  You can have the most gorgeous kitchen in the world but if it's filled to the eyeballs with stuff that doesn't look pleasing to the eye, than at best, it's going to be distracting from a lovely space and at worst, no one will notice the gorgeous kitchen because they'll be so fixated on all the visual clutter.

Have a look at these two images that very easily prove this point.

In the first one, notice that despite the fact that there are lots of items on the open shelves, it's a carefully curated collection of soft pale shades and the counter tops are virtually clear of clutter (oooh lots of 'c' alliteration in that sentence).  It looks tidy, well kept and frankly, gorgeous.

I'm dying over that darkly stained counter top, are you?
Redlilock's pinterest via frenchbydesign

Now, have a look at this image.  Yes, yes I know.  Now, if you look closely, you'll see there is so much going for this kitchen.  Great counter space, fantastic open shelving and gorgeous subway tiles.  Mmhmm, do you see it now?  Shame of it is that these details are lost because of the sheer clutter.  There's just entirely too much going on, despite all that amazing storage.

I could hear the collective gasp from here.
via Facebook

Anyway, my point is that you might as well make the most of what you have and display it in the best possible way you know how.  After all, it was William Morris who said so wisely, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.  As far as I'm concerned, leave the beautiful things out for all to see and the useful things inside the cupboards!

 As a total random side note, I saw a blog image today (I'm not going to say which one or who it was) of a person's kitchen where the cat bed was on the kitchen counter top (along with the slumbering kitty).  Now, I do love my cats but I just couldn't IMAGINE allowing my cats on the counter tops, never mind sleeping there (the rule is, no feet where we eat).  I suppose each to their own and everything but wow, do you know how much cats shed?  And I won't even mention the fact they have to actually CLIMB INTO their toilet and bury their 'doings' with their feet.  Shudder.  But I digress.

When we moved into this house, the shelving racks and hanging bars were already there so I happily hung some of my mugs and utensils on them and spread out the rest of my bits and pieces around the counter tops.  As you do.



When we started the renovation, however, we removed the shelves and the utensil hangers and stuffed them down in the cellar where we have started a nice little collection of "Stuff we're not sure we'll need so we'll just hang on to it for the time being until we get so frustrated, we'll chuck it out or donate it".  Doesn't everyone have those collections?

Now that we've just about finished everything 'north' of the counter tops, I realised I still had the utensil hanger in the cellar so decided instead of buying another one (Ikea has them for around £8), I might as well see if I could clean the years of grime and paint build up that was on the one we had.  Happily, with a bit of hot, soapy water and mineral spirits, it came out shiny and like new.

So here it is in its new home.  And I really just love how it's cleared that part of the counter. 


I also was able to remove the red utensil holder (which had seen better days to be honest) completely and replace it with a simple white biscuit jar and recently moved my salt and pepper shakers off the counter top and into the shelving unit so slowly, the space is becoming cleaner and our work tops just look so much tidier.  I have to say, I'm loving it.

The lesson I'm learning with open shelving here is that you need to keep the visual clutter to a minimum on the counter tops if you want the focus to be what's on the shelves.  Too much going on everywhere and it's going to look a bit of a mess.

I'm still moving and changing around in terms of what's on show on the open shelves and I'll continue to move things, change things and pair things down as I go.  Because, well, I'm still learning here too.

The things I did end up buying at Ikea (as I saved me a whole £8 by not re-buying something I already had) were these lovely white serving dishes which added a nice interesting shape to an upper shelf.

I also picked up two succulents which I potted in my found greige plant pots.  I really love their sculptural look and the pop of green they add - a bit of 'bringing the outdoors in' as they always say in design shows.

But again, the shapes and colours are simple and uncluttered.

So how do you style your open shelves?  Do you like having everything out and within reach?  Are you a secret maximalist like myself and have to work at paring down what you have on show?  Or do you like a simple paired down minimalist style?  Do share in the comments.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Progress Report: Crown Molding {Cornicing} and Open Shelving

So, last I updated you on the kitchen, we had finally, after weeks and weeks of indecision, got the open shelving up.  But as I told you in that same post, it was far from complete.

If you are new here (and if you are, why hello there you sexy thang! Thank you for joining me!), you can read about my kitchen design influences here, discovering the hidden ceiling here, tearing it down here, putting up the plasterboard and pendants here, plastering here, putting in the cooker hood, the backsplash and the tiling here and finally, putting up the open shelving here.)  

My vision was to build up the open 'closed' shelving (as I like to call it) up to the ceiling and then install the cornicing (or crown molding as it's called across the pond) around the whole of the room.

Here's the original inspiration for this... Sally Wheat's gorgeous kitchen which has made it's rounds probably in the thousands around blog land because of it's true unadulaterated swoon worthiness...

I know, RIGHT?? Gorgeousness to the millionth degree.

The work was straightforward.  We purchased the cornice from B&Q.  It's actually crazy inexpensive (a nice surprise) as we realised we can do an entire room for only around £32 using a 'room' pack which included most of the corners along with the longer lengths.  Of course, we still had to purchase things like the adhesive and the decorative trim but it didn't cost anywhere near as much as I thought it would.

We did the cornicing and the build up of the open shelving units in tandum as parts of the room got cornicing while the bits for the build up dried in stages.

We started by using some little blocks of wood we had lying around to create the frame that the MDF board would sit against.

Here's what it looked like when all the blocks were in place.

Once these were dry and stable, thin MDF was glued against the blocks.

And then, once these were dry, the corncing went around it all to give it a built in look.  W would assure you he had a great time matching up all the corners and cutting around the awkward angles and uneven walls *cough*.  He did do a sterling job though, I can't help being proud of his mad skillz as the kids would say. (What do you mean they don't say that?)

We also added thin decorative molding around the MDF to give it a bit of a chunkier look.  Here's what it looked like at this stage.  It was taped up to keep it all in place whilst it all dried.

As there was a gap between the shelving and the wall at the far end, we installed a bit of wood in between the wall and the shelving unit.  I didn't get any pics of it before it was painted unfortunately, but this is what the gap looked like before (along with the big gap at the ceiling which was covered by the cornice).

See the big awkward gap there at the left?  History, baby.

So here's what it looks like now that it's been all painted and filled.  Looks built in now, doesn't it?

We also repaired a bit of a hole we've been living with now since the ceiling was taken down in the far corner of the kitchen.


Getting better...

Ta da!  Still needs another coat of paint but looks miles better.

Anywhere, let's do a bit of proper before and after cuz I know you crazy kids like that.

Here's what it looked like before the building up of the shelving and the cornicing went up...

Acceptable but decidedly unfinished.

 And here's a shitload of pics showing what it looks like now...

Bit of an improvement, no?

Still need to sort out that pesky wire but isn't the cornicing pretty?

I still want to wallpaper the backs of the units but I'll probably wait a bit on that project as I haven't yet found exactly what I want.

I really think it adds so much now to the kitchen and I'm really pleased how it came out. You can see in a couple of the pics that the paint wasn't even fully dry when I whipped out the camera and the shelving hasn't been painted yet (only primed) but I had to share regardless.  (There's my impatience again!  It's a sickness, I tell ya.)

Up next?  A biggie. 

The countertops.  It's a project that'll probably take us a good few weeks' to complete as we're going to be getting wood countertops and staining them and sealing them so there's a lot of work (and a good chunk of our budget) that'll go into this.

Also, we're hoping to get the cupboards painted soon and then we can finally replace the old hardware.

Speaking of budget, so far we've spent less than a thousand pounds on the entire makeover.  And I do mean that includes EVERYTHING from tile spacers to paint.  Considering the average renovation costs of a kitchen in the UK is anywhere from £7,000 to £15,000, we're not doing too bad so far.

I'll be sure to share the progress here at Swoon Worthy the whole way through so stay tuned for more.  Or, why not make it even easier and follow me by clicking on one of those fetching buttons on my sidebar?  I spoil you, I do.

Also?  I'm having a party this weekend.  Dear god, how do you people create such fabulous looking parties without blood sweat and tears?  Oh and add to that, TIME and MONEY?  I've been trying to DIY a few things and so I'll be sharing that with you soon too.  W thinks I'm bonkers of course, because he says no one will really appreciate my efforts but well, that's what you lot are for right? :)

So as you can see, it's all been going on here at Swoon Worthy!  What have you been up to?  What do you think of the cornicing?  Do tell in the comments.  (Seriously I do love me some commenting - don't be shy, I promise I don't bite.  Ok, maybe just a wee nibble.)

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